1 Chronicles 20
Pulpit Commentary
And it came to pass, that after the year was expired, at the time that kings go out to battle, Joab led forth the power of the army, and wasted the country of the children of Ammon, and came and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried at Jerusalem. And Joab smote Rabbah, and destroyed it.
Verse 1. - The fifteenth verse of the previous chapter stated that the discomfited Ammonites "fled... and entered into the city," i.e. into Rabbah. Hither we now learn that, by the command of David (2 Samuel 11:1), Joab, at the "return of the year," i.e. probably at the return of spring (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22), brings the power of the army, and, after ravaging the country surrounding it, sits down to besiege Rabbah itself. The series of feasts, beginning in spring and ending in autumn, regulated the year. The sacred year began with the new moon that became full next after the spring equinox; but the civil year at the seventh new moon. This one verse illustrates in four several instances at fewest the advantage of having two versions of the same events, even though in this case in comparatively immaterial respects.

1. We here read that Joab wasted the country of the children of Ammon... and besieged Rabbah, in place of the less consistent reading of 2 Samuel 11:1, "destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah."

2. We have here in the Hebrew the right word for "kings" (חַמְּלָכִים), instead of the word for "angels" (חמְלָאכִים), as in the parallel place.

3. While we read here that Joab smote Rabbah, and destroyed it, the parallel place, now shifted to 2 Samuel 12:27-29, tells of Joab's generosity (if it were this, and not fear or possibly somewhat tardy obedience to strict commands given on his commission), in his message to David, to repair to the spot immediately and share the glory of the reduction of the city, or be its nominal captor.

4. And, once more, while we read here that Joab smote Rabbah, and destroyed it, and yet read in the parallel place of the delay and the visit of David (with which the very first clause of our ver. 2, "And David took," etc., is in perfect accord) and of David's nominal taking of the city, we find probably the just and inartificial explanation of all this in 2 Samuel 12:26-29. There we read more particularly that Joab sent word he had taken the "city of waters," i.e. the lower part of the city (where a stream had its source, and no doubt supplied the city with water), which was very likely the key of the whole position,and called upon David to come up and "encamp against the city and take it," i.e. the city, or citadel, which stood upon the heights north of the stream. Glimpses of this kind may suffice to convince us how rapidly a text, really correct, would melt away for us a very large proportion of the whole number of the lesser obstacles which often impede our path in the historical books of the Old Testament. At the time that kings go out. It was no doubt the case that, even in Palestine, the winter was often a period of enforced inactivity. Rabbah. Tim punishment of Ammou for the treatment of David's well-intended embassy of condolence is now about to be completed. The familiar root of Rabbah signifies multitudinous number, and, resulting thence, the greatness of importance. It was the chief city of the Ammonites, if not their only city of importance enough for mention. In five passages its connection with Ammon is coupled with its name (Deuteronomy 3:11; 2 Samuel 12:26; 2 Samuel 17:27; Jeremiah 49:2; Ezekiel 21:20), "Rabbah of the children of Ammon." It has been conjectured to be the Ham of the Zuzim, or the Ashteroth Karnaim of the Rephaim (Genesis 14:5), of which latter theory there is some interesting evidence of a corroborating tendency at all events (see Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' 2:985). Rabbah is the proper spelling of the word, except when in a constructive state, as in the above phrase. The relations of Moab and Ammon with Israel are full of interest. After the overthrow of Og, King of Bashan (Numbers 21:33), "Moab and Ammon still remained independent allies south and cast of the Israelite settlements. Both fell before David - Moab, evidently the weaker, first; Ammon not without a long resistance, which made the siege and fall of its capital, Rabbah-ammon, the crowning act of David's conquests. The ruins which now adorn the 'royal city' are of a later Roman date; but the commanding position of the citadel remains; and the unusual sight of a living stream abounding in fish (2 Samuel 12:27; Isaiah 16:2) marks the significance of Joab's song of victory, 'I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters'" (Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' 323, edit. 1866).
And David took the crown of their king from off his head, and found it to weigh a talent of gold, and there were precious stones in it; and it was set upon David's head: and he brought also exceeding much spoil out of the city.
Verse 2. - Found it to weigh a talent of gold. Two difficulties present themselves in this verse, viz. the reported weight of this crown, and the uncertainty as to what head it was from which David took it. Whatever was its weight, if David's head was able to sustain it for a minute or two, the head of the King of the Ammonites might also occasionally have borne it. Yet it would scarcely be likely that the King of the Ammonites would have so ponderous a crown (calculated at a weight of a hundred and fourteen pounds Troy, or a little more or less than one hundredweight) as one of ordinary wear, or that he would have one of extraordinary wear on his head precisely at such a juncture. Both of these difficulties will remove if we suppose that the Hebrew מַלְכָּם, instead of meaning their king, is the name of the Ammonitish and Moabitish idol (i.q. Moloch), and which we find (Authorized Version) in Zephaniah 1:5, and probably (though not Authorized Version) in Jeremiah 49:1, 3, and Amos 1:15. The Septuagint treats the word thus. The point, however, cannot be considered settled.
And he brought out the people that were in it, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. Even so dealt David with all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.
Verse 3. - Cut them with saws (so Hebrews 11:37). We have here the very doubtful (so far as regards its real signification) Hebrew word וַיָּשַׂר (and he cut) instead of וַיָּשֶׂם (he put). Probably it is nowhere else used in the sense of "cutting," if it is here. Its ordinary sense is to rule or put into subjection. The parallel place (2 Samuel 12:31) corrects, in the word (Authorized Version) axes, our Hebrew text, which repeats the word for saw, though putting it in the plural, and which thereby shows וּבַמְּגֵרות, instead of וּבְמַגְזְרות. This last word means "Axes" or "scythes," and is from the root גָזַרַ, to cut (2 Kings 6:4). It is found only in 2 Samuel 12:31, though it should appear here also. There is a fourth severity of punishment mentioned in the parallel place, that the people were "made to pass through the brick-kilns," a form of torture possibly suggested by the own familiar cruelty of the Ammonites in "making their children to pass through the fire to Moloch." However, in harmony with what is above said respecting the doubtfulness of the just signification of the verb וַיָּשַׂר, much uncertainty hangs over the interpretation of this verse. Instead of severity and needless cruelty on the part of David, it may rather set forth that he subjected them to hard tasks in connection with the cultivation of the soil and with the making of bricks. The saws and harrows and axes (or scythes) were awkward and unlikely weapons to be employed for the purpose of inflicting torture, when the ordinary weapons of battle and warfare were close at hand. This view, however, is contrary to the verdict, so far as the above Hebrew verb is concerned, of Gesenius's 'Thesaurus,' p. 1326, and of Thenins, on this and the parallel passage. When such punishments were of the nature of torture, the cruelty was in some cases extreme. "The criminal was sometimes sawn asunder lengthwise; this was more especially the practice in Persia. Isaiah, according to the Talmud-isis, was put to death in this wise by King Manasseh, 'Sanhedrin,' p. 103, c. 2; comp. Justin's dialogue with Trypho" (Jahn's 'Sacred Antiquities,' p. 132, § 260, 7.). With saws. The word in the original is not in the plural. It occurs again only in the parallel place (2 Samuel 12:31) and in 1 Kings 7:9, both times in the singular. The teeth of Eastern saws then and now usually incline to the handle instead of from it. With harrows of iron. The only harrow known to have been used at this time consisted of a thick block of wood borne down by a weight, or on which a man sat, drawn over the ploughed land by oxen (Isaiah 28:24, 25; Job 39:10; Hosea 10:11), and the root of the Hebrew word expresses the idea of crushing or levelling the land. But our present word is very different, and is found only here and in the parallel place, with the word "iron" accompanying it, so as to be equivalent to a compound word, and appears to mean "sharp instruments of iron," or sharp threshing instruments. The use of the former part of this phrase (1 Samuel 17:18) for cheeses is the only other instance of its occurrence. Saws should be "axes," or "scythes," as stated above, though it is not any of the three more ordinary words for "axe" (see Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' 1:142).
And it came to pass after this, that there arose war at Gezer with the Philistines; at which time Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Sippai, that was of the children of the giant: and they were subdued.
Verse 4. - For the Gezer (גֶזֶר) of this verse, the parallel place (2 Samuel 21:18) shows Gob (גוב), a name not known, but which careless transcription may have easily made out of the former. The Syriac Version, however, as well as the Septuagint, has Gath in that verse as well as in the two verses following (2 Samuel 21:18-20), another name also easily interchangeable in Hebrew characters with Gezer. The "yet again" of our ver. 6 would well accord with the supposition that the conflict with the Philistines was at Gath, or at the same place, each of the three times. Gezer belonged to Ephraim, and was situated to the north of Philistia (1 Chronicles 7:28; 1 Chronicles 14:16). Sibbechai (see also 1 Chronicles 11:29; 1 Chronicles 27:11). Sippai. In the parallel place spelt Saph. It is remarkable that, in the Peshito Syriac, over Psalm 143, is found the inscription," Of David, when he slew Asaph, the brother of Gulyad, and thanksgiving that he had conquered." Of the children of the giant. The Hebrew word for "giant," rapha (always in these verses spelt with a final aleph, but in the parallel verses always with he final), is here (Authorized Version) translated. "The Rapha, a native of Gath, was the forefather of the Canaanitish Rephaim, mentioned as early as Genesis 14:5; Genesis 15:20; Deuteronomy 2:11; Deuteronomy 3:11; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 15:8; Joshua 17:15. The slaying of Ishbi-benob (2 Samuel 21:16) is not here given. It is also to be observed that the lengthy account of Samuel, respecting Absalom and his rebellion (2 Samuel 13-21.) is not found here.
And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver's beam.
Verse 5. - Elhanan the son of Jair. In Samuel Jair appears as Jaare. This Elhanan is probably different from him of 1 Chronicles 11:26. There is a strange confusion in the reading of this and its parallel verse. If our present verse is to stand corrected by accepting from its parallel "the Bethlehemite" in place of our Lamhi, then either we have no name given for the brother of Goliath, the Gittite; or, if we drop the word "brother" (changing the אֲחי of Chronicles into the אֵת of Samuel), and make Goliath the Gittite the man slain by Elhanan, then of such a Goliath we know nothing, and it is a most unlikely coincidence of name with the conquered of David's sling.. Kennicott's seventy-eighth dissertation is occupied, and ably, with the pros and cons of this question; and the curiosities of Jerome on the passage may be found in his 'Quaestiones Hebraicae.' There seems no sufficient reason to depart from our reading here, to which it were preferable to adjust the reading in the parallel place, which exhibits almost certainly a glaring corruption of text in another respect.
And yet again there was war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, whose fingers and toes were four and twenty, six on each hand, and six on each foot: and he also was the son of the giant.
Verse 6. - A man of... stature. The Hebrew text is מִדָּה, as also in 1 Chronicles 11:28; and (in the plural) in Numbers 13:32. An eccentric and probably corrupt form appears in the parallel place. Pliny ('Nat. Hist.,' 2:43) speaks of the Sedigiti, and places them in the family of Forli, among the Himyarites.
But when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea David's brother slew him.
Verse 7. - Jonathan (see 1 Samuel 13:3, 32; 1 Chronicles 27:32 (comp. also 1 Chronicles 2:13), where it is probable that" nephew" should be read for "uncle"). It is to be noticed that the name of this child of the giant, of twelve fingers and twelve toes, is not mentioned. We are not compelled, therefore, to regard it as remarkable that he of the fifth verse should not be named.
These were born unto the giant in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.
Verse 8. - These were born unto the giant in Gath. The parallel place reads, "These four,,' etc. The first of the four in view there is not mentioned here. The account is given in 2 Samuel 21:15-17. And as it was in that encounter that David himself played the chief part (though, apparently, it was Abishai who dealt Ishbi-benob the fatal blow in "succouring" David), the notice of it would have seemed necessary to complete fully the sense of the following clauses, "They fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants." Still this, it may justly be argued, may have been the very reason of the form of expression here chosen, coupling David's work and that of his servants. This brief summary in the last verse of this chapter, as also in the last verse of the corresponding chapter, just serves to reveal to us the nexus that bound together the three or four exploits for narration. It consisted in the common descent of the four giant victims.

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