The Lord's Day
November 19, 2006
II Samuel 23:1-7
“David's Last Words”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now if you have your Bibles with you, take out your Bible to the Old Testament to II Samuel 23. Before we read the first seven verses of this chapter, let's look again to God in prayer.
Lord our God, we thank You for the Scriptures that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We once again ask that You would help us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's holy and inerrant word:
“Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse declares, and the man who was raised on high declares, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel,
‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel said,
The Rock of Israel spoke to me,
‘He who rules over men righteously,
Who rules in the fear of God,
Is as the light of the morning when the sun rises,
A morning without clouds,
When the tender grass springs out of the earth
Through sunshine after rain.’
‘Truly is not my house so with God?
For He has made an everlasting covenant with me,
Ordered in all things, and secured;
For all my salvation and all my desire,
Will He not indeed make it grow?
‘But the worthless, every one of them will be thrust away like thorns,
Because they cannot be taken in hand;
But the man who touches them
Must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear,
And they will be completely burned with fire in their place.’’”
Amen. May the Lord add his blessing to that reading of His holy and inerrant word.
These are David's last words. If you turn in your Bibles, just visually, a page back to chapter 22...and more than likely, if you have a newer translation you’ll see that the text is indented to show you that this is actually poetry. And what we have in chapters 22 and 23 are what we might call a couple of songs. One is a song of deliverance in chapter 22; and this last section in chapter 23 is a psalm of great confidence and great assurance about what God is going to do in the future. They are his last words.
When I was eight or nine years old, my grandfather on my mother's side died of cancer. He’d been ill for many years. He’d fought in the First World War in France and had been gassed, and had never really been right since that time. And although I only knew him for about eight years of my life, hardly a day goes by and I don't think about him. A couple of days before he died, he brought into the room where he lay (he was at home; he’d been in hospital for many, many months, and he was at that point emaciated beyond recognition and barely able to speak)...and the four children were brought in one by one to see him. He wished to say something to each one of us, and to give each one of us a gift. And he brought me into his presence–and I remember it as though it were yesterday–and he gave me a green Parker fountain pen and said to me, “I want you to write something when you grow up.” They are words I will never forget. His love of music is something I have inherited, and that's a story I don't remotely have time to go into this morning–but last words are very important.
Robert Bruce, King of Scotland in the thirteenth
century, uttered these words just before he died:
“Now God be with you, my dear children. I have breakfasted with you and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hegel, the philosopher whose philosophy influenced among
others Karl Marx, said:
“Only one man ever understood me, and he really didn't understand me.”
And he was right! And the one I think I like best is Thomas Hogg, who was a Scottish Presbyterian minister in the seventeenth century in a little town called Kiltearn; and before he died, he charged his congregation that he be buried at the door of the church, and with this epitaph:
“This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring one ungodly minister in here.”
Well, these are David's last words. They are words full of prophetic insight. They are words which begin with himself but they end a thousand years away. They’re words full of assurance. They’re words full of confidence. They are words about God's covenant and character–about what God is going to do.
He begins in the first three verses repeating himself over and over and over. Three times he tells us...he tells us that these words are not his words, they are an oracle from the One on high. He tells us that these words are given to him by the Spirit. He tells us these words are given to him by the God of Israel.
Ralph Davis, my friend and former colleague at the seminary, now preaching in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, tells the story of a young preacher who began a sermon and his text was from Psalm 40:
“Behold, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me. I delight to do Your will, yea, O my God, for Your law is within My heart.”
But all he could remember were the words, “Behold, I come.” And he announced his text: “Behold, I come...” and there's a pregnant pause. He took a deep breath and said it again: “Behold, I come...” and still nothing. And then on the third occasion, he got hold of the pulpit with a firm grip, and said, “Behold, I come!” And the pulpit gave way, and he fell into the lap of a woman in the front row! And he began to apologize to this woman, and she said, “Oh, no, it's me that should apologize. You told me three times you were coming!”
Well, David is telling us three times here that this is not a word of David's, but a word of God. It's a word of the Lord.
I. A word about the future.
The first thing to note is that we're being given a word here about the future. It begins with David's house. It begins with David as a king figure, but the word is pointing away from David. It's about the future of the Davidic monarchy. It's about a King who is going to come who is going to rule justly and in the fear of God; and it's about a covenant that is everlasting and ordered in all things, and sure. It's a word about the future. It's a prophecy. It's a word about what God has been doing and is doing, and will yet do for His people.
David isn't saying ‘Have confidence in me.’ David was a sinner. He was a great king. He had some wonderful, wonderful battles and exploits, and wisdom beyond his years; but he was also a terrible sinner. No, he's not saying ‘Trust in me’; he's saying trust in God, and trust in God's word. He's saying the future is certain. He's saying God knows the future, He's ordered the future, He's structured the future. He's given it shape and dimension.
Contrast that with a view current in our time called open theism, which says that God doesn't know everything. He knows some things, but He doesn't know everything. In order to secure the true sense of the liberty of our wills and the liberty of our decision-making, the future is open. There are certain things about the future that God has not decreed. How could you ever be certain about the future if that were so? How could God in David's time be ever sure that Jesus would actually come, if the future was open? No, David is saying there is a hand at work here; there is a decree at work here; there is a sovereignty at work here, and in which David finds great comfort and great assurance.
What is it that enables you and me to go on in the face of trials and tribulations? It's not that we know what the future is. I don't know what the future is. I don't know what lies before me tomorrow or next week, or next year; but it's not important that I know what's going to happen tomorrow or next week or next year. What's important is that God knows, that He is sure because He has decreed it, because He has ordered it that all things work together for the good of those that love Him; so that you and I can say this morning, having begun a good work, He will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ, and nothing and no one can stand in the way of that; so that we can take confidence from Jesus’ words in the upper room:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.”
David is saying ‘God has given to me a word. He's given to me an oracle, and it's an oracle about the future.’
II. A word about Messiah.
If the first thing is certainty about the future, because it's in the hands of God, the second thing is that this is a word about Messiah. Take a look at verses 4 and 5. [Actually, you need to begin back in the latter part of verse 3.] David talks about One who rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God...but then David becomes the poet that he is: ‘He dawns on them like the morning light...like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning...like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.’ If you’re not a poet, of course, you’re scratching your head! But if you can put your poet's hat on for a moment, it's an idyllic picture. It's a pastoral scene of how beauty comes after a storm; of how when the rain falls the grass (at least, in Mississippi!) seems to turn green within about five minutes–a bright green, an effervescent green–and David is using that picture language to say that out of the chaos of the time in which he lives, God is going to produce a ruler upon whose shoulders will be the government, who walks righteously and in the fear of the Lord.
And then David mentions a covenant: an everlasting covenant; a covenant that is ordered and secured. On his deathbed, David is thinking about God's covenant. He's thinking about God's promise. God had entered into many covenants in the history of the Bible: a covenant with Abraham, saying to Abraham that his progeny will be like the stars of the night sky and the sand upon the seashore, and promising him a seed (when he wasn't even married, when he had no children) and that seed eventually being a reference to the coming of Jesus Christ, Himself; and a covenant with Moses, and Moses would be the one who would say that God would raise up a prophet just like Moses; and God teaching the people of God in that period (in that Mosaic period) by laws and regulations...how they need that Mediator!
We were thinking about that on Wednesday night. All of those food laws, all of those ceremonial laws teaching them the difference between clean and unclean, teaching them that they need a Mediator, they need Someone to stand between them. All of the ritual sacrifices in Israel, showing again and again that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins. And now God has made a covenant with David.
You remember back in chapter seven of II Samuel, God makes a covenant with David just as He had made a covenant with Abraham, just as He had made a covenant with Moses, just as He had made a covenant with Noah before that. He makes a covenant with David. It's a key passage in the Old Testament Scriptures. It's one of those really, really important chapters in the Old Testament, II Samuel 7. It's God coming again to His king, His Davidic king, and saying he isn't the Mediator; he isn't the Savior, but he is pointing to a Mediator and a Savior and a King. Jesus will be the true sacrifice for sins. Jesus will be the One who will truly and perfectly obey the Law of God. Jesus will be the One who will rule in godliness over His people.
He's thinking about this covenant, and it's an everlasting covenant. How long is everlasting? It's a silly question, isn't it? Everlasting is forever. And David, as he is no doubt conscious of the passing of time, as he is no doubt conscious of that psalm of Moses that we read together this morning, that “our years are threescore years and ten, and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet they’re full of weariness and toil.” As he's conscious that he is passing, he's also conscious that there is something that can never pass, there is something that can never fail, there is something that can never be broken, there is something that is enduring, there is something that is inviolable, and that is God's covenant. It's His promise. It's His word. It's His bond. It's His oath. God cannot deny Himself. God cannot go back on His word. God cannot undo what He has promised to His people. There's no “Plan B.”
And this covenant is ordered and secured. It's not a haphazard thing. It's not a will-o-the-wisp thing. These covenants with Abraham and with Moses and with David, and the new covenant that Jeremiah speaks of in Jeremiah 31, and the covenant that Jesus speaks of in the upper room when He took the Passover and He gave them the cup and He said, “This cup is My covenant in My blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
It's saying to us that God is weaving a story that has a beginning; and it weaves its way through the pages of the Bible, each covenant building successively on the previous covenant. It's not as though God is changing His mind when He comes to Abraham, and changing His mind when He comes to Moses, and changing His mind when He comes to David, and then changing His mind when Jesus comes. No. It's all part and parcel of the same story. It's always been His story, from the Garden of Eden when God said to Eve that her seed would bruise (or crush) the very head of Satan. It's a word of great confidence. It's a word of great assurance. It's a gospel word, because that covenant that is ordered in all things and secured finds its fulfillment in the death of Jesus Christ, because it's His blood that ratifies that covenant of grace of which David is meditating on his deathbed.
God has made with us a covenant. He's made with us a promise.
Well, we're coming up to Thanksgiving. I won't be here; I’ll be in the motherland, but I’ll be thinking of you on your wonderful day of Thanksgiving. But here's one thing to be thankful for: God's covenant of grace — that beautiful thread that you can pick up in Genesis 3 and weave its way through the pages of the Old Testament, through the patriarchs and through Moses and the exodus, and on through King David and Solomon, and on through the prophets, and on to Bethlehem, and on to Calvary, and on and on and on into eternity, because it's an everlasting covenant that can never be broken: that those who put their trust in Jesus Christ can never be cast away; that the blood of Jesus will always cleanse from all sin; that having begun a good work, He will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ; that nothing and no one — not the beast of the sea, or the beast of the earth, or the false prophet, or the whore of Babylon, or Satan himself — that great red dragon–nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
A word of warning.
It's a word of certainty, and it's a word about Messiah, but it's also a word of warning, because there's a dark side to the covenant of God. And in the closing verses you notice he talks about worthless men who are like thorns that can only be handled, as it were, with the shaft of a spear or with an iron, and they are utterly consumed with fire.
There is a heaven to be gained, my friend, but there's a hell to be shunned. And no one spoke of hell more clearly and more often than Jesus did. It's not Paul who speaks about hell so much; it is Jesus who speaks about hell. And this morning David's word to us is make your calling and election sure by trusting in Jesus Christ, this great King upon whose shoulders is the government; by sheltering beneath the blood of the Lamb, by leaning upon the everlasting arms, by trusting His every word of promise.
On one occasion, Colonel Robert Ingersoll, a very famous agnostic lecturer of the nineteenth century, was giving an address on hell; and he declared that he would prove conclusively that hell was just a wild dream of some scheming theologians who invented it to terrify credulous people. And as he was launching into the subject, a half-drunken man from the audience exclaimed, “Make it strong, Bob! There's a lot of us poor fellows depending on you. If you are wrong, we're all lost, so be sure to prove it clear and plain.”
Well, no amount of reasoning can nullify the truthfulness of the word of God, and David's last words to us here are that there's a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. Oh, my friend, if you’re not a Christian this morning, if you’re not a believer this morning, you’re simply going with the flow...you’re just a social Christian...run to Jesus Christ. Confess your sin to Him, your need of Him. Ask Him to be your Lord and Savior, and Prophet and Priest and King, and enter into the joy — yes, the joy that David is singing of here — of sheltering beneath the refuge of a covenant that is ordered in all things and sure and everlasting, and cannot be broken. May God so help us each one so to do.
Let's sing together now hymn No. 677, Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him. Let's stand.
Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of you now and forevermore. Amen.
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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.