When death is near, the human mind seems to turn naturally to reflection. What thoughts will consume our minds in those last moments before we step through the doorway of death? Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio died in 1999 after battling lung cancer. According to sources present at the time of his death, he said, “I finally get to see Marilyn.” DiMaggio seemingly never healed from Monroe’s sudden death from a drug overdose 37 years earlier.
Charlie Chaplin, in 1977, after hearing a priest say, “May the Lord have mercy on your soul,” is reported to have said, “Why not? After all, it belongs to Him.” Also in 1977, Joan Crawford had a heart attack. After witnessing the heart attack, Crawford’s maid began to pray for her, and Crawford told the maid, “Don’t you dare ask God to help me!”
These are the famous last words from some famous people. Whether lamenting lost love or wrestling with mortality and the coming confrontation with the unknown, last words are important. David certainly qualifies as famous—probably the most famous and influential person in the Old Testament and one of the most famous in all of Scripture—second perhaps only to Jesus Christ.
In verse 1, Samuel revealed a few things about David: “Now these are the last words of David. Thus says David the son of Jesse; thus says the man raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel.” This is the David who was anointed and exalted before his seven brothers because God looks at the inner heart rather than the outer person. This same David is a man after God’s own heart, the poet king of God’s chosen people. In 2 Samuel 23:2-7, we see David’s famous last words as he encountered the great unknown of death.
David Was Aware of God’s Expectations
David knew what God wanted of him. This knowledge came directly from God and through David. The Spirit of the Lord spoke through him and told him to be one who rules justly. The word for justly means “to be guiltless or in the right.” This type of guiltless rule should be prompted by the fear of God. In beautifully poetic fashion, David said the one who rules in the fear of God will “be like the light of the morning” and “like the tender grass springing out of the earth.”
However, we are not called to rule the way David was called to rule. We are not anointed as kings of Israel. We are called to guiltlessness and to be on the right side of things. Our calling may be different than David’s, but our motivations should be the same. We should live our lives motivated by the fear of God. This is not the fear that God is a monster under our beds but a reverent awe for who He is and what He is capable of doing. He can take a little shepherd boy and accomplish some of the greatest feats recorded in the pages of Scripture. He also can use you and me greatly when we are motivated by respect for Him toward a guiltless life.
David Was Aware of God’s Faithfulness
Translations differ on how to render the first line of verse 5. The KJV and NKJV render this as a confession statement: “Although my house is not so with God.”
Translations such as NASB and ESV render the line more as a question focusing on the reality of David’s situation. “Truly is not my house so with God?” Both renderings get to the heart of the issue: faithfulness. It is God’s faithfulness that elevates David’s house to its place of prominence. David said, “Yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire. Will He not make it increase?” David did not find his security in his own abilities or status. He had been around the block enough to know that all people, himself included, experience failure.
One of the hardest lessons I learned as a believer happened shortly after I was saved. I remember being so excited about my new faith and tackling the work God had called me to do for His kingdom. God also saved some of my friends, forming a small, close-knit group of believers who supported each other through prayer and encouragement. Then it happened. Someone let me down. This person didn’t come through as promised. This person didn’t react as I thought one should. I felt betrayed.
Here is the lesson: People aren’t perfect. We will be let down by friends, family and fellow kingdom workers. The same brokenness that is in everyone else exists within me. I have let people down, and I’m sure not for the last time. God is perfect. God never lets us down. God harbors no brokenness, and His promises are sure. God never fails. When we place our trust in God, that trust is well placed.
David ends his famous last words with a warning. He said, “But the sons of rebellion shall all be as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands; but the man who touches them must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear, and they shall be utterly burned with fire in their place.” The sons of rebellion are likened to thorns that cannot be grasped with hands. They resist being drawn near. God is so gracious and merciful but mercy is not mercy if judgment is not imminent. David knew this.
What consumed David’s mind in those moments before he passed from this life? He reflected on his life with the Lord: a life characterized by God’s clear expectations, God’s unwavering faithfulness, and a warning for those who live apart from God’s mercy…famous last words indeed.