Stinking Ammon

“And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead. Then said David, I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness unto me. And David sent to comfort him by the hand of his servants for his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the children of Ammon. And the princes of the children of Ammon said unto Hanun their lord, Thinkest thou that David doth honour thy father, that he hath sent comforters unto thee? hath not David rather sent his servants unto thee, to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it? Wherefore Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away. When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return. And when the children of Ammon saw that they stank before David, the children of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Bethrehob, and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand footmen, and of king Maacah a thousand men, and of Ishtob twelve thousand men” (2 Samuel 10:1-6).


We saw in our previous study that David showered Mephibosheth with kindness, and here we find him continuing in the same mode with the Ammonites. This time his kindness is rejected by Hanun, the new king of Ammon.

The right hand of fellowship

David is attempting to be friendly to with the Ammonites because of the kindness shown to him by King Nahash. It appears that David was saddened by the news of the death of Nahash and felt duty bound to commiserate with his son. Though we do not know in what way the king had shown kindness to David, we assume it must have been considerable for him to remember it. It is likely that Nahash had a pact with David simply because he needed an alliance with someone who might assist him if Saul were to attack. It is also entirely possible that he befriended David when he was a fugitive. Whatever kindness he wanted to show Hanun was the result of a grateful heart. “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24). It is of some interest that the Ammonites were of the family of Lot (Genesis 19:36-38).

David sent several of his servants with a message of comfort for Hanun in his time of mourning for his father. This message must have included the request that peace and friendship would continue between the Ammonites and Israel. No doubt the message contained congratulations to Hanun for succeeding to the throne. So, rather than there being any wrong motives, the message was one of heartfelt blessing.

The left foot of disfellowship

Hanun’s advisors were suspicious of David’s attempt to foster friendship with Ammon, and so voted that his message be rejected. David’s servants, according to their conspiracy theory, were not comforters but spies instead. They thought that David had an ulterior motive that was sugar-coated with false kindness. They were cynics at their worst. The sad thing is that Hanun believed them rather than accepting David’s message on the basis of his past dealings with his father. He rejected David’s request for peace in a cruel and offensive way. His intention was to send David a message that could not be misunderstood, that is, Ammon was now the enemy of Israel.

To cut off a man’s beard was considered to be a great insult in those days, and the fact that only half was shaved off only intensified the dishonour measured out to David’s men. In treating these ambassadors in this way, they were stating that they would do the same to him if they ever got hold of him. Their actions were a sign of total disrespect for David. In cutting the garments halfway, to the waist, was their attempt to humiliate the men as much as possible, for they would have to leave Ammon and travel back to Jerusalem with the sound of heckling and jeering ringing in their ears. They made David’s ambassadors the laughingstock of Ammon.

The stench

David’s servants were too embarrassed to enter Jerusalem looking the way they did. Obviously it would be a load to heavy to bear if one of their own laughed at them or belittled them in any way. David sought to comfort them in their distress, especially since they had been his obedient representatives.

Hanun must have had a report of how David received news of how the Ammonites had mistreated his men, for he put the whole nation in a state of emergency. He had not only insulted David but had also given a declaration of war. What misery this foolish act would bring upon his people. “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2). How the laughter of the Ammonites quickly turned to grief! Everyone knew that they were as a stench in the nostrils of David. This indicates that they fully understood just how amoral and disgusting their deeds were. Nobody could blame anyone else, for the whole nation had played its part in the humiliation of their friends.

Maybe Hanun realised his foolishness and that there was no way to appease David, but instead of attempting to do so, and knowing that his nation was not strong enough to withstand an attack, he hired thirty-three thousand mercenaries from Mesopotamia, Syria and other countries. We can clearly see that this fool, who listened to unwise advice, was only going to make matters worse.


We will see the outcome of all of this in our next study in this series, but we can readily see the folly that Hanun had got himself and his nation into. He had no obvious reason for rejecting David’s call for continued peace, but he had much less of a reason for treating or mistreating the ambassadors the way he did.