Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
worsted, and made to pay a heavy penalty for their folly. David may be said to have erred in acting as if it were true -
I. THAT KINDNESS IS APPRECIATED BY THE FROWARD. He meant well; his spirit is much to be commended. Gratitude for past kindnesses is a virtue which can hardly be overpraised; it is too often absent from those in whom we have a right to look for it. But the Hebrew king did not reckon on the churlishness of the Ammonite court. The princes of Ammon were men of a low and froward type, and were incapable of crediting a neighbouring power with simple and genuine good will. Hence an act of ingenuous goodness was entirely thrown away; indeed, it acted as a spark to a magazine; it brought about an explosion of national wrath. It is always well to wish to show kindness to any and every one, but it is not always well to put our wish into practice. There is no need to "cast pearls before swine." Only we must take care that this injunction of our Lord does not hinder us from deeds of courageous kindness. Judgment and generosity must go together in the path of good will.
II. THAT THERE IS NECESSARILY WISDOM IN A NUMBER OF COUNSELLORS. (Ver. 3.) Hanun himself was probably inclined to accept David's overture of condolence, but he allowed himself to be overruled by his "princes." It is wise to take counsel with others, but it is to be remembered that there is often truth in the strong and bitter saying, "Twelve wise men in counsel make one fool." Experience shows that where one man sees his way clearly, a number of men will often confuse one another and come to an unsound conclusion. We are not to allow a number of men to override a strong conviction, especially when that conviction is reached after prayer and consultation of God's Word, and when it is on the side of generosity.
III. THAT SUSPICION IS NEARER THE TRUTH THAN CHARITY. Doubtless these princes who ascribed David's action to a sinister desire "to spy out the land" (ver. 3) considered themselves remarkably astute, and believed that they had hit upon the truth. We know that they were utterly wrong. If they had accepted the ostensible object of the mission as the real one, if they had shown the smallest charity in their spirit and credited David with kindliness of heart, they would have been in the right. As it was, their suspicions only led them directly away from the truth. Be charitable, and you will far more often be just than if you are habitually suspicious.
IV. THAT ANYTHING IS GAINED BY INSULT. The shameful insult, amounting to outrage in all international codes, that was perpetrated When "Hanun took David's servants," etc. (ver. 4), wrought no good, and did an immensity of harm to its authors. It led to disastrous defeat in war (ver. 15), and to a strong exasperation of feeling against them on the part of a powerful neighbouring people. Insult never answers. It hardens the heart which indulges it; it rankles in the breast of him against whom it is levelled; and, sooner or later, it brings down retaliation and penalty. Moreover, it provokes Divine condemnation (Matthew 5:22).
V. THAT WE CAN MEASURE THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR TRANSACTIONS WITH OUR FELLOWS. How little did these Ammonites think that this act of bravery and provocation would be followed by the train of bitter consequences which ensued (vers. 6-15; ch. 20:1-3)! How little did the Syrians, when they hired themselves to the Ammonites (vers. 6, 7), imagine that that mercenary militarism of theirs would end in the double overthrow inflicted on them at the hand of David (vers. 14, 16, 18)! We can never see how far our transactions will extend; there may be the largest and longest issues latent in very humble beginnings. Of nothing is this more true than strife (Proverbs 17:14; James 3:5; Matthew 5:25, 26).
VI. THAT PERSISTENCY PREVAILS WHEN WE FIGHT AGAINST GOD. In vain did Syrians draw forth Syrians "beyond the river" (ver. 16) to fight against Israel. The Lord was with David, "preserving him whithersoever he went" (1 Chronicles 18:13), and to persist in an endeavour to overcome him was only to "fight against God" (Acts 5:39). When we are seeking to crush truth, righteousness, piety, Christian earnestness and zeal, we are bound to be beaten. However persistent we may be, we shall surely be overcome in the end. It is hard to kick against the goads of God (Acts 9:5). - C.
I. Consider THE GROUND AND ORIGIN of these feelings. They lie deep in human nature, and are, in fact (as Bishop Butler has so well shown), as much natural social principles, as self-love is a principle of individual action. They are implanted by God, and are akin to his own gracious and benevolent disposition. He is a God of "love and kindness;" "in all our afflictions he is afflicted." Especially is this apparent in redemption. It was compassion that animated the Divine Father in his purpose to save our sinful race. It was love that actuated the incarnation and sacrifice of Immanuel. The dispositions, then, of which we are treating have their deep foundation in the character, the attributes, of our Creator. So far from being signs of human weakness, they are an honour and ornament of humanity.
II. Regard THE OCCASION of the manifestation of these dispositions. Human life is such as to call them forth. No man, no woman, can go through life without abundant opportunity for the display of these qualities. In times of health and prosperity there is comparatively little occasion for sympathy and tender kindness. But times of trouble, sickness, suffering, adversity, bereavement, must come to all men. Such times are the providentially appointed opportunities for kindly sympathy. Then the friend will "show himself friendly." David's heart was touched by the tidings of his friend's death, and he was drawn to show kindness to the living son for the sake of the deceased father. A sense of gratitude naturally and properly gave acuteness to these feelings. David had in former days received kindness from Nahash, and on this account he all the more felt the claim of the fatherless son upon his friendly sympathy.
III. Observe THE OUTWARD FORMS which these feelings assume. These must be determined by circumstances, according to relative age, social position, and character. Sometimes by sympathizing expression of countenance and manner, sometimes by words spoken or written, sometimes by services, sometimes by appropriate and seasonable gifts, we may show our cordial sympathy, and thus rivet the sacred bonds of humanity and of friendship. David on this occasion sent envoys to his friend's son, to condole with him and to assure him of his good feeling and his good wishes. Such action must in the circumstances have proved gratifying and strengthening. Wisdom and tact will discern the most suitable way of acting in the several cases which may arise.
IV. Reflect upon THE VALUE of these dispositions. To underestimate, still more to despise kindness, is the sign of an unjust and an ignoble mind. Shall we leave out of sight, in reckoning life's riches, the precious sympathy, the dear kindness, of our kindred and our friends? These dispositions have a value which only the heats can appraise; they are in themselves precious, and no just mind would barter them for diamonds and gold. They have also a practical and substantial worth. When one friend is taken from us for a season, it is no mean advantage to have another friend, upon whose counsel we may lean, and upon whose sympathy and faithfulness we may count. Human kindness is a poor substitute for Divine compassion, but it may well prove one of its fairest flowers, its richest fruits. - T.
I. THE GOOD MAN IS SENSITIVE TO KINDNESS THAT MAY BE SHOWN HIM. As David cherished the memory of the kindness of Nahash. Some people take things done for them as their rights, and haughtily treat them as even below their rights. Those who are made sensible of the mercy of God to them in redemption, are always made sensitive to human kindnesses, which seem to them shadows of the Divine.
II. THE GOOD MAN IS QUICK TO OBSERVE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SHOWING KINDNESS. Knowing how good it is to receive, he is ever ready to give. The sympathizing word is not restrained. The kindly and helpful deed is not postponed. The good man cherishes kind thoughts, but he will not rest without giving expression to them. The weak man tries to satisfy himself with cherishing good feelings. The large-hearted man is ever keenly observant, and nobly anxious, to find out the best forms and times for pressing good feeling into kindly word and deed. Our Master said, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." Loyalty to truth is fully consistent with Christian courtesy, and with the most tender considerateness for the feelings of others. - R.T.
I. THINGS MAY LOOK WELL WITHOUT BEING WELL, and that therefore -
II. THERE IS ALWAYS NEED OF DUE CAUTION LEST WE SHOULD BE DECEIVED. But it should be carefully shown and impressed -
III. THAT THE SUSPICIOUS HABIT OF MIND EASILY FANCIES THERE IS EVIL IN WHAT WAS MEANT WELL. Then it may be shown that the suspicious habit is only a reflection of a man's own conscious untrustworthiness or badness. We suspect in others what we know there would have been in the act if we ourselves had done it. These mean and low-natured counsellors of Hanun measured David by the measure of their own meanness. They would have taken such an opportunity to spy out a neighbour's land; so they felt sure that David had a deceptive and hostile intention. When we do not go this length, we sometimes assume evil by establishing some general principle, by which we force an explanation to everything; without being prepared to allow exceptions in individual cases. The mischief of the suspicious temper in society and in the Church may be fully illustrated; especially its influence in starting jealousy and creating enmity, and separating "very friends." From the incident connected with the verse show how it may even lead to terrible miseries for many. Press that the suspicious temper grows on a man, dwarfing and crushing out the trustfulness which, toned by wisdom, is man's true dignity and blessedness, and the basis of good social relations. - R.T.
sin of our acts may be forgiven, the consequences of them must be reaped. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." A little time sufficed to make the princes of Hanun aware that sooner or later there would be a terrible reprisal. David felt the indignity keenly. Yet the retribution did not proceed from him, but from those who had so grossly insulted him. This is invariably the case. A dread of retribution and a guilty conscience go together. The inconsiderate act of a moment, it is foreseen, will lead to consequences which must be averted; and so another is resolved on, and then follows a collapse or utter ruin. Thus it was here. The consequence of a momentary impulse are the destruction and ruin of a kingdom and nation. But notice, when the armies stood face to face with each other, Joab's conduct. The Ammonites and the Syrians beset Israel behind and before. Joab was in straits. He evidently saw his danger. In the emergency he does his best, and then casts himself and his cause upon God. He asks not for victory. He does better. He makes the battle not a matter between the Ammonites and Israel, but between the Ammonites and God. He asks not for victory, but simply says, "Let the Lord do that which is good in his sight." This is faith of a high order. Herein he is an example for all believers. In every perplexity, difficulty, danger, or whatever the emergency may be, let us, as Joab did, devise the very best plans, use all means, and, having done all, leave the result calmly and confidently with God, feeling sure that whatever may be the result "all must be well." Such confidence will always sooner or later meet with its reward. And so it was here. Joab's faith and trust in God. was crowned with a great victory. - W.
I. FIGHTING ON THE RIGHT SIDE. "Let the Lord do that which is good in his sight," said Joab. Whether we shall win or not depends on whether or not we have God upon our side. If he be for us, who or what can be successful against us? (Romans 8:31; Psalm 118:6). And he will be with us if we are on the side of truth, righteousness, freedom, love.
II. HAVING A GOOD HEART FOR THE BATTLE. (Ver. 13.) Joab sought to infuse heart into the soldiers he was leading. "Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly." He appealed to their patriotism ("for our people") and to their piety ("for the cities of our God"). He could not have touched two more responsive chords than these. We must summon one another, and call upon ourselves to be courageous in the strife before us, mindful of the many reasons we have to do valiantly and well.
(1) The presence and the promised help of God;
(2) the approval of our own conscience, the enjoyment of self-respect;
(3) the crown of joy we shall win if we are able to save souls from death, or lead many along the path of life;
(4) the urgent want of a sin-stricken world that every brave and true man should do his best. The world sorely needs all the witness we can bear, all the help we can bring.
III. MAKING A WISE DISPOSITION OF OUR FORCES. Joab owed his victory in part to sagacious generalship. He selected the best soldiers of his army to encounter the strongest troops of the enemy, the Syrians (ver. 10), hoping to be able to repel the less formidable Ammonites by the less soldierly of his own forces (ver. 11). Moreover, he took care to have a reserve in case of need, by arranging that whoever should be first victorious, whether his brother or himself, instead of continuing the pursuit of the flying enemy, should come at once to strengthen the hands of the still-struggling division (ver. 12). This was a most wise arrangement. Many a battle has been decided by the presence or absence of a reserve force. At Naseby the battle was lost to the king because the royalist leader pursued too far, and was gained for the Parliament because its leader returned in time from following the retreating enemy to fall on the rear of the wing which was still engaged. In the battle of life, the event may turn on a wise disposition of our forces. We are so to expend our physical powers and our mental resources that we shall direct our strength to the most difficult tasks, leaving the less serious ones to our weakness, and that we shall always have something in reserve for the critical hour. Especially should we see to it that we have friends to fall back upon in the trying ordeal. "Woe unto him that is alone when he falleth!" happy he who, when he is hard pressed, has the voice and grasp of friendship to sustain him! By
(1) excellency and admirableness of character, by
(2) beauty and attractiveness of spirit, by
(3) generosity of heart and hand, let us secure the sympathy and the support of friends in the hour when victory or defeat is trembling in the balances. - C.
I. THE HEART OF THE VALIANT. "Be of good courage." Action needs motive. The heart within is the explanation of the outer life. In modern warfare, science, skill, command of material, are far more important than in ancient times, when the individual qualities of the hero were almost everything in the conduct and results of war. But, if a country is to be defended or delivered, the people and their leaders must have a brave, a dauntless heart.
II. THE CONDUCT OF THE VALIANT. A brave heart must find its expression in brave deeds. "Let us behave ourselves valiantly!" "Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow." It is so in all departments of life. It is not the dreamer or the sage, but the man of resolution and of energy, who conquers in the strife.
III. THE MOTIVE OF THE VALIANT. "For our people, and for the cities of our God." Remark the power of unselfishness to raise the moral quality of actions. It was not with aggressive, ambitious purposes that the Israelites drew the sword -
"But chief were those who not for empire sought, IV. THE CONFIDENCE OF THE VALIANT. "Let the Lord do that which is good in his sight." Here was faith in Providence; a reference of all to the wisdom of the Most High; a resolve to leave the issues in the hands of the God of hosts. Fatalism has sometimes been regarded as favourable to valour; but far more stimulating to courage is confidence in an all-wise Ruler and Disposer of events. The soldier will go bravely to battle, the labourer to work, the martyr to suffering, when the heart is inspired with the assurance of the Divine presence and favour and support. "They that trust in the Lord shall never be ashamed or confounded, world without end." - T.
IV. THE CONFIDENCE OF THE VALIANT. "Let the Lord do that which is good in his sight." Here was faith in Providence; a reference of all to the wisdom of the Most High; a resolve to leave the issues in the hands of the God of hosts. Fatalism has sometimes been regarded as favourable to valour; but far more stimulating to courage is confidence in an all-wise Ruler and Disposer of events. The soldier will go bravely to battle, the labourer to work, the martyr to suffering, when the heart is inspired with the assurance of the Divine presence and favour and support. "They that trust in the Lord shall never be ashamed or confounded, world without end." - T.
form. The principle expressed in the familiar words, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you," finds illustration in every age, and in every sphere of our life. Give the illustrative incident connected with this verse. Joab skilfully planned, as a good general; but he called for a full trust in God, and committal of the matter to him, as became the good man.
I. MAN MUST PLAN AND WORK AS IF EVERYTHING DEPENDED ON HIS SKILL. This is the life-loyalty.
II. MAN MUST PRAY AND WAIT AS IF EVERYTHING DEPENDED ON HIS TRUST. This is the heart-loyalty.
III. GOD GIVES A BLESSING WHICH CROWNS BOTH THE WORKING AND THE WAITING. This is the Divine recognition of the whole man: the acceptance of the offering of a man's whole self, including both the active and the passive sides of his nature. APPLY. Our fellow-man can see only our working, and so our success may seem to be the natural fruitage of our own work. But we know, and God sees, that our successes are the Divine benedictions that rest upon the life-toil and the heart-trust, when these are fully and lovingly blended together. - R.T.