BEARD WARS: 2 SAMUEL 10
On May 1, 2013, relations between Bolivia and the United States took a sour turn. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Bolivian president Evo Morales was expelling from the country the U.S. Agency for International Development whom he accused of conspiring against his government. “’Surely to think that you can still manipulate us economically, politically — those times are past,” Morales said at May Day celebrations in La Paz, according to the Bolivian national news agency.”1 Those within the United States responded that the Bolivian people will be the ones hurt by removing this aid organization. Whatever the outcome, the lack of trust between the two governments will have to be overcome to return to better diplomatic relations. This news story is reminiscent of other recent events involving soured relations between countries. In 2009, North Korea ordered weapons inspectors to leave the country.2 This had the effect of ratcheting up war rhetoric and putting the Korean peninsula on high alert ever since. War was the result of Iraq’s expulsion of weapon’s inspectors in 2003.3
In each of the above cases, mistrust led to the expulsion of diplomatic teams, the erosion of diplomatic ties, and in the case of Iraq led to war. The Bible tells a similar story in 2 Samuel 10. In this chapter, the Ammonite King, Hunan listened to lies that caused him to spurn the good efforts of David which led to a war that would prove God’s provision over his people, Israel and be the beginning of King David’s fall into sin.
Chapter 10 of 2 Samuel is a transitional text. It ties the highs of God’s promise into the setting of the low’s of David’s fall. Bill T. Arnold says of chapters 9 and 10, “We have seen that Yahweh’s covenant with David in chapter 7 is the ideological mountain-top of 2 Samuel. Now with these chapters we come to the point at which the book begins its gradual descent into the valley.”4 Kenneth Chafin writes that,“the account of the Ammonites was incorporated into the story of the succession to David’s throne because it provides the setting for the story of David and Bathsheba.”5 While the story does provide the setting to David’s fall, it also provides the antithesis to the previous chapter in which David shows kindness to Saul’s descendent. “The present story serves as a significant foil to the previous episode. In both narratives, David is shown expressing compassion and generosity toward individuals from the region of Gilead whose royal forebears had recently died.”6 The chapter works then as a transition from the heights of David’s reign to the depth of his sin while showcasing the sovereign provision of God to protect his people and keep his covenant.
The chapter begins with the death of the Ammonite king Nahash. The Ammonites were the descendants of Lot by his incest with his younger daughter. The Israelites were commanded in Deuteronomy 2:19 to avoid conflict with them when the Israelites took the promised land. They lived east of the Dead Sea and Jordan. “From Jerusalem to Amman was a journey of about fifty miles.”7 They had been enemies of Israel’s king Saul and several commentators have speculated that Nahash may have shown David kindness when David was a fugitive wanted by Saul.8 Robert Bergen concludes that “Israel had previously defeated Nahash in battle and David had apparently maintained a peace treaty with the Ammonites that recognized Israel as the superior party.”9 After the death of Nahash, David sought to show kindness to the new Ammonite king and son of Nahash, Hanun. “The present chapter stands out in sharp contrast to the account in the preceding one of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth. They are parallel in that each records David’s seeking to return a kindness to a son for the sake of the Father.”10
When the head of state dies, often those countries with close diplomatic ties will send delegates to give condolences and show concern. David did just that. There is no hint of malice or evil intentions in his sending of delegates. The response that the delegation receives is not what David would have expected. Hanun makes several mistakes in this passage but the first mistake is to listen to the lying advice of those around him. The Ammonite commanders or princes begin to put doubt in Hanun’s mind with carefully crafted questions. “The purpose of the two questions asked by the Ammonite leaders is to cause hostility and destroy confidence between David and Hanun.”11
George Buttrick points out the similarity between these questions in 2 Samuel 10:3 and the account of the serpent in Genesis. “Almost word for word with the bad counsel noted above was the lying witness of the serpent in the Garden of Eden concerning God’s attitude toward the covenant agreement with Adam and Eve regarding the forbidden fruit. . . How tragic the consequence of misapprehending God’s commitments!”12 It seems to be the ploy of Satan to convince people that what is good is actually evil. In the garden, Eve believes the lie that God really is trying to keep her from something good. She believes the lie that causes her to mistrust God’s command. This is the lie that Satan still uses today to convince people that what is right is wrong and that what is wrong is right. Hanun in this passage believes the lie and attributes evil to God’s servant, David. Chafin says that “it shows how war can be started over nothing more than an unfounded misunderstanding. What is true of nations applies equally to families and to churches.”13 This is more than a simple misunderstanding however because Hanun chose to believe a lie. This unfounded belief started the Ammonite war just as in Genesis when an unfounded belief started the conflict between man and God.
David had chosen to show kindness to Hanun just as David had chosen to show kindness to Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan in 2 Samuel 9. The response of Hanun could not be more different than Mephibosheth. Gordon Keddie points out that “this contrast is instructive in that it illustrates graphically both the way that God deals with men (i.e., he is slow to anger and rich in mercy) and the differing ways in which men respond to the Lord’s dealings (i.e., acceptance versus rejection).”14 God has chosen to show kindness to man but man often responds like Hanun to David’s kindness.
Far removed from the culture and time of David, Hanun’s next actions almost seem comical. He seizes David’s men, whom he had sent in good faith, and shaves off half of their beard and cuts their garments at the waist leaving them exposed. “Even if they seem on the face of things to be more like practical jokes, the reality is that in terms of of international relations they are tantamount to acts of war, because they deliberately set out both to humiliate another nation before the world and to violate its integrity in some way.”15 In Jewish and Middle Eastern history the actions of Hanun are far from comical. “Hanun’s treatment of the men would have desecrated the men’s bodies, their clothes, and their national mission. . .Except for the performance of certain religious rituals (Lev 14:9; Num 6:18; Ezek 5:1) or to express profound emotional distress (ezra 9:3), Israelite men always wore beards. To remove an Israelite male’s beard forcibly was to force him to violate the Torah (Lev 19:27) and to show contempt for him personally.”1617
When David heard about the humiliation his men suffered at the hands of Hanun, he certainly was angry. He made sure though to take care of his men by having them stay at Jericho until their beards regrew. He saved them the dishonor of returning home humiliated. God shows the same tender care towards his servants. Many of God’s witnesses will be mistreated by the world but God will uphold the honor of his servants. God will respond accordingly to protect his people.
In what is a “duh” moment, Hanun suddenly realizes that what he did made David angry. “The metaphor that they used had to do with odor and means that they realized that what they did ‘smelled.’ Yet rather than attempt to rectify their mistake and make peace, they hire soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zoba to help them face David.”18 This is Hanun’s second mistake. When he realized that David was upset and that the two peoples were on the brink of war, Hanun could have reached out to David. David was known for being a merciful person and perhaps Hanun could have avoided war. Yet, Hanun decided to add injury to insult by heading out to war.
Hanun turns to his neighbors for help. He hires soldiers and mercenaries from the Syrians. “Especially powerful is the kingdom of Zobah (also known as Aram-Zobah), which is the dominant political power of southern Syria during this time. Located to the extreme north of the Promised Land, Zobah probably extended from the northern Beqa Valley in what is modern Lebanon east of the Anti-Lebanon range to the north of Damascus.”19
David in turn sends his great general Joab to defend his kingdom from the Ammonites and their hired help. David did not go out with his army. This one little fact will lead to a great problem for David in the next chapter. It is not completely clear from the text that this particular occasion is the exact one that caused David to fall but it certainly will set the precedent for the next chapter in which David will stay home from battle and fall into adultery and murder. Sometimes by avoiding the hard battles in life, one can put themselves onto the path of temptation. Avoiding the hard responsibilities of Kingship is the one thing that set David on the way of sin.
Even while David is at home, his best general is leading the battle and more importantly God is with is people. Joab first leads his men out to face the Ammonites at the front of the Ammonite city but this put him into a predicament. One half of the Ammonite/Aramean army had come up from behind Joab. Joab faced forces on both sides. “He did not panic in the face of the formidable odds, but strategically deployed his forces so as to allow for flexibility as the battle progressed.”20
Joab deploys half his forces towards the front and places his best soldiers in behind to fight the hired Arameans. If one side of the battle where to go badly, forces from the other side would turn and join in to help. Not only did Joab show himself to be a great strategist but Joab also showed himself to be a man of faith as well. In verse 12, Joab gives three commands to his soldiers. They are to be strong, fight bravely for their people and for the cities of God.21 “Joab’s third statement to the troops suggests that for him this battle was ultimately a religious conflict; it was a tangible expression of Israel’s commitment to the Lord.”22 Joab then puts full trust in God as he says “The Lord will do what is good in his sight.” Bill Arnold says that “effective servants in God’s kingdom will exhaust their resources and energies doing whatever they can, while acknowledging that the fruit of their labors is ultimately in God’s hands. Or as someone has said, saints pray as though the outcome depends solely on God and work as though it depends on them.”23
God is with his people as he always is. Joab and his men rout the hired thugs from Syria and the Ammonites seeing their help flee also retreat into their city. For whatever reason, Joab and his men did not press the advantage and lay siege the Ammonite city but instead returned home. Hanun still did not learn his lesson however but regroups for another battle. Again they bring in hired men to fight. This time David when he hears of these rumors of war, leads his army out across the Jordan to Helam. And once again God is with his people. David and his army kill Shobak the commander of the Aramean army. This brought fear into those hired by the Ammonites and they sought peace with David.
The chapter ends with the Arameans unwilling to help the Ammonites continue their war. “This meant that the consolidated Israelite tribes had subjugated the powerful Aramean states to the east and north, and secured control over the main trade routes that connected Egypt and Arabia with Syria and further afield.”24 Bergen points out that though this small chapter was begun by the evil acts of men it had the effect of bringing about some completion to God’s promise. “David’s apparently unsought victories against the Aramean coalition had the desirable effect of greatly expanding Israel’s influence over the territories north of Damascus, thus helping them fulfill the Torah promise first given to Abraham.”25
This seemingly strange incident brought about by mistrust had the effect of securing territory that was first promised to Abraham. It is here that the passage becomes a part of the larger story of the Old Testament. The books of Samuel “present a theological history of Israel, evaluating Israel’s past in light of the covenant relationship established in Deuteronomy.”26 God had begun a covenant as far back as in Genesis by promising Eve that one of her seeds would crush the serpent (Gen 3:15). God then reestablished that covenant through Noah and then through Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would become a mighty nation that would bless the entire world. God promised Abraham that those who blessed him would be blessed and those who cursed him would be cursed (Gen 12:3). God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled first though the nation of Israel before finding their ultimate completion in Jesus. In 2 Samuel 10, God is true to his promise to curse those who curse Israel.
This chapter is also set inside the covenant promises to David. “The significance of these events must be seen in the context of the flow of redemptive history and not merely in terms of the fleeting political situation in a corner of the Near East 3,000 years ago.”27 In 2 Samuel 7, God pledges to David to make one of his sons reign forever as king. This covenant with David is a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant. Greg Nichols in his book on covenant theology writes concerning the Davidic covenant that “the principle partaker is King David, Gods righteous servant. As with the Noahic servant covenant his royal posterity participates as beneficiaries of this pledge. As with the covenant with his righteous servant Abraham, Christ is its ultimate heir and partaker.”28 This covenant with David is a promise to kingship forever. “God pledged permanent rule to David. He swore to him that his dynasty and kingdom would abide in perpetuity. . . His pledge concludes with David’s ultimate heir, the Christ, who will reign on his throne forever.”29
William Schneidewind says that this covenant pledge to David becomes one of the ruling thoughts and documents for the Israeli people. “The Promise to David was a constitutional text. That is, it was an idea and also a text through which Israel would define itself as a nation, as a people, and as a religion. In this respect, it functioned something like the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence.”30 2 Samuel 10 and the Ammonite War sets itself within the context of the covenant. God had declared that he would be true to his people and even though enemies would rise against God’s people, God protected them.
Yet 2 Samuel 10 leads into 2 Samuel 11 and David’s fall. David who had been the recipient of the great promise would fall into sin. This in turn points to the need for a greater fulfillment of the covenant to David. Someone greater than David would have to come. As time would progress, the nation of Israel would fall into sin and fracture in two. The Northern kingdom of Israel would be defeated and eventually the Southern Kingdom of Judah would too fall into sin and be taken into exile. The temple would be destroyed and the earthly reign of David’s sons would end. “The destruction of these institutions precipitated something of a constitutional crisis during the Babylonian exile.”31 God however was faithful through this time. “He kept his promise in spite of sin. . . He kept the dynasty intact in spite of the sins and plots of evil men and women. Eventually the dynasty came an end when God judged Judah for their sin. This created a tension that he psalmist laments. . . This created expectation and hope. God’s people waited for the day when God would keep his pledge to David.”32 This waiting and hoping would reach its zenith at the beginning of the New Testament when God himself would break into human history and fulfill his covenant. “The New Testament identifies the Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth. It certifies his identity as the son and heir to David. It confirms God’s faithfulness to this pledge. It affirms its fulfillment in the coronation of Christ on the throne of David by his resurrection and session at God’s right hand.”33
Back in 2 Samuel 10, God is shown protecting his people, keeping his promises, and ultimately in spite of the attacks by Hanun and the eventual sin of David preparing the way for the ultimate fulfillment of his covenant promises in Jesus. “Israel’s defeat of Ammon and the Arameans indicates the Lord’s intention to preserve the honour of his name and the integrity of his people. He notes when his disciples are abused. And the same unjust persecution and affliction which achieves in the believer an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”34
2 Samuel is not a passage that receives much attention in sermons. The almost comedic strangeness of Hanun’s actions in humiliating David’s men will seem foreign to most. Yet the passage calls to the reader to respond. God extends his offer of kindness through Jesus who fulfills the covenant promises. Some will respond like Hanun by believing the lies about God. Also like Hanun, “outside of Christ, the godless will sit besieged in their own [city] of the Ammonites, fearful of the pending judgement but unwilling to change their ways.”35 The passage ultimately calls for a response to God’s goodness through the gospel. The gospel demands an answer. George Keddie concludes correctly that “the fall of the Ammonites presages the ultimate victory of the Lord and calls for a response to the gospel now. Now is the day of salvation, the day of the Lord’s kindness, the day in which Jesus Christ calls to you to come to him, that you might have eternal life.”36
1 Emily Alpert, “Bolivia, Angered by Kerry, Says It Is Ejecting U.s. Aid Agency,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2013. http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-bolivia-kerry-ejecting-usaid-20130501,0,2165962.story (accessed May 2, 2013).
2 Malcum Moore, “North Korea Expels Un Nuclear Inspectors,” Telegraph (UK), April 14,
2009. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/5155821/North-Korea-expels-UN-nuclear-inspectors.html (accessed May 2, 2013).
3 Hamza Hendawi, “Weapons Inspectors Leave Iraq,” Associated Press, February 11, 2003.
http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500257_162-544280.html (accessed May 2, 2013).
4 Bill T. Arnold, 1 and 2 Samuel: the Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text– to Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2003), 518.
5 Kenneth L. Chafin, Preacher’s Commentary – Vol. 8- 1,2 Samuel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 295.
6 Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel (USA: Holman Reference, 1996), 357.
7 Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008), 245.
8 Arnold, 520 and Chafin, 295
9 Bergen, 357.
10 Gordon J. Keddie, Triumph of the King (2 Samuel) (Welwyn Commentary Series) (Welwyn Commentaries) (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1993), 82.
11 Roger L. Omanson and John E. Ellington, A Handbook On the First and Second Books of Samuel (New York: United Bible Societies, 2001), 2: 804.
12 George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible (Volume 2) the Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1957), 1095.
13 Chafin, 295.
14 Keddie, 81.
15 Keddie, 81.
16 Bergen, 358.
17 Buttrick, 1095 “Herodotus has an interesting parallel to this incident in the story of King Rhampsinitus’ treasure house. A thief who is trying to recover for burial the exposed body of his dead brother makes the guards drunk, and while they are torpid with wine, he shaves the right side of their faces as an additional insult.”
19 Arnold, 520.
20 Baldwin, 246.
21 Keddie, 87. “The cities of our God is probably a reference to the trans-Jordanic territories of Israel, through which the Arameans must have passed on their way to Ammon, and which might well be lost to Israel should they lose the battle.”
22 Bergen, 360.
24 Baldwin, 246.
25 Bergen, 361.
26 Arnold, 26.
27 Keddie, 87.
28 Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology—a Reformed and Baptistic Perspective On God’s Covenants (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2011).
30 William M. Schniedewind, Society and the Promise to David: the Reception History of 2 Samuel 7:1-17 (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1999), 3. This is a good insight by Schniedewind who mainly uses historical-social critical methods.
31 Schniedewind, 4.
34 Keddie, 87.
35 Keddie, 87. The word cities has been inserted by the author of this paper for the word Rabbahs. Rabbah was the city of the Ammonites that the Ammonite army retreated to after being defeated by Joab.
36 Ibid, 87.