Famous last words. ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ is one I remember from school, which Nelson supposedly said to his ship’s captain at the Battle of Trafalgar. ‘You too, Brutus’. Julius Caesar probably didn’t say those words, but those are the last words of Caesar in Shakespeare’s play. Johnny Cash apparently said, ‘It’s time’. And Barry White, another singer, apparently said to his nurse, ‘Leave me alone, I’m fine’. And the last words of General George Sedgwick, spoken at a battle during the American Civil War, were, ‘They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance!’ Famous last words.
In today’s chapter we have David’s last words. They’re probably not his very last words, but his last recorded words or even his last recorded poem. And the words of this poem not only sum up David’s life, but they also look to the future. You see, believers are always future-oriented, aren’t we? This year is the 50th year since the amalgamation of Agnes Street and Bethany and we want to celebrate that anniversary and give thanks to the Lord for his faithfulness. And we’re hoping to do that in a small way in October. However, while it’s important to look back over the past and to God’s faithfulness, believers should always be future-oriented, because our great hope which God has given us is that the Lord Jesus is coming again one day to gather his people together so that we might live with him in body and soul in the new heavens and earth. That will be the consummation or the completion of our salvation when Christ our King comes again. And we look forward to it. And as David reflected on his life in these words, and as he remembered God’s kindness to him in the past, he also looked forward to the coming of the true King, who is Jesus Christ our Saviour.
And so, in verse 1 of chapter 23 David said:
The oracle of David son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man exalted by the Most High,
the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
Israel’s singer of songs.
So, these words are an oracle. An oracle is a message from the Lord. So, this is not any old poem, but it’s divinely-inspired poem. As David will go on to say in verse 2, the Spirit of the Lord spoke through him and God’s word was on his tongue. And in verse 3 he says that the God of Israel spoke and the Rock of Israel said these things to him.
David is telling us repeatedly that this poem is a message from the Lord. And since this is God’s word, we know that what David said here in this little poem is true. What he said about his own life is true; but what he said about the future is also true. It’s true because God was speaking through him about the King who was to come.
But first of all he writes about his own life. And he refers to himself as the son of Jesse. You’ll remember the story of how the prophet Samuel was sent to Jesse, who lived in Bethlehem, because the Lord had chosen one of his sons to be king over God’s people; and Samuel was to anoint the man God had chosen. But it turned out that Jesse had several sons. Which one was the chosen one? It must surely be Jesse’s eldest son, because he looked like a king to Samuel. But the Lord hadn’t chosen Jesse’s first son. What about his second son? Or this third son? Or his fourth or fifth or sixth or seventh son? The Lord hadn’t chosen any of those seven sons. ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ Samuel asked. ‘There’s still the youngest’, Jesse replied. And it’s as if he had forgotten about David, because David was out in the fields, minding the sheep. He was the youngest. The least important. The most insignificant son of Jesse. And yet he’s the one the Lord had chosen to lead his people and to rule over them as king. And so, when David refers to himself in chapter 23 as the son of Jesse, he’s thinking about his humble beginnings. His father Jesse was not an important person. And David was the least important of his sons. And David is remembering his humble beginnings.
So, he’s the son of Jesse and he’s also the man exalted by the Most High God. So, God took hold of him, this ordinary, insignificant man, and the Lord exalted him and made him king over Israel. Do you remember David’s song of praise from chapter 22 and how he emphasised the point that whatever David was and whatever David accomplished was due not to his own skill or strength or wisdom, and it was not due to good fortune or luck, but it was due to the Lord. David said about the Lord: He is the one who gave me strength. He is the one who gave me the shield of victory. He is the one who made my adversaries bow down before me. He is the one who made them turn back and run. He is the one who avenged me and who put nations under me. The Most High God, who lives in a high and holy place, reached down from heaven to take hold of David; and the Lord lifted him up and exalted him as king over his people. He raised him out of the fields, where he minded the sheep, to sit enthroned in Jerusalem, where he ruled over God’s people. Back in chapter 5 we read that David became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him. The Lord God Almighty exalted him over his fellow Israelites.
And David goes on to refer to how he was anointed by the God of Jacob. Jacob was the father of the nation of Israel, because the twelve tribes of Israel came from Jacob. And, with the Lord’s help, Israel became a great and mighty and numerous nation. And the Most High God chose and anointed David to be king over all of them. What an honour! What a privilege! David did not deserve it, but God graciously and freely chose him and anointed him and set him over the people.
And right at the end of verse 1, David refers to himself as ‘Israel’s singer of songs’. And, of course, most of the psalms in the Bible were written by David to be used by the people of God in every generation to worship the Lord our God. But we wonder why David mentions this here? Is he again referring to his humble beginnings? Who would believe that a poet and songwriter would become king of God’s people? Or is the point that this was David’s chief work, his most important work, because our chief end in life, and the reason God made us, is to glorify God and to worship him forever. So, perhaps David mentions his songs here, because that was his greatest work. But then the commentators tell us that the Hebrew words can be translated another way. Perhaps instead of ‘Israel’s singer of songs’ it should be translated ‘the hero of Israel’s song’. In other words, the people of Israel used to sing about him. And we know that’s the case, don’t we? After he killed Goliath, the women used to sing:
Saul has slain his thousands
and David his tens of thousands.
In that case, David is marvelling at God’s kindness to him that he, the son of Jesse, should become the subject of their songs.
Verses 2 to 4
So, in the first part of this oracle, David thinks back over his life and to his humble beginnings. And he marvels at God’s kindness to him, because the Most High God took hold of him and raised him above his people and made him king.
And then in verses 2 to 4, David goes on to tell us what God said to him. And, notice, how he creates a sense of anticipation, because we’re kept waiting to hear what God said to David. So, first he says the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me. What did he say? He doesn’t tell us. Instead he says that God’s word was on David’s tongue. But what did he say? He doesn’t tell us. Instead he says that the God of Israel spoke. But what did he say? He still doesn’t tell us. Instead he says that the Rock of Israel said something to him. But what did he say? Will you tell us please?
And so, finally, finally, David tells us what God said to him. And unfortunately the NIV’s translation isn’t very good. The NIV treats his words as a kind of proverb. That is, when one rules like this, then this will happen. But the Lord’s word to David is really an announcement that a ruler over men will arise who will rule in righteousness and in the fear of the Lord. So, someone is going to come to rule. But he won’t rule only over Israel, as David did. He’ll rule over ‘men’. That is, he will rule over men and women. He will rule over all of humanity. He will rule over the whole earth. Now, that’s a very special king, isn’t it? If you know a little history and can name some of the greatest kings and emperors who ever lived, you’ll know that while some ruled over mighty empires, there’s never been any human ruler who has ruled over the world. And this supreme ruler will rule in righteousness and in the fear of the Lord. That means he will do what is right in the sight of God and he will be careful not to offend the Lord or to do anything to displease the Lord or to provoke his wrath. This supreme ruler will walk in the ways of the Lord.
And therefore he will be like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless day. He will be like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth. After the darkness, comes the light. After the rain, the sun comes out. This king will bring a new day and times of refreshment.
And where will this new king come from? That’s what verse 5 tells us, because in verse 5 David refers to his house. And do you remember back to chapter 7 when David was in Jerusalem and he wanted to build a house for the ark of the Lord. But the Lord spoke to David though Nathan the prophet and the Lord told him that David would not build a house for the Lord, but the Lord would build a house for David. But the Lord wasn’t talking about a building. He was talking about a dynasty and how a succession of kings will come from David. And at that time, the Lord made an everlasting covenant or promise with David, because he promised David that David’s house and his kingdom shall endure forever. And his house and his kingdom shall endure forever, because one of his descendants will rule forever. And so, here in David’s last recorded words, he refers in verse 5 to his house and how God has made an everlasting covenant or promise with him, which is arranged and secure in every part. So, God has thought of everything and no one will be able to frustrate God’s plans and nothing will prevent him from keeping his promise to David. And therefore God will bring to fruition David’s salvation and God will grant him his every desire. Nothing is going to stop the Lord from doing everything he promised.
And so, here’s David foretelling how a supreme ruler will arise who will rule in righteousness and in the fear of the Lord. And he connects that with God’s earlier promise to him concerning his own descendants and how a king will come from David who will rule forever. And so, he’s telling us in his final words that the King who will come from him and who will rule forever and the supreme King who will rule over all in righteousness and in the fear of the Lord are one and the same person.
And he’s referring to the Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t he? The Lord Jesus was — according to his human nature — descended from David. And though he died, he was raised from the dead to live forever. And after his resurrection, he was seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything. In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection, has become King over all men and women and boys and girls. He’s the King over all. And he’s King over all forever.
And when he comes again, in glory and with power, it will be like the dawning of a new day and there will be times of refreshing and renewal, because all the sorrow and sadness of this life, all the troubles and trials, all the disease and death of this life, and the things which make us weep, will be forgotten; and all those who belong to Christ through faith will live with him and will reign with him forever and forever in perfect peace and rest.
But look at verse 6, where David warns that evil men will be cast aside like thorns. Think of a thorn bush in the garden, which you cannot touch because of the thorns. So, you grab hold of it with some kind of garden tool and you uproot it and throw it into the fire to be burned. Or did you read about those people, going through the countryside near Castlerock recently to bash the bracken with broom handles. And so, Christ the King will come to beat the wicked, all those who refused to believe in him. He will come and take them and he’ll send them away to be punished forever for all that they have done wrong. For them, there will only be darkness and sorrow and pain, but for those who believe, there will be light and joy and peace forever.
So, this is David’s oracle, his divinely-inspired poem at the end of his life, when he looked back over his life and remembered how God graciously exalted him and made him king over his people. But David was also able to look forward into the future and to anticipate how a new King was coming, a far better and greater King than David ever was, because this new King will rule in righteousness and in the fear of the Lord; and he will rule over all.
And that new King is the Lord Jesus Christ who died and who was raised and who is now seated in heaven as King over all. And he calls us into his kingdom to receive forgiveness for all that we have done wrong and to receive the hope of everlasting life and peace and joy forever. And the way into his kingdom is by trusting in him as the only Saviour of the world, who gave up his life to pay for our sins and who shed his blood to cleanse us. For those who believe, and are members of his kingdom, there’s the hope of everlasting life. But for those who do not believe, and who stubbornly refuse to enter his kingdom, there’s only condemnation to come and eternal misery away from the presence of God. And so, now is the time to believe. Now is the time to trust in Christ the King.
And in case anyone worries that they’ll be unhappy being in Christ’s kingdom, remember that he rules in righteousness and in the fear of the Lord. And that means he will only ever do what is right for his people. Think of our earthly leaders and the rulers of the nations. Think of how often they do what is wrong, instead of doing what is right. Think of how often their decisions cause sorrow and sadness for no good reason. Think of how often their decisions puzzle us. But Christ the King is not like them, because everything he does is right. And he’s able to work out all things for the good of his people. And so, through all the troubles and trials of this life, you can count on Christ the King to do what is right for you.
Verses 8 to 38
But what are we do make of the second part of today’s reading and this list of mighty men? Firstly, in verses 8 to 12 we read about these three mighty men who did mighty things with the help of the Lord to fight against the Philistines and to protect the people of God. Secondly, in verses 13 to 17 we read about another three mighty men who put their lives at risk to get some water from Bethlehem for David to drink. And though it might seem that David insulted them by pouring the water onto the ground, he was in fact honouring them, because instead of drinking the water himself, he treated it as a precious thing which he poured out before the Lord as a kind of sacrifice. And then, thirdly, in verses 18 to 23 we read about two other mighty men and the mighty things they did. One them of them even killed a lion and he killed a huge Egyptian with the Egyptian’s own weapon. And then, fourthly, in verses 24 to 39 we read about this group of soldiers known as ‘The Thirty’.
What is the significance of this part of the chapter? Well, it’s a reminder to the members of Christ’s kingdom that our life in this world will always be a battle. And while we go on living in this world, we have to fight with all our might against the temptation to conform to the ways of a wicked world and we have to stand firm and resist the pressure to give up what we believe about God. And then we also have to fight against ourselves and our own sinful desires, which always want what is evil. And it’s a battle to resist our own sinful desires and to say ‘no’ to what we know is wrong. And, of course, lurking in the background, there’s the Devil, who stirs up an unbelieving world against us and who tempts us to do what is wrong. And so, we have to stand firm against his wicked schemes and we need to resist him every day.
If you’re a believer, you need to remember that your life here on earth is a battle. And, of course, we like to take things easy. We like to go on holiday. We like to rest and relax. We like to sleep and slumber. And it’s good to rest. But until Christ comes again, we need to watch out and stand guard and stand firm and to discipline ourselves for the fight. And just as the Lord helped Eleazar and just as he helped Sham-mah and just as he helped David and all Israel, so he will help you. So, look to him for the help and strength you need. And stand firm.