Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
III. David's Reign in Its Decline - 2 Samuel 10-20
In the first half of David's reign he had strengthened and fortified the kingdom of Israel, both within and without, and exalted the covenant nation into a kingdom of God, before which all its enemies were obliged to bow; but in the second half a series of heavy judgments fell upon him and his house, which cast a deep shadow upon the glory of his reign. David had brought these judgments upon himself by his grievous sin with Bathsheba. The success of all his undertakings, and the strength of his government, which increased year by year, had made him feel so secure, that in the excitement of undisturbed prosperity, he allowed himself to be carried away by evil lusts, so as to stain his soul not only with adultery, but also with murder, and fell all the deeper because of the height to which his God had exalted him. This took place during the war with the Ammonites and Syrians, when Joab was besieging the capital of the Ammonites, after the defeat and subjugation of the Syrians (2 Samuel 10), and when David had remained behind in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1). For this double sin, the adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, the Lord announced as a punishment, that the sword should not depart from David's house, and that his wives should be openly violated; and notwithstanding the sincere sorrow and repentance of the king, when brought to see his sin, He not only caused the fruit of his sin, the child that was born of Bathsheba, to die (2 Samuel 12), but very soon afterwards allowed the threatened judgments to fall upon his house, inasmuch as Amnon, his first-born son, violated his half-sister Thamar, and was murdered in consequence by her own brother Absalom (2 Samuel 13), whereupon Absalom fled to his father-in-law at Geshur; and when at length the king restored him to favour (2 Samuel 14), he set on foot a rebellion, which nearly cost David his life and throne (2 Samuel 15-17:23). And even after Absalom himself was dead (2 Samuel 17:24-19:1), and David had been reinstated in his kingdom (2 Samuel 19:2-40), there arose the conspiracy set on foot by the Benjaminite Sheba, which was only stopped by the death of the chief conspirator, in the fortified city of Abel-Beth-Maachah (2 Samuel 19:41-20:26).
The period and duration of these divine visitations are not stated; and all that we are able to determine from the different data as to time, given in 2 Samuel 13:23, 2 Samuel 13:38; 2 Samuel 14:28; 2 Samuel 15:7, when taken in connection with the supposed ages of the sons of David, is that Amnon's sin in the case of Thamar did not take place earlier than the twentieth year of David's reign, and the Absalom's rebellion broke out seven or eight years later. Consequently the assumption cannot be far from the truth, that the events described in this section occupied the whole time between the twentieth and thirtieth years of David's reign. We are prevented from placing it earlier, by the fact that Amnon was not born till after David became king over Judah, and therefore was probably about twenty years old when he violated his half-sister Thamar. At the same time it cannot be placed later than this, because Solomon was not born till about two years after David's adultery; and he must have been eighteen or twenty years old when he ascended the throne on the death of his father, after a reign of forty years and a half, since, according to 1 Kings 14:21, compared with 1 Kings 11:42, 1 Kings 11:43, he had a son a year old, named Rehoboam, at the time when he began to reign.
This war, the occasion and early success of which are described in the present chapter and the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 19, was the fiercest struggle, and, so far as the Israelitish kingdom of God was concerned, the most dangerous, that it ever had to sustain during the reign of David. The amount of distress which fell upon Israel in consequence of this war, and still more because the first successful battles with the Syrians of the south were no sooner over than the Edomites invaded the land, and went about plundering and devastating, in the hope of destroying the people of God, is shown very clearly in the two psalms which date from this period (the 44th and 60th), in which a pious Korahite and David himself pour out their lamentations before the Lord on account of the distress of their nation, and pray for His assistance; and not less clearly in Psalm 68, in which David foretels the victory of the God of Israel over all the hostile powers of the world.
And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.Occasion of the war with the Ammonites. - 2 Samuel 10:1. On the expression "it came to pass after this," see the remarks on 2 Samuel 8:1. When Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead, David thought that he would show him the same kindness that Nahash had formerly shown to him. We are not told in what the love shown to David by Nahash consisted. He had most likely rendered him some assistance during the time of his flight from Saul. Nahash was no doubt the king of the Ammonites mentioned in 1 Samuel 11:1, whom Saul had smitten at Jabesh. David therefore sent an embassy to Hanun, "to comfort him for his father," i.e., to show his sympathy with him on the occasion of his father's death, and at the same time to congratulate him upon his ascent of the throne.
Then said David, I will shew kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father shewed kindness unto me. And David sent to comfort him by the hand of his servants for his father. And David's servants came into the land of the children of Ammon.
And the princes of the children of Ammon said unto Hanun their lord, Thinkest thou that David doth honour 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?On the arrival of David's ambassadors, however, the chiefs of the Ammonites said to Hanun their lord, "Doth David indeed honour thy father in thine eyes (i.e., dost thou really suppose that David intends to do honour to thy father), because he has sent comforters to thee? Has David not sent his servants to thee with the intention of exploring and spying out the town, and (then) destroying it?" The first question is introduced with ה, because a negative answer is expected; the second with הלוא, because it requires an affirmative reply. העיר is the capital Rabbah, a strongly fortified city (see at 2 Samuel 11:1). The suspicion expressed by the chiefs was founded upon national hatred and enmity, which had probably been increased by David's treatment of Moab, as the subjugation and severe punishment of the Moabites (2 Samuel 8:2) had certainly taken place a short time before. King Hanun therefore gave credence to the suspicions expressed as to David's honourable intentions, and had his ambassadors treated in the most insulting manner.
Wherefore Hanun took David's servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away.He had the half of their beard shaved off, and their clothes cut off up to the seat, and in this state he sent them away. "The half of the beard," i.e., the beard on one side. With the value universally set upon the beard by the Hebrews and other oriental nations, as being a man's greatest ornament,
(Note: "Cutting off a persons' beard is regarded by the Arabs as an indignity quite equal to flogging and branding among ourselves. Many would rather die than have their beard shaved off" (Arvieux, Sitten der Beduinen-araber). Niebuhr relates a similar occurrence as having taken place in modern times. In the years 1764, a pretender to the Persian throne, named Kerim Khan, sent ambassadors to Mir Mahenna, the prince of Bendervigk, on the Persian Gulf, to demand tribute from him; but he in return cut off the ambassadors' beards. Kerim Khan was so enraged at this, that he went the next year with a large army to make war upon this prince, and took the city, and almost the whole of his territory, to avenge the insult.)
the cutting off of one-half of it was the greatest insult that could have been offered to the ambassadors, and through them to David their king. The insult was still further increased by cutting off the long dress which covered the body; so that as the ancient Israelites wore no trousers, the lower half of the body was quite exposed. מדויהם .deso, from מדוּ or מדוה, the long robe reaching down to the feet, from the root מדה equals מדד, to stretch, spread out, or measure.
When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.When David received information of the insults that had been heaped upon his ambassadors, he sent messengers to meet them, and direct them to remain in Jericho until their beard had grown again, that he might not have to set his eyes upon the insult they had received.
And when the children of Ammon saw that they stank before David, the children of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Bethrehob, and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand footmen, and of king Maacah a thousand men, and of Ishtob twelve thousand men.When the Ammonites saw that they had made themselves stinking before David, and therefore that David would avenge the insult offered to the people of Israel in the persons of their ambassadors, they looked round for help among the powerful kings of Syria. They hired as auxiliaries (with a thousand talents of silver, i.e., nearly half a million of pounds sterling, according to 1 Chronicles 19:6) twenty thousand foot from Aram-Beth-Rehob and Aram-Zoba, and one thousand men from the king of Maacah, and twelve thousand troops from the men of Tob. Aram-Beth-Rehob was the Aramaean kingdom, the capital of which was Beth-rehob. This Beth-rehob, which is simply called Rehob in v. 8, is in all probability the city of this name mentioned in Numbers 13:21 and Judges 18:28, which lay to the south of Hamath, but the exact position of which has not yet been discovered: for the castle of Hunin, in the ruins of which Robinson imagines that he has found Beth-rehob Bibl. Researches, p. 370), is to the south-west of Tell el Kadi, the ancient Laish-Dan, the northern boundary of the Israelitish territory; so that the capital of this Aramaean kingdom would have been within the limits of the land of Israel, - a thing which is inconceivable. Aram-Naharaim is also mentioned in the corresponding text of the Chronicles, and for that reason many have identified Beth-Rehob with Rehoboth, on "the river" (Euphrates), mentioned in Genesis 36:37. But this association is precluded by the fact, that in all probability the latter place is to be found in Rachabe, which is upon the Euphrates and not more than half a mile from the river (see Ritter, Erdk. xv. p. 128), so that from its situation it can hardly have been the capital of a separate Aramaean kingdom, as the government of the king of Zoba extended, according to 2 Samuel 10:16, beyond the Euphrates into Mesopotamia. On Aram-Zoba, see at 2 Samuel 8:3; and for Maacah at Deuteronomy 3:14. אישׁ־טוב is not to be taken as one word and rendered as a proper name, Ish-Tob, as it has been by most of the earlier translators; but אישׁ is a common noun used in a collective sense (as it frequently is in the expression ישׂראל אישׁ), "the men of Tob." Tob was the district between Syria and Ammonitis, where Jephthah had formerly taken refuge (Judges 11:5). The corresponding text of the Chronicles (1 Chronicles 19:6-7) is fuller, and differs in several respects from the text before us. According to the Chronicles, Hanun sent a thousand talents of silver to hire chariots and horsemen from Aram-Naharaim, Aram-maacah, and Zobah. With this the Ammonites hired thirty-two thousand receb (i.e., chariots and horsemen: see at 2 Samuel 8:4), and the king of Maacah and his people. They came and encamped before Medeba, the present ruin of Medaba, two hours to the south-east of Heshbon, in the tribe of Reuben (see at Numbers 21:30, compared with Joshua 13:16), and the Ammonites gathered together out of their cities, and went to the war. The Chronicles therefore mention Aram-Naharaim (i.e., Mesopotamia) as hired by the Ammonites instead of Aram-Beth-Rehob, and leave out the men of Tob. The first of these differences is not to be explained, as Bertheau suggests, on the supposition that the author of the Chronicles took Beth-rehob to be the same city as Rehoboth of the river in Genesis 36:37, and therefore substituted the well-known "Aram of the two rivers" as an interpretation of the rarer name Beth-rehob, though hardly on good ground. For this conjecture does not help to explain the omission of "the men of Tob." It is a much simpler explanation, that the writer of the Chronicles omitted Beth-rehob and Tob as being names that were less known, this being the only place in the Old Testament in which they occur as separate kingdoms, and simply mentioned the kingdoms of Maacah and Zoba, which frequently occur; and that he included "Aram of the two rivers," and placed it at the head, because the Syrians obtained succour from Mesopotamia after their first defeat. The account in the Chronicles agrees with the one before us, so far as the number of auxiliary troops is concerned. For twenty thousand men of Zoba and twelve thousand of Tob amount to thirty-two thousand, besides the people of the king of Maacah, who sent a thousand men according to the text of Samuel. But according to that of the Chronicles, the auxiliary troops consisted of chariots and horsemen, whereas only foot-soldiers are mentioned in our text, which appears all the more remarkable, because according to 2 Samuel 8:4, and 1 Chronicles 18:4, the king of Zoba fought against David with a considerable force of chariots and horsemen. It is very evident, therefore, that there are copyists' errors in both texts; for the troops of the Syrians did not consist of infantry only, nor of chariots and horsemen alone, but of foot-soldiers, cavalry, and war-chariots, as we may see very clearly not only from the passages already quoted in 2 Samuel 8:4 and 1 Chronicles 18:4, but also from the conclusion to the account before us. According to 2 Samuel 10:18 of this chapter, when Hadarezer had reinforced his army with auxiliaries from Mesopotamia, after losing the first battle, David smote seven hundred receb and forty thousand parashim of Aram, whilst according to the parallel text (1 Chronicles 19:18) he smote seven thousand receb and forty thousand foot. Now, apart from the difference between seven thousand and seven hundred in the case of the receb, which is to be interpreted in the same way as a similar difference in 2 Samuel 8:4, the Chronicles do not mention any parashim at all in 2 Samuel 10:18, but foot-soldiers only, whereas in 2 Samuel 10:7 they mention only receb and parashim; and, on the other hand, there are no foot-soldiers given in 2 Samuel 10:18 of the text before us, but riders only, whereas in 2 Samuel 10:6 there are none but foot-soldiers mentioned, without any riders at all. It is evident that in both engagements the Syrians fought with all three (infantry, cavalry, and chariots), so that in both of them David smote chariots, horsemen, and foot.
And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men.When David heard of these preparations and the advance of the Syrians into the land, he sent Joab and his brave army against the foe. הגּבּורים (the mighty men) is in apposition to כּל־הצּבא (all the host): the whole army, namely the heroes or mighty men, i.e., the brave troops that were well used to war. It is quite arbitrary on the part of Thenius to supply vav before הגּבּורים; for, as Bertheau has observed, as never find a distinction drawn between the gibborim and the whole army.
And the children of Ammon came out, and put the battle in array at the entering in of the gate: and the Syrians of Zoba, and of Rehob, and Ishtob, and Maacah, were by themselves in the field.On the other hand, the Ammonites came out (from the capital, where they had assembled), and put themselves in battle array before the gate. The Syrians were alone on the field, i.e., they had taken up a separate position on the broad treeless table-land (cf. Joshua 13:16) by Medeba. Medeba lay about four geographical miles in a straight line to the south-west of Rabbath-Ammon.
When Joab saw that the front of the battle was against him before and behind, he chose of all the choice men of Israel, and put them in array against the Syrians:When Joab saw that "the front of the war was (directed) against him both before and behind," he selected a picked body out of the Israelitish army, and posted them (the picked men) against the children of Aram (i.e., the Syrians). The rest of the men he gave to his brother Abishai, and stationed them against the Ammonites. "The front of the battle:" i.e., the face or front of the hostile army, when placed in battle array. Joab had this in front and behind, as the Ammonites had taken their stand before Rabbah at the back of the Israelitish army, and the Syrians by Medeba in their front, so that Joab was attacked both before and behind. This compelled him to divide his army. He chose out, i.e., made a selection. Instead of בישׂראל בּחוּרי (the picked men in Israel) the Chronicles have בישׂראל בּחוּר (the men in Israel), the singular בּחוּר being more commonly employed than the plural to denote the men of war. The בּ before ישׂראל is not to be regarded as suspicious, although the early translators have not expressed it, and the Masoretes wanted to expunge it. "The choice of Israel" signifies those who were selected in Israel for the war, i.e., the Israelitish soldiers. Joab himself took up his station opposite to the Syrians with a picked body of men, because they were the stronger force of the two. He then made this arrangement with Abishai (2 Samuel 10:11): "If Aram becomes stronger than I((i.e., overpowers me), come to my help; and if the Ammonites should overpower thee, I will go to help thee." Consequently the attack was not to be made upon both the armies of the enemy simultaneously; but Joab proposed to attack the Aramaeans (Syrians) first (cf. 2 Samuel 10:13), and Abishai was merely to keep the Ammonites in check, though there was still a possibility that the two bodies of the enemy might make their attack simultaneously.
And the rest of the people he delivered into the hand of Abishai his brother, that he might put them in array against the children of Ammon.
And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee.
Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth him good."Be firm, and let us be firm (strong) for our people, and for the towns of our God: and Jehovah will do what seemeth Him good." Joab calls the towns of Israel the towns of our God, inasmuch as the God of Israel had given the land to the people of Israel, as being His own property. Joab and Abishai were about to fight, in order that Jehovah's possessions might not fall into the hands of the heathen, and become subject to their gods.
And Joab drew nigh, and the people that were with him, unto the battle against the Syrians: and they fled before him.Joab then advanced with his army to battle against Aram, and "they fled before him." - 2 Samuel 10:14. When the Ammonites perceived this, they also fled before Abishai, and drew back into the city (Rabbah); whereupon Joab returned to Jerusalem, probably because as we may infer from 2 Samuel 11:1, it was too late in the year for the siege and capture of Rabbah.
And when the children of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fled, then fled they also before Abishai, and entered into the city. So Joab returned from the children of Ammon, and came to Jerusalem.
And when the Syrians saw that they were smitten before Israel, they gathered themselves together.The Aramaeans, however, gathered together again after the first defeat, to continue the war; and Hadarezer, the most powerful of the Aramaean kings, sent messengers to Mesopotamia, and summoned it to war. It is very evident, not only from the words "he sent and brought out Aram, which was beyond the river," but also from the fact that Shobach, Hadarezer's general (Shophach according to the Chronicles), was at the head of the Mesopotamian troops, that the Mesopotamian troops who were summoned to help were under the supreme ruler of Hadarezer. This is placed beyond all possible doubt by 2 Samuel 10:19, where the kings who had fought with Hadarezer against the Israelites are called his "servants," or vassals. חילם ויּבאוּ (2 Samuel 10:16) might be translated "and their army came;" but when we compare with this the חלאמה ויּבא of 2 Samuel 10:17, we are compelled to render it as a proper name (as in the Septuagint, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic) - "and they (the men from beyond the Euphrates) came (marched) to Helam" - and to take חילם as a contracted form of חלאם. The situation of this place has not yet been discovered. Ewald supposes it to be connected with the Syrian town Alamatha upon the Euphrates (Ptol. Geogr. v. 15); but this is not to be thought of for a moment, if only because it cannot be supposed that the Aramaeans would fall back to the Euphrates, and wait for the Israelites to follow them thither before they gave them battle; and also on account of 2 Samuel 8:4 and 1 Chronicles 18:3, from which it is evident that Helam is to be sought for somewhere in the neighbourhood of Hamath. For חלאמה ויּבא we find אליהם ויּבא, "David came to them" (The Aramaeans), in the Chronicles: so that the author of the Chronicles has omitted the unknown place, unless indeed אליהם has been written by mistake for חלאם.
And Hadarezer sent, and brought out the Syrians that were beyond the river: and they came to Helam; and Shobach the captain of the host of Hadarezer went before them.
And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together, and passed over Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Syrians set themselves in array against David, and fought with him.David went with all Israel (all the Israelitish forces) against the foe, and smote the Aramaeans at Helam, where they had placed themselves in battle array, slaying seven hundred charioteers and forty thousand horsemen, and so smiting (or wounding) the general Shobach that he died there, i.e., that he did not survive the battle (Thenius). With regard to the different account given in the corresponding text of the Chronicles as to the number of the slain, see the remarks on 2 Samuel 10:6. It is a fact worthy of notice, that the number of men who fell in the battle (seven hundred receb and forty thousand parashim, according to the text before us; seven thousand receb and forty thousand ragli, according to the Chronicles) agrees quite as well with the number of Aramaeans reported to be taken prisoners or slain, according to 2 Samuel 8:4 and 1 Chronicles 18:4-5 (viz., seventeen hundred parashim or a thousand receb, and seven thousand parashim and twenty thousand ragli of Aram-Zoba, and twenty-two thousand of Aram-Damascus), as could possibly be expected considering the notorious corruption in the numbers as we possess them; so that there is scarcely any doubt that the number of Aramaeans who fell was the same in both accounts (2 Samuel 8 and 10), and that in the chapter before us we have simply a more circumstantial account of the very same war of which the result is given in 2 Samuel 8 and 1 Chronicles 13:1-14.
And the Syrians fled before Israel; 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.
And when all the kings that were servants to Hadarezer saw that they were smitten before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more."And when all the kings, the vassals of Hadarezer, saw that they were smitten before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and became subject to them; and Aram was afraid to render any further help to the Ammonites." It might appear from the first half of this verse, that it was only the vassals of Hadarezer who made peace with Israel, and became subject to it, and that Hadarezer himself did not. But the last clause, "and the Aramaeans were afraid," etc., shows very clearly that Hadarezer also made peace with the Israelites, and submitted to their rule; so that the expression in the first half of the verse is not a very exact one.