On Typology

I’ll be honest and say that when it comes to Bible study I have generally avoided the area of Typology. But recently I have been studying, teaching, and encountering this system of Bible interpretation more than before. I had a few thoughts that I wanted to share on the subject.

Lewis Sperry Chafer defines it well in his Systematic Theology (Vol. III, p. 116-117):

A type is a divinely purposed anticipation which illustrates its antitype. These two parts of one theme are related to each other by the fact that the same truth or principle is embodied in each. It is not the prerogative of the type to establish the truth of a doctrine; it rather enhances the force of the truth as set forth in the antitype. On the other hand, the antitype serves to lift its type out of the commonplace into that which is inexhaustible and to invest it with riches and treasures hitherto unrevealed.

For example, so many wonderful types are found in the Tabernacle and its services that point to Christ. Indeed, this is almost certainly the primary application of Typology that you will find today. We could go on to speak endlessly on how the Passover lamb pictured Christ’s sacrifice. The books of Romans and Hebrews are full of types that use Old Testament references to highlight New Testament truths. Typology is a cornerstone of New Testament theology and Biblical interpretation.

But it is not without its limits or problems. This system of study has been greatly abused over the millennia. Quoting Chafer again (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 116):

Typology, like prophecy, has often suffered more from its friends than its foes. The fact that extremists have failed to distinguish between that which is typical and that which is merely allegorical, analogous, parallel, happy illustration, or resemblance may have driven conservative theologians from the field. When truth is tortured by faddists and extremists, an added obligation is thereby imposed upon conservative scholarship to declare it in its right proportions. It is obvious that to neglect truth is a greater error than to overemphasize it or to misstate it; and typology, though abused by some, is, nevertheless, conspicuous by its absence from works Systematic Theology. That typology is neglected is evident from the fact that of upwards of twenty works of Systematic Theology examined, but one lists this subject in its index and this author has made but one slight reference to it in a footnote.

The safest interpretation of types and antitypes is to only claim as Old Testament types that which is explicitly states to have an antitype in the New Testament. For instance, Paul uses the first man Adam as a type of Christ (I Corinthians 15:21-22 and Romans 15:14-17). Another is Melchizedek (Genesis 14) who in Hebrews 7 is used as a type to reinforce Christ’s priestly role.

Yet, there are New Testament verses that apply typology very broadly. In Hebrews 9:8-12, we find that entire system of Tabernacle worship with its systems of sacrifices and varied ordinances points to the antitype of Christ’s redemptive work. The details are not given of how this applies to every aspect of the Tabernacle’s construction or the multitude of commandments in the Mosaic Law. It is clear that the Paschal lamb represents Christ, but what about the shewbread or the regulations concerning the differing types of sacrifices? We certainly know that the Bible is HIS story (Psalm 40:7, Hebrews 10:7). So then we are evidently left to discern these ourselves by the guidance of the Spirit.

But not every allusion to the Old Testament in the New Testament refers to a type. There are also illustrations, allegories, and analogies, to name a few. We must carefully discern among these.

So, let us develop of working theory of Typology.

  • First, it must be a connection of type and antitype, generally found in the Old and New Testaments respectively.
  • Second, the foundation for interpreting the relations of type and antitype must come from an emphasis on the antitype. We do not judge any truth about Adam on his typological parallels to Christ, but we do perform the opposite reaction.
  • Third, any supposition or hypothesis regarding the interpretation of a type and antitype must harmonize with the preponderance of clear Scriptural teaching. Just because a connection can be logically construed between two subjects does not give it the power to trump doctrine that is definitively and inarguably taught in Scripture.

Which brings me finally to the reason for this post. There are an error I encountered in the application of Typology that I wanted to mention. I doubt that I will be able to conclusively disprove it here, perhaps at a future time I will further develop my arguments to that level.

I encountered this problem while reading A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship by Lester Ruth and Lim Swee Hong. While discussing the development of Praise & Worship music in the Latter Rain movement, the authors highlight that one of the theological bases was Typology, specifically concerning Tabernacle.

  • “The linchpin of theological development within the Latter Rian movement of this period was a liturgical theology based on a typology.” (p. 46)
  • “Because the theology behind Praise & Worship was a typologically based theology, the identification of the key Scriptures and their interpretation as types was critical.” (p. 46)

The basis for their worship theology was a typological interpretation of the “tabernacle of David”. This not the Tabernacle of Moses, but the temporary dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant from its arrival in Jerusalem in II Samuel 6 and the construction of the Temple by Solomon. There are verses that speak of the “tabernacle of David” being restored in Amos 9:11-12 and the quotation of Amos by James in Acts 15:15-17. How was this justified? Another quote (p. 47-48)

The result was a more highly developed theology featuring praise as the key to God’s presence in the church. or example, an instructor at Bible Temple’s Portland Bible College, Kevin Conner, wrote an influential textbook, The Tabernacle of David, that provided the most detailed hermeneutic to this theology. The core tabernacle of David passages mentioned above – both Old Testament and New Testament – along with a handful of other passages led to an emphasis on divine presence at the place of worship. The identification of this place as Zion reinforced the connection to praise and liturgical activity through a range of scriptural associations. The centerpiece of the original tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, was likewise central in the interpretation by being a type of Jesus Christ himself, who is present among his people, especially in their praise. The lack of reference to bloody animal sacrifices in the liturgical activity of the tabernacle of David, apart from the initial arrival of the ark, highlighted the centrality of perpetual praise as sacrifice, especially by an arrangement of priests whose work was now musical. The connection of the tabernacle and its way of worship to David reinforced the propriety of fully engaged, physically expressive, and musically offered Praise & Worship. In other words, a theology based on the restoration of the tabernacle of David took the earlier emphasis on the sacrifice of praise as the key to experiencing God’s presence and raised it to the level of a highly developed liturgical ecclesiology in which the church is a corporate priesthood that is praise-oriented and fulfills its priestly ministry in a musical manner.

There are, of course, problems with the system of Typology they are using, including.

  • There is no antitype, violating the primary rule of Typology. All emphasis is on examining the type but here is no clear antitype in the New Testament.
  • It assumes the “tabernacle of David” refers to the place the Ark was kept. In context, I believe (and so do most commentaries I have referenced) that this instead refers to the house or kingdom of David.
  • It assumes that restoration was occurring through them. This is part and parcel with their Restorationism, that is their belief that God was bring back true Christianity that had been lost for since the days of the Apostles through special revelation through their movement.
  • It conjectures that the worship at the “tabernacle of David” was all about praise and not about sacrifice or rituals. We simply do not have sound information on the approximately 40 years the Ark dwelt there until placed in the Temple. Much of details we see of David organizing the priesthood during this time was likely preparing for the construction of the Temple.

Similar errors are made in this same movement using Typology and the Tabernacle of Moses as a basis for a worship theology. They are not the only ones to do so. I have encountered in my recent studies on the Tabernacle many differing takes on the Typology of the Tabernacle, not all being soundly based with its antitype, Christ.

I close by echoing the words of Chafer quoted above. Typology can be a field of study that bears rich harvests to the believer today. But we must be careful and consistent it its application, and above all not let its abuse cause us to neglect its study. I certainly have been guilty of doing so.

II Samuel 15:7 – Forty Years or Four Years?

“And it came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the LORD, in Hebron.”
II Samuel 15:7 (KJV)

“At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, ‘Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD.'”

II Samuel 15:7 (NIV)

On Biblehub.com you will find 38 different translations of the Bible that can easily be compared to one another. 22 of these have forty years. This is not just a KJV issue as some portray it.

The division boils down to whether or not the Hebrew text stands on it own. I would not count myself an expert in ancient texts and languages by any stretch, but from those that give an honest take on this verse it appears the ancient Hebrew supports the reading of forty years. When referring to textual evidence supporting the reading of four years, much of the emphasis is placed on the writings of Josephus (late first century A.D.) or the Peshitta translation (maybe second century A.D.). Even the most studious critics seem to be unable to find textual evidence or variance in the ancient Hebrew manuscripts or text. One could argue that the error that has been passed down is not textual but interpretational.

The common argument made for four years is that it must have been an early copyist’s mistake. After all, they will argue, there is little difference between four and forty in Hebrew (compare Strong’s H702 and H705. The evidence they give is other scholars or translations that follow their own reasoning.

Let me say that I feel it is a dangerous precedent to simply assume the text must contain an error because it does not appear to make sense. It is purely subjective and places the authority not on God’s Word but in the mind of its human interpreter.

Since the entire argument for four years is based on the supposition that forty years does not make sense, I would like to propose that a reasonable argument made in the defense of forty has more weight since it has the authority of the Hebrew text behind it.

How Can Forty Years Be Explained?

There are a few different arguments that can be found in support of forty years. Let me list some that I have seen:

  • Absalom was forty years old. This is unlikely since he was born at Hebron after David was made king of Judah (II Samuel 3:3). Even it true, it would then place his rebellion in the final days of David’s forty-year reign (II Samuel 5:4), which does not fit in the scope of the Biblical account of that time.
  • It was the fortieth year of David’s reign. Again, this would place the revolt in a different time than the text places it and making it fit the chronology of David’s last years is practically impossible.
  • It was forty years since David had been anointed king by Samuel. This one is plausible according to the timeline in Reese’s Chronological Bible. The problem with it is tying the significance of David’s anointed in I Samuel 16:13 and Absalom’s rebellion.
  • It was forty years since David fought the Geshurites. This one is interesting and requires some imagination into Absalom’s motives. David’s attack on the Geshurites is briefly mentioned in I Samuel 27:8-9. Absalom’s mother Maacah was a Geshurite (II Samuel 3:3). So the theory goes that Absalom’s rebellion was a retaliation against David’s earlier attack against his mother’s people. However, we see little or no evidence in Absalom’s actions to suggest this to be the case. I don’t see it holding up chronologically since that attack would have come shortly before he was made king over Judah and thus falling into the same time issues as previous suggestions.
  • It was forty years since Israel requested a king. Since Saul reigned for forty years (Acts 13:21) that does not allow for enough time for this to be true.
  • It was just an “era of reckoning”. John Gill records this suggestion, basically that forty years just means a vague epoch. It would be odd to find such a singular occurrence here.
  • It was forty years since Saul slew the priests at Nob. Another suggestion recorded by John Gill. The chronology might work but once again there is no clear connection between this event and Absalom’s rebellion.
  • It is forty days and not forty years. The changing of the Hebrew words in this case seems to be less plausible than a change from forty to four as the the words for day and year are not closely related.

A More Reasonable Int

I think context is the key most often neglected in situations like this, and I believe it provides a very plausible reason for forty years being correct.

In II Samuel 15:1-6, we see Absalom playing the part of a politician in winning over the people of Israel. He was visible with an entourage of chariots and men, he poured out superfluous compliments, he planted the suggestion that he should be in charge. What was the end result?

“…so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” – II Samuel 15:6

Israel’s heart had turned from their present king (David) to a popular young rival (Absalom).

Let me point out that the phrase above directly precedes the verse we have been focusing on. Absalom had worked until he had Israel’s heart (vs. 6) then he puts his plan for a coup into action (vs. 7).

Here is my reasonable explanation for forty years being correct: Absalom had stolen the hearts of Israel which David had possessed for forty years. This is the bookend to David’s popular beginning as seen in I Samuel 18:16 – “But all Israel and Judah loved David… “

This holds up chronologically. Reese’s Chronological Bible (which has a footnote preferring four years) gives evidence for this alternative. He assigns Absalom’s actions in II Samuel 15 to 1026 B.C. He assigns David’s popularity after slaying Goliath (as seen in I Samuel 18:16) to 1067 B.C. That is a difference of forty-one years – well within a scope of reasonable probablity.

It fits thematically. Israel’s heart had once turned from their current king (Saul) to a popular young rival (David). That parallels what happens in II Samuel 15. In a sense we have Absalom as the anti-David. David did not seek the throne but Absalom greedily campaigned for it. David would not raise his hand against Saul, but Absalom will stop at nothing to reach his goal.

I also think there is a connection to the judgment against him after his sin with Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:1-14). David’s family and kingdom were never the same after that sin. Losing the hearts of the people may have been part of that judgment.

Concluding Thoughts

I like simplicity and I prefer simple solutions over complex ones. I do not think the theory holds up that some scribe wrote the wrong word down, that it was not caught, and that is came to dominate the Hebrew manuscripts available today. I prefer to assume that the words presented are the words God wants us to have. To me that is a matter of simple faith. When we come across an oddity, such as the one we have examined here, I think we would do well to trust in the Scriptures themselves. Men are fallible, God is not. Scholars may fail and even our own interpretations may fail, but God never fails.

What did David Do to the Ammonites in II Samuel 12:31 and I Chronicles 20:3?

“David Punishing the Ammonites” By Gustave Doré

II Samuel 12 is primarily about Nathan confronting David over sin with Bathsheba. Easily overlooked are the closing verses concerning the capture of the Ammonite capital of Rabbah by Joab and David. It is a fairly straightforward account: Joab has besieged the city and it is ready to fall, he sends for David to be there for the final assault, Rabbah falls to David’s forces, and David spoils the city including taking the king’s unwieldly crown that weighed over 100 pounds. The fate of the prisoners (likely the males of age to fight) in verse 31 is what is debated. The same events are covered in I Chronicles 20:1-3.

Depending on the translation or commentary you will find two opinions on what happened to the Ammonite prisoners. These are:

1. They are killed in a brutal manner.

2. They are enslaved and made to labor.

Which is correct? How can each be supported? What can we learn from about Bible interpretation in the process?

1. The Hebrew Verbs

In II Samuel 12:31, the word that is most important in this study is the root sim [H7760], translated as “put under” in the KJV. Englishman’s Greek Concordance shows it appears 583 times in the Old Testament. It is a simple verb with a many possible meanings based on its setting, but the basic definition is “to put, place, or set”. Basically this verb connects the Ammonites to the axes and iron implements. They were “put to” them.

But how were they “put to” those implements? A cursory look like above does not give a clear answer because the verb can be used in so many ways. We do find the same verb used to denote violence in Judges 7:22, where we find “…the LORD set [H7760] every man’s sword against his fellow…”. So we do have at least one example of the verb being used in a manner that would find with a violent interpretation of II Samuel 12:31.

In I Chronicles 20:3, we have another interesting verb – sur [H7787], translated as “cut” in the KJV. Strong’s defines it as: “A primitive root (identical with suwr through the idea of reducing to pieces; compare massowr); to saw – cut.” Some scholars speculate (with no textual evidence that I can find) that this word is perhaps a corruption of the verb from II Samuel 12:31 since only the last letter differs (see Jamieson-Fausset-Brown on I Chronicles 20:3). Just because the words are similar does not mean that a mistake was made, especially since the two passages do not perfectly mirror each other in all other details.

2. Regarding Brickkilns

Another important section of II Samuel 12:31 concerns the brickkilns. The Ammonites were made to “pass through” (KJV) them – the Hebrew verb root is abar [H5674]. This verb means “to cross over” or to “transition through”. Here the Ammonites are not “put to” something, but rather “put through” it.

Of note is that this verb is found in the exact same tense in II Kings 21:6 when it says that Manasseh “…made his son pass through the fire…”, which will be readily understood by an student of Bible history as a reference to child sacrifice to a pagan deity. To save time, I will refer those interested in more information on Molech to this article from GotQuestions.org.

Also of note is the word used for brickkiln – malben [H4404]. Some see this is not as the kiln itself but of a brick mold or shape, and they then make it a military formation that the Ammonites would have passed through as gauntlet (see John Gill’s commentary on this verse). I personally prefer a more literal than figurative approach to this word and believe it is the brickkiln itself.

3. Other References to Forced Labor

The idea of enslavement or forced labor is not unknown in the Old Testament. Let us look a few passages and see if we can shed light on our study.

Genesis 49:15 – “And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became [H1961] a servant [H5647] unto tribute [H4522].”

Deuteronomy 20:11 – “And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be [H1961] tributaries [H4522] unto thee, and they shall serve thee.”

Joshua 16:10 – “And they drave not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer: but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve [H5647] under tribute [H4522].”

Joshua 17:13 – “Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put [H5414] the Canaanites to tribute [H4522]; but did not utterly drive them out. 

Judges 1:35 – “But the Amorites would dwell in mount Heres in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became [H1961] tributaries [H4522].”

I Kings 9:21 – “Their children that were left after them in the land, whom the children of Israel also were not able utterly to destroy, upon those did Solomon levy a tribute of bondservice [H4522] [H5647] unto this day.”

So we see in these verses above that specific words can be used to denote force labor, but the words and phrases used in these verses are not the same as in II Samuel 12:31 or I Chronicles 20:3. This may not be conclusive in the settling the matter, but it does appear that if the Ammonites were forced into slavery the much clearer language seen above could or possibly should have been used.

4. What about the Gibeonites?

Joshua chapter 9 contains the story of the Gibeonites who deceived Joshua and Israel into making a treaty with them. They were spared destruction but were made made slaves, specifically “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Joshua 9:21,23,27).

Some point to this case as proving the Ammonites were enslaved and not killed. However, closer inspection proves these two cases are very different. For instance, Joshua was being forced to honor a treaty with the Gibeonites. David had no such things limiting his actions.

The only bearing the case of the Gibeonites has on our present topic is that it could be seen as an historical precedent that David could follow. But we have no indication that David was under any obligation to do so. A much better precedent to examine would be David’s previous military campaigns in II Samuel 8. In these David is seen conquering, spoiling, and even performing executions (II Samuel 8:2).

5. Could the implements mentioned be used in torture?

Let us turn our attention to the implements mentioned in II Samuel 12:31 and I Chronicles 20:3. Are these best understood as tools or weapons?

We find four implements mentioned: saws [H4050], harrows [H2757], axes [H4037] and brickkilns [H4404].

Concerning saws it is pretty straight forward what they are and that historically they were used in executions. We have the tradition that Isaiah was killed through sawing and the reference in Hebrews 11:37 to saints that had been killed by such means.

The harrows are bit more clouded. We find the same Hebrew word used to describe the cheeses David took to his brothers in I Samuel 17:18, probably highlighting the idea of “something cut into pieces”. These could be agricultural threshing instruments (see Isaiah 28:7 and 41:15 which use a similar Hebrew word [H2742]) repurposed as instruments of war. Such devices would have used to separate grain from harvest plants by grinding, cutting, or beating. We find a reference in Amos 1:3 to the Syrians cruelly using such instruments on the people of Gilead.

The word for axes only appears in these two verses. It is generally understood to be a generic term for a cutting instrument. I am not sure we can dogmatically describe it beyond that.

Last, brickkilns will likely remind the reader of the fiery furnace of Daniel chapter 3. Executions by burning are abundantly common in history so such an idea as this is perfectly plausible.

So, we find that the four implements mentioned can be used both as work or military implements. Their appearances by themselves do not necessarily prove either of our proposed interpretations correct.

6. Jewish Code of War

I think the most relevant passage of Scripture to our inquiry is Deuteronomy 20:10-14 which gives instruction on what the Israelites were supposed to do when besieging a city. We find that they are first to offer a chance of peaceful surrender and if the city surrenders its people are to be work for or pay tribute to Israel (vs. 10-11). If this offer is refused then the city is to be besieged (vs. 12). When the city falls, every male inhabitant is to be killed (vs. 13) and the women, children, and all cattle are to be the spoils of war (vs. 14).

If David was following this prescribed order then he would have to kill all the adult males when the city fell, not enslave them.

Of note in this is that the adult males were to be slain and the women and children were left alive. This can explain how the Ammon was not annihilated in David’s campaign and continuing to exist as the rest of Scripture testifies.

6. The Character of David

We must address the question as to whether it was in David’s character to torture or execute the Ammonite prisoners. Those that favor him enslaving them may refer to David being a “man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22) and would be incapable of such an atrocity.

However, when we look at the history of David it is clear that was “man of war” (I Chronicles 28:3). The reason given for God not allowing him to build the Temple was that he had “shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars ” (I Chronicles 22:8).

Even as a warrior his actions at times may startle modern sensibilities. After slaying Goliath he kept the giant’s severed head as war trophy (I Samuel 17:54,57). He slew two hundred Philistines and gave their foreskins to Saul as a dowry to marry Michal (I Samuel 18:27). It seems to have performed some sort of systematic execution of the Moabites in II Samuel 8:2.

If David enslaved the Ammonites it would also be an aberration from his other wars. We see in the accounts of II Samuel 8 and 10 that David fought many battles and slew thousands of men. We see that he carried away great riches as the spoils of war. Even with kingdoms that he subdued into servitude (see Moab in II Samuel 8:2 or Edom in II Samuel 8:14 for examples) the language used is very different that that concerning the Ammonites.

It also worth considering the possible spiritual state of David at this time. It is difficult to say exactly when David conquered Rabbah but we do know that it coincides with his sin with Bathsheba (II Samuel 11:1). It possible that the fall of Rabbah occurred before Solomon was born (II Samuel 12:24) if the account is arranged thematically around David’s in and not strictly chronological. So there is a possibility that Rabbah fell when David was in one of the lowest spiritual states of his life, between his affair with Bathsheba and Nathan’s confrontation. I suggest merely that it is possible that David’s aggressive behavior toward the Ammonites may have been fueled his weak spiritual state.

7. Lex Talionis

Another consideration is that justice at this period in the ancient world was typically performed according to the law of retribution, or lex talionis. The Scripture famously summarizes this as “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21:24-25).

If David was following this judicial reckoning, would the Ammonites have committed some sort of heinous crimes to bring about their execution? There is evidence in the Scripture that they were an unusually cruel people. Nahash the Ammonite had demanded that the men of Jabeshgilead to not only surrender, but to also remove their right eyes as as symbol of reproach (I Samuel 11:1-2). Hanun, king of the Ammonites, cruelly mistreated peaceful envoys that David sent after the death of Hanun’s father (II Samuel 10:1-3). Some 250 years later, the prophet Amos denounced them because “they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead” (Amos 1:13).

The Old Testament world is quite different in some areas when compared to New Testament Christianity . We are today compelled to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) but that was not the law of the land in David’s time. We must remember that he was a man of his time and for his time, and as such would have acted in ways we simply cannot understand.

8. What Do Others Say?

Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews – “…but as for the men, he tormented them, and then destroyed them; and when he had taken the other cities of the Ammonites by force, he treated them after the same manner.”

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers – “In the infliction of these cruelties on his enemies David acted in accordance with the customs and the knowledge of his time. Abhorrent as they may be to the spirit of Christianity, David and his contemporaries took them as matters of course, without a suspicion that they were not in accordance with God’s will.”

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary – “To be thus severe in putting the children of Ammon to slavery was a sign that David’s heart was not yet made soft by repentance, at the time when this took place. We shall be most compassionate, kind, and forgiving to others, when we most feel our need of the Lord’s forgiving love, and taste the sweetness of it in our own souls.”

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary – “he brought forth the people … and put them under saws, &c.—This excessive severity and employment of tortures, which the Hebrews on no other occasion are recorded to have practised, was an act of retributive justice on a people who were infamous for their cruelties (1Sa 11:2; Am 1:13).”

Matthew Poole’s Commentary – “Put them under saws: he sawed them to death; of which punishment we have examples, both in Scripture, Hebrews 11:37, and in other authors. Under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron; he caused them to be laid down upon the ground, and torn by sharp iron harrows drawn over them, and hewed in pieces by keen axes. Made them pass through the brick-kiln, i.e. to be burnt in brickkilns. Or, made them to pass through the furnace of Malchen, i.e. of Moloch, called also Milchom, and here Malchen; punishing them with their own sin, and with the same kind of punishment which they inflicted upon their own children: see 2 Kings 16:3 23:10 Leviticus 18:21 20:2 Deu 18:10.”

Geneva Study Bible – “Signifying that as they were malicious enemies of God, so he put them to cruel death.”

Pulpit Commentary – “We cannot defend these cruelties, but they unhappily were the rule in Oriental warfare, and would have been inflicted on their enemies by the Ammonites. We have proof in l 1 Samuel 11:2 and Amos 1:13 that they were a barbarous race; but this did not justify barbarous retaliation.”

Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge – “Rather,… ‘And he put them to saws, and to harrows, and to axes,’ etc., as we say, to put a person to the plough, to the anvil, to the last, etc.

Adam Clarke’s Commentary – “The meaning therefore is, He made the people slaves, and employed them in sawing, making iron harrows, or mining, (for the word means both), and in hewing of wood, and making of brick. Sawing asunder, hacking, chopping, and hewing human beings, have no place in this text, no more than they had in David’s conduct towards the Ammonites.”

A.C. Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible – “What is recorded in verse 31 was cruel and barbarous. (However, there is a doubt about the translation. It has been rendered in the following way: ‘And he set them to saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them labor at the brick kiln.’) Ammon did horrible things to the women of Israel. (See Amos 1:13.) A fearful retribution came upon them. How often it has been repeated in history, even down to the 20th century with all its boasted civilization, now collapsed in the greatest and most awful war the world has ever witnessed. And thus it will continue to the end, till the true King comes.”

B.H. Carroll’s Interpretation of the English Bible – “The weight of authority seems to favor the ‘torture’ interpretation, and yet how readily does a humane mind turn in preference to Murhpy’s rendering [of enslavement].” Note – Carroll deals with this subject in greater depth than most commentaries and his assessment is worth reading in full.

Alfred Edersheim’s Bible History Old Testament – “The punishment meted out to those who had resisted was of the most cruel, we had almost said, un-Israelitish character, not justified even by the terrible war which the Ammonites had raised, nor by the cruelties which they seem to have practiced against helpless Israelitish mothers (Amos 1:13), and savoring more of the ferocity of Joab than of the bearing of David – at least before his conscience had been hardened by his terrible sin. And so David returned triumphant to his royal city!”

Further notes on this:

An observation that has been made by others is that ancient Jewish rabbis almost universally taught that David tortured and killed the Ammonites. I do not have access to many of these, but you can see this represented in the last post of this conversation on Reddit.

I would also like to say that in general the older commentaries and author favor the execution interpretation. There seems to be a transition around end of the 19th century and today’s newest commentaries and authors seem to favor the enslavement interpretation. This is just a personal observation.

As far as translations go, many newer ones favor the enslavement interpretation unless they are very literal translation. For an overview of different translation, check out Bible Hub’s pages on II Samuel 12:31 and I Chronicles 20:3.

9. My Conclusion

I feel confident in interpreting the information in II Samuel 12:31 and I Chronicles 20:3 as referring to the brutal executions of the adult male Ammonite prisoners. I believe that this interpretation stands best when examined under scrutiny. I think the language when taken literally supports it. I think it is fitting for the culture of the time. I think it fits in the consistency of Scripture.

I do find this as in interesting case study in how we interpret the Bible. I think the main argument against the execution interpretation is that appears inhuman to the modern Christian’s mind. If we are not careful, we then project our own philosophies into the words of Scripture. It is a classic case of exegesis vs. eisegesis.

10. Further Reading Online

New Notes and Videos!

Just added note from a series on Revival to the Notes page.

Also, I’m trying something new by recording chapter-by-chapter Bible studies on YouTube. I’m calling the series “Daily Bible Study” and posting them each day on our church’s Facebook page. Below is the playlist with the videos I have uploaded so far.

Prophecies Concerning Christ

Photo Credit – Pixabay

Recently, I preached a sermon titled “It Is Written” from Matthew 2:1-12 in which I highlighted a few of the many prophecies concerning Christ’s Birth, Sacrifice, and Second Coming. I wanted to make that information more readily available, especially since I know it is difficult to keep up with taking notes or finding the passages when so many are used in a sermon. I have expanded the list somewhat from what was covered in that sermon but it is by no means exhaustive. Those that have tried to find all the Messianic prophecies often number them to be more than three hundred. – MBG

Prophecies Concerning the Birth of Christ

Virgin BirthGenesis 3:15The first prophecy concerning Christ’s coming. Note that He is described as the seed or descendant of a woman.
Virgin BirthIsaiah 7:14
DivinityIsaiah 9:6 Immanuel means “God with us”.
Descendant of AbrahamGenesis 22:18Paul states in Galatians 3:8-9 that the “seed” here is Christ.
Descendant of JacobNumbers 24:17
Descendant of JudahGenesis 49:10Meaning also He was of the tribe of Judah
Descendant of JesseIsaiah 11:1Jesse, father of king David
Descendant of DavidJeremiah 23:5-6
Born in BethlehemMicah 5:2Quoted in Matthew 2:5-6
Appearance of StarNumbers 24:17
Gifts from the MagiIsaiah 60:6
Slaughter of the InnocentsJeremiah 31:15Herod’s heinous act is tied to this prophecy in Matthew 2:18
Sojourn in EgyptHosea 11:1Quoted in Matthew 2:15
Living in NazarethIsiah 11:1Quoted in Matthew 2:23. Nazareth means “branch”

Prophecies Concerning the Ministry, Death, and Resurrection of Christ

Date of Death PredictedDaniel 9:24-2769 weeks or 483 years from the rebuilding of Jerusalem to Messiah being “cut off”.
Preceded by a ForerunnerMalachi 3:1John the Baptist
Ministry in GalileeIsaiah 9:1
Perform MiraclesIsaiah 35:5-6
Preaching and HealingIsaiah 61:1Christ applies this to Himself in Luke 4:17-21
Rejected by IsraelIsiah 53:2-3
Riding on DonkeyZechariah 9:9
Betrayed for 30 Pieces of SilverZechariah 11:12The value of a slave – Exodus 21:32
Betrayed by a FriendZechariah 13:6
Disciples ScatteredZechariah 13:7
Silent Before His AccusersIsiah 53:7
MockedPsalm 22:7-8
BeatenIsaiah 50:6
CrucifixionPsalm 22:14-17Note vs. 16 – “they pierced my hands and my feet”. Jewish executions were traditionally stoning so this is a remarkable detail.
PiercedZechariah 12:10
Mocked by the CrowdPsalm 22:6-8
ThirstPsalm 22:15
Offered Gall and VinegarPsalm 69:21
Gambling for GarmentsPsalm 22:18
Bones Not BrokenPsalm 34:20
Buried in Rich Man’s TombIsaiah 53:9
ResurrectionPsalm 16:10Used by Peter in Acts 2:27
Salvation Through His SacrificeIsaiah 53:3-6,10-11
Ascension to HeavenPsalm 110:1Used by Peter in Acts 22:33-35
Promise to ReturnJohn 14:1-4

Prophecies Concerning Christ’s Second Coming

Will ReturnActs 1:10-11
No One Knows the TimeMatthew 24:36, 42
Dark Times Preceding HIs ReturnMatthew 24:3-14
The RaptureI Thessalonians 4:16-17
Judgement of Believers2 Corinthians 5:10
Return at ArmageddonRevelation 19:11-16
Returning with His SaintsJude 14-15
Returning with AngelsII Thessalonians 1:7
Returning in CloudsMark 14:62I believe the clouds are the shekinah glory
Return to Mount of OlivesZechariah 14:4
Will Rule and ReignIsaiah 9:6-7Note especially verse 7. The details concerning His government were not fulfilled in this First Coming and must refer to His Second Coming.
Will Reign Over All MenZechariah 14:9
Will Reign Over All EarthPsalm 72:8
Millennial Kingdom Revelation 20:1-6Note that it lasts for 1,000 years
Will Judge and RewardRevelation 22:12

Regarding II Chronicles 7:14

Image by SEspider from Pixabay

If we are not careful we can easily misinterpret the Scriptures. One of the easiest ways this happens is by ignoring Scriptural or historical context. This happens often when we focus on a verse or phrase that can have a different meaning when removed from that context.

A perfect example of this is the use among America Christians of II Chronicles 7:14. This verse is printed on posters, shirts, and coffee mugs in any Christian store you walk into. It will be preached on and quoted as a Biblical command that if America would get right with God then He could bless America like He did in the “good ol’ days”.

But is that the true teaching of the verse? I believe if we would examine this verse in its proper context we will see its primary application does not correspond to America at all.


To get a feel for the context of II Chronicles 7:14 we can get a good feel for the context by looking at the events leading up to it. We can trace this by looking at the the preceding chapters of II Chronicles.

  • Chapter 1 – the early reign of Solomon, includes God appearing to Solomon in Gideon when Solomon asked for and received wisdom.
  • Chapter 2 – preparation for building the Temple
  • Chapter 3 – The construction of the Temple
  • Chapter 4 – The making of the furniture and implements for the Temple
  • Chapter 5 – Beginning the dedication of the Temple
  • Chapter 6 – Solomon’s address and prayer at the dedication of the Temple
  • Chapter 7 – Ending the dedication of the Temple, followed by God’s second appearance to Solomon.

So we see that after the construction and dedication of the Temple, God appears to Solomon and speaks in chapter 7 from verses 12 to 22. What is the purpose of the message of this passage? God Himself tells us in vs 12: “I have heard thy prayer”. What prayer? The prayer of Solomon in chapter 6. For what purpose? The dedication of the Temple, as God also says in vs. 12: “and [I] have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice”.

So the passage begins as a response to the dedicatory prayer of Solomon in chapter 6. Here let’s look at a remarkable feature of the next verse of chapter 7 is that they are largely God expressing His response to Solomon’s prayer by practically quoting it:

God in chapter 7

Solomon in chapter 6

“If I shut up heaven that there be no rain,…” – 7:13

“…when the heaven is shut up, and there is no rain,…” – 6:26

“…or if I command the locusts to devour the land,…” – 7:13

“…if there be blasting, or mildew, locusts, or caterpillers;…” – 6:28

“…or if I send pestilence among my people;” – 7:13

“…if there be pestilence,…” – 6:28

“If my people, which are called by my name,…” – 7:14

Solomon refers to Israel as as “thy people” or as “thy people Israel” a total of ten times in his prayer.

“…shall humble themselves,…” – 7:14

This phrase has no parallel to chapter 6 in letter but does in spirit.

“…and pray,…” – 7:14

“…if they pray…” – 6:26

“…and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways;…” – 7:14

“…if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin,…” – 6:26

“…then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin,…” – 7:14

“Then hear thou from heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants,…” – 6:27

“…and will heal their land.” – 7:14

“…send rain upon thy land,…” – 6:27

“Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.” – 7:15

“Now, my God, let, I beseech thee, thine eyes be open, and let thine ears be attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. ” – 6:40

Verse 16 finishes the first section of God’s message to Solomon with the promise concerning God’s dedication to the Temple: “For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. “

The final six verses of chapter 7 are God reaffirming the Davidic Covenant with Solomon. That details of that covenant can be found in II Samuel 7:1-12.

To summarize, the surrounding passage of II Chronicles 7:14 is about God responding to King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

  • Who is God addressing in this passage? Solomon.
  • What is God responding to? The dedication of the Temple and Solomon’s dedicatory prayer.
  • Who is the “my people” of 7:14? Israel.
  • Where is the land that God promises to heal in 7:14? The Promised Land.
  • What is that land healed from? The drought, famine, pestilence, etc., that God would send to bring Israel out of their sin and back to Him.

Can these verses apply to America?

In their primary application, no. These verses are clearly linked to Israel. They are not addressed to the church or America.

Why then do we see it so often as a patriotic promise in America? Largely through lazy application of the Scriptures and the commercialization and politicization of Christianity in America.

I see something similar in the use of Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD”. Note that it does not say, “if a nation has God then it is blessed.” It is not a conditional statement at all. It is acknowledging the fact that there exists a people or nation that was chosen by God. This is amplified in the rarely quoted second half of the verse: “…and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” What nation was chosen by God in the days of the writing of the Psalms? Israel.

Another reason this verse may be misinterpreted is through the use of Replacement Theology. This false teaching holds that God has replaced Israel in His plan and promises with either Christianity or another nation such as Britain or America.

Can we still learn from these verses?

Absolutely! Paul wrote in Romans 15:4, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Though II Chronicles 7:14 was not addressed to us we can still find countless truths in it that can find applicable in our lives.

Here’s a few examples of some truths we can apply from this passage:

When sin caused Israel to turn away from God they were commanded to repent and seek Him. We too are commanded to repent of our sin and seek God, first in our salvation and then when we backslide in our relationship with God.

II Chronicles 7:14 begins with the word “if” which makes it a conditional statement. If man would repent, then God will respond.

Note that God said “my people” needed to get right with Him. Not the wicked. Not the Edomites, Jebusites, Amalekites, or any other nation. If only we applied this today! We try to get everyone else to repent but ourselves!

God doesn’t just seek for us to perform the actions or repentance or service to Him. It is our heart that needs to be affected. It is not enough to speak words in prayer or to flee from wickedness. He wants us to humble ourselves. That is not an action, it is an attitude.