2 Samuel 12:31
And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem.
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(31) Put them under saws.—The literal translation of the Hebrew (put them with, or into, the saw) does not give any good sense, and no doubt a single letter of the text should be changed, bringing it into agreement with 1Chronicles 20:3, “cut them with saws.” (Comp. Hebrews 11:37.)

Harrows of iron.—These are the heavy iron tools, often armed with sharp points on the lower side, which were used for the purposes of threshing the grain and breaking up the straw.

The brick-kiln.—This is the reading of the Hebrew text, and there is no sufficient reason to call it in question. The Hebrew margin, however, has “through Malchan; “and hence some have supposed that David made the Ammonites pass through the same fire by which they were accustomed to consecrate their children to Molech.

In the infliction of these cruelties on his enemies David acted in accordance with the customs and the knowledge of his time. Abhorrent as they may be to the spirit of Christianity, David and his contemporaries took them as matters of course, without a suspicion that they were not in accordance with God’s will.

2 Samuel 12:31. He brought forth the people — The words are indefinite, and therefore not necessarily to be understood of all the people, but of the men of war, and especially of those who had been the chief actors of that villanous action against David’s ambassadors, and of the dreadful war ensuing upon it; for which they deserved severe punishments. Indeed, since David left Shobi in the government of Rabbah, (2 Samuel 17:27,) it must be presumed that he left some besides female subjects under his dominion; and it is most likely that the bulk of the people were received to mercy, and only the king, and the accomplices and instruments of his tyranny, suffered the chastisements due to their guilt. And put them under saws, &c. — The Hebrew, וישׂם במגרה, vajasem bammegeerah, &c., may be literally and properly rendered, and he put them to the saw, and to iron harrows, or mines, and to axes of iron, and made them pass by, or to, the brick-kilns; that is, he made them slaves, and put them to the most servile employments, namely, sawing, harrowing, or making iron harrows, or mining, hewing of wood, and making brick. The version of the Seventy, though not very clear, may be interpreted to the same purpose. The Syriac and Arabic versions render the passage, He brought them out, and threw them into chains, and iron shackles, and made them pass before him in a proper measure, or by companies at a time. If the parallel place, 1 Chronicles 20:3, which our version renders, He cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes, be objected, it must be observed, the Hebrew,וישׂר, vajasser, may be rendered, He separated to the saw, &c.; or, He ruled or governed by the saw, harrows, mines, and axes; made them slaves, and condemned them to these servile employments. Thus the words are rendered by Schmidius. And “this interpretation,” says Dr. Dodd, “is far from being forced, is agreeable to the proper sense and construction of the words, and will vindicate David from any inhumanity that can be charged upon the man after God’s own heart. The Syriac version is, He bound them with iron chains, &c.; and thus he bound them all. And the Arabic, He bound them all with chains, killing none of the Ammonites, This interpretation may be further confirmed by the next clause: Thus did he unto all the children of Ammon — For had he destroyed all the inhabitants by these, or any methods of severity, it would have been an almost total extirpation of them; and yet we read of them as united with the Moabites, and the inhabitants of Seir, and forming a very large army to invade the dominions of Jehoshaphat. It may be added, that if the punishments inflicted on this people were as severe as our version represents them, they were undoubtedly inflicted by way of reprisals. Nahash, the father of Hanun, in the wantonness of cruelty, would admit the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead to surrender themselves to him upon no other condition than their every one consenting to have their right eye thrust out, that he might lay it as a reproach upon all Israel. If these severities of David were now exercised by way of retaliation for former cruelties of this nature, it will greatly lessen the horror that may be conceived upon account of them, and, in some measure, justify David’s using them; and as the sacred writers, who have transmitted this history to us, do not pass any censure on David for having exceeded the bounds of humanity in this punishment of the Ammonites, we may reasonably conclude, either that the punishment was not so severe as our version represents it, or that there was some peculiar reason that demanded this exemplary vengeance, and which, if we were acquainted with it, would induce us to pass a more favourable judgment concerning it; or that the law of nations, then subsisting, admitted such kind of executions upon very extraordinary provocations, though there are scarce any that can justify them.” See Delaney and Chandler, p. 178. But in whatever light we view these severities exercised upon the Ammonites, they ought, in no manner, to be proposed as an example to Christians, nor be pleaded as a precedent for any people to do the like. For the divine laws are the rules of our conduct, and not the actions of any men whomsoever.

12:26-31 To be thus severe in putting the children of Ammon to slavery was a sign that David's heart was not yet made soft by repentance, at the time when this took place. We shall be most compassionate, kind, and forgiving to others, when we most feel our need of the Lord's forgiving love, and taste the sweetness of it in our own souls.For the saw as an implement of torture compare Hebrews 11:37.

Harrows of iron - Or rather thrashing-machines (Isaiah 28:27; Isaiah 41:15, etc.).

Axes - The word so rendered occurs only here and in 1 Chronicles 20:3. It evidently means some cutting instrument.

Made them pass through the brick-kiln - The phrase is that always used of the cruel process of making their children pass through the fire to Moloch, and it is likely that David punished this idolatrous practice by inflicting something similar upon the worshippers of Moloch. The cruelty of these executions belongs to the barbarous manners of the age, and was provoked by the conduct of the Ammonites 2 Samuel 10:1-4; 1 Samuel 11:1-2, but is utterly indefensible under the light of the Gospel. If Rabbah was taken before David's penitence, he may have been in an unusually harsh and severe frame of mind. The unpleasant recollection of Uriah's death would be likely to sour and irritate him to the utmost.

31. he brought forth the people … and put them under saws, &c.—This excessive severity and employment of tortures, which the Hebrews on no other occasion are recorded to have practised, was an act of retributive justice on a people who were infamous for their cruelties (1Sa 11:2; Am 1:13). The people that were therein: the words are indefinite, and therefore not necessarily to be understood of all the people; for it had been barbarous to use women and children thus; but of the men of war, and especially of those who had been the chief actors or abettors of that villainous action against David’s ambassadors, (which was contrary to the law of nature, and of nations, and of all humanity,) and of the dreadful war ensuing upon it; for which they might seem to deserve the severest punishments. Although indeed there seems to have been too much rigour used; especially, because these dreadful deaths were inflicted not only upon those great counsellors, who were the only authors of that vile usage of the ambassadors; but upon a great number of the people, who were innocent from that crime. And therefore it is probably conceived that David exercised this cruelty whilst his heart was hardened and impenitent, and when he was bereaved of that free and good Spirit of God which would have taught him more mercy and moderation.

Put them under saws: he sawed them to death; of which punishment we have examples, both in Scripture, Hebrews 11:37, and in other authors. Under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron; he caused them to be laid down upon the ground, and torn by sharp iron harrows drawn over them, and hewed in pieces by keen axes. Made them pass through the brick-kiln, i.e. to be burnt in brickkilns. Or, made them to pass through the furnace of Malchen, i.e. of Moloch, called also Milchom, and here Malchen; punishing them with their own sin, and with the same kind of punishment which they inflicted upon their own children: see 2 Kings 16:3 23:10 Leviticus 18:21 20:2 Deu 18:10.

And he brought forth the people that were therein,.... Not all the inhabitants of the place, but the princes of the children of Ammon, the counsellors of Hattun, who advised him to use David's ambassadors in so shameful a manner, and others that expressed their pleasure and satisfaction in it:

and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron; whereby they were cut asunder, as some were by the Romans and others (n), or their flesh torn to pieces, and they put to extreme pain and agony, and so died most miserably; see 1 Chronicles 20:3,

and made them pass through the brickkiln; where they burnt their bricks, by which they were not only scorched and blistered, but burnt to death; so the word in the "Keri", or margin, signifies, which we follow; but in the text it is, they caused them to pass through Malcem, the same with Milcom or Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon, 1 Kings 11:5; unto which they made their children pass through the fire, and burnt them; and now in the same place they themselves are made to pass through, and be burnt, as a righteous punishment of them for their barbarous and wicked idolatry. The word used in the Greek version, according to Suidas (o), signifies an army, or a battalion of men drawn up in a quadrangular form, like a brick; and in the same sense Josephus (p) uses it; hence a learned man (q) conjectures that David's army was drawn up in the like form, through which the Ammonites were obliged to pass, and as they passed were assailed with darts, and killed; a like punishment to which is what the Italians call "passing through the pikes":

and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon; to the inhabitants of them; that is, the chief, who bad expressed their joy at the ill usage of his ambassadors: this he did to strike terror into other nations, that they might fear to use his ambassadors in such like manner. This action of David's showing so much severity, is thought by most to be done when under the power of his lust with Bathsheba, in an hardened and impenitent state, when he had no sense of mercy himself, and so showed none; which is too injurious to his character; for this was a righteous retaliation of this cruel people, 1 Samuel 11:2. Which may be observed in other instances, Judges 8:6; but the charge of cruelty in David will be easily removed by following the translation of a learned (r) man, and which I think the words will bear, "and he obliged the people that were in it to go out, and put them to the saw", to cut stones; "and to the iron mines", to dig there; "and to the axes of iron", to cut wood, with; "after he had made them to pass with their king" out of the city.

So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem; in triumph, and with great spoil.

(n) Suetonius in Vita Caii, c. 27. Vid. Herodot. l. 2. c. 139. (o) In voce (p) Antiqu. l. 13. c. 4. sect. 4. (q) Menochius de Repub. Heb. l. 8. c. 3. col 752. (r) Danzii Commentat. de miligat. David in Ammon. crudel. Jenae 1710, apud Michael. in 1 Chronicles 20.3. Vid. Stockium, p. 392.

And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under {t} saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem.

(t) Signifying that as they were malicious enemies of God, so he put them to cruel death.

31. put them under saws] Put them upon saws: or perhaps we should read as in Chron., sawed them with saws. Cp. Hebrews 11:37. This barbarous practice was not unknown at Rome. “[Caligula] medios serra dissecuit.” (Sueton. Calig. 27.)

harrows of iron] Threshing-sledges of iron: sledges or frames armed on the underside with rollers or sharp spikes, used for the purpose of bruising the ears of corn, and extracting the grain, and at the same time breaking up the straw into small pieces for use as fodder. See Wilkinson’s Ancient Egyptians, i. 408, ii. 423.

made them pass through the brick-kiln] Burned them in brick-kilns. The phrase is chosen with reference to the idolatrous rite practised by the Ammonites, of “making their children pass through the fire” in honour of Moloch (2 Kings 23:10). This is the meaning of the Qrî or read text (see Introd. p. 15), which is probably correct. The Kthîbh or written text however has “made them pass through the Malchan,” which is explained to mean the place where they burnt their children in honour of Moloch. But the word occurs nowhere else, and is of doubtful authority.

These cruel punishments must be judged according to the standard of the age in which they were inflicted, not by the light of Christian civilisation. The Ammonites were evidently a savage and brutal nation (1 Samuel 11:1-2; 2 Samuel 10:1-5; Amos 1:13), and in all probability they were treated no worse than they were accustomed to treat others. It was the age of retaliation, when the law of like for like—the lextalionis—prevailed (Jdg 1:7; Leviticus 24:19-20). They had foully insulted David, and it is not to be wondered at if he was provoked into making a signal example of them by this severity. In this respect he did not rise above the level of his own age. Modern history has its parallels, not only in the barbarities perpetrated at Alençon by a ruthless soldier like William the Conqueror, but in the merciless massacre by which the Black Prince sullied his fair fame on the capture of Limoges. Green’s History, pp. 72, 226.

Verse 31. - The people that were therein. The cruel treatment described in this verse was inflicted, first of all, upon those who had defended Rabbah, now reduced to a small number by the long siege; but David next proceeded through all the cities, that is, the fortified towns of the Ammonites, inflicting similar barbarities. They were confined probably to the fighting men, and most of these would make their escape as soon as resistance became hopeless. The general population would, of course, scatter themselves in every direction, but the misery caused by such a breaking up of civil life, as well as by the cruel bloodshed, must have been terrible. Instead of "he put them in a saw," we find, in 1 Chronicles 20:3, "he sawed them with a saw." This reading differs from what we have here only in one letter, and is plainly right, as the translation, "under saws," "under harrows of iron," etc., found both in the Authorized and Revised Versions, is simply an expedient, tendered necessary by the corruption of the text. If we restore the passage by the help of the parallel place, it runs on thus: "He sawed with a saw, and with threshing sledges of iron, and with cutting instruments of iron." What exactly the second were we do not know, as the word does not occur elsewhere. The Vulgate renders it "wains shod with iron," meaning, apparently, those driven over the corn for threshing purposes, and now driven over these unfortunate people. The barbarity is not more horrible than that of sawing prisoners asunder. He made them pass through the brick kiln. Both the Septuagint and Vulgate have "brick kiln," Hebrew, malban, which the Massorites have adopted, but the Hebrew text has malchan. No commentator has given any satisfactory explanation of what can be meant by making the Ammonites pass through a brick kiln; but Kimchi gives a very probable interpretation of the word really found in the Hebrew, and which, not being intelligible, has been corrupted. For the Malchan was, he says, the place where the Ammonites made their children pass through the fire to Moloch. He thinks, therefore, that David put some of the people to death in this way. We cannot defend these cruelties, but they unhappily were the rule in Oriental warfare, and would have been inflicted on their enemies by the Ammonites. We have proof in l 1 Samuel 11:2 and Amos 1:13 that they were a barbarous race; but this did not justify barbarous retaliation.

2 Samuel 12:31He also had the inhabitants executed, and that with cruel tortures. "He sawed them in pieces with the saw and with iron harrows." בּמּגרה ויּשׂם, "he put them into the saw," does not give any appropriate sense; and there can be no doubt, that instead of וישׂם we should read ויּשׂר (from שׂוּר): "he cut (sawed) them in pieces." הבּרזל וּבמגזרות, "and with iron cutting tools." The meaning of the ἁπ. λεγ. מגזרות cannot be more precisely determined. The current rendering, "axes or hatchets," is simply founded upon the circumstance that גּזר, to cut, is applied in 2 Kings 6:4 to the felling of trees. The reading in the Chronicles, וּבמּגרות, is evidently a copyist's error, as we have already had בּמּגרה, "with the saw." The meaning of the next clause is a disputed point, as the reading itself varies, and the Masoretes read בּמּלבּן instead of the Chethibh במלכן, "he made them go through brick-kilns," i.e., burnt them in brick-kilns, as the lxx and Vulgate render it. On the other hand, Thenius takes the Chethibh under his protection, and adopts Kimchi's explanation: "he led them through Malchan, i.e., through the place where the Ammonites burned their children in honour of their idol." Thenius would therefore alter בּמלכּם into בּמלכּם or בּמּלכּם: "he offered them as sacrifices in their image of Moloch. " But this explanation cannot be even grammatically sustained, to say nothing of the arbitrary character of the alteration proposed; for the technical expression למּלך בּאשׁ חעביר, "to cause to go through the fire for Moloch" (Leviticus 18:21), is essentially different from בּמּלך חעביר, to cause to pass through Moloch, an expression that we never meet with. Moreover, it is impossible to see how burning the Ammonites in the image of Moloch could possibly be "an obvious mode of punishing idolatry," since the idolatry itself consisted in the fact that the Ammonites burned their children to Moloch. So far as the circumstances themselves are concerned, the cruelties inflicted upon the prisoners are not to be softened down, as Daaz and others propose, by an arbitrary perversion of the words into a mere sentence to hard labour, such as sawing wood, burning bricks, etc. At the same time, the words of the text do not affirm that all the inhabitants of Rabbah were put to death in this cruel manner. בּהּ אשׁר העם (without כּל) refers no doubt simply to the fighting men that were taken prisoners, or at the most to the male population of the acropolis of Rabbah, who probably consisted of fighting men only. In doing this, David merely retaliated upon the Ammonites the cruelties with which they had treated their foes; since according to Amos 1:13 they ripped up women who were with child, and according to 1 Samuel 11:2 their king Nahash would only make peace with the inhabitants of Jabesh upon the condition that the right eye of every one of them should be put out. It is sufficiently evident from this, that the Ammonites had aimed at the most shameful extermination of the Israelites. "Thus did he unto all the cities of the Ammonites," i.e., to all the fortified cities that resisted the Israelites. After the close of this war, David returned to Jerusalem with all the men of war. The war with the Syrians and Ammonites, including as it did the Edomitish war as well, was the fiercest in which David was ever engaged, and was also the last great war of his life.
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