Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 10. War with the Ammonites and their allies the Syrians
= 1 Chronicles 19
David had now reached the summit of his prosperity and power. The historian has now to record how he fell from that height into a sin which brought shame and suffering upon himself and disaster upon his kingdom. This war with the Ammonites is described in detail, because of its close connexion with that act, which marked the fatal turning-point in David’s reign.
The war with the Ammonites is incidentally alluded to in ch. 2 Samuel 8:12 among David’s other wars; and the war with the Syrians to which it led is not improbably the same as that recorded in ch. 2 Samuel 8:3-6.
It is there related that Hadadezer sustained a crushing defeat, and that a great part of his vassals transferred their allegiance to David. There is no hint here that they had revolted, and it seems unlikely that they could have raised so large an army on a second occasion. The circumstances narrated here (2 Samuel 10:16) explain the otherwise obscure mention of the Euphrates in ch. 2 Samuel 8:3 : the seat of war, the persons engaged, the results, and the general details, are so similar as to make it at least improbable that the narratives refer to two distinct wars.
It is easy to assign a reason for this repetition. There the account forms part of the collected summary of David’s principal wars, as it was probably by far the most important and most distant of them: here it appears as a necessary pendant to the history of the Ammonite war, which is being related in full in order to lead up to and explain the circumstances of David’s fall.
And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.1–5. David’s ambassadors insulted by the Ammonites
1. And it came to pass after this] On this formula of transition see note on ch. 2 Samuel 8:1.
the king of the children of Ammon] Forty years at least had passed since the events of 1 Samuel 11, so that this Nahash was probably the son or grandson of the king defeated by Saul at Jabesh. On the Ammonites see note on 1 Samuel 11:1.
Hanun] This name is identical with the Phoenician Hanno, which appears so frequently in Carthaginian history. In Greek both take the form Ἄννων (Annon).
Then said David, I will shew kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father shewed kindness unto me. And David sent to comfort him by the hand of his servants for his father. And David's servants came into the land of the children of Ammon.2. as his father shewed kindness unto me] Possibly in the course of David’s wanderings: possibly by a congratulatory embassy on his accession (cp. 1 Kings 5:1): according to a Jewish tradition by receiving one of his brothers, who escaped when his parents were murdered by the king of Moab.
And the princes of the children of Ammon said unto Hanun their lord, Thinkest thou that David doth honour thy father, that he hath sent comforters unto thee? hath not David rather sent his servants unto thee, to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it?3. the princes of the children of Ammon] The new king’s counsellors were as foolish as Rehoboam’s advisers (1 Kings 12:10-11). Their unjust suspicions of David’s motives may have been excited by his recent conquest of Moab.
the city] Rabbah, which was strongly fortified. See ch. 2 Samuel 11:1.
Wherefore Hanun took David's servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away.4. shaved off the one half of their beards] Compare the story in Herodotus of the thief who made some guards drunk, and for an insult shaved their right cheeks (II. 121). No grosser insult could have been devised. The beard was and still is to an Oriental the badge of the dignity of manhood. It was only shaved as a sign of the deepest mourning. See Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 41:5. “Cutting off a person’s beard is regarded by the Arabs as an indignity equal to flogging and branding among ourselves. Many would rather die than have their beard shaved off.” D’Arvieux’ Customs of the Bedouin Arabs. A similar occurrence is said to have taken place in modern times. “In 1764 Kerim Khan, a pretender to the Persian throne, sent ambassadors to Mir Mahenna, the prince of Bendervigk, on the Persian Gulf, to demand tribute from him; but he in return cut off the ambassadors’ beards. Kerim Khan was so enraged at this that he went the next year with a large army to make war upon this prince, and took the city, and almost the whole of his territory, to avenge the insult.” Niebuhr’s Description of Arabia.
cut off their garments] The ambassadors, who wore long dignified garments, were sent away in the shameful plight of captives. See Isaiah 20:4.
When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.5. Tarry at Jericho] Jericho was on their direct way back to Jerusalem. David wished to spare them the mortification of returning to Jerusalem in such a ridiculous plight.
And when the children of Ammon saw that they stank before David, the children of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Bethrehob, and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand footmen, and of king Maacah a thousand men, and of Ishtob twelve thousand men.6–14. Defeat of the Ammonites and their Syrian allies
6. that they stank] Lit. that they had made themselves stink: had brought themselves into evil odour, or, made themselves odious. Ancient history records many wars undertaken to avenge insults offered to ambassadors, whose persons have always been considered sacred by the law of nations: e.g. the war between Rome and Tarentum which led to the invasion of Italy by Pyrrhus. See also Cicero, Proverbs lege Manil. c. 5.
hired] For a thousand talents of silver according to 1 Chronicles 19:6, a sum variously estimated at from £250,000 to £500,000. For other instances of the employment of mercenary troops see 2 Kings 7:6; 2 Chronicles 25:6.
Beth-rehob] Beth-rehob (= house of Rehob) or Rehob (2 Samuel 10:8), the capital of this Syrian kingdom, can hardly be the Beth-rehob near Dan mentioned in Jdg 18:28, which was in Israelite territory. It is better to place it at Ruhaibeh, 25 miles N.E. of Damascus, or to identify it with Rehoboth by the river (Genesis 36:37), the site of which is fixed a few miles below the junction of the Chaboras with the Euphrates. In this case the Mesopotamians mentioned in the parallel passage in 1 Chron. may be the same as the Syrians of Beth-rehob.
the Syrians of Zoba] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 8:3.
and of king Maacah] Rather, and the king of Maacah. This small Syrian kingdom was in the neighbourhood of Geshur, adjoining the province of Argob in the north-east of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:14), somewhere to the east of the wild and rocky region now called El-Lejah. Some however would place it on the south-west slope of Hermon at the sources of the Jordan. See notes on Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:13.
and of Ish-tob] Rather, and the men of Tob, the district in which Jephthah took refuge (Jdg 11:3). It seems to have been somewhere north or east of Gilead, between Syria and the country of the Ammonites.
The text of Chronicles differs from that of Samuel in several points. (a) It mentions the price paid to the Syrians, a thousand talents of silver, and names Medeba as the rendezvous where their forces assembled. (b) The names of the countries from which the mercenaries were drawn are given as Mesopotamia, Maacah, and Zobah. Beth-rehob may be included under Mesopotamia (2 Samuel 10:6, note). Tob is not mentioned; perhaps it was a dependency of Zobah, and is included under it. The contingent sent by each is not specified. (c) The total number of 32,000 besides the men of Maacah, agrees with the numbers here; but the reading chariots in the present text of 1 Chronicles 19:7 can scarcely be right. 32,000 chariots would be a force of unexampled magnitude. See 1 Kings 10:26; 2 Chronicles 12:3; 2 Chronicles 14:9. The text of Samuel also seems to be defective, as the force doubtless had some cavalry and chariots and did not consist of infantry only.
And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men.7. all the host of the mighty men] Lit. all the host, the mighty men. Elsewhere “the mighty men” appear to be distinguished from the main body of the army as a corps of picked warriors, (see note on ch. 2 Samuel 15:18); and we should perhaps read all the host, and the mighty men.
And the children of Ammon came out, and put the battle in array at the entering in of the gate: and the Syrians of Zoba, and of Rehob, and Ishtob, and Maacah, were by themselves in the field.8. at the entering in of the gate] This is generally supposed to be the gate of the Ammonite capital Rabbah. But the account in Chronicles states explicitly that the Syrian mercenaries mustered at Medeba, which was nearly 20 miles south-west of Rabbah, and clearly implies that it was the city which the Ammonites occupied. Further it is evident from 2 Samuel 10:9, which describes Joab as in danger of being crushed between the two forces, that the Syrians were at no great distance from the city. And how came the Syrian force to march past Rabbah to Medeba, if the Ammonites meant to make their stand at Rabbah? or how could Joab possibly have advanced to Rabbah, leaving this huge Syrian force in his rear?
Medeba, the modern Mâdeba, was four miles south-east of Heshbon, on a rounded but rocky hill. It existed before the Israelite conquest (Numbers 21:30), was assigned to Reuben (Joshua 13:9), and now seems to have been in the hands of the Ammonites. It is mentioned on the famous Moabite stone as having been recaptured by Mesha, and in the time of Isaiah was a Moabite sanctuary (Isaiah 15:2).
in the field] “The plain of Medeba” (Joshua 13:9; Joshua 13:16) would be an advantageous place for the manœuvres of a large army, especially with chariots and cavalry.
When Joab saw that the front of the battle was against him before and behind, he chose of all the choice men of Israel, and put them in array against the Syrians:9. that the front of the battle was against him before and behind] The Ammonites were posted in front of the city, the Syrians on the plain opposite to them: if he attacked either force separately, his rear would be exposed to the other. His choice of the picked men to attack the Syrians, and his taking command of this division in person, indicate that the mercenary troops were the most formidable part of the Ammonite force.
And the rest of the people he delivered into the hand of Abishai his brother, that he might put them in array against the children of Ammon.10. that he might put them in array] Rather, and he put them in array.
And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee.
Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth him good.12. Be of good courage, and let us play the men] Lit. Be strong and let us shew ourselves strong: the same words as those translated in 1 Chronicles 19:13 “Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly.”
for the cities of our God] As the people of Israel were the people of the Lord, so the land which He had given them was His, and its cities were His. They were fighting “the Lord’s battles,” that these cities might not fall into heathen hands and be given over to the worship of heathen gods. Cp. 1 Samuel 17:36; 1 Samuel 17:47; 1 Samuel 18:17.
the Lord do that which seemeth him good] Better, Jehovah will do, &c.: an expression of trust combined with resignation to God’s will. Cp. 1 Samuel 3:18.
And Joab drew nigh, and the people that were with him, unto the battle against the Syrians: and they fled before him.13. they fled before him] “They that are hired to fight generally have a great care to save themselves, having no regard to the cause for which they fight.” Patrick.
And when the children of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fled, then fled they also before Abishai, and entered into the city. So Joab returned from the children of Ammon, and came to Jerusalem.14. then fled they also] The rout of their allies left Joab free to help Abishai, and the Ammonites retired at once within the walls of the city.
So Joab returned] He did not attempt a siege, most likely because the season was too far advanced. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 11:1.
And when the Syrians saw that they were smitten before Israel, they gathered themselves together.
And Hadarezer sent, and brought out the Syrians that were beyond the river: and they came to Helam; and Shobach the captain of the host of Hadarezer went before them.15–19. Renewed attack of the Syrians. Their total defeat
16. And Hadarezer sent, &c.] The correct form of his name is probably Hadadezer. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 8:3. He now mustered his vassals and tributaries (2 Samuel 10:19) from beyond “the river,” i.e. the Euphrates. “Brought out” = caused to take the field: it is the causative voice of the verb “to go out,” which is the technical term for going out to war (1 Samuel 8:20; 2 Samuel 11:1).
and they came to Helam] The words might be translated and their force came; but on the whole it is preferable to take Helam as a proper name, as in 2 Samuel 10:17. It has been proposed to identify it with Alamata, a town west of the Euphrates, but it is nowhere else mentioned, and its site is quite uncertain. This clause is omitted in Chronicles, where also in place of and came to Helam in the next verse we read and came upon them, so that the name of the place is altogether omitted there.
And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together, and passed over Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Syrians set themselves in array against David, and fought with him.
And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the men of seven hundred chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, who died there.18. seven hundred chariots … forty thousand horsemen] The present text of Chronicles has seven thousand chariots … forty thousand footmen. It seems best to retain the reading seven hundred chariots, and follow Chronicles in reading footmen. But the omission of horsemen in the one and footmen in the other makes it likely that there is some further corruption.
And when all the kings that were servants to Hadarezer saw that they were smitten before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more.19. the kings that were servants to Hadarezer] His vassals and tributaries transferred their allegiance to David. According to ch. 2 Samuel 8:6 (assuming it to refer to the same war), the kingdom of Damascus was completely subjugated and secured by military stations. Both there and here it is implied that Hadadezer himself still maintained his independence in Zobah.