A Despised King
Is there anyone in the world that does not deserve the kindness of God?
2 Samuel Chapter 10 contains a few place names that we need some background information on. A good bible dictionary can really speed up research like this but remember that 99% of what we need to know about places in the Old Testament come from the Old Testament itself. Therefore, a good bible search tool or cross-reference bible are both very helpful.
The Ammonites are descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The Israelites were commanded not to harm or take the land from the Ammonites in Deuteronomy 2:19 because God had made a separate promise to Lot. But the Ammonites were also forbidden to join in the Israelite blessing (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) because they had hired Balaam to prophesy against Israel. Nahesh, king of the Ammonites besieged Jabesh-Gilead (an Israelite town) at the time when Saul became king. Saul rescued Jabesh-Gilead. We are told in 2 Samuel 10:2 that David had a good relationship with King Nahesh.
In Chapter 8, we read of David defeating Hadadezar, king of Zobah. David took a lot of gold and bronze from Hadadezar. People from Damascus tried to help Hadadezar but failed. It appears that the people of Zobah and of Damascus and of Rehob are also part of a common group known as the Arameans – the Arameans of Damascus, of Zobah and of Rehob for example. Hadadezar oppressed the people of Hamath who then thanked David for defeating Hadadezar.
Joab was a commander in David’s army (2 Samuel 8:16).
The theme of Chapter 9 was about the kindness of God shown through David to Mephibosheth. The events of Chapter 10 continue the theme of God’s kindness but this time as it is directed to the nations around Israel.
Read 2 Samuel 10
10 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.
What did you see? (Observation)
For the sake of clarity, here is a quick summary of Chapter 10! David wanted to extend his friendship to the next king of the Ammonites but instead of friendship, king Hanun humiliated David’s men. The Ammonites then hired 20,000 Aramean foot soldiers and others. David sent Joab and his whole army to fight the Ammonites. The Ammonites stood outside their city to wait for Joab while the hired men went behind Joab. Joab took half of his men to turn and fight the Arameans while Abishai, his brother, took the other half to confront the Ammonites. The Arameans got scared and fled. The Ammonites got scared and retreated into their city. Joab returned to Jerusalem but the Arameans regrouped and descended, along with more men from the Euphrates to a town called Helam. David himself came out with his men to fight at Helam and he defeated them. Everyone who was once subject to Hadadezar now became willing subjects to David.
- The King’s kindness extended (1-2)
- The kindness rejected (3-5)
- The conflict that followed (6-16)
- The king who ended the conflict and those who thanked him (17-19)
The King’s kindness extended (1-2)
“In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died…” As mentioned in the Context section, we may read this chapter as what happened when the Ammonite king died, rather than ‘what happened next’ chronologically. This chapter is a story about what happened when this king died. A time that is fragile for kingdoms – an opportune moment for other nations to take advantage of their transition.
“David thought, “I will show kindness…”” The theme of this chapter is also kindness just as Chapter 9. This kindness is stretched out beyond the borders of Israel. The Ammonites were East of the Jordan River. The Kingdom of David, which foreshadows the Kingdom of God, is to be an international blessing. Abraham was told that his descendants would be a blessing to all the nations.
“…just as his father showed kindness to me.” This is surprising since they had not shown kindness toward Saul but we take David at his word. At the least, there was no hostility between David and Nahash. Their relationship may have gone further but we do not know.
“So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy…” David sent messengers with his condolences. Although David did not go in person, he sent people with authority to announce his words. We may ponder how God has sent prophets and apostles into the world to announce His intentions for peace.
“When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites…” Now the problem of the story is ready. David’s men have travelled across the Jordan into foreign territory to represent the king of Israel. What reception will they get?
The kindness rejected (3-5)
“…the Ammonite commanders said to…their lord, “Do you think…” In contrast to David being in command of his men and sending them based on his thinking, the commanders in Hanun’s court speak to their lord and try to influence his thinking. I’m not sure how big a deal this difference makes except to contrast David’s command with Hanun’s.
“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.” If I could put an emoji here it would be the one with no mouth and wide round eyes! David’s men may not have even had the opportunity to speak what they had been sent to say. King Hanun despised the kindness of King David. The half shaven beard and the trouserless men were sent away humiliated. The darker side of Nahash (1 Samuel 11:2) is seen in his son, Hanun.
“David…sent messengers to meet the men…”Stay in Jericho till your beards have grown…” David’s kindness is seen again. He was alert to the news of what had gone down and didn’t wait for the men to return to Jerusalem. He knew that they would be ashamed to come to Jerusalem as they were. Even if they had acquired clothing on their journey back, they still had their shaved beards to bare (see Leviticus 19:27; Jeremiah 48:37 and Ezekiel 5:1 for examples of how the beard was a sign of dignity).
The conflict that followed (6-16)
“When the Ammonites realised that they had become obnoxious to David…” Another clue here is given to show David’s care for his messengers. The way that his messengers were treated were directly felt by King David. They were truly his flesh and blood – part of the body of Israel with David as the head. We don’t hear what David thought of the Ammonites but they devised that they had become a stench to David. A strong rejection was felt from the point of view of the Ammonites. But what will they do in response to this awareness?
“…they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers…” They could have opted for an apology – to repent – but they chose to go all in and gather supporters. Enter the Arameans of Beth Rehob and Zobah (where Hadadezer is from) plus some from Maakah and Tob. See Romans 2:4 to remember the kindness of God toward sinners.
“On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men.” O-Oh…they’re in trouble! David has remained at Jerusalem but his whole fighting army has gone out with the commanding officer. We ought to picture a righteous response to the aggression initiated by the enemy of Israel. We ought also wonder what the result will be since David is not with them and there has not been that particular habit of enquiring of the LORD.
“The Ammonites came out…at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans…were…in the open country.” Picture the city of the Ammonites guarded by soldiers in front and the Israelite army approaching but a third army forming behind the Israelites. The people of God have been sent by God’s king into the world and the nations are hostile all around them.
“Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him…” The surprise attack was revealed. Joab saw what was literally happening on the battlefield – in contrast to how the Ammonites saw that they had become obnoxious to David (Verse 6). The Ammonites were reacting to an inner fear while Joab was seeing real hostility forming around him.
“…best troops in Israel…against the Arameans.” The greater threat to Israel appeared to be the Arameans rather than the silly Ammonites who cut beards and dack their enemy.
“Joab said…” The speech from Joab is unexpectedly long in this passage. A good rule in reading the bible is to take note of what people say in the narratives. They reveal their intentions (derr) but the narrator (Holy Spirit driving the writer) uses speech to disclose important details.
“Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God.” When brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God are in battle, spiritually and through interacting with the world we live in, how good is it to hear something like: take courage, be strong, think of what we are doing here. Let us support and rescue one another and be mindful that we are doing battle with the enemy of God. We need to unpack how this translates to Christians fighting which we will look at in the application.
“The LORD will do what is good in his sight.” After the plans of Joab have been laid out, we hear of his faith or at least his understanding of God’s sovereignty. The fighters in David’s kingdom know that they are part of the plans of God. They make the plans but God will direct the outcome. He may not know what God would do but he does know that whatever God does will be good.
Let me quote John Woodhouse on this speech from Joab…
“Joab’s words to Abishai stand at the heart of this chapter. He makes the only direct reference to God in the whole chapter, and what he said illuminates the whole episode. The words are a wonderful expression of faith in God. Faith is knowing that the Lord is good and that he does what is good. What is good is decided by God, not us.42 But with this faith we can face any enemy, any situation, any threat with a strength that comes from this faith. As we walk honestly before God, doing what he approves, he will give us strength that surpasses whatever power confronts us (cf. Romans 8:31–39).”
“…Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.” Both hostile armies fled. There was no need for Joab to support Abishai nor Abishai to support Joab. There were no recorded deaths in this battle. The enemy fled in both directions. The first outcome seems like a win for God’s people. Joab was able to return all the way to Jerusalem.
“After the Arameans saw…they regrouped.” The enemy gets their second wind. One battle had been won but the enemy takes every opportunity to attack. Even a quick beating will not resolve this situation. The enemy is relentless.
“Hadadezer…” He is mentioned in Verse 16 for the first time in this chapter but is named twice more. We met him in Chapter 8 when we heard of his defeat and David acquiring much gold and bronze from him. He is the king of Zobah and has therefore been part of this conflict since Verse 6. Hadadezer means “Hadad is [my] help”. Hadad was a pagan storm-god known as “the one who smashes.”
“…brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam…” The enemy regrouped but came back even stronger and came to Helam. The location of Helam is not certain but way closer to home. Perhaps some 60km east of the Sea of Galilee.
While the Ammonites had retreated to their city, their hired help were now determined to show their strength against Israel. So far it has been a battle led by commanders, Joab and now Shobak. The enemy are poised to engage with more force than the first time.
The king who ended the conflict and those who thanked him (17-19)
“When David was told this…” The next stage of the story begins here – the resolution. David is now brought back into the story and we watch to see what he does.
“…he gathered Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam.” He doesn’t send this time but he gathers and goes. The king is going to war.
“The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him.” Both sides are engaged to fight with all the force they can gather. It’s multiple tribes of the Arameans against David.
“But they fled before Israel…” It’s all over folks. Nothing to see here. David wins. This time, however, there is more than just the enemy fleeing…
“…David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousans of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shoback the commander of their army, and he died there.” David not only won but he disabled any future attacks from this evil people. There were a few points in this chapter which would have allowed the enemy to live. They first of all should not have sided with the city that shunned David’s kindness. They should have also kept away after the first battle. These were a people bent on attacking God’s people.
“When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw…they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.” We learn here that Hadadezer, king of Zobah, was lord over other kingdoms too. These other kings were subject of him with a kind of feudal allegiance. He would not harm them if they saluted him. Likely they paid tribute or taxes and perhaps they would receive some protection from him. The details of the arrangement can differ but he was their dominant rival. They get to keep their land but as subjects of Hadadezer. But they see that David has defeated them. They make peace with David – accepting the kindness that was initially offered to the Ammonites. They reject the power of king Hadadezer and come to David now as their King.
“So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.” The Arameans were defeated but the story leaves us to contemplate the future of the Ammonites. They were the ones that were offered David’s kindness. They rejected it. They did not relent but looked for help from others. Now, they do not have the kindness of King David nor the help from anybody else. They are left on their own. Alone in the world and without the friendship of God’s King.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
The kindness of God’s king is offered to the nations of the world. If only they would learn to trust in the offer that God makes instead of choosing to hate His friendship. Those who oppose the goodness of God will face the judgement of God. There are those in command who stand up against God’s kingdom but there is One True King who will receive all who come to Him and call Him Lord.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: The gospel for all nations. The story opens and closes with the message of kindness to nations outside of Israel. David opens his hand to a foreign king and it is rejected. But the conclusion of the story is of other nations coming to David – recognising that he is the king to be at peace with. The gospel is very much like this. Romans 10:9 tells us that salvation is about declaring Jesus as Lord. How can people do that if they do not know because they have not heard. Did you notice along the story how everybody acted on what they saw (V6, 9, 15, 19) and on what they heard (V5, 7, 17). The gospel is not a secret to be kept but a message of what God has done, what He is like, and how He wants to make peace with all who will not stand up against Him.
Topic B: The encouragement of a Christian brother or sister. As noted, Joab’s speech is a significant one. It is a conversation between two brothers fighting for the same king and trusting in the same God. The battle ahead would be daunting especially when they felt trapped by two armies. But their trust was in the LORD to do what the LORD sees as good. They were of one mind with regard to their mission. Their faith was in God who they trust will do good. The word of encouragement is not simply to toughen up but to see the bigger picture and know that Yahweh is God. And to go even one step further, they are to be ready to rescue one another. It is important for us all to have friends. Not just work colleagues or fellow church goers but friends. It is so great when we have a friend who will talk to us about God and give us courage to keep trusting in the LORD.
Topic C: The trouble with kindness is that it is too subtle for fools. The kingdom of God has two faces – the face you see depends on your response to the kingdom. On the one hand there is kindness. God created a good world, damaged by the sin of humanity, but kept mercifully going by God, his wrath held back so that many can be saved. This is the loving kindness of God to the world that says, “God gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will…have eternal life.” What a wonderfully generous offer that we all ought to accept straight away! But the other face of the kingdom is punishment on fools who say that there is no God, or that God does not deserve to be recognised. John 3:16 implies that if we continue in our unbelief then we will perish. John 3:36 puts it like this: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” All of humanity are experiencing the kindness of God while He refrains from pouring His wrath on those who have not yet turned to the King. Our race mistakes God’s kindness as idleness when really it means salvation. As Romans 2:4 says, “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”