In response to the liberalism that is so prevalent in our culture, we often hear Christians say, "I wish we could go back to an earlier time in our nation's history; back to the days when our nation was founded on Biblical principles, when George Washington was President."
That is how it was for the original readers of I and II Samuel. The books of I and II Samuel were written to people who lived during the time of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. They longed for the old days when Israel was one nation under the rule of one king.
The authors of I and II Samuel knew this about their readers and that is why God inspired them to end the books of I and II Samuel with a four-chapter conclusion. If you are reading along toward the end of the book of II Samuel, you will notice that chapter 20 takes place at the end of David's life and that chapter 21 does not follow the chronological timeline. Chapter 20 takes place sometime during the life of David, but we are not told when. Chapter 24 also takes place sometime during the life of David, but we are not told when. Thus the last four chapters form a conclusion to the entire message of both books.
If you examine the following outline, you will notice that the concluding chapters form a particular chiastic structure.
A. A narrative on the Expiation of Saul's sin (21:1-14)B. David's mighty men (21:15-22)C. Song of David (22:1-51)
C.' Last words of David (23:1-7)
B.' David's mighty men (23:8-39)
A.' A narrative on the Expiation of David's Sin (24:1-25)
On the outer layers of the structure (A/A'), the readers are reminded that even when Israel had one king on the throneKing Saul in chapter 21 and King David in chapter 24those kings sinned and brought harm and death to God's people. King Saul's sin led to a three-year famine. King David's sin brought a three-day plague. Thus in the peak of the chiastic structure (C/C'), God gives the people the answer to their longing for one king: God himself is their King. In these two songs (the second of which is the last words of David), David declares that God is his King. The concluding message of I and II Samuel then is that even though there is no united monarchy anymore, the people do not need to go back to the old days because God is their King.
So if the outer layer of the structure reminds us that even the kings were sinners, and the center portion reminds us that God is our King, what do we do with the stories of the mighty men of David (B/B')? How do these stories fit into the conclusion of I and II Samuel? Some say that the stories are only included here as hero stories to remind the people of what God did in time past. Some liberals say that since these stories seem out of place, the authors of Samuel must have found these stories lying around and did not know what to do with them, so they just stuck them on here at the end. But we know God inspired the Scriptures and these narratives were not just stuck on at the end by chance. God has a message for us in these verses and he has very carefully placed them in the conclusion so that we may understand that message. What is that message? Let's take a careful look at the structure of these verses.
You will notice that the passage begins with an introduction and a conclusion. At the beginning of verse 15, we read that once again there was war between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down with his men to fight against them. In verse 22 we have the conclusion to the matter, these four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men. The introduction tells us there was war between Israel and their long-time enemy, the Philistines. The conclusion reports to us the resultthe Philistines fell at the hands of David and his men. Thus, the introductory and concluding summaries set off the structure of our text.
But you will notice from the first part of the conclusion in verse 22 that these were not just any men who fell. These four were the sons of Rapha, or as some translations read "sons of the giant". That's because the sons of Rapha were giants. These men of Rapha were Philistine champions, they were fighterschampion fighters for the Philistine army, just as Goliath had been their champion fighter in I Samuel 17. In our text, these giants are clearly given the most attention. There is very little description of David's men, but the descriptions provided about the men of Rapha and their weapons are detailed.
The first man described in verse 16 is a man named Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels and who was armed with a new sword. The footnote in our Bibles tells us that three hundred shekels was about 7.5 pounds. That means the weight of his spearhead was like the head of a sledgehammer. And this man used it for a spear. A normal man might be able to handle one weapon that size, but this man is so large and strong that he can fight with two! He also fights with a new sharpened sword.
The third Philistine described is Goliath the Gittite (v. 19). Some commentators often question whether this was the same Goliath that David killed, or if there were two Goliaths? The King James Version even adds a phrase in italics that indicates he was the brother of Goliath the Hittite. The most likely explanation is that there were two different Goliaths. But regardless of the answer to this question, don't miss the point. The point is that the author wants you to see a connection between this Giant and the Goliath of I Samuel 17. The connection is confirmed with the description of his weaponthe exact same wording as that for the spear of Goliath in I Samuel 17:7. The connection reminds us of the role these giants played in the Philistine battles. In I Samuel 17, Goliath is the mouthpiece of the Philistine army; he is their champion and he taunts Israel. This giant must have done the same. That he was enormous is indicated by the size of his weapon. The weaver's rod was the thickest, heaviest metal that could be made so that it was strong enough to handle the stretching of cloth for the weaver. For a normal man it would take two hands to hold such a weapon. The Goliaths used them as a spear.
The fourth Philistine on the list is a man with no name (v. 20). Yet he is described as a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foottwenty-four digits in all. The extra toes gave him better balance and the extra fingers gave him better aim. He too taunted Israel (v. 21).
As you can see, the giants are all fighters. Our narrative provides vivid descriptions of their weapons. But what about David and his men? How are they described? David's men are described not by their weapons or their physical presence. The only thing we are told about David's men is that they are related to David. Abishai is the son of Zeruiah (v. 17). Zeruiah was David's sister and that means Abishai was David's nephew. In verse 18, we read that Sibbecai is described as a Hushathite; this means he came from David's tribe, the tribe of Judah. In verse 19, Elhanan, son of Jaare-Oregim is from Bethlehem, David's hometown. And in verse 21, Jonathan is the son of David's brother, which makes him David's nephew too.
The summary provides one word about the battles (v. 22)they "fell". In fact in each battle we are only given one or two words to describe the battle. In verse 17, Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, came to David's rescue and struck the Philistine down and killed him. In verse 18, Sibbecai, the Hushathite, killed Saph. In verse 19, Elhanan, son of Jaare-Oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Hittite. And in verse 21, when the huge man taunted Israel, Jonathan, son of Shimea, David's brother, killed him. Two words are used to describe the first battle against the giant with two weapons; only one word is used to describe the battle of the three with the one. Struck and killed; killed, killed, killed; and in the summary (v. 22) they "fell".
Now if you are like one of my five sons, you are saying to yourself that is not enough. That is not enough of a description of the battlei.e., only one or two words. After such a vivid description of the weapons and the size of these men, we want to read more. We want to know how the battle took place and what David's men did to defeat them! We live in a "Lord of the Rings" generation and we want to see the battles take place against the giant creatures and men. But the author only gives us one word. Why? Why does God not give us more information?
Because there was nothing to write about! It was not even a fight! How dare these giants defy the living God with their taunting? How dare they think that they could kill God's king, the man after God's own heart? How dare they think that they could stand up against the living God and his people and his king? These giants were utterly destroyed by these servants of David, just as the first Goliath was killed by David in I Samuel 17. That first Goliath with all his powerful weapons taunted Israel and defied the living God; and David the shepherd boy took him on with his sling and five stones. With one stone, he struck him in the forehead and he fell. The first Goliath never raised his weapon just as these four giants never raised theirs. In fact the summary makes a change in the wording that makes it clear that there was nothing to write about. In verse 16, we read that Ishbi-Behob was one of the descendants of Rapha; in verse 18, we read that Saph was one of the descendants of Rapha; but in verse 20 and in verse 22, the Hebrew word changes to the word "born"? Why not stick with the pattern? Why does the author change the word to "born", especially in the conclusion (v. 22)? Because in the conclusion, the author is summing up their life's work. Their lives are not summed up in their battles or with the use of their weapons, their lives are summed up with their birth and their deaththey were born and they fell! They were born to fall to David and his men. That was their purpose in life. That is all there is to say about their livesthey were born and they fell.
Yet you will notice that one of these stories stands out from the others. Notice that the first story in verses 16-17 is longer, which make it stand out from the others. We are told at the end of verse 15 that David has become exhausted. Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels and who was armed with a new sword, said he would kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David's rescue, he struck the Philistine down and he 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." What do they mean when the men describe David as "the lamp of Israel"? If you go back to the beginning of the book of I Samuel, during the time of the Judges, you will find that phrase used in chapter 3. Eli is high priest of Israel and his sons are wicked. We are told in verse 1 that the word of the Lord was rare and there were not many visions. One night Eli's eyes had become so weak that he could barely see (v. 2). And the lamp of God had not yet gone out (v. 3). According to Exodus 27, the lamp of God represents the presence of God with his people. It has not gone out because God raised up the boy Samuel to anoint David as king of Israel. And the mighty men of David (II Sam. 21) know it. They know that their victory is connected to David. They know that their victory is connected with God's king. God is with his king and God is with Israel through his king. And if something happens to David, the lamp of Israel, God's presence with Israel, will go out.
But what then of the original readersKing David is no longer living? They live in a divided kingdom. Has the lamp of Israel gone out on them? In II Kings 8 things are pretty bad in Israel and Judah. Wicked king Ahab's son Joram is king of Israel (v. 16). Jehoram is king of Judah, and he walked in the ways of Ahab, for he had married Ahab's daughter. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Nevertheless, for the sake of his servant David, the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah. He had promised to maintain a lamp for David and his descendants forever. The lamp of Israel, God's presence with his people, did not go out after David died. II Kings 8: 19 tells us that the lamp continued to burn in the descendants of David, as well as in those who are connected with God's king. The writer of Matthew's gospel, indicates how that line of descendants carried on all the way from King David, through the kings of the divided monarchy, through the exile, until the coming of the son of David, the son of Joseph, Son of God (Mt. 1).
Our Lord Jesus Christ was of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, born at Bethlehem. And God was not only with him, he was God! He came to earth not as a giant, not with powerful weapons like a new sword, or a spear like a weaver's rod, nor did he have six fingers on each hand and each foot. He did not come to lead his people into military battle against the Romans. Rather he came to suffer, to be beaten and flogged and to die on a cross. And when he died on that Friday afternoon, the earth was darkened (Mt. 27:45); and Satan, his enemy and our enemy, thought he had won. He thought that the lamp of God had been extinguished for God's promised King was dead.
But that was not the end. That was our King's victory! He took the curse of sin and death upon himself, yet his story was not over. For he rose from the dead! He came out of that grave! And on that Easter morning the light of his glorious resurrection shown bright as lightning (Mt. 28:3)! And today he sits in heaven on high, at the right hand of God, and his victory is forever. In Revelation 21:22-23, the apostle John looks into heaven and he writes, I did not see the temple in the city, because the Lord God almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The victory was achieved not by an army, not by weapons, but by God's Kingby the promised eschatological Lamb. And the eschatological light of that Lamb will never go out.
You do not need to worry about the lamp of your King being extinguished. For your King, Son of David, Son of God is in heaven forevermore. God is your king and you are united with him. You are one of his people, one of his sons, and your victory is that you are connected to him. And you should know that because of that victory, no harm can come to you. Nothing can separate you from that victory: not giants, not weapons, not sin and temptations, and not even death (Rom. 8:38-39.). For that victory is yours forever because just as David's men understood, God saves through his King.
But what happens to God's enemy? During the time of David, there were five Philistine cities. When the shepherd boy David picked up five stones in I Samuel 17, he used only one. Those five stones represented the complete victory of David and his men over the five giants and the five Philistine cities. And what can be said of their descendants? All through our text we read of the descendants of Rapha the giant. But in the last versethe summary in verse 22we read they were born and they fell at the hands of David and his men. There are no more descendants of Rapha the giant because all of his sons are dead. Once the victory of King Jesus is complete, there will be no more Satanall of his sons, his followers who have rejected God's Son, will harm God's people no more.
You do not need to be discouraged about the culture. You do not need to be discouraged about our nation's leaders. You do not need to go back to the time of George Washington. For God is your King through his son King Jesus. His victory is certain and secure. Indeed, you have nothing to fear.
Sovereign Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Oak Harbor, Washington