1 Chronicles 19 – War with Ammon and Syria
A. The offense of the Ammonites.
1. (1-2) David sends ambassadors to the Ammonites at the death of their king.
It happened after this that Nahash the king of the people of Ammon died, and his son reigned in his place. Then David said, “I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, because his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent messengers to comfort him concerning his father. And David’s servants came to Hanun in the land of the people of Ammon to comfort him.
a. I will show kindness: David was the dominant ruler of his region, but he was not a cruel tyrant. Here he showed kindness towards a pagan king in sympathy with the loss of his father.
b. So David sent messengers to comfort him: David wasn’t content to feel kindness towards Hanun. He did something to bring the grieving man comfort.
2. (3-5) Hanun, the new king of the Ammonites, treats Israel’s ambassadors shamefully.
And the princes of the people of Ammon said to Hanun, “Do you think that David really honors your father because he has sent comforters to you? Did his servants not come to you to search and to overthrow and to spy out the land?” Therefore Hanun took David’s servants, shaved them, and cut off their garments in the middle, at their buttocks, and sent them away. Then some went and told David about the men; and he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Wait at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return.”
a. Do you think that David really honors your father because he has sent comforters to you? It’s hard to explain why these advisers to Hanun said this to the king of Ammon. It is possible that they genuinely suspected David, or they may have just used this as a way to appear wise and cunning to King Hanun. It is common for liars to always suspect others of lying.
b. Hanun took David’s servants, shaved them, and cut off their garments in the middle…and sent them away: This was a disgraceful insult to these ambassadors from Israel. One suggested reason for this is the idea that to be clean-shaven was the mark of a slave. Free men wore beards. Therefore in that culture, many men would rather die than to have their beard removed.
i. “With the value universally set upon the beard by the Hebrews and other Oriental nations, as being man’s greatest ornament, the cutting off of one-half of it was the greatest insult that could have been offered to the ambassadors, and through them to David their king.” (Keil and Delitzsch in their commentary on 2 Samuel 10)
ii. “The beard is held in high respect in the East: the possessor considers it his greatest ornament; often swears by it; and, in matters of great importance, pledges it. Nothing can be more secure than a pledge of this kind; its owner will redeem it at the hazard of his life.” (Clarke on 2 Samuel 10)
iii. To cut off their garments in the middle was also an obvious insult and humiliation. “That the shame of their nakedness might appear, and especially that of their circumcision, so derided by the heathen.” (Trapp on 2 Samuel 10)
iv. “This is check to the fashion-mongers of our time, saith Piscator; who wear their clothes so close, and cloaks so short, that they cover not their buttocks.” (Trapp) One must only wonder what the Puritan preacher John Trapp would say about those who today wear their garments so low that they do not cover their buttocks.
v. To insult the ambassador is to insult the king. It was just as if they had done this to David himself. The same principle is true with King Jesus and His ambassadors. Jesus reminded His disciples: If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. (John 15:18)
vi. “The attitude of Ammon does not detract from the nobleness of the action of David. In that action he proved that he had not forgotten the kindness which had been shown to him by Nahash.” (Morgan)
c. Wait at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return: David didn’t use these men as political tools to whip up anger against the Ammonites. He cared more for their own dignity and honor and allowed them to wait before returning to Jerusalem.
3. (6-8) The Ammonites and Israelites prepare for war.
When the people of Ammon saw that they had made themselves repulsive to David, Hanun and the people of Ammon sent a thousand talents of silver to hire for themselves chariots and horsemen from Mesopotamia, from Syrian Maachah, and from Zobah. So they hired for themselves thirty-two thousand chariots, with the king of Maachah and his people, who came and encamped before Medeba. Also the people of Ammon gathered together from their cities, and came to battle. Now when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men.
a. When the people of Ammon saw that they had made themselves repulsive: They knew that they did this. David didn’t reject the Ammonites, they made themselves repulsive to Israel.
b. The people of Ammon sent a thousand talents of silver to hire for themselves chariots and horsemen: This was a common practice in the ancient world. The Ammonites had no hope of protecting themselves, so they hired mercenary armies.
c. When David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men: It’s important to understand that David was nothing without his mighty men, and they were nothing without him. He was their leader, but a leader is nothing without followers – and David had an army of the mighty men to follow him. These men didn’t necessarily start as mighty men; many were the distressed, indebted, and discontented people who followed David at Adullam Cave (1 Samuel 22:1-2).
i. One of these mighty men was Adino the Eznite – famous for killing 800 men at one time (2 Samuel 23:8). Another was Jashobeam who killed 300 men at one time (1 Chronicles 11:11). Another was Benaiah who killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day and took on a huge Egyptian warrior and killed the Egyptian with his own spear (1 Chronicles 11:22-23).
B. Victory for Israel.
1. (9-13) Joab divides the army into two groups.
Then the people of Ammon came out and put themselves in battle array before the gate of the city, and the kings who had come were by themselves in the field. When Joab saw that the battle line was against him before and behind, he chose some of Israel’s best and put them in battle array against the Syrians. And the rest of the people he put under the command of Abishai his brother, and they set themselves in battle array against the people of Ammon. Then he said, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the people of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will help you. Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the LORD do what is good in His sight.”
a. Joab saw that the battle line was against him before and behind: As the army of the mighty men approached the Ammonite city they found themselves surrounded. In front of them were the Ammonites in battle array before the gate of the city. Behind them were the mercenary kings in the field. It looked bad for the army of Israel.
b. If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me: Joab had only one strategy in battle – attack. Many generals would consider surrender when surrounded on both sides by the enemy, but not Joab. He called the army to courage and faith and told them to press on.
i. “It is interesting to observe that in his arrangements he made no allowance for the possibility of ultimate defeat in his conflict with Ammon…it does not seem to have occurred to him that the combination might have been too much for both of them.” (Morgan)
c. Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the LORD do what is good in His sight: This was a great speech by Joab before the battle. He made at least three persuasive points.
i. Be of good courage, and let us be strong: Courage and strength are not matters of feeling and circumstance. They are matters of choice, especially when God makes His strength available to us. We can be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).
ii. Let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God: Joab called them to remember all they had to lose. If they lost this battle they would lose both their people and their cities. This was a battle bigger than themselves, and the army of the mighty men had to remember that.
iii. And may the LORD do what is good in His sight: Joab wisely prepared for the battle to the best of his ability and worked hard for the victory. At the same time, he knew that the outcome was ultimately in God’s hands.
iv. Joab trusted God to work, and he did all that he could do. “To believe that God will do all, and therefore to do nothing, is as bad as to believe that God leaves us to our unaided endeavours.” (Meyer)
2. (14-15) Joab defeats the Syrians, and the Ammonites retreat to the city of Rabbah.
So Joab and the people who were with him drew near for the battle against the Syrians, and they fled before him. When the people of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fleeing, they also fled before Abishai his brother, and entered the city. So Joab went to Jerusalem.
a. They fled before him: It doesn’t even say that Joab engaged the Syrians in battle. This mercenary army fled before the army of the mighty men because God was with them. God promised this kind of blessing upon an obedient Israel (Deuteronomy 28:7).
b. They also fled before Abishai his brother, and entered the city: When the Ammonites saw the mercenaries retreating, they also retreated. They could no more stand before the army of the mighty men than the Syrians could.
i. “Joab did not at this time follow up the victory by laying siege to Rabbah; it may have been too late in the year.” (Payne)
3. (16-19) David wipes out the Syrian reinforcements.
Now when the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they sent messengers and brought the Syrians who were beyond the River, and Shophach the commander of Hadadezer’s army went before them. When it was told David, he gathered all Israel, crossed over the Jordan and came upon them, and set up in battle array against them. So when David had set up in battle array against the Syrians, they fought with him. Then the Syrians fled before Israel; and David killed seven thousand charioteers and forty thousand foot soldiers of the Syrians, and killed Shophach the commander of the army. And when the servants of Hadadezer saw that they were defeated by Israel, they made peace with David and became his servants. So the Syrians were not willing to help the people of Ammon anymore.
a. When the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they sent messengers and brought the Syrians who were beyond the River: The enemies of Israel wouldn’t quit after one defeat. They were a persistent enemy and came back to fight again.
b. When it was told David, he gathered all Israel: David gathered the rest of the army of Israel to prevent this army of Syrian reinforcements from crushing the army of the mighty men. The result was glorious: the Syrians fled before Israel.
i. The emphasis on all Israel is important. “The whole incident therefore shows ‘all Israel’ cooperating under David and establishing the required ‘rest’ for building the temple.” (Selman)
ii. The chapter ends with unfinished business at Rabbah. The offending Ammonites are still in their city and Joab has returned to Jerusalem. In the Spring King David will send Joab and the army out again to deal with Rabbah as he waits in Jerusalem. While he waited comfortably in Jerusalem he fell into sin with Bathsheba.
iii. Most of us know about David’s sin with Bathsheba, and how it happened when David waited in Jerusalem when he should have led the battle at Rabbah. We see in 2 Samuel 10 that God gave David a warning by showing it necessary for him to come out against the Syrians. David tried to leave the battle to Joab in 1 Chronicles 19 (and 2 Samuel 10), but his army needed him and God tried to show him that by blessing it when David did go out to battle. These events were God’s gracious warning that David sadly wasted.
iv. When it comes to sin such as David fell into, “Constant watchfulness is the only guarantee of safety. Not even true desire and great blessing are sufficient if the heart be not personally watchful.” (Morgan)