The Messiah according to the last words of David
It started out as a quest to see what the proper translation of II Samuel 23:1-7 should be. I thought there could be some reference to the true Messiah (Jesus Christ) contained in the passage but I was confused as to how so many translations could have such a wide range of differences. I found a very helpful video by Dr. Michael Rydelnik. My questions going into my quest were: Is David talking about himself and then we can see a picture of Christ from there? Is David talking about the Messiah and including himself incidentally? Is David talking about himself and the true Messiah together and we have to separate the two where appropriate?
Because of Dr. Rydelnik, I got an inside look at why a huge swath of Bible interpreters are reading things into the passage that are not there. I don’t know these languages, but what he brings out makes me want to question the reasons why interpreters do things the way they do. This passage is quite significant to me because it links the Davidic Covenant with the Everlasting Covenant, something I have written about at length because of Jeremiah’s Covenant Revelation in Jeremiah 30-33. But let me start you where I started: looking at the wide variety of differences in the translations.
First, in II Samuel 23:1, how is David referring to himself? Is David saying he was raised up on high, or was he raised up by the Most High? This is significant. How could translators get this wrong (or right) at the very beginning? Rydelnik starts even before this, though. There is a little word that the ESV gets correct, the Hebrew word N@’um, which should be translated oracle, but for some reason in most other translations it is not. This sets the tone for what the entire passage is about, because David is declaring what his oracle is all about. So if we get what David tells us he is writing about wrong, then it follows we will simply be wrong. So what is the oracle about? Better yet, what does David tell us his oracle is about?
Here’s where it gets interesting. Rydelnik concedes that the Masoretic text points to David as being the subject of the song. However, there is a variant reading in the Septuagint, Vulgate, and other versions that the text is all about the Messiah. The word for “on high” should actually be “concerning” according to these other readings. Rydelnik points to the addition of vowels much later to the Masoretic text in such a way as to either translate that word to “on high” or “concerning”. In order to translate, the person translating must look at the overall context to determine what the correct translation should be. If someone comes to the text with the understanding that David was only writing about himself and nothing more, then that would steer them in one direction. If the person translating believes David was writing an oracle about something else, like say oh maybe…. THE MESSIAH!, then that would steer us in another direction. The vowels were added in 1525 AD, but Septuagint was translated before 200 BC, so which translation contains the more accurate intent of the original?
Before rendering this, let’s look at the second issue I was wrestling with. What is this third title for David in verse 1? Is he the sweet psalmist of Israel, the Hero of Israel’s songs, favorite singer of Israel, the Sweetness of the Songs of Israel, or the favorite of the Strong One of Israel? Or, if we follow Rydelnik’s translation directly from the Hebrew, the delightful one of the songs of Israel? The translations were nothing but united on this issue. But again, one’s overall view of the passage will steer you in a number of directions. If David is only writing about himself, (which doesn’t that seem conceited?), exactly how is he portraying himself?
Let’s back up a minute. If this is the last public statement of David, if these are the final words to summarize what David has been writing about all this time, shouldn’t that be taken into account when translating? Shouldn’t that be a part of the context? So what if David says, “All those years, I was writing about me!”? Does that fit the context of the entire book of psalms? Now let’s look at Rydelnik’s translation of this passage directly from the Hebrew with the Septuagint reading:
These are the last words of David
The oracle of David the son of Jesse
And the oracle of the man raised up concerning:
The Messiah of the God of Jacob
And the Delightful One of the songs of Israel
Note that I’m not sure where Rydelnik places the word “concerning” with regards to the poetry; whether at the end of the line or at the beginning of the next line so it would read “Concerning the Messiah”. If David were writing about himself, then the translator is going to try to make the words fit around David as a person, hence “the sweet psalmist of Israel” or “the hero of Israel’s songs”. If the Messiah is the subject matter, then “the Delightful One of the songs of Israel” is Who David has been writing about for his entire life. Do you see how crucial this is? And we haven’t even arrived at the most difficult issue yet.
David is saying, “It’s not about me.” All my life I have been writing and prophesying about the Messiah. He is the One about Whom I have been writing. All those psalms have been revealing the Messiah. This leads into a fairly undisputed portion, which David states that he has divine inspiration to write about this Messiah. God revealed this to me. His word was on my tongue. My tongue is the pen of a ready writer (borrowed from Psalm 45). The Holy Spirit has been speaking all of these songs through me, of which this is the final statement or summary.
This leads to my next major quandary in examining the text. Was David writing about his own rule and reign in verses 3-4? If so, then perhaps we can see a picture of the Messiah and His reign through David. Or is David writing about a general principle that if someone wants to rule and reign, that these are the characteristics that they should have? Or, perhaps, is David writing about the One, True Messiah? The qualities exemplified here seem akin to Psalm 72, which is clearly Messianic. The description seems a little too altruistic to be just a common set of principles to guide just any person who wants to be a world leader. And did David really rule in this way? But this was more of a minor issue as I don’t think leaning in one direction or the other here would rule out the Messiah. The weightier issue is verse 5. If we can determine the best translation of the beginning and the end, then this middle portion will fall in line. So let’s move on to verse 5.
Here is where I was having the most difficult time with the translations. Some of them are direct opposites. KJV, NKJV, ASV, and YLT all state that David is saying here that his house is not so with God, as in, “hey all those awesome, superlative characteristics that I just wrote about, none of them are about me.” NIV (which is unreliable to me in many instances) says almost the exact opposite. In essence NIV renders it that if the opposite of those characteristics were true, then God wouldn’t have made the Davidic Covenant with him. So NIV gives us the impression that David got that covenant because of how great he is. The majority of the newer translations frame this as a question. They translate the negative aspect of the statement as a question as to allow the answer to the question to be the opposite. So basically, as in HCSB, “Is it not true my house is with God?” By rendering this as a question, it says the exact opposite of KJV, NKJV, ASV, and YLT. So who is right? Again, Rydelnik comes to the rescue.
Dr. Michael Rydelnik shows that there is nothing in the Hebrew to suggest a question. KJV has it right. For not so is my house with God. The dissenting translators have tried to make sense of the entire passage from a point of view that it is all about David. When the passage is all about David, that he is the righteous king, then of course we have to change the meaning of the text to say that David is really a righteous ruler. But that’s not what David said. He said his house was not this way. Take into consideration the positioning of II Samuel 23 to be after the revolt of Absalom.
When we finally get to the Davidic Covenant, which is equated with the Everlasting Covenant, if we have not understood the previous verses correctly, then we will not understand this correctly. David says, my house is not this way with God, but because of the Everlasting Covenant, aka, the promise of the Messiah, on this basis we look forward to a Righteous King, and you can look at these other Messianic passages to see how they measure with this passage, see Psalm 72, Jeremiah 23:3-8, Isaiah 9:6-7, and especially Psalm 89:34-47, which I believe is post-exilic.
The final portion of verse 5 is fairly simple to understand in light of the previous verses which testify of the Messiah and the hope that He brings. God’s promises concerning the Messiah ARE David’s salvation and desire/pleasure/delight. There is one more nuance in the passage that Rydelnik brings out that might escape your eye. This “growing” or (however the translators decided i.e. prosper, increase, bring to fruition, spring up, bring about), is really the Hebrew word for the Branch in Jeremiah 33:15. What David is saying is that God will cause to Branch forth all his salvation and desire, as in, the righteous Branch of David branch forth. Again, as above, there is no question here at the end of verse 5. Those translations have it wrong. It’s a declarative statement that God has not yet made it happen, but God will. If we read it in context, God will one day cause salvation to Branch forth through the Messiah.
Perhaps I didn’t start out with the best questions. But I sure ended with a better understanding of the text. Now it’s time to really dig in and study this passage. This perfectly explains why Peter believed that David was a prophet writing about the Messiah in Acts 2:29-31; namely because this passage states that David was a prophet writing about the Messiah in all the psalms. Here is what I believe to be a good translation.
II Samuel 23:1-7
These are the last words of David,
The oracle of David the son of Jesse,
And the oracle of the man raised up,
Concerning the Messiah of the God of Jacob
And the Delightful One of the songs of Israel.
The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me.
His word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel spoke.
The Rock of Israel said to me:
“The One Who rules the people with justice
Who rules in the fear of God
is like the morning light
when the sun rises on a cloudless morning,
the glisten of rain on sprouting grass.”
My house is not so with God;
Yet He has established an everlasting covenant with me,
Ordered and secured in every detail.
This is all my salvation and desire.
He has not yet caused it to Branch forth.
But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away,
For they cannot be taken with the hand;
But the man who touches them
Arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear,
And they are utterly consumed with fire.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. A special thank you to my friend, Trond, for sharing the video. You can watch it at this link here.