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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

2 Samuel 10

Verses 2-19

2 Samuel 10:2-19

I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness unto me.

David and Hanun

Powerful though David had proved himself in every direction in the art of war, his heart was inclined to peace. The position which he had gained as a warrior would naturally have made Hanun more afraid of David than David could be of Hanun. The king of Israel could not have failed to know this, and it might naturally occur to him that it would be a kindly act to the young king of Ammon to send him a message that showed that he might thoroughly rely on his friendly intentions. The message to Hanun was another emanation of a kindly heart. It is a happy thing for any country when its rulers and men of influence are ever on the watch for opportunities to strengthen the spirit of friendship. It is a happy thing in the Church when the leaders of different sections are more disposed to measures-that conciliate and heal than to measures that alienate and divide. In family life, and wherever men of different views and different tempers meet, this peace-loving spirit is of great price. Men that like fighting, and that are ever disposed to taunt, to irritate, to divide, are the nuisances of society. Between the Ammonites and the Israelites collisions had occurred on two former occasions, on both of which the Ammonites appear to have been the aggressors The former of these was in the days of Jephthah. The second was the collision at Jabesh-gilead at the beginning of the reign of Saul. When the men of Jabesh, brought to bay, begged terms of peace, the bitter answer was returned that it would be granted only on condition that every man’s right eye should be put out. It was then that Saul showed such courage and promptitude. In the briefest space he was at Jabesh-gilead in defence of his people, and by his successful tactics inflicted on the Ammonites a terrible defeat, killing a great multitude and scattering the remainder, so that not any two of them were left together. After such a defeat, Nahash could not have very friendly feelings to Saul. And when Saul proclaimed David his enemy, Nahash would naturally incline to David’s side. It was long, long ago when it happened, but love has a long memory, and the remembrance was still pleasant to David. And now the king of Israel purposes to repay to the son the debt he had incurred to the father. Up to this point it is a pretty picture; and it is a great disappointment when we find the transaction miscarry, and a negotiation which began in all the warmth and sincerity of friendship terminate in the wild work of war. The fault of this miscarriage, however, was glaringly on the other side. Our difficulty is to understand how sane men could have acted in such a way. It is hardly necessary to say a word to bring out the outrageous character of their conduct.

(1) There was the repulse of David’s kindness. It was not even declined with civility; it was repelled with scorn. It is always a serious thing to reject overtures of kindness. Kindness is too rare a gem to be trampled under foot.

(2) But Hanun not only repelled David’s kindness, but charged him with meanness, and virtually flung in his face a challenge to war. To represent his apparent kindness as a mean cover of a hostile purpose was an act which Hanun might think little of, but which was fitted to wound David to the quick. Unscrupulous natures have a great advantage over others in the charge they may bring. In a street collision a man in dirty clothing is much more powerful for mischief than one in clean raiment. Rough, unscrupulous men are restrained by no delicacy from bringing atrocious charges against those to whom these charges are supremely odious. They have little sense of the din of them, and they toss them about without scruple. Such poisoned arrows inflict great pain, not because the charges are just, but because it is horrible to refined natures even to hear them.

(3) To these offences Hanun added yet another--scornful treatment of David’s ambassadors. In the eyes of all civilised nations the persons of ambassadors were held sacred, and any affront or injury to them was counted an odious crime. Very often men of eminent position, venerable age, and unblemished character were chosen for this function, and it is quite likely that David’s ambassadors to Hanun were of this class. When therefore these men were treated with contumely--half their beards, which were in a manner sacred, shorn away, their garments mutilated, and their persons exposed--no grosser insult could have been inflicted. It is a painful moment when true worth and nobility lie at the mercy of insolence and coarseness, and have to bear their bitter revilings. Such things may happen in public controversy in a country where the utmost liberty of speech is allowed, and when men of ruffian mould find contumely and insult their handiest weapons. In times of religious persecution the most frightful charges have been hurled at the heads of godly men and women, whose real crime is to have striven to the utmost to obey God.

3. The Ammonites did not wait for a formal declaration of war by David. Nor did they flatter themselves, when they came to their senses, that against one who had gained such renown as a warrior they could stand alone. Their insult to King David turned out a costly affair.

4. It requires but a very little consideration to see that the wars which are so briefly recorded in this chapter must have been most serious and perilous undertakings. The record of them is so short, so unimpassioned, so simple, that many readers are disposed to think very little of them. But when we pause to think what it was for the king of Israel to meet, on foreign soil, confederates so numerous, so powerful, and so familiar with warfare, we cannot but see that these were tremendous wars. They were fitted to try the faith as well as the courage of David and his people to the very utmost. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

Ungenerous judgments

In thousands of men, the mind, if unveiled, would be found to be a star-chamber filled with false witnesses and cruel judgments. If you were to go back into the old star-chamber of England, and read the records made of testimony given and sentences passed by men of partial information, what a literature of hell those records would be I But worse than these are the cruel, rash, hateful judgments which men form of each other in the silence of the mind, simply because they follow their interests, their feelings, their prejudices, and not their conscience, in ascertaining facts and coming to conclusions. (H. W. Beecher.)

Two aspects of David

In chapters 10. and 11. we see king David at his best and also at his worst. The second verse of the tenth chapter opens almost in the same spirit as the first verse of the ninth. In both instances David is determined to “show kindness.” In the first instance he would show kindness to any survivor of the house of Saul, as we have just seen, and now he will show kindness unto Hanon the son of Nahash, because Hanun’s father had shown kindness to David in the old times of distress. In both these historical instances David acts retrospectively, in the sense that he is not proposing to show kindness to living men for their own sakes but on account of some virtue or goodness on the part of their ancestors. A merely technical or literal nature would have been content with contemporary action--that is to say, would not have troubled about going back into yesterday in order to honour the memory of a dead man. But even in this generous retrospection David is faithful to his poetic nature and his religious enthusiasm. David is to be Credited with good retentions in this case, as he was in the case of proposing to build the temple and to do kindness to any survivor of the house of Saul Even good intentions hays a distinctive value of their own. Sweet waters do not rise from bitter fountains. To have one good wish, one unselfish desire, one generous impulse, is to have some degree of divine influence operating upon the heart, and so far is to show that the heart has not been given over to utter reprobation, This is a comforting thought for ourselves. Hanun responded to the counsels of his advisers in a manner which he supposed would increase his own popularity with his subjects. He “took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle.” it is little to the honour of human nature that there are not only insults which men can hurl at one another in moments of passion and defiance, but there are studied insults which are elaborated in cold blood and inflicted with a sense of enjoyment by the cruel men who have fashioned new modes of social humiliation. The insult inflicted upon Israel was not only personal, it was deeply religious. Not, only was David dishonoured, but God Himself was defied. In Leviticus 19:27, we see how stringent was the law regarding this matter of shaving the head. It, is not for us to enter into the value of any such ordinances; suffice it to say that they were the distinct ordinances of the people of Israel, and as such had religious value and significance. There is a cruelty in our own day which seeks to injure men- through the medium of their religious convictions. To-day men are kept out of pecuniary positions because of their religious faith. Social advancement is barred to not a few persons on account of their religious convictions. Were such men without conviction, light-headed, and light-hearted, ready to adopt any form or ceremony as they might adopt a change of garments, their course in life would be much smoother; but because they are earnest, even to agony, their convictions are made into so many stumbling-blocks by which their progress is hindered. The counsellors of Hanun the son of Nahash were too blinded by their own passion to foresee the results of their foolish policy. What was a practical jest to them was an occasion of just anger to the king whom they had insulted. It is well to take some account of the resources of the enemy before being too defiant or adopting a course of lofty superciliousness. But folly seldom sees both sides of a question. It is a notable characteristic of the genius of history that it is always faithful to its own time. As the action of David would now be out of place as between Christian nations, so any other course than that which he adopted would have been out of place in relation to his particular injury. Read history in its own light. It is essential to adopt this canon of interpretation in reading many portions of the Old Testament; otherwise the mind will be thrown often into a state of moral bewilderment, and be ready almost to cry out against the Spirit of God. (J. Parker, D. D.)

A father’s kindness repaid to his son

A good man of my acquaintance died very suddenly the other day, and when it came to settling up the account, it was found that, while with his presence and work he was able to get a living for his family out of his share in the business, with him gone there was nothing left. All the children were grown up and able to support themselves, with the exception of one young man who had two years yet to spend in the medical school before he would be able to take up his profession as a doctor. It seemed at first that he must drop out, and work his way for awhile saving up money to go on. But just then a man came forward, who said: “Some years ago I was in a difficult place and needed a friend very much. Just at the critical time your father stepped into the breach, and in the gentlest, cheeriest way helped me out. I said then if ever I had a chance I would pay that kindness back. Now is my chance. You go back to the medical school and finish your course, and I will take care of the expenses. You can charge them up to your father’s kindness account.” He who sows a kind deed may be sure that it is a long-lived, hardy crop, and certain to bring in its harvest by and by. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)

Verses 11-12

2 Samuel 10:11-12

If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me.

Pious patriotism

Mutual helpfulness. As occasion demands, says Joab, you will help me, or I will help you. Now, this is a word for us all. God has so ordained that we are mutually dependent on one another; and I hardly know which of the two is worse, the self-conceit of the man who imagines he can stand alone, or the selfishness of the man who has no instinctive desire to help his neighbour when in trouble. Why, away from religion altogether, it is our duty both to lean and to carry; for it, is seldom indeed that there is not a stronger than ourselves, who can render us aid; and equally seldom that there is not s feebler than ourselves, to whom we may do a service. Too often the sentiment of the world is, “every man for himself”--the survival, If not of the fittest, at least of the strongest. Let the bold and lithe push to the front, and the weak go to the wall. There is a great deal of this in business, as some of you well know; certain men, elbowing and driving forward, not caring whom they push over or trample under their feet, if only they are successful themselves. The result is that many a good, able worthy fellow, simply because he has not the audacity, the impudence, of others, is left behind and gets disheartened. Now it is here that Christian principle should come in, balancing and regulating the various elements at work, giving confidence to the weak and-generosity to the strong, and so securing the largest amount of success and happiness.

Manly heroism, “Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly.” Never on field of battle did officer shout across to brother officer s nobler sentiment. The army has indeed, produced lame grand men, heroes in the truest sense of the world. But I would not for a moment wish to convey the impression that heroes are confined to campaigns and battlefields. I venture to assert that in the commonest spheres of civil and prosaic life may be found instances of an equally noble; though less showy, heroism. There are heroes of the workshop, of the counter, of the office, of the market-place, on whose courage may be put as severe a strain as though they stood upon the field of battle, amid the glitter of cold steel and the rattle of musketry. When a man has to fight with poverty, with losses, with bad debts, with disappointments, with temptations: and still keeps his head to the wind, battles on bravely, refuses to knock under, vows still to “trust in God and do the right,” I say, though he has no epaulettes on his shoulders, nor medals on his breast, he is as truly s man and a hero as though he had stormed a citadel. “Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves,” would be an excellent motto for the employees in many a London establishment. You want the “courage” of your principles, and then no fear of your “behaviour.” When a man’s life is dominated by the one aim, not to make money, not to find idle pleasure, but to please his Master in heaven, it is wonderful how much respect he commands, and how much pure inward happiness he enjoys.

True patriotism. Listen again to General Joab: “Be of good courage, brother, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people, and for the cities of our God.” Now you will notice the motive which he adduced. Bravo! ye sons of Zeruiah! “God and our country” was their cry. It was no empty, silly Jingo shout, like that which we have heard in our own day from a hysteric rabble that clamour for glory, but would turn tail with the first shot that whizzed about their ears; it was a call to action and to danger, impelled by love to Israel, and to Israel’s God. Sirs, patriotism is one of the noblest sentiments that can occupy the human breast; but there is no patriotism so pure and disinterested as that which is kindled at the altar of love to God. Never was there a more remarkable instance of it than the dauntless British officer to whom I have already adverted. Self-negation characterised his whole career. After all his great work in China, General Gordon left the country as poor as he entered it, having refused all rewards. When a sum of £10,000 was forwarded to him by the Emperor, he divided it all amongst his troops. On his arrival in England he declined every honour, preferring to bury himself in obscurity. The very medals that were showered upon him he put no value upon, and would even have them melted down to provide relief for those who were in want. Genuine pity. “And let the Lord do that which is good in His sight.” I do not venture to say that Joab was a saint, nor would I like to answer for many things which he did: but on this occasion, certainly, his conduct and language were admirable, and worthy of imitation. “Abishai,” he seems to say, “you and I shall do our best, and leave the issue with God. We cannot command success, but we can do our duty, and leave the result in higher hands than our own.” It is a fine thing to see a God-fearing soldier. It is an interesting feature of our time that there is in the British army a very considerable amount of deep and unaffected piety. Some of our highest officers, some of our most distinguished generals, both abroad and at home, are real men of God. They are none the less, but all, the more, valuable as soldiers. They have more pluck and less fear than the others A man is all the braver soldier for being a Christian. When true piety is engrafted on a fearless and gallant nature, it forms a splendid character. For a noble and beautiful Christianity, commend me to a converted soldier. “General Gordon,” says one of the morning papers, “is not a man whose actions or whose fortunes can be estimated by the ordinary standard to which human affairs are submitted. His singularly pure and lofty character impresses every one with whom he is brought into contact. He believes himself to be always fulfilling a mission from a higher authority than any earthly government. A man of this heroic mould, who combines no small share of worldly wisdom with the integrity of a saint and the simplicity of a child, may walk securely in places where any other foot would slip. But, on the other hand, General Gordon would march quietly on to what he knew was certain destruction, if he believed that to do so was his duty.” (J. Thain Davidson, D. D.)

Mutual helpfulness--great need of society

The true and only cure for the misery and discontent that exist in our country seems to me to lie in the personal and regular communion of the better with the worse--man with man--until each Christian, like his Saviour, becomes one with those who are to be saved; until he can be bone of their bone, sympathise, teach, weep, rejoice, eat and drink with them as one with them in the flesh. The world will not believe because it cannot see that Christianity is true, by seeing its reality in the marvellous oneness of Christ and His people. (Norman McLeod, D. D.)

Mutual aid

A book has been published, written by Prince Kropotkin on “Mutual Aid,” in which he maintains that there is far more evidence in nature of “mutual aid” than of “the ruthless struggle of each against all.” He makes out a very strong case for the statement “that mutual aid between members of the same species has had much more to do with their survival than selfish struggle.” We recognise at once that a world evolved by means of the struggle of each against all. Prince Kropotkin maintains that care for others is at the very heart of things; the world has been built on this principle. The late Professor Drummond recognised “the struggle for the life of others” in the world, and he tried to reconcile this with Darwin’s “struggle for existence” or for one’s own life, by suggesting that the altruisic principle appeared with the mother in her concern for her offspring. Kropotkin denies this, and produces a wonderful mass of evidence to show that the struggle for the life of others is a natural instinct implanted in nature herself. God did not merely work up to it in motherhood: He based all progress upon it. (David Waiters.)

Joab’s soldierly qualities

Danger woke the best of Joab. Fierce and truculent as he often was, he had hero’s metal in him, and in that dark hour he flamed like a pillar of light. His ringing words to his brother as they parted, not knowing if they would ever meet again, are like a clarion call. They extract encouragement out of the separation of force, which might have depressed, and cheerily pledge the two divisions to mutual help. What was to happen, Joab, if the Syrians were too strong for thee, and the Ammonites for Abishai? That very possible contingency is not contemplated in his words. Rash confidence is unwise, but God’s soldiers have a right to go into battle not anticipating utter defeat. Such expectation is apt to fulfil itself, and, on the other hand, to believe that we shall conquer goes a long way towards making us conquerors. Does not Joab’s pledge of mutual help carry in it a lesson applicable to all the divisions of God’s great army? In the presence of the coalition of evil, is not the separation of the friends of good madness? When bad men unite, should not good men hold together? The defeat or victory of one is the defeat or victory of all. We serve under the same banner, and, instead of shutting up our sympathies within the narrow limits of our own regiment, and even having a certain satisfaction at the difficulties which another has got into, we should feel that if “one member suffer, all the members suffer with it,” and should be ready to help all our fellow-soldiers who need help. Self-preservation as well as comradeship, and, above all, loyalty to Him for whom we fight, should lead to that; for, if Abishai is crushed, Joab will be in sorer peril. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Bond of union

The old Theban regiments fought with such desperation upon the field or battle because it was the principle of Theban military science that those who stood next each other in the rank should always, if possible, be bosom friends. Let us, in our great battle of life, learn the secret of affection and mutual trust. (David Walters.)

Verse 12

2 Samuel 10:12

Be of good courage and let us play the men

Of courage

In those words you have these two parts: the braveness of his resolution: “Be of good courage and let us play the men.

” The humbleness of his submission: “And the Lord do that which seemeth him good.” Or, if you will, thus: an exhortation to true noble valour in the former part, “Be of good courage,” &c.; and, secondly, an humble resignation of himself and cause and success into the hands of God; “And the Lord do that which seemeth him good.” His exhortation is strengthened with divers arguments: “It is for our people.” The Ammonites and Syrians are now about us, if you do not behave yourselves valiantly your people are pillaged, plundered, captived, murthered; and therefore “be of courage, and let us play the men.” And for the cities of our God.

For the description of good courage you may take it thus: Good courage is that gracious disposition of heart whereby a man, being called by God unto any service, does adventure upon difficulties either in doing good or enduring evil, and that without fear.

Here are four or five things considerable in this description.

1. Good courage is a gracious disposition. There is a moral boldness and a natural audacity, and this is not good courage, for the former is in heathens, and the latter is in brute beasts.

2. Again, there is a sinful desperateness whereby men are apt and ready to rush upon all that is evil, and are sinfully bold, and they think him a fool or a child that will not drink, and be drunk, and whore, and run into all kind of evil: this is not good courage. Good courage is hemmed in with waiting upon the Lord.

3. Again, there is a vaunting, bragging, boasting cavalierism which hath no true courage. Such a cavalier was Rabshakeh, who said, “With us is valour and courage;” when he defied the hosts and servants of the living God. Good courage is the health of the mind; this vaunting, bragging, boasting is the swelling of the mind, not courage.

4. Again, there is a fierce, angry, revengeful disposition, whereby men are ready to run upon cruelties: this is no good courage, “The righteous is as bold as a lion.” The lion himself is merciful, not revengeful; if a creature lies down before him he will spare it. It is a gracious disposition of heart. The truth is, the heart of man is the artillery yard where all the thoughts of courage train continually.

5. Again, I say, whereby a man being called by God unto any service. God’s call is the ground of a Christian’s courage. This was pretended in Rabshakeh’s speech; “Hath not the Lord sent me?” And this was, in truth, the ground of Joshua’s courage: “Be of good courage, have not I commanded thee?” I add, all this must be done without fear: and therefore in Scripture these go together: “Be of good courage; fear not, neither be dismayed.” The more a man’s fears are enlarged, the more his courage is lessened; and the more a man’s courage is enlarged, the more his fears are lessened.

In evil times, in times of danger, good courage is very requisite. In time of danger good courage is the strength of a man, it is the spirits of a man, it is the sparkling of a man’s heart, it is the life of one’s life. Saith Solomon, “The spirit of a man shall sustain his infirmity.” Without strength there is no bearing of burthens. Now this is the way to be strong, to stand under burthens in evil times: “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart.”

1. Again, evil times are full of changes, and good courage will keep us from the power of those. It is a good speech Seneca hath: He is a stout man whom prosperity doth not allure; but he is most stout of all whom the change of things doth not disturb. And in another place, saith he, He hath no great mind that can be bent by injuries. And evil times are full of injuries. Without courage a man will easily be bent by them; bent unto sin and bent unto what is evil.

2. Again, evil times are very expensive. Then a man shall be called to lay out much: his estate, his house, his liberty, his body, his all: and no affection, no disposition so spending as courage; good courage will make a man Spend and be spent for God.

If this be so, you see what our duty is: to be of “good courage, and play the men.” (W. Bridge, M. A.)

Four pillars of national strength

There must be a general intelligence in order to conserve the best interests of popular government. We have never as yet been able to measure the elevating power of a common or general intelligence upon communities, and nations. Some one has said that “a spelling book and a copy of the New Testament dropped into a land, will lift up millions of tons of ignorance and superstition. They will widen the streets, pile up the palaces of trade in every mart, lift up the roof of the poor man’s cottage, and drive the ghosts and demons from every forest and mountain solitude.” Would you know the power of a well-equipped intellect, and the multiplying forces of education, sit for a moment at the feet of the statistician. Here you will learn that only one-fifth of one per cent of our population graduate from our colleges, yet this little handful of men have furnished thirty per cent of all congressmen, fifty per cent of all our senators, sixty per cent of all our presidents, and over seventy per cent of all our supreme judges. See that inspiring host leading in the van of the armies of our civilization. There they come with stately tread, three hundred thousand strong; trained men and women who have passed satisfactory examinations, and whose province it is to disseminate a more general intelligence among the people, and train our children for efficient citizenship. We have ten times as many teachers as Athens has inhabitants when she was mistress of Greece, and legislator of the world. We have more than thirty times as many teachers as Xenophon had in the immortal legion. We have more than twelve times as many teachers as there were soldiers in the army of Hanibal, when he descended from the Alps into the plains of Italy, and shook the inhabitants with mortal fear. We have more than fifty times as many teachers as there were soldiers who followed Caesar over the Rubicon to the conquest of the world. We can depend upon these cultivated and trained men and women for much in the way of strengthening the empire of thought. The magnificent possibilities before them are manifest when we consider the fact that they have under their tutelage more than twelve million students, four times as many as there were inhabitants in the thirteen colonies when our fathers won liberty for mankind. But what signifies intelligence, mere mental power or school drill if there be lacking the element of heroic courage? Devoid of this the scholar becomes a mere pigmy; coupled with it he becomes a giant.

“be of good courage,” shouts the heroic Joab. Much need of courage, you say, on the field of battle. Yes, and there is none the less need of courage in the every-day struggles of life. There are evils to be exterminated and abuses to be corrected. The sanctity of law must be maintained, and our free institutions perpetuated and defended at all hazard. We want men who are lawfully in earnest. William Lloyd Garrison touched the keynote of success when he said: “I am in earnest. I will not, equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and hasten the resurrection of the dead.” It is the man of heroic enterprise who will hew his way through the sable walls of ignorance, opposition, and prejudice, and create for himself and his coadjutors a new world, We need courage in the everyday conflicts of life. No coward can successfully contend with poverty, with had debts, unscrupulous associates, failures, and temptations. He must have courage to stand fire, stand firm, and, if need be, stand alone. It takes manly courage to stand alone in the face of opposition. Every man needs courage when he goes to exercise the sacred office of his franchisement; and he should put as much conscience into his vote as he does into his prayers. Do not become dispirited because you are not on the popular side. With three hundred men on the side of right, Gideon put to flight one hundred and thirty-five thousand men of war.

Be loyal to your own conviction of duty and right. It is said of the last and greatest apostle of our Lord that he “conferred not with flesh and blood.” He sacrificed whatever he had prized of an earthly character in order that he might be loyal to his convictions of duty. When he was apprised of the fact that the way which he had marked out for himself was beset with difficulties, and that “bonds and imprisonments awaited him,” his reply was plain and emphatic: “None of these things move me.” Give us a few more men who would rather be right than popular, who Would rather be in harmony with God and conscience than with party or party declarations. You may not be called upon to prove your loyalty as did the heroes at Gettysburg, Atlanta, and the wilderness, but there are formidable enemies yet to meet and conquer. These will test your mettle. Think of the forces of intemperance, the growing evil of gambling, unchastity, infidelity, and the appalling array of unscrupulous politicians and demagogues. Never did loyalty mean more than it does now. The long-suffering wifehood, sisterhood, and motherhood of the nation is calling aloud for redress. The oppressed are looking to us for alleviation and help. To disappoint them is to prove recreant in the most important trust, and suffer defeat in the greatest battle ever fought.

The fourth pillar we mention is evangelical religion. Science and art have wrought wonders. The world stands amazed at their achievements. They have tamed fierce beasts of prey and brought the elements of nature into subjection. They have spanned the ocean, annihilated distance, joined continent to continent, given life to steam, a tongue to the wire, and a voice to the lightning. But these fierce passions in the human heart are more fierce than beasts of prey, and disturbing forces more tumultuous than nature’s stormy winds and tempests and more difficult to control than the most subtle elements. No mere human skill can master these. Christian science as taught in the school of Jesus Christ alone can enable man to obtain the mastery over these. There is a broader field for the Church to-day than ever before. “Egypt and Ethiopia” are not only reaching out their hands to us, but Europe and Asia are clasping ours, and instead of being under the necessity of crossing the restless Atlantic, our work is facilitated by their coming to our own doors. Finally, religion wipes guilt from the conscience and drives darkness from the mind. It gives hope to the heart, light to the eyes, and strength to the hand. It will make life pleasant, toil sweet, and death triumphant. It gives faith to the fearful, courage to the timid. It robs the grave of its terrors, and death of its sting, and gilds the pathway to man’s future abode with an eternal brightness. (G. W. Shepherd.)

Playing the man

The motives by which we should be actuated. Joab appealed to

(1) the patriotism of the people. This was a tender chord, and would at once respond in tones of strongest sympathy. What wonderful things have been clone in the name of patriotism! The record of the doings of Hereward, the last of the English, of Hampden, Cromwell, Pym, of Washington, Tell, Garibaldi, etc., what illustrations they furnish of the power of love of “our people.” Christ came to “the test sheep of the house of Israel.” and He commanded His Apostles to “begin at Jerusalem;” and, although all the world claims our sympathies and help, yet our first and ever increasing claim is our own people: and for them we are to ardently fight and pray. Joab appealed to

(2) the philanthropy of the people. The soldiers were to remember the centres of population, the great hives of industry, “the cities” with their teeming thousands: and as they thought of women and children, they were to “play the men” in the day of battle. All large-hearted men have love for their race, as well as for their own country and countrymen; and such men as Wilberforce and Howard, and Moffatt and Livingstone, have shown us what can be endured and accomplished where philanthropy takes strong possession of the human breast. Joab appealed to

(3) the piety of the people. “Cities of our God.” When we put forth any effort to lighten and elevate men, we ought to remember that we are laying ourselves out for those whom God has created, and preserved, and redeemed; all souls are His. They may be in the hands of aliens; a diabolical power maw, have usurped the place of the rightful king; but we are, to go forth, armed with the whole panoply of God, to fight the battle of the Lord and win the world for Him.

The spirit by which we should re animated. The moral quality of any work we do resides in the intention; and the success in any work we attempt depends mainly upon the spirit in which we prosecute it. Joab inculcated

(1) a magnanimous spirit. It was not enough that the soldiers be armed, that they be great in number, and march against the foe; they must have love to God and their country, large-heartedness, and noble-mindedness, or they would not succeed. They must have soldier’s hearts as well as soldier’s dress: “Be of good courage.” Joab inculcated

(2) manliness. “Play the man.” There are some men who are hosts in themselves; such men as Alexander and Wellington reckoned among their soldiers for thousands. Joab felt he did not want invalids, cripples, or children in the battle, but “men,”--men who would strike and stand in the hour of conflict; not cowards nor slaves, but brave, free men, for the army of Israel. This is the great want of this and every age. In our churches, holding the various offices, we want men of sound judgment and manly hearts; in our schools, and in every department of Christly labour, we want manliness, not puerility, not namby-pambyism, not sentimentality nor effeteness. The gentleness of women and the masculineness of man combined--then we have true manliness.

(3) Resignedness. “Let the Lord do as seemeth Him good.” This would inspire and sustain the men; they were to do their best, to be brave and manly, and leave results with God. When we go forth in our holy crusade against sin, and endeavour to win renown for the name that is above every name, we should go forth in a resigned spirit, in submission to the power and wisdom and goodness of God. For “the battle is the Lord’s,” and He knows best what amount of success it will be best to let us secure and see. (F. W. Brown.)

Elements of true manhood

Courage. Courage is not mere fearlessness. There is in many natures a stolid indifference to danger. It is said that Nelson never knew what fear was. True courage always implies a supreme love for right. Right is appreciated more titan ease, comfort, property, health, even life itself, and for it all are willingly sacrificed when necessary. The finest example of true moral courage, you have in Paul who for the sake of what he believed to be right, braved the greatest perils, and with a daring valour confronted his greatest enemies. He did not count his life dear to him so that he might discharge his obligations.

generosity. “Let us play the men for our people and for the cities of our God.” The selfish man, the man who lives to himself, and for himself alone, is destitute of the chief element of true manhood. We do not “play the men,” when we fight for our own little interests, or battle for our own little sect, but when we stand up from the dictates of pure generosity and struggle for the good of others.

Piety. “The Lord do that which seemeth Him good.” True piety is a devout acquiescence in the will of the great God, and without this there can be no greatness of character. It is not until we feet his will to the supreme rule of our life that we experience the pulsation of a true manly heart. (Homilist.)

Religion and patriotism the constituents of good soldiers

“Be of good courage, and let us play the men.” Courage is an essential character of a good soldier--not a savage, ferocious violence; not a foolhardy insensibility of danger, or headstrong rashness to rush into it; not the fury of inflamed passions, broken loose from the government of reason; but calm, deliberate, rational courage; a steady, judicious, thoughtful fortitude; the courage of a man, and not of a tiger; such a temper as Addison ascribes with so much justice to the famous Marlborough and Eugene:--

Whose courage dwelt not in a troubled flood

Of mounting spirits and fermenting blood;--But
Lodg’d in the soul, with virtue over-ruled,
Inflamed by reason, and by reason cool’d.

The Campaign.

This is true courage, and such as we ought all to cherish. This will render men vigilant and cautious against surprise, prudent and deliberate in concerting their measures, and steady and resolute in executing them. But without this they will fall into unsuspected dangers, which will strike them with wild consternation; they will meanly shun dangers that are surmountable, or precipitantly rush into those that are causeless, or evidently fatal, and throw away their lives in vain. There are some men who naturally have this heroic turn of mind. The wise Creator has adapted the natural genius of mankind with a surprising and beautiful variety to the state in which they are placed in this world. He that winged the imagination of a Homer or a Milton; he that gave penetration to the mind of Newton; he that made Tubal-Cain an instructor of artificers in brass and iron, and gave skill to Bezaleel and Aholiab in curious works; nay, he that sent out Paul and his brethren to conquer the nations with the gentler weapons of plain truth, miracles, and the love of a crucified Saviour; he, even that same gracious power, has formed and raised up an Alexander, a Julius Caesar, a William, and a Marlborough, and inspired them with this enterprising, intrepid spirit; the two first to scourge a guilty world, and the two last to save nations on the brink of ruin. There is something glorious and inviting in danger to such noble minds; and their breasts beat with a generous ardour when it appears. “The Lord do that, which seemeth Him good.” This may be looked upon in various views; as:--

It may be understood as the language of uncertainty and modesty. Let us do all we can; but after all, the issue is uncertain; we know not, as yet, to what side God will incline the victory. Such language as this becomes us in all our undertakings; it sounds creature-like, and God approves of such self-diffident humility. But to indulge sanguine and confident expectations of victory, to boast when we put on our armour, as though we were putting it off, and to derive our high hopes from our own power and good management, without any regard to the providence of God, this is too lordly and assuming for such feeble mortals; such insolence is generally mortified; and such a haughty spirit is the forerunner of a fall.

This language, “The Lord do as seemeth Him good,” may be looked upon as expressive of a firm persuasion that the event of war entirely depends upon the providence of God. Let us do our best; but after all, let us be sensible, that the success does not depend on us; that it is entirely in the hands of an all-ruling God. That God governs the world is a fundamental article of natural as well as revealed religion: it is no great exploit of faith to believe in this: it is but a small advance beyond atheism and downright infidelity. I know no country upon earth where I should be put to the expense of argument to prove this. The heathens gave striking proofs of their belief of it, by their prayers, their sacrifices, their consulting oracles, before they engaged in war; and by their costly offerings and solemn thanksgivings after victory. And shall such a plain principle as this be disputed in a Christian land? No; we all speculatively believe it; but that is not enough; let our spirits be deeply impressed with it, and our lives influenced by it: let us live in the world as in a territory of Jehovah’s empire.

That these words, “The Lord do what seemeth Him good,” may express an humble submission to the disposal of Providence, let the event turn out as it would. We have not the disposal of the event, nor do we know what it will be; but Jehovah knows, and that is enough: we are sure He will do what is best, upon the whole; and it becomes us to acquiesce.

These words, in their connection, may intimate, that, let the event be what it will, it will afford us satisfaction to think that we have done the best we could. We cannot command success; but let us do all in our power to obtain it, and we have reason to hope that in this way we shall not be disappointed. (S. Davies, A. M.)

Trust in God, and exertion of courage, our duty in times of national danger

The interests we have at stake. Our people and the cities of our God: in other words, our civil rights and our religion. The defence of their persons and possessions against lawless power, and the secure enjoyment of the means of happiness here and hereafter, were the great motives that induced men to submit originally to government. And every particular government is good or bad, as it answers or fails of answering these purposes.

The spirit with which we ought to defend ourselves against them. “Let us be of good courage, and play the men.” These words may seem to express the duty of the soldiery alone: and, without question, they express that peculiarly; and, joined with the following ones, clearly show that a strong sense of religion and a virtuous concern for the common welfare are the true principles that will give military persons bravery and success, as they did to those whose history the text relates. But still the more literal translation is, “Be strong, and let us strengthen one another.”

An humble dependence on heaven for the event of all. (T. Secker.)

Growth of loyalty, heroism, and patriotism

As the maternal instinct had been cultivated for thousands of generations before clanship came into existence, so for many succeeding ages of turbulence the patriotic instinct, which prompts to the defence of home, was cultivated under penalty of death. Clans defended by weakly loyal or cowardly warriors were sure to perish. Unflinching bravery and devoted patriotism were virtues necessary to the survival of the community, and were thus preserved until at the dawn of historic times, in the most grandly militant of clan societies, we find the word “virtus” connoting just these qualities, and no sooner does the fateful gulf yawn open in the forum than a Curtius joyfully leaps into it, that the commonwealth may be preserved from harm. (Fiske, “Through Nature to God. ”)

Publicity in religious life and deed

Joab says to his brother Abishai: “Let us play the men for our people,” recognising that they two, as champions in the host, will be seen and noted; that they will be more than seen, that they will be imitated, and that their courage will stimulate the courage of others. Joab may therefore be said to recognise the duty of acting so as to be seen. But there is a wide distinction between this and the desire of the later Pharisees, who did their religious deeds in public on purpose to be seen of men. Compelling imitation is a better and a more difficult thing than winning applause. It is easier for a man to get two hundred to applaud him for sortie superficial virtue than to get two to follow him in the exercise of some obscure one. The man that ruleth his spirit may be greater than he that taketh a city, but he will not therefore fill as large a place in the world’s thought, or be as widely talked about. (Quiver.)

Verse 13

2 Samuel 10:13

And Joab drew near, and the people that were with him unto the battle.


It is one thing, when men may either fight or fly, and another when they must either fight or die. The Syrians in the battle referred to in the text had their option to fight or fly, for that otherwise they must either fight or die. Hard-pressed by the valour and obstinacy of the forces of Joab, they fled back into their own city Medeba, a town in their borders, before which they pitched to guard their coast. What was the result of the victory over the Syrians referred to in the text? What but the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham (the fifteenth chapter of Genesis and the eighteenth verse), and repeated to Joshua (first chapter and the fourth verse) that the borders of Israel should extend to the river Euphrates? “From the wilderness and this Lebanon,” said God, “even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.” Little did the Syrians know, and little knew the Ammonites, and faintly also must David have known the purposes of the Almighty that were bound up in the war. Still those purposes were fixed, and the Lord in His own good time proved that Himself had gained the victory; for on the banks of the Euphrates, as by the sides of Jordan, were hallelujahs raised to the King of Israel, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who above all reigns and will reign omnipotent, making the wrath of man to praise Him. But the flight of the Syrians and their discomfiture at Medeba did not immediately, as we might imagine, result in peace. They were like most other barbarous and rapacious nations, dogged, infatuated, and obstinate to the last. We would have thought that the defeat they experienced, even in their own country and before their stronghold, would have taught them a lesson, and induced them to make overtures of peace. But no; they make a new attempt to recover their lost honour, and to check the progress of David’s victorious arms. The forces that were lately dispersed rallied again, and as we read in the fifteenth verse, “gathered themselves together.” Again, we have seen that Joab, before the battle, supposed the worst, that one of them should be obliged to give back; and in that case that the other, upon a given signal, should send a detachment to relieve it: “If occasion be, thou shalt help me, and I will help thee.” Here is an acknowledgment of mutual helplessness and mutual helpfulness. Are the soldiers of Christ strengthening one another’s hands in their spiritual warfare--the strong- succouring and helping the weak? Are those who through grace have been conquerors over temptation, counselling, comforting, and praying for those who are tempted? “I have prayed for thee,” said Christ to Peter, “that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (G. M. Irvine, M. A.)


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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 10". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.