2 Samuel 8:2
And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David's servants, and brought gifts.
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(2) He smote Moab.—David’s former friendly relations with Moab (probably connected with his own descent from Ruth), are mentioned in 1Samuel 22:3-4. The cause of his entire change of bearing towards them is not certainly known, but according to Jewish tradition the Moabites had proved false to their trust, and had put to death David’s father and mother. This is not unlikely, as his parents are never mentioned again after they were left in Moab. Others think that the Moabites had been guilty of some treachery towards David in his war with the Syrians and Ammonites. The two suppositions are quite consistent, and both may have been true. Many writers see in this conquest at least a partial fulfilment of the prophecy in Numbers 24:17.

With two lines.—This expression with the “one full line” of the next clause is equivalent to saying that David measured off the bodies of his prostrate enemies with a line divided into three equal parts. When they had been made to lie down upon the ground, side by side, the line was stretched over them. Such as were found under the two first parts of it were put to death, those under the third part were spared, thus two-thirds of all the Moabite men perished. There is no mention of this in 1Chronicles 18:2.

Brought gifts.—A frequent euphemism for paid tribute. (Comp. 2Samuel 8:6.)

2 Samuel 8:2. He smote Moab — For although the king of Moab, out of hatred to Saul, gave protection to David’s parents, 1 Samuel 22:3-4; yet the Moabites were perpetual and sworn enemies to the Israelites, who therefore were forbidden to admit them into the congregation of the Lord. God indeed commanded the Israelites, in their march to Canaan, to spare the Moabites for the sake of their progenitor Lot, but afterward they became such fierce enemies to him and his people, that he was provoked to treat them in a different manner. Now was fulfilled the prophecy of Balaam, Numbers 24:17-18. “A sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners,” or princes, “of Moab.” See the note on that passage. And measured them with a line — That is, having conquered the country, he took an exact survey, and made an estimate of it, distributing the towns and people into three parts. Casting them down to the ground — Destroying the fortified cities and strong holds of the whole land, and levelling them with the ground, as far as he thought necessary to humble them and secure himself. With two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive — This passage, it must be acknowledged, is extremely obscure. But the most probable sense of it seems to be, that upon the taking and demolishing of those forts and strong holds, which made an obstinate resistance, he discriminated between those who were hardy and determined in refusing all offers of mercy, made upon their submission, and those who were unwillingly withheld by their rulers and commanders from accepting the mercy offered them; preserving the latter alive, and putting the others to death. “Agreeable to this sense,” says Dr. Delaney, “the Hebrew text may, and I think ought, to be understood thus: With two lines measured he, namely, one to put to death those obstinate few who rejected all offers of mercy; and with one full line (in the original, one line of plenitude) to keep alive; that is, to save all those who would have submitted and accepted proffered mercy, had they been suffered. David was a prophet, and thoroughly versed in the Scriptures; and when he had there learned that a king was to arise out of Jacob who should one day smite and subdue Moab, it was not hard for him to discern, in the spirit of prophecy, that he himself was that king, especially after the message delivered to him by Nathan, from the word of the Lord. And there is no doubt but he executed the sentence denounced against Moab, in the prophecy of Baalam, in that sense in which the Spirit of God denounced it, which I apprehend to be that now explained. But, supposing David destroyed two-thirds of the Moabites on this occasion, and saved only one- third, (for so some understand the text,) the severity of this chastisement was no greater than that which God himself denounces against his own people for their sins, Zechariah 13:8. And why might not the sins of the Moabites deserve this chastisement now, as those of the Jews did at the time referred to in this prophecy? The greatest sins the Jews ever committed against God were those corruptions which they copied from their neighbour nations, the most abominable of all which were practised by the very nation we are now speaking of; and therefore there is good reason to believe that they now deserved the same severity of vengeance from the justice of God, which he afterward inflicted upon his own people.” And so the Moabites became David’s servants — Were made subject to him; and brought gifts — Or paid a constant tribute, which they continued to do all his days, and in the reign of Solomon. And after the kingdom was divided, it was paid to the kings of Israel, till after the death of Ahab, when they refused to pay it, 2 Kings 3:4-5.

8:1-8. David subdued the Philistines. They had long been troublesome to Israel. And after the long and frequent struggles the saints have with the powers of darkness, like Israel with the Philistines, the Son of David shall tread them all under foot, and make the saints more than conquerors. He smote the Moabites, and made them tributaries to Israel. Two parts he destroyed, the third part he spared. The line that was to keep alive, though it was but one, is ordered to be a full line. Let the line of mercy be stretched to the utmost. He smote the Syrians. In all these wars David was protected, for this in his psalms he often gives glory to God.David took great numbers of the Moabites prisoners of war, and made them lie down on the ground, and then divided them by a measuring line into three parts, putting two-thirds to death, and saving alive one-third. The cause of the war with the Moabites, who had been very friendly with David 1 Samuel 22:3-4, and of this severe treatment, is not known. But it seems likely, from the tone of Psalm 60:1-12 that David had met with some temporary reverse in his Syrian wars, and that the Moabites and Edomites had treacherously taken advantage of it, and perhaps tried to cut off his retreat. 2. he smote Moab, and measured them with a line—This refers to a well-known practice of Eastern kings, to command their prisoners of war, particularly those who, notorious for the atrocity of their crimes or distinguished by the indomitable spirit of their resistance, had greatly incensed the victors, to lie down on the ground. Then a certain portion of them, which was determined by lot, but most commonly by a measuring-line, were put to death. Our version makes him put two-thirds to death, and spare one-third. The Septuagint and Vulgate make one-half. This war usage was not, perhaps, usually practised by the people of God; but Jewish writers assert that the cause of this particular severity against this people was their having massacred David's parents and family, whom he had, during his exile, committed to the king of Moab. He smote Moab; for although the king of Moab, out of hatred to Saul, pretended some kindness to David, and gave protection to his parents, 1 Samuel 22:3,4; yet the Moabites were perpetual and sworn enemies to the Israelites, who therefore were forbidden to admit them into the congregation of the Lord, and to seek their peace and prosperity, Deu 23:6. And though God commanded them in their march to Canaan to spare the Moabites, Deu 2:9,19, yet afterwards they proved unthankful, and insolent, and fierce enemies to God and his people, Numbers 22:2,24:17,18 Jud 3:14, &c.; 1 Samuel 14:47, &c., and thereby provoked God to alter his course and carriage towards them.

With a line, i. e. as with line, the particle as being oft understood, as Psalm 11:1 22:6 45:1. The sense is, having conquered the land, he made an estimate of it, and, as it follows, distributed the towns and people into three parts.

Casting them down to the ground, i. e. overthrowing their towns, and utterly destroying their people in, manner following.

With two lines measured he to put to death; which severity was necessary for his own and his people’s security, because they were numerous and potent, and bordering upon Canaan, and very vexatious and mischievous to the Israelites. And now that prophecy, Numbers 24:7, was accomplished.

And he smote Moab,.... He next went against that, and invaded it, the people of it being always troublesome and distressing to the children of Israel; and though the king of it had shown some favour to David, yet it was when he considered him as an enemy to Saul, and Saul to him; but things having taken a different turn, his and his people's enmity against David and his people appeared; wherefore he went and fought them, and made them his subjects, whereby was fulfilled the prophecy of Balaam, Numbers 24:17; as it referred to David:

and measured them with a line: either their country and fields, to distribute among his people, or rather the soldiers he took prisoners; which, as Procopius Gazaeus says, were so numerous that they could not be told, and therefore they were ordered to lie prostrate on the ground, and they were measured with a line, as it follows:

casting them down to the ground; or ordering them to lie down; though some understand this of casting down their cities, towers, and strong holds, and levelling them with the ground:

even with two lines measured he; with one, so it may be supplied, as the Vulgate Latin:

to put to death, and with one full line, to keep alive; that is, in measuring them with his lines, he divided them into two parts, one he put to death, and the other, the full line, which contained the most, he saved alive; though it seems according to our version, and so most understand it, that David slew two thirds, and saved one, and so Josephus (e). This must be understood of the army of the Moabites that fell into his hands, so Josephus, who persisted and refused to submit, not of all the inhabitants of the land. The Jews say (f), that the reason of this severe treatment of them was because they slew the father, and mother and brethren of David, whom he left to the care and custody of the king of Moab, when he fled from Saul, see 1 Samuel 22:3; since after that they are heard no more of; though it should rather be imputed to their enmity against the people of Israel. The phrase of "meting out the valley of Succoth" seems to be an allusion to this fact, Psalm 60:6, the psalm being written on occasion of the victories here related:

and so the Moabites became David's servants; the inhabitants of the land who were left in it, perhaps that part of the soldiers preserved alive were brought home captives:

and brought gifts; paid a yearly tribute to King David, as they afterwards did to Solomon and to Rehoboam, until the revolt of the ten tribes, and then they paid it unto the kings of Israel, to the times of Ahab, see 2 Kings 3:4, though these gifts may be distinct from, and besides the tribute paid, which is supposed in their being servants, see 2 Chronicles 17:11. Thus the Arabians (g) carried gifts to the king of Persia besides tribute.

(e) Antiqu. l. 7. c. 5. sect. 1.((f) Bemidbar Rabba, l. 14. fol. 212. 1.((g) Herodot. Thalia, sive, l. 3. c. 97.

And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with {b} two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David's servants, and brought gifts.

(b) He slew two parts as it pleased him, and reserved the third.

2. casting them down to the ground] Making them lie down on the ground. The Moabite prisoners, doubtless only the fighting men, were ordered to lie down upon the ground in rows, which were measured with a measuring line. Two thirds of them were executed, and only the remaining third spared. Why David inflicted such terrible vengeance on a nation which had once received him and given his parents an asylum (1 Samuel 22:3-4) can only be conjectured. A Jewish tradition relates that the king of Moab betrayed his trust and murdered David’s parents. Possibly the Moabites may have been guilty of some special act of treachery in one of David’s wars with their neighbours the Ammonites or Edomites. The exploit recorded in ch. 2 Samuel 23:20 was perhaps performed in this war. By this victory Balaam’s prophecy was fulfilled (Numbers 24:17).

brought gifts] Paid tribute to David. Cp. 2 Samuel 8:6; 1 Kings 4:21. At the division of the kingdom, Moab seems to have fallen to Israel, for we find Mesha, the king of Moab, paying a heavy tribute to Ahab, and at his death making a vigorous effort to throw off the Israelite yoke (2 Kings 3:4 ff.).

Verse 2. - He smote Moab. In the previous history we find David and Moab on such friendly terms that he entrusted his father and mother into their king's keeping (1 Samuel 22:3, 4). Now he not only subjugates them, but puts two-thirds or, according to the ancient versions, half of the captured combatants to death. Compared with the custom of the Romans, and with the attempt to destroy all the males in Edom, this was mild treatment; for we find Caesar in his Gallic wars putting all his prisoners to death, and using for their execution the mere phrase, "he counted them in the number of enemies," as if the killing of enemies was a matter of course. The customs of the Israelites in war were not so cruel, and this treatment of the Moabites seems to be mentioned as showing that they received exceptionally severe treatment. The justification of this is found by Jewish commentators, on the authority of the Midrash, in the supposed fact that the King of Moab had put David's father and mother to death. But as Philippson adds, even so it was an instance of the extreme barbarity of ancient warfare. Casting them down to the ground; Hebrew, making them to lie down on the ground; and so the Revised Version. It is plain that those who were made to lie on the ground were combatants who had been made prisoners, and the Hebrew seems to mean that, while they were thus prostrate, they were measured off into three divisions, whereof two were put to the sword, and one permitted to live. All the versions, however, understand that only half were put to death, making the sense to be that he measured them with two cords, one to kill, and one full cord - one, that is, of larger size, to save alive. We get no help from 1 Chronicles 18:2, where this treatment of the Moabites is omitted. It is probable that it was in this war that Benaiah slew "two lion-like men of Moab" (1 Chronicles 11:22), who were its champions and perhaps members of the royal house. They brought gifts means that they paid an annual tribute; but the phrase shows that, though now they were David's servants, that is, subjects, yet that they were left in possession of their independence, and that their internal affairs were managed by native authorities. 2 Samuel 8:2Subjugation of Moab. - "He smote Moab (i.e., the Moabites), and measured them with the line, making them lie down upon the ground, and measured two lines (i.e., two parts) to put to death, and one line full to keep alive." Nothing further is known about either the occasion or the history of this war, with the exception of the cursory notice in 1 Chronicles 11:22, that Benaiah, one of David's heroes, smote two sons of the king of Moab, which no doubt took place in the same war. In the earliest period of his flight from Saul, David had met with a hospitable reception from the king of Moab, and had even taken his parents to him for safety (1 Samuel 22:3-4). But the Moabites must have very grievously oppressed the Israelites afterwards, that David should have inflicted a severer punishment upon them after their defeat, than upon any other of the nations that he conquered, with the exception of the Ammonites (2 Samuel 12:31), upon whom he took vengeance for having most shamefully insulted his ambassadors (2 Samuel 10:2.). The punishment inflicted, however, was of course restricted to the fighting men who had been taken prisoners by the Israelites. They were ordered to lie down in a row upon the earth; and then the row was measured for the purpose of putting two-thirds to death, and leaving one-third alive. The Moabites were then made "servants" to David (i.e., they became his subjects), "bringing gifts" (i.e., paying tribute).
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