II Samuel 8

The Word Made Fresh

1David attacked the Philistines and recaptured Metheg-Ammah from them. 2He also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie on the ground and measured them with a length of rope. He had two lengths of them put to death, and one length were spared their lives. The Moabites were then made subjects of David and were required to pay taxes. 3He also defeated the king of Zobah, Hadedezer son of Rehob, thus extending his control as far as the Euphrates River. 4He captured seventeen hundred chariot drivers and twenty thousand foot soldiers. He spared enough horses for a hundred chariots and hamstrung the rest.

5When Arameans from Dammesek came to Hadadezer’s aid, he killed twenty-two thousand of them, 6and then placed army battalions among the Arameans in Dammesek, and the Arameans became David’s subjects and paid taxes. The LORD made David victorious in every direction. 7Hadadezer’s men were bearing gold shields, and David took them to Jerusalem. 8He also captured a great quantity of bronze from Hadadezer’s cities, Betach and Berotai.

9King Toi of Hamath heard that David had beaten Hadadezer’s whole army, 10and sent his own son, Joram, to David to congratulate him on his victory — Hadadezer and Toi had often been at war with each other. Joram brought with him gifts of silver, gold, and bronze, 11which David gave to the LORD along with the silver and gold he had taken from the other peoples he had conquered — 12Edom, Moab, Ammon, the Philistines, the Amalekites, and king Hadadezer of Zoba.

13David became famous, and when he returned from defeating eighteen thousand Arameans in the Salt valley, 14he established bases throughout Edom, and the Edomites became his vassals. The LORD made David victorious everywhere he went.

15David ruled all of Israel. He was just and treated all the people with an even hand. 16Joab son of Zeruiah was the general of his army. Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was the keeper of records. 17Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were the priests. Seraiah was his secretary. 18Benaiah son of Jehoiada commanded his special forces, the Cherethites and Pelethites, and David’s sons were chiefs.


1: Much has happened that has not yet been reported. David holds sway over a vast territory, subduing the Philistines, which extends his kingdom to the Mediterranean Sea.

2: He defeats the Moabites on the other side of his kingdom, his cruelty displayed in his treatment of prisoners of war.

3-8: David’s rule eventually extends from the Mediterranean to the northern Euphrates, including Damascus (in present day Syria).

9-12: Other kings in the region are careful to ally themselves with David. It is not clear whether king Toi of Hamath is an ally or bought his independence by paying tribute to David. David’s military exploits continue against the nations to the south — Edom, Moab, Ammon, and so forth. He now rules over a large area from the Red Sea in the south to the Mediterranean in the west to the Euphrates in the north and east — though not nearly as great as the empires before his time (Egyptian and Hittite) or after his time (Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian). David happens to live in a time when those great empires are either on the wane or not yet arrived, but his rule represents Israel’s heyday. Not before or after is Israel ever so influential in the Middle East.

13-14: Again, David’s cruelty is highlighted. He is very successful in battle, but his victories are sometimes unnecessarily merciless.

15-18: David organizes his kingdom, appointing leaders over the military, religious, and administrative arms. Jehoshaphat is “recorder,” which probably means the kingdom’s record-keeping system is under him, including information that will facilitate taxes and military drafts, and likely these Biblical accounts of David’s reign. Seraiah is “secretary,” who handles the king’s daily schedule. Benaiah is the military leader who is put over special mercenary forces: “Cherethites” are thought to be from Crete, and “Pelethites” to consist of Philistine troops. It appears that David now has a substantial standing army supplemented by mercenaries. The positions of David’s sons are difficult to translate. Some translations have them as priests, which would be quite extraordinary and disturbing. The most likely translation is probably that they were awarded some status as figureheads over something.


Chapter 8 is a summary of a multitude of military actions that had to have taken place over a period of many years. David’s cruelty to defeated enemy soldiers is disturbing, but in keeping with practices of the time, and I think the numbers are probably exaggerated by Jehoshaphat the recorder because, after all, he has the job at the king’s discretion. We are reading about Middle Eastern life a thousand years before the time of Christ, and acts of cruelty were considered standard – ancient readers would have considered David quite magnanimous for sparing the lives of a third of his Moabite enemies.