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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 10

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Some scholars classify this chapter as belonging to the “Good Days” of David’s reign, beginning the “Bad Days” with the following chapter; but Payne and Keil both identified this chapter as a record of the background occasion for David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah before the walls of Rabbah. “The campaign against Rabbah not only gave David his opportunity for his adultery but provided the means by which he accomplished the death of Uriah.”(F1) Keil elaborated the same opinion more fully:

“The successes of all David’s 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 he fell all the deeper because of the heights to which God had exalted him.”(F2)

That tragic sin of David took place during the war against the Ammonites, particularly, during Joab’s siege against Rabbah (reported in 2 Samuel 10:11), and during which David had remained in ease at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1). Some of the terrible consequence of David’s transgressions will be noted in the next chapter. Some scholars have supposed that Psalms 44 and Psalms 60 have some reference to what is written here; but this is very uncertain.

There are four paragraphs in this chapter:

(1) David tried to comfort Hanun the king of Ammon following the death of his father; but his messengers of good will were rejected and insulted (2 Samuel 10:1-5).

(2) David accepted Hanun’s challenge for war (2 Samuel 10:6-8).

(3) The Ammonites and their mercenaries were defeated by Joab (2 Samuel 10:9-14).

(4) Hadadezer rallies all Mesopotamia to continue the war against David, but he again suffered defeat (2 Samuel 10:15-19).

Verses 1-5


“After this the king of the Ammonites died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead. And David said, “I will deal loyally with Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father dealt loyally with me.” So David sent by his servants to console him concerning his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the Ammonites. But the princes of the Ammonites said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think, because David has sent comforters to you, that he is honoring your father? Has not David sent his servants to you to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it”? So Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off half the beard of each, and cut off their garments in the middle of their hips, and sent them away. When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return.”

“I will deal loyally with Hanun the son of Nahash” It is not known exactly what kindness or assistance that Nahash had bestowed upon David; but many scholars assume that, since Nahash was a bitter enemy of Saul (1 Samuel 11:1-11), that Nahash, during David’s long flight from Saul, had treated David kindly as a means of opposing Saul.

“The warfare that resulted from this episode is one of the few conquests of David concerning which we know the cause.”(F3)

“David’s servants came into the land of the Ammonites” “The place to which they went is undoubtedly Rabbah, the capital of the Ammonites; which is the modern Amman on the north bank of the Jabbok River about twenty-three miles due east of Jericho.”(F4)

“Has not David sent his servants to you to search the city, to spy it out, and to overthrow it?” The mistrust of Hanun’s princes of David’s intentions is not hard to understand. “It was founded upon national hatred and enmity, which had probably been increased by David’s slaughter of two thirds of the Moabites.”(F5) The Moabites and the Ammonites were kinsfolk, both groups having descended from Lot (Genesis 19). Also, “It might have originated in their knowledge of the denunciations against them in God’s law (Deuteronomy 23:3-6).”(F6)

“So Hanun… shaved off half the beard of each, and cut off their garments in the middle” Either of these actions constituted a gross insult to David. The double nature of this insult made it extremely unlikely that David would ignore it. Keil tells us that, “The Israelites wore no trousers,”(F7) and that the cutting off of their garments in the middle left the lower half of the body quite exposed. Of course, such an action, in ancient times, was considered as an infliction of shame upon those so treated. Isaiah stated that, “The king of Assyria would lead away Egyptian captives… with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.” (Isaiah 20:4).

Regarding the shaving of half the beard, this was the greater of the two insults; and therefore David instructed his messengers to remain in Jericho until their beard grew out again. There was an ancient superstition that gaining control of the hair of an enemy gave the possessor control over him. “Hanun, distrusting David’s designs and desirous of having some guarantee of peace, thought that he secured this by retaining half the beards and garments of David’s men.”(F8)

Before leaving this paragraph, we wonder just why David commanded his men to wait in Jericho until their beards grew again. Keil thought that David simply, “Did not wish to set his eyes upon the evidence of this insult they had received.”(F9) Whatever his reason, the men probably had to stay in Jericho for quite a while.

Verses 6-8


“When the Ammonites saw that they had become odious to David, the Ammonites sent and hired the Syrians of Bethrehob, and the Syrians of Zobah, twenty thousand foot soldiers, and the king of Maacah with a thousand men, and the men of Tob, twelve thousand men. And when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the host of the mighty men. And the Ammonites came out in battle array at the entrance of the gate; and the Syrians of Zobah and of Rehob, and the men of Tob and Maacah, were by themselves in the open country.”

The deployment of the hostile forces here presented a superlative challenge to Joab. Rabbah, presently Amman, the capital city of Jordan and a modern city of over half a million people, is the same place called Philadelphia in the N.T. It was a strongly fortified city; and David’s capture of it was no easy undertaking.(F10) In addition to the Ammonites and their tremendous stronghold, there was also the presence of those 33,000 Syrian mercenaries “in the open country.”

Keil tells us that the cost to the Ammonites of hiring those 33,000 Syrians amounted to “Half a million pounds sterling,”(F11) a sum of many millions of dollars in modern terms.

“Maacah… Tob” “Maacah was located southwest of Mount Hermon, and Tob was a place east of the Jordan River some ten miles or more eastward from Ramoth-gilead.”(F12)

“When David heard of it” Evidently, “David prepared for war only after the Ammonites mustered that great army.”(F13)

“David sent Joab and all the host of the mighty men” Evidently, the “host” here is a reference to a great army of the Israelites, because the “mighty men” are understood to be that special group of six hundred who had continued with David during that period when Saul hunted him. They were a hard cadre of powerful and skilled veterans who made David’s armies invincible.

“The Syrians… were by themselves in the open country” From 1 Chronicles 19:7 we learn that the name of the place where these mercenaries were encamped was Medeba, “Located four geographical miles in a straight line to the southwest of Rabbah.”(F14) It was this separation of the two main bodies of defenders that prompted the strategy that Joab followed in his attack as revealed in the next paragraph.

Verses 9-14


“When Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear, he chose some of the picked men of Israel, and arrayed them against the Syrians; the rest of his men he put in the charge of Abishai his brother, and he arrayed them against the Ammonites. And he said, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” So Joab and the people who were with him drew near to battle against the Syrians; and they fled before him. And when the Ammonites saw that the Syrians fled, they likewise fled before Abashai, and entered the city. Then Joab returned from fighting against the Ammonites, and came to Jerusalem.”

Joab’s strategy here is clearly visible. David’s great commander considered that large force of Syrian mercenaries in his rear as the greatest threat to his success; therefore he chose to lead the charge himself against that force of 33,000 men. It should also be noted that Joab chose “picked men” from the whole army for this vital attack. We may be sure that those famed “six hundred hardened veterans” were among those selected. One of them, Joab’s brother Abashai, however, was not chosen, because he was assigned the duty of leading the attack against that great force of Ammonites confronting him in front of the gates of Rabbah.

Remember that those Syrians were mercenaries. They had no patriotic interest whatever in defending Rabbah; and it is not hard to understand what happened. When Joab launched his savage all-out attack against the throng of Syrians, his hardened battle-wise veterans destroyed everyone in their path; and the mercenaries, seeing what they were up against, simply turned tail and fled for their lives. The battle was quickly concluded when the Ammonites, successfully held at bay by Abashai and his men, saw that their mercenaries had fled and that the full force of Joab’s contingent would then be added to the forces of Abashai, they also retired into the relative safety of the walls of Rabbah. A great victory had indeed been achieved; but the war was not over.

“Let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him” ( Scott L. Tatum called these words, “One of the most inspiring texts of the Bible.”(F15) Willis also pointed out the purity of Joab’s motivation here. “He was fighting to save God’s people and God’s cities, and also he was willing to trust the outcome of the battle to the will of God.”(F16)

Joab did not, at that time, undertake the siege of Rabbah, a task that would be resumed later.

Verses 15-19


“But when the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they gathered themselves together. And Hadadezer sent, and brought out the Syrians who were beyond the Euphrates; and they came to Helam, with Shobach the commander of the army of Hadadezer at their head. And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together and crossed the Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Syrians arrayed themselves against David, and fought with him. And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew of the Syrians the men of seven hundred chariots, and forty thousand horsemen, and wounded Shobach the commander of their army, so that he died there. And when all the kings who were servants of Hadadezer saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they made peace with Israel, and became subject to them. So the Syrians feared to help the Ammonites any more.”

“And they came to Helam” This place is somewhere west of the Jordan River, probably northward in the direction of Syria; but, “Its location is not known.”(F17) Hadadezer, the dominant ruler of the whole Mesopotamian area was stung by the defeat of his mercenaries by Joab; and, through pride, he gathered an even greater army and confronted David at Helam. With the defeat of this great force and the slaying of their commander, David at last established the Euphrates River as the eastern boundary of God’s Israel. Hadadezer and the petty kings tributary to him made peace with Israel and paid tribute to David. Some have suggested that Hadadezer might not have submitted to David, but Keil stated that this passage, “Shows very clearly that Hadadezer also made peace with Israel and submitted,”(F18) to David’s rule. Still, all of this left the problem of Rabbah unresolved.

Some have been perplexed by the discrepancies in the numbers (of casualties, etc) here as compared with the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 19, but D. F. Payne attributed this to, “Textual corruption,”(F19) which may very well be the true explanation.

This rather extended account here is understood by many scholars as a more complete account of the abbreviated narrative in that 8th chapter summary of all of David’s wars. This could be true, but we do not consider it as certain.

It is significant that David himself commanded this expedition against Hadadezer. It would have been far better for David if he had likewise personally led the siege against Rabbah and not have stayed in Jerusalem, where great temptations overwhelmed him.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 10". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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