II Samuel 10:1-19
1 In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun succeeded him as king. 2 David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father. When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, 3 the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” 4 So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away. 5 When David was told about this, he sent messengers to meet the men, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.” 6 When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob. 7 On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. 8 The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans of Zobah and Rehob and the men of Tob and Maakah were by themselves in the open country. 9 Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. 10 He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. 11 Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. 12 Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.” 13 Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him. 14 When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they fled before Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.15 After the Arameans saw that they had been routed by Israel, they regrouped.16 Hadadezer had Arameans brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam, with Shobak the commander of Hadadezer’s army leading them. 17 When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam. The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him. 18 But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there. 19 When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them. So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.
1. A Misunderstanding 1-5
David paid great respect to his neighbor, the king of the Ammonites. Apparently Nahash had shown kindness to David and now David wanted to return the kindness to Nahash’ son, Hanun. We may guess that David felt good about having shown a kindness to Mephibosheth for the sake of his father Jonathan and his grandfather Saul, and now wanted to do it again on an international scale. The pleasure of doing something good can motivate us to do it again.
At a much earlier time Nahash had attacked Jabesh Gilead of Israel. I Sam. 11:2 says, “But Nahash the Ammonite replied, 'I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.'" We do not know for certain why Nahash was kind to David if he was an enemy to Israel, but he could have been motivated by the fact that Saul came to the defense of the people of Jabesh Gilead when Nahash moved against them. So Nahash may have considered David a friend of his because he was an enemy of Saul.
David did not make an issue of this complex relationship. He accepted the kindness of Nahash and now wanted to repay it. Unless some other more important principle is violated, whatever the motive of the gift giver, even if it is pride or desire for control, still the gift receiver is prudent to be grateful and if he has an opportunity, he can repay the favor. God knows the heart and the motives. So David sent a delegation to comfort Hanun to console him on his father’s death.
When a friend dies, we are placed in a unique opportunity to be a comfort to the children and friends of our deceased friend. By showing that we respected the dead while he or she lived, we can lift the spirit of those who are mourning their loss. If we do not know or did not appreciate the deceased, we do not have this opportunity. It is a comfort to children, when their parents are dead, to find that their parents’ friends are theirs too. It is a comfort to mourners to find that someone else mourns with them, is sensitive to their loss and share with them in it. Could this be why the Bible says to mourn with those who mourn? Paul tells his readers to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15).
Hanun the new king of the Ammonites, through the influence of his mis-guided counselors, misunderstood David, and, rather than thanking the delegation he sent, insulted them. He listened to the spiteful suggestions of his princes, who intimated that David’s ambassadors were only pretending to be comforters, but really had other motives—they were sent as spies. Ecclesiastics 3:4 says there is, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,” and David knew this was a time to mourn. Cruel and malicious men are ready to think others as false as themselves; and those that bear ill-will to their neighbors tend to believe their neighbors would never bear good-will to them. Unfounded suspicion seems to be evidence of a wicked mind. Whether the evil thought comes from within or from without, the choice to either entertain or to reject the evil thought still belongs to each of us. Just because this evil thought came from his counselors, Hanun himself is still guilty because he was the one that acted on it. He could not say, “they made me do it.”
Entertaining this insensitive and malicious suggestion, Hanun insulted and mistreated David’s ambassadors. If he thought they had a bad motive, he could have simply dismissed them as soon as possible, but he did them the disservice of disgracing them out of ill-will to their king and their country. The delegation members themselves were men of honor, and much more so as they represented the king that sent them. But in cutting off their clothes and shaving off one half of their beards, they made a completely unnecessary hostile move. Verse 4 says, “Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.” Hanun exposed them to the contempt and ridicule of his servants and in making fun of them further insulted them. In this action he gave his servants permission to taunt them—as though the visiting Jews might were low class.
David sent messengers to meet them showing his interest in this offense and possibly explained that he would soon avenge their mistreatment. He let them know how interested he himself was in their quarrel, how soon he would avenge it, and directed them to stay at Jericho until their beards had grown back. The Jews wore their beards long and still do, considering it an honor to appear aged, dignified and serious. The change of clothes could be quickly remedied, but the beard growth would take longer. Yet in his heart David knew, as he wrote in Psalm 37:6-7, “He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.”
As hinted above, an entirely different interpretation of this event is also possible. Why did David want to be friends with a heathen nation? Deut 23:3 says, “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.” Nahash had moved against Jabesh Gilead, but not just against Jabesh Gilead; it was intended to be an insult to all Israel, not just the people of Jabesh Gilead,” for I Sam. 11:2 says, “But Nahash the Ammonite replied, 'I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.'" Nahash had insulted Israel. Should David overlook that? Hanun was only doing what his father, Nahash, had done—insult Israel. Why would David expect good treatment from the son of a man who had insulted and mistreated Israel—even if Nahash had done some personal kindness to David. Maybe the supposed “kindness” to David had only been an indirect attempt to insult and do an unkindness to Saul.
2. The Ammonites and Arameans against God and Israel 6-14
So the Ammonites prepared for war with Israel. They realized that they had made a serious mistake, but instead of quickly apologizing and seeking to restore their peaceful relationship, they reverted to an older and perhaps more deeply entrenched and belittling view of Israel. Had they humbled themselves, and begged David’s pardon, probably an honorable agreement could have been made. But when they desperately resolved to stand by what they had done, they invited their own destruction.
They did not want to be reconciled; they wanted to destroy Israel, even if it meant they had to hire soldiers. For a very similar reason we should not try to bargain with or compromise with the devil. He does not want a peaceful relationship with us; he wants to destroy us. In such a case it is much better in Jesus’ name to destroy the enemy than to be destroyed ourselves.
They certainly overstepped their limitations. For one thing, they did not have enough soldiers and had to hire three different groups of mercenaries. Verse 6 says they, “hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob.” That would be a total of 33,000 men. And they were still defeated! Do we not see a parallel here to satan’s false bravado. He is no match for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but yet he goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. There is no need for Christians to seek peace with him; in Jesus’ name he will be defeated.
When David heard of their military preparations, he speedily sent Joab with a great army to attack them as recorded in verse 7, “On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men.” As it was then with the Ammonites so it is today with the forces of unrighteousness that gather to fight against the Son of David. Ps.7:12, says, “If he (God’s enemy who thinks he can attack God’s children) does not relent (or repent), he (God) will sharpen his sword; he (God) will bend and string his bow.”
God has forces to send against any who defy Him. He is not intimidated by any enemy. Isaiah 5:19 says, “to those who say, ‘Let God hurry; let him hasten his work so we may see it. The plan of the Holy One of Israel—let it approach, let it come into view, so we may know it.’” If we could comprehend God’s wisdom and power, we could understand His confidence. He laughs at His enemies—those who dare try to oppose Him. How futile are their efforts. Psalm 2:1-4 says, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’ The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.”
In preparation for the battle, two groups were formed; the Ammonites, their own army, gathered near the city gate and the Syrians, and the hired army, were in the open field. The Syrians were to charge the forces of Israel in the flank or rear, while the Ammonites charged them in the front. Verse 8 says, “The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans of Zobah and Rehob and the men of Tob and Maakah were by themselves in the open country. Seeing this, Joab, a wise general, accordingly divided his forces. The Ammonites had made their preparations and now Joab made his own. He had recently (I Sam 8) fought with the Syrians so he knew the situation. “He selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites” (vs 9-10). The choicest men he took under his own command, to fight the Syrians, whom apparently he thought to be the better soldiers, and, being hired men, better versed in the arts of war. The rest of the forces he put under the command of Abishai his brother, to engage the Ammonites.
Joab’s brave tactical speech before the battle describes the plan so that the dividing of the enemy forces could be used to his own advantage rather than for it to become a disadvantage to himself. Whichever of the enemies proved to be the stronger, Israeli troops would be moved to assist in that part of the battle. Verse 11 says, "Joab said, 'If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you.'" This was a good strategy and proved to be effective.
For our purposes as Christian leaders today in understanding spiritual matters, teamwork in the Lord’s work and the need for cooperation between different parts of God’s army, could this not be a lesson regarding mutual helpfulness as a brotherly duty? Are there not times in church work, missions, Christian education, evangelism and church administration when one part of the Christian army is winning and should be willing to come to the aid of that part of the army that may seem to be overpowered at the time? The strong must strengthen, assist and help the weak. Those that through grace are conquerors over a particular temptation, must counsel, comfort, and pray for, those that are tempted. Jesus said to Peter, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk 22:32) And 1 Cor. 12:21 says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” Our gifts, callings, positions and ranks may differ but we are still one army.
Joab’s charge to the troops showed courage and wisdom, “Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight” (12). This challenge was not for pay, preferment, honor or fame, but for “our people” and for the “cities of our God,” for the public safety and welfare. In our case, we wrestle in prayer, fight the good fight of faith and do our best for God for the sake of the whole body of Christ in the world. We want to do well for the common good, not necessarily for our own personal individual benefit.
Finally, before the battle began, Joab left the outcome to God. We will fight hard and leave the results to God. Let nothing be lacking in our part. Whatever success we have, let God’s work be done by us, and then God’s will will be done concerning us. When we have done our best, then with the greatest satisfaction, we can leave the results of the event with God. Evil at times, morally a rascal and a violet murderer that he was, there were still several times in Joab’s career when he revealed another side of his character such as in this battle when he encouraged his troops and left the results in God’s hands.
The result of the preparations on both sides was that God gave a great victory over Syria and Ammon to Joab and the Israeli army. They defeated the confederate forces of Syria and Ammon. Verses 13-14 say “Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him. When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they fled before Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.”
Joab prepared for the worst thinking the Syrians and Ammonites might be too much for him, but with God on Israel’s side, Israel was too much for both of them. It is fine for us to be prepared for reversals in life’s battles. That is not due to the lack of faith as much as its is the wise consideration of our human frailties. The Syrians were first pushed back by Joab, and then the Ammonites by Abishai. With the city at their back, retreat was easy for the Ammonites. With a city to which we may retreat, retreat is easy. What can be learned from this? It is one thing when soldiers can fight or fly and quite another when they must either fight or die. The Christian soldier is equipped with shield, sword, breastplate, belt and shoes, but nothing to protect our backs. God does not intend that we will retreat.
One more observation from this battle will be beneficial to the Christian leader and his or her followers. Joab did not take the easier part of the battle for himself; rather he personally faced the stronger enemy. This does not mean the leader needs to always take the most difficult parts of a project or operation, but that there will be times when he or she should. We leaders should not always avoid the more demanding jobs (though we need to protect our time so we can see the bigger picture and lead well), but be willing to do them anytime it is necessary for the over-all good.
3. The Stakes are Raised, More Arameans and David Join the War 15-19
With their honor lost and in an attempt to hinder David’s further victorious advances, a new attempt is made by the Syrians. Their army is rallied again as verse 15 says, “After the Arameans saw that they had been routed by Israel, they regrouped.” Renewed attacks need not surprise us. Armies that fight against the Son of David do this too; Mat. 22:34-36 tells of the repeated attacks that Jesus received from His many and different enemies. It says, “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’” And Rev. 19:19 says “Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army.” Though repeatedly attacked, Jesus keeps winning.
The Syrians added support from further north to their army, but they still failed. Mic 4:11-13 says “But now many nations are gathered against you. They say, ‘Let her be defiled, let our eyes gloat over Zion!’ But they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand His plan, that He has gathered them like sheaves to the threshing floor. ‘Rise and thresh, Daughter Zion, for I will give you horns of iron; I will give you hooves of bronze, and you will break to pieces many nations.’ You will devote their ill-gotten gains to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” Micah wrote poetry and II Samuel is a history book, but it is never-the-less easy to match the confidence in the poetry with the achievement of the prose.
So David decided not to wait until they attacked him, but proactively went in person at the head of his army, crossed the Jordan river, started the battle and drove the entire Syrian army further back, “When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam. The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him” (v 17). David was the confident aggressor. So, in a pitched battle he routed the Syrians according to verse 18, “But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. David slew 7000 men, who belonged to 700 chariots, and 40,000 other soldiers.” In II Sam. 8 we learned that in an earlier battle David took 1,000 chariots, 7,000 charioteers and 20,000 foot soldiers from the Syrians. This time David took additional men and chariots.
Incidentally, in 1967, when surrounded by five enemy nations on every side, the Israeli Defense Forces followed David’s example, was not intimidated by the enemies, and plunged into what is now known as the “Six Day War” won by Israel.
The Syrian general was killed in the battle and David gained more tributaries. The lesser kings wisely made peace with David and David came home in triumph. Verse 19 says, “When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.” The promise had been made to Abraham in Gen. 15:18, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates”—and repeated it to Joshua as is recorded in Joshua 1:4, “Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.” That promise was fulfilled as David led his troops even more fully than it had been in the previous war with Syria as was recorded in II Samuel 8.
The Ammonites lost their old allies because the Syrians realized it was a failed cause. It is dangerous to help those that have God against them; when they fall, the helpers will fall too. No weapon that is formed against God’s people will prosper. The Syrians learned not to help the Ammonites if the Ammonites intended to harm Israel. Do we not see in our own generation a similar development in Israel’s defensive war when she ended up with more territory than she had before her enemies gathered on her borders against her?
So in this chapter David advanced his own reputation as having gratitude toward those who had been kind to him, the Ammonites, particularly Nahash, in returning kindness to them. And then when that intended kindness was rejected he displayed justice by wining for Israel from the Syrians the land that God had promised to Abraham. The Ammonites who hired and the Syrians who were hired, both were defeated together. Our faith in God almighty is not groundless. We have solid reasons to believe in and trust Him. Onward Christian soldiers! Jesus is building His Church!