The Ammonites marched out and arrayed themselves for battle at the entrance to their city gate, while the Arameans of Zobah and Rehob and the men of Tob and Maacah were by themselves in the open country.
Psalm 120:7). It is not probable that these words were written by David, but they might have been with truth. It does not appear that he desired war with the neighbouring peoples; but for a time he was continually at war with one or other of them. Jealous of the growing greatness and power of Israel under his rule, they sought to humble them, but only to their own discomfiture and subjugation. And as the kingdom extended, more distant nations feared for themselves, and were ready to combine against what seemed the common foe. This is probably the real explanation of the transactions recorded in this chapter, including the most serious struggle which the rising kingdom had had to maintain. Nahash, "the king of the children of Ammon," having died, David, to whom Nahash had in some way shown kindness, sent ambassadors to Hanun, his son and successor, with a message of condolence. But the young king, induced by the princes to regard the ambassadors as spies, who had been sent to obtain such knowledge of the city as might facilitate its overthrow, treated them with the grossest contumely and indecency, and so dismissed them. Hence sprang a deadly war, in which the Ammonites were aided by other and more powerful peoples - a war which taxed to the utmost the strength of Israel, and issued in the complete overthrow of their enemies. The first step in all this commotion and destruction was the false interpretation put upon the kind act of David; and, regarding it as an illustration of a too common evil, we take occasion to remark upon the evil itself - misinterpretation of good deeds.
I. THE CAUSES OF IT.
1. Knowledge of the world. There is so much evil in it, so much evil which conceals itself under the pretence of good; the actions which at first appear good are so often, on closer acquaintance, discovered to be evil; that experience of the world tends to produce a suspicious spirit, which is slow to believe in the reality of goodness in any particular instance, quick to think the worst of the conduct of others, especially of strangers.
2. Evil in one's self. Which may be conscious or unconscious. We are indisposed to believe others to be better than we know ourselves to be; and prone to suspect others of motives we are conscious of indulging ourselves. And, without distinct consciousness, we are influenced in our judgments of others by our own character; and may be so far under the influence of evil as to be blind to the good in others. The cold, selfish, illiberal, cannot credit others with the opposite virtues; but suspect the appearance of them to be only a semblance adopted for some unworthy purpose.
3. Enmity. If on any account we cherish ill will towards another, we are ever ready to think evil rather than good of him; and specially slow to think he can intend good to us. If another has failed to show as high an esteem for ourselves as we think we deserve, our mortified pride is apt to vent itself in depreciation of him. Prejudice is one kind of enmity, more or less virulent. It commonly exists in those of one party in religion or politics towards those of the opposite party, and predisposes them to misinterpret whatever they do.
4. Fear. Which was one of the motives that prompted Hanun and his advisers.
5. Conceit of sagacity. A cheap and easy way of appearing very wise, and of obtaining from some a reputation for wisdom, is to affect to discover unworthy motives in good actions.
6. Bad advisers. Such as those of Hanun. Those who might be otherwise disposed to a just estimate of good deeds will seldom want advisers to poison their minds, if they will listen to them.
II. THE EVIL OF IT.
1. In itself. It is inherently base. It is contrary to:
(1) Charity, which "believeth all things, hopeth all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7), whenever it is not manifestly impossible.
(2) Justice. Judgments which seem to be only charitable will often be simply just.
(3) Gratitude, in the case of actions kind to ourselves. Better to waste a little gratitude than indulge needless suspicion.
(4) The plain commands of our Lord. Such as "Judge not;" "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:1, 12). It involves, further, an assumption of knowledge such as men do not possess, and a usurpation of the office of him who alone searches the heart (1 Corinthians 4:5). We are not, however, required to cherish a blind credulity, nor to trust men with important interests without positive knowledge of their moral worth, still less against plain evidence of the contrary. Prudence is a virtue as well as charity. The Ammonites might have rightly exercised such caution towards David's messengers as would have prevented their obtaining so much knowledge of the city as would facilitate hostile measures against it, if these were really contemplated. They did wrong in concluding that the seeming kindness was covert hostility. To have returned civility for civility could have done them no harm, and would have prevented the severe retribution for their barbarity which followed.
2. In its effects.
(1) On those who are guilty of it. It deprives them of the happiness and other good which they would gain from kindness exercised towards them, were it duly appreciated and acknowledged; and of the benefit which it would impart in the way of example and influence. It strengthens the bad dispositions and habits from which it springs. It prompts to conduct (as in this case) which may work incalculable mischief.
(2) On those towards whom it is indulged. Inflicting pain, producing resentment, and perhaps active revenge, and discouraging them in the practice of virtues which are liable to be so maligned.
(3) On others. Infecting with unjust suspicions some who would not otherwise cherish them; encouraging disbelief in genuine goodness, and thus loosening the bonds of mutual confidence by which society is held together; disinclining also from good deeds, and so lessening the amount of goodness in the world.
III. HOW IT SHOULD AFFECT US.
1. It should not surprise us. Considering what men are, we should regard it as quite possible that any good we may do will be misrepresented, or at least fail to be duly appreciated and acknowledged even by those whose benefit we seek.
2. It should not deter us from doing good. The great motives for good deeds abide the same. They are quite independent of human appreciation. They should be our chief motives, the hope of approval or suitable return from men occupying a very subordinate position. Let us study and labour to be accepted of God (2 Corinthians 5:9), and be content with his approval, let men think what they may.
3. If men misrepresent our conduct, let us exercise charity towards them, hoping, if we cannot confidently believe, that they have sinned through ignorance or inconsideration rather than ill will. If compelled to vindicate ourselves, let us do it with meekness. We should also reflect whether we have given any occasion in the manner of our conduct for misunderstanding of its real quality; and avoid the error in future. And, if we are really reproached for that which is good, without just occasion, let us be mindful that we are fellow sufferers with our Lord and many of the best men of all ages.
4. Let us be watchful against every temptation to depreciate and misrepresent the good which is practised by others. - G.W.
Leviticus 19:27, we see how stringent was the law regarding this matter of shaving the head. 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. 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. 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.
I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness unto me.
3. 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.
4. 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.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(L. A. Banks, D. D.)
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