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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
The king of Ammon being dead, David sends ambassadors to comfort his son Hanun, 2 Samuel 10:1, 2 Samuel 10:2. Hanun, misled by his courtiers, treats the messengers of David with great indignity, 2 Samuel 10:3-5. The Ammonites, justly dreading David's resentment, send, and hire the Syrians to make war upon him, 2 Samuel 10:6. Joab and Abishai meet them at the city of Medeba, and defeat them, 2 Samuel 10:7-14. The Syrians collect another army, but are defeated by David with great slaughter, and make with him a separate peace, 2 Samuel 10:15-19.
1And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.
2Then 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.
I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash - We do not know exactly the nature or extent of the obligation which David was under to the king of the Ammonites; but it is likely that the Nahash here mentioned was the same who had attacked Jabesh-gilead, and whom Saul defeated: as David had taken refuge with the Moabites, (1 Samuel 22:3), and this was contiguous to the king of the Ammonites, his hatred to Saul might induce him to show particular kindness to David.
3And 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?
Thinkest thou that David doth honor thy father - It has been a matter of just complaint through all the history of mankind, that there is little sincerity in courts. Courtiers, especially, are suspicious of each other, and often mislead their sovereigns. They feel themselves to be insincere, and suspect others to be so too.
4Wherefore 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.
Shaved off the one half of their beards - The beard is held in high respect in the East: the possessor considers it his greatest ornament; often swears by it; and, in matters of great importance, pledges it. Nothing can be more secure than a pledge of this kind; its owner will redeem it at the hazard of his life. The beard was never cut off but in mourning, or as a sign of slavery. Cutting off half of the beard and the clothes rendered the men ridiculous, and made them look like slaves: what was done to these men was an accumulation of insult.
5When 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.
Tarry at Jericho - This city had not been rebuilt since the time of Joshua; but there were, no doubt, many cottages still remaining, and larger dwellings also, but the walls had not been repaired. As it must have been comparatively a private place, it was proper for these men to tarry in, as they would not be exposed to public notice.
6And 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.
The children of Ammon saw that they stank - That is, that their conduct rendered them abominable. This is the Hebrew mode of expressing such a feeling. See Genesis 34:30.
The Syrians of Bethrehob - This place was situated at the extremity of the valley between Libanus and Anti-libanus. The Syrians of Zoba were subject to Hadadezer. Maacah was in the vicinity of Mount Hermon, beyond Jordan, in the Trachonitis.
Ish-tob - This was probably the same with Tob, to which Jephthah fled from the cruelty of his brethren. It was situated in the land of Gilead.
7And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men.
All the host of the mighty - All his worthies, and the flower of his army.
8And 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.
At the entering in of the gate - This was the city of Medeba, as we learn from 1 Chronicles 19:7.
9When 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:
Before and behind - It is probable that one of the armies was in the field, and the other in the city, when Joab arrived. When he fronted this army, the other appears to have issued from the city, and to have taken him in the rear; he was therefore obliged to divide his army as here mentioned; one part to face the Syrians commanded by himself, and the other to face the Ammonites commanded by his brother Abishai.
10And 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.
11And 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.
12Be 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 of good courage - This is a very fine military address, and is equal to any thing in ancient or modern times. Ye fight pro aris et focis; for every good, sacred and civil; for God, for your families, and for your country.
13And Joab drew nigh, and the people that were with him, unto the battle against the Syrians: and they fled before him.
14And 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.
The Syrians were fled - They betook themselves to their own confines, while the Ammonites escaped into their own city.
15And when the Syrians saw that they were smitten before Israel, they gathered themselves together.
16And 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.
The Syrians that were beyond the river - That is, the Euphrates.
Hadarezer - This is the same that was overthrown by David, 2 Samuel 8:3 and there called Hadadezer; which is the reading here of about thirty of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS. But the ר resh and ד daleth are easily interchanged.
17And 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 - gathered all Israel together - He thought that such a war required his own presence.
18And 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.
Seven Hundred chariots - and forty thousand Horsemen - In the parallel place, 1 Chronicles 19:18, it is said, David slew of the Syrians Seven Thousand men, which fought in chariots. It is difficult to ascertain the right number in this and similar places. It is very probable that, in former times, the Jews expressed, as they often do now, their numbers, not by words at full length, but by numeral letters; and, as many of the letters bear a great similarity to each other, mistakes might easily creep in when the numeral letters came to be expressed by words at full length. This alone will account for the many mistakes which we find in the numbers in these books, and renders a mistake here very probable. The letter ז zain, with a dot above, stands for seven thousand, נ nun for seven hundred: the great similarity of these letters might easily cause the one to be mistaken for the other, and so produce an error in this place.
19And 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.
Made peace with Israel - They made this peace separately, and were obliged to pay tribute to the Israelites. Some copies of the Vulgate add here after the word Israel, Expaverunt et fugerunt quinquaginta et octo millia coram Israel; "and they were panic-struck, and fled fifty-eight thousand of them before Israel." This reading is nowhere else to be found. "Thus," observes Dr. Delaney, "the arms of David were blessed; and God accomplished the promises which he had made to Abraham, Genesis 15:18, and renewed to Joshua, Joshua 1:2, Joshua 1:4." And thus, in the space of nineteen or twenty years, David had the good fortune to finish gloriously eight wars, all righteously undertaken, and all honourably terminated; viz.
1. The civil war with Ish-bosheth.
2. The war against the Jebusites.
3. The war against the Philistines and their allies.
4. The war against the Philistines alone.
5. The war against the Moabites.
6. The war against Hadadezer.
7. The war against the Idumeans.
8. The war against the Ammonites and Syrians.
This last victory was soon followed by the complete conquest of the kingdom of the Ammonites, abandoned by their allies. What glory to the monarch of Israel, had not the splendor of this illustrious epoch been obscured by a complication of crimes, of which one could never have even suspected him capable!
We have now done with the first part of this book, in which we find David great, glorious, and pious: we come to the second part, in which we shall have the pain to observe him fallen from God, and his horn defiled in the dust by crimes of the most flagitious nature. Let him that most assuredly standeth take heed lest he fall.