Perhaps you remember the story. Two women come to king Solomon, both had a son each but one of their sons had recently died and that mother switched her dead son with the living son in an effort to trick the other woman that it was actually her son that had died. Solomon’s famous wisdom was displayed as he then said something to settle this dispute that was altogether unexpected. Solomon said, “Bring me a sword…Divide the living child in two and give half to the one and half to the other” (1 Kings 3:24-25). He did this, not intending to harm the child but knowing that the real mother would then be clearly seen. She was, and the dispute was settled quickly.

Scripture has many places within it where events occur that are unexpected, our passage today is one of them. But while the unexpected nature of Solomon’s actions showed the depth of his wisdom, the unexpected actions in our passage today show the depth of man’s folly. We’ll see this in a moment, for now know this. We’ve now arrived at the midpoint of our journey through the book of 2 Samuel. The glory of David’s kingdom has been wonderfully seen in chapters 1-9 and we’ll see more of that glory today in chapter 10. But in chapter 11 the dark days of David’s kingdom begins, and chapter 10 (while not dark at all) does set up the scenario into the which darkness falls.

Here’s where we’re headed. I’ve divided chapter 10 into three points:

Kindness & Suspicion (v1-5)

Courage & Cowardice (v6-14)

Death & Fear (v15-19)

Kindness & Suspicion (v1-5)

In v1-2 the stage is set, “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.”

As we come into chapter 10 this morning we see it’s connection with chapter 9 in the word hesed.[1] Remember in chapter 9 David desired to show kindness (literally ‘do hesed’ the covenantal term) to Saul’s house for the sake of Jonathan and when Mephibosheth was discovered David lavished on him all manner of gifts. Specifically, three things. Remember? Protection (David didn’t kill him being a relative of the former king), provision (David gave him all that belonged to Saul), and position (David gave him a seat at his table always). We saw that last week. Now in v1-2 of chapter 10 we see hesed show up again. We learn there that some time in the past Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, dealt loyally (literally again ‘did hesed’) to David when he was in great need. Same word shows up here again, linking the two chapters. On one hand it’s hard to see David entering into a covenant with Nahash the ruthless Ammonite king who attacked Jabesh-gilead in 1 Sam. 11. But on the other hand, when David was exiled he received aid and sought refuge with many of his enemies. We don’t ever read of this moment when Nahash showed hesed to David, we never hear of the two of them entering into a covenant, we don’t get those details, but the word hesed here implies it, David says it, and so we trust that it happened.[2] What does all of this lead to? David could have seized the opportunity to make much of the Ammonite instability as one king dies and new king is installed, but he doesn’t.[3] In response to the hesed Nahash showed him in the past, David desires to deal loyally (again ‘do hesed’) to Hanun the son of Nahash in the present. This isn’t the only connection between chapter 9 and 10, there’s more. Just as David wanted to do hesed to the descendant of Saul in chapter 9, so too he wants to do hesed to the descendant of Nahash in chapter 10 by sending some of his own heads of state to Nahash’ funeral. Hesed, or kindness or covenantal devotion, is the tie between these two chapters. David is the king who’s not only kind to those within Israel in chapter 9 he’s the king who’s kind to those outside Israel in chapter 10. Or we could say it like this, when hesed is in view David’s domestic policy and his foreign policy are the same.[4]

What makes these chapters so different is how David’s hesed is received. In chapter 9 Mephibosheth rejoices and responds with a deep gratitude. How will Hanun respond to it? Spoiler alert: not well.

v3-5 continue the narrative, “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.”

So, off David’s heads of state go to convey kindness and sympathy to Hanun for the death of his father Nahash, and before we even get a chance to see a reaction from Hanun we see his servants coming in to warn him of David’s sneaky deviousness. ‘He’s not sending these men to comfort and show kindness, no, he’s spying out our weak spots to know where they might invade.’ A response like this is understandable, knowing who David is and how mighty Israel has grown, but it’s inexcusable to not take David at his word. His response is vile to say the least. In their day a beard was something of a symbol of dignified manliness so Hanun had shamed David’s servants by not just shaving their beards, but humiliating them by only shaving half their beards. And more so, he then slashes their clothing in half, leaving them exposed.[5] One can only imagine the scene of David’s servants walking out of the city so exposed being mocked and laughed at by all who saw their exit. As much as we were truly encouraged by David in v1-2, we’re deeply grieved by Hanun in v3-5. But once again David shows kindness and allows the men to wait to return until their beards grow once again.

There is much to grieve in Hanun’s rejection of David’s kindness. Just as it is a happy thing when leaders are ever watchful to show kindness it is a disgrace when leaders are ever suspicious, always like to be in a fight, and ever critical of everyone around them. The Puritan commentator Matthew Henry says this about Hanun, “False men are ready to think others as false as themselves; and those that bear ill-will to their neighbors are resolved not to believe that their neighbors bear any goodwill to them…Unfounded suspicion indicates a wicked mind.”[6] Hanun’s actions preview the kind of rejection Christ Himself would receive in His suffering, as well as the kind of rejection the world often brings those who follow Christ.

Similarly there is much to commend in David for this action. In this first section of 2 Samuel David shows himself to be the hesed-doing king.[7] It is a happy thing for any nation when its rulers are ever on watch for opportunities to show kindness to other nations. And it is a happy thing for any church when its leaders are ever on watch for opportunities to show kindness to their churches and other churches in their cities. And would we not all agree that the same rings true of families and all Christians individually? Indeed it does.[8] David reminds us what a good leader looks like here, and in these ways David is a stunning preview of the kindness of Jesus Christ.

So we have kindness and suspicion in v1-5, now see that this leads to…

Courage & Cowardice (v6-14)

These next verses move quick and cover massive details in a just a few words, so we’ll take them in small portions…

v6 starts the new scene, “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.”

Sometime after the humiliation of David’s servants the Ammonites recognized the magnitude of what they had done. Notice were not told this is how David viewed things, but how they viewed things. Apparently, they didn’t desire to or the thought never occurred to them that they could have gone go to David and apologized to him, no. They continue to go in the wrong direction, not being moved to repentance by the kindness of David, but further hardening themselves against David.[9] And thinking they will be fine as long as they have a big enough army they convince, or more likely, purchase help from their a few neighbors and form a large coalition.

v7-8, “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 David heard there was a large on the move against him he went on the defensive and sent out his famous mighty men led by Joab, who we haven’t heard from since chapter 3. No destination is given which means the mighty men are most likely waiting some where for more news of where the large force will attack. And that David sends them out, means, he’s not with them. That’s all in v7. In v8 we see more. The enemy host came out and drew up for battle at the entrance of the gate while the rest of the coalition went out to the open fields. The author isn’t giving us much detail about this battle, so it’s difficult to know which gate is in view or where out in the open the rest of them go. But we do get a bit more in v9-10.

v9-10, “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.”

So Joab got word of what was going on, saw that they were surrounded and reacted. Splitting his army into two, he took some of the best men and went to one side to fight the Syrians while the rest went with his brother Abishai to fight the Ammonites. At this point do not miss that the author of 2 Samuel slows down a bit and gives us specific words from Joab that he spoke to his men before the battle. Words that give us some unexpected good theology.[10]

v11-12, “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.”

What do we make of this?[11] Perhaps you remember the last time we saw and heard from Joab in 2 Samuel. It was chapter 3 when he disrespected king David, took matters into his own hands, and killed Abner. And that was just one episode from among many that prove Joab to be a cruel, selfish, violent, and look out for number one kind of man. What do we do with him suddenly spouting out good theology? Is this some kind of foxhole religion, suddenly getting godly in dire straits? How can such a cruel man teach us such good doctrine? Should we listen to him or despite all the other data we have on him? I think we should. And not only so. I think all the folks who would disregard Joab in this passage are also the kind of folks who would’ve disregarded Paul when he got saved. They’re probably the same kind of folks who right now are disregarding Kanye.

May we have ears to hear Joab. His words to his army are brave and confident, they’re words that rival any pre-war speech of history, words that would’ve rallied his men and renewed their vigor and roused them to stand firm against the enemy! Words that every Christian can take onto their own lips, words that are a simultaneously stout and sweet, words that bring certainty amid all of life’s uncertainty. Friends, life in a fallen world calls for courage, courage for the Church – for one another, and courage for Christ. What do we need to know to have such courage? That God is good, and that God always does what is good. Knowing this, for Joab then, and for us today…gives us great courage in the face of anything. I often wonder if people think there are two kinds of Christians: those who take their faith dogmatically and those who take their normally, as if to be dogmatic is to be far too serious. Hear me loud and clear, fighting the good fight of faith isn’t something dogmatic Christians do, it’s something Christians do. Peter tells us “Our adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul mentions in 2 Cor. 11 his desire that we not be ignorant of the designs of Satan. In Eph. 4:27 he calls us to give no opportunity to the devil.” As we heard earlier we’re to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” So how do we be strong in the Lord and fight the good fight of faith? 4 steps: 1) Sorrow over your sinful weakness, 2) See the strength of Christ, His Person and His mighty victorious work on the cross, 3) Savor Christ in this gospel, and 4) Spread this gospel to the ends of the earth!

Why? Christ is worthy of all praise, and Christ is therefore worth giving all for. And when the fight gets hard as we seek after this kingdom we remember Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

v13-14 closes this battle out, “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.”

When it came down to it and they stood firm, they didn’t even have to fight! We saw kindness and suspicion in v1-5, we see courage and cowardice here in v6-14, now see how the chapter ends in v15-19 with…

Conclusion: Death & Fear (v15-19)

“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. 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.”

Pause here at v18. Apparently after seeing how thoroughly they’d been defeated they didn’t retreat, they regrouped for another go. And unlike before, David went with his troops this time and they fled once again but with great loss of life.[12] What was the final outcome? v19, “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.”

The events of 2 Samuel 10 could have been very different if Ammonites welcomed David’s kindness, or even sought his pardon for abusing his kindness while time remained…but they didn’t.[13] Be warned Church. Many lives would be lived differently if God’s kindness in Christ was welcomed and not shirked aside and thought foolish. Remember God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. 

May our response to Him, not be hard hearted rebellion, but ever be glad hearted thankfulness and devotion, leading to great courage for our great King!


[1] Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 231.

[2] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 133.

[3] John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 268.

[4] Davis, 2 Samuel, 134.

[5] Whether their clothing was cut vertically in half, like their beards (Alter, page 245) or cut entire off at the waist horizontally (Woodhouse, page 271), the humiliation is clear.

[6] Matthew Henry, quoted in Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2018), 191.

[7] Davis, 2 Samuel, 134.

[8] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 189–90.

[9] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 272.

[10] Davis, 2 Samuel, 135.

[11] Davis, 136. This section in Davis is powerful.

[12] John L. Mackay and J. Gary Millar, ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2019), 360.

[13] Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 278.

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