After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines.
And he defeated Moab and he measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground. Two lines he measured to be put to death, and one full line to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.
David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to restore his power at the river Euphrates. And David took from him 1,700 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses but left enough for 100 chariots. And when the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down 22,000 men of the Syrians. Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus, and the Syrians became servants to David and brought tribute. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. And David took the shields of gold that were carried by the servants of Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem. And from Betah and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, King David took very much bronze.
When Toi king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the whole army of Hadadezer, Toi sent his son Joram to King David, to ask about his health and to bless him because he had fought against Hadadezer and defeated him, for Hadadezer had often been at war with Toi. And Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold, and of bronze. These also King David dedicated to the Lord, together with the silver and gold that he dedicated from all the nations he subdued, from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and from the spoil of Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah.
And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. Then he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.– 2 Samuel 8:1-14 ESV
Chapter five ended with the words: “And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer” (2 Samuel 5:25 ESV). And chapter eight begins with the words: “After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines” (2 Samuel 8:1 ESV). It is believed by many commentators that chapters six and seven are parenthetical and not chronological in nature. They deal with more religious-oriented aspects of David’s reign, while chapters five and eight deal with his military conquests. Chapter six describes David’s efforts to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem. Chapter seven covers God’s giving of His covenant to David. And chapter seven opens with the words: “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies…” (2 Samuel 7:1 ESV). It is that second half of the sentence that leads most Old Testament scholars to believe the covenant was given to David later in his reign, after he had ceased from war with the enemies of Israel. Therefore, like chapter six, chapter seven is out of chronological order. These two chapters were placed where they are in the story because they provide a spiritual context to David’s reign. They reveal his zeal and dedication for the Lord, a key motivating force in his military efforts. They also shed light on the real source behind David’s military success: God. And that point is made clear in chapter eight.
And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. – 2 Samuel 8:15 ESV
Chapter eight picks up where chapter five left off. David, as God’s hand-picked king, was finishing what Joshua and the people of Israel should have done when they entered the Promised Land years earlier. They were to destroy the inhabitants and take over the land that God had provided for them. God had told Joshua:
“Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” – Joshua 1:2-5 ESV
God had clearly told Moses what the people were to do when they entered the land He had promised to Abraham and his descendants. And Moses had passed the words of God on to the people.
“In those towns that the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the Lord your God has commanded you. This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV
But the people of God had disobeyed and failed to purge the land of its inhabitants. They had been half-hearted in their efforts and had allowed the majority of the nations that occupied the land of Canaan to remain. And, just as God had predicted, the people of the land ended up infecting the people of God with their idolatry, immorality and “detestable customs.” This is what led to the period of the judges. In fact, the opening chapters of the book of Judges reveals exactly what had happened.
The Lord was with the people of Judah, and they took possession of the hill country. But they failed to drive out the people living in the plains, who had iron chariots. – Judges 1:19 ESV
The tribe of Benjamin, however, failed to drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem. So to this day the Jebusites live in Jerusalem among the people of Benjamin. – Judges 1:21 ESV
The tribe of Manasseh failed to drive out the people living in Beth-shan, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo, and all their surrounding settlements… – Judges 1:27 ESV
The tribe of Ephraim failed to drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, so the Canaanites continued to live there among them. – Judges 1:29 ESV
The tribe of Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron and Nahalol, so the Canaanites continued to live among them. – Judges 1:30 ESV
And the list goes on and on. It got so bad, that God ended up sending an angel to give the people of Israel some bad news:
“I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.” – Judges 2:1-3 ESV
So by the time David had become king, the nations surrounding Israel had become far more than just thorns in their side. They were a real threat to the future existence of Israel as a nation. So, David, as the king and commander-in-chief of Israel]s armies, determined to finish what Joshua had started, but the people of God had failed to carry through.
David defeated the Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Edomites, Amalekites, Ammonites, and the armies of Zobah. And the author makes it clear that David’s military successes were the result of God’s blessing on him. God was giving David victories over his enemies. The very fact that David was forced to fight so many battles reflects just how unsuccessful the Israelites had been in their efforts to rid the land of its inhabitants. Their disobedience had allowed these nations to not only survive, but thrive. They had grown in numbers and strength. They were no longer just an irritant to the people of Israel, but a real threat to their existence. But David was doing everything in his power to subdue and destroy them.
It’s almost impossible to read this chapter and God’s words found in Deuteronomy 20 where He commanded the complete annihilation of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and not be shocked at what appears to be God’s callous and seemingly capricious outlook on human life. How can the loving, creator-God call for the destruction of entire people groups, including men, women, and innocent children? This question has caused many to doubt the veracity of the Old Testament. It has led others to reject the very idea of God Himself. Richard Dawkins, a proudly professing atheist and staunch opponent of Christianity has described the God of the Bible as, “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion). He goes on to say, “The tragi-farce of God’s maniacal jealousy against alternative gods recurs continually through the Old Testament.”
For someone like Dawkins, the issue has less to do with the destruction of the people of Canaan, than it does with his desire for proof that the God of the Bible is a farce. He simply uses the Old Testament record of God’s call for the destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan as proof that this so-called “God” of the Israelites, even if He did exist, would not be worth following. But he misses the whole point of the story and the true nature of mankind’s tragic situation. The Bible makes it painfully clear that all men (women and children included) are sinners and stand before God as guilty and worthy of death. Because of sin, they are in rebellion against a holy God. And His holiness, which consists of justice, must deal with the sins of men. He cannot simply overlook them. And God recognizes that sin, like an infectious disease, is contagious and capable of spreading from one person to another. Sin contaminates and destroys, like cancer cells in the human body. Sin is non-discriminatory and without mercy. God’s call for the destruction of the inhabitants of the land was based on His understanding of the true danger of indwelling sin. Left unchecked, the sinful dispositions of the inhabitants of the land would gradually infect and influence the people of God. And that is exactly what happened. Slowly, but surely, the Israelites became just like the nations around them. The cancer of sin spread among them, destroying their relationship with God. And the same thing happens to believers today, as we allow the sins of the world to contaminate our lives. Rather than doing radical surgery and removing the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1), we embrace it, welcoming it with open arms. We end up loving the world and the things of the world (1 John 12:15). We become friends of the world, failing to recognize that the world hates us (John 15:18-19).
The removal of the sinful influences in our lives is difficult. Sometimes it is painful. It may cause us to lose friends who have a negative influence on our lives. It may demand that we pull away from those individuals whose influence in our lives is unhealthy and potentially destructive. David knew just how dangerous sin could be, both externally and internally. And he was willing to whatever it took to remove both. In Psalm 139, he offers a compelling and heart-felt prayer to God.
O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
Get out of my life, you murderers!
They blaspheme you;
your enemies misuse your name.
O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:19-24 NLT
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.