DAVID RESPONDS TO THE AMMONITE PROVOCATION BY AGGRESSIVELY ROUTING THE AMMONITES AND THEIR SYRIAN ALLIES WITH JOAB LEADING THE TROOPS
August Konkel: When David came to power, he negotiated terms of agreement with Nahash that were successful in maintaining peace. As was the case with treaties, this probably included taxation revenues from the Ammonites. Nahash was succeeded by his son Hanun (2 Sam 10:1; 1 Chron 19:2). The death of a king could trigger instability, as treaties were made between individuals. Even though an heir was appointed before the king’s death, the previous agreement could be challenged. David hoped to renew a covenantal agreement (ḥesed) with the ascension of the new king. The overture of David was spurned, not surprising under the circumstances. The messengers were disgraced, with half their beard shaved and half their garment cut off up to the hip. They were treated somewhat as prisoners of war. This humiliation outraged David. The Ammonites then hired mercenary soldiers of the Arameans to help them in hope of relief from Israelite control. This is a classic scenario of how wars begin.
Andrew Hill: The parallel account of the Ammonite war is found in 2 Samuel 10:1–19. The biblical record yields no account of an event or events resulting in a pact of friendship between David and the Ammonite king Nahash (1 Chron. 19:1–2). Selman has suggested the relationship may be “best explained by their common hostility toward Saul” (cf. 1 Sam. 11:1–2; 14:47). The use of the word “kindness” (Heb. ḥesed) has covenant connotations and may imply some sort of informal treaty between David and Nahash. Hanun’s treatment of David’s entourage is interpreted as an annulling of the treaty and an act of belligerence threatening war.
J.A. Thompson: This section contains the account of David’s wars against potential invaders of his territory. It further illustrates the fact that David was a man of war and thus disqualified from building the temple. Nevertheless, just as he was successful in campaigns against the Philistines, Moab, Aram, and Edom, so also in his war against Ammon he was granted victory and success, enjoying Yahweh’s further blessing on his enterprises. The Chronicler devoted considerable space to the Ammonite campaigns. The account is based on 2 Sam 10:1–11:1; 12:26, 30–31 although it omits the disgraceful affair of David’s seduction of Bathsheba. We are not able to place the Ammonite campaign into a chronological perspective although it would seem that David had taken care of Moab and Edom before this so as to obviate any attacks on his southern flank. Perhaps also a secure southern flank would give him 154confidence to undertake his Aramean campaigns. Perhaps Ammon was also well in control before he embarked on his Aramean adventure.
Iain Duguid: David’s leadership is described positively as he desires good relationship with a neighboring nation (19:2) and shows consideration of his shamed messengers (v. 5). Unlike the offensive battles of chapter 18, his military action is presented as initially a limited response to the Ammonites’ provocation (19:8), and his later leadership of “all Israel” in battle is an answer to the threat imposed by a Syrian coalition army (vv. 16–17). The narrative explains how “peace” resulted, with the Syrian states becoming David’s vassals (v. 19).
Mark Boda: Chapter 19 begins with the second of three appearances of the phrase wayehi ‘akhareken (some time after this), which introduces three of the four sections in chapters 18-20 (18:1; 19:1; 20:4; so Japhet 1993:344). Chapters 18 and 19 contain two key contrasts. First, chapter 18 presents David on the offensive, moving out to exert his power, while chapter 19 presents David on the defensive, drawn into war by the arrogant Ammonite and fearful Arameans. Second, while chapter 18 reads more like annals of the exploits of David with shorter descriptions of various battles unrelated to one another, chapter 19 contains a narrative with its own integrity. The original tension is produced by the folly of King Hanun’s rebuff of David’s sympathy at the death of Hanun’s father, the Ammonite king Nahash. This led to a battle between Israel and Ammon that also involved the Arameans.
I. (19:1-5) PROVOCATION — THE HUMILIATION OF DAVID’S PEACEFUL DELEGATION
Frederick Mabie: While David’s military operations in the Transjordanian territories of Edom and Moab may have created concern for the leadership of Ammon with respect to David’s motives, David’s gesture toward the family of Nahash was a sincere gesture of sympathy and kindness. Nevertheless, his act was misinterpreted by the leadership of Ammon as a cover for espionage. The treatment of the Israelite delegation by the Ammonites was intended to cast a maximum shame on David’s men (directed at their manhood) and, by extension, on David and Israel.
A. (:1-2) David’s Peaceful Delegation
1. (:1) Leadership Transition in the Dynasty of Nahash
“Now it came about after this, that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon died, and his son became king in his place.”
John Schultz: The Ammonites were somewhat related to the Israelites. They were the descendants of Lot through an incestuous relationship of one of Lot’s daughters. King Nahash had been kind to David at the time when David was fleeing from Saul. Their friendship may have been based on the fact that Saul was their common enemy.
2. (:2) Leadership Diplomacy on the Part of David
“Then David said, ‘I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, because his father showed kindness to me.’
So David sent messengers to console him concerning his father.
And David’s servants came into the land of the sons of Ammon to Hanun, to console him.”
B. (:3-5) Hanun’s Foolish Act of Humiliation
1. (:3) Poor Counsel
“But the princes of the sons of Ammon said to Hanun,
‘Do you think that David is honoring your father, in that he has sent comforters to you?
Have not his servants come to you to search and to overthrow and to spy out the land?’”
J.A. Thompson: Hanun was suspicious, no doubt because he had witnessed that acts of kindness sometimes were a cover for treachery. His nobles interpreted the visit as a not-too-subtle attempt to explore and to spy out the country with a view to attacking Ammonite territory.
2. (:4) Perilous Contempt
“So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved them,
and cut off their garments in the middle as far as their hips,
and sent them away.”
Pulpit Commentary: To shave them was an affront to their customs, dignity, and religion: to shave them half added mockery; and to cut off half their garments completed the tale of ignominious and contemptuous insult (… Isaiah 20:4). The beard was held almost in reverence by Easterns.
Mark Boda: As Isaiah 7:20 shows, this shaving probably included all forms of hair on the men’s bodies from head to toe; it was a form of official humiliation. By cutting their garments in half, they revealed their private areas, another form of shame (see Isa 47:2-3).
3. (:5) Patient Consolation
“Then certain persons went and told David about the men. And he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly humiliated. And the king said, ‘Stay at Jericho until your beards grow, and then return.’”
II. (19:6-15) RESPONSE: THE ROUT OF THE AMMONITES AND ARAMEANS
Frederick Mabie: A good gesture gone awry (vv.1–5) prompts the forming of an anti-Israel coalition by the Ammonites, who hire Arameans from Beth Rehob and Zobah, mercenaries from Maacah and Tob, as well as chariots and horsemen from Aram Naharaim, Aram Maacah, and Zobah to battle against David (vv.1–15; cf. 2Sa 10:1–14). Joab’s words to his military leaders are reminiscent of the words spoken to Joshua as the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land (cf. Dt 31:7–8; Jos 1:5–9). To be strong, biblically speaking, is to be immovably committed to obedience and trust in God.
Moreover, Joab reminds his warriors that their efforts ultimately protect their kin and people back home (“our people”) as well as God’s ultimate ownership of the land and cities (cf. Lev 25:23), especially Jerusalem (cf. Ps 48; cf. Selman, 195). Finally, note that Joab’s exhortation is rooted in the notion of God’s sovereign rule and ultimate goodness (“The LORD will do what is good in his sight”). While the Ammonites and Arameans retreat, two more series of battles (vv.16–19 and 1Ch 20:1–3) will be needed before the Ammonites are completely subdued.
A. (:6-7) Ammonites Solicit Mercenaries from Mesopotamia to Join Alliance
“When the sons of Ammon saw that they had made themselves odious to David, Hanun and the sons of Ammon sent 1,000 talents of silver to hire for themselves chariots and horsemen from Mesopotamia, from Aram-maacah, and from Zobah. 7 So they hired for themselves 32,000 chariots, and the king of Maacah and his people, who came and camped before Medeba. And the sons of Ammon gathered together from their cities and came to battle.”
Martin Selman: The Ammonites realized that they had literally ‘made themselves stink’ (v. 6), a word used for decaying animal or vegetable matter (e.g. Exod. 7:18, 8:10; 16:20; Isa. 50:2) and applied metaphorically where relationships had totally collapsed (e.g. Gen 34:30; I Sam. 27:12; 2 Sam. 16:21). They therefore formed a temporary coalition with various Aramean states, most, if not all, subject to Hadadezer of Zobah (cf. 18:3-6), and hired Aramean troops.
August Konkel: The stakes of this battle were very high. The forces involved included all the areas to the east and north of Israel, making it potentially vulnerable to attacks on all sides, or to their being subject to Aramean and Ammonite powers. In summary form the Chronicler has identified the forces involved so he can focus on the strategic victory that God granted David in giving him rest from his enemies all round (1 Chron 19:9). This battle was on behalf of the cities of our God (v. 13). All the territories, including the Arnon and Jabbok Rivers to the south and north respectively, were regarded as Israelite.
Andrew Hill: The Ammonite preparations for war consist largely of hiring Aramean mercenaries (19:6–7). The soldiers are recruited from Aram Naharaim (a region north of the Euphrates River bounded by the Habur River), Aram Maacah (a small kingdom north and east of Lake Huleh), and Zobah. The thousand talents of silver (19:6) translates into more than thirty-seven tons of the precious metal. This incredible sum speaks to the desperation of the Ammonites (although this may be another case where the number “1000” must be examined carefully). The idiom “to become a stench in [someone’s] nostrils” (19:6) means to “make oneself repulsive” or “to incur the wrath” of someone (so NJPSV).
B. (:8-9) Armies Engage in Battle
“When David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army, the mighty men. 9 And the sons of Ammon came out and drew up in battle array at the entrance of the city, and the kings who had come were by themselves in the field.”
C. (:10-13) Arrangement of Troops for Tactical Advantage by Joab
1. (:10-12) Cooperation and Mutual Support of Divided Forces
a. (:10-11) Troop Deployment
1) (:10) Led by Joab and Arrayed against the Arameans
“Now when Joab saw that the battle was set against him in front and in the rear, he selected from all the choice men of Israel and they arrayed themselves against the Arameans.”
Iain Duguid: Joab responded to this unexpected maneuver by dividing his own men, giving priority to attacking the Syrians in open country. Did he reason that, being mercenaries, they would be less committed, or was it his “best men” who could face the larger force with their chariots? Whatever his reasoning, he ensured that each group would be ready to “help” the other (yashaʻ).
2) (:11) Led by Abshai and Arrayed against the Ammonites
“But the remainder of the people he placed in the hand of Abshai his brother; and they arrayed themselves against the sons of Ammon.”
Andrew Hill: David’s response is swift and thorough: the mobilization of the entire Israelite army against the Ammonites under the command of Joab (19:8). The Arameans and the Ammonites are deployed in such a way that Joab is compelled to wage the war on two fronts: the Arameans in the open field (near Medeba in Moab south of Rabbah, cf. 19:7) and the Ammonites stationed just outside the city gates (presumably the capital of Rabbah, cf. 20:1).
b. (:12) Teamwork Dependence
“And he said, ‘If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the sons of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will help you.’”
Ron Daniel: This was an inspired plan. Each army was outnumbered, and would be forced to rely upon God for the victory. But each was also to keep an eye on his brother, to offer support if it was needed. How similar is this to our lives as Christians? We fight the good fight, and must rely upon God to win. However, there are times when we are being defeated, and need a brother to come and offer his support. There are other times when we see a brother beginning to stumble and be defeated. It is our obligation to step in and raise him up again, so that the battle will be won.
2. (:13) Charge to the Troops
“Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what is good in His sight.”
Andrew Hill: Joab concludes his precombat exhortation with a prayer, committing the outcome of the battle to the sovereignty and goodness of God (19:13b). Expressions of such trust in the providence of Yahweh are an important feature of the Chronicler’s theology of hope for postexilic Judah (cf. 2 Chron. 19:11; 20:15; 32:7–8).
J.A. Thompson: Joab prepared to fight a battle on two fronts. He decided to fight on the front against the Arameans, and he needed someone he could trust to command the troops at the other front, against Ammon. His brother Abishai was the man. He realized that a smaller force could fight a two-front battle to its own advantage if both commanders kept their heads and supplied reinforcements to the other front as needed. He also committed the outcome to God. The enemy was outdone by superior leadership in the Israelite army and the purpose of God.
Martin Selman: Joab was not known as a “religious person.” His immoral behavior at some instances indicates this. His pious remarks may have been more intended to install trust in God among his troops than an expression of his own faith. Joab must have realized that people who trusted in a “superior power” are better fighters than those who trust in their own strength. A more modern example is General Patton’s prayer at the invasion of Nazi Germany during WWII. The opening words of his prayer in front of his troops, “Lord, this is Patton speaking …” have become famous.
D. (:14-15) Attacking Rout
1. (:14-15a) Enemies Flee
a. (:14) Arameans Flee
“So Joab and the people who were with him drew near to the battle against the Arameans, and they fled before him.”
b. (:15a) Ammonites Flee
“When the sons of Ammon saw that the Arameans fled, they also fled before Abshai his brother, and entered the city.”
2. (:15b) Entrance to Jerusalem by Joab
“Then Joab came to Jerusalem.”
III. (19:16-19) DEFEAT OF THE ARAMEAN COALITION
Frederick Mabie: After an initial setback at Medeba (vv.6–15), the Arameans regather their forces and send for help from other Arameans “beyond the River” in the territory of Hadadezer but lose again at Helam (in the Land of Tob) against the forces of “all Israel” rallied by David. Following this defeat the people of Hadadezer seek peace with David and refuse to help Ammon any longer, further solidifying David’s position in northern Aram and Transjordan (v.19; cf. 2Sa 10:15–16). Such respect and submission from other nations is celebrated in Hebrew poetry such as Psalm 18 (= 2Sa 22, esp. vv.44–50//Ps 18:43–49 [18:44–50]). While the Arameans flee and become subject to David (v.19), one final battle is needed against the Ammonites (see 20:1–3).
Andrew Hill: Joab’s defeat of the coalition of Ammonite and Aramean armies is not decisive. Interestingly, Japhet notes that what was originally a mercenary enterprise for the Arameans has now become “the subject of Aramaean self-interest.” The Aramean troops sent from beyond the Euphrates River (19:16) are summoned to wage war with Israel in an attempt to check David’s growing military strength. The reinforcements are sent by King Hadadezer of Zobah, both to restore national pride and to protect territorial boundaries from Israelite encroachment (this event represents a previous encounter between David and Hadadezer prior to Hadadezer’s eventual capitulation, cf. 18:3–6).
The battle is fought at Helam, perhaps the site of Alma some thirty-five miles east of the Sea of Galilee (cf. 2 Sam. 10:16–17). The result of the battle is similar to the previous engagement led by Joab (1 Chron. 19:14–15). David is victorious as the Arameans again are routed and flee the battlefield (19:17–18). Shophach (or Shobach, 2 Sam. 10:16), Hadadezer’s general, is killed in battle (1 Chron. 19:18).
A. (:16) Arameans Regroup and Recruit More Troops
“When the Arameans saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they sent messengers, and brought out the Arameans who were beyond the River, with Shophach the commander of the army of Hadadezer leading them.”
B. (:17-18) Arameans Routed
“When it was told David, he gathered all Israel together and crossed the Jordan, and came upon them and drew up in formation against them. And when David drew up in battle array against the Arameans, they fought against him. 18 And the Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed of the Arameans 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death Shophach the commander of the army.”
C. (:19) Arameans Refrain from Future Aggression
“So when the servants of Hadadezer saw that they were defeated by Israel, they made peace with David and served him. Thus the Arameans were not willing to help the sons of Ammon anymore.”
IV. (20:1-3) DEFEAT OF THE AMMONITES AT RABBAH
A. (:1) Successful Campaign Led by Joab
1. Joab Leads the Troops
“Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that Joab led out the army and ravaged the land of the sons of Ammon, and came and besieged Rabbah.”
2. David Stays behind in Jerusalem
“But David stayed at Jerusalem.”
Ron Daniel: Winter was not an ideal time for warfare. Rain-soaked land made chariots worthless and cold temperatures could be deadly to soldiers. Thus, winters were spent strategizing and preparing for the wars in the springtime.
But one spring, King David decided not to go out to battle with his men as he’d done every year prior. He decided to stay at home. Yo-AWB could lead the army to victory at Rab-BAW.
Why did David stay that spring? Maybe he thought that at the age of 50, he deserved a break. Maybe he was just tired, or thought it was time to start taking it easy. Whatever his motivation, it was a terrible decision. You see, it was that spring at home that he fell into adultery, lies, and ultimately murder because of his desire for a neighbor lady named Bathsheba (2Sam. 11).
3. Joab Conquests Rabbah
“And Joab struck Rabbah and overthrew it.”
Ron Daniel: Loyalty of Joab
Although David is beginning to slip as a righteous leader, Yo-AWB doesn’t take the opportunity to rebel against him. He remains committed to him, even to the point of bringing David up for the final victory. We read in 2Samuel 12 that once the city was nearly defeated, Yo-AWB was actually concerned that if he led the final capture of it, then he would be taking the glory away from David (2Sam. 12:28).
So he sent for David to come and at least make a ceremonial showing that this was his victory.
This level of loyalty and submission is practically unheard of today. Oh, it’s not difficult to find a man who claims loyalty. But as soon as you slip up, look out, because odds are he’s going to use your back as a stepladder to move himself up. As soon as he sees that he can take the city without you, he will.
God describes men like this in Hosea, saying,
Hos. 6:4 …your loyalty is like a morning cloud and like the dew which goes away early.
B. (:2a) Substantial Crown Placed on David’s Head
“And David took the crown of their king from his head, and he found it to weigh a talent of gold, and there was a precious stone in it; and it was placed on David’s head.”
Rich Cathers: Approximately 75 pounds of gold. One heavy crown!
August Konkel: The Hebrew (mlkm) should be read as the name of their god Milkom, rather than their king (cf. 1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33). As the crown of the deity, its weight is reasonable. A talent was about the weight that a man could carry, around seventy pounds. The crown was taken from the head of the idol, but the narrator relates it as if it were from the head of the god himself. The biblical writers delight in satire on the religions of idols.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown: Joab could have added points to his own honor by capturing the city, but instead, he invited David to lead the final assault in order to receive the credit. Joab may have felt that David needed a boost of morale after the affair with Bathsheba. But this we are not told.
C. (:2b-3a) Successful Campaign Capped by Capturing the Spoil and Cutting the Captives
1. (:2b) Capturing the Spoil
“And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount.”
2. (:3a) Cutting the Captives
“And he brought out the people who were in it, and cut them with saws and with sharp instruments and with axes.”
Hugh Williamson: “set them to labour and axes” — both emendations (cf. 2 Sam. 12:31) are undoubtedly correct and are widely accepted.
J.A. Thompson: The citizens of Rabbah were brought out and consigned to forced labor with saws, iron picks, and axes (cf. 2 Sam 12:31). One more kingdom was thus added to David’s jurisdiction, and his prestige was further enhanced.
Rich Cathers: But others (me included) tend to think it means what it says in the King James and NASB versions, that David slaughtered these prisoners.
(:3b) Epilogue – Summary of Successful Ammonite Campaign
“And thus David did to all the cities of the sons of Ammon.
Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.”
Andrew Hill: The report of the Israelite victory over the Ammonites ends abruptly, with David and his army returning to Jerusalem (20:3c). Clearly David takes his full revenge against King Hanun and the Ammonites for the humiliating treatment of his ambassadors. Nothing is said of the fate of the Ammonite king or the political status of Ammon after the war. Japhet has noted, however, that among Solomon’s queens is Naamah (an Ammonite and Rehoboam’s mother, 1 Kings 14:21, 31)—“a matter which no doubt should be interpreted politically.”
Iain Duguid: The example of God’s grace, continuing to give victory with much spoil to David after his horrific sins, would have spoken powerfully to postexilic hearers who were only too conscious of the nation’s sin that had led to the destruction of Jerusalem and to exile.