Nahash the Ammonite king besieged the town of Jabesh-gilead during the reign of King Saul, and Saul rescued the Israelites who lived there (1 Sam. 11:1–11). Yet this was not the last dealing Israel had with the Ammonites. As we saw in our study of 1 Chronicles 18, David fought against them again, defeating them and taking silver and gold from them (v. 11).
Second Samuel 10 describes in detail how David’s army subdued the Ammonites. It started when Nahash died. Nahash was an enemy of Saul but, apparently, he later dealt loyally with David (v. 2). Scripture does not tell us exactly what this means, for we have no other information on Nahash’s relationship to David besides David’s praise of Nahash. Perhaps Nahash showed kindness to David when he was on the run from Saul. In any case, when Nahash died, his son Hanun took his place as king of the Ammonites, and David committed himself to dealing well with Hanun for the sake of honoring Nahash’s kindness toward him. So, David sent servants to greet and console Hanun after his father died, which was a custom that ancient Near Eastern kings often followed when the rulers of other nations passed away (vv. 1–2).
Hanun did not receive David’s act of kindness well. Convinced by his advisers that David had an ill intent in sending greeters, Hanun shaved David’s envoys and tore their clothes, which were among the most humiliating things you could do to men in the ancient world (vv. 3–5). This made the Ammonites “a stench to David,” and they assembled an army, including some Syrians, knowing that Israel would attack (vv. 6–7). Joab led the forces of Israel against the Ammonite-Syrian coalition, eventually dividing his army and putting half of it under the command of his brother Abishai when it became a two-front war. And Israel defeated its enemies (vv. 8–19).
Key to this chapter is verse 12, which reports Joab’s speech to Abishai when he divided the army. Joab was a complicated character, loyal to David and yet bloodthirsty and vengeful (3:22–30; 19:1–8). He is hardly one we might expect to hold to a sound theology, and yet he at least voiced good doctrine when he said “may the LORD do what seems good to him” (10:12). Joab did not know whether victory against the Ammonites and Syrians was guaranteed, so his expression shows a willingness to accept what God would give as the outcome. Joab may not be the best exemplar of faith, but we should certainly agree that it is always right for the Lord to do what seems good to Him.