Justice and Mercy

2 Samuel

In this lesson we find that David consolidates the advantages of the people of Israel for the prosperity and continued development as a more unified nation. He is presented to us as one on whom the pleasure of God rests, who exhibits relentless courage and severity toward the enemies of God’s nation, and who exhibits principles of justice and equity in governance. We also find that he desires to show mercy and lovingkindness. In this he serves as a foreshadowing of the mercies that come to us in Jesus.


I. 2 Samuel 8

A. Victories

  1. Philistines (verse1) – David’s first experience with battle was with the Philistine giant, Goliath (1 Samuel 17). David, in fleeing from Saul, put himself into exile among the Philistines for sixteen months (1 Samuel 27). Saul and Jonathan had died in battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 31). He already had fought and won two battles against the Philistines before the recovery of the ark (2 Samuel 4:17-25). He took control of the leading city and its environs from the Philistines, probably Gath.
  2. Moab – He killed two-thirds of their army and put them under tribute to Israel. He had a history among the Moabites also in that he put his father and mother under their care during his flight from Saul (1 Samuel 22:3, 4) David’s great-grandmother Ruth was from the land of Moab (Ruth 4:10, 13, 17).
  3. Hadadezer and Syria. The firm defeat of Hadadezer, King of Zobah, brought Syria into play with an attempt to overwhelm David. His victory brought both of these enemies to heel and he received tribute from them in addition to the massive amount of spoil taken from them at the point of battle. These victories also opened up sources for the mining of precious metals.
  4. David’s victory over Hadadezer gained for him the alliance and friendship with Toi of Hamath. Toi sent his son Joram to David with congratulations and with magnificent gifts of silver and gold and bronze.
  5. Edom had been a constant opponent of Israel. Esau, their father was brother to Jacob, but this familial tie did not endear the Israelites. Edom refused passage to Israel when they were coming out of Egypt. Later, they did not help the Israelites when they fled from the cruel attacks of Babylon on Jerusalem and Judah. The Prophet Obadiah predicted their eventual final overthrow: “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken” (Obadiah 18).

B. The Lord gave victory to David (6, 14). In all of these military confrontations, the very existence of Israel as an independent people was at stake. “The Lord gave victory to David wherever he went” because the Lord had decreed that through the loins of Abraham and specifically through the line of David’s throne the anointed one would come. A Redeemer would come to Israel, through Israel, and be a blessing to all the nations. For their redemption later, the Lord must give victory over them now.

C. David gave the spoils to the Lord. (7, 8, 10-12). These texts indicate that David did not enrich himself from these victories but laid aside all spoil and gifts in collecting material for the building of the temple. David’s plans and gifts for this work are recorded in 1 Chronicles 28:9–29:22.

D. David made a name for himself in accordance with the Lords’ promise in 7:9.

  1. David achieved victories over the enemies of Israel and effectively conserved his advantage. He weakened their capabilities of further engagement and put some of their resources to work for Israel.
  • In pursuing the advantage of Israel and it well-being, the Lord gave them safety from those who would destroy them.
  • The advantage of Israel was secured for covenantal purposes. See the promise to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-16.
    • The nation was to be formed through whom the Messiah would come.
    • The Messiah would be a blessing to all nations, but for the preservation of this promise the nations at war with Israel must be defeated.
  1. David administered justice and righteousness, or equity, for all the people. He developed a system of adjudication in Israel built on principles of righteousness and decisions were made that did not favor the rich over the poor, or the influential over the common worker. Divine law, not personal preference served as the foundation of his administration.


II. 2 Samuel 9. In this chapter he fulfills a vow to Saul (1 Samuel 24:20-22) and to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20: 14-17, 42).

A. David’s desire to show kindness.

  1. In his position as a military leader, David had to be unrelenting in his severity toward enemies who would have destroyed and enslaved the people. There was no opportunity for mercy and kindness in these confrontations.
  2. In his position as an administrator of justice he had to be discerning and rational. He had to hear the arguments, weigh evidence and render judgment based on a standard of pure justice.
  3. David needed a sphere in which he could show kindness. Intrinsic to the image of God in us, we find a disposition toward gentleness, granting of favors, kindness. These are greatly diminished and corrupted by the fall, but nevertheless cry out for manifestation.
  4. Paul’s description of God’s movement toward us shows the larger and perfect manifestation of this disposition for mercy. After describing our hateful lives, Paul wrote, “But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3: 4, 5). As the father of the Christ according to the flesh, David must look for a way to show a disposition toward absolute gratuity. He does this for the sake of Jonathan, and of Saul, to whom he made a promise. The Father shows us mercy for the sake of Christ to whom he gave a people in the eternal covenant of redemption.

B. The interrogation of Ziba. David was told that a servant of Saul named Ziba still lived.

  1. David made haste to call Ziba to him and asked if he were Ziba.
  2. Ziba’s response was according to protocol, but also designed to assure David that he had no resistance to David’s claim to the throne.
  3. David went straight to the point of inquiring about anyone left in the house of Saul to whom he could show kindness. Ziba might have wondered if this statement was true or if David was wanting to eliminate the last vestige of any possible insurrection from the house of Saul.
  4. Nevertheless, he informed him that a son of Jonathan still lived, and added, perhaps to minimize any sense of threat that David might have felt, that he was “crippled in both feet.”
  5. David’s response shows that he was eager to begin his demonstration of faithfulness to Jonathan, respect for the house of Saul, and kindness to this son of Jonathan. He asked immediately, “Where is he?” This question probably overflowed with a sense of excited anticipation.
  6. He learned his location and sent for him immediately.

C. An interview with Mephibosheth – Mephibosheth immediately showed homage to David by prostrating himself before him. This is a dramatic scene filled with pathos as fear and uncertainty cower in the presence of one who views the situation with a sense of joy and satisfaction in the fulfillment of a vow to a friend.

  1. David sought to relieve the fear of Jonathan’s son by calling his name and Mephibosheth responded with a statement of servitude. He did not at this point have any idea of the magnitude of the blessings that were his because of his father’s self-emptying friendship with David.
  2. David informs Mephibosheth that the gifts he is about to receive are the result of Jonathan’s friendship with him. Even so, all the blessings of life and eternal life flow to us only from Christ, not from any qualifications or merits of ours. “Because of him [the Father] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1: 30, 31).
  3. David will restore all the land of Saul to him plus he would reside in the king’s house and eat at his table.
  4. Mephibosheth recognized the magnitude of this blessing.
  • He knew that he had nothing intrinsically that would make David act toward him with such munificence. David himself had felt this before God when he heard of the covenant arrangement intended for the house of David (2 Samuel 7:18, 19).
  • He had taken away any fear that might be present as a surviving grandson of Saul. “Fear not,” David said. Removing the fear of the possibility of immediate destruction is an amazing relief. It would have been enough for him to say, “I will not harm you, you may continue to live with Machir at Lo-debar.”
  • Beyond that, he had restored the land to him: David had emptied the cup of danger and filled the cup of prosperity.
  • Beyond that, he would live and eat with the king. More than prosperity was now given; he had been granted an environment and status of glory in the presence and under the continued provision of the king. It was as if he now had been adopted into the family of the king with all the rights of a son.
  • Mephibosheth called himself a “dead dog.” We should not minimize the importance of this recognition of how helpless and relatively worthless Mephibosheth was in himself as having anything to add to David’s increasingly glorious and secure reign. The greatest confession we can make about ourselves is that we are sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, by nature children of wrath, without hope, without God in the world, filled with envy, rivalry, jealousy, hated and hating, having no fear of God before our eyes, seeking personal pleasure and position rather than God, given over to death and destruction. We must confess within the Christian community world-wide that the only intersectionality that matters is our unity in having been sinners, “For there is no distinction,: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And in redemption, we come with no worth of our own but only that we “are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
  • To the shepherds on a hillside a millennium later angels said, “Fear not.” They too went beyond the removal of fear into a description of “good tidings of great joy.” They announced a “Savior who is Christ the Lord.” There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1
    • So does adoption lift us to the status of heirs of God. There is sonship now by regeneration (John 1:12, 13). We have sonship now by Christ’s fulfillment of the law as evidenced by by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4: 4-7).
    • We await the completion of our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).
    • John points both to the now and the yet-to-be when he writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are . . . Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-3).

D. Instructions to Ziba (verses 9-11). All that Ziba formerly had managed for himself and his family was now to be managed for Mephibosheth. Ziba, his fifteen sons, his twenty servants all were to work for the benefit of Mephibosheth. This was to be done all the while that Mephibosheth “shall eat at my table regularly.” God makes all things serve his purpose for his people. Sun, moon, sea, and storm all serve God’s purpose for his people. Enemies, envy, wrath, hatred, persecution, repression, jealousy will all be harnessed by God to exalt his people. Ziba, his sons, and his servants all are put to work for Mephibosheth while Mephibosheth dwells and dines in the house of the king. Even as Ziba said, “According to all that my lord the kind commands his servant so your servant will do” (11), so we might exclaim with the frightened disciples, ”What manner of man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?” We must not fear those things that our Savior has created as his own servants. He has even made the angels for the purpose of being servants to those who are the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14).

E. Mephibosheth’s advantages. Though he was lame in both feet, had no ability to care for himself, both he and his son Mica “Lived in Jerusalem” and “ate at the king’s table regularly.”

  1. God’s provisions for his sons are not restricted but give us satisfaction and security now in the forgiveness of sins, justification by Christ’s righteousness, the status of sons of God, and the present working of the Holy Spirit to make us holy and increase our longing for the unshadowed presence of God’s glory.
  2. Also we have the promise that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to his purpose.(Romans 8:28)
  3. Then on top of that, we have an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1: 4, 5).
  4. In this event David serves as a “type” of his later and infinitely greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ whose mercies never cease.


Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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