2 Samuel 8:2 NKJV

2 Then he defeated Moab. Forcing them down to the ground, he measured them off with a line. With two lines he measured off those to be put to death, and with one full line those to be kept alive. So the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought tribute.

After defeating the Moabites David uses a measuring line to seperate those who will be put to death & those who will live.Earlier on he had defeated the phillistines & then went on to defeat the Syrians & Edomites but nothing spetacular is mentioned in how their were killed.

Why were the Moabites the only ones who were measured,could this have referred to something else?

  • The length of rope or cord used for measuring (in 2 Samuel 8:2) is obviously literal. What is the connection between your main question, the manner in which David killed those he had defeated and why the Moabites were measured? Could you please edit your question to bring some clarity to help us out here?
    – Lesley
    Jun 21, 2018 at 16:58

3 Answers 3


Reading through the text in question one is automatically reminded of the prophecy of Baalam in Numbers 24:17 which states:

17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. (Num. 24:17 KJV)

The particular portion of this prophecy that begs consideration is the "smiting of the corners of Moab," which may commentators agree is fulfilled in the actions of David in the text we are discussing. Essentially, the language of the measuring line is indicating that two-thirds were put to death and one-third was kept alive which, by the way, was a much lessor punishment than those of Edom (I Kings 11:6) where all the males were cut off.

Biblically, there is a special enmity that God had toward the Moabites (even though David's ancestry through Ruth associates with the Moabites and his parents were placed in their care for a time)(I Sam. 22:3-4).

However, as the Bible Exposition Commentary states:

Because the Moabites had hired Balaam the prophet to curse Israel and then led Moab in seducing the men of Israel (Num. 22-25), the Lord declared war on Moab, and David was only continuing that crusade. Most conquerors would have slaughtered the entire army, but David spared every third soldier and settled for tribute from the nation.

This act of judgment is unparalleled in scripture and antiquity though, as stated in the Holman OT Commentary:

In an unparalleled act of judgment on an enemy, David made the captured Moabite fighters lie down on the ground, then measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, but the third length of warriors was allowed to live. This action, however unthinkable it might seem today, served the dual purpose of reducing the ranks of Moab's fighters to a nonthreatening minimum, while at the same time insuring that Moabite men would be able to produce tribute that would benefit the Israelites.

While we could go forward casting the narrative of unprecedented judgment, the reality of this severity goes backward to the war that God waged against Moab and its realization in the actions of David in the text you brought your question. Indeed, David fulfilled the smiting of the corners of Moab. The word "smite", as stated in the Complete Word Study Dictionary of the Old Testament,

māḥaṣ: A verb meaning to wound severely, to pierce through, and to shatter. This word describes bodily destruction and is best illustrated in Judges 5:26, where Jael pierced through Sisera's head from temple to temple with a tent peg. David used this word to describe some of his victories in which those wounded were not able to rise again (2 Sam. 22:39; Ps. 18:38[39]). In all other instances of this word, God is in complete control (Deut. 32:39; Job 5:18) and completely shatters His enemies (Ps. 68:21[22]; 110:5, 6; Hab. 3:13). This word occurs only in the poetical passages of the Old Testament, which highlights the intensity of this word.

Of course, the ultimate realization of Balaam's prophecy would occur in Jesus Christ but, in answering your initial question, the measuring was literal. Hope this helps...


Based on this information David I believe is using a measure to determine who is a giant and who is fully human by their measure. Two rope lengths mean giant one rope length means human.

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    – agarza
    Mar 12, 2021 at 0:37
  • This requires to be substantiated. As it stands, it is conjecture. Down-voted -1.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 13, 2021 at 21:51

English Standard Version

And he [David] defeated Moab and he measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground. Two lines he measured to be put to death, and one full line to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.

David used a rope to do rough counts. He made the prisoners lie down side by side. Then measure them with a rope. The prisoners from one end of the rope to the opposite end were free. He did it the 2nd time. These were freed as well. He did it the 3rd time. These were executed.

He repeated this procedure to execute about 1/3 of the prisoners. It is a rough method of counting people using a long rope.

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