2 Samuel 8:1–18 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
From the religious heights featured in chapter 7, we descend again to the everyday world of battles and bloodshed in chapter 8. The military action picks up where the story left off at the end of chapter 5. Today's chapter 8 text evidently describes the conquest of David's enemies that took place before David brought the ark into Jerusalem (ch. 6) and received the Davidic Covenant (ch. 7). Though detailed minimally, chapter 8 is of great historic value! It records Israel's emergence, at the beginning of the tenth century BC, as the leading nation in the Fertile Crescent.
Two Kingdom Conquests, One National Victory (2 Samuel 8:1–14)
David Subdues the Philistines (v. 1) The Philistines, located to Israel's west, were perhaps Israel's most troublesome neighbor: Samson fought with the Philistines (Judges, chapters 13–16); it was the Philistines who took the lives of Eli's two sons and indirectly caused Eli's death, as well as took the ark of God (1 Samuel, chapters 4–7); Jonathan attacked a Philistine garrison in Israel, precipitating another confrontation with the Philistines; David killed Goliath, a Philistine, and then led the pursuit of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17); it was the Philistines who eventually defeated Israel's army and killed Saul and his two sons (1 Samuel 31); and it was among the Philistines that David sought and found sanctuary (1 Samuel 21:10–15). Once David had become king, the Philistines thought it best to attack quickly in an attempt to nullify the threat he'd pose. They failed. David subdued them, ending their tyranny for some time.
1In the course of time, David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and he took Metheg Ammah from the control of the Philistines (2 Samuel 8:1).
The Philistines had troubled Israel for centuries and dominated Israel often. Under David's reign, he attacked and subdued these troublesome enemies. Seeing in v. 1 that David "took Metheg Ammah from the control of the Philistines," "Metheg Ammah" is another name for the famous Philistine city of Gath. When David became king, the Philistines had been taking territory from God's people; under his leadership, God's people began to retake territory from the enemy.
David Defeats the Moabites (v. 2) David's war against Moab, and his harsh treatment of their army, seems out of place considering that David's great-grandmother (Ruth) was a Moabite and that he entrusted his mother and father into the care of the Moabites (1 Sam. 22:3–4).
2David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live. So the Moabites became subject to David and brought him tribute (2 Samuel 8:2).
This verse is puzzling for at least two reasons. First, the Moabites appear to have been on friendly terms with David. His lineage included Ruth, who was a Moabite (Ruth 4:5, 10). When it appeared that Saul would harm David's family, the Moabites fled to him while he was at the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1), and he shortly sought protection for his family from the king of Moab. Second, we might be troubled by the severity of David's dealings with the Moabites when he took two groups and put them to death, sending the third group home as his [very frightened] subjects.
Okay. So having defeated the Moabites, David executed two-thirds of their soldiers and obligated them to pay tribute. One interpretation of his selection of victims is that David spared the young Moabites (whose height while lying on the ground was a single length of cord) and executed the adults (whose height was a double-length of cord). Most conquerors would have slaughtered the entire army, but David spared every third soldier and settled for that nation's tribute to him. It's also possible that David was merciful to the Moabites because his grandmother Ruth was a Moabitess.
With respect to v. 2b's term "brought him tribute," God didn't want Israel to destroy every neighbor nation. Generally, God wanted Israel to be so blessed and strong that other nations, including surviving Moabites, were taxed by Israel, in recognition of its strength and dominance.
David Subdues the King of Zobah (vv. 3–4)
3Moreover, David defeated Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah, when he went to restore his monument at the Euphrates River. 4David captured a thousand of his chariots, seven thousand charioteers and twenty thousand foot soldiers. He hamstrung all but a hundred of the chariot horses (2 Samuel 8:3–4).
Putting this passage into context, "Aram" was the Hebrew designation for the nation of Syria; so the Aramaeans mentioned in the Bible are Syrians. "Hadad" was the chief god of the Aramaeans. And "Hadadezer" means "Hadad is help." Zobah, a Syrian kingdom, was within 25 miles or so of Damascus, directly north. Hadadezer was then its king who'd apparently suffered some losses to the north, where he'd previously controlled or ruled “at the Euphrates River” (v. 3).
According to the chronology suggested by the text, David began by defeating the Philistines to Israel's west. He then turned to the Ammonites to the east. Having subjected both, he turned to the north. The Aramaean kingdom of Zobah was within 25 miles or so of Damascus, directly north. At that time Hadadezer was its king. He'd apparently suffered losses to the north, where he'd once ruled “at the Euphrates River." He may have viewed David's attacks on his neighbors to the south as his golden opportunity to turn his attention to the north, where he could reestablish his supremacy. His plan didn't work. David seemingly recognized Hadadezer's northward maneuver as his opportunity to attack from the south. While most of Hadadezer's military forces were in the north, David captured his southern kingdom. When King Hadadezer returned, he and his forces found David in control of his kingdom.
David Defeats the Syrians (vv. 5–8) When the Syrians of Damascus saw that David was a menacing threat to their national security, they collaborated with and came to the aid of King Hadadezer, only to realize their resulting defeat as well, as shown here . . .
5When the Aramaeans of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down twenty-two thousand of them. 6He put garrisons in the Aramaean kingdom of Damascus, and the Aramaeans became subject to him and brought tribute. The Lord gave David victory wherever he went (2 Samuel 8:5–6).
David also took what was the glory of the enemy — the gold shields that belonged to Hadadezer's officers — and transformed them into trophies of God's power and goodness (vv. 7–8). Those shields of gold were displayed in the temple, testifying to God's work in and through David. God loves to take people and things that were previously Satan's "trophies," making them trophies to His power and grace.
The Glory of David's Kingdom (vv. 9–14) The kingdom of Hamath was to the north of Zobah. Tou (or Too), its king, seems to have seen the handwriting on the wall and made a wise choice . . . surrender. He sent a delegation to David, led by his son Joram, formally surrendering to and becoming David's ally, which he documented by his substantial payment of tribute. King Tou was delighted that David had defeated King Hadadezer because their nations had been at war. For Tou to become an ally with the victor was to share in his victory over the enemy.
9When Tou king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the entire army of Hadadezer, 10he sent his son Joram to King David to greet him and congratulate him on his victory in battle over Hadadezer, who had been at war with Tou. Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold and of bronze (2 Samuel 8:9–10).
Not every pagan nation surrounding Israel was hostile to Israel or its God, and David didn't treat them as if they were. Neighboring nations saw the hand of God on David and brought him honor and gifts. They knew that a strong, godly leader of Israel was good for the whole community of nations. When David received this acclaim from the nations (v. 10b) he dedicated all the silver, gold, and bronze articles to the LORD. He knew that the praise and glory belonged to God, not himself.
11King David dedicated these articles to the Lord, as he had done with the silver and gold from all the nations he had subdued: 12Edom [Aram] and Moab, the Ammonites and the Philistines, and Amalek. He also dedicated the plunder taken from Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah (2 Samuel 8:11–12).
With the author citing these subdued nations, we learn that David's victories were complete. God used David to lead Israel to victory over enemies in every direction. Under his reign, Israel possessed more of the land that God promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:18–21) than at any other time.
Verses 13–14 describe yet another victory of King David and the Israelites: Victory in the Valley of Salt. . .
13And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites [Aramaeans] in the Valley of Salt.
14He put garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David. The Lord gave David victory wherever he went (2 Samuel 8:13–14).
It seems that this victory was over the “Syrians,” but there are good reasons for giving this a second look. Verse 14 speaks of the "Edomites" who became servants of David. In v. 13, a note in the text informs us that some texts read “Edomites” rather than Syrian "Aramaeans." The parallel text in 1 Chronicles 18:12 indicates that the 18,000 killed in the Valley of Salt were Edomites. This valley, incidentally, is much to the south, which would mean that the author has described David's victories in the west, the east, the north, and finally the south. David had defeated and subjected the nations all around him.
This section leaves no doubt about the fact that David's armies were invincible and that no nation, however numerous or powerful its fighting men, could have hoped to withstand Israel. Verse 14 ends with "The LORD gave David victory wherever he went": That summarizes the entire chapter. Every victory, every enemy subdued, was a testimony to the Lord's preserving power in the life and reign of David.
The real reason for David's success emerges clearly: "The LORD gave David victory wherever he went" (vv. 6, 14). But why? Here are two reasons: First, God had chosen David to be Israel's king and to use him to accomplish His purposes for Israel. Second, David cooperated with God by being most hearty at submitting to Him as His servant and carrying out His will.
David’s Administration (vv. 15–18)
The plain-and-simple outcome of all of David's activities in chapter 8 is that he defeated and subjected his enemies. His dominion grew such that he had to add administrative and secretarial personnel to his staff, as shown in these closing verses.
15David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people. 16Joab son of Zeruiah was over the army; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; 17Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelek son of Abiathar were priests; Seraiah was secretary; 18Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; and David’s sons were priests [or chief officials] (2 Samuel 8:15–18).
Joab … Jehoshaphat … Zadok … Ahimelech … Seraiah … Benaiah: We can't find such a list regarding the organization of King Saul's government. That's because David's government had much more form and structure than Saul's. Nothing is accomplished in God's kingdom without order and organization. Behind the scenes, God moves with utmost order and organization though we sometimes don't see it.
Verses 15–18 summarize David's administration; they conclude this section of Samuel (5:17–8:18) that records the important elements of David's reign. God established David's empire firmly: David relocated his capital, subdued his enemy neighbors, brought the ark into Jerusalem, and received the Davidic Covenant.
This chapter of victory, blessing, and prosperity describes the nation Israel during David's reign. It presents one good reason why he's generally regarded as the greatest king or ruler Israel ever had. These selected events from David's reign show God's blessing on him and on Israel through him. Because he was the LORD's anointed who followed God faithfully, Yahweh poured out blessing and fertility on David.
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 How was King David able to be victorious in every one of his pursuits?
- Q. 2 Why is David regarded as the greatest king or ruler Israel ever had?