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THE LAMP OF ISRAEL

2 Samuel 19:8b-21:22
Key Verse: 21:17b

Thank God for helping us to think of God’s love and his broken heart for sinners through David’s grief over his son Absalom at his death. May the love of God through his Son Christ Jesus be our primary concern and the focus of our life! May God’s love grow in our hearts and lives for our deeper relationship with him and the expansion of his kingdom. Today’s passage is about King David’s crossing the Jordan and returning to Jerusalem after putting down Absalom’s rebellion, and about what happened on the way. David’s returning and appointing his officials is actually the end of the story of 2 Samuel. Chapters 21-24 is the epilogue of this book. Yet, today’s passage includes chapter 21, which is about how David resolved Gibeonites problem which brought three successive years of famine and about the great victory of David’s men, in which David was viewed as the lamp of Israel. In this study we will see more of David’s beautiful heart and faith in God and why he was regarded as the lamp of Israel.

First, happenings before crossing the Jordan (19:8b-43). After the death of Absalom the battle between the army of Israel and David’s men ended, and the Israelites fled to their homes. Then throughout the tribes of Israel, the people were all arguing with each other, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies; he is the one who rescued us from the hand of the Philistines. But now he has fled the country because of Absalom; and Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, had died in battle. So why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?” Probably to David this was a very quick response of the Israelites after their defeat. The arguing among the Israelites about bringing the king back seemed to be a good sign to David.

Then King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests who remained in Jerusalem at that time: “Ask the elders of Judah. ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his palace, since what is being said throughout Israel has reached the king at his quarters? You are my brothers, my own flesh and blood. So why should you be the last to bring back the king?’” The whole topic was about bringing back the king, which was really good. King David wanted the elders of Judah, his own flesh and blood, to do better than the Israelites. David knew that the people of Judah would not just give their hearts to David, simply because David was their own tribe. So he appealed to their hearts.

In verse 13 David appointed Amasa commander of his army, hoping to secure the allegiance of those who had followed Amasa when he led Absalom’s forces, especially those of Judah. This appointment did persuade the tribe of Judah to support David’s return to the kingship and secured the animosity of Joab against Amasa for taking his position.

Verse 14 says, “He won over the hearts of all the men of Judah as though they were one man. They sent word to the king, ‘Return, you and all your men.’” Here we see that David’s victory over the rebellion was one thing and his returning to Jerusalem was another. Usually, people think that those who won the victory over the battle would return to the capital city automatically with military power. But it was not the case for David. As for him, returning to his palace meant winning people’s hearts until they would say, “Return, you and all your men.” Hearing this message, the king returned and went as far as the Jordan. Now the men of Judah had come to Gilgal to go out and meet the king and bring (escort) him across the Jordan. Gilgal was east of Jericho, but west of Jordan.

Before crossing the Jordan David met three different kinds of people and showed his loving heart to each of them. Shimei a Benjamite was the one who had cursed David severely as a revenge for David’s reigning in Sau’s place when David was in deep pain fleeing away because of his son’s rebellion. But now Shemei hurried down with the men of Judah to meet David. With him were a thousand Benjamites, along with Ziba, the steward of Saul’s household. They rushed to the Jordan, where the king was. They crossed at the ford to take the king’s household over and to do whatever he wished. When Shimei crossed the Jordan, he fell prostrate before the king and said to him, ‘May my lord not hold me guilty. Do not remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. For I your servant know that I have sinned, but today I have come here as the first of the whole house of Joseph to come down and meet my lord the king. We can sense that Shimei was not truly repentant although he seemed to acknowledge his sin. Not becoming truly repentant and humble he tried to compensate his wrong by doing good in his sight, here by becoming the first one among the house of Joseph to meet David. “The house of Joseph” was reference to Ephraim, a reference to Ephraim, the descendants of Joseph, a large tribe of Israel which was representative of the ten northern tribes. Here, even Shimei’s tribe Benjamin was included.

Hearing from Shimei, Abishai son of Zeruiah said, “Shouldn’t Shimei be put to death for this? He cursed the LORD’s anointed.” At this how did David respond? David replied, “What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? This day you have become my adversaries! Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Do I not know that today I am king over Israel?” We have seen how clearly David dealt with opportunists. But now as the king over Israel he knew that it was the time to accept anyone as long as one wanted to recognize his kingship and support him. Later on at the time of Solomon Shimei would be executed according to David’s direction. But not this time. So the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king promised him on oath. In this way King David gave Shimei a second chance to live.

Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson also went down to meet the king. He had not taken care of his feet or trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes from the day the king left until the day he returned safely. This was exhibiting the traditional marks of mourning. In chapter 16 when David was fleeing from Absalom, Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth came to meet David with provisions for David and his men. When David asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?” Ziba said, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back my grandfather’s kingdom.’” At that time believing what Ziba had said, David transferred Mephibosheth’s belongings to Ziba right away, probably having felt that all his loving kindness for Mephibosheth was of no use. So when he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king asked him, “Why didn’t you go with me, Mephebosheth?” At this he said, “My lord the king, since I your servant am lame, I said, ‘I will have my donkey saddled and will ride on it, so I can go with the king.’ But Ziba my servant betrayed me. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king. My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever pleases you. All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?” In saying this Mephibosheth explained that he had not followed David into exile because he had been deceived by his servant Ziba. He came to David with great humility and gratitude, recognizing all the good the king had done for him. Hearing this, he said to Mephibosheth, “Why say more? I order you and Ziba to divide the fields.” His heart would continue for Mephibosheth. Probably being secured in David’s unchanging love Mephibosheth said, “Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has arrived home safely.”

Now there is a beautiful conversation between David and Barzillai the Gileadite. Most people came to David to take advantage of him. But Barzillai was different. He also came down from Rogelim to cross the Jordan with the king and to send him on his way from there. Now Barzillai was a very old man, eighty years of age. He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim escaping from Absalom (17:27-29), for he was a very wealthy man. So surely out of a thankful heart the king said to Barzillai, “Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.” But Barzillai answered the king, “How many more years will I live, that I should go up to Jerusalem with the king? I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is good and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of men and women singers? Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will cross over the Jordan with the king for a short distance, but why should the king reward me in this way? Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother.” What a beautiful man! Barzillai was so considerate for David, never trying to take advantage of him. In his old age he did not want to be a burden to David. Also, he seemed to know how to end his life as an old man. Barzillai added, “But here is your servant Kimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king. Do for him whatever pleases you.” Kimham was probably a son of Barzillai (see 1 Kings 2:7). It is probable that David gave a part of his personal estate in Bethlehem to this man and his seed (see Jer. 41:17). David must have so moved by Barzillai’s beautiful heart and said, “Kimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him whatever pleases you. And anything you desire from me I will do for you.” So all the people crossed the Jordan, and then the king crossed over. The king kissed Barzillai and gave him his blessing, and Barzillai returned to his home.

When we think of David, he had to face many opportunists. But there were a few faithful people around him, like Ittai the Gittite, Hushai the Arkite and Barzillai the Gileadite. As we studied, Ittai was a foreigner, an exile from his homeland. When David in the time of flight from Absalom said to him, “God back and stay with King Absalom. Shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going?” Ittati replied to David, “As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.” He followed David though it was the time of David’s adversity, and then he could be a commander of a third of David’s army at the time of his prosperity. And Hushai risked his life to play the of a spy to Absalom for David’s sake and God blessed such a dedication for his friend. The fact that these beautiful people, Ittai, Hushai and Barzillai, were around David shows what kind of person David was. He was the one who strove to win the hearts of people before God.

Second, Sheba’s rebellion quelled (19:40-20:26). In 19:40-43 there was a conflict between the men of Judah and the men of Israel. They all seemed to like the king David, but showed hostility toward each other. Then in 20:1, “Now a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bicri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted, ‘We have no share in David, no part in Jesse’s son! Every man to his tent, O Israel!’” What a sudden revolt, another revolt after Absalom’s, even before David’s returning to his palace, just after crossing the Jordan! The expression, “a troublemaker named Sheba happened to be there” implies that this rebellion was not a pre-arranged, well-planned one like that of Absalom, but just a happening by chance. Yet, verse 2 says, “So all the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba son of Bicri.” This shows that people’s hearts can be like chaff blown here and there by the wind, seeking for any benefit anytime. But different from the men of Israel the men of Judah stayed by their king all the way from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

To handle this rebellion, the king said to Amasa, “Summon the men of Judah to come to me within three days, and be here yourself.” But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him. At this David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba son of Bicri will do us more harm than Absalom did. Take your master’s men and pursue him, or he will find fortified cities and escape from us.” So Joab’s men and the Kerethites and Pelethites and all the mighty warriors went out under the command of Abishai. They marched out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba son of Bicri. David sensed that the uprising by Sheba was not a light one, but could be more serious than that of Absalom. So he invested the whole army under the command of Abishai.

Then it is written about Joab’s sudden secret killing of Amasa. He used his right hand to kiss Amasa, and then used his left hand to kill Amasa with his dagger. Joab plunged it into Amasa’s belly, and his intestines spilled out on the ground. Without being stabbed again, Amasa died. Amasa was the one whom David had planned to appoint the commander of David’s army in place of Joab. So what Joab did was totally against David’s wishes. This was the third time Joab did what broke David’s heart. At the forming of the united kingdom of David through his peace-making effort, Joab had killed Abner, commander of Saul’s army. Joab stabbed him in the stomach, as though to speak with him privately. He did so as a revenge for Abner’s killing his brother Asahel. And then Joab killed Absalom, although David pleaded with each of the three commanders, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” Now he killed Amasa. Absalom must have been like a thorn to David’s heart. And he was very influential. For in 20:11, “One of Joab’s men stood beside Amasa and said, “Whoever favours Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab!” This time how David responded to Joab’s killing Amasa is not written, although he must have been so troubled. Surely he entrusted this matter to God.

After Amasa had been removed from the road, all the men went on with Joab to pursue Sheba son of Bicri. Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel Beth Maacah and through the entire region of the Berites, who gathered together and followed him. All the troops with Joab came and besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maach. Abel Beth Maachah was about 40 km north of the Sea of Galilee, about 6.5 km west of the city of Dan. Now we see Joab again took the leadership. They built a siege ramp up to the city and it stood against the outer fortifications. While they were battering the wall to bring it down, a wise woman called Joab from the city. She talked with Joab. She said, “Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up the LORD’s inheritance?” The woman had a great sound pride in her city and people, and was really wise. In the book of Samuel we see two wise women, Abigail in 1 Samuel and this nameless woman in 2 Samuel. At this Joab replied, “Far be it from me! Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! That is not the case. A man named Sheba son of Bicri, from the hill country of Ephraim, has lifted up his hand against the king, against David. Hand over this one man, and I’ll withdraw from the city.” Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba, and the matter was well resolved. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem. The rebellion was quelled without any other bloodshed, done in an easier way than everyone’s expectation. It seemed that when David entrusted heart-breaking events to God, God resolved the matter in his way, using an unknown woman and Joab anyway. Joab would be removed at the time of Solomon according to Davis’s instruction, but now David bore him and let him be used for the kingdom. So in verse 23, “Joab was over Israel’s entire army…” and other officials were appointed. This was not what David wanted, but he overcame his personal feelings and own understanding and plan, and followed God’s leading for the bigger picture of God’s purpose.

Third, the lamp of Israel (21:1-22). In 22:1, “During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD.” When Israel experienced three years of famine, David recognized it as divine discipline and sought God for the reason. The expression “the face of the LORD” indicates David’s intimate relationship with the LORD (Dt 34:10). Then The LORD said, ‘It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.’” At the time of Joshua the Israelites had sworn to spare the Gibeonits. But Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them. David knew that Covenant-keeping was no small matter to God. He summoned the Gibeonites and asked them, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make amends so that you will bless the LORD’s inheritance” Even in his request we see David’s humbleness and he wanted to receive the Gibeonites’ blessing so that the Israael, the LORD’s inheritance, be indeed a blessed people and blessed nation. The author wrote that the Gibeonites were surviors of the Amorites, which was one of the names of sometimes used to designate all the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Canaan (Gen. 15:16; Josh. 24:18; Judg. 6:10). More precisely, the Gibeonites were called Hivites (Josh. 9:7; 11:19).

At the request of the Gibeonites, seven of Saul’s male descendants would be killed and exposed before the LORD. The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul because of the oath before the LORD between David and Jonathan. Other seven sons were given and killed and exposed. Rizpah whose two sons were among the seven took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds of the air touch them by day or the wild animals by night. When David was told what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine had done, he must have moved by her motherly love and faithfulness, and remembered Saul and Jonathan. He went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered on. They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Banjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land. To David the problems had to be resolved in God’s way no matter what, and the relationship with God was most important and in that relationship prayer was to be offered and answered.

Then in 21:15-22 David’s men defeated four descendants of Rapha, the giants, in the battle with the Philistines. Among the four there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—twenty-four in all. He could be more powerful with these twenty-four, yet he was also defeated. Especially in one battle with the Philistines David was exhausted and in danger to be killed by a Philistine. But Abishai came to David’s rescue; he struck down the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.” Here David was regarded as the lamp of Israel. This is a very unique expression in the Bible written here only. What a fitting title to David!

It is written in 2 Chronicles 21:7 (cf. 2 Kings 8:29), “Nevertheless, because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever.” So David was the lamp of Israel because of God’s covenant with David written in 2 Samuel 7:16, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever,” which would be fulfilled in Christ Jesus. God’s blessing would come through hm. And in 1 and 2 Kings, we see the descriptions, “Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God (2 Ki. 16:2), and “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done” (2 Ki. 18:3; cf 1 Ki 15:11). So David was the lamp of Israel because he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, certainly in right relationship with God. 1 Kings 15:5 says, “For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.”

Also, the nature of the lamp is to shine in the darkness. David was the lamp of Israel that shone to the people in darkness. Through him the people of Israel could see a right way to go in the troubled and problem-filled life. David as the lamp of Israel was Israel’s hope and promise of security. Even in today’s passage the people were in darkness and confusion in uncertainty. But David was the lamp to the men of Judah and the men of Israel, who wanted to bring the king back to his palace, and was the lamp to Ziba, Mephibosheth, and Barzillai, and was the lamp at the time Sheba’s rebellion, and at the time of famine in God’s divine discipline. Notably David confessed in 2 Samuel 22:29, “You are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns darkness into light.” David was the lamp of Israel because the he had LORD as lamp. Indeed David was the lamp of God. The description “the lamp of God” is uniquely written in 1 Samue1 3:1, “The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.” It was the time of the priest Eli whose eyes were becoming so weak in his old age that he could barely see, and spiritually also. It was the dark time. But the lamp of God had not yet gone out because of God’s promise to the people, the descendants of Abraham, and also because of Hannah’s prayer through which Samuel was born. Surely David was the lamp of Israel, the lamp of God that would not be extinguished.

Jesus came as the light of the world. He said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:814). And Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praise of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As God’s covenant people in Christ Jesus may each of us be the lamp of God in our family, campus and work place in this generation.

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