After this the king of the Ammonites died, and Hanun his son reigned in his place. 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, at 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.”
When the Ammonites saw that they had become a stench to David, the Ammonites sent and hired the Syrians of Beth-rehob, and the Syrians of Zobah, 20,000 foot soldiers, and the king of Maacah with 1,000 men, and the men of Tob, 12,000 men. And when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the host of the mighty men. And the Ammonites came out and drew up 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.
When Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear, he chose some of the best 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 be courageous 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 Abishai and entered the city. Then Joab returned from fighting against the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.
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. 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. The Syrians arrayed themselves against David and fought with him. And the Syrians fled before Israel, and David killed of the Syrians the men of 700 chariots, and 40,000 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 were afraid to save the Ammonites anymore. – 2 Samuel 10 ESV
Chapter ten gives us a glimpse into that part of David’s role as king of Israel that required him to defend and protect his kingdom. One of David’s primary responsibilities as king was to finish what Joshua and the people of Israel had begun when they first entered the land of promise. Chapter eight chronicled David’s victories against the Philistines, Moabites, Amalekites, Edomites, Ammonites and Syrians. But in chapter ten we find him having to go to war yet again, because the newly crowned king of the Ammonites chose to reject David’s offer of peace. David had sent emissaries to Hanun, the new king of the Ammonites, offering his condolences over the death of Hanun’s father. But Hanun’s princes and advisors saw David’s overtures as a veiled attempt to spy out the city and report back to David concerning its defenses. So they took the men, shaved off half their beards and cut off the lower portions of their garments, leaving them exposed, and sent them on their way. This intentional slight left David with no alternative but to declare war on the Ammonites. And the Ammonites sought out the services of Syrian mercenaries to assist them in their coming battle with Israel.
The noteworthy thing about this entire scenario is that it reveals how David handled these continuing military excursions. This event was most likely early on in David’s reign. He spent the formative portions of his rule dealing with the enemies that surrounded Israel and was constantly having to go to battle with one nation or another. David was the warrior-king. It was his job. And he did it well. But even in this case, we see David, as king, setting a dangerous precedence, by sending Joab, his military commander, to do battle with the Ammonites, while David remained behind. It is also notable that David does not seem to seek the counsel of God before going into battle. It appears that he took the debasing treatment of his men by the Ammonites as a personal slap in the face and was determined to do something about it. So he sent his troops, under the leadership of Joab, to deal with it. And Joab would find himself out-manned. It would only be through his skillful leadership that the enemy was defeated. But even Joab recognized that any hopes of victory were up to God. Just prior to the battle, he told his men:
“Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” – 2 Samuel 10:12 ESV
Joab was doing his job, but he was also relying of God. But David remained back in Jerusalem. He would not enter the fight until after the Ammonites and Syrians were routed by Israel. When he received word that the Syrians had mustered their own army against Israel, he personally lead his troops into battle, ultimately defeating the Syrians.
So why is all of this so important? It sets up chapter 11, where we will find David, the warrior-king, once again facing battle, but choosing to stay behind in Jerusalem. David had established a very unwise habit. Chapter 11 will open with the seemingly innocuous words, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1 ESV). We will see yet again, David sending Joab and his troops into battle while he remained safe behind. At at time when most kings would do battle, David would stay behind. He would delegate his duties to Joab.
But David’s primary responsibility as king of Israel was to secure the land and to remove the pagan nations from among them. He was charged by God with the duty to carry out His command, given to Moses and then passed on to Joshua.
“…but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 20:17-18 ESV
As long as there were nations threatening the physical and spiritual well-being of Israel, David had one job to do: Fight. He wasn’t to delegate that responsibility to another. But David appears to have had a problem with shirking responsibility. You can see it in his role as a father. Time and time again, David failed to lead his growing family well. His obsession with women led to him having many children, but it is one thing to bring children into the world and another thing to father and lead them once they are here. David appears to have left much of the training of his children up to his many wives. And, as we shall see, this abdication of his God-given responsibility would come back to haunt him.
David enjoyed victories over the Ammonites and the Syrians, in large part due to the leadership and faith of Joab. But David’s decision to remain at home while his armies went into battle was going to prove to be a bad habit that produced even worse results. When we fail to do what God has called us to do, because we are distracted by the cares of this world, we may experience success in life, but the time will come when our victories turn into defeats. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, reminded them that their salvation had been for a purpose, not because they were good people who deserved to be saved, but because God had something for them to do.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT
Like David, we are here for a reason. We have a God-given job to do. We cannot afford to shirk our responsibility or decide to delegate our job to someone else. When we fail to do what God has called us to do, we risk His discipline. He won’t fall out of love with us, but He will allow us to experience the painful lessons that come with disobedience.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.