May 9, 2021
After the Ammonite king’s death, David sent servants to offer condolences to the king’s son and successor. His kindness was rejected, however, and his men were sent back in shame and humiliation. Joab, the army commander who was sent to deal with the enemies, exhorted his men to be courageous yet confident in God’s sovereign care. Alistair Begg shows how this passage points us to King Jesus, who covers our shame and whom we can trust to do what is good and right.
We’re going to read from the Bible, in 2 Samuel and in chapter 10. I invite you to follow along as I read. Second Samuel 10, and from the first verse:
“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.”
If you’re visiting, we’ve been studying in 1 and 2 Samuel, and we looked last time at the ninth chapter under the heading “A Kingdom of Kindness.” And we saw that David’s generosity to Mephibosheth was an outworking of the covenant that he had actually made with Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan. And you will notice, I think, that this chapter begins along the very same lines. The reference “After this…” is a kind of achronological reference, as we’ve seen, and we are not delayed by considerations of chronology; we recognize that the writer is marshaling the information in such a way so that we might understand the unfolding story.
But now we find that David is going to extend loyalty or “deal loyally” with Hanun, whose father Nahash had, we’re told in verse 2, dealt loyally with David. Now, the English translation does not always translate our word hesed in the same way. And so that reference here to loyalty is still a reference to the hesed, the covenant love of God—or, in the King James version, the “lovingkindness” of God. When God reveals himself to Moses in Exodus, he says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
And this faithfulness extended to Mephibosheth was, as we saw last time, life changing, it was undeserved, it was faithful to the promises, and it was personal in its acceptance. And what we actually have, of course, is the similarity of the extension of this kindness, this covenant kindness—and yet it is at that point that the similarity ends. Because in chapter 9, this expression of kindness has been accepted by Mephibosheth, and here in chapter 10, we discover that it is rejected.
Now, it is important—at least it has been important for me, to keep my bearings in studying this—to remind myself of two things consistently. And one is that as we continue to look to King David and to the story of his life here, what we see in this king is there to point us forward to the King, to the King of Kings—namely, to the Lord Jesus—and at the same time to be reminded of the fact of Psalm 2 (to which we will return again before the day is out), to be reminded of the fact that the psalmist tells us that the rulers and the kings of the earth unite themselves in array against the King, so that the rulers and the nations of the world are actually united in their opposition to he who is the King of Kings.
And that is why when we looked briefly last Sunday evening at Acts chapter 4, some of us, we realized why it was that in the experience of Peter and John being seized upon because of their proclamation and because of the transformation in the man who had been disabled, first they were charged, and then they were threatened, and then they were released; and when they were released into the custody of the people, what did the people do? They didn’t say, “Oh, goodness gracious, what is going on now? We never anticipated anything like this at all. What are we going to do? It looks like it’s all over. If they’re going to do this to the apostles, what will they do to us? There’s no future for us at all.” No, they did none of that, as you know if you were here or if you read your Bible.
What did they do? They turned to their Bibles, and they turned to Psalm 2. And they said, “Oh, well, this makes sense of Psalm 2. The nations and the rulers of the earth unite against the King.” And they said, “This explains Herod, and this explains Pilate,” and as you push forward, this actually explains, in one sense, the history of the world. Because the ultimate expression of hostility and enmity that is foreshadowed here in 2 Samuel 10 as it relates to David the king is to be found in the opposition of the rulers of the world to Jesus himself.
And that opposition is not simply political. The powers which reject his rule are intellectual, they are commercial, they are cultural, they are social, they are sexual in their opposition. If you want to just take your newspaper on a daily basis, if you simply want to reflect upon the state of Western culture and say to yourself, “How in the world are we to make sense of this all?”—well, you will be helped by seeing what has happened in 2 Samuel 10, and especially if you keep in mind, as I say, the fact that it is this King who is sovereign over all of the world.
You see, the real question today in every part of history, but not least of all in the strange world in which we live is “Who rules the world? Who’s in charge of the world? Where is the ultimate power in the universe to be found?” There’s hardly a day passes where they say, “Well, you know, it used to be the USSR, but now it is China. It used to be this, now it is that. This is to be feared. That is to be the occasion of alarm.” And we understand that, in terms of the movements of peoples in the world and the unfolding of democracies and the crumbling of totalitarian states and so on. But if you want to go with the Bible, then you say to yourself when you put your head on the pillow at night, “God has set his anointed King on Zion’s hill.” And he reigns in the midst of history—a history whose powers deny it.
Now, that’s a long introduction, I recognize. But just in case we decide we can sort of exempt ourselves from this great and vast predicament, let us recognize that the resistance to King Jesus happens not on a global, cosmic level, first of all, but on a personal level, where we live in a world that says, “We believe in ourselves; we claim the right to determine for ourselves, down even to the matters of gender; and we do not want any sovereign ruling over us, thank you very much.” As I was driving in the car, I was thinking this, and then boop!, it came on—that is, Billy Joel: “Go ahead with your own life, [and] leave me alone.” I was thinking in the car, I said, “You know, this is exactly what it is.” And then he sang it for me, and I said, “See, even Billy Joel is giving me the illustration right there.”
All right. If we’ve got that clear, now we can go to the text.
First of all—and we’ll deal with this under three headings—first of all, David shows kindness: verses 1–5. We won’t get to the third of these until this evening. David shows kindness: verses 1–5.
Now, you know, because we’ve just read it together, that this is occasioned by the death of a man called Nahash, the king of the Ammonites. And any notion that we might cherish of this man Nahash being a kind of warm and cozy soul, somebody that David would just have been naturally predisposed towards, is dispelled by what we learned of him in part in 1 Samuel and in chapter 11. You needn’t turn to it, but I’ll just remind you of what we read on that occasion: “Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, ‘Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.’ But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, ‘On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.’”
Well, this is not the kind of person that you would feel naturally predisposed towards, is it? In the transition of power that is represented by his death, it would be perfectly understandable if the response of David was to say, “Here is an opportunity for subjugation. Here is an opportunity for me to establish my absolute control and rule over this character. After all, we remember what he was like.” But, of course, once again, the hesed love of God is a surprising love. It is an undeserved love. It is a covenant love. It is God’s love.
And so we read in the text that instead of subjugation, he sent comforters to bring consolation. You see that in the middle of verse 2: “So David sent by his servants to console [them]…” To console not Nahash—he’s dead—but to console Hanun. He’s lost his father. And he recognizes that this is an opportunity for him to show kindness. We often say, don’t we, that a kindness will be long remembered? It will be long remembered after intellectual capacity or mathematical genius or whatever it may be. Kindness will be long remembered.
But what we discover is that his kindness is not reciprocated. And so, although he wants to extend to him consolation, the princes of the Ammonites intervene. And their intervention is recorded for us there again in the text. They say to their king, to Hanun, they say to him, “You don’t think, do you, that David has sent the comforters because he wants to honor your father?” They’re suspicious souls, aren’t they? “You don’t think he means to bless you?” You may remember that God’s promise to Abraham was that through him the nations of the earth would be blessed. “You don’t think he’s going to do that?”
No, they despised his motives. (It’s not good to be this kind of suspicious person.) They despised the motives. They questioned his approach. They distrusted the commanders who came, despite the fact they came in the role to comfort. They suggest to Hanun that their mission is sinister: “He’s only sent these fellows up here to search the city. They’re spies, and their overall perspective must surely be to overthrow it.”
Isn’t it amazing how people influence people? Did this fellow, did he have no resolve in himself? Wasn’t he able just to sit and say, “Well, thank you very much for your perspective, but it seems to me that the reverse is the case”? Apparently not. I think he had a little bit of his old man in him—maybe a big bit of his old man in him. Because look at what he does. Now, he doesn’t gouge out one of their eyes, but he comes up with a program of his own, which is really quite striking, isn’t it? “So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved off half [of their beards].”
Now, what is that about? And did he do it, you know, top half and left the bottom half? I don’t think so. I think he did it like this. I think he shaved the right-hand side off. You look absolutely ridiculous—and also challenging their masculinity, challenging their power, challenging their might, denuding them, if you like. And he says, “And why don’t you just cut their stuff off right around here, right at their buttocks. And we’ll send them out with a big thank-you and send them home. Thank you very much for your covenant love, David. You’ll find your guys. They won’t be coming down the main road. They’ll be coming down a side street. You can probably find them if you look carefully for them.”
And, of course, that is exactly what happens. They make their way home, humiliated, going down the side roads, avoiding contact with anybody, because they were, understandably, “greatly ashamed.”
And here you get another indication of the kindness of the king. You know, it wouldn’t have been surprising, again, if he had said, “Are you kidding me? Those fellows let them do that to them? I thought my fellows were a lot tougher than that.” No, there’s no recrimination. No, he sends his messengers again. He sends his messengers and says to the messengers, “Let them stay until they get back to normal.” It’s gonna take them a wee while for their beards to grow. They can get a new outfit. That, they could be back home in less than twenty-four hours. They could cover up all that was exposed. And so that is exactly what happens.
Now, when I read that again… “When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed.” And the king came, and he says, “Listen, do this.” He covered their shame. The King covers our shame. Metaphorically, in some sense, he provides them with a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Shame. Do you know of anyone who can deal with your shame, your guilt, your foolishness, your exposure? The King can. The King does.
In verses 6–14, David then, having shown kindness, sends Joab. Sends Joab. You read, “When the Ammonites saw that they had become a stench to David…” Now, this is not David’s perspective on them. This is their understanding of what they have done and what that means. Now, as far as David and his folks are concerned, the Ammonites stink to high heaven, as we say. And they realize that they have put themselves in a situation where they’re going to have to plan for warfare. And so, that’s the essential text, isn’t it? The amassing of these troops, arraying them in such a way that they might be prepared for battle.
Now, before we just take it for granted—you say, “Well, okay, they did that; that wasn’t smart; it therefore makes sense that there would be warfare”—no, actually, there was another possibility, wasn’t there? They could have paused for a moment and said, “You know, that was not the right response to kindness. That is not the right response.” They could actually have admitted they were wrong—or, if you like, repented. They could then have cast themselves upon the kindness of the one who had sent them the comforters. But instead of finding refuge in him, they resist him, only to go on and discover that there is no, actually, refuge from him. And in your back of your mind, you should hear again Psalm 2 ringing out: “Now, therefore, O kings of the earth, be warned. Be wise.” They did not heed the warning. They certainly did not respond in wisdom.
And so, David responds accordingly. In what I think we would say appears to be a defensive play, he enlists Joab and his mighty men. Now, again, you will remember Joab. If you don’t remember much, you will remember the fact that he coaxed Abner into a little private place behind the gate—he said he wanted to speak to him privately—and he struck him with a knife in his stomach so he died. This is the commander of the king’s troops.
You remember we said a couple weeks ago that the servants of the King are not all perfect servants? They weren’t then, and they’re not today, and they’re not right now. God employs interesting people in order to achieve his purposes. And in a moment, we’re going to see that this interesting character Joab is able to speak concerning things that almost appear to be beyond him.
The enemy is confronted, and the forces are arrayed against them. Verse 8: “The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle array at the entrance of the gate.”
Now, I just simply wrote down a couple of things by way of the response here of Joab.
First of all, to recognize his strategy. I don’t read much about battles. I’ve been to the battlefields in New England, and I’ve had people explain to me what was going on, and I pretended to understand. They said, “And they were coming over here, and they were over to the north”—I wasn’t sure where north was—“and to the south, they were coming up with the rear guard.” I just try to nod as much as I could, get it over as fast as I could. I wasn’t a good student for that kind of stuff.
But anyway, as best as I could understand this, having read it during the week, his strategy employed here is to prevent a pincer move—that is, that the forces both of the Syrians and the Ammonites, these enlisted armies, are separated from one another, and they’re going to come at them both from the front and from the back. And so, he then determines that the men that are under his charge shall be arrayed against the Syrians—verse 9. The rest of his men will be in charge of Abishai, who, you will remember, actually, back in 2 Samuel 3, with the death of Abner, the narrator says that both Joab and Abishai were responsible for the death of Abner—that somehow or another, he was implicated in it.
And so he is able to set things up in this way. And you will see what he says in verse 11: “We’ve got this, brother. If I find that the Syrians are too strong for me, if I’m going under, then you can come and help me. But if the Ammonites are too strong for you and you’re going under, then I will come and help you.” So it’s all very practical.
And then here in verse 12—which is essentially where we’re going to end—here in verse 12, this interesting character becomes the theological lecturer. He becomes the instructor. This actually is the only place in the chapter where the name of God is mentioned. God is not mentioned again until the end, I think, of chapter 11, but I didn’t check. And so, here we have the introduction of the name of God and the purpose of God and the power of God in the mainstream of what we might refer to as an everyday event in the battle and warfare of the king.
Now, I wonder, as we’ve seen before, if Joab here does not actually say more than he realizes. He is a killer, and now he is essentially a theologian. Well, could we possibly listen to a killer? Yes, if he tells the truth. Would we have to wait until we had a perfect instructor before we listen to the instruction? No, clearly, no, because there would only be one person who qualified, and he is now in heaven.
So, we recognize and we realize that just as we understood the destruction of the enemies back in chapter 8… Remember when we came to chapter 8, and we saw the way in which David dealt so ruthlessly with those who opposed him, we reminded ourselves that this was not some kind of territorial skirmish, it wasn’t simply an ethnic rivalry, but it was—and again, this is why we have to understand this in terms of Psalm 2—it was that God’s anointed king was being opposed by the enemies of God. And it is in the jurisdiction of God’s anointed king to destroy God’s enemies. It is not that he didn’t like them. It is not that they didn’t come from his background. It has actually got nothing to do with that at all, any more than his generosity, than his lovingkindness, would be extended towards those who so clearly opposed him. It is quite remarkable. But that is important, to remind ourselves of that fact, because you realize that what Joab says here is not simply “Let’s do our best,” but rather, “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and … the cities of our God.”
Now, we read earlier from Deuteronomy 6, in sharing in the time with the Hartmans. If we had gone on from where we left off, we would have been able to read these verses: “And when the Lord … God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build…” So, “I’m going to bring you into the land, and I’m going to give you good and great cities which you were not responsible actually for building.” So in other words, these cities that Joab says to his brother, “We are going to be courageous—courageous for our people, because we are the people of God, and courageous for the cities of our God, because this is exactly what God had planned.”
And then he says, “And may the Lord do what seems good to him.” “May the Lord do what seems good to him.” The NIV—and I think I prefer the NIV—does not have that as an invocation but rather as a declaration: namely, “The Lord will do what is good in his sight.” “The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”
Now, if you think about this, this covers more—as I’m going to show you in conclusion—this covers more, actually, than simply this battle and this specific incident. Because Joab did not know what the Lord would do. Joab didn’t know what the Lord would do. He did know that the Lord would do what is good, that the Lord would do what seems best to him. He did not know the outcome of the battle.
Now, it seems to me that this—which is almost the fulcrum of this chapter—that this is the place at which many of us need to find resolution, solution, solace. In the seven days that have passed, on three separate occasions, I have met with people for whom this is the issue: “I do not know what the outcome to this will be.” “I do not know whether this cancer treatment will be successful.” “I do not know whether my partner in life will stay with me.” So what do you say? You say what Joab says: “The Lord will do what seems good to him.”
You see where this matter of autonomy comes back. You start from the position that we oppose the rule of the King: “After all, it’s my life. It’s my decision. It’s my marriage. It’s my health.” Well, do you actually believe that God is sovereign and that he will do what is good?
Now, I spent a long time on this, and that’s why I pause in this way. And I’m going to end here, because I went to Calvin for help, and I was greatly helped. And I’m going to give you this quote, and then we will be heading towards the evening service to try and resolve this.
Calvin is writing on this very section in his commentary on 2 Samuel, and this is what he says: “God does not give particular promises about this or that to his children.” He doesn’t give particular promises.
We certainly have this point which should firmly persuade us that God will never abandon us, and that in the end he will show that our hope in him was not in vain, so that our faith will not be frustrated when it rests upon his mercy and his truth. Nevertheless, we must remain in suspense about many things. For instance, when we ask God for our daily bread, it is not that we are assured that he will send us a good harvest or a great vintage. We should leave that in his hands and patiently await what pleases him. When we have any illness, we must rest well assured that he has not forgotten us, and that we have such access to him, … that in the end, we will feel that he has looked on us in pity. The promise of God should be fully sufficient in regard to that. However, when we would like to have the word that today or tomorrow he will restore our health, we do not know—we are even in doubt of living or dying.
Now, that’s perfectly true, isn’t it? Sleep is a foreshadowing of death. Every night when you put your head on the pillow, you have no guarantee whatsoever that you or I will wake up. And so: “As I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.”
That seems perfectly in keeping with what Joab is saying here. He said, “We’re gonna do what we can do. We’re good at this. We’ll cover for one another. We’re gonna be courageous for the people of God, because we should. We’re gonna be courageous for the cities of God, because they are the cities of God. And may the Lord do what seems good to him.”
Well, he could not be certain about it, for he had no promise about it. We therefore see that “Joab’s uncertainty was not lack of faith, for we can certainly doubt, although we embrace the promises of God and hold them as absolutely certain and infallible. What we doubt are the things which are not clear to us. That is how he wants us to remain in suspense about many things and to leave it all to his secret counsel and his providence.”
Lessons in theology from a killer. What is faith? “Faith is knowing that the Lord is good, and that he does what is good,” and that what he does is decided by him and not by us.
Well, just a moment of silence.
Lord, we’re ashamed to think of how long we spend sitting on the throne of our own hearts, consumed by all kinds of anxiety and worry because somehow or another we’ve decided that maybe you just won’t do what is good, that maybe you don’t have our best interests at heart. Thank you for your covenant love, which is pledged to bring to completion the good work that you have begun in our lives. And your servants that have been the best help to us have not only grappled with this but have lived it. “Lord, it belongs not to my care whether I live or die,” writes Baxter. What an amazing statement! Is that because he knows the answer to everything? No. Is it because he has specific promises about the nature of heaven and what it will be like? No. What does he say?
My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
[It is] enough that Christ knows all
And I shall be with him.
Thank you for the mystery of your purposes. Thank you for the hesed nature of your covenant love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Exodus 34:6 (ESV).
 See Psalm 2:2.
 See Psalm 2:6.
 Billy Joel, “My Life” (1978).
 1 Samuel 11:1–2 (ESV).
 See Isaiah 61:3.
 Psalm 2:10 (paraphrased).
 See 2 Samuel 3:26–27.
 See 2 Samuel 3:30.
 Deuteronomy 6:10 (ESV).
 2 Samuel 10:12 (NIV).
 John Calvin, Sermons on 2 Samuel: Chapters 1–13, trans. Douglas Kelly (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 464–65.
 Calvin, 465.
 John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 214.
 See Philippians 1:6.
 Richard Baxter, “Lord, It Belongs Not to My Care” (1681).
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.