Rather than striking back at Ammon for their shameful acts, David waits. Ammon decides to strike Israel on two fronts. God weighs in on this battle.
When we last met together we did a ‘first person’ account of the treatment by Ammon’s new king, Hanun, of David’s emissaries. David had been on good terms with the Hanun’s father, Nahash, and wanted to continue the relationship. Hanun was suspicious of David’s intentions and mistreated the men David had sent to bring his condolences. Hanun’s behavior was so egregious that it he could have easily expected retaliation. But David waited.
Hanun was so worried about David’s reaction that he took matters into his own hands. He hired help to attack David instead. It is not clear which ‘city’ is the location of this battle. I originally thought it was Jerusalem but reading deeper between the lines I find this to be unlikely. I’m going to stage this battle at an Ammonite city near the border of Israel. That is where we will rejoin our story today.
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Two months after David’s men had suffered the indignities heaped on them by Hanun word reached David that Hanun was likely planning an attack on Israel. David had found a faithful friend in the guard at Mefaat. He kept David informed of any changes observed. The guard was ready to attack Ammon straight away but David told him of God’s directions to wait. When the time was right, David promised that the guard would know.
The guard had noticed Syrian and Ammointe soldiers moving back and forth between Rabbath-Ammon and Medaba. Mefaat was located centrally between these two points and the soldiers had to pass Mefaat or close enough that an alert guard would notice. Much of the movements had been done under cover of darkness but the guard was accustomed to watching for movements in the night. He had seen them moving in groups for several days before sending his dispatch to David. The number in each group wasn’t as disturbing as the number of groups passing through. The fact that the Ammonite troops seemed to be joining them was even more concerning. To him, this could only mean on thing, the two nations were banding together.
David was pleased with the quick mind of the guard at Mefaat. He knew how to read the signs well. When all was settled he would make certain that the man saw a promotion. After reading the report over again, David called for Joab. This was the sign he had been waiting for. It was time Hanun payed for his disrespect.
As soon as Joab entered the throne room David issued his orders.
“Mobilize all the might men and their companies. Hanun will face the consequences of his actions against the Lord Himself. He appears to be planning an attack on Israel by joining with Syria. You will leave at once before he has time to draw out all Syria’s armies.”
Joab saluted David, returned to the garrison and had the men underway in less than an hour. They marched straight through, stopping only once for a meal break. The men ate while on their feet during this break. They arrived near the city of Medeba during the darkest part of the night. Extra care was taken as they neared the city to keep the noise from alerting the forces to their presence.
Morning broke and Joab surveyed the battle field. He saw that they had been tricked into positioning themselves between the two forces. Ammonites before them and Syrians behind. Joab quickly called for his captains to join him as he laid out their battle strategy.
“We need to split the forces in two. The Syrians pose the biggest threat in numbers. I want the strongest men on the line with me to face them. Abishai, you will take the rest of the troops and attack the Ammonites. ‘If the Syrians are too strong for me, they you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will help you. Be strong, and let us use our strength for our people and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do whatever seems good to Him’ (verses 12-13). Does anyone have any questions?” Joab paused.
When no one answered, Joab called the forces to move into position. Both units prepared for the order to attack to sound.
The trumpet blew and the men of Israel surged forward. Ammon and Syria ran to meet them in the middle of the battlefield. It was no time at all before the Syrians began to feel the press of Joab and David’s finest men and pulled back. Joab took every handbreadth surrendered and pushed for more. David’s mightiest soldiers cut down the opposition with ease. The Syrian lines broke under the onslaught of Israel and their troops scattered in retreat. Joab and his men gave chase and toppled Syrian soldiers left and right.
While Joab was vanquishing the Syrians, Abishai and his men advanced on the Ammonites. This was a much smaller force and they had counted on the Syrians as their supporters in battle. Abishai and his men drove the Ammonite soldiers back with as much vigor as Joab. Joab had the choicest men but Abishai had the bulk of David’s elite army. Ammon didn’t stand a chance against David’s best hundreds And when they saw that Syria has broken into retreat they did the same. Abishai and his men chased them all the way back to the Rabbath-Ammon where the escaped behind the closed gates.
When Joab was satisfied that the Syrians would not return he and his men rejoined with Abishai and the rest of the army. As the groups rejoined stories began to fly.
“You should have seen the look on the commander’s face! He was trying to advance and his men were scattering all around him. He wound up being trampled by three of his own as they fled before us.”
“I have no doubt the Ammonites arranged their escape with the gatekeepers. I’ve never seen gates close so quickly. I wish Abishai would have ordered us to attack the city straight away. No way could they have mustered a defense inside the walls that quickly.”
Joab was concerned that the Ammonites would mount another surge and certainly shore up their defenses. He stationed David’s mighty men at Mefaat. Here they would keep watch on Ammon and be ready if they tried again to attack Israel or enlist help from Syria.
As soon as the men were settled into their camp outside the city Joab summoned Abishai to his tent.
“I need to return to Jerusalem and inform the king on the battle’s status. You are to remain here with the troops, ready at a moment’s notice to ensure the Ammonites receive no support. Run a blockade. Let no one leave and no one enter the area around the town. If David permits we will besiege the city when I return.”
“We will see to it that Hanun stays huddled behind his city walls” replied Abishai.
Joab left at first light on his return trip to Jerusalem. He was able to cut his travel time to half a day with the use of his horse and he was standing before David just past mid-day.
“What news do you bring me from the battlefield?”
“Both Ammon and Syria were in retreat within the first hour. Hanun had no stomach for battle once the Syrians fled. I have left Abishai and the mighty men to ensure that Hanun doesn’t try to negotiate assistance from another source. I have them stationed at Mefaat and running a blockade for now. I believe we could take the city of Rabbath-Ammon. Hanun needs to pay for his crimes.”
“He will but for now we will wait. What of Syria?”
“They fled before us as far as the borders of Israel. The survivors most likely made their way home.”
“We will have to be on guard then for reprisal. Station a watch at the edge of Gad to scout out Syrian movements.”
“A wise idea. It will be done.”
After David and Joab finished their tactical discussion Joab returned to Mefaat to carry out David’s instructions.
While David and Joab had been making their battle plans, an old enemy of Israel’s had been laying out his own plans. Hadadezer had received word beyond the Euphrates about the battle with Israel. Hadadezer had not been personally involved in that battle but some of the kings of Syria had. King Maacah was one of Hadadezer’s closest allies. When Hadadezer received word that Israel had defeated the Syrian forces he was ready to respond to Maacah’s request for help.
“David” spat Hadadezer. “How many times must I strike that snake before I kill him?”
Hadadezer’s aid remained silent. He knew of the history between these two kings. David had defeated Hadadezer before and sent him back to his own country. Ammon had rejoiced at his defeat. Now Ammon had sucked him back into contact with David and Israel. Israel had become a sore issue with Hadadezer. He longed for the day he could put David down. It looked like he was about to get his wish.
Maacah and two other kings were willing to band together with him and as MANY Syrian forces as could be mustered. No way could Israel withstand the FULL forces of Syria. David would go down in defeat at the hands of Hadadezer’s finest commander, Shophach.
“Have Shophach report to me immediately” barked Hadadezer.
His aid hurried to find the commander. Both entered the throne room in quick order.
Shophach stood silently before his king, waiting for his instructions. He was not one who used idol flattery or excessive words when in the presence of others.
“We have been given an opportunity to strike down Israel and their king.”
Shophach’s face betrayed nothing of what he thought of the king’s announcement. Nor did he respond to it verbally. He simply waited for the king to continue.
“Maacah has run afoul of David and has sent for help. I want you to coordinate all the armies of Syria in response to his request. Leave no army behind. We will cross the Euphrates as one and rid the land of David and his kingdom.”
Shophach finally spoke. “How soon do you wish this to happen?”
“It should take no more than two weeks to gather the support of all the kings. We will move as soon as they are all in agreement.”
“And if they don’t agree?”
“Then I will MAKE them agree.”
Shophach nodded his understanding and set off on the king’s assignment. He was known throughout the whole land as Hadadezer’s chief commander so when he approached the other kings they readily agreed and provided him with whatever he needed.
Joab’s spies had noticed troop movements in Syria and reported them. These reports were relayed to David right away. David knew this meant trouble. He sent out the command for all of Israel to muster for battle. Every tribe was to provide troops for this encounter. He needed all the men Israel could muster for they would be facing all Syria had available.
David was not willing to allow Syria to march right into Israel. He commanded his forces to the borders of the tribe of Reuben. This meant crossing the Jordan with all the forces of Israel. This reminded David of the stories of Joshua and the children of Israel crossing the Jordan for the first time to face the nations in the land that was now Israel. The Lord was with them then and he believed He would be with them now.
Shophach and David drew up to the edge of Israel at nearly the same time. Both positioned their forces and readied for battle. Maacah had joined what forces he had left to the contingent Shophach had supplied.
David would wait no more. He called for the trumpet to sound and his men rushed onto the battlefield. Shophach responded in kind. Within moments the sounds of battle filled the air. Swords clashing, arrows arching through the air and striking their targets, screams of pain, shouts of anger, and running feat.
Shophach and his forces didn’t have a chance. The God of Israel fought alongside His people. He caused confusion and fear to enter the hearts of the Syrian soldiers. He strengthened the arms of Israel’s men. He gave insight to David in directing his troops. And He hobbled the horses and chariots sent against His people.
“The Syrians fled before Israel, and David killed of the Syrians the men of 7,000 chariots and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death also Shophach the commander of their army” (verse 18). Hadadezer’s best commander fell at David’s feet and his army was in tatters.
Hadadezer had not accompanied his men into battle as David had done so he heard of Israel’s victory second hand. Word was relayed through those who had escaped the sword. Hadadezer knew there was nothing else he could do but surrender and make peace with David.
David was shrewd in his negotiations. He knew that if Hadadezer was given any quarter he would find a way to rise again and become a thorn in David’s side. David demanded Hadadezer stand before him and pledge service to Israel.
“…And you will never render aid to ANY of Israel’s enemies” demanded David.
“Of this I swear my lord” replied a contrite Hadadezer.
Hadadexer returned to his own country after agreeing to ALL of David’s terms. There he would remain for the rest of his life. And he would uphold the covenant made between himself and David.
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Father God, You knew the timing required for the end Your desired. David could have retaliated against Ammon immediately but he waited. You could have had Joab kill ALL the escaping Syrian’s and prevented their request being relayed to Hadadezer. But You knew exactly what it would take to remove the threat to David permanently. You saw more than just his present state. You saw his future and what would be needed to keep him on Your path.
You know the order and timing for my life too. You have brought me through so many steps to be where I am now. Each step has trained me for today. And today’s steps will train me for our remaining tomorrows. Thank You that You will be with me until ALL is complete.