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2Sam. 12:26

Our text makes a sudden change in subject matter. It now returns to the war which Israel was having with the Ammonites. The war had become a prolonged war (F. C. Cook states that the war could have lasted “at least two years”). It was David’s dilatory absence from this war that led to his sin, and it was this war that David used to kill Uriah. Now the conclusion of the war is reported in Scripture.

The location in Scripture of the report on the war’s end is very instructive. While it seems to be a very different subject than the narrative about David’s arraignment for his sin, it is not. It follows in perfect sequence in regards to David’s repentance and chastisement for his sin. While it is possible that the ending of this war took place before David’s arraignment and repentance—for “it is often the habit of Jewish writers of Scripture, when the stream of public history has been broken by a private or personal incident, to complete at once the incident, and then go back to the principle history, resuming it at the point at which is was interrupted” (Blaikie)—it is by no means necessary to make that conclusion. But whenever the war finished, its location in Scripture is most instructive. We will look at this war from that standpoint for the lessons we glean from it.

To examine the conclusion of the war with the Ammonites, we note the rules of warfare, the rebellion of Joab, the return of David, and the retribution on evil.

1. The Rules of Warfare

Right at the beginning of this text on the finish of the Ammonite war, we are instructed regarding some rules about warfare—about victorious warfare that is. We see them in the steadfastness and in the strategy in the fighting.

The steadfastness in the fighting. “Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city” (v. 26). It had been a hard fight against Rabbah. The city was not captured in the early stages of the war (2 Samuel 11), and its capture came after repeated efforts by the Israelites. It was the steadfastness of Joab and his army that was a big factor in capturing the capital of Ammon and gaining the victory over it.

Steadfastness is always necessary to conquer evil. Evil is too earnest and too strong to be conquered by half-hearted efforts. Hence, no sin, no temptation can be defeated without steadfastness. Lack of strong dedication in the Christian life forecasts failure in the Christian life.

The strategy in the fighting. It was necessary for Joab to take the “royal city” (v. 26) and “the city of waters” (v. 27) in order to conquer the Ammonites. The wisdom of the strategy of capturing control of the water supply (city of waters) and the power supply (royal city) is obvious. Capturing the water supply would cut off life, for the Ammonites or anyone else cannot live long without water. Capturing the king (the royal city) would cut off the power of the land and enfeeble it. Without a king, the land is also finished.

This strategy instructs us in both how we must conquer evil and how evil tries to conquer us. In order to conquer evil, we must go for the heart of the evil instead of nibbling away at the borders and hedges. Trying to develop a vaccination for AIDS instead of going after homosexualism and other deviate life-styles which spread AIDS is trying to capture the land without capturing the water and power supply. In order to conquer us, the enemy of God’s people and God’s work aims for the water and power supply everytime. As an example, in the church the enemy puts great effort into attacking the Word of God (water—Ephesians 5:26)) and the Son of God (king). You take the Word of God and the Son of God out of the church and you have a church that is worthless and defeated.

2. The Rebellion of Joab

 “And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters. Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it; lest I take the city, and it be called after my name” (vv. 27, 28). What an insulting message to King David from Joab! But David has no one to blame but himself. As we mentioned in our last study, getting Joab to help him murder Uriah was going to cost David much in respect from Joab. After that vile killing, Joab was quite independent of David, and here is the first major example of it recorded in Scripture. Joab, the army general, can send a disrespectful message to the king and get away with it because he knows about the king’s wickedness.

Sometimes we think that if we lower our standards and become more like the world, we will be able to appeal more to the world. But that is a lie from hell. David, in killing Uriah, lowered his standards to those of Joab (who had murdered Abner). But this lowering of his standards down to Joab’s standards did not increase Joab’s respect for David. It greatly decreased it! The church is greatly disrespected by the world today and justifiably so, for the church is corrupt and compromising. If the church wants the world to give it respect, be it grudgingly or not, it is holiness that will do it, not compromise. Let the church lift up the standard of holiness high. Many will scorn the standard, but lowering the standard will not gain true respect but lose it.

3. The Return of David

 “And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it” (v. 29). Letting the location of this text in the narrative of Scripture determine the lesson here, we have a lesson regarding repentance and its relationship to our duty. We see the evidence, earnestness, and enrichment of repentance in David’s returning to the war with the Ammonites.

The evidence of repentance. David’s sin was encouraged by his failure to do his duty. He should have been leading the war (2 Samuel 11:1), but he tarried in Jerusalem which was inexcusable and evidence of dilatory conduct. But now that he has repented, David is seen returning to duty. He now goes forth to battle as he should. This return to duty is evidence of true repentance. If one truly repents of his sin, he forsakes his sin and gets on the right path. Some say they have repented, but we note they are not obeying God’s orders for their life. Repentance involves turning away from sin and getting on the right path. Failure to return to your duty indicates you have not repented.

The earnestness of repentance. Gathering all the people together and traveling to Rabbah and engaging in war took a lot of energy. It manifested that David was indeed earnest in his repentance. It was not half-hearted action. He put his heart into his repentance. Many who claim to have repented of their sin certainly do not evidence much earnestness about it. Such folk do not have their heart in it because it is not real.

The enrichment of repentance. “And he took their king’s crown from off his head, the weight whereof was a talent of gold with the precious stones; and it was set on David’s head. And he brought forth the spoil of the city in great abundance” (v. 30). David lost much through sin, but repentance gained much back. Sometimes when conviction hits the sinner, they feel they have lost all. They may have lost much, for sin extracts a big price. But failure to repent and turn back to God will increase the loss. The sooner one repents the better it will be. Vance Havner wrote a book entitled Lord of What’s Left with a small chapter in the book of the same title. The message is applicable to many situations. One situation is to those who think they have lost all by sin and think there is nothing left for them. You may have lost much, but do not pine away the rest of your life in vain regret and self-condemnation. That will only result in losing more. There is still some life left, and you need to be a good steward of it. Let Christ be “Lord of what’s left,” and you will recoup some of your loss. In fact, you may be surprised at how much you can still gain from what’s left. David lost much from his sin which he could never regain. But he did not make the mistake of setting and pouting away the rest of his life. He did much after his sin, for he let God be Lord of what’s left. In fact, David did more with the fragments of the life he had left after his sin than most people do with their whole life.

4. The Retribution on Evil

Great retribution came upon the Ammonites at the conclusion of the war. We note the judgment in their retribution and the justification of their retribution.

The judgment in their retribution. The judgment upon the Ammonites from the Israelites consisted of the loss of their glory, their possessions, their freedom, and their lives.

First, they lost their glory. “And he took their king’s crown” (v. 30). The loss of their crown represents the loss of their glory; for among other things, the crown speaks of glory. Sin always takes the glory away. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) states that truth plainly.

Second, they lost their possessions. “And he brought forth the spoil of the city in great abundance” (v. 30). Sin impoverishes mankind. It takes away all that is valuable. Especially does sin result in the loss of the most valuable thing man has—his soul. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Third, they lost their freedom. “David . . . went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it” (v. 29). The Ammonites were captured by the Israelites. That ended all their freedom. Sin destroys one’s freedom. Of course, the devil tries to say just the opposite. He characterizes godly living as restricted living and tries to paint the sinful life as a life of being able to do whatever you want to do “without all those religious rules” hindering you. But such is not the case at all. Sinners become addicted to their sin; they become captives to their evil. They are gripped and enslaved by drugs, tobacco, drink, gambling, and other vices.

Fourth, they lost their lives. “He brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows or iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln; and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon” (v. 31). The parallel text in Chronicles makes it plainer. It says David “cut them with saws” etc. (1 Chronicles 20:3). There are some who cannot accept this bloody retribution (and we can appreciate their repulsion of it), and so they interpret the text to mean that David put them under labor with saws, harrows, etc. Keil, however, says, “The cruelties inflicted upon the prisoners are not to be softened down . . . by an arbitrary perversion of the words into a mere sentence to hard labor, such as sawing wood, burning bricks, etc.” Blaikie adds that “attempts have been made to explain away the severities inflicted upon the Ammonites, but it is impossible to explain away a plain historical narrative.” Also he states, “It was the manner of victorious warriors in those countries to steel their hearts against all compassion toward captive foes, and David, kindhearted though he was, did the same.”

This condemning to death of so many Ammonites reminds us that sin brings death. Paul stated this truth plainly when he said, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Not only is physical death involved here, but spiritual death is also involved. Spiritual death is the worst death, for it is separation of the soul from God to eternity in hell fire (Revelation 21:8).

The justification of the retribution. The justification for retribution upon the Ammonites will be found in what started the war. David had tried to show kindness to the new king of Ammon, but this kindness was scornfully and cruelly rejected (2 Samuel 10). This was a terrible affront to David, and the rejection resulted in war.

A good Gospel lesson is seen in comparing what happened to the Ammonites in their defeat in this war by Israel to what happened to Mephibosheth when he came to David. Both the Ammonites and Mephibosheth were offered kindness from David. One accepted the kindness, the other rejected it. Mephibosheth, for accepting the kindness of David, gained great blessings from David. But the Ammonites, in rejecting David’s kindness, were sentenced to great loss. The two different experiences illustrate the different results that occur when one receives or rejects Jesus Christ (of Whom David is a type). Receive Christ and you gain a new position, a great relationship with Him, security, and other great blessings which were typified in the blessings gained by Mephibosheth. But reject Him and you lose your glory, possessions, freedom and soul as did the Ammonites in rejecting David.

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