2 Samuel chapter 23 begins with, ‘These be the last words of David … the son of Jesse’. Indeed, scripture is careful to record the ‘last words’ given by men of God, to ensure a seamless transition from their generation to the next. Some examples of this are to be seen in Moses, Jacob, David, and the Apostle Paul.1 So also in our day, there should be an increasing burden about leaving a legacy of truth and godliness to the next generation. The other side of the coin is that there must also be willing hearts and minds in the rising generation to accept and cherish the heritage from the previous generation.
In our present study, we wish to consider the last words of David, the ‘Shepherd King’ of Israel, as recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 23. In this chapter, David is reminiscing upon his life of conflict and conquest, days of rejection and flight, days of suffering and sorrow, and he remembers those who stood by him, no matter how harsh the conditions, or how fierce the opposition, and he gives them commendation for doing so.
In a sense, this chapter is a foreshadowing of the Judgement Seat of Christ. In this chapter there is no condemnation, only commendation for the worthy. So also, at the Judgement Seat of Christ, it is not our sins but rather our service for Christ that will be reviewed, and we will receive reward or loss according to our faithfulness.
As we read through the list of David’s mighty men, we find that one name we thought would have been there is missing, and it includes a name that we never thought would have been there. We refer to the names of Joab, and Uriah the Hittite.
Joab was the commander of David’s army, and had fought many a battle on David’s behalf, bringing deliverance to the nation of Israel from their enemies. Why, then, is the name of this mighty man missing? The reason is that, for all his excellencies, he was a harsh and bitter man, who many a time took matters into his own hands in defiance of David’s orders, and whose selfish ambition for power led him to eliminate the competition. When Absalom usurped the throne, David was forced into hiding, and when the armies of Israel went out to look for Absalom, David gave strict instructions, ‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man’, 2 Sam. 18. 5. We know the story well. Absalom was riding on a mule, and as he passed under a tree, his long hair became entangled in the branches, and he was left suspended. When Joab came across him, he thrust three darts through him, killing him in defiance of David’s instruction. When David grieved for Absalom his son, Joab rebuked him, and threatened him with complete abandonment if he would not resume his kingly duties, forcing David to comply.
Joab also slew Amasa whom Absalom had appointed commander of the armies instead of Joab, and he also slew Abner whom David was minded to appoint as commander of the armies instead of Joab. So, when it comes to the end of his life, David refuses to give such a man any place in his roll of honour.
We do well to take the warning from this omission – being active in service, and prominent in leadership, does not guarantee a place of honour at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Submission to the lordship of Christ and our motives in service will be the criteria used to reward. Joab would correspond to those whose works will be burned up – who will suffer loss – at the Judgement Seat, 1 Cor. 3. 15.
f ever there was a man who was loyal to David it was Uriah. David had seduced Uriah’s wife Bathsheba when Uriah was on the battlefield fighting the Lord’s battles. We remember how David tried to cover his sin by inviting Uriah to come back from the battlefield and spend time with his wife, but although Uriah returned, he refused to be with his wife as long as the Lord’s armies were in the field. In a further attempt to cover his sinful behaviour, David instructed Joab to put Uriah into the front of the battle where the fighting was the fiercest, and to withdraw from him so that he would be killed – and he was. David repented with bitter tears when confronted by Nathan the prophet, and when he comes to making up his honours list, he recognizes the singular devotion and loyalty of Uriah and adds him to the list of mighty men. In the final analysis, at the Judgement Seat of Christ, there will be those who have served loyally and sacrificially, perhaps without much appreciation from men, but the Lord’s true assessment will be given, and such will be added to the ‘honours list’ of glory.
When David compiled his honours list, not all were honoured alike. There were those who had attained to a higher level of excellence than others. For example, thirty-seven men belonged to this list of honour, but within that number, David talks about ‘the first three’, then he speaks about ‘the thirty’ and ‘three of the thirty’. So, it will be at the Judgement Seat of Christ. There will be those who have been more intimate with the Lord, and whose service has exceeded others. Naturally, these will receive a greater reward. We see this principle reflected among the disciples of the Lord Jesus. Peter, James, and John certainly belonged to ‘the first three’ in that group. They were more intimate with the Lord than the other nine, and they shared special moments in the life of the Lord Jesus apart from the others. In a sense we should all aspire to be in ‘the first three’. The late Boyd Nicholson used to say, ‘the Lord has no favourites, but He does have intimates’.
Now consider ‘the three of the thirty’ who did a great service for David, v. 13. At this time, David was in hiding from Saul, and he had retreated to the cave of Adullam with his followers. They were willing to share in his suffering and hardship because they believed he was God’s anointed king. On a day when David was reminiscing about the past, he said, ‘Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate’, 2 Sam. 23. 15. It wasn’t a command, only a yearning of his heart, but without delay these men risked their lives to minister to the heart of David.
What lesson would we learn from the valiant deed of these three mighty men? First, our Lord is presently in exile and, ‘by the world disowned, by the many still neglected, and by the few enthroned’, and we have the unique privilege of ministering to Him – to meet the longings of His heart.2 The question is – are we prepared to go beyond the call of duty because of our affection for the Lord, or are we motivated only by commandment? Surely, the highest form of service is that which springs from our affections. This voluntary response to the Lord’s desires is best seen when we gather to break bread. The Lord has made us a ‘kingdom of priests’, and, as such, He has expectations for voluntary giving. It is here that the Lord is looking for a response from our affections, rather than from a sense of duty.
The garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem and we are told that these men ‘broke through’ to get the water for David. When we come to worship, all kinds of hindrances can arise in the mind, but if we are focussed on the Lord and His love for us we will ‘break through’ the obstacles to express our love to Him. What these men brought was comparatively worthless – a few gallons of water – but its value lay in the price they paid to get it. So also, we must not assess the worth of our worship by comparing it with what others may have offered. Words spoken from the heart, are of more value than words of eloquence. So, let us be encouraged to ‘break through’ and worship the Lord.
Another point we should note is that the water was not shared with others, it was given to David. Just a word of caution here. The brief reading of some verse of scripture can be of value to fan the flame of worship, but the time of worship isn’t intended to be the place where we minister God’s word to each other. Peter reminds us that as a holy priesthood we ‘offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’, 1 Pet. 2. 5. When we come to worship the direction is vertical, rather than horizontal, as we offer our affectionate appreciations to the Lord. I quote our late brother Boyd Nicholson, ‘We do not gather to minister to the house of God, but to the heart of God’.
When David received this gift of water, and when he knew what it had cost these men to get it, he would not drink it. David saw this simple, seemingly worthless offering, in a different light. He saw it as representing the very blood of those who had risked life and limb to get it, and he thought it would be an appropriate ‘drink offering’ to pour out before the Lord.
In closing, the Lord is still in exile, ‘despised and rejected of men’, and He longs for expressions of our affection and appreciation. Let us follow the example of these ‘mighty men’ and be active in the voluntary expressions of worship that the Lord so desires. Keep in mind that when David compiled this list of ‘mighty’ men, it was when his exile was over, and he was now seated on the throne. Concerning the Lord Jesus, although now despised and rejected ‘the crowning day is coming by and by’ and when He sits on His throne I suggest that perhaps the highest accolades will go to those who, above all, were worshippers.3
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