A certain military conquest of David seems to be spoken of in at least 5 different places in the Bible:
- 2 Sam. 8:3-14
- 2 Sam. 10
- 1 Chronicles 18:3-13
- 1 Chronicles 19
- Psalm 60 (at least the introduction).
At first blush, it is difficult to see how 2 Sam 10 and 1 Chron 19 can be reconciled:
- 2 Sam. 10:18 says: “And the Syrians fled before Israel, and David killed of the Syrians the men of 700 chariots, and 40,000 horsemen, and wounded Shobach the commander of their army, so that he died there.” (ESV)
- 1 Chron. 19:18 says: “And the Syrians fled before Israel, and David killed of the Syrians the men of 7,000 chariots and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death also Shophach the commander of their army.” (ESV)
So did David kill men of 700 chariots or 7,000 chariots? And was it 40,000 horsemen or foot soliders?
Comparing these accounts has led me to a reconciliation that is plausible, though I’m not insisting it is THE right one:
David killed 40,000 people in this battle (2 Sam. 10:18; 1 Chr. 19:18). I think these 40,000 people consisted of 22,000 Syrians killed in the general battle (2 Sam. 8:5; 1 Chr. 18:5) plus 18,000 Syrians/Edomites* killed at the Valley of Salt**.
*Comparing 2 Sam. 8:13, 1 Chr. 18:12, and the introduction to Psalm 60 has led me to believe that the Syrians and Edomites partnered together in this battle, so that there were many of both peoples present.
**Psalm 60 says there were 12,000 killed, but this was probably written as an initial conservative guess of the numbers, before the bodies were counted, whereas the 18,000 number given in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles is more accurate as it was written much after the fact, when all the bodies could have been counted.
The men killed in the Valley of Salt could have been foot soldiers, while the other Syrians killed in battle were horsemen (or vice-versa). Therefore, when 2 Samuel 10:18 says “40,000 horsemen” were killed, and 1 Chronicles 10:18 says “40,000 foot soldiers” were killed, it reflects that there were many horsemen and many foot soldiers among the 40,000 killed. Therefore, it would be like us saying, “40,000 people were killed, many of them were horsemen” AND, “40,000 people were killed, many of them were foot soldiers”. I think the Hebrew is flexible enough to allow for this interpretation. There is also the possibility that they were trained foot soldiers who fought as horsemen, or trained horsemen who fought as foot soldiers. Both would be accurate according to the wording.
It says in 2 Sam. 10:18 that David killed men of 700 chariots, and in 1 Chronicles 19:18 that David killed 7,000 charioteers. However, there is also a similar variation in 2 Samuel 8:4 and 1 Chronicles 18:4, which seemingly speaks of the same battle—
“David took from him…seven hundred horsemen” (2 Sam. 8:4),
“David took from him…seven thousand horsemen” (1 Chron. 18:4).
Thus, it seems plausible that there was a subset of 700 charioteers that David killed at one stage in the battle (as 2 Sam. tells us), while he killed 7,000 charioteers overall (as 1 Chron. tells us). Or, a variation on this idea is that the 700 chariots mentioned in 2 Samuel were notable chariots, while 7,000 chariots was the total number (this is akin to Exodus 14:7 – “He took 600 choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them.”).