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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
On comparing this whole chapter with 2 Samuel 8:3-13; and 1 Chronicles 19 with 1 Chronicles 18, it seems not improbable that they are two accounts of one and the same war; the former account 2 Samuel 8:3-13 being inserted out of its chronological order. The numbers slain on both occasions, 42,000 2 Samuel 8:4-5, 40,000 2 Samuel 10:18, 700 2 Samuel 8:4; 2 Samuel 10:18, the seat of war, the mention of the Euphrates, the persons engaged - David, Joab, and Abishai on one side, Hadarezer and the vassal kings on the other - are too similar to make it probable that they belong to two different wars.
1And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.
The king - In marginal reference. Nahash, king, etc. The interval between the two events, not less than 50 years, and possibly more, is against his being the same as the Nahash of 1 Samuel 11:1-15.
The Ammonites are almost always spoken of as the children of Ammon, from the name of their first ancestor Ben-ammi Genesis 19:38.
Hanun - The equivalent of the Carthaginian Hanno, from the same root as the Hebrew, Hananiah, Johanan, Hannah, etc. The same name appears in composition with Baal in Baal-Hanan, an Aramean king Genesis 36:38-39.
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.
The history does not record any instance of Nahash's kindness to David, but the enmity of the house of Nahash against Saul may have disposed him favorably toward Saul's enemy David, and if there was any family connection between David's house and Nahash 2 Samuel 17:25 this may have increased the friendship.
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?
The princes ... - Compare Rehoboam's advisers 1 Kings 12:10-11. It is not improbable that David's severe treatment of Moab 2 Samuel 8:2 was in part the cause of the fear of the Ammonites that a similar treatment was in store for themselves.
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.
In 1 Chronicles 19:4, more concisely "shaved." Cutting off a person's beard is regarded by the Arabs as an indignity equal to flogging and branding among ourselves. The loss of their long garments, so essential to Oriental dignity, was no less insulting than that of their beards.
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.
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.
Stank ... - A strong figure for to be odious or detested. Compare the marginal references
The Syrians of Beth-rehob - If identical with the Mesopotamians of 1 Chronicles 19:6, Beth-rehob is the same as Rehoboth by the river Genesis 36:37. Others think Beth-rehob (Rehob, 2 Samuel 10:8) the same as the Rehob and Beth-rehob of Numbers 13:21, near Hamath (perhaps the modern ruin of Hunin). If so, Beth-rehob, as well as Tob, must have been a colony of Aram Naharaim (compare the numbers in 1 Chronicles 19:7 and here).
Syrians of Zoba - Compare 1 Samuel 14:47 note.
King Maacah - Read the "King of Maacah" 1 Chronicles 19:6-7. For the position of Maacah, see Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5. It appears to have been a very small state, since its king only brought a thousand men into the field.
Ish-tob - See the margin. Tob was the district where Jephthah fled when driven out by the Gileadites.
7And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men.
This sufficiently indicates the greatness of the danger to Israel from this formidable league of Ammonites and Syrians.
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.
Came out - From their city, Rabbah Deuteronomy 3:11, Deuteronomy 3:15 or 20 miles from Medeba, where 1 Chronicles 19:7 the Syrian army was encamped. Medeba (modern Madeba) was taken from Sihon Numbers 21:30, and fell to Reuben Joshua 13:9, Joshua 13:16; in the reign of Ahaz it seems to have returned to Moab Isaiah 15:2, and in the time of the Maccabees to the Amorites (1 Macc. 9:36, 37). In church history it was a bishop's see.
In the field - i. e. in the plain below the round rocky hill on which the city stood.
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:
The two armies of the Ammonites and the Syrians were drawn up facing one another; the Ammonites supported by the city Rabbah behind them; the Syrians in great force, with numerous chariots able to manoeuvre in the plain in front of Medeba. If Joab advanced against either, he would have the other in his rear.
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.
For the cities of our God - This rather indicates that the relief of Medeba was one of the immediate objects in view, and consequently that at this time Medeba was still in the possession of the Reubenites. To prevent an Israelite city falling into the hands of a pagan people, and the rites of Moloch being substituted for the worship of Yahweh, was a very urgent motive to valor.
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.
Joab returned - The great strength of Rabbah made it hopeless to take it by assault, and the Syrians were not sufficiently broken 2 Samuel 10:15 to make it safe to undertake a regular siege.
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.
Helam - The place is unknown. Some prefer the translation of the Latin Vulgate: "their host came."
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.
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 - More probable than the "seven thousand" of 1 Chronicles 19:18. The frequent errors in numbers arise from the practice of expressing numerals by letters, with one or more dots or dashes to indicate hundreds, thousands, etc.
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.
Servants to Hadarezer - This gives us an idea of the great power of Hadarezer, and consequently of the strength of Israel in David's victorious reign.