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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–7
Verses 1–7

We have here the last will and testament of king David, or a codicil annexed to it, after he had settled the crown upon Solomon and his treasures upon the temple which was to be built. The last words of great and good men are thought worthy to be in a special manner remarked and remembered. David would have those taken notice of, and added either to his Psalms (as they are here to that in the foregoing chapter) or to the chronicles of his reign. Those words especially in 2 Sam. 23:5; though recorded before, we may suppose he often repeated for his own consolation, even to his last breath, and therefore they are called his last words. When we find death approaching we should endeavor both to honour God and to edify those about us with our last words. Let those that have had long experience of God’s goodness and the pleasantness of wisdom, when they come to finish their course, leave a record of that experience and bear their testimony to the truth of the promise. We have upon record the last words of Jacob and Moses, and here of David, designed, as those, for a legacy to those that were left behind. We are here told,

I. Whose last will and testament this is. This is related either, or is usual, by the testator himself, or rather, by the historian, 2 Sam. 23:1. He is described, 1. By the meanness of his original: He was the son of Jesse. It is good for those who are advanced to be corner-stones and top-stones to be reminded, and often to remind themselves, of the rock out of which they were hewn. 2. The height of his elevation: He was raised up on high, as one favoured of God, and designed for something great, raised up as a prince, to sit higher than his neighbours, and as a prophet, to see further; for, (1.) He was the anointed of the God of Jacob, and so was serviceable to the people of God in their civil interests, the protection of their country and the administration of justice among them. (2.) He was the sweet psalmist of Israel, and so was serviceable to them in their religious exercises. He penned the psalms, set the tunes, appointed both the singers and the instruments of music, by which the devotions of good people were much excited and enlarged. Note, The singing of psalms is a sweet ordinance, very agreeable to those that delight in praising God. It is reckoned among the honours to which David was raised up that he was a psalmist: in that he was as truly great as in his being the anointed of the God of Jacob. Note, It is true preferment to be serviceable to the church in acts of devotion and instrumental to promote the blessed work of prayer and praise. Observe, Was David a prince? He was so for Jacob. Was he a psalmist? He was so for Israel. Note, the dispensation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal, and therefore, as every man has received the gift, so let him minister the same.

II. What the purport of it is. It is an account of his communion with God. Observe,

1. What God said to him both for his direction and for his encouragement as a king, and to be in like manner, of use to his successors. Pious persons take a pleasure in calling to mind what they have heard from God, in recollecting his word, and revolving it in their minds. Thus what God spoke once David heard twice, yea often. See here,

(1.) Who spoke: The Spirit of the Lord, the God of Israel, and the Rock of Israel, which some think is an intimation of the Trinity of persons in the Godhead—the Father the God of Israel, the Son the Rock of Israel, and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, who spoke by the prophets, and particularly by David, and whose word was not only in his heart, but in his tongue for the benefit of others. David here avows his divine inspiration, that in his psalms, and in this composition, The Spirit of God spoke by him. He, and other holy men, spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. This puts an honour upon the book of Psalms, and recommends them to our use in our devotions, that they are words which the Holy Ghost teaches.

(2.) What was spoken. Here seems to be a distinction made between what the Spirit of God spoke by David, which includes all his psalms, and what the Rock of Israel spoke to David, which concerned himself and his family. Let ministers observe that those by whom God speaks to others are concerned to hear and heed what he speaks to themselves. Those whose office it is to teach others their duty must be sure to learn and do their own. Now that which is here said (2 Sam. 23:3, 4) may be considered, [1.] With application to David, and his royal family. And so here is, First, The duty of magistrates enjoined them. When a king was spoken to from God he was not to be complimented with the height of his dignity and the extent of his power, but to be told his duty. “Must is for the king,” we say. Here is a must for the king: He must be just, ruling in the fear of God; and so must all inferior magistrates in their places. Let rulers remember that they rule over men—not over beasts which they may enslave and abuse at pleasure, but over reasonable creatures and of the same rank with themselves. They rule over men that have their follies and infirmities, and therefore must be borne with. They rule over men, but under God, and for him; and therefore, 1. They must be just, both to those over whom they rule, in allowing them their rights and properties, and between those over whom they rule, using their power to right the injured against the injurious; see Deut. 1:16, 17. It is not enough that they do no wrong, but they must not suffer wrong to be done. 2. They must rule in the fear of God, that is, they must themselves be possessed with a fear of God, by which they will be effectually restrained from all acts of injustice and oppression. Nehemiah was so (Neh. 5:15; So did not I, because of the fear of God), and Joseph, Gen. 43:18. They must also endeavor to promote the fear of God (that is, the practice of religion) among those over whom they rule. The magistrate is to be the keeper of both tables, and to protect both godliness and honesty. Secondly, Prosperity promised them if they do, this duty. He that rules in the fear of God shall be as the light of the morning, 2 Sam. 23:4. Light is sweet and pleasant, and he that does his duty shall have the comfort of it; his rejoicing will be the testimony of his conscience. Light is bright, and a good prince is illustrious; his justice and piety will be his honour. Light is a blessing, nor are there any greater and more extensive blessings to the public than princes that rule in the fear of God. As the light of the morning, which is most welcome after the darkness of the night (so was David’s government after Saul’s, Ps. 75:3), which is increasing, shines more and more to the perfect day, such is the growing lustre of a good government. It is likewise compared to the tender grass, which the earth produces for the service of man; it brings with it a harvest of blessings. See Ps. 72:6, 16, which were also some of the last words of David, and seem to refer to those recorded here. [2.] With application to Christ, the Son of David, and then it must all be taken as a prophecy, and the original will bear it: There shall be a rule among men, or over men, that shall be just, and shall rule in the fear of God, that is, shall order the affairs of religion and divine worship according to his Father’s will; and he shall be as the light to the morning, etc., for he is the light of the world, and as the tender grass, for he is the branch of the Lord, and the fruit of the earth, Isa. 11:1-5; 32:1, 2; Ps. 72:2. God, by the Spirit, gave David the foresight of this, to comfort him under the many calamities of his family and the melancholy prospects he had of the degeneracy of his seed.

2. What comfortable use he made of this which God spoke to him, and what were his devout meditations on it, by way of reply, 2 Sam. 23:5. It is not unlike his meditation on occasion of such a message, 2 Sam. 7:18-29 That which goes before the Rock of Israel spoke to him; this the Spirit of God spoke by him, and it is a most excellent confession of his faith and hope in the everlasting covenant. Here is,

(1.) Trouble supposed: Although my house be not so with God, and although he make it not to grow. David’s family was not so with God as is described (2 Sam. 23:3, 4), and as he could wish, not so good, not so happy; it had not been so while he lived; he foresaw it would not be so when he was gone, that his house would be neither so pious nor so prosperous as one might have expected the offspring of such a father to be. [1.] Not so with God. Note, We and ours are that really which we are with God. This was what David’s heart was upon concerning his children, that they might be right with God, faithful to him and zealous for him. But the children of godly parents are often neither so holy nor so happy as might be expected. We must be made to know that it is corruption, not grace, that runs in the blood, that the race is not to the swift, but that God gives his Spirit as a free-agent. [2.] Not made to grow, in number, in power; it is God that makes families to grow or not to grow, Ps. 107:41. Good men have often the melancholy prospect of a declining family. David’s house was typical of the church of Christ, which is his house, Heb. 3:3. Suppose this be not so with God as we could wish, suppose it be diminished, distressed, disgraced, and weakened, by errors and corruptions, yea, almost extinct, yet God has made a covenant with the church’s head, the Son of David, that he will preserve to him a seed, that the gates of hell shall never prevail against his house. This our Saviour comforted himself with in his sufferings, that the covenant with him stood firm, Isa. 53:10-12. (2.) Comfort ensured: Yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant. Whatever trouble a child of God may have the prospect of, still he has some comfort or other to balance it with (2 Cor. 4:8, 9), and there is none like this of the Psalmist, which may be understood, [1.] Of the covenant of royalty (in the type) which God made with David and his seed, touching the kingdom, Ps. 132:11, 12. But, [2.] It must look further, to the covenant of grace made with all believers, that God will be, in Christ, to them a God, which was signified by the covenant of royalty, and therefore the promises of the covenant are called the sure mercies of David, Isa. 55:3. It is this only that is the everlasting covenant, and it cannot be imagined that David, who, in so many of his psalms, speaks so clearly concerning Christ and the grace of the gospel, should forget it in his last words. God has made a covenant of grace with us in Jesus Christ, and we are here told, First, That it is an everlasting covenant, from everlasting in the contrivance and counsel of it, and to everlasting in the continuance and consequences of it. Secondly, That it is ordered, well ordered in all things, admirably well, to advance the glory of God and the honour of the Mediator, together with the holiness and comfort of believers. It is herein well ordered, that whatever is required in the covenant is promised, and that every transgression in the covenant does not throw us out of covenant, and that it puts our salvation, not in our own keeping, but in the keeping of a Mediator. Thirdly, That it is sure, and therefore sure because well ordered; the general offer of it is sure; the promised mercies are sure on the performance of the conditions. The particular application of it to true believers is sure; it is sure to all the seed. Fourthly, That it is all our salvation. Nothing but this will save us, and this is sufficient: it is this only upon which our salvation depends. Fifthly, That therefore it must be all our desire. Let me have an interest in this covenant and the promises of it, and I have enough, I desire no more.

3. Here is the doom of the sons of Belial read, 2 Sam. 23:6, 7. (1.) They shall be thrust away as thorns—rejected, abandoned. They are like thorns, not to be touched with hands, so passionate and furious that they cannot be managed or dealt with by a wise and faithful reproof, but must be restrained by law and the sword of justice (Ps. 32:9); and therefore, like thorns, (2.) They shall, at length, be utterly burnt with fire in the same place, Heb. 6:8. Now this is intended, [1.] As a direction to magistrates to use their power for the punishing and suppressing of wickedness. Let them thrust away the sons of Belial; see Ps. 101:8. Or, [2.] As a caution to magistrates, and particularly to David’s sons and successors, to see that they be not themselves sons of Belial (as too many of them were), for then neither the dignity of their place nor their relation to David would secure them from being thrust away by the righteous judgments of God. Though men could not deal with them, God would. Or, [3.] As a prediction of the ruin of all the implacable enemies of Christ’s kingdom. There are enemies without, that openly oppose it and fight against it, and enemies within, that secretly betray it and are false to it; both are sons of Belial, children of the wicked one, of the serpent’s seed; both are as thorns, grievous and vexatious: but both shall be so thrust away as that Christ will set up his kingdom in despite of their enmity, will go through them (Isa. 27:4), and will, in due time, bless his church with such peace that there shall be no pricking brier nor grieving thorn. And those that will not repent, to give glory to God, shall, in the judgment-day (to which the Chaldee paraphrast refers this), be burnt with unquenchable fire. See Luke 19:27.