2 SAMUEL CHAPTER 10.
The Syro-Ammonite War.
DAVID’S SERVANTS SHAMEFULLY TREATED. — V.1. And it came to pass after this that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun, his son, reigned in his stead. V.2. Then said David, I will show kindness unto Hanun, the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness unto me. Nahash had been defeated by Saul at Jabesh, 1 Sam. 11, but had maintained a friendly attitude toward David, probably also by rendering him some form of assistance during the years of his persecution. And David sent to comfort him by the hand of his servants for his father, he dispatched an embassy to express his sympathy at the bereavement of Hanun. And David’s servants came in to the land of the children of Ammon, as David supposed, to a nation friendly to Israel under his reign. V.3. And the princes of the children of Ammon said unto Hanun, their lord, Thinkest thou that David doth honor thy father, literally, “Is David in thine eyes an honorer of 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? The suggestion that the messengers of David were spies was made with the purpose of causing Hanun to adopt a hostile attitude toward David which would be a challenge to war, for the Ammonites now felt themselves strong enough again to try conclusions with Israel. V.4. Wherefore Hanun, listening to the counsel of his princes, especially as this implied a criticism of his carelessness, took David’s servants and shaved off the one half of their beards, the one side, one of the grossest insults that can be offered an Oriental, who considers his beard the sign of manly dignity and freedom, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, thus exposing them before the eyes of all men, and sent them away, heaped with this double insult and disgrace. V.5. When they told it unto David, when the news of this shameful treatment came to him, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed, disgrace had been heaped upon them; and the king said, Tarry at Jericho, the district where that city had formerly stood, until your beards be grown, and then return. He himself did not want to witness their shame. To seek occasion for wars, to provoke quarrels, is a great wrong, which has often been punished by the Lord with great severity.
THE FIRST DEFEAT OF THE ENEMIES. — V.6. And when the children of Ammon saw that they stank before David, that they had become hateful to him 1 Sam. 13, 4, the children of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Beth-rehob, and the Syrians of Zoba, chap. 8, 3. 5, twenty thousand footmen, and of King Maacah, on the northern border of Bashan, a thousand men, and of Ishtob, of the men of Tob, a district east or northeast of the Ammonite territory, twelve thousand men. It was a mighty army of infantry, cavalry, and mar-chariots. V.7. And when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the host of the mighty men, literally, “the whole host, the mighty men,” the veterans of the many wars in which David had engaged. V.8. And the children of Ammon came out, namely, from the strong fortifications of their capital city, and put the battle in array at the entering in of the gate, they formed their battle-front immediately before the city; and the Syrians of Zoba, and of Rehob, and Ishtob, and Maacah, their auxiliaries or allies, were by themselves in the field, in the broad Plain of Medeba, the two armies preferring to maneuver separately. V.9. When Joab saw that the front of the battle was against him before and behind, that he could be attacked by the Syrians in the front, by the Ammonites in the rear, he chose of all the choice men of Israel, the best men of his veteran army, and put them in array against the Syrians, whom he evidently considered the more dangerous enemies; v.10. and the rest of the people he delivered in to the hand of Abishai, his brother, that he might put them in array against the children of Ammon. Thus Joab was covered in his rear when he attacked the Syrians and might have support if he needed it. V.11. And he said, if the Syrians be too strong for me, for he intended to attack and defeat the Syrians first, then thou shalt help me; but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. All depended upon the quickness and the force of the double blow as Joab had planned it. V.12. Be of good courage, Abishai himself should be of a fearless temper of mind, and let us play the men for our people, true leaders in warlike action, and for the cities of our God, for the cities of Israel, for which they were contending, were really the gift of God to His people; and the Lord do that which seemeth Him good. “These words express trust in God combined with unconditional submission,” V.13. And Joab drew nigh, and the people that were with him, unto the battle against the Syrians, in a quick and vigorous attack against their well-disciplined forges; and they fled before him, their lines broke at the first onslaught. V.14. And when the children of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fled, then fled they also before Abishai, and entered in to the city, they retired into their fortifications. So Joab returned from the children of Ammon, and came to Jerusalem. His was a brilliant exploit, but not a decisive defeat of the Syrians. The siege of Rabbah he did not undertake, either because the season was too far advanced, or because he did not have the materials for such a siege. Both Joab and Abishai, trusting in the God of Israel, had done their duty, for a just war may well be carried on by believers.
THE FINAL DEFEAT of THE SYRIANS. — V.15. And when the Syrians saw that they were smitten before Israel, in the battle near Rabbah, they gathered themselves together, anxious to wipe out the disgrace of their defeat. V.16. And Hadarezer, the mightiest Syrian king, sent, and brought out the Syrians that were beyond the river, in Mesopotamia: and they came to Helam, in the neighborhood of Hamath: and Shobach, the captain of the host of Hadarezer, went before them. V.17. And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together, all the men that were trained for warfare, and passed over Jordan, and came to Helam. The importance which David attached to this campaign is seen from the fact that he took command in person, for he had lost none of his military ability. And the Syrians set themselves in array against David and fought with him. V.18. And the Syrians fled before Israel, unable to withstand the fury of their attack; 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, he was so severely wounded that he did not survive the battle. V.19. And when all the kings that were servants, vassals, to Hadarezer saw that they were smitten before Israel, they made peace with Israel and served them, became tributary to them together with their former lord. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more. “Nothing is here said of the wars with Damascus and Edom, to which Joab turned in the south, while David was gaining his victories in the north, because the narrative is here occupied with the fortunes of Rabbah only because of their connection with those of Uriah.” (Lange.) Thus Jehovah crowns the work, the battle of those who trust in Him with His blessing and good fortune. The Ammonites experienced what many others have since found out, namely, that those who begin a war without cause will in the end have the greatest misfortune on account of their crime.