The Victories of King David – 2 Samuel 8

This chapter focuses on David’s victories over the neighbouring territories and subsequent extension of the borders of his kingdom. The author’s intent does not seem to be to record the military conquests of David and his army in chronological order but is to evidence the overarching theme of the entire book that God was with David and gave him victory where he went. The author even repeats the phrase verbatim twice,

…The LORD gave David victory wherever he went.

2 Samuel 8:6&14 (NIV)
Map of David’s Kingdom

Nations Subdued (The East and The West)

The account starts with David’s conquest of the arch-rivals of Israel. The Philistines are subdued by David as they took control of key border villages like Gath (1 Chronicles 18:1). This is the last time that David has to go head to head with his old nemesis from the west, as the next time we read about conflict with the Philistines, is during the rule of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:8-10).

After this, we are told about the war with the Moabites, the country east of the Dead Sea. While on the run from Saul, David sought shelter from the king of Moab for his parents. The family ties were deep as David himself was a descendant of a Moabite woman named Ruth. She was his great-grandmother and grandmother of his father Jesse. So David getting into a war with the Moabites, who were his paternal relatives, does not make sense unless it was initiated by the current ruler of Moab or a decision made by the commanders of David’s army. However, the cruel way that David had the prisoners of war (POW) executed would have made his greatest critics tremble.

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.

2 Samuel 8:2 (NIV)

We are not sure why David dealt with such cruelty with his far relatives the Moabites, perhaps the relations between the nations were severed beyond repair and David wanted to send a message to the king of Moab. Or maybe he wanted to make it clear to his people that he showed no partiality to the Moabites just because he was a descendant of Ruth. Perhaps David was simply obeying instructions given to him by the Lord to execute the Moabites. But this was a common method of executing the captured prisoners followed by many nations during that period. So the execution method that David followed could not have been at God’s direction. A common belief is that the logistics of feeding the POWs during a war campaign made it beneficial to execute some of them. This saved their much-needed resources that would have gone into feeding them while at the same time striking fear into the hearts of their enemies.

The Nations to the North and the South

Towards the north, David took control of the region of Zobah when the king had gone off to take control of the region surrounding the Euphrates river. This perhaps weakened their army back home and gave David an opportunity to invade the kingdom of Hadadezer (2 Samuel 8:3). When the Arameans (Syrians) came to the aid of their neighbours, David’s army overpowered them as well and installed outposts in their cities.

David hamstrung all but a few hundred horses that he had captured making them incapacitated to be ever used for the purposes of war. He could not use these horses to scour the land as Israel’s terrain would offer the harshest of resistance making it unsuitable to traverse on chariots. The maintenance of such a large fleet of horses would also serve as a headache to David and his men who themselves were inexperienced in managing such a large fleet. It made sense to incapacitate the cavalcade of horses and perhaps use them for farming and conveyance purposes back home.

David took the gold shields that belonged to the officers of Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem. From Tebah and Berothai, towns that belonged to Hadadezer, King David took a great quantity of bronze.

2 Samuel 8:7-8 (NIV)

David also took the gold shields of the officers of Hadadezer and brought them down to Jerusalem his capital city. He transported such large quantities of bronze from the towns that belonged to Hadadezer that years later his son Solomon was able to create a lake of Bronze using the spoils of his father’s victory over Hadadezer. However, unlike Saul, David did not keep these articles for himself but dedicated everything to the Lord.

When Tou king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the entire army of Hadadezer, he 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.

2 Samuel 8:9-10 (NIV)

Tou was at war with Hadadezer when David besieged his kingdom. His gifts to the king of Israel, hand delivered by his son, could be something as simple as a welcome to the neighbourhood hamper or could be a clever way to gain favour of the most powerful man in the land. The enemy of our enemy is usually our ally and Tou and Joram perhaps felt the same and wanted to form a fruitful relationship with David. After conquering Zobah, David turned his attention to the southern kingdoms but had it not been for Tou’s timely intervention, perhaps the army of Israel would have marched further north and captured the city of Hamath as well, the capital of his kingdom.

The notorious tribe of the Edomites, (who were the proverbial foe of the tribe of Jacob, the descendants of Esau), were also quelled by David and his army. He put garrisons and the towns of Edom as the Edomites were also subjected to David. When we read the book of Chronicles we are told that it was in fact one of David’s commanders, Abishai, who had led Israel to victory against the Edomites (1 Chronicles 18:12-13). However, like any other regime, the credit went to David for appointing such men of valour in supervisory positions.

The Cabinet

David ruled over the largest piece of land as his territories extended from the kingdom of Zobah in the north to the region Elath in the south, subduing several age-old enemies during his reign. He mandated tributes from the kingdoms he had captured. To rule such a vast kingdom with justice and righteousness, David needed competent leaders who would help him govern the land (2 Samuel 8:15).

For his army, he chose the sons of his sister Zeruiah, Joab and Abishai to lead his army and to plan out simultaneous attacks on their neighbours. Their brother Asahel was also one of his thirty mighty men, but the fleet-footed warrior died at the hands of Abner, the commander of Saul’s army during one of their skirmishes.

Jehoshaphat was the recorder of the sequence of events during David’s reign and perhaps the major contributor to the annals of the kings and the book of Samuel that we have today. Zadok and Ahimelech were the joint chief Priests during David’s reign. Zadok was probably the one that God prophesied about to Eli when he said he will raise a faithful priest for the house of His anointed one (1 Samuel 2:35). Ahimelech was the priest who escaped the massacre at Nob when Saul and Doeg went on a killing spree and annihilated the town of all its priests, eighty-five in total (1 Samuel 22:20-21).

Seriah was the secretary of the state, perhaps in charge of the royal treasury. Benaiah was another one of David’s mighty men whose exploits included, killing a lion and a giant Egyptian without a spear of his own, was the head of the secret service, in charge of protecting the king. Later Benaiah become the commander of Israel’s army during the reign of Solomon when the sons of Zeruiah sided with Adonijah and did not want to appoint Bathsheba’s son as king.

Keeping it in the Family

David appointed his sons as chief ministers of the land as the extended boundaries of Israel needed several local rules to be installed to govern the land with justice and righteousness. Why David appointed his sons is not clear, as it does not seem to be on the instructions of the Lord but to simply keep the power within his family. Ironically, the sons who gained exposure in governing the territories of Israel were not the ones whom God chose to rule over his people after David’s death.

Our plans for our children are most often made with selfish reasons as we want the best for them but seldom do we consult God to see what He has planned for them. His best will surpass anything we could have planned for them but our selfishness and overprotectiveness will prevent them from enjoying His Grace in its fullness. Let us remove our influence from the lives of our loved ones and let them relish in the fellowship of the Lord who has carved them into the palms of his hands, even before they came into this world.

Discussion Questions

  • 8:2 – Why did David show such cruelty when dealing with the Moabites POWs?
  • 8:4 – Why did David hamstrung the horses? Could he not have kept them for himself?
  • 8:8 – Bringing the loot of the fallen soldiers back home was the offence that Saul was punished for but how come David is able to do the same without any repercussions?
  • 8:10 – Why did Tou send his son Joram with gifts to David?
  • 8:13 – Why is David gaining in fame when it was Abishai that had struck the Edomites?

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