2 Samuel 8
2 Samuel 8 opens with, "And after this it came to pass, that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them: and David took Methegammah out of the hand of the Philistines. And he smote Moab . . . David smote also Hadadezer" (vv. 1-3). The thoughtful reader may well ask, What is there here for me? Why are such matters as these recorded in God’s Word, to be read by His people in all generations? Are they merely a bare account of incidents which happened thousands of years ago? If so, they can hardly hold for me anything more than what is of historical interest. But such a conclusion will be far from satisfactory to a devout inquirer, who is assured there is something of profit for his soul in every portion of his Father’s Word. But how to ascertain the spiritual value and practical lessons of such verses is that which sorely puzzles not a few: may it please the Lord now to enable us to render them some help at this point.
Whilst it be true that none but the One who inspired the Holy Scriptures can open to any of us their hidden depths and rich treasures, yet it is also true that He places no premium upon sloth. It is the prayerful and meditative reader who is rewarded by the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the mind, giving him to behold wondrous things out of God’s Law. "The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat" (Prov. 13:4). If, then, any verse of Scripture is really to speak to our hearts, there has to be not only a crying unto God for the hearing ear, but there must be a girding up the loins of our minds and a careful pondering of each word in the verse.
"And after this it came to pass, that David smote the Philistines and subdued them: and David took Methegammah out of the hand of the Philistines. And he smote Moab David smote also Hadadezer." As he carefully weighs these statements, the spiritually-minded can hardly fail to discern One more eminent than David, even his greater Son and Lord. Here we may clearly behold in type the Lion of the tribe of Judah (to which tribe the son of Jesse belonged!), springing upon and overcoming His enemies. In figure, it is the Lord as "a man of war" (Ex. 15:3), going forth "conquering and to conquer" (Rev. 6:2), of whom it is written "For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet" (1 Cor. 15:25). Yet, precious as this is, it fails to direct us to the practical application of the passage unto our own particular case.
The question, then, returns upon us, What direct message is there in these verses for the Christian today? Not simply what curious signification may be found to amuse him during a few minutes’ recreation, but what practical lessons are here inculcated which can be turned to useful account in his struggle to live the Christian life? Nothing short of that should be before the Satan-harassed, sin-afflicted, temptation-tried soul, when he turns to the Word of God for help, instruction, strength and comfort. Nor will God fail him if he seeks in the right spirit—confessing his deep need, pleading the all-prevailing Name of Christ, asking God to grant him for the Redeemer’s sake that wisdom, understanding and faith he sorely craves. Yet, let us add, prayer is not designed to encourage laziness, for it is not a substitute for diligent effort: the Scriptures must be "searched" (John 5:39) and "studied" if they are to yield food to the soul.
But how is the devout and anxious reader to get at the spiritual meaning and practical value of the verses quoted above? Well, the first thing to observe is that the central thing in them is, David overcoming his enemies. Put in that form, the application to ourselves is obvious. David is here to be viewed as a type of the Christian who is menaced by powerful foes both within and without. These are not to be suffered to lord it over the believer, but are to be engaged in mortal combat. Second, we note that David is not said to have exterminated or annihilated those enemies, but to have "subdued" them (v. 11), which is true to the type, and supplies a key to its practical interpretation. Third, we must pay due attention unto the time-mark which is given in the opening verse—"And after this it came to pass that David smote the Philistines"—for this is another key which unlocks for us its meaning. It is by attending carefully unto such details that we are enabled to burrow beneath the surface of a verse.
"And after this it came to pass that David smote the Philistines." These words look back to what was before us in 7:1, "And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies." May we not apply these words to the first coming of a sinner to Christ, heavily laden with a conscious load of guilt, sorely pressed by the malicious foes of his soul, now finding spiritual rest in the only One in whom and from whom it is to be obtained. Hitherto David had been assailed again and again by the surrounding heathen, but now the Lord granted him a season of repose. That season had been spent in sweet communion with God, in the Word (2 Sam. 7:4-17) and prayer (2 Sam. 7: 18-29). Blessed indeed is that, but let it be duly noted that communion with God is intended to animate us for the discharge of duty. It is not upon flowery beds of ease that the believer is conducted to Heaven. Being led beside the still waters and being made to lie down in green pastures is a blissful experience, yet let it not be forgotten that it is a means to an end—to supply strength for the carrying out of our obligations.
"And after this it came to pass, that David smote the Philistines and subdued them." We may observe a very noticeable change here: previously the Philistines had been the aggressors. In 2 Samuel 5 we read, "But when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines came up to seek David . . . the Philistines also came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim . . . And the Philistines came up yet again" (vv. 17, 18, 22). "From their assaults God had graciously given His servant rest" (2 Sam. 7:1). But now he evidently received a commission from the Lord to make war upon them. Thus it is in the initial experience of the Christian. It is a sense of sin—its vileness, its filthiness, its guilt, its condemnation—which drives him to Christ, and coming to Christ, he finds "rest." But having obtained forgiveness of sins and peace of conscience, he now learns that be must "strive against sin" (Heb. 12:4) and fight the good fight of faith. Now that the young believer has been delivered from the wrath to come, he discovers that he must "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3), and spare not anything within him which opposes God.
"And after this it came to pass, that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them." While these words may be legitimately applied to the initial experience of the believer, they are by no means to be restricted thereunto. They contain a principle which pertains to the Christian life as a whole, and to every stage thereof. That principle is that before we are fitted to engage our spiritual enemies we must first spend a season in communion with God: only thus and only then can strength be obtained for the conflict which lies before us. Renewed efforts to subdue our persistent foes can only be made (with any degree of success) as we are renewed by the Spirit in the inner man, and that is only to be obtained by feeding on the Word (2 Sam. 7:4-17) and by prayer (2 Sam. 7:18-29)—the two chief means of communion with God.
"And David took Methegammah out of the hand of the Philistines." Here our passage passes from the general to the particular, and a most important practical truth is here inculcated. This is another case when Scripture has to be compared with Scripture in order to understand its terms. 1 Chronicles 18 is parallel with 2 Samuel 8, and by comparing the language of the opening verse of the former we are enabled to arrive at the meaning of our text: "Now after this it came to pass, that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them, and took Gath and her towns out of the hand of the Philistines." Thus "Methegammah" has reference to "Gath and her towns." Now Gath (with its suburbs) was the metropolis of Philistia, being a fortified city on a high hill (2 Sam. 2:24). In our text it is called "Methegammah" which means "the bridle of the mother city." It had long acted as a "bridle" or curb upon Israel, serving as a barrier to their further occupation of Canaan. So much, then, for the etymological and historical meaning: now for the typical.
What was denoted spiritually by "Gath and her towns"? In seeking the answer to this question let us carefully bear in mind the three details mentioned above: Gath occupied a powerful eminence, it was the metropolis or mother-city, it had served as a "bridle" upon Israel. Surely the practical application of this to ourselves is not difficult: is it not some master lust in our souls or dominant sin in our lives which is here represented?
It is not the eyelashes which require trimming, but the "eye" itself which must be plucked out; it is not the fingernails which need paring, but the "right hand" which must be cut off (Matthew 5:29, 30), if the Christian would make any headway in overcoming his inward corruptions. It is to his special "besetting sin" he must direct his attention. No truce is to be made with it, no excuses offered for it. No matter how firmly entrenched it may be, nor how long it has held sway, grace must be diligently and persistently sought to conquer it. That darling sin which has so long been cherished by an evil heart must be slain: if it be "spared," as Saul spared Agag, it will slay us. The work of mortification is to begin at the place where sin has its strongest hold upon us.
The subduing of the Philistines, and particularly the capture of Gath, was vitally essential if Israel was to gain their rights, for as yet they were not in full possession of the land to which, by the divine promise, they were entitled. Canaan had been given to them by God as their heritage, but valiant effort, hard fighting, was called for, in order to bring about their occupation of the same. This is a point which has sorely puzzled many. It is clear from Scripture that the land of Canaan was a figure of Heaven, but there is no fighting in Heaven! True, but the believer is not yet in Heaven; nevertheless, Heaven ought to be in him, by which we mean that even now the believer should be walking in the daily enjoyment of that wondrous portion which is now his by having been made a joint heir with Christ. Alas, how little is this fact appreciated by the majority of God’s dear people today, and how little are they experimentally possessing "their possessions" (Obadiah 17).
It is greatly to be regretted that so many of the saints relegate to the future the time of their victory, joy and bliss; and seem content to live in the present as though they were spiritual paupers. For example, how generally are the words "For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11) regarded as referring to the time of the believer’s glorification. But there is nothing whatever in the context to warrant such a view, nothing required in it to understand that "abundant entrance" as belonging to a day to come, nothing to justify us postponing it at all in our thoughts. Instead, there is much against it. In the preceding verses the apostle is exhorting the believer to make his calling and election "sure," and this by adding to his faith "virtue" etc. (vv. 5-7), assuring him that by so doing he shall "never fall," and adding "for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly."
Legally, the believer has already been "delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of Gods dear Son" (Col. 1:13), but experimentally an "abundant entrance" thereinto is dependent upon his spiritual growth and the cultivation of his graces. The believer has already been begotten unto "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven" for him (1 Peter 1:4), but his practical enjoyment thereof turns upon the exercise of faith. "Abraham," said Christ, "rejoiced to see My day" (John 8:56): and how did the patriarch "see" it? Why, by faith, for there was no other way in which he could see it: by the exercise of faith in the sure promises of God. And what was the effect upon Abraham of this entrancing vision which faith brought to him? This, "And he saw it and was glad." In like manner, the believer now is to use the long distance lens of faith and view his promised inheritance, and rejoice therein; then will "the joy of the Lord" be his "strength" (Neh. 8:10).
Israel had a valid title to the land of Canaan: it was theirs by the gift of God. But enemies sought to prevent their occupation of it: and enemies seek to hinder the Christian from faith’s appropriation and enjoyment of his "inheritance." And what are those enemies? Chiefly, the lusts of the flesh, sinful habits, evil ways. Faith cannot be in healthy exercise while we yield to the lusts of the flesh. How many a saint is sighing because his faith is so feeble, so spasmodic, so fruitless. Here is the cause: allowed sin! Faith and sin are opposites, opponents, and the one cannot flourish until the other be subdued. It is vain to pray for more faith until we start in earnest to mortify our lusts, crucify our Christ-dishonoring corruptions, and wrestle with and overcome our besetting sins; and that can only be accomplished by fervently and untiringly seeking enabling grace from on High.
"David smote the Philistines, and subdued them." In figure that represents the believer waging unsparing warfare upon all within him that is opposed to God, "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts" in order mat he may "live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:12). It represents the believer doing what the apostle speaks of in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection:" his "body" there referring not so much to the physical, as to the "old man" within, the "body of sin" (Rom. 6:6), "this body of death" (Rom. 7:24 margin); or as it is spoken of elsewhere as "the body of the sins of the flesh" (Col. 2:11), Indwelling sin is spoken of in these passages as a "body" because it has, as it were, a complete set of members or faculties of its own; and these must be subdued by the Christian: "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5),
"And David took Methegammah out of the land of the Philistines," Typically this turns, as we have previously said, from the general unto the particular—from the work of mortification as a whole to the crucifying of a special sin which prevails against the saint. In figure it represents the believer concentrating his attention upon and conquering his master lust or chief besetting sin, that "mother" evil which is the prolific source of so many iniquities, that "bridle" which has for so long hindered his entering into God’s best for him. But our space is exhausted: as the subject is of such vital moment we will continue it in our next chapter.