Although the Syrians and Ammonites fled from battle before Joab and his mighty host, the Syrian army gathered again to defeat David. With all of Israel at his command, however, David destroyed them. Alistair Begg explains how the battle against David’s kingship, although historical, also points us to the eternal consequences of rejecting a far greater King. Before He comes in judgment, Jesus patiently bids us to come to Him now in faith, to lay down our arms, and to find refuge in His saving kindness.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Let’s read together the brief passage that concludes 2 Samuel 10, and then I’ll follow that by reading the Second Psalm. So, 2 Samuel 10 and from verse 15:
“But when the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they gathered themselves together. And Hadadezer sent and brought out the Syrians who were beyond the Euphrates. They came to Helam, with Shobach the commander of the army of Hadadezer at their head. And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together and crossed the Jordan and came to Helam. The Syrians arrayed themselves against David and fought with him. And the Syrians fled before Israel, and David killed of the Syrians the men of 700 chariots, and 40,000 horsemen, and wounded Shobach the commander of [the] army, so that he died there. And when all the kings who were servants of Hadadezer saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they made peace with Israel and became subject to them. So the Syrians were afraid to save the Ammonites anymore.”
And then in the Psalms and in Psalm 2:
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Well, we pick things up from where we left off, at least some of us, this morning, at the fifteenth verse. We said this morning that we would look at this chapter, first of all considering David showing kindness, which we looked at in verses 1–5; then David sending Joab in 6–14. And now, in this final section, David subduing his enemies.
We reminded ourselves of the similarity between the beginning of 9 and the beginning of 10: that David had shown kindness to Mephibosheth—kindness, as it were, to one of his own—and then, in chapter 10, he had shown kindness, expressed this loyalty, to Hanun on the strength of the loyalty that he had known, that came to him from Hanun’s father, by the name of Nahash. So his expression of genuine lovingkindness was not just for his own but extended beyond the borders of Israel.
Now, as we come to the end of chapter 10 and stand, as it were, on the threshold of chapter 11: if, as we said last time, we find David here at his best, as the narrator has recorded these two chapters for us, he has also set up the context for, essentially, David at his worst. Because once we get through 10 and into 11, things begin to slide quite dramatically in a downward direction. And the skillful way in which this record is provided for us should not be missed by us. As we seek to understand the theology of the passage, we are not dealing with theology written, as it were, in lists, but we’re dealing with it in terms of its genre, in terms of its literary presentation. And so, what we’re discovering here about the Ammonite war, which is now in spate, is also serving as the historical context for what is to follow. And if you have already read into chapter 11, you know that the great statement is “At the time when kings go out to war…” David himself was not participating in that.
So, here we have it. David is God’s anointed, chosen king, and Hanun and Hadadezer have taken counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed. And if you have your finger in Psalm 2, we’ll keep going back and forth, at least by way of reference. And if you don’t find it here, then you should find it there.
So, let’s look at this: David subduing his enemies. Verse 15: “When the Syrians saw that they had been defeated…” Instead of accepting it, we are told that they decided to double down.
The interesting thing, of course—or an interesting thing—is that it wasn’t actually their fight. They had been recruited for this by Hanun, the Ammonite king. They were essentially mercenary soldiers. And perhaps there is something about the mercenary soldier that sees defeat—I’m sure every soldier must do, to some extent—as a matter of honor. And so, although they had been neutralized… Because there is no record in the previous paragraph of any bloodshed taking place. Abishai and Joab had set themselves up, and basically, the whole thing had fizzled out, and they had fled; they had gone on their way.
But Hadadezer—verse 16—plans a massive assault. And he decides that he’s going to add to his troops by going to those who were “beyond the Euphrates.” Verse 3 of chapter 8 was our previous reference to “Hadadezer the son of Rehob, [the] king of Zobah, as he went to restore his power at the river Euphrates.” And when we saw that, we said, “Well, I wonder what that is about?” And here we discover that he had some kind of power base in that region, was able to draw on it as necessary, and so he draws on it now. He puts this individual, about which we know nothing—Shobach by name—in charge, and they gather together, crossing the Jordan, and they come to Helam. It may be that Helam is related to a contemporary town or city in Israel today, but the geographers are unclear. It was a place some forty miles east of the Sea of Galilee, and it was there that the battle was to ensue.
Now, what then follows is a record of their opposition. In verse 17: “And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together,” he “crossed the Jordan,” he “came to Helam.” Why? Because, there you see it in 17b, “the Syrians” had “arrayed themselves against David,” and they “fought with him.” Again, this is what in the Second Psalm it says that they have “set themselves”:
The kings of the earth set themselves,
… the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed.
And so, in this instance, there is a shift. Because we’re told that as the word reaches David, he gathers all Israel together—he’s personally involved in this—and he then led the people out. He is involved, actually, in the battle.
Now, I think we’re supposed to notice this, because in the previous incident, he sends out Joab and his mighty men. He does not go. We should note that, because in case when we get to chapter 11 we want to make too much of the verse which is usually a key verse: “And at the time that the kings go out to war, he didn’t go out to war.” And if you’ve heard talks on 2 Samuel 11, you know: “And that’s the big pivotal thing. He should have been up. He should have had his breakfast. He should have gone to work. He stayed home, he watched video games, and look what happened to him.” That’s the kind of the way it goes. So, it’s important to recognize that he didn’t go out to war and he did go out to war. The reason it’s important is because it will be important when we try and understand what’s going on in 2 Samuel 11. But previously he sent them, and then on this occasion he went. He went with them.
Again, this is, of course, in contrast to all of the story that we’ve seen before. You will remember that when we’re introduced to David for the first time in the story, way back in the seventeenth chapter of 1 Samuel, he has shown up at a field of battle, but there’s no battle. And he hears the word that the king has made provision for anybody that’s prepared to take on the giant. Nothing is said by the narrator about the fact that the king hasn’t taken on the giant. When he goes to Saul, you will remember, and they have that relatively humorous incident where Saul dresses him up in his armor, and he tries, you know, walking up and down the living room, as it were, making it perfectly clear that this is not going to work, that had followed on the statement that Saul had made to him: when he presented himself as going against the forces of the enemy, he said to him, “You are not able to go, for you are only a youth. You’re only a boy.” Now, if I had been David, I would have said, “And so what’s your excuse? What’s your excuse? I mean, you’re the blooming king, for crying out loud. You’re the leader! What are you doing?” Well, of course, he was doing nothing. And so David is set here as the one who steps forward. The king steps forward.
Now, again, in my study, when I got there, I said, “There’s something in my mind that I don’t need to tell anybody,” but now I’m going to tell you, and so it shouldn’t even… But anyway, as I thought about this, as I wrote in my notes, I said, “The king steps forward.” And you know what I immediately thought about? I thought about the scene in the garden of Gethsemane, when they come with bats and sticks and everything. And I think it’s John who records that fact that Jesus steps forward and he says, “Would you be looking for me?” Of course they’re looking for him. The King steps forward.
Now, when we study a motif like this—the kingship, which is helping us move into the New Testament—we don’t study Jesus as King in absence from Jesus as Prophet, as Priest, as Shepherd, and so on. And so, when you think about David stepping forward here, and when you think about Jesus as the Shepherd-King, and you realize that what Jesus is doing in stepping onto the field of battle… He’s stepping onto the field of battle against the forces of evil that are ranged against those whom he has come to save. And he gives himself to that end. He doesn’t stay in a palace. He doesn’t speak from a distance. He steps down.
And some of you are of the vintage that you will remember that old hymn:
There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
And the hymn writer says, “And the shepherd goes out.” And I’ve always been struck by maybe the second or the third verse, and it goes like this:
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night
That the Lord passed through
[When] he found [the] sheep that was lost.
Jesus steps forward, just as David steps forward here. And in anticipation: Jesus is triumphant. Jesus destroys sin, destroys death, destroys hell.
And look what happens here in terms of the destruction that is recorded: “And the Syrians fled before Israel.” David breaks them. In Psalm 2 terms, he breaks them “with a rod of iron”; he dashes them “in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” And we know, of course—because we’ve already read it back in chapter 8—that “the Lord gave [David] victory … wherever he went.” It wasn’t that David was so special; it was that God was so good. He uses people. He uses servants. Of that there is no doubt. He could work in a vacuum if he chose. But he raises David up. “The Lord gave [him] victory … wherever he went.” The song that had followed him, which had been such a basis of animosity between him and Saul, testified to David in this regard: “Saul has slain his thousands, but David has slain his tens of thousands.” And you can almost imagine the circumstances here, in this devastating rout, where, in terms of Judges and the story of Gideon, remember, and they all shouted out, “The sword of the Lord and for Gideon!” You can imagine them doing the same here. David has stepped down onto the field of battle. The king has come. The king rouses his troop. The king is among his soldiers.
Now, look at verse 19a and compare it with verse 15a. 19a: “And when all the kings who were servants of Hadadezer saw that they had been defeated by Israel…” Now look at verse 15: “But when the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel…” I’m sure, again, the way this is written is so that we would say to ourselves, “But that just sounds like something I just read.” You’re supposed to go back and say, “It is something I just read.” That’s the way it was written in verse 15. In verse 15, the Syrians regrouped. They doubled down. In verse 19, “all the kings,” the “servants of Hadadezer,” they decided, “We’re going to make peace,” and they “became subject” to Israel. Again, in Psalm 2 terms, they became wise. The circumstances that unfolded served as a warning to them. And instead of continuing in their resistance, they bowed down, recognizing that there was no way they could escape from him unless they found their escape in him.
So, the opposition is as we have noted it. The destruction is as it is recorded. And, of course, it is a story of salvation. It is salvation. In fact, the verb is used there in the final sentence: “So the Syrians were afraid to save the Ammonites anymore.” Well, of course, they couldn’t save the Ammonites. If they could have saved them, we wouldn’t have the story as it is. No, this salvation is experienced by the Syrians—a salvation that was unknown to the Ammonites. Why? Because in the case of the Ammonites, the king’s hesed had been rejected.
And essentially, as I said in passing in a sentence or so this morning, these nineteen verses are an amazing and a horrifying picture of what it means to reject the King. Don’t let’s… If you talk about four hundred thousand cases or forty thousand cases and forty people dying and everything, it’s absolutely galling. Now, make sure that we don’t allow the fact that this is three thousand years or more ago to dull the fact that there were mothers waiting for their chariot-driving husbands to return. There were soldiers who had kissed their fiancées goodbye. There were children who were longing to play with their fathers. And they’re gone. And they’re gone-for-eternity gone.
That is what makes the promised destruction so unbelievably devastating. They arrayed themselves against him, their opposition failed, their folly is clear, and they despised his kindness.
If you’re reading M’Cheyne, you know that part of the reading this week in the Psalms took us to Psalm 52. And I was struck by a verse in 52. I just noted it. And this is what it says. In the middle of this psalm, the psalmist says,
See the man who would not make
God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!
“See the man.” Behold! Look at him. Look at these folks. The Ammonites could have and should have welcomed David’s kindness. They should’ve done it while there was still time—while he was still patient with them, if you like. For the other control in studying this passage is in the New Testament—is, of course, Romans 2, which we’ve been referring to in passing all the way through, and it is of foundational importance as we make application of this: “Do you presume on the riches of God’s kindness, his forbearance, his patience? Don’t you know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”
Loved ones, this is a matter of eternal significance. The impact of Islam in our world, as devastating as elements of it are, socially and politically, is not the great concern. The great concern is that Islam is taking countless millions of people into a lost eternity. And it is only in the message of the gospel, it is only in the story of the King, it is only in his triumph that there is an answer.
Again, in an old hymn… And it’s such a wonderful old hymn. I don’t think we’ve ever sung it. I think Fernando did it once. But you know that hymn,
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
It’s a wonderful picture. Hyper-Calvinists struggle over the lyric, but that’s okay; they can do that. But the hymn writers were unashamed of writing lines like—here it is:
Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home.
Would you resist his kindness, not realizing that it is there to lead us to repentance?
And so the invitation, essentially, to follow the Syrians in laying down their arms is the invitation that is given to us: to lay down the arms of our rebellion, to transfer our trust from ourselves and our own ideas and our own supposed goodness and to transfer it to Jesus and to his saving kindness.
And what do we know? Well, we know this: that the revolt of these kings proved to be a useless undertaking. The revolt was a useless undertaking. And it’s a picture of a far greater reality. The revolt of the nations and kings against Christ’s kingdom is also a futile exercise. That’s what the Bible says.
His kingdom cannot fail,
He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus giv’n.
As we sang,
The foe is stern and eager,
The fight is fierce and long;
But you have made us mighty,
And stronger than the strong.
So it’s a call to find refuge in him. It’s a call to take courage, because in the end, the Lord of the universe will establish his worldwide victory through his anointed King, Jesus.
And when I finally get to my studies in Revelation, you’ll know that my time for departure is hastening, so don’t worry about this. But here, let me remind you: “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders who sit on [the] thrones before God”—there is “a higher throne”—“fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for [the] rewarding [of] your servants, the prophets and [the] saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.’”
These are such solemn, solemn verses that we need to ask God to bring home to our hearts.
The wonderful thing to be able to say to our friends is, you know, “It is in embracing the kingship of Jesus that sets us free from our own little kingdoms and from every other power and authority that would seek to hold us in its grip. Wouldn’t you come now,” we might say to them, “and understand this?”
Well, I want us just to pause for a moment of prayer. We’ll sing a final song. But I found myself turning to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and I said to myself, “You know, it’s no surprise to me that he prayed this for the Ephesians. And it’s a prayer that I need to pray for myself and we need to pray for our church.” So bow with me, and let me pray Paul’s prayer after him here, and then we’ll sing a song.
Paul writes to the Ephesians in the midst of all of their struggles, trials, battles, paganism, chaos, heartache, everything:
For this reason, because I[’ve] heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
And we may be confident that this King who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. And even though I may have a very tiny little hold on him, he has an eternal hold on me.
 2 Samuel 11:1 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 17:33 (paraphrased).
 See John 18:4.
 Elizabeth C. Clephane, “The Ninety and Nine” (1868).
 2 Samuel 8:6 (ESV).
 1 Samuel 18:7; 21:11; 29:5 (paraphrased).
 Judges 7:20 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 52:7 (ESV).
 Romans 2:4–5 (paraphrased).
 Will L. Thompson, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” (1880).
 Charles Wesley, “Rejoice, the Lord Is King” (1744).
 William Chatterton Dix, “Come unto Me, Ye Weary” (1867). Language modernized.
 Keith Getty and Kristyn Getty, “There Is a Higher Throne” (2003).
 Revelation 11:15–18 (ESV).
 Ephesians 1:15–23 (ESV).
 See Philippians 1:6.
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.