Last week we read about David’s kindness to Mephibosheth, who was the last remaining son of Jonathan and the grandson of Saul. And do you remember what I said last week about the custom in those days for a new king to kill all the members of the old king’s family. New kings didn’t want the old king’s son or grandson rising up in rebellion and trying to take revenge on the new king. So, very often the first order of business when one king succeeded another was for the new king to wipe out the old king’s family. And no one would be surprised if David wanted to do the same, especially because Saul, when he was alive, regarded David as his enemy and he had pursued David from place to place because he wanted to kill David. And so, who would be surprised if David now wanted to get even with Saul by wiping out his family?
But David was different. Instead of wanting to wipe out Saul’s family, he wanted to show kindness to Saul’s family. So, at the beginning of last week’s chapter, we read how David asked:
Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?
And someone told him about Mephibosheth. And he summoned Mephibosheth to appear before him and he announced that he was going to do two things for Mephibosheth: he was going to give back to Mephibosheth his inheritance in the Promised Land; and he was going to give Mephibosheth a place at the king’s table. And do you remember how Mephibosheth bowed down before David and said:
What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?
He was amazed by David’s remarkable kindness towards him. He regarded himself as a dead dog, as nothing at all, a person of no significance. And yet David was prepared to show him this amazing kindness which he gratefully received.
And, of course, we thought about how David’s kindness to Mephibosheth foreshadows the kindness of Christ to sinners like us, because through faith in Christ we inherit eternal life in the Promised Land to come; and all who trust in Christ can look forward to sitting with Christ the King in the new heavens and earth.
So, last week’s chapter was about David’s remarkable kindness to Mephibosheth, which he gratefully received, and which foreshadows Christ’s kindness to sinners like us. And this week’s chapter is also about David’s remarkable kindness. But this time, his kindness is not gratefully received. This time, his kindness is rejected. And, of course, in every generation, while there are those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and who therefore benefit from his kindness to sinners, there are many who do not believe and who reject his kindness. Instead of bowing before Christ the King, as Mephibosheth bowed before David, they refuse to submit to him. But that way only leads to death and destruction.
And so, let’s turn to this passage to study it together.
Verses 1 to 5
We’re told in verse 1 that in the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died, and his son succeeded him as king. If your memory is good, you might remember that the Ammonites appeared way back in 1 Samuel 11. At that time, the Ammonites, under their king Nahash, besieged the city of Jabesh Gilead in Israel. The men of the city were willing to surrender and make peace with the Ammonites; but Nahash was only willing to make a peace treaty with them if they agreed to have their right eyes removed. Well, who wants to lose their eye? So, the people of Jabash Gilead appealed to their fellow Israelites for help. And when Saul heard about it, he went and rescued them. So, at that time, the Ammonites were the enemies of Israel. However, according to David’s words in verse 2, Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had shown him kindness. We don’t know what he did for David, though some of the commentators suggest he may had helped David when David was on the run from Saul. However, we don’t really know what he did for David. However, the relationship between the Ammonites and the Israelites had clearly improved over time. And now, David was willing to show kindness to Nahash’s son for the sake of his father who had shown kindness to David.
And so David sent a delegation to Nahash’s son, Hanun, to express his sympathy on the death of his father. Just think of the way the leaders of the nations contacted the Queen on the death of Prince Philip. And often when the leader of one nation dies, the leaders of the other nations attend the funeral to pay their respects and to express their sympathy. In a similar way, David sent an official delegation to Hanun. The members of the delegation represented David himself.
But then we read how the Ammonite nobles were suspicious. It’s likely that these were the king’s military commanders; and it seemed to them that this delegation from David was not really there to express David’s sympathy; it seemed to them that they were spies who had come to spy out the land. They were saying that this is David’s cunning plan to defeat the Ammonites. And the military commanders managed to convince the new king so that he had David’s men seized and they shaved off half of their beards and cut off their garments in the middle to make them look ridiculous. The king was humiliating them and bringing disgrace on them and they had to travel home with half their beard’s gone and with the backsides exposed. Imagine if an official delegation from the UK or an ambassador was sent by the Queen to represent her at some state event overseas. And the hosts shaved half their hair off and took away their trousers and skirts and sent them packing. It would be personally humiliating for the members of the delegation. But it would be an insult to the Queen who sent them. David was willing to show kindness to Hanun, but Hanun rejected his offer of kindness.
Well, what was the first thing David did when he heard what had happened to his men? What would your first reaction be? You might think David’s first reaction would be to take revenge. But it wasn’t, was it? His first reaction was to think about his men and to show sympathy to them. He sent messengers to them, because they had been greatly humiliated. And he told them to stay at Jericho, which was on the border with the Ammonites, until their beards have grown back. So, there’s no need to hurry back to Jerusalem, where everyone will see what happened to you and it will only be humiliating for you. Stay in Jericho until your appearance is back to normal. Once again we see David’s kindness. Not only was he kind to kings and to the sons of kings, but he was kind to his own men.
Verses 6 to 14
The narrator tells us that Hanun realised he had become an offence to David’s nostrils. What he had done to David’s men stank and he had become a stench to David, like a bad smell, which you cannot stand and which you cannot put up with. And so, what did he do? Did he send a delegation to David to apologise and to try to make peace with David? Did he try to sort things out with David? Did he say that he had made a terrible mistake and he now wanted to make amends? No, he prepared for war. We’re told he hired extra soldiers: 20,000 Aramean foot soldiers as well as the king of Maacah with 1,000 men and 12,000 men from Tob. And, of course, he was preparing for war. He had offended David by what he did to David’s delegation, but instead of humbling himself before David and asking for peace, he made plans for war.
And when David heard what he was up to, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. Joab, you might remember, was David’s commander in chief. He was over all the army. And the narrator tells us in verse 8 how the Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance to their city, while the hired soldiers were out in the open country. In other words, the Israelite army faced enemies in front of them and behind them. They were surrounded. Joab therefore divided his army into two: half of them under his command would fight the hired soldiers; and the other half under his brother’s command would fight the Ammonites. And you’ll see in verse 11 what he said to his brother: If they’re too strong for me, come to help me. If you’re too strong for you, I’ll come to help you. But be strong. And let’s fight bravely for our people and for the cities of our God. He understood that if they lost the battle that day, the Ammonites would go on to attack the rest of Israel and would take over the Promised Land which God has given them. And then he adds:
The Lord will do what is good in his sight.
Isn’t that remarkable? We’ve read about Joab before, this mighty warrior, this ruthless soldier. He was the one who, along with his brother, murdered Abner back in chapter 3. Joab was a mighty and ruthless warrior, but here he expresses his faith in God. You see, he didn’t know whether the Lord would give him the victory that day or not; he didn’t know what God’s will was for them or for Israel or for the Ammonites. And, of course, none of us knows the future; and when we face problems and trials and troubles, we don’t know what the outcome will be. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring; and sure, none us knows how many more days or years we have to live. However, what we all need to believe is that the Lord will do what is good in his sight.
In other words, the Lord is in control. He’s the one who rules over the heavens and the earth and he has determined all things and he has determined what will happen to you today and tomorrow and for the remainder of your life. He’s the one who rules over all and we live and move and have our being in him. And so, the outcome of the battle which Joab was about to fight would be determined by God and by God alone. Yes, they were to be strong and they were to fight bravely, but the outcome was in God’s hands; and he will do what is good in his sight and that which is pleasing to him.
And all of us are to be like Joab in this: we’re to submit ourselves to God’s will. We may not be able to understand his ways, because his ways and his thoughts are higher than ours. But we’re called to submit to him and to trust that he will do what is good.
The commentators quote from John Calvin who preached on this passage and made the point that we remain in suspense about many things. For instance, when we’re sick, we’d love to hear a word from God that today or tomorrow we’ll recover, just as Joab would have loved to hear a word from God that today you will definitely destroy the Ammonites. But God doesn’t speak to us like that; and instead he leaves us in suspense, wondering what he will do and wondering when he will do it. And in our suspense, we’re to trust in him that he is mighty and powerful and can do all things; and he’s good and kind and gracious to his people. And so, we should wait quietly for him to do what is good in his sight. And we should accept his will for us, whatever it is, because whatever it is is good in his sight.
And on this occasion, the Lord gave the victory to Joab, because their enemies fled from them. And we’re told in verse 14 that Joab returned to Jerusalem.
Verses 15 to 19
However, that wasn’t the end of the conflict. We’re told the Arameans — the hired soldiers — regrouped. And we’re told that Hadadezer had more men brought over from beyond the Euphrates river. You’ve heard that name before, because Hadadezer was included in chapter 8 among the list of kings David had defeated. It’s possible he was now taking the opportunity to rebel against David; or it’s possible that the events of this chapter happened before the events of chapter 8. The narrator isn’t too concerned about putting everything in chronological order. So, we’re not exactly sure when all of these things happened. But in any case, King Hadadezer brings over more men to help in the fight against Israel.
And what happened next? David, the Lord’s anointed king, gathered all of Israel; and he crossed the Jordan to confront his enemies; and his enemies fled before him and he struck many of them down with the sword, while many of the others surrendered to David and made peace with him.
This is a chapter about the king’s kindness and how it was refused. And in the end, those who refused the king’s kindness and who made war against him were defeated. And Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords and he is willing to show kindness to us, even though we are by nature his enemies and we have disobeyed him and lived in rebellion to him. And yet, he is gracious and kind, and he offers to give us an inheritance in the Promised Land to come, so that we can have eternal life in the new and better world to come. And he offers us a seat at his table so that in eternity we will sit at his table and we will feast with him in the life to come. Though we are by nature his enemies and we deserve to be sent out of his presence forever and punished, he is kind to us and offers to bring us into his presence and to remain with him always.
We do not deserve it, because we’re sinners by birth and we sin against him throughout our life. And yet, because of his kindness to sinners, he gave up his life for them when he died on the cross and he shed his blood to cleanse them. And through the preaching of the gospel he comes to you today with the promise of forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life. Think of what you have done this past week. Think of what you have said. Think of the things you have thought. Think of all the ways you have disobeyed him and dishonoured him by the things you have done and said and thought. Think of the ways you have broken his laws and you have disregarded his word and you’ve relied instead on the wisdom of this fallen world. Think of how you have let him down. And perhaps you’ve been a believer for decades and yet you repeat the same sins over and over and you have found new ways to sin against him. You come to church and you’re ashamed because of how you have fallen short of doing his will. And you know, deep down inside, that you don’t deserve to come into his presence in eternity, because of what you have done.
And yet he is gracious and kind and he comes to you today in the preaching of his word to reassure you that if you believe in him he will not hold your sins against you, because he has paid for them with his life; and despite your sins and shortcomings, you still have an inheritance in the Promised Land to come and there’s still a seat for you at his table in eternity. He says to you today that just as David was prepared to show kindness to Mephibosheth and Hanun, he is willing to show kindness to you and to all who believe.
But, of course, there’s a warning here as well, isn’t there? Whereas Mephibosheth gratefully received David’s kindness, Hanun did not. And in the end, David confronted his enemies and they fled in terror before him. And Christ the King will come again one day. And when he comes, those who remained his enemies in this life because they refused to believe in him — will flee in terror before him, because he is coming to judge the living and the dead; and he will condemn and punish his enemies forever. Right now, he’s been kind to you. He’s being kind to you right now, because he’s giving you time to repent and to believe. And he’s sent you a preacher to tell you that you need to repent and to trust in Christ for forgiveness before it’s too late. Right now, he’s being kind to you. But when he comes again, the time for showing kindness to his enemies will be over, and the time to condemn and punish them will have arrived. And so, I say to those who have not yet believed: Now is the time. Now is the time to yield your life to Christ the King, who promises peace and eternal life to all who believe in him.