THE LIFE OF DAVID: The Later Years
How swiftly the years pass! For a person over fifty, it seems only a short time since graduation from high school or college. Twenty-five or thirty years of a good marriage pass by swiftly, and the wedding day seems to have been but a few years ago. Time is so relative.
King David found this to be true in his life. From those early days of tending his father Jesse’s sheep, the years seemed to have passed by so swiftly. The challenge of Goliath at that very tender age was only a memory; his flight from Saul was almost ancient history. The seven-year reign in Hebron and many years of ruling from Jerusalem seemed so brief. The children had grown, and Absalom had made his attempt to usurp his throne. Life had slipped by, and David was coming to his last years. This period of David’s life was marked by his protecting the throne, numbering the people, preparing for the Temple and then dying with dignity.
PROTECTING THE THRONE
The Revolt of Sheba
Through David’s life there had been many attempts to take the rulership away from God’s anointed king. Saul had tried to prevent his ever becoming king, and his own son Absalom had usurped the throne and caused his father to flee Jerusalem. Even after Absalom’s death, it took David quite some time to get the majority of the people behind him again (2 Sam. 19:11-15).
A worthless Benjamite named Sheba then gathered the people and declared, “We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. Every man to his tents, O Israel” (2 Sam. 20:1b). He revolted against the authority and rule of the king. Although all the other men of Israel followed this usurper, the men of Judah stood by their king, David. The seeds of a later division in the kingdom were then sown. David’s right of kingship was once again challenged.
The king called for Amasa, who had replaced Joab as the leader of his armies (2 Sam. 19:13), and commanded him to gather the armies of Judah that they might go after this “worthless fellow.” When it took Amasa longer than three days to accomplish the task, David was very upset, for he was afraid Sheba would do him more harm than Absalom had done in his rebellion.
Since Amasa did not gather the men in the allotted time, David appointed Abishai to pursue Sheba. Joab’s troops joined him and, along with others, they went after this rebel. As they came to the great stone in Gibeon, Amasa appeared in front of his troops. Joab, wearing a loose fitting garment which concealed his sword, approached Amasa, greeted him and, reaching out to kiss him, stabbed him fatally with the sword.
Joab resumed the leadership of David’s troops, and with his army he besieged Abel of Bethmaachah, where Sheba was hidden. As they prepared to knock down the wall to gain entrance, a wise woman spoke with Joab. Why destroy the city? she asked. Weren’t the people of this city faithful to David? When Joab told her about Sheba’s revolt, she inquired further. If Sheba were killed, would Joab leave the city alone? Joab agreed, and the woman went back into the city and spoke to the people. Sheba was killed and his head thrown over the city wall. Joab and the army went back home with their mission accomplished. Joab was reinstated as David’s general, and the throne was secure again.
The Concubines of David
In the midst of the narrative regarding Sheba’s revolt, there is one puzzling verse of Scripture that seems at first not to fit the context. “And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in confinement, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood” (2 Sam. 20:3). Why would the Holy Spirit place this in the middle of the narrative of Sheba’s revolt?
Deuteronomy 28:30, one of the curses of disobedience promised by Moses, declared, “Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her ….” When David sinned with Bathsheba, one of the promises of Nathan the prophet was, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun” (2 Sam. 12:11-12).
When Absalom revolted against David, causing him to flee the capital, the king left ten women who were concubines in Jerusalem to take care of the house (2 Sam. 15:16). Ahithophel advised Absalom to go in unto the concubines upon the top of the house in the sight of all Israel, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Nathan. But what is often forgotten is that the king alone could have concubines. In doing what he did, Absalom was trying to openly prove to the people that he, rather than David, was their rightful ruler. Apparently David locked these women up when he came back to Jerusalem for two reasons. First, they had become unclean to him by the uncleanness his son had committed with them. Second, he protected the throne, in that Sheba would not be able to get to them to claim rulership in the land.
Later, after the death of David, Adonijah used the same ploy against Solomon. He persuaded his mother Bathsheba to ask Solomon if he might have Abishag, the Shunammite, a concubine of David, to be his wife. The concubines of the king, at the death of the ruler, were given to the king who replaced him. To have a concubine of the king was tantamount to having the right of kingship.
When Bathsheba presented Adonijah’s request, Solomon answered, “And why dost thou ask Abishag, the Shunammite, for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also; for he is mine elder brother . . .” (1 Ki. 2:22b). Solomon knew that this meant that Adonijah must die. Again, the throne of David was protected. God’s promised man would rule.
The Sons of Saul
When the land suffered a famine for three years, David sought the face of the Lord to find the reason. God’s answer was very simple. “It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:lb).
Although the Gibeonites had deceived Joshua during his takeover of Canaan, he made a covenant of peace with them. He made them hewers of wood, and, as such, servants. However, no harm was to be done to them because of the promise of Joshua (Josh. 9 and 10). It becomes very apparent that God takes the covenants we make very seriously.
Since Saul and his house obviously broke that covenant and slew the Gibeonites, Israel now faced a famine (2 Sam. 21:1). Moses had spoken concerning bloodshed. “So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are; for blood defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it” (Num. 35:33).
David had no choice. He was bound by the law to obey it so that the famine would be removed. Meeting with the Gibeonite leaders, the king inquired what he could do to make amends for what Saul and his family had done to their relatives. They asked that seven sons of Saul be hanged) and in a short time the sentence was carried out. Only Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan, was spared. In this way the throne of David was protected from any of the lineage of Saul.
The Sons of the Giant
The Philistines were a perennial problem to the Israelites. Saul had fought them, David had defeated Goliath and had won victories over them, but they still were a thorn in his side.
In 2 Samuel 21:15-22, David “grew faint” as he fought against the giant. Ishbibenob attempted to slay David, but Abishai came to his aid. Then David’s men warned him not to go out in battle anymore, lest the light of Israel be quenched. His troops went on to kill other giants as well as the brother of Goliath the Gittite. The Lord through this protected the throne of David from yet another enemy, the Philistines.
As David grew weaker and the time of his death approached, one of his sons had to be anointed as king. While David’s son Adonijah was making his move to become king, the Prophet Nathan went to Bathsheba and advised her to have David declare her son Solomon king. This, he assured her, would spare her life as well as that of her son Solomon. She went in to David’s room and reminded him of the promise he had made earlier to her, that Solomon would be his successor. She let him know that Adonijah had already declared himself king.
As she spoke to David, the Prophet Nathan entered. He, too, revealed to David that Adonijah was claiming the throne. Very shortly thereafter, David renewed his promise to Bathsheba that her son Solomon would be his successor.
Zadok, Nathan and Benaiah were then commissioned to go and anoint Solomon as king. After Solomon’s appointment, Adonijah’s plan to become king was thwarted, and he was killed. Solomon became king and again the line of David was protected. The promise of 2 Samuel 7 could now be fulfilled.
NUMBERING THE ISRAELITES
“And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah” (2 Sam. 24:1). “And Satan stood up against Israel, and enticed David to number Israel” (1 Chr. 21:1).
There are two concepts that we must consider in our dealing with David’s numbering of Israel. First, what is so wrong with taking a census? After all, it had been done before under Moses. Second, we must deal with at least an apparent discrepancy. Was it God or Satan who led David to commit this sin?
God had blessed David in many ways. He had known great military victories, the kingdom had been enlarged, economic growth had resulted, but a gradual change of attitude had taken place in the king’s heart. Instead of putting his entire trust in the Lord, as when he stood alone against Goliath and the Philistine armies, he had come to rely more on material resources. His desire was to calculate his military resources rather than depend on the Lord to fight his battles.
Underneath it all was the sin of pride that moved in David’s heart, the same sin that made Lucifer fall and become Satan. So, it was Satan who provoked David to commit this sin.
On the other hand, the Lord decided it was time for David to be brought low once more that he might seek the grace of God again. He allowed David to go ahead with his long-cherished plan of numbering his manpower. It was as if God said, Go ahead and do it; see how much good it will do you.
Joab was the recipient of the king’s order to number the people. He immediately sensed that David and his leaders were becoming puffed up by their great military victories, and he questioned the command of the king. “And Joab answered. The Lord make His people an hundred times as many more as they are; but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why, then, doth my lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” (1 Chr. 21:3). David had his final warning through Joab, but David prevailed against his commander.
Why was the census-taking so wrong? Were there not two of them taken in the days of Moses, at the beginning of and at the end of the 40 years in the wilderness? Moses was commanded to number the people. The second numbering had two purposes. First, it was designed to show that at the end of the period Israel’s army was smaller than 40 years earlier. Furthermore, the command was given to serve as the basis for the distribution of the promised land. David’s numbering could do no more than inflate his ego.
The Unfinished Job
Joab disagreed with his appointed task. He halfheartedly began the census and reported back over nine months later. However, he had not done all he was told to do, since he refused to count Levi and Benjamin, “for the king’s word was abominable to Joab” (1 Chr. 21:6). Shortly thereafter David’s conscience bothered him for what he had done. He cried, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; and now, I beseech thee, 0 Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly” (2 Sam. 24:10b).
The Promise of God by Gad
The Lord moved upon the heart of Gad, David’s prophet, to go to David with the Lord’s message. Punishment was coming, and David had a choice: either seven years of famine in the land, or fleeing three months before his enemies, or three days of pestilence in the land.
The King’s Choice
David was in deep distress over this decision. The land had just recently had a three-year famine because of what Saul and his house had done to the Gibeonites. David had experienced years of flight from this former king, and he didn’t relish that experience.
David did what he should have done before he numbered his troops. “Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord; for very great are his mercies. But let me not fall into the hand of man” (1 Chr. 21:13b). He would rest on the grace and mercies of God.
Judgment fell! The Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel, and seventy thousand men fell from one end of the land to the other. The angel of the Lord began to destroy Jerusalem, and the Lord cried out, “It is enough!” His hand was stayed, and David publicly admitted his sin. However, the angel was still there with drawn sword.
The Plague Stayed
Through the Prophet Gad, David was instructed to build an altar in the threshing floor of Ornan. Although Ornan offered it free, David insisted on buying the area. When the transaction was complete, David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. The Lord then commanded the angel to put away his sword, for the judgment was over. However, something often overlooked is the grace of God in the whole matter. David, who so much wanted to build a temple for the Lord but was forbidden to do so, had just purchased Mount Moriah. The place for the Temple to be built now belonged to the nation. The way was open for Solomon to shortly do what David had so desired to do.
PREPARING THE TEMPLE
Now that David had bought the future site of the Temple, he was even more excited about its construction. His death would soon come, but he set masons to cutting the stone. He prepared nails and brass fittings and gathered cedar for the lumber. “And David said, Solomon, my son, is young and tender, and the house that is to be builded for the Lord must be very magnificent, of fame and of glory throughout all countries. I will, therefore, now make preparation for it. So David prepared abundantly before his death” (1 Chr. 22:5).
David called his son Solomon to come before him and charged him to build a house for the Lord. He told him of his own desire, but also of God’s promise that it would be built by his son. He commanded Solomon to build the Temple and to bring God’s glory to Jerusalem.
DYING WITH DIGNITY
The life of David was quickly ebbing from his body. As in the case of many elderly, he could not keep warm. To help him be warmed, his servants did something that seems very unusual to modern readers. They brought a young virgin, Abishag, to lie with him and warm his body. The end was very near.
David had challenged Solomon, and he charged his people. His time had come. “And he died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honor” (1 Chr. 29:28). “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (1 Ki. 2:10).
The shepherd-psalmist-king of Israel was gone. The “man after God’s own heart” had departed. He was ready to meet his God. David, whose sin was great but whose repentance was even greater, was now with his Lord.