Expositor's Bible Commentary
And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.CHAPTER XIII.
DAVID AND HANUN.
2 Samuel 10:1-19.
POWERFUL though David had proved himself in every direction in the art of war, his heart was inclined to peace. A king who had been victorious over so many foes had no occasion to be afraid of a people like the Ammonites. It could not have been from fear therefore that, when Nahash the king of the Ammonites died, David resolved to send a friendly message to his son. Not the least doubt can be thrown on the statement of the history that what moved him to do this was a grateful remembrance of the kindness which he had at one time received from the late king. The position which he had gained as a warrior would naturally have made Hanun more afraid of David than David could be of Hanun. The king of Israel could not have failed to know this, and it might naturally occur to him that it would be a kindly act to the young king of Ammon to send him a message that showed that he might thoroughly rely on his friendly intentions. The message to Hanun was another emanation of a kindly heart. If there was anything of policy in it, it was the policy of one who felt that so many things are continually occurring to set nations against one another as to make it most desirable to improve every opportunity of drawing them closer together.
It is a happy thing for any country when its rulers and men of influence are ever on the watch for opportunities to strengthen the spirit of friendship. It is a happy thing in the Church when the leaders of different sections are more disposed to measures that conciliate and heal than to measures that alienate and divide. In family life, and wherever men of different views and different tempers meet, this peace-loving spirit is of great price. Men that like fighting, and that are ever disposed to taunt, to irritate, to divide, are the nuisances of society. Men that deal in the soft answer, in the message of kindness, and in the prayer of love, deserve the respect and gratitude of all.
It is a remarkable thing that, of all the nations that were settled in the neighbourhood of the Israelites, the only one that seemed desirous to live on friendly terms with them was that of Tyre. Even those who were related to them by blood, - Edomites, Midianites, Moabites, Ammonites, - were never cordial, and often at open hostility. Though their rights had been carefully respected by the Israelites on their march from Sinai to Palestine, no feeling of cordial friendship was established with any of them. None of them were impressed even so much as Balaam had been, when in language so beautiful he blessed the people whom God had blessed. None of them threw in their lot with Israel, in recognition of their exalted spiritual privileges, as Hobab and his people had done near Mount Sinai. Individuals, like Ruth the Moabitess, had learned to recognize the claims of Israel's God and the privileges of the covenant, but no entire nation had ever shown even an inclination to such a course. These neighbouring nations continued therefore to be fitting symbols of that world-power which has so generally been found in antagonism to the people of God. Israel while they continued faithful to God were like the lily among thorns; and Israel's king, like Him whom he typified, was called to rule in the midst of his enemies. The friendship of the surrounding world cannot be the ordinary lot of the faithful servant, otherwise the Apostle would not have struck such a loud note of warning. "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, would be the friend of the world is the enemy of God."
Between the Ammonites and the Israelites collisions had occurred on two former occasions, on both of which the Ammonites appear to have been the aggressors. The former of these was in the days of Jephthah. The defeat of the Ammonites at that time was very thorough, and probably unexpected, and, like other defeats of the same kind, it no doubt left feelings of bitter hatred rankling in the breasts of the defeated party. The second was the collision at Jabesh-gilead at the beginning of the reign of Saul. The king of the Ammonites showed great ferocity and cruelty on that occasion. When the men of Jabesh, brought to bay, begged terms of peace, the bitter answer was returned that it would be granted only on condition that every man's right eye should be put out. It was then that Saul showed such courage and promptitude. In the briefest space he was at Jabesh-gilead in defense of his people, and by his successful tactics inflicted on the Ammonites a terrible defeat, killing a great multitude and scattering the remainder, so that not any two of them were left together. Men do not like to have a prize plucked from their hands when they are on the eve of enjoying it. After such a defeat, Nahash could not have very friendly feelings to Saul. And when Saul proclaimed David his enemy, Nahash would naturally incline to David's side. There is no record of the occasion on which he showed kindness to him, but in all likelihood it was at the time when he was in the wilderness, hiding from Saul. If, when David was near the head of the Dead Sea, and therefore not very far from the land of the Ammonites, or from places where they had influence, Nahash sent him any supplies for his men, the gift would be very opportune, and there could be no reason why David should not accept of it. Anyhow, the act of kindness, whatever it was, made a strong impression on his heart. It was long, long ago when it happened, but love has a long memory, and the remembrance of it was still pleasant to David. And now the king of Israel purposes to repay to the son the debt he had incurred to the father. Up to this point it is a pretty picture; and it is a great disappointment when we find the transaction miscarry, and a negotiation which began in all the warmth and sincerity of friendship terminate in the wild work of war.
The fault of this miscarriage, however, was glaringly on the other side. Hanun was a young king, and it would only have been in accordance with the frank and unsuspecting spirit of youth had he received David's communication with cordial pleasure, and returned to it an answer in the same spirit in which it was sent. But his counselors were of another mind. They persuaded their master that the pretext of comforting him on the death of his father was a hollow one, and that David desired nothing but to spy out the city and the country, with a view to bring them under his dominion. It is hard to suppose that they really believed this. It was they, not David, that wished a pretext for going to war. And having got something that by evil ingenuity might be perverted to this purpose, they determined to treat it so that it should be impossible for David to avoid the conflict. Hanun appears to have been a weak prince, and to have yielded to their counsels. Our difficulty is to understand how sane men could have acted in such a way. The determination to provoke war, and the insolence of their way of doing it, appear so like the freaks of a madman, that we cannot comprehend how reasonable men should in cold blood have even dreamt of such proceedings. Perhaps at this early period they had an understanding with those Syrians that afterwards came to their aid, and thought that on the strength of this they could afford to be insolent. The combined force which they could bring into the field would be such as to make even David tremble.
It is hardly necessary to say a word to bring out the outrageous character of their conduct. First, there was the repulse of David's kindness. It was not even declined with civility; it was repelled with scorn. It is always a serious thing to reject overtures of kindness. Even the friendly salutations of dumb animals are entitled to a friendly return, and the man that returns the caresses of his dog with a kick and a curse is a greater brute than the animal that he treats so unworthily. Kindness is too rare a gem to be trampled underfoot. Even though it should be mistaken kindness, though the form it takes should prove an embarrassment rather than a help, a good man will appreciate the motive that prompted it, and will be careful not to hurt the feelings of those who, though they have blundered, meant him well None are more liable to make mistakes than young children in their little efforts to please; meaning to be kind, they sometimes only give trouble The parent that gives way to irritation, and meets this with a volley of scolding, deals cruelly with the best and tenderest part of the child's nature. There are few things more deserving to be attended to through life than the habit not only of appreciating little kindnesses, but showing that you appreciate them. How much more sweetly might the current run in social life if this were universally attended to!
But Hanun not only repelled David's kindness, but charged him with meanness, and virtually flung in his face a challenge to war. To represent his apparent kindness as a mean cover of a hostile purpose was an act which Hanun might think little of, but which was fitted to wound David to the quick. Unscrupulous natures have a great advantage over others in the charges they may bring. In a street collision a man in dirty clothing is much more powerful for mischief than one in clean raiment. Rough, unscrupulous men are restrained by no delicacy from bringing atrocious charges against those to whom these charges are supremely odious. They have little sense of the sin of them, and they toss them about without scruple. Such poisoned arrows inflict great pain, not because the charges are just, but because it is horrible to refined natures even to hear them. There are two things that make some men very sensitive - the refinement of grace, and the refinement of the spirit of courtesy. The refinement of grace makes all sin odious, and makes a charge of gross sin very serious. The refinement of courtesy creates great regard to the feelings of others, and a strong desire not to wound them unnecessarily. In circles where real courtesy prevails, accusations against others are commonly couched in very gentle language. Rough natures ridicule this spirit, and pride themselves on their honesty in calling a spade a spade. Evidently Hanun belonged to the rough, unscrupulous school. Either he did not know how it would make David writhe to be accused of the alleged meanness, or, if he did know, he enjoyed the spectacle. It gratified his insolent nature to see the pious king of Israel posing before all the people of Ammon as a sneak and a liar, and to hear the laugh of scorn and hatred resounding on every side.
To these offences Hanun added yet another - scornful treatment of David's ambassadors. In the eyes of all civilized nations the persons of ambassadors were held sacred, and any affront or injury to them was counted an odious crime. Very often men of eminent position, venerable age, and unblemished character were chosen for this function, and it is quite likely that David's ambassadors to Hanun were of this class. When therefore these men were treated with contumely - half their beards, which were in a manner sacred, shorn away, their garments mutilated, and their persons exposed - no grosser insult could have been inflicted. When the king and his princes were the authors of this treatment, it must have been greatly enjoyed by the mass of the people, whose coarse glee over the dishonoured ambassadors of the great King David one can easily imagine. It is a painful moment when true worth and nobility lie at the mercy of insolence and coarseness, and have to bear their bitter revilings. Such things may happen in public controversy in a country where the utmost liberty of speech is allowed, and when men of ruffian mould find contumely and insult their handiest weapons. In times of religious persecution the most frightful charges have been hurled at the heads of godly men and women, whose real crime is to have striven to the utmost to obey God. Oh, how much need there is of patience to bear insult as well as injury! And insult will sometimes rouse the temper that injury does not ruffle. Oh for the spirit of Christ, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again!
The Ammonites did not wait for a formal declaration of war by David. Nor did they flatter themselves, when they came to their senses, that against one who had gained such renown as a warrior they could stand alone. Their insult to King David turned out a costly affair. To get assistance they had to give gold. The parallel passage in Chronicles gives a thousand talents of silver as the cost of the first bargain with the Syrians. These Syrian mercenaries came from various districts - Beth-rehob, Zoba, Beth-maacah, and Tob. Some of these had already been subdued by David; in other cases there was apparently no previous collision. But all of them no doubt smarted under the defeats which David had inflicted either on them or on their neighbours, and when a large subsidy was allotted to them to begin with, in addition to whatever booty might fall to their share if David should be subdued, it is no great wonder that an immense addition was made to the forces of the Ammonites. It became in fact a very formidable opposition; all the more that they were very abundantly supplied with chariots and horsemen, of which arm David had scarcely any. He met them first by sending out Joab and "all the host" of the mighty men. The whole resources of his army were forwarded. And when Joab came to the spot, he found that he had a double enemy to face. The Ammonite army came out from the city to encounter him, while the Syrian army were encamped in the country, ready to place him between two fires when the battle began. To guard against this, Joab divided his force into two. The Syrian host was the more formidable body; therefore Joab went in person against it, at the head of a select body of troops chosen from the general army. The command of the remainder was given to his brother Abishai, who was left to deal with the Ammonites. If either section found its opponent too much for it, aid was to be given by the other. No fault can be found either with the arrangements made by Joab for the encounter or the spirit in which he entered on the fight. "Be of good courage," he said to his men, "and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God; and the Lord do that which seemeth to Him good." It was just such an exhortation as David himself might have given. Some were trusting in chariots and some in horses, but they were remembering the name of the Lord their God. The first movement was made by Joab and his part of the army against the Syrians; it was completely successful; the Syrians fled before him, chariots and horsemen and all. When the Ammonite army saw the fate of the Syrians they did not even hazard a conflict, but wheeled about and made for the city. Thus ended their first proud effort to sustain and complete the humiliation of King David. The hired troops on which they had leaned so much turned out utterly untrustworthy; and the wretched Ammonites found themselves minus their thousand talents, without victory, and without honour.
But their allies the Syrians were not disposed to yield without another conflict. Determined to do his utmost. Hadarezer, king of the Syrians of Zobah, sent across the Euphrates, and prevailed on their neighbours there to join them in the effort to crush the power of David. That a very large number of these Mesopotamian Syrians responded to the invitation of Hadarezer is apparent from the number of the slain (2 Samuel 10:18). The matter assumed so serious an aspect that David himself was now constrained to take the field, at the head of "all Israel." The Syrian troops were commanded by Shobach, who appears to have been a distinguished general. It must have been a death-struggle between the Syrian power and the power of David. But again the victory was with the Israelites, and among the slain were the men of seven hundred chariots, and forty thousand horsemen (1 Chronicles 19:18, "footmen"), along with Shobach, captain of the Syrian host It must have been a most decisive victory, for after it took place all the states that had been tributary to Hadarezer transferred their allegiance to David. The Syrian power was completely broken; all help was withdrawn from the Ammonites, who were now left to bear the brunt of their quarrel alone. Single-handed, they had to look for the onset of the army which had so remarkably prevailed against all the power of Syria, and to answer to King David for the outrage they had perpetrated on his ambassadors. Very different must their feelings have been now from the time when they began to negotiate with Syria, and when, doubtless, they looked forward so confidently to the coming defeat and humiliation of King David.
It requires but a very little consideration to see that the wars which are so briefly recorded in this chapter must have been most serious and perilous undertakings. The record of them is so short, so unimpassioned, so simple, that many readers are disposed to think very little of them. But when we pause to think what it was for the king of Israel to meet, on foreign soil, confederates so numerous, so powerful, and so familiar with warfare, we cannot but see that these were tremendous wars. They were fitted to try the faith as well as the courage of David and his people to the very utmost. In seeking dates for those psalms that picture a multitude of foes closing on the writer, and that record the exercises of his heart, from the insinuations of fear at the beginning to the triumph of trust and peace at the end, we commonly think only of two events in David's life, - the persecution of Saul and the insurrection of Absalom. But the Psalmist himself could probably have enumerated a dozen occasions when his danger and his need were as great as they were then. He must have passed through the same experience on these occasions as on the other two; and the language of the Psalms may often have as direct reference to the former as to the latter. We may understand, too, how the destruction of enemies became so prominent a petition in his prayers. What can a general desire and pray for, when he sees a hostile army, like a great engine of destruction, ready to dash against all that he holds dear, but that the engine may be shivered, deprived of all power of doing mischief - in other words, that the army may be destroyed? The imprecations in the Book of Psalms against his enemies must be viewed in this light. The military habit of the Psalmist's mind made him think only of the destruction of those who, in opposing him, opposed the cause of God. It ought not to be imputed as a crime to David that he did not rise high above a soldier's feelings; that he did not view things from the point of view of Christianity; that he was not a thousand years in advance of his age. The one outlet from the frightful danger which these Syrian hordes brought to him and his people was that they should be destroyed. Our blessed Lord gave men another view when He said, "The Son of man is come not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." He familiarized us with other modes of conquest. When He appeared to Saul on the way to Damascus, and turned the persecutor into the chief of apostles, He showed that there are other ways than that of destruction for delivering His Church from its enemies. "I send thee to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." This commission to Saul gives us reason for praying, with reference to the most clever and destructive of the enemies of His Church, that by His Spirit He would meet them too, and turn them into other men. And not until this line of petition has been exhausted can we fail back in prayer on David's method. Only when their repentance and conversion have become hopeless are we entitled to pray God to destroy the grievous wolves that work such havoc in His flock.