A. The offense of the Ammonites.
1. (1-2) David sends ambassadors to the Ammonites at the passing of their king.
It happened after this that the king of the people of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his place. Then David said, “I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent by the hand of his servants to comfort him concerning his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the people of Ammon.
a. I will show kindness: David’s kindness to Mephibosheth in the previous chapter didn’t end his kind works. Here he showed kindness towards a pagan king because he sympathized with the loss of his father.
b. So David sent by the hand of his servants 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 their lord, “Do you think that David really honors your father because he has sent comforters to you? Has David not rather sent his servants to you to search the city, to spy it out, and to overthrow it?” Therefore Hanun took David’s servants, shaved off half of their beards, cut off their garments in the middle, at their buttocks, and sent them away. When they told David, 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’s possible that they genuinely suspected David, or they perhaps used this as a way to appear wise and cunning to King Hanun. It is common for liars to suspect others of lying.
b. Hanun took David’s servants, shaved off half of their beards, cut off their garments in the middle…and sent them away: This was a disgraceful insult to these ambassadors from Israel. In that culture, many men would rather die than have their beards shaved off. This was because a clean-shaven face was the mark of a slave and free men wore beards.
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)
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)
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)
iv. 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)
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. (6-7) The Ammonites and Israelites prepare for war.
When the people of Ammon saw that they had made themselves repulsive to David, the people of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Beth Rehob and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand foot soldiers; and from the king of Maacah one thousand men, and from Ish-Tob twelve thousand men. 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 had done this. David didn’t reject the Ammonites; they made themselves repulsive to Israel.
b. The people of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians: This was a common practice in the ancient world. 1 Chronicles 19:6 says that the Ammonites paid 1,000 talents to the Syrians.
c. When David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men: This is the first mention of David’s mighty men, calling them the army of the mighty men. They formed a glorious fighting force, this army of the mighty men.
i. 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).
ii. 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 killed a huge Egyptian warrior with his own spear (1 Chronicles 11:22-23).
B. Victory for Israel.
1. (8-12) Joab divides the army into two groups.
Then the people of Ammon came out and put themselves in battle array at the entrance of the gate. And the Syrians of Zoba, Beth Rehob, Ish-Tob, and Maacah 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, that he might set them 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 come and 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 at the entrance of the gate. Behind them were the Syrians 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 powerful 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.
2. (13-14) 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, and entered the city. So Joab returned from the people of Ammon and 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, and entered the city: When the Ammonites saw the Syrians retreating, they also retreated. They could no more stand before the army of the mighty men than the Syrians could.
3. (15-19) David wipes out the Syrian reinforcements.
When the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they gathered together. Then Hadadezer sent and brought out the Syrians who were beyond the River, and they came to Helam. And Shobach the commander of Hadadezer’s army went before them. When it was told David, he gathered all Israel, crossed over the Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Syrians set themselves in battle array against David and fought with him. Then the Syrians fled before Israel; and David killed seven hundred charioteers and forty thousand horsemen of the Syrians, and struck Shobach the commander of their army, who died there. And when all the kings who were servants to Hadadezer saw that they were defeated by Israel, they made peace with Israel and served them. So the Syrians were afraid to help the people of Ammon anymore.
a. When the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they gathered together: 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 chapter ends with unfinished business at Rabbah. The offending Ammonites were still in their city and Joab returned to Jerusalem. In the spring King David sent Joab and the army out again to deal with Rabbah as he waited in Jerusalem. While he waited comfortably in Jerusalem he fell into sin with Bathsheba.
ii. Many 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. 2 Samuel 10 shows that God gave David a warning by showing it was necessary for him to come out against the Syrians. David tried to leave the battle with Joab in 2 Samuel 10, but his army needed him; and God endeavored to show him that by blessing Israel when David did go out to battle. 2 Samuel 10 was God’s gracious warning that David sadly wasted.