The Lamp of Israel

Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 21:15-22 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/26/2016 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
2 Samuel 21:15-22
6/26/16“The Lamp of Israel”

Kingdom work is a team effort. We see that with the renowned King David, that he had his mighty men to fight with him and for him in battle. King David needed people by his side to help him, and so will we. Despite the former army recruitment slogan, none of God’s people are an army of one. Let’s consider this theme as we dig into today’s passage.

As we approach this passage we see that it is basically about how four of David’s famous mighty men conquer four Philistine giants. We know David had various mighty men who were particularly renown for their valor and service. We have lists of these mighty men in 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11. And so here we have four such mighty men of David who are used by God to defeat these four giants.

Now let me mention a word about these giants in general. There are four mentioned, and you’ll notice a slightly confusing description of these giants in this passage in a few places, including verse 22. Verse 22 in our pew Bibles says that “these four were born to the giant in Gath.” That translation is not very helpful here. It makes it sound like these were four giants were all born to some specific giant in Gath. But the word in the Hebrew translated as giant here is actually the proper name Raphah. In other words, these four were descendants of someone named Raphah. Well, who is this Raphah? Scholars believe Raphah was the original patriarch of the Rephaim? Well, who are the Rephaim? They are a people group listed in the Old Testament that evidently were a race of giants. There were several such people groups who were giants in the Old Testament, including the Nephilim, the Anakim, and the Rephaim. And so these four giants here were sons of Raphah, which apparently means they were Rephaim. The fact that these Raphaim were living among the Philistines probably reflect that they had assimilated into the Philistine nation in one way or another. And so these four giants that David’s men slay here were some of the infamous Rephaim who had become part of the Philistines.

I’ll mention each of the four episodes briefly. They are each reported as separate battles against the Philistines. The first one Abishai, Joab’s brother comes to David’s rescue to kill the giant named Ishbi-Benob, verses 16-17. Notice his big spear and impressive sword in verse 16. The second battle is in verse 18, and it features one of David’s men named Sibbechai killing a giant named Saph. The third battle is in verse 19 and there we see someone named Elhanan killing the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who is likely a reference to the giant that David killed at the start of his military career. This giant too has a huge spear similar to what Goliath himself used. Finally, the fourth battle is listed in verses 20-21 and one of David’s nephew Jonathan killed a giant who had six fingers and six toes on each of his hands and feet. On a side note, some giant mythology claims that all these ancient giants had six fingers and toes, and they will point to this passage as proof of that. Well, whether or not that was commonly true or not is hard to say, but I do think it is hard to use this passage as a proof text for that claim. The fact that this giant had these extra digits is reported as noteworthy in comparison to these other three giants. Presumably, he’s the only one of these four giants that had these extra digits, and so it is hard to use this verse to claim all giants were like this.

But I digress. But I did want to highlight these four men’s achievements over these giants. Similar to how David killed Goliath in 1 Samuel, we should recognize that this would have been no small achievement. Surely we should credit God for giving these four men these victories over these giants. And in terms of credit, I think we should also notice verse 22. It not only gives the credit for the victory to these four men, it also gives it to David. David as their king and leader gets the credit for slaying these giants, even though he did it through the agency of his brave and mighty men. That’s how leadership and teamwork tends to work, and we see that right here.

And so a quick application in this first point is to remember the battle that God’s people have been having down through the ages with the enemies of God. In the Old Testament, this theme is particularly seen in connection with giants. I remember a visitor to our church once commented that God must not like giants. I can appreciate why he said that, because there are many places where God is giving his people victory over various giants. But of course the reason that God’s people were in conflict with these giants was not because they were big and tall. The conflict stemmed from the fact they were godless wicked people. Or to say it another way, these were people in allegiance to Satan, the seed of the serpent, even though they probably didn’t realize it. It just so happened that these several groups of giants in the Bible all happen to also be groups that were opposed to the one true God and to his people. The point is not that they were giants and therefore enemies to God. It was that they were enemies of God who happened to be giants.

And I think that is the important application here. Those who would oppose God’s people are often the strong and powerful in this world. Whether they be the giants found so often in the Old Testament, or they be other people today who have earthly power, resources, and influence. God’s people down through the ages have faced opposition that can seem from an earthly perspective to be too difficult for us. We face today a North Bay community that seems extremely hardened against the gospel, and with all kinds of strange ideas in terms of religion. The government and society is increasingly advocating secularism and putting pressure on Christian fundamentalism. It can seem that everything is starting to stack up against us. Then you have the increasing threat of radical Islam which we know has Christians as a target. Our passage today not only reminds us of the ongoing battle that Christians face with the enemy, but that our enemies are often big and strong. But today’s passage reminds us of how God can bring his people victory even against such foes. Let us not lose heart but trust in the LORD.

I want to now move to our second point and to observe David’s weariness in this passage. As I mentioned, we know that in general David had mighty men helping him in his various military exploits. But we also know that David himself was a mighty and formidable warrior. And so we might be taken by surprise a little when we see what happens to him in verse 15. Mighty king David grows weary. In the midst of battle, David grows tired and exhausted. One of these giants tries to seize on this opportunity to kill David. Abishai comes to David’s rescue and the sense you get is that it was a somewhat close call for David.

This has an immediate ramification to it. In verse 17, David’s mighty men swear that David is no longer to go out with them into battle. After almost losing him in battle, they decide they don’t want to risk losing him again. I think the best interpretation here for why David got weary like this, is that he was getting older. As he was getting older, he is past the prime of his fighting years, and that probably explained why he became fatigued like this and why they said he is to “no longer” come to battle with them. Now to be fair, it doesn’t explicitly connect his fatigue with old age. We know that even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall. But likely it was his increasing age that especially contributed to his recorded weariness here and to why they would go to such a measure as to decide that David could no longer go out into battle with them anymore. I think this is the case, because appears like the text is situating these battles later in David’s career. Also, we see David going out to battle so much in the earlier chapters, so they didn’t have a problem with his going into battle then. And remember that this is something Israel originally wanted and expected in their king, that he would be someone to go out before them and fight their battles. So likely it was his increasing age that especially was the issue here.

And yet whether it was because of his age or not, my point here ultimately is that David had weaknesses. He had limitations. Like any human, he was limited physically. I think for those of us who have seen our parents get older and not be able to do what they used to do, we can find that hard. For most of us, our parents were probably our heroes growing up, they probably seemed invincible, and then we see their age catch up with them, and it can shock us. And so even here with mighty King David, he too is not an invincible super-hero that maybe everyone at once thought he was. Remember they used to cry out in the streets, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” But now the mighty David, in light of this weariness on the battle field, is judged by his men as needing to stay out of the battles. Like in this passage, David would have to rely on his men to do the fighting.

And yet notice the reason they give David in verse 17. They say “lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” I think that’s great. It shows that his mighty military men recognized that the King of Israel could serve a greater role than just as a military leader. By calling David a lamp like this it describes him as one who gives light to the people. Interestingly, next chapter David will tell God that God is his lamp who lightens his darkness. But that makes sense. David is a light to God’s people because he himself has known that light from God and can share it with the people. Surely David’s light included godly wisdom that he would have shared with his people, and his righteous judgments that he would render among Israel, and his discerning decisions he would make for the nation. David’s men realize that him shining as this light was more important than him leading them in battle. They don’t want to lose that light.

And so the application that comes to us from this point is that all this looks to the need for a light among God’s people that can’t be quenched. John 1:4 refers to Jesus being the light of men. Jesus is the ultimate lamp for God’s people. And as we saw through the power of the resurrection, Jesus is a light that cannot be quenched. As Christians, Jesus is our king and we rejoice in having his light in our lives.

And so let’s turn now to our third point for today. I want us to now contrast the start of David’s military career versus the end of it. This passage explicitly marks the end of it when his men decide for him that he’s not to go out into battle with them anymore. But remember the start of his career. I think the contrast is very interesting. The start of his career was back in 1 Samuel 17. That’s when he defeated a giant, Goliath. We are even encouraged to think back to that event when we see Goliath mentioned again in verse 19. And so David’s mighty military career begins with a glorious victory over a giant. And David’s military career ends with his inability to fight giants any more.

What are we to make of this contrast? We know David’s first success wasn’t because of his own strength as a youth. The account of David versus Goliath makes it really clear that the young boy David in his own strength couldn’t defeat the mighty Goliath. David couldn’t even bear Saul’s armor, let alone measure up to the stature of giant Goliath. So when David defeats Goliath, we all recognize that it was God who granted him success. It was God who gave him the victory when under normal physical circumstances this would not have happened. So that again brings the question to us. Why would God allow David to defeat a giant in the weakness of his youth but not in the weakness of his old age?

I don’t think it speaks to David’s spiritual condition. After his various godly struggles that might be an option that comes into our mind. We might think, well maybe David was walking more faithfully with God back then and so that is why God was with David back then to defeat Goliath. But I don’t think we should draw that conclusion. There’s nothing in today’s passage that would cause us to think that. Not only that, but to be clear, God is still with David in this passage giving him victory over these giants. Remember, God saved David’s life from the giant through the instrument of Abishai. Should we doubt that as God’s protection and victory for David? Of course note. And remember, the passage ends giving David the credit for these victories, through his servants. David’s servants weren’t giants. And yet God gave David’s servants the strength to defeat these huge foes. In other words, there is something the same here as with the start of David’s military career. In both situations, God was with David so that ultimately he had the victory over the giants. The difference is that in the start of his career, God used David himself for the victory over the giant, and now at the end, God uses David’s men on his behalf for the victory over the giants. But either way, God is granting David victory over the giants.

And yet the difference is important to notice. It again highlights that David himself was growing older and weaker. The fighting days of David’s youth were drawing to a close. David is still an ordinary human with the ordinary limitations. Yes, God could have miraculously intervened beyond ordinary providence to allow a frail and aged David to still win, just like God intervened to allow the younger weaker David to defeat Goliath. God could have intervened and allowed the aged David to miraculously defeat the giants himself. But God didn’t. God allowed the limits found in ordinary providence to operate, and had others “step up” in that regard.

This was a wonderful picture of how God uses all of God’s people for his kingdom work. David’s men could serve the king and kingdom in this way and be a part of the glory. But it also reminds us how wonderful it would be if God’s people had a king who wouldn’t become weary and weak or grow old. This again brings us to Christ and the gospel. I think of Hebrews 7. There is speaks about Jesus Christ in terms of being a priest. In terms of being a priest it contrasts him with the priests of old. It says that in the Old Testament there had to be many priests because they were prevented by death from continuing in office. But it says of Jesus that he holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever.

Well, if this is true for Jesus in his priesthood, it certainly is true for Jesus in his kinghood. David would have many sons. David’s own lamp would eventually be quenched in death, but his son Solomon would take the thrown. 1 Kings 15:4 refers to Solomon also a lamp. And yet Solomon would also grow old and weak and die. Of course the line would continue and new descendants of David would carry on the role as the lamp of Israel and as a mighty king for God’s people. But they all were quenchable and subject to human frailties and weakness. And yet then you come to Jesus. Yes, in his humanity, he had the normal human limitations at first. He hungered and thirst and had to rest. He even suffered death. But death could not hold him. It did not ultimately quench his light. He rose again on the third day, and took on immortality in terms of his human nature. That’s why Hebrews says that he continues forever. Not only as a praise, but in his strength he continues also as our king. We put our faith and hope in Jesus as the unquenchable lamp of Israel and the eternally might king!

And so think of some application here then to this point. Yes, in one sense we will have to rely on others like David had to rely on his men in this passage. God’s set things up that way. And yet, we all ultimately need to rely on Jesus fully and completely, the true lamp of Israel, whose light and strength will never go out! As we said at the start, none of us are an army of one. But we all are an army of The One, our Lord and Savior, King Jesus. And it’s in king Jesus that we have the victory not only over the giant human enemies in this world. But King Jesus gives us the victory over the giant enemies of sin and death and Satan, through his victory at the cross. Praise be to God!

Saints of God, in closing, I would like to say that it is amazing then that Christ still desires to use his people in his kingdom work. Knowing the strength and might of Jesus, we might expect him to just do it all. And yet instead he gives of his strength and might to his people. He promises that in him we can renew our strength and rise up with wings like eagles. And he then uses us in his kingdom work in this world. And it’s this passage that reminds us that this kingdom work is to be a team effort. As much as we all are to ultimately rely on Christ for our strength and success, we see in this passage how God sometimes brings that through one another.

As your pastor, I have taken this to heart. The temptation for me is to try to be involved in everything. The last several months I’ve especially been recognizing that I can’t do that. I have my own limits and weaknesses. I’ve been so blessed to see different saints be used in leading and serving. The VBS this last week was a wonderful example of so many saints coming together and serving together. I’ve been excited to see a number of saints taking the initiative to go out together and regularly do street evangelism. I’m so thank for our elders and deacons and all the initiative they take in this church. And there are so many ways that different saints serve in this church that make all the ministry happen. Let us all keep about the Lord’s work. This kingdom work is a team effort even as we all rely on the Lord. And that means that when you serve in the church, you are not serving the pastor, or the church itself even. You are serving Christ our Lord.

And be reminded then that we each will have our weaknesses and failures as we serve. Yes, we’ll also each have our gifts from God too. But we will also have our limitations and frailties. This means that we might need to see how some of the saints who used to do certain things among us can’t do those anymore, and we’ll need you or others to rise to fill the need. And on the flip side, you might be a saint that can’t do what you used to do, and I pray for your humility to recognize that and look for what other ways you can serve the Lord.

I thank the Lord for the opportunity to serve together with you all at this local congregation. Let’s pray for our ongoing teamwork and labors for Christ against the giant obstacles that are before us.


Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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