The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.2 Samuel 10
[The greatest and most critical war in the reign of David is now about to be reported. The 60th Psalm should be read in this connection.]
1. And it came to pass after this, that the king [Nahash] of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.
2. 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.
3. 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 [Rabbah, almost the only city owned by the Ammonites], and to spy it out, and to overthrow it?
4. Wherefore Hanun took David's servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards [the extremest of all personal insults], and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away.
5. When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho [in some cottage or village thereabout] until your beards be grown, and then return.
6. ¶ And when the children of Ammon saw that they stank [or had made themselves stink] before David, the children of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Beth-rehob, and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand footmen, and of king Maacah a thousand men, and of Ish-tob [this word means A good man] twelve thousand men [for which service they paid a thousand talents of silver, upwards of £125,000].
7. And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men.
8. 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 Ish-tob, and Maacah were by themselves in the field.
9. 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 [the stronger division of the enemy]:
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the Lord [will] do that which seemeth him good.
13. And Joab drew nigh, and the people that were with him, unto the battle against the Syrians: and they fled before him.
14. 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 [for reasons unknown].
15. ¶ And when the Syrians saw that they were smitten before Israel, they gathered themselves together.
16. And Hadarezer sent, and brought out the Syrians that were beyond the river: and they came to Helam [now unknown], and Shobach the captain of the host of Hadarezer went before them.
17. And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together, and passed over Jordan, and came to Helam [he took the field in person]. And the Syrians set themselves in array against David, and fought with him.
18. 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 [and thus inflicted a crushing blow, from which the enemy did not recover during his reign or the reign of his son].
19. 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 [transferring their vassalage to David]. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more.
Two Aspects of David
IN chapters x. and xi. we see king David at his best and also at his worst. The second verse of the tenth chapter opens almost in the same spirit as the first verse of the ninth. In both instances David is determined to "show kindness." In the first instance he would show kindness to any survivor of the house of Saul, as we have just seen, and now he will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, because Hanun's father had shown kindness to David in the old times of distress. So far we see David at his best. It is the more notable, because David is never recorded as the aggressor in any of the innumerable wars in which he was engaged; he was always the party threatened or challenged, and never the party defying and brow-beating: but in the matter of kindness he takes the initiative, not only originating the purpose as a mere sentiment, but endeavouring to carry it beneficently into effect. In estimating the character of David let this consideration be put down to his credit—namely, that in war he was never the aggressor, and that in kindness he was always the originator. In both these historical instances David acts retrospectively, in the sense that he is not proposing to show kindness to living men for their own sakes but on account of some virtue or goodness on the part of their ancestors. A merely technical or literal nature would have been content with contemporary action,—that is to say, would not have troubled about going back into yesterday in order to honour the memory of a dead man. But even in this generous retrospection David is faithful to his poetic nature and his religious enthusiasm. It was not enough to treat a man within his own limits and boundaries for the present day, and then to dismiss him as a discharged creditor; the goodness of the man in question lived on after the man himself had physically disappeared. Is not this a noble trait in the character of king David? It should not be lightly passed over as a matter of commonplace, especially when there is in reserve for David a penetrating and heavy criticism which must not be mitigated on account of any good reputation which the king may have acquired on other occasions. Justice will at least seek to state both sides of the case, and then demand that the character be judged, not in separate aspects, but in its complete totality.
David is to be credited with good intentions in this case, as he was in the case of proposing to build the temple and to do kindness to any survivor of the house of Saul. Even good intentions have a distinctive value of their own. Sweet waters do not rise from bitter fountains. To have one good wish, one unselfish desire, one generous impulse, is to have some degree of divine influence operating upon the heart, and so far is to show that the heart has not been given over to utter reprobation. This is a comforting thought for ourselves. Are all our thoughts entirely bad? Is there not any light of unselfishness shining from any one of them? Or do we now and again feel the heart stirred to do some generous deed, or speak some word that will assuage human sorrow or lighten human burdens? Even the impulse will do us good. How were David's good intentions received by the counsellors of Hanun? We read that "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?" (2Samuel 10:3). Again and again in history we come upon such narrow-minded and rash advisers. We shall come upon them again in the second book of Kings in the instance of Rehoboam, who was brought to ruin by the suspicious counsels of foolish men. There are always persons who are ready to credit others with bad motives. According to our interpretation of the motives of others do we often reveal the true quality of our own hearts. Suspicion is more to be dreaded than simplicity. When Christian education is completed in the heart there will be a readiness to assign the best possible motives to all human action, at least in the absence of the clearest evidence to the contrary. Many men are ruined by their so-called sagacity, as well as by their want of mental pith and alacrity. These longheaded counsellors of the young king imagined that they knew human nature better than he did; they oppressed the young man by the weight of their experience; they brought to bear upon him all the influence, happy or unhappy, which ought to attach to old age and large views of human action. Whether the counsellors were young or old in point of age does not interfere with the fact that they were of malignant disposition. Had they been generous they would have led Hanun into new relations with the powerful king of Jerusalem, and of Israel, and might have established the kingdom of Hanun on stronger foundations than ever. We should always be on our guard against men who are too clever. Human nature does not lie wholly on lines of baseness; but even on the appalling suspicion that such may be the case, seldom is anything lost by accepting a generous word in a generous spirit, for in doing so even hypocrisy itself may be baffled and outwitted.
Hanun responded to the counsels of his advisers in a manner which he supposed would increase his own popularity with his subjects. He "took David's servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle" (2Samuel 10:4). Noted travellers have told us that the cutting off of a person's beard is regarded by the Arabs as an indignity equal to flogging and branding amongst ourselves. It has also been made clear by travellers that the loss of their long garments, so essential to Oriental dignity, was no less insulting than that of their beards. Hanun was not one of the men who could adopt a middle course. Without receiving the comforting words of David in the sense in which they were intended, he need not have gone to the extreme which he adopted. But some men are incapable of seeing the middle course, which is one of proverbial safety, and they imagine that they display their ingenuity and teach a useful lesson to others by adopting a policy of complete rigour. The men might have been sent back with a coldly polite reply, which would have discouraged further approach on the part of the king of Israel, or they might have been received with gladness, and thus reflex honour might have been shed upon the throne of David. But no such course opened itself before the vision of the counsellors of Hanun. They would show their greatness by humbling the messengers of David to the uttermost depths. It is little to the honour of human nature that there are not only insults which men can hurl at one another in moments of passion and defiance, but there are studied insults which are elaborated in cold blood and inflicted with a sense of enjoyment by the cruel men who have fashioned new modes of social humiliation. No doubt that night there was joy in the palace of Hanun and in the houses of his triumphant princes. They had adopted a spirited foreign policy. They were not going to receive any messages from outlying peoples which might be construed into obligations, but were going to teach the nations that whatever Nahash might have done in his effusive old age, they were determined to be known as men of rigour and men of dignity.
The insult inflicted upon Israel was not only personal, it was deeply religious. Not only was David dishonoured, but God himself was defied. In Leviticus 19:27, we see how stringent was the law regarding this matter of shaving the head. "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard." It is not for us to enter into the value of any such ordinances: suffice it to say that they were the distinct ordinances of the people of Israel, and as such had religious value and significance. There is a cruelty in our own day which seeks to injure men through the medium of their religious convictions. The history of Christian persecution runs wholly along this line of offence; Men have been nick-named, taunted with the peculiarity of their faith, mocked as to the manner of their prayers, laughed at by the ruffianism of their age. To-day men are kept out of pecuniary positions because of their religious faith. Social advancement is barred to not a few persons on account of their religious convictions. Were such men without conviction, light-headed, and light-hearted, ready to adopt any form or ceremony as they might adopt a change of garments, their course in life would be much smoother; but because they are earnest, even to agony, their convictions are made into so many stumbling-blocks by which their progress is hindered.
The counsellors of Hanun the son of Nahash were too blinded by their own passion to foresee the results of their foolish policy. What was a practical jest to them was an occasion of just anger to the king whom they had insulted. It is well to take some account of the resources of the enemy before being too defiant or adopting a course of lofty superciliousness. But folly seldom sees both sides of a question. Suppose the counsellors of Hanun had asked themselves how David would regard this method of reply, possibly they might have slackened their speed in their evil course. But passion never pauses to consider the full issue of its rage. The men who carried a message to Hanun could also carry a message to David. When David was told of the event he showed once more the noble quality of his nature by delicately sending to meet the men and advising them to tarry at Jericho until their beards were grown, and then they could return (2Samuel 10:5). The verse reads as if David were inclined to follow the impulse of his better feeling. Dealing with his own men, his action is conspicuous for considerateness and gentleness. Not one word of anger is introduced into this portion of the history. David would seem rather to have been ashamed with the shame of the afflicted men, and to have been so overborne by his sympathy with them as to forget the indignity which had been heaped upon him by the son of Nahash. But David's mind quickly turned to the shocking reality of the case with which he had to deal. He "sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men," and thus inaugurated his policy of revenge. It is easy for us in the midst of our Christian civilisation to point out what other course David might have adopted, but judging events by the time and atmosphere in which they occurred, it would be hard to say that David did not adopt the only policy which could be understood by the heathen aggressor. It is a notable characteristic of the genius of history that it is always faithful to its own time. As the action of David would now be out of place as between Christian nations, so any other course than that which he adopted would have been out of place in relation to his particular injury. Read history in its own light. It is essential to adopt this canon of interpretation in reading many portions of the Old Testament; otherwise the mind will be thrown often into a state of moral bewilderment, and be ready almost to cry out against the Spirit of God.
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."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Let us play the men for our people."—2Samuel 10:12.
The Old Testament continually calls men to courage.—The Bible would seem to be the enemy of all timidity, all moral cowardice, all bodily shrinking from danger and loss.—Read the exhortations of God to Joshua; read passages related to this verse: their whole tone is identical, being a tone of urging men to put on their strength, to arouse their courage to its highest fashion, and to go forward with steadfastness and zeal and hopefulness in all difficult service.—"Let us play the men,"—let us be strong, noble, energetic, alive in every point, putting away from us all that is feeble and emasculating in sentiment.—There is always another manhood deeper than the one we have yet realised: a larger self, an in-tenser force; let us call up all that is deepest and strongest within us, and as danger thickens let us rise in courage.—Courage would seem to be but another word for faith.—Courage is the Old Testament word, faith is the New Testament word.—The courageous man does not fail if his cause be good; though he fall he shall rise again, though many enemies spring upon him he shall be enabled to throw them all off, and carry forward his processes to their fullest fruition.—We should say, "Lord, increase our faith: Lord, increase our courage;" we should accept the exhortation of the prophet, "Put on thy strength."