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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
1 Chronicles 20

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-8


The contents of this chapter are all to be found in the work of Samuel, but woven in, in very different places. The cause of the first considerable difference of this kind is in connection with the occurrence of what would have seemed a mere casual detail of expression in our first verse, "But David tarried at Jerusalem," at which same statement, however, the writer of Samuel halts, to append all that then happened with David in the disastrous matter of Bathsheba and Uriah, occupying nearly two whole chapters—a history not recorded at all by the Chronicle compiler. Why David tarried at Jerusalem, and how far he did so legitimately and in harmony with the necessities of government, we know not, but certain it is, he was tempted to make the unhappiest use of his "tarrying at Jerusalem."

1 Chronicles 20:1

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 2 Samuel 12:2, "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. tie 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'".

1 Chronicles 20:2

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, Jeremiah 49:3, and Amos 1:15. The Septuagint treats the word thus. The point, however, cannot be considered settled.

1 Chronicles 20:3

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 וּבַמְּגֵרוֹת, instead of וּבְמַגְזְרוֹת. 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". 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, Isaiah 28:25; 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).

1 Chronicles 20:4

For the Gezer (גֶזֶר) of this verse, the parallel place (2 Samuel 21:18) shows Gob (גוֹב), 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 1 Chronicles 20:6 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 Psalms 143:1-12, 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.

1 Chronicles 20:5

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.

1 Chronicles 20:6

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.

1 Chronicles 20:7

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.

1 Chronicles 20:8

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.


1 Chronicles 20:1.-On the wars of the Israelites, and on war generally.

"At the time that kings," etc. This chapter also seems to contain little of homiletic interest. Nevertheless it offers abundantly the opportunity of some consideration of the subject of the wars undertaken by the separated people, and thence of the subject of war since and generally. This chapter repeats the word "war" three times in 1 Chronicles 20:4-6. But yet rather the very turn of the expression in 1 Chronicles 20:1, "At the time that kings go out to battle," far surpasses any suggestiveness that might arise merely from the repetition of a word. At the outset of any consideration of this subject as it arises in connection with Scripture, attention is arrested, and it may be said universally arrested, by certain patent facts. They are facts from which we cannot run away, and which, however they may suffer explanation in themselves, will soon show that they refuse to be explained away. The more necessary is it to treat them accordingly, and to face them steadily. The facts alluded to are such as these:

1. That a very large part of the whole bulk of Old Testament history is concerned with the recital of matters of war.

2. That war manifestly played a large part in the education and formation of character of the people Israel.

3. That it was by no means entirely or even principally owing to any Just of strife or even of conquest which might have possessed the people that they warred so much, but this was assigned to them as a very part of their duty and part of their mission.

4. That with a directness that cannot be mistaken, war is not only prescribed, and that again and again, by God to his people, but he represents himself as Leader of armies, Captain of hosts, and as "going forth" with men to battle, the impersonation of a mighty warrior. The sovereign right of death, as of life, belongs, no doubt, to God—his to destroy, as his to create. But the observable thing in war, so far as those of the Old Testament Scriptures are concerned, lies in the fact which would seem infinitely more enormous and astounding than, through our familiarity with it, it now does—that God destroys human beings by the agency of other human beings. The sweeping away of vast populations by plague and famine, by fire, and by what we call the accident of sea or land, would not present a tithe of the difficulty that lies before our feet when the one element is produced of the sword and weapon of warfare wielded consciously, deliberately, determinedly, by men on the battle-field for the destruction of fellow-men. Yet we must renounce the credibility of the Old Testament Scriptures, or must acknowledge that the destruction of human life was abundantly effected by war, undertaken and carried through to the hitter end by Divine sanction and ordinance. Nothing can be more natural than to ask how this is, and, the facts being indisputable, what account can be given of them. It seems likely enough that we may not be able to feel that we have found under any circumstances a complete solution of the problem before us. It may rest upon deeper reason than we can fathom, be part of a larger justice than we can mete, belong to a wider circle or range of analogy than all we have yet caught sight of. But there can be no question that it is as usual open to us to approach in the direction of the desired result, though we may stop short of the goal. And —

I. OF THE DIVINELY COMMANDED WARS AND BATTLES OF ISRAEL. Here the subject of war is relieved at once of one of its greatest difficulties. For in this case we need not stop to debate respecting the abstract possibility of justification of war. Its justification in these cases is for us of the kind called positive. And of war thus conditioned we must remark:

1. That its motive does not come into the question, and cannot be challenged.

2. That its object must be held to have been for the universal benefit.

3. That the fact of its being a method of chastisement and of destruction of human life by the agency of human beings must be held to be the one difficult question at issue. Can there be found compensating and justifying considerations, and these not of such a nature as absolutely to refuse to be reconciled with our moral sense? The following considerations may, at all events, be helpful to those who would not impugn, not even for a moment impugn, the right of God to take human lives, in whatever number, unquestioned, by some method. With others, as matter of course, they could have little weight. For the destruction of human life in battle, on the part of a people constituted and set apart like Israel, at the command of God was

(1) equivalent to a consenting adoption by them of the sovereignty of God. Now, the unity, the absolute soleness, and the sovereignty were the three greatest and most fundamental attributes of Deity, which it was the special business of the Israelites to learn. These their education was to master well.

(2) It was a vital protection for them against both a superstitious and a supine trust of the invisible, superior power. Had the invisible God always swept their enemies, for instance, from before them without their own instrumentality and co-operation, it is not difficult to calculate something of what sort of expectance and what sort of trust would have been engendered in them. But now, though the battle is of the Lord, and the strength is 'of him, and the victory his, with most strenuous effort must the people do the work, gird themselves for the fight, and suffer much while they win.

(3) Next to those who suffered the infliction of the Divine purpose and justice, it was to those who executed them the most impressive possible manifestation of all that death and slaughter have it in them to brand upon human minds and fasten in human convictions and light up to human imagination. The terrible assertion of the final power to control, to punish, to avenge, was often needed, is often needed, to "sum up the whole matter," and to be the unchallengeable "conclusion of the whole matter."

(4) It was the beginning and germ of that constitution of human society which now peremptorily devolves for a while upon men the entire actual visible conduct of the affairs of men. The Ruler, the King, "the Lord of those men," is gone away awhile into a far distant country, and "the Word of the Lord is precious," and "there is no vision nor dream." The day of reckoning and account is assuredly to come, and all are forewarned of it; but as assuredly it is not yet. And this one fact constitutes the most awful view of human responsibility, whether in war or in peace.


1. War, horror and scourge that it is, yet snatches its occasion in one of the most necessary and ultimate forms of association of human kind, viz. the nation. Men are associated together in nations by necessity. They are brought together by geographical position. They are held together by community of race The necessity is a natural one, the consequences are full of significance, the advantages are of a high, beneficent, and far-reaching kind. But the final risk involved in war produces a phenomenon, and more than merely a phenomenon, in some aspects among the most terrible, nay, incomparably the most terrible, to be witnessed beneath the sun. There are ever ascending and broadening forms of strife, as of philanthropy among mankind. The strife so familiar, as it shows itself between individuals, is passed, by that of families, and of cliques, and of many and various an association of multitudes of almost every description. The strife that so often appears between such units as these is passed again, by that between Churches, and this finally by that between nations, and nations which even league together in order to prosecute their strife more successfully and on larger scale. Now, for all these forms and occasions of strife there is some .sort of judge, arbiter, or external authority to end it, except for that between nations. Hence the principle of resistance shows itself in its own unqualified hideousness, in its own repulsive malignity of essence. It culminates in war, which is another word for the slaughter in systematic form of numbers of human beings by others animated by no personal ill will, and to whom they are personally unknown.

2. War cannot profess to anything more, anything deeper, than a trial of force against force. The stronger force has to be accepted pro tem; even though the time be prolonged. Nor is it in this respect out of analogy with the decisions of courts of justice in the internal life and administration of a nation. These decisions are respected by those against whom they are given by the judge, not because they are believed to be right, yet less because they are felt to be right, nor even because in all cases they are right, but because they are supported by the overwhelming power of the strong arm of the law, with all which that phrase means. The order of society is pitted against the passion, the misapprehension, or sometimes even the right of the individual in his solitary plaint.

3. Though war can pretend to nothing but the determination of who is the stronger, yet right is presumably one of the combatants. That right sharing the constant present fate of right is often enough overpowered, defeated, the loser. Yet it has had the opportunity of asserting itself. It has asserted itself. It has insisted in a very practical manner on making its voice heard. It has insisted on its presence and its force counting for something. And then again, though stricken and bleeding afresh from many a new-made wound, it is sent back to take its patient though oppressed station yet awhile and to bide its time.

4. The real measure of the condemnableness of war depends on its motives, on the real causes, hidden or proclaimed, which occasion it. But then it is to be observed that the greater and more decisive the condemnation that may be shown on the one hand, the more the defensibleness conceded to the other side, which resists even unto blood. The proportion that greed, vanity, passion, mere pique, or absolute lust of conquest bear in the production of war wilt be the real measure—whoever is in the position to assign it—of the guilt of the guilty and of the defence of the innocent.

5. A just estimate of the real nature of war demands that the physical untold misery of it be kept separate in our minds from the moral aspects and results of it. War has offered to view some of the highest possibilities of human nature in its self-devotion, in its sentiment disentangled of individual hostility or animosity, in its obedience of the individual to the principle of the community's necessity or weal.

6. The long-looked-for time, the long-prayed-for era, when war shall cease, is the goal to be reached only by the purified and heightened moral sense and goodness of the individuals of all nations. This is equivalent to saying, the goal can only be reached by Christianity, in its spread universal, in its diffusion impartial, in its penetratingness individual, in its efficaciousness sovereign. No policy, no wisdom, no external authority seems imaginable that should subdue it, and put it under the feet of men, a destroyed thing. Only the victory of all victories can be looked forward to to lead captive this captivity, and accomplish its end. The clear and sure destruction of this at the same time most barbarous and keenest destroyer of men will be among the last, the grandest, the crowning achievements of Christ, Prince of peace, the promise of "peace on earth," the expression of "good will to men"

1 Chronicles 20:1.-One cunning bosom sin.

"But David tarried at Jerusalem." There is not so much as the suggestion of any evidence from which we could justify the inference that David, in thus "tarrying at Jerusalem," was actuated by any wrong design, or was laying himself open to the charge of neglect of duty, indifference to his high responsibilities or inactivity. It is more probable that duty to his people in the central seat of authority found him more in his place at Jerusalem than in the field of battle. That which reads confessedly as a rather peremptory style of summons on the part of Joab, in the fuller account of 2 Samuel 12:28, cannot be relied upon as any sufficient indication to the disadvantage of David in such a direction. It is more naturally explainable in other ways. Joab's message at the crisis which affairs had somewhat suddenly reached may have been either an act of obedience to strict orders of imperial sort, or in yet nobler obedience to the instincts of strict loyalty. The "tarrying at Jerusalem," however, boded anything but good (2 Samuel 11:1, 2 Samuel 11:2). The words of simplicity in which the mere historical fact is announced, provoke inevitably the memory of other words, where it is written on page yet more sacred, of the "greater Son" of David on a certain occasion, "And the child Jesus tarried behind at Jerusalem." But beyond the irresistible suggestion of the words, thought declinesto go. There is no room for comparison. The case is one the opposite of analogy. And even contrast should seem too gratuitous, and to threaten dishonour to the latter occasion, breathing upon it with an unholy breath, and not with the breath of the Spirit most holy. To this interval, anyway, belonged the greatest blots on all the life of David, the sorest stains on his 'scutcheon, and wounds that went direct and deep to the soul. And we are taught here something in general of the uncertainty, the untractableness of human nature; but may rather take the instruction of the passage in this more particular form—the strength and blinded headstrong way that "one cunning bosom sin" has with it.

I. THE INTERVAL OF REST IS SET AT NOUGHT BY IT. Granted that David did not stay behind at Jerusalem in order to escape all work and elude the activity of duty; granted that business of government, the government of his city and his nation, occupied him; yet the very change of occupation, and the fact that it was at home, was a rest. It was very different from camp life and military superintendence. The hand that holds the pen knows how great the change is, after it has been rather holding the sword and wielding the sword for months, ay, for years past. The greatest warrior, the most successful general, the bravest soldier must surely awhile feel the repose sacred and delicious which permits him to sheathe the sword, forsake the field, and do the works of peace rather than of war. Yet this privilege as soon as enjoyed is abused; this interval as soon as given becomes the mournful and miserable occasion of indelible disgrace and shame.

II. THE SANCTITIES OF HOME ARE SET AT NOUGHT BY IT. Nothing will ever divest home of its sacred claims. They dwell in it, they haunt its retreats, they pervade its air. Not truer that "the heart knoweth his own bitterness," than that home knoweth its own ineffable sweetness. The nursery of purest affections, the school of sound instruction, the point of departure for young ambition, the beacon of good principle to the ends of the earth, the incentive to honourable effort and noble exploit, and anon as age grows, the realm and very throne of most benign authority,—it is this home which the cunning bosom sin of passion discredits, dishonours, disgraces. David knew what the blessing of home was. He often shows it by the way he speaks directly and indirectly of home and of "father and mother." But he knew the blessing yet more certainly by evidence of the too reliable aphorism that we then first best know our blessing when it is taken from us. And for years the blessing had been a lost one to David. How he hungered and thirsted and craved for it! And now he has it, fearfully to desecrate it, because he is led captive, blinded by what he saw, headstrong by what he felt—reason and goodness and conscience all dragged in chains behind the triumph of passion!

III. THE INSPIRATION OF THE ASSOCIATIONS OF JERUSALEM IS SMOTHERED BY IT. It is the metropolis of the country, but sacred beyond the sacredness of any other metropolis, and to David beyond what it was to any other king. How he thought of Jerusalem! How he spoke and sang of it, with the joy that was growing brighter and brighter to perfect day, and long before those strains which others sang to minor key, plaintive wail, and exquisitely saddened memories! How much he had lately joyed in it! What honour had been his to bring to it the ark! What glorious heart-stirring festival of the whole kingdom had centred within its walls thereupon I Place has ever bad its quantum of influence. The hardest heart and most callous insensibility will be touched by it. The tender heart and sensitive nature will be responsive to it as to but a lower grade of inspiration And now, almost for the firs/; time, David has the opportunity of surrendering himself to the religion of the place, of giving undivided thanks and grateful praise in the place, and enjoying in it some earnest of the Jerusalem above. But no; lust smears the sight of his eye, which sees no longer even the Jerusalem that is below, its fame and glory and pride.

IV. THE IMPERIAL CLAIMS OF DUTY, CONSCIENCE, OF RELIGION AND HUMANITY, ARE SET AT NOUGHT BY IT. To the hot fire of passion these are but as straws. They resist nothing at all. They do serve to bystanders to increase the show of the disastrous, destructive fire. The pride of imperial position and the throne stoop for the time without a struggle, and come down from their exaltation to do homage to creature-lust. So much, then, human nature has to say of itself, and so little! So much we are taught do we ever need watchfulness and prayer! The high plateau of honour, glorious opportunity, religion, restfulness, and home enjoyment may be the accursed ground of our own worst dereliction of duty, devotion, and even decency. Unsafe when we are left to self, we are not more safe when we are left by ourselves. "Let him alone" is the darkest doom that even Divine judgment and justice can decree. But when left alone (and that our wish and petition) only for an hour, we shall not be safe, however secure, unless we can take back the words as Jesus on so signal an occasion did, and say, "And yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me."


1 Chronicles 20:3.-The barbarity of man to man.

There are signal inconsistencies in the character of David. He was capable of kindness, self-denial, and generosity, but he was capable also of cruelty amounting to inhumanity and savagery. Perhaps no act more disgraceful and inexcusable is related to have been performed by him than that recorded in the text. The people of Rabbah had long resisted his arms; and when the city fell David seems to have given the reins to his passions, and to have treated the captive population with what seems to us all but incredible cruelty. But allowance must be made for the manners and morals of the age. Humanity towards enemies is comparatively a modern virtue. Though history records a few striking exceptions to the general rule, that rule was undoubtedly one of utter insensibility to the miseries of a vanquished foe. The chronicler here relates, evidently as a matter calling for no surprise or indignation, that David in cold blood cut the people with saws, broke their limbs with threshing-instruments, and flung them, whilst still alive, into the red-hot brick-kilns!

I. CRUELTY IS AN OUTCOME AND A FORM OF SIN. From the time, and in consequence of, man's original departure from God, human society has been cursed with all the horrors which result from the violation of Divine law, the defiance of Divine authority. Hatred, envy, and strife have run riot, and their manifestations have been the main factors in what is called human history. Hence the barbarities heartlessly and ruthlessly practised among all rude nations. Modern war is nothing but a disgraceful survival of the savage barbarism of the sinful and inhuman past. Even now the practices common in war are enough to sadden and to sicken every sensitive mind. "Whence come wars and fightings? Come they not hence of your lusts?"

II. RESTRAINTS AND CHECKS UPON CRUELTY HAVE BEEN COMPARATIVELY FEEBLE AND INEFFECTIVE. David was a very religious man, but his religion did not preserve him from adultery and murder; nor did it restrain him from cold-blooded cruelty. The ancient civilizations, the ancient religions, failed to check the prevalent insensibility to suffering, the prevalent habit of revenge. Even the religion of the Old Testament had very partial power to secure these ends. Mitigations of the horrors of war have doubtless been introduced by Christianity and by chivalry. Yet the professed servants of the meek and holy Jesus have too often sanctioned and applauded the barbarities of war, the infamies of slavery, the tortures of the Inquisition.

III. VITAL AND SCRIPTURAL CHRISTIANITY ALONE CAN COPE WITH AND VANQUISH THIS EVIL. Rules and maxims are of little avail to contend with the fierce passions of our fallen nature. The new heart, with its changed dispositions, is alone sufficient. The example and the spirit of our Divine Saviour are incompatible with cruelty. In proportion as Christ himself lives in the hearts and governs the lives of men, will inhumanity diminish until it disappear, and until such deeds as those described in the text become impossible. The prophecies and promises of God's Word point forward to a day when the "new commandment" shall be everywhere observed, and when cruelty shall be no more.—T.


1 Chronicles 20:1-3.-Further consequences of folly, etc.

We learn these five lessons —

I. THE LONG TRAIN OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF FOLLY. It is long before the whole penalty of a great mistake is paid. Hanun and his foolish princes (1 Chronicles 19:3) doubtless felt crestfallen enough when they were miserably defeated in battle, but they probably comforted themselves with the consideration that they had borne their punishment, and would have no more bitter fruits to swallow. If so, they were mistaken. In the next chapter we meet with more consequences of their folly. The next spring, they had to encounter another army in the field (1 Chronicles 20:1). Often, when we think we have escaped from the wretched results of our thoughtlessness or our sin, we find that we have not: there they are again, walking at our side, or meeting us sword in hand. Let us earnestly pray and vigilantly watch, that we may not be surprised into folly, may not fall into the power of temptation, so that our life may not be darkened by the appearance and reappearance of the penalties of wrong-doing.

II. THE EVIL OF ABSOLUTISM. No doubt this little kingdom of Ammon was autocratic. It is true, indeed, that the princes advised, but the king decided. And what terrible penalties his poor people paid for his decision! The city of Rabbah was sacked (1 Chronicles 20:2), and its inhabitants not only lost their property but were subjected to cruel tortures; and "even so dealt David with all the cities," etc. (1 Chronicles 20:3). Our heart is touched with sorrow and indignation as we think how one man's (or how a few men's) incensate folly brought down upon thousands of the innocent such a wretched fate. Let us thank God that public policy is largely taken out of the hands of one man who may be shamelessly selfish or utterly incapable, and is deposited with the many who consult the large and general interests of the nation.

III. THE PERILS OF POWER. One may well believe that Hanun had little happiness, if any at all, in the subsequent years of his reign. Surely the cries that came from these mutilated subjects and from these bereaved homes must have rung in his ears, and made discord of every other sound that greeted him. Men covet power, but it is a perilous thing to possess. One great mistake, and we involve numbers of our fellow-men in suffering and sorrow.

1. How should they who wield it be solicitous and prayerful that they may be preserved from abusing it!

2. How well may those who are denied it be content to take the lower place, and be secure from such solemn and weighty responsibilities as they would otherwise incur!

IV. THE NEED FOR REFLECTION IN THE HOUR OF ANGER. It would be altogether unjust to judge David by the humane and merciful standards of our own age; yet we cannot but regret that he inflicted such cruelties on the children of Ammon (1 Chronicles 20:8). We should have liked it (and him) better if he had entertained and acted upon the thought which, on another occasion, he admitted to his mind, "These sheep, what have they done?" (2 Samuel 24:17). He had been greatly provoked, but he carried his indignation further than he was obliged to do, and beyond the point at which a large-minded, God-taught man should surely have stopped. In anger we should pause and think, for we are in great danger of speaking too harshly and striking too hard (Romans 12:19).

V. THE BEST CROWN TO WIN AND WEAR. (1 Chronicles 20:2.) David seems to have set much store on this crown, which was taken from the King of Ammon and placed on his head (Psalms 21:3). Better far the crown of God's favour, the crown of righteousness, the crown of grateful love, the crown of glory. These are

(1) untarnished with severities;

(2) adornments of our true selves (our souls);

(3) unfading with time.—C.

1 Chronicles 20:4-8.-Little things and great.

How small and insignificant in our esteem are the physical peculiarities of these "children of the giant"! How little we care to treasure their names and deeds in our memories! They probably thought much of themselves, and were made much of by their contemporaries; but they have sunk into entire insignificance now. We feel that —

I. DISTINCTION BASED ON BODILY PECULIARITY IS OF LITTLE WORTH. Great stature makes its possessor conspicuous among his fellows, if that be a desirable thing; great muscular strength serves in good stead on those rare occasions when a man has to resist by physical force. Unusual beauty of countenance attracts the eye and wins the admiration of the opposite sex. But these visible specialities have their drawbacks, if not their evils. The first of these often secures a most undesirable and even painful notoriety; the second tempts to acts of violence which are regrettable; the last exposes to peculiar perils of its own. And how speedily they perish! In this war with the Philistines these giants "were subdued" (1 Chronicles 20:4). Lahmi's great spear did not save him from the skill of Elhanan (1 Chronicles 20:5); nor the immense stature of the giant with twenty-four fingers and toes, from the courage and capacity of Jonathan (1 Chronicles 20:6, 1 Chronicles 20:7). "They fell by the hand … of David's servants" (1 Chronicles 20:8). Mere size of body, mere power of muscle, mere skill of fence, and even beauty of face and charm of manner,—all these are either overmatched with something that is stronger, or they soon fade and fall under the resistless ravages of time. And when they pass, how soon they are forgotten! We hardly recognize some of these names; or, if we remember them, we associate them with other men who bore them, but were distinguished by other and nobler features. The next generation will care little for those who have nothing better to claim than great strength, or commanding stature, or some other bodily peculiarity. On the other hand, we feel that —


1. Mental strength, when gained by diligent self-culture and devoted to useful ends, enjoys a more lasting honour and effects a far greater good.

2. But spiritual worth is the most valuable acquisition; that is the true greatness of man.

(1) It raises him highest in the scale of being.

(2) It renders nobler and truer service.

(3) It yields a finer fragrance in grateful recollection (Proverbs 10:7).

(4) It lives on to distant generations in benignant influence.

The "good men do" is not "interred with their bones;" it lives and blossoms, and bears precious fruit in the hearts and lives of men.—C.


1 Chronicles 20:1-8.-The wasting of the Ammonites, and David's wars with the giants.

The outrage inflicted on the Hebrew ambassadors was still further to be avenged by David. Joab was sent out with the power of the army to waste the country of the Ammonites. The former campaign had been disastrous because of the hired auxiliaries of the Ammonites. Now the full strength of David's army was to be led forth to complete the ruin both of the people and their land. "At the time that kings go out to battle," i.e. spring-time, the expedition set out. Having besieged the capital, Rabbah, and having after a protracted siege taken the lower town, or "city of waters," and knowing that the royal city would soon fall, Joab invited King David to come in person and have the honour of taking it himself (see 2 Samuel 12:26). We are thus enabled to reconcile the two statements, that "David tarried at Jerusalem" (1 Chronicles 20:1), and "David and all the people returned to Jerusalem" (1 Chronicles 20:3). David took the king's crown, and it was set on David's head. This crown weighed a talent, or one hundred and fourteen pounds' weight of gold. The crowns of Eastern kings were not usually worn on the head (and could not have been in this case), but were suspended by chains of gold over the throne. We again notice the cruelties of war and especially of that time (1 Chronicles 20:3). These are recorded, not for example, but to deepen our sense of gratitude for the blessings which Christianity has brought in introducing a humane mode of warfare. It may also make us long for the time when "nations shall learn war no more," and when "righteousness shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea." We see here David's victories over the giants. The "stripling" in God's hand has overthrown kingdoms and slain the giants of wickedness. In God's hand "the worm Jacob shall thresh the mountains." As we review David's rise from the "stripling" of the wilderness to the highest place in the land, we may say, "What hath God wrought!" "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." To the outward eye of sense a man may be a "stripling," and in his own eyes "a dead dog" and "a flea;" but it is such instruments God ever uses to accomplish his mighty works and to advance his kingdom in the world. Gideon's "lamps and pitchers," Naaman's "little maid," the widow's "pot of oil," Jonah's "worm" and "gourd," and Samson's "jawbone of an ass,"—these God uses for in these he can be glorified. Man's might and power is passed by, for there is no room in them for God to be glorified. If we are only low enough, only little enough, only nothing before him, he can and will use us; and the reason he has so often to pass by the "vessel" is, that it is too full and not "fit for the Master's use." "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not [too contemptible to be named], to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).—W.


1 Chronicles 20:3.-The horrors of war.

All actions, both of nations and of individuals, should be judged in the light of the prevailing standards and sentiments of the age in which they are done. This is a most important principle, but it is a difficult one to apply wisely; and it is one that may be easily misrepresented. Right can never be other than right, and wrong can never be other than wrong. But custom and sentiment give a temporary character to many actions which tend to confuse our apprehension of their essential rightness or wrongness. Limited knowledge also leads to the permission of things which advancing civilization shows to be unworthy and even wrong. These points may be illustrated from slavery, truthfulness, sense of the value of life, ideas of property, and war. Another important consideration, which greatly helps to explain Old Testament narratives, is that national judgments must of necessity take national character. An old divine well says, "God can punish individuals both in this life and in the next; but he can only punish nations in this." There are distinctly personal and individual sins, and there are as distinctly national sins; wrong done by the rulers in the name of the people; or a wrong spirit pervading the people; or times when vice is permitted to run an unrestrained and ruinous course. And such national sin Jehovah ever regards, using such agencies as famine, plague, or war, for its due punishment. In this light the Old Testament ever regards war; the aggressive force is always treated as the executioner who carries out the Divine judgments. And it may be urged that this is still the deeper view to take of war, and that it is quite consistent with a clear recognition of the fact that such an aggressive force may act in mere wilfulness, or in furtherance of wicked schemes of self-aggrandizement. God makes the very "wrath of man" praise him. In treating the incidents of this chapter, it may be well to point out the distinction between what usually happens under the excitements of a siege, and the deliberate judgment that may be pronounced upon a conquered people. As may be painfully illustrated from the conduct of the British soldiers in India and in Spain, when a city is taken by storm, a scene of wild and awful rioting usually follows. Illustrate also from the Roman siege of Jerusalem. For Rabbah, the city here referred to, see the Expository portion of this Commentary, and 2 Samuel 11:1.

I. ANCIENT HORRORS OF WAR. Illustrate from different kinds of war—wars of races, the young and strong pushing out the old and weak; hardy mountain races occupying the cultured plains of the over-civilized and effeminate; dynastic wars, occasioned by the rivalries of different royal houses; sacred wars, such as the Crusades, to recover possession of the Lord's tomb; and wars of revenge, undertaken to clear off supposed or real insults. Of this latter kind was the war with Ammon (see 2 Samuel 19:1-43.). Modern ideas concerning war make it impossible for us to approve of the treatment to which the conquered Ammonites were subjected. Some writers have urged that David merely condemned the captives to severe bodily labours, to hewing and sawing wood, to burning of bricks, and to working in iron-mines; but probably the more terrible translation of the language must be accepted, in view of the common war-law of that stern age. And, with its best mitigations, war must still be regarded as a dreadful thing. The whole world sighs for the day when "the nations shall learn war no more."

II. CHRISTIAN MITIGATIONS OF THE HORRORS OF WAR. Illustrate from modem treatment of the dead, the wounded, the prisoner, and the conquered. Show how a prolonged period of comparative peace has influenced national sentiment concerning war. Explain, illustrate, and impress that the Christian law of the universal human brotherhood seeks to destroy all forms of war; and the day of its full triumph is surely coming.—R.T.

1 Chronicles 20:6, 1 Chronicles 20:7.-Strong in body, and strong in God.

Here are introduced to us "a man of great stature," and of abnormal development; a striking instance of mere bodily power: and a man who could overcome this giant, by virtue of his loyalty to God and reliance on his strength. It seems to be a fact that hugeness of body is usually associated with dulness of mind. The quick-witted David is always more than a match for the ponderous Goliath. It seems to be the fact—at least under our present human conditions—that the culture of the mind tends to ensure the frailty of the body. It seems to be now very difficult, if it may not be called impossible, to gain and to keep the mens sana in corpore sano. Yet we should feel that both the body and the soul are sacred trusts, and that we are responsible to God for the full and wise and harmonious culture of them both. The "body is to be for the Lord," and we are to "prosper even as our souls prosper." There are two principles by which our life should be toned. We should seek to be —

I. STRONG IN BODY; that is, in the bodily powers and resources. Applications may be made to health, vigour offrame, due control of passions, and proper training of mental faculties. But it should be shown that there are limitations to the success which we may reach in these matters—limitations from constitutional peculiarities, from hereditary tendencies, and from disabilities of circumstance. In this each of us can but reach his best possible.

II. STRONG IN GOD; that is, in the higher moral capacities and forces. In the culture of these there need be no qualifications or limitations. Due training of these will ensure complete dominion over the bodily powers and relations, so that all the lower faculties take their due place of ministry or service. And this is the high ideal after which we all should strive—the true man, who is like the Man Christ Jesus, strong in God, and therefore strong in body.—R.T.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/1-chronicles-20.html. 1897.
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