The Sweet Singer’s Closing Strains
2 Samuel 23:1-7
The last words of men are always of interest. Frequently they reveal the true man. The heart of his whole career is then oft times summed up in a few short final utterances. The vain show in which the world walks is passing away. The realities of death, judgment, and eternity are before the mind. Then the truth will out, and the heart express itself as never before.
How well it is to hear the triumphant words of faith, and hope and love on the lips of the dying Christian, and to see how that which has been his stay in life is his comfort and refuge as he faces the end of all his pathway here. Then all of man and his world is seen at its true value, and all of Christ and the verities of the things which are really life assume their true importance. So it was with David.
His “last words” summarize his history. And these last words are among his best words. The Spirit of God caused him to utter and to pen them for our learning, and we may occupy ourselves profitably in the consideration of their teaching.
The fourfold presentation of the speaker himself is important.
1. “David the son of Jesse.” Here he is viewed in his natural state. He was the younger son of the Ephrathite of Bethlehem-Judah; and evidently of little account among his brothers. They were men who could go to war while he was left to keep the “few sheep in the wilderness.” Here is pictured what we are in our natural state as part of a fallen race. Of this we shall speak further.
2. What we are in nature is of small account if God be pleased to take us up. So now we get a view of David as chosen of God for His service—“The man who was raised up on high.” Exalted from his low estate he becomes the deliverer of his people, and in due course their king, with all their enemies subdued under them. And what we are in grace as taken up of God may cause us to cry with joy, “What hath God wrought!” Our sins are gone from the sight and memory of our Saviour-God. We are brought into a nearness unknown even to angels. We behold the manner of the Father’s love in that we are called the children of God. We share with Christ in everything that it is possible for Him to share with us, His joy, His peace, His given glory, the knowledge of the Father’s communications to Him and of the Father’s love in which He delights. All these are ours, and we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” We are “lifted up on high” indeed.
3. “The anointed of the God of Jacob.” David was anointed of Samuel for the kingship. “Anointed unto” Jehovah as named of Him to be leader of His people (see 1 Sam. 16:3). And anointed unto Jehovah for the comfort and blessing of the Lord’s own down all the centuries of time. “The God of Jacob” had chosen to take him up in spite of all that he was and all that he might be or might do. And we who believe find a refuge in this, that the same One who took up Jacob and David has taken us up and is “our God for ever and ever.”
The infidel may scoff about “the man after God’s own heart,” because he will not own what his own heart is, or what he himself has done or is capable of doing. But the believer who knows “the plague of his own heart” rejoices that David’s God knows all concerning every one of His own, and delights that they should flee away from self and find their nestling-place in the eternal God as their refuge.
And was it not for this that David was “the man after God’s own heart,” that he ever fled for shelter to God (1 Sam. 30:6)? He did this when his city had been burned, when his loved ones had been carried captive, and when his followers spoke of stoning him, for his God still remained. And he did this when in the sore straits following upon his numbering of unredeemed Israel, saying, “Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord . . . let me not fall into the hand of man.” He could say of God, “for His mercies are great,” and could trust Him even in government, while the great penitential Psalm (Ps. 51) makes plain the broken heart and the contrite spirit of the sinner after his “blood-guiltiness.”
It is David who sings, “How great is Thy goodness which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee, which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men” (Ps. 31:19). Our God delights in those who confide in Him, and who in their sorrows or in their sins seek Him continually. And He it is who anoints us that we may know our present and permanent blessing, and that power may be ours to serve Him.
4. Finally, “The sweet psalmist of Israel.” Here we find the gift peculiar to himself; the gift the results of which are in our hands today, and oftentimes express the deep sentiments of our souls in prayer and praise. And in his gift—as is the case in all those who are true “gifts” of God for the succour of His own—he pointed on to Christ, as Psalms 1, 2, 8, 22, 40, 45, 69, 102, and others, abundantly witness. The sinner saved from his sins becomes the singer, and the singer sings of the Saviour who saved him, and sings thus for the help and encouragement of saints in every time and clime.
Thus we see David in nature, in grace, in power, and in gift, set up of God to sing of Christ and to express the heart’s delight in Him and in God Himself, his own “exceeding joy.”
“The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His Word was in my tongue.” Have we not the true character of inspiration here: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me?” He was one of the “holy men of God” who “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” And he who was spoken by was spoken to at the same time (vv. 2-3). This communication of the divine mind was for David as for others.
So we see that David is made the instrument for the utterance of the thoughts of God. He was formed of God in all his varied experiences and circumstances to be the means used to convey to others not his own mind and words but the mind and the words of God. And this is the human in inspiration. The vessel is made for the service, and various vessels for various services, as the faucets in a large house may be of differing shapes for differing uses, while the water flowing through them is from the same source of supply. All the channels of inspiration have been made of God, separated from the womb, and moulded and fashioned in their history for the distinct and peculiar form of their ultimate ministry and service.
And now we come to the communication, “the last words” themselves.
“The God of Israel said”—not “the God of Jacob” now. Israel is the prince with God, what he is as favoured and blessed of God, and He, the God of Israel, is “the Rock of Israel” also. As “God” He is to be adored, reverenced, and obeyed. As “Rock” He is to be run to, hidden in, and relied on. The God and the Rock of Israel speaks; and at once the thoughts of the sweet singer are carried on beyond himself and his surroundings, and centred on Christ, the coming Ruler over all. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” And this will be the character of Christ and His kingdom. “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and as a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isa. 32:1-2). For that King, for that Man, creation waits. Its groans shall be hushed. Its sighs, and sorrows, and sufferings shall cease. The desert shall blossom as a rose and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands because of Him.
The long dark night of His refusal and absence draws to its close, the true light now shineth, and Christ is near at hand. Creation’s Hallelujah Chorus shall soon sound forth. Already the day star, the harbinger of the morning, has arisen in the hearts of His own, and this Sun of Righteousness thus heralded will soon rise “with healing in His wings.”
“And He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds: as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” The day dawns, the shadows flee away, and in that morning without clouds, “from the sunshine after rain the green grass springeth from the earth.” All below shall prosper and shall bear fruit for the glory of God and for the good of all His creatures as everything emerges into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God, who will themselves enjoy to the full their higher and heavenly portion with the Ruler Himself. Blessed prospect, indeed! “Lord, haste the day!”
All has been in a major key hitherto. What God has done and what God will do has engaged his “well- tuned harp.” But now the plaintive strains of a minor note or two are to be heard, as, for the moment, the singer thinks of himself and his responsibility. “Although my house be not so with God.” He has to realize how he and his domination have been unlike the Ruler, and the rule, and its results of which he has sung. His own life has been far from being a morning without clouds. Thank God that we have Christ, that we are “in Him,” for each one, however honoured and privileged, has to own his own utter unprofitableness. Happy it is for us if we have learned, like John on the bosom of our Saviour rather than like Peter at the fireside of those who are His and our enemies, to find ourselves out as we commune with Him in the warmth and sunshine of His deep love, instead of through self-confidence fallen into temptation and discovering the evil of our hearts when openly denying our Lord. But the experience has to be gained that “The mind of the flesh (even in the believer) is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” As it has been remarked, “The hardest lesson we have to learn is wrapped up in five words, ‘The flesh profiteth nothing’” (John 6:63). It is an unmendable evil and all efforts to educate or to improve it are in vain. Another has said, “Sublimate the flesh however much you may, it is flesh still.” These conclusions are but the echo of our Lord’s own words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” It originates in flesh, has the character of that whence it originates, and in that character will remain, whatever may be done to amend or ameliorate it.
Our “house is not so with God,” and our house takes its character from us, and from our fallen nature which is incurably and incorrigibly bad. And perhaps its evil is most clearly evidenced in “the iniquity of our holy things.” We may think that we serve God better than others, or preach or pray with greater fluency or acceptance than some one else, or that our labours are more effective than those of our fellow-servants. All this is of the flesh and to be judged before God.
David had to make this sad admission in order to magnify the great grace of God. The artist about to present the object of his fancy in the foreground of a picture will first paint in the dark background which will the better set off that which he wishes to be prominent to the beholder’s eyes. Our evil brings to light the manifold grace of our God.
And wherever we turn in human history we find, “Not so with God.” We see it in the fall of our first parents, in man’s history before and subsequent to the flood, in Israel’s journeyings and breakdown under lawgiver, leader, judges, kings, and prophets, in the Gentile’s pride of dominion, in the rejection and crucifixion of Christ, and refusal of the testimony of the Holy Ghost to Christ glorified. And we see it today each for himself in individual and personal unfaithfulness, as we see it also in that house which professes Christ’s name, the Church of which we form part. “Not so with God” stamps itself everywhere in every dispensation, and this serves to turn us from “the first man” and his descendants to the “Second Man”—the Man of God’s right hand made strong for Himself and (we may add by His grace) for us.
But the low minor bars are completed. The major notes are to be sounded with force and feeling now.
“YET HE.” God and His grace are again in view, emphasized now by all that David knew of himself and his family. And this is our resource. The cry, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” is answered by, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God Himself is our resource in all, our Saviour, our Deliverer, our Refuge.
The “not so” speaks of our failure and folly and sin, and it is written large and plain, so that the runner may read, over everything “under the sun.”
The “YET HE” turns our thoughts to One whose every purpose will be made good in its own time. Man’s failure will but exalt God’s faithfulness.
“Yet He hath made with me.” Knowing me altogether and all that I am and have proved myself to be, times without number, “yet He” hath taken me up and made with me “a covenant ordered in all things and sure.” Everything has been arranged by Him, every difficulty has been considered, every emergency provided for. All is ordered, all is sure, for all is of God Himself, and all will be made good in Christ.
It is this which the apostle delights in, as he writes the triumphant words in 2 Corinthians 2, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ . . . was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea. For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (vv. 19-22). All in Christ is yea, and all in Him Amen, and we are being more and more firmly attached to Christ by the Holy Spirit’s ministry. God has sealed us in view of the day of redemption, He has anointed us to give us intelligence in His things, and He has given the earnest, the foretaste, of the future glory in our hearts al ready. Blessed be His glorious name forever.
Well may we exclaim with the sweet singer, “This is all my salvation and all my desire.” He turns his eyes upon the future. By the power of the Spirit he is in the light of the coming glory. He sees, as Abraham saw, Christ’s day, and is glad. He looks for nothing from himself or from his house. He hides himself in the covenant faithfulness of God, in Christ.
“Although He make it not to grow.” For the hour when all should be made good David must wait—the growing day had not yet dawned. But “though it tarry, wait for it.” “He that cometh will come and will not delay.” And David shall yet see it and rejoice.
May the Lord direct our hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ, and give us in the little while, the very little while, until the Lord’s return, to be happy in doing His will in holy confidence in Himself, until every jot and tittle of His purposes of grace and goodness are established at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Help and Food 1928