“And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men. And the children of Ammon came out, and put the battle in array at the entering in of the gate: and the Syrians of Zoba, and of Rehob, and Ishtob, and Maacah, were by themselves in the field. When Joab saw that the front of the battle was against him before and behind, he chose of all the choice men of Israel, and put them in array against the Syrians: And the rest of the people he delivered into the hand of Abishai his brother, that he might put them in array against the children of Ammon. And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth him good. And Joab drew nigh, and the people that were with him, unto the battle against the Syrians: and they fled before him. And when the children of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fled, then fled they also before Abishai, and entered into the city. So Joab returned from the children of Ammon, and came to Jerusalem. And when the Syrians saw that they were smitten before Israel, they gathered themselves together. And Hadarezer sent, and brought out the Syrians that were beyond the river: and they came to Helam; and Shobach the captain of the host of Hadarezer went before them. And when it was told David, he gathered all Israel together, and passed over Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Syrians set themselves in array against David, and fought with him. And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the men of seven hundred chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, who died there. And when all the kings that were servants to Hadarezer saw that they were smitten before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more” (2 Samuel 10:7-19).
In our previous study we saw how the Ammonites enlisted the might of Syria to ward off the coming attack of David’s army in revenge for the despicable way they treated his men. David rallied his meagre army against the combined force of the Ammonites and the Syrians, so it is certain that he must have put his faith in God rather than the strength of man. It seems that David remained in Jerusalem and took no active part in the battle itself.
As David’s men were marching towards Ammon they learned that the Syrians were coming to its aid, so Joab divided his army and took the best warriors to halt their progress. The Syrians might have easily attacked Jerusalem while he was dealing with the Ammonites, so this move would thwart any such plan. In dividing his men he was reducing his might, but he saw that the evil had to be opposed at any cost. He fully realised that his fight with the enemy would be that much harder now, but he believed that God was on his side. Though Joab is not mentioned in the Hall of Faith found in Hebrews 11:33-34 the words can be applied to him; “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
The Ammonites made their stand at Rabbah’s gate while the Syrians were in the field. This means that David’s army was sandwiched between the two enemy factions and so had nowhere to run if the battle got too heavy for them. This war was now more than just taking revenge because of the mistreatment of David’s men, for it has escalated as a threat to the very existence of Israel itself. This war was “the most dangerous” that Israel “had to sustain during the reign of David” (Carl Freidrich Keil). It would surprise a reader dropping in on the text at this point to learn that this war was started by the Ammonites because of the kindness of David.
Though David’s men trusted in God they still had to face the possible severity of the battle. Joab saw the need to divide Israel’s army into two sections and gave command what was to happen if either his or Abishai’s soldiers got into trouble. He encouraged them to be strong and believe that the Lord would give them the victory. He knew that the Syrians were a more powerful a force than the Ammonites so took the mightiest men out to face them. He also knew that Ammon was easy to deal with since they had to hire in mercenaries to fight for them.
Against all the odds Israel was victorious over the combined forces of the enemy that day. In fact there was not much in the way of a battle at all. The Syrians simply took fright and fled from the field of battle, and the Ammonites crumbled when they save their saviours running for their lives. Rabbah was taken without the shedding of blood.
Maybe David’s army thought it was all over and returned to Jerusalem, but they soon learned that the Syrians had regrouped and were coming to attack Jerusalem. It is likely that Hadarezer, the king of Zobah, was angered by the cowardliness of his army so called in extra Syrian soldiers from Damascus to help him in his attack on David. This is another account of the foolishness of the enemy, for the Syrians had already encountered David’s might on previous occasions. “When the Syrians of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer king of Zobah, David slew of the Syrians two and twenty thousand men. Then David put garrisons in Syria of Damascus: and the Syrians became servants to David, and brought gifts. And the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went … And David gat him a name when he returned from smiting of the Syrians in the valley of salt, being eighteen thousand men” (2 Samuel 8:5-6, 13). They were obviously a very stubborn people.
David quickly overcame the Syrian army despite their might and number. At last, after a devastating defeat and much bloodshed, they realised they were beaten and surrendered to David. All the kings under Hadarezer’s authority made peace with Israel and served them. They would never again even think of helping the Ammonites in their battles. They had learned their lesson the hard way.
Some may suggest that David’s slaughter of the Syrians was merciless, but we have to take into account that he did not instigate either the battle with Hanun or the one with Hadarezer, and that they brought it all upon their own heads by acting foolishly. Added to this is the fact that the safety of Israel was on the line, so David had to send a clear message to others that God’s people were not easy prey for any enemy.