Last week we saw that both chapters 9 and 10 show David honoring a promise that he had made to a parent to show kindness or chesed to that parent's children. He showed kindness to Mephibosheth, because of a promise made to Jonathan, and he showed kindness to Hanun because of a promise made to Nahash. He was a promise keeper. And that is something we should always aspire to be, whether in our private or in our public positions. We must be true to our word.
But in verse 3 the nobles of Ammon grossly misinterpreted (and my understanding is that they deliberately misinterpreted) David's motives. It says,
2Samuel 10:3 "And the princes of the people of Ammon said to Hanun their lord, "Do you think that David really honors your father because he has sent comforters to you? Has David not rather sent his servants to you to search the city, to spy it out, and to overthrow it?"
They were deliberately trying to poison this inexperienced young king's attitudes toward David. So they were reading false motives into David's good actions. Now, that all by itself would be hurtful. And some of you have experienced the pain of being misunderstood and grossly misrepresented. You know it hurts. It hurts when enemies do it, but it hurts even more when friends do it. Hanun's family had been very close to David. But it gets worse. Hanun not only misinterprets the intentions of David, but he also humiliates David's men. He victimizes them. Verse 4:
2Samuel 10:4 "Therefore Hanun took David's servants, shaved off half of their beards, cut off their garments in the middle, at their buttocks, and sent them away."
Who was the real victim here? It was obviously Israel, wasn't it? Yet, David showed great forbearance. He was willing to overlook this wrong until push comes to shove in verses 6 and 7. So a friendly act is misinterpreted, and when their treatment of David's men makes the Ammonites look really bad, rather than apologizing, they cover their tracks and look for a way to destroy the very ones that they had victimized. And that is where we are picking up today – at verse 6.
Continuing to abuse the victim (v. 6)
2Samuel 10:6 "When the people of Ammon saw that they had made themselves repulsive to David [notice that they inwardly know that it is their fault, not David's – that they had made themselves repulsive to David"], the people of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Beth Rehob and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand foot soldiers; and from the king of Maacah one thousand men, and from Ish-tob twelve thousand men."
Were they responding to hostilities on the part of David? No. We saw last week that it was not until Ammon hired mercenaries that David went to war. He was willing to overlook an insult. He was not willing to lose the lives of his soldiers simply over hurt pride. And the first phrase of verse 6 makes that clear. It says,
2Samuel 10:7 "Now when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men."
He is responding not to the first insult, but to the hiring of Syria to come down and war against Israel. So if David had not made any moves to invade Ammon, why were the Ammonites doing this? They were doing it because once again they had falsely assumed that David would respond to such actions the way they would respond to such actions. They are projecting their own evil motives upon David. And to protect themselves from the hostilities that they assumed would be coming, they go to war. And so what has happened, there is a double victimization. Not only has a metaphorical rape taken place in verse 4, but now they try to destroy the victim who complains.
And in case you think that is bizarre, I should point out that this happens all the time. You've probably heard cases in Saudi Arabia where a woman gets raped and when she complains, she is punished by the courts – sometimes even with death. And you wonder, "What is with that?" But they assume that the woman must have been guilty as well, or the men would not have raped her. It's a faulty view of human nature. Their view is the same as the Pharisees – that if you get rid of the temptation, then you won't sin. In fact, if you dig a little bit deeper into Islamic views on sin, you soon discover that men tend to impute most of the wrong on the woman. I've talked to Muslims about lust in the heart and covetousness, and they don't believe that is sin. They don't blame the heart. They blame the circumstances. If she wasn't there, this wouldn't have happened. And that is exactly what they said in a 2006 rape case in Saudi Arabia, that made national news here in America in 2007. What had happened was that a woman was abducted and raped by seven men, and when her lawyer resoundingly proved the guilt of the rapists, he was barred from practicing law and she received 200 lashes. Yes, they were punished too, but she received 200 lashes. In some societies, the rape victims are almost automatically executed to restore the honor of the family – to get rid of the shame. And I bring that up because so many people are naïve about the relationship of Christianity to America's freedoms, checks, and balances. They think that it really doesn't matter who immigrates here – that we will continue to have the same liberties. But that simply isn't so. Our Constitutional liberties do not make sense in a Hindu, Buddhist, or Islamic country. They flow from a Christian (and more specifically, a Calvinistic) view of human nature, of law, and of other areas of worldview. It is critically important that we not be content with outward changes to America in our culture wars, but that we keep pressing the foundational underpinnings and presuppositions of our Christian based republic.
And I will just use this verse as an example. According to early American and Biblical principles of courts, you are not supposed to judge motives, read minds, and impute ideas to people in court. That's not the role of the government. The government is supposed to only deal with outward objective actions. And if that was all that Ammon had dealt with, this costly war would have been avoided. But what do you expect from a pagan nation? And the paganism of America can be seen by the way America's agencies have drifted more and more away from our constitutional liberties and are doing exactly what the Ammonites did. In fact, they treat you as guilty until you can prove your innocence. You probably all know cases with OSHA, CPS, and other agencies where the government has victimized a business or a family, and when they cannot prove their case, they go out to destroy and further victimize the victim. In fact, I highly recommend that you read Michael Farris' novel, Anonymous Tip, to see how badly things can go. It's a very well written story. Though it is a novel, it is based on real-life situations that routinely happen in America. And I think it illustrates this chapter so well. And it shows the dangers we have when our agencies base their actions and resulting punishments on anonymous tips, assumed motives, generalizations from other cases to the case in hand, assuming the worst, racking up dozens of bogus charges in the hopes of intimidating the victim into pleading guilty to a couple. And then even after they have failed to prove their original accusations to be true, rather than backing away and apologizing, they bring out the big guns and try in other ways to punish the victim. Though what Ammon does may seem bizarre, it happens in America. Study the rape case of the cheerleader in Silsbee High School, in Hardin County, Texas, and you will see an entire school that was playing the Hanun. It's a sickening story. But it illustrates the kind of high-handed evil that happened in this chapter.
There is a place for a preemptive first strike attack (v. 7)
Today we are not going to look at the section in the tightly knit way that I usually do. Instead, I am going to ramble through a number of principles in these verses, and try to apply them to the best of my ability. Verse 7:
2Samuel 10:7 "Now when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men."
No invasion of Israel had taken place yet. No Syrian could be seen yet from within the country. So you can't say that Ammon or Syria had started the conflict. Yet they are obviously threatening to do so. You don't send one and a quarter million dollars to invite the Syrians to a party. No. It's obvious that Hanun is inviting another country to join him in attacking Israel. If you lived back at that time I don't think anybody would read the evidence any other way. Ammon is preparing for hostilities.
And so David very rightly decides that he must engage in a preemptive first strike attack. There have been many essays written criticizing such preemptive warfare. And even many Christians have wondered if that is allowable in defensive warfare. It definitely is. You don't have to suffer casualties before you declare war. If the enemy is amassing tanks on your borders in a threatening way like Egypt, Jordan, and Syria did with Israel in 1967, it is a perfectly justified warfare strategy to attack first and gain the advantage of surprise. That's called preemptive warfare.
Now, the United Nations doesn't agree. They think that they have to give permission to any preemptive war, but by the time they could come to any conclusion, it would be too late. But let me define terms. There is a difference between preemptive war and preventive war. Biblically, a preventive war is not justifiable, but a preemptive war is. And you might be thinking, "Who cares? Why is this important? It doesn't relate to my family." It is important to have a comprehensive worldview that understands how the Bible applies to all of life. So let's think about this. A preventive war is attacking a nation before that nation is strong enough to attack you - maybe ten years before it is strong enough to attack you. That's not justifiable because there is no imminent threat. On the other hand, a preemptive war is one that attacks because the enemy is showing every evidence of imminent attack and to prevent an overthrow of your country, you are starting the conflict to your advantage.
And Jesus assumes the legitimacy of this principle in Luke 14. He indicates that you must take the right military action, whether marching out to fight against the enemy or whether suing for peace, and you must do it long before the enemy has gotten close to your borders. That's Luke 14. Preemptive warfare.
What about for individuals? Well, it is very similar to the threat to the individual in Exodus 22:2. When a person breaks into your fenced yard (and by the way, James Jordan's commentary points out that the context clearly shows that he is talking about breaking into a fenced yard – and perhaps cattle rustling), that cattle rustler is a threat to your safety before he gets into your house – especially at night time. You don't have to wait till he gets into the house or until he shoots before you can defend yourself. No. God authorizes a preemptive first strike attack. That's Exodus 22:2. So this principle is applicable to non-military people, isn't it?
Now of course, you need to take into consideration the consequences in a non-Biblical society like our own. But Jordan points out the basic principle that if someone is coming for you, and you don't have anywhere to run, and you don't have the strength to arrest the man, you have perfect justification in surprising him with a preemptive attack. But especially in terms of the military I think it is important to understand the difference between preventive war (which unfortunately is what American imperialism has tended to engage in) and preemptive war (which is Biblically justifiable). So that is the second principle that our passage clearly illustrates.
Joab was outmaneuvered, outsmarted, outnumbered, and outgunned (v. 8)
Point III is that things can go wrong even when you do everything right. We all know that, right? Things can go wrong even when you do everything right. The problem here was that the enemy anticipated that David would order a preemptive attack. In this particular case Joab was outmaneuvered, outsmarted, outnumbered, and outgunned. Maybe the enemy had their own spies. We don't know. But in any case, Joab walked into a trap. Verse 8:
2Samuel 10:8 "Then the people of Ammon came out and put themselves in battle array at the entrance of the gate. And the Syrians of Zoba, Beth Rehob, Ish-tob, and Maacah were by themselves in the field."
He arrived too late
When Joab comes near the city, the Ammonites come out of the gates and it looks like it is going to be the battle that Joab intended. From everything that I gather, it looks like Joab wanted to fight the Ammonites before the Syrians could arrive from the north. On the map you can see that the Syrian reinforcements are coming from four places way up north, and Joab probably assumed that the Syrians would take longer to join with the Ammonites than they did. They had to travel quite a distance. But either the Syrians travelled much faster than anticipated (perhaps traveling day and night) or Joab was slower. We don't know. But as soon as the Ammonites come out, the Syrians show up on the other side of Joab's army, and he is trapped.
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His army was surrounded with the Syrians circling around and coming up from Medeba in the south (1 Chron. 19:7)
His army is surrounded. In fact, what was so impressive about the Syrian drive is that they didn't arrive from a northerly direction. They had already traveled a far longer distance than Joab had to, yet 1 Chronicles 19:7 says that they go even further to deceive Israel. They went all the way down into Moab, at Medeba (that's quite a trek!) and then circled back up so as to surprise Joab by arriving from the South. Now, if you look at unbelieving liberal commentaries, they think that 1 Chronicles 19 can't be right. they think that the Bible has made a mistake. But it is right. It was a brilliant move on the part of the Syrians. So Joab gets there too late. He is surrounded by Ammonites to his north and Syrians to his south (amazingly!)
He was outnumbered – 33,000 footsoldiers
He was outnumbered. He did not have the whole army with him, but only those that were led by the thirty mighty men of valor. He wasn't anticipating fighting the Syrians. So the footsoldiers of the enemy were far more than he had anticipated; they were 33,000.
He was outgunned - 32,000 chariots (1 Chron. 19:7)
And he was outgunned. 1 Chronicles 19:7 says that there were also 32,000 chariots. So there were 33,000 footsoldiers and 32,000 chariots. And those chariots were terrifying when they came charging into a standing army. So you can see that Joab was in deep trouble.
The ability to improvise on the run; and other incredible leadership abilities of Joab (v. 9a)
But here comes point IV. Joab doesn't lose his nerve or lose his head simply because a potential disaster was looming. Joab was a man who was able to think clearly on his feet and improvise even in extremely dangerous situations. Rather than using the entire army against the Syrians, he volunteers to take that job (the most dangerous job) with a select few. And it is counter-intuitive. You would expect Joab to take the main army against the huge army of the Syrians, and maybe reserve a smaller contingent against the Ammonites. But he relies on the speed, creativity, and lightning fast reactions of a small contingent of crack troops to deal with the Syrians and break through their ranks, and he gives his brother Abishai the main army to handle the Ammonites. Let's read verses 9-11.
2Samuel 10:9 "When Joab saw that the battle line was against him before and behind, he chose some of Israel's best and put them in battle array against the Syrians."
2Samuel 10:10 "And the rest of the people he put under the command of Abishai his brother, that he might set them in battle array against the people of Ammon."
2Samuel 10:11 "Then he said, "If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the people of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will come and help you."
Whatever faults Joab had (and we have already seen that he had some faults), he was certainly a man of incredible leadership. In fact, I have been convinced from all my studies that David would not have been successful to this point without Joab. Joab was a curmudgeon, but God knew that David needed him. Joab caused David headaches, but God knew that David needed him. Joab deserved to be out of the army, and actually, to be executed for his previous murder of a general. Yet God's providence did not allow David to have enough power to get rid of Joab (though David had tried on more than one occasion) because God knew that David needed him. Don't get frustrated with God when he does not immediately answer our prayers and get rid of all evil men. God's providences are sometimes mysterious, and the Scriptures say that God causes even the wrath of man to praise Him. It doesn't justify what Joab did. No way. But it does help to explain how God uses even Christian failings in ways that promote His kingdom. Blessed be the Lord God – He can even overrule the sins of men and use them to promote His kingdom. And if you don't believe it, just think of the brothers of Joseph who also intended murder, but who ended up selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt. And Joseph said to them many years later,
"But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." (Gen. 50:20).
I think it is an almost exactly parallel situation with the providence of God in Joab's life. Joab was an essential component in God's plan, problematic as he was.
In any case, think about Joab's amazing leadership abilities. He was able to inspire. He was able to think clearly under pressure. He was able to make snap decisions when decisions needed to be made quickly. He was organized. He was able to delegate extremely well. He didn't make others take risks that he wasn't willing to take, which means that the soldiers respected him. He was a soldier, not just a leader. He worked as hard as anyone else. He was able to improvise on the run. There are all kinds of things that you can see here that I haven't even included in the outline. And just like the series of books on leadership that Rodney mentioned some years ago, which teach leadership principles from both bad guys and good guys, there are a lot of leadership principles that you can learn from the life of Joab. He was an amazing guy. Don't just write him off because of his sins.
Where valiance is sometimes more important than numbers (v. 9b)
Point V. We see that being valiant is sometimes more important than having numbers. Joab's small group of crack troops made an almost suicidal run into those Syrian footsoldiers and into those 32,000 chariots. It almost makes me think of Alexander the Great's amazing charge into the vastly superior armies of the Persians. But anyway, Joab and his men were miraculously able to penetrate so deeply into the phalanx formation that the general himself must have felt endangered, because they flee. But part of the situation may have been that Joab was not fighting for pay. He's got different motivations. He was fighting for liberty, for God, for country, and for family. And his valiant men may have in some way terrified the Syrians. But in any case, they ran. Small minorities can make a huge difference.
Risk and contingency plans; fighting on two fronts (v. 10-11)
Point VI. We see in these verses principles of risk and contingency. It is sometimes imperative that we take calculated risks. Some people are so risk aversive that they miss wonderful opportunities. But Joab not only took risks, he was always thinking about contingency plans too. He wasn't rash. He didn't put all of his eggs into one basket.
And there were other things we see here. He was a team player. And he was able to delegate leadership to his brother. But the soldiers had to have worked together for a long time to be able to move like a well-oiled machine. I'm sure he didn't have a lot of time to make these quick changes, or to put Abishai in charge of the bulk of the army, or to give these instructions, which means that he had already prepared and practiced for such eventualities. Christians don't tend to do that - on football teams, yes, they do, but not often in the rest of life. But if we are well versed in the things that God has called us to do, we will be able to make such snap decisions and find that the decisions are usually right. If you study and practice and prepare yourselves as well as football players do, you will probably see a lot more success in all your ventures. He obviously made a mistake in getting into the trap in the first place. But his quick wittedness was blessed by God.
A winning combination - courage, putting all on the line, patriotism, trust, and submission to God (v. 12)
And that Joab had God on his mind can be seen in verse 12. Joab rallies his troops with these words:
2Samuel 10:12 "Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the LORD do what is good in His sight."
That little verse has a winning combination of character traits that we would do well to instill in our boys. Courage is the first one. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is doing the right thing by faith even when you have fear. And courage will sometimes get you through impossible odds. And we can inspire our children to have courage through Biblical stories, as well as stories of godly armies of the past 2000 years. Christian men must be men of courage.
Second, he gave a call to be strong. And that flows out of courage. Fear will make your legs want to melt. Fear will make you weak and make you want to run. And so the call to be strong comes logically next after courage. Joab wanted them to put the odds out of their minds and to put their all on the line. When you examine the traits of the mighty men of God in chapter 23 you see men who didn't play it safe. They gave their all in battle, but it was because they were able to focus on the things dear to them.
But this verse also shows trust in God and submission to God. Joab said that the fight was not because of pride, insult, or plunder. You don't face the kinds of odds that they faced on that day for such small things as pride or plunder. The battle was a battle for the survival of their people, their cities, and the faith of Israel. These two enemies had to be defeated or everything that they had previously fought for could be lost. And yet they trusted God for the outcome.
And in the culture wars that we face today, we can trust God with the outcome, but we must put on similar character traits if we will see our country's Christian religion and liberties restored. We too much have courage to do the right things and to not shut up when it is politically incorrect to say the right things. We must have courage, and be willing to put all on the line to see Christ's kingdom defended. Just as Joab showed true patriotism, not blind patriotism, we must be patriots who stand up for what is in the best interests of our country. Blind patriotism will roll over and do whatever a tyrant might tell us to do, but true patriotism resists tyranny and sacrifices for our country's true principles of God, liberty, Biblical justice, and a return to constitutional restraints.
Taking the battle to them (v. 13a)
What I like about verse 13 is that Joab didn't bother to wait for the Syrians to charge. He took the battle to them.
2Samuel 10:13 "So Joab and the people who were with him drew near for the battle against the Syrians, and they fled before him."
When you consider the odds you realize that this was a blessing from God. Certainly Joab and his men were fearsome, but they were way outnumbered. And yet despite their small numbers, God gave them the victory. And part of the reason was that they didn't wait for the enemy; they took the battle to the enemy.
And if we will approach the culture wars of today with faith in God and a willingness to get out of our homes and to take the battleground onto their territory, there is no reason why we cannot win America back to its founding Christian principles. But the problem is that too many Christians talk themselves into defeat and retreat and why everything is hopeless. We need to give the pep talk that Joab gave to his troops, and give the same pep talk to our families. Instead of heading for the hills with a generator and some food, I would encourage us to head for city hall, head to the county of commissioners, head to Lincoln, head to the abortion clinic, and take the battle to them.
And we can do the battle in two ways: we can love on our culture changers and give them the motivation of the carrot or we can motivate them with the stick of lawsuits or the ballot box. But it is high time that Christians stopped waiting for George to do the work of cultural change and that we begin to take the battle out there.
The mercenaries lack the motivation that Israel had, enabling a passionate minority to prevail (v. 13b)
There are some enemies that are principled for Satan, and they are going to fight just as fiercely as Joab. But point IX gives the hint that most of Christianity's enemies just wanted a job and security like those Syrians wanted a job and security. They were mercenaries. And when their job looked too tough, and looked like it would not be worth it, they fled. And in any culture war it is usually a small minority with an absolute passion for their ideas that set the course of our nation. It was only 4% of Americans that actually fought in the army with Washington – and yet they won. Unfortunately, the passionate culture changers of my generation have not been the Christians for the most part; they have been a different minority - the GLBT crowd, the socialists, and other humanistic culture changers. I mean, think of the incredible change that the homosexual lobby has produced in our nation. They are a tiny, tiny, minority, and yet they have changed almost every facet of our society. If Christians would be as dedicated as Christians were in the 1700s, we could be far more effective than the homosexual lobby. If you look at the history of country after country that was Christianized in the first thousand years after the resurrection of Christ, you find tiny passionate minorities of Christians Christianizing entire countries. It can be done. Just look at history. And if you want an an encouraging book along those lines, read George Grant's book, Third Time Around. Re-Christianizing America can be done. Whenever Christians have been stirred up in their souls to lay all on the altar for God, incredible changes have happened. In any case, the Ammonites fled because it was no longer worth it to them. They didn't have the passion for a cause that Joab and his men had. And so a minority prevailed. Sam Adams said, "It does not take a majority to prevail... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men." And I say, "Amen." I think he was right on.
Ammonites withdraw for strategic reasons (v. 14a)
Point X. The Ammonites then withdraw because they see the writing on the wall for this battle. They will regroup to attack another day, but for now they don't want to take too many risks. Verse 14
2Samuel 10:14 "When the people of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fleeing, they also fled before Abishai, and entered the city. So Joab returned from the people of Ammon and went to Jerusalem"
There are humanistic politicians that will similarly retreat when they see that the odds are against them. But if Christians have a slave mentality and just roll over, the Ammonites will continue to harass us. It is critical that Christians engage in the culture wars.
The Israelites withdraw for strategic reasons (v. 14b)
But point XI is an important balance. Joab knew when to quit a war, a point that we would have learned well in Vietnam and Iraq. David's philosophy was that if a nation attacked them, that nation would pay severely. We are not against fighting hard. And next week we may look at that in the last verses. David conquers and extracts war reparations. He does not engage in nation building. He makes the enemy pay every dime that the war cost plus more. And Lord willing, we will look at that. But knowing when to call it quits is also an important part of leadership.
Ministries have buried churches because the leaders didn't know when to quit a given ministry or pursuit. Ministries have buried families because the fathers or mothers didn't know when it was strategically wise to stop and to regroup. There is a time for a war and a time to cease battling, and if your family's health is suffering because of your involvement in culture wars, it might be time to go back to Jerusalem for a while and to focus on some of the issues there. And so verse 14 ends, "And Joab returned from the people of Ammon and went to Jerusalem." And it is so hard to have the balance of knowing how much to be involved in family and how much to be involved in culture. But both are important.
So in conclusion, let me point out that David and Joab weren't in a perpetual state of war. Yet they were able to respond to crises and do so with faith in God for the outcome. We do have threats all around us in America. But I would encourage you to have the balance of this chapter. Face these crises with courage, true patriotism, trust, and submission to God. There will be times where we might have to put all on the line. But don't neglect your Jerusalems as you take on your Ammons. Finding such balance is tough, but it is part of being a godly leader. May God prosper the work of your hands in our culture wars. Amen.
I charge you to ask God for wisdom to minister to your family in Jerusalem and yet take on the threats of Ammon in culture. And as you do so, ask God to prosper in miraculous ways. Amen.