2 Samuel 22:8-15 – The Lord is a Mighty Warrior

This description of the Lord is fearsome Warrior-King who destroys the Chaos of the Sea  This section may be a surprise for some readers since it describes God as a majestic warrior who utterly destroys his enemies in his righteous anger.  In addition, the imagery in this section reflects an ancient Canaanite world view.  The God -King is a warrior who rides on the clouds and utter destroys his enemies.  For example, in Ugarit Baal is described as the “Rider of the Clouds” who stands in the midst of the gods as a mighty warrior ready to battle the Seas.  For example, when Ba’lu the Storm god threatens to destroy Yammu, the Sea, the craftsman deity Kôtaru-wa-Hasisu announces:

I hereby announce to you, Prince Ba’lu,  and I repeat, Cloud–Rider: As for your enemy, O Ba’lu, as for your enemy, you’ll smite (him), you’ll destroy your adversary. You’ll take your eternal kingship, your sovereignty (that endures) from generation to generation. (CTA 2:4.727).

The description of God in verses 8-15 resonate with the Canaanite myths, but there are differences.  Immediately after this announcement, Kôtaru-wa-Hasisu creates two maces for Ba’lu, who then attacks Yammu, stikes him in the head, and then “Ba’lu grabs Yammu and sets about dismembering (him).”

The song in 2 Sam 22 does use imagery which is similar to the myth, but David’s God does not need weapons to destroy the Chaos of the Sea, He merely rises from his throne, stoops down to rescue David, and then with a word utterly destroys the enemy.

  • He rides a war chariot on the “wings of the wind.”  Ezekiel 1-3 describes the Cherubim as a kind of royal chariot or movable throne typical among Ancient Near East royalty.
  • He wears dark clouds and water as a canopy.  The chariot is enclosed with a canopy (סֻכָּה( to shade the King from the sun.  In the context of a flash-flood, it is possible that gathering of water into a canopy eliminates the threat of the floods washing over David.  This canopy appears in Isa 4:6 to describe the cloud from the wilderness which will appear on Zion in the eschatological age as a shade for the sun.
  • He creates thunder and lighting with his word.  As a storm God, Baal is the source of lighting and thunder, as is David’s God.  Notice that God creates the lightning by speaking.
  • He “routs” the enemy.  This word (hmm, המם) almost always has God has the subject, he causes confusion and chaos in order to give victory to the outmatched Israelite army. HALOT indicates the word comes from הום, to “confuse” someone, or in the nifel to “go wild.”  It is possible that המם II was intended, a rare word which means “to suck dry” in Jer 51:34.  This would work well within the metaphor of the watery chaos of this Psalm.  The phrase appears in Ex 14:24 to describe God sending the Egyptian army into confusion and panic. (See also Judg 4:15, The Lord routs Sisera’s army, 1 Sam 7:10, the Lord routs the Philistines by sending them into confusion, Sirach 48:21, describing the Lord’s victory the Assyrians in 2 Kings, Esther 9:24, describing the confusion of Israel’s enemies.  There are several more examples in the Hebrew Bible.)

After the Lord emerges from his Temple, he lays bare the foundations of the world (verse 16).  This is important since the chaotic waters hide the foundations of the world, the Lord exposes them and destroys the power of the sea.  Unlike the myth where Yammu is knocked unconscious and rendered helpless, God causes the Sea to simply evaporate, exposing the foundations of the earth.

David describes God through metaphors and evocative language drawn from his own time and culture.  David is contrasting the gods of Canaan (Death, Destruction, Sheol) with the real God. David’s God is so real that he shatters the power of these gods and renders them powerless.

Bibliography:  William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, The Context of Scripture (Leiden; New York: Brill, 1997), 248.

2 Samuel 22:5-7 – “The Waves of Death Encompassed Me”

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]

In these verses David describes his distress as drowning in chaotic waters.  The sea is a common metaphor for terror and despair in the Hebrew Bible.  This metaphor is similar to other songs of despair in the Hebrew Bible, especially Jonah 2 and Psalm 116:3 There are several words in verse 5 which are also found in Jonah 2:4-6, although in Jonah the possibility of drowning is associated with the story.

Waves and torrents represent two different types of chaotic water.  A wave (misbar, מִשְבָּר) is obviously associated with the ocean, while a torrent (nahal, נַחַל)is more like a flash flood which washes down through the dry wadis of the Negev. In both cases, the water so strong a human cannot withstand it.  Think of a rip-tide which pulls a person out to sea so fast they can do nothing. The emphasis of the metaphor is a sudden, unexpected disaster, but also a disaster which is so overwhelming no human can do anything to save themselves.  Verse six extends this metaphor by described David as tied up in cords or snares. As if being caught in an overwhelming flood is not enough, David is tangled up in ropes which he cannot break, nor can he escape from this trap.

The waves are associated with death (mot, מָוֶת) and the torrents are associated with destruction (belial, בְּלִיַּעַל), the cords are associated with Sheol (שאוֹל), the place of the dead. These words have mythic overtones, anticipating the image of God as a Warrior beginning in verse 8.

  • Mot is the Canaanite god of death, a god which is imaged as a hungry mouth devouring everyone.  All people “go down to death.”
  • The Hebrew בְּלִיַּעַל is “Baal of the Sea (HALOT), the name is related to בלע, a demon who “swallows”people and delivers them to the Abyss.
  • Sheol is frequently translated as “grave” in the NIV.  It is often associated with Death, as in Hos 13:14 where both Death and the Grave are personified.

These  torrents “overwhelm” (NIV) or “assail” (ESV, Hebrew, b’t, בעת) David.  There is some variation in translation because this word is rare in the Hebrew Bible.  It has the idea of terror and fright, perhaps something that comes upon one as a surprise )there is an Arabic cognate which means, “to surprise.”  For example, the word appears in 1 Sam 16:14 to describe Saul when an “evil spirit” tormented him, or in Job 3:5 to describe Job’s despair after he lost everything.

David describes himself as completely helpless, unable to rely on himself to escape the chaotic waters which are dragging him down to the Underworld.  It is absolutely certain that David will die in this flood, he cannot not even “hold out” until help comes.  His only hope is to cry out to the Lord.

The Lord is in his Temple when he hears the cries of the drowning David (2 Sam 22:7).  Like a drowning man, David calls for help.  His voice calls upon the Lord, his God, to rescue him from the gods (Death, Destruction, Grave) which are assaulting him.  The Lord is described as “above” the chaos, in his heavenly Temple.  He is not effected by the swirling waters which threaten David, nor is he on the same “level” as Death, Destruction, or Sheol.  The Lord is high and lofty, the mythical gods of Canaan are not a hindrance to the Lord.

That the Lord can hear David’s voice is remarkable since the chaos was described in terms of chaotic water.  Think of trying to hear a single voice over the crashing of waves.  David’s voice in underwater, he is wrapped up in the waves, and he is being dragged down to the bottom of the ocean.  Yet in the fury of this chaos, the Lord hears David’s voice and responds.

Because he has heard the cry of his servant David, the Lord rises from his Temple and rescues David from the chaos which will certainly destroy him.  He will come as a mighty warrior and destroy the destroyers, rescue David from the waters of death, and put in a safe place (2 Sam 22:8-20).