The Bible Story - Volume IV
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The Bible Story - Volume IV

Chapter 99:

Men Trust in Armies

   IN a northern region not far from Mount Hermon, David's soldiers relying on themselves instead of God had baited the Aramaeans into action. They boldly marched out on a flat plain where enemy chariots could easily mow down the Israelites. According to plan, the Israelites suddenly turned and ran to safety among nearby boulders. The chariots raced after them, and ran into an area of rocks that caused the speeding vehicles to bounce and careen wildly. A great number of them smashed together or tipped over, snapping off the deadly blades, throwing the drivers to the ground and yanking the horses onto their backs. Oncoming chariots crashed against the overturned ones. The whole detachment came to a violent halt as it sped into the region of small boulders over which the Israelites leaped in planned retreat. David's scheme to lure at least part of the chariots to their destruction had worked.
   But the battle had hardly begun. The Syrian drivers and their armed riders lost no time in dispatching spears and arrows into the ranks of the Israelites, who halted their retreat as soon as the chariots were stopped. They turned on the outnumbered Syrians and wiped them out in a matter of minutes.
   Many of the chariots of the rear ranks were turned back when the drivers realized what had happened. These stayed at a safe distance to await the arrival of their infantry, which was moving on the double toward the Israelites. Their morale was seriously shaken when they saw so many of their chariots cracking up. Thousands of foot soldiers on each side collided in the awesome din and frightful action of hand-to-hand combat. The Israelites soon realized that they were fighting men who were already partly conquered by a superstitious fear caused by the tales they had heard of the strange powers of the God of Israel. (II Samuel 8:3.)
   Because God was protecting them, almost all the Israelite soldiers escaped the weapons of their enemies. Soon the wide battlefield was scattered with the bodies of many Aramaeans. Hadadezer, the king of Zobah and commander of the Syrian or Aramaean forces, saw that it was useless to continue the fight. He tactfully withdrew a safe distance with some of his men, part of whom he sent on fast horses to nearby Damascus to ask the ruler of that city to send out soldiers as soon as possible against the Israelites.
   So great was the defeat of the Zobahites that twenty thousand of their infantrymen were killed or captured by David's men. A large cavalry attack would have been very deadly under ordinary circumstances, but God intervened to cause the horses and their riders to panic during the battle. A thousand chariots and seven hundred horsemen and their horses were slain or taken captive. (II Samuel 8:4.) God had commanded Israel not to accumulate great numbers of war horses, lest they start depending upon war horses instead of upon God for protection. (Deuteronomy 17:16.) For that reason, David ordered the war horses should be killed and all the chariots should be torn apart except a hundred to be saved for use by the Israelites. Much metal was stripped from the chariots, as well as valuable trappings. (I Chronicles 18:3-4.)
   All the rest of the day the Israelites took in the booty of war, including a wealth of items in the camp of Zobah, where they stayed that night. Meanwhile, David wondered where Hadadezer, the Zobahite king, had gone. A questioning of prisoners revealed he had been present until the tide of battle turned to favor the Israelites, and that there were many Syrian troops stationed in and around Damascus. David could only conclude that Hadadezer was away somewhere awaiting the arrival of more soldiers to move against the Israelites, and probably that very night!

Reinforcements Attack

   David's expectation turned to reality. During the darkness of the early morning, thousands of Syrians moved silently up to the Israelites, whose inactivity caused the enemy to believe that they were in a state of deep sleep after a day of vigorous action. The Syrians were so certain that they were going to find the Israelites unprepared to fight that they suffered quite a shock when the Israelites leaped up, weapons in hand, and noisily charged into the intruders. The bloody result was that twenty-two thousand Syrians died at the hands of those whom they planned to kill in their beds. (II Samuel 8:5; I Chronicles 18:5.)
   Next day David's men gathered more of the spoils of war. Many of the shields, collars and bracelets of the Syrians were made at least partly of gold. These were sent to Jerusalem as an offering of gratitude to God to add greatly to the wealth of Israel. The Israelite army then moved from one nearby city to another to seize from the Syrians thousands of pounds of valuable brass, a metal that was very necessary in both domestic and military use. At the same time David left many of his soldiers in that region to guard the borders of Canaan. As with the Moabites, a regular tribute was demanded from the Syrians, who preferred to pay rather than suffer the indignity of the Israelite troops overrunning their land. (II Samuel 8:6-8; I Chronicles 18:6-8.)
   For the time being the Syrians (Aramaeans) had learned their lesson. Their punishment came because they had stolen grazing lands that God had formerly given to three tribes of Israel. (I Chronicles 5:3, 9-11, 18-23.)
   It wasn't long before Toi, ruler of the nearby city of Hamath, heard about what had happened. He and Hadadezer were enemies and their armies were often at war. Toi was apparently pleased to know that the Israelites had overcome the Zobahites and Syrians, and to learn that Hadadezer's army wouldn't trouble him anymore. It would have been foolhardy for him to disapprove of Israel's occupation of northeastern Canaan. His only wise course was to cultivate friendship with the king of Israel.
   Accordingly, he sent his son, Joram, to head a delegation to visit David and congratulate him on his latest triumphs in battle. To prove his father's friendship for the king of Israel, Joram presented David with a costly array of ornate bowls and vases made of brass, silver and gold. All these David added to the special treasury being built from valuable articles taken from the subdued people of other nations. He hoped that this wealth would eventually be used to help build the temple for God. (II Samuel 8:9-12; I Chronicles 18:9-11.)
   The triumphant wars against the nations pressing in against Israel caused David to be even more respected by his enemies as well as by his people. At last the promised land of Canaan was inhabited and held to all its borders by the people of Israel. Meanwhile, David worked toward establishing a just government. He retained in high offices men who were most capable. He was the kind of king who publicly and privately gave credit to his men when credit was due them, instead of trying to swing the honors his way. (II Samuel 8:15-18; I Chronicles 18:14-17.)

David Teaches Loyalty

   Joab, although he had greatly roused David's anger in the past, was kept on as the general of the army of Israel. David had promised that office to anyone who could successfully lead troops into Jerusalem during the attack on that city by the Israelites, and Joab earned the reward. He was a capable military leader, though he was callous and loved violent action. With his brother, Abishai, who became next in rank under him, Joab carried out his duties well.
   In the last battle of that particular time when the Israelites cleared out their enemies from southeast Canaan, it was Abishai who handled the troops. Their record was so notable that eighteen thousand Edomite soldiers were slain. (I Chronicles 18:12-13; II Samuel 8:13-14.) God uses all kinds of people to carry out His many plans. But His true servants must be obedient to the Creator's physical and spiritual laws.
   David's desire to be fair in matters of government led him to wonder if there were any of Saul's family who were still living. If there were, it was the king's desire to help them for the sake of the memory of Saul's son Jonathan, who was David's closest friend when he was a very young man employed by Saul as a musician and armor bearer. (II Samuel 9:1.)
   Eventually a man was brought to Jerusalem who had been a servant in Saul's employ. From him David learned, to his surprise, that Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth who was living with a kind and hospitable man named Machir in the town of Lo-debar east of the Jordan River.
   "How could it be that I have never known that my friend Jonathan had such a son?" David asked the man who had been brought to him.
   "He was only five years old when his father died," answered Saul's former servant. "During those years, sir, my master caused you to be an outcast. You could hardly be expected to keep abreast of such matters. Of course Jonathan's son is still only a young man."
   "But the grandson of a king can't ordinarily escape the public eye," David observed. "It's difficult for me to understand why I never heard of him."
   "Probably it's because his legs weren't normal," was the answer. "Because of childhood injuries, he couldn't take part in games and contests with other youngsters of his age. He doesn't get out in public places very often."
   "Send men at once to Lo-debar to bring Mephibosheth here," David instructed some of his servants after a few moments of reflection. "But say nothing to him about why I want him."
   Days later, when Mephibosheth was brought to Jerusalem, he limped into David's court and prostrated himself before the king.
   "I am your servant, sir!" he muttered fearfully. "I shall willingly do whatever you ask if only you will tell me what I have done to offend you!" (II Samuel 9:2-6.)
   "Bring this man a comfortable chair," David whispered to an aide. After Mephibosheth was seated, David spoke to him in an assuring voice, "Don't be afraid. You haven't offended me, nor are you here to be troubled in any way. You were brought here so that I might honor you!"

A Pauper Prince Honored

   "What reason would you have to do that?" Mephibosheth asked. "Surely I am nothing more than a dead dog to you."
   "You mean much to me," David replied. "I want to show you special respect because Jonathan, your father, was my closest friend. I didn't know till lately that you exist, but now that I've found you, I want you to receive the property that belonged to Saul, your grandfather." David knew one should be loyal to old friends. (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:10.)
   Mephibosheth stared unbelievingly at David. All his life he had been dependent on others to support him. His possessions included little more than the clothes he was wearing, but now he was being offered valuable farmland and a fine home!
   "Thank you, sir," he said after a pause of several moments, "but I couldn't accept all that. I've done nothing to deserve it. Besides, I'm not able to move about very well, and I couldn't succeed even in taking care of the buildings, to say nothing of farming the land." (II Samuel 9:7-8.)
   David turned and said something to an aide. Ziba, the servant of Saul who had disclosed Mephibosheth's existence, soon entered the room.
   "Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son," David told Ziba, "should receive Saul's property, and I want you and your family and servants to assume all the duties that should be carried out to make the estate productive for Mephibosheth and for you and all who will live or work there."
   Ziba was obviously pleased by these arrangements. He had fifteen sons who were capable of working. He also had twenty servants whom he wished to keep employed.
   "It is my pleasure to carry out your will, sir," Ziba said, bowing. "Mephibosheth will want for nothing."
   "Now how can you refuse all that?" David smiled at Mephibosheth. "Surely you have no other reason to reject these things."
   The young man was overwhelmed. He profusely thanked David, who was pleased at the opportunity to do something for Jonathan's son.
   Mephibosheth sent for his wife, and they were very comfortable in their new home. To make life more pleasant, God blessed them with a son whom they named Micha. The three of them were treated as royalty, and were often invited to David's house for dinner and other social occasions. (II Samuel 9:9-13.)

A Friend Insulted

   Shortly after the war with the Syrians, David was informed that the king of the Ammonites had died. The Bible doesn't mention what connection David had with this man, but obviously he had in some way befriended David, possibly during the time he had sought refuge from Saul outside Canaan. David wanted the king's son, Hanun, to know that the king of Israel was sorry to hear of the death of his father. Several emissaries were sent with gifts to the land of the Ammonites east of the Dead Sea to deliver David's message of sympathy. (II Samuel 10:1-2; I Chronicles 19:1-2.)
   Hanun graciously received the Israelites, but after they had been taken to guest quarters for a night of rest before starting back to Jerusalem, some of the young Ammonite chiefs who were unfriendly toward the Israelites came to talk to Hanun.
   "If the king of Israel ever cared anything about your father, he is only using it as an excuse to send spies here," they told Hanun. "These men with gifts are surely looking our city over so that they can take back information. It means that Israel is planning to attack us soon!"
   Hanun was troubled by this opinion. By next morning he decided that the chiefs were probably right, and he gave orders to arrest the Israelites. Each man's beard was half removed, and their robes were whacked off almost to their waists. In that condition they were sneeringly told to go back to Jerusalem and tell David that his attempt to spy on the Ammonites was as ridiculous as his emissaries would look when they returned.
   News of this insulting act somehow reached David before the embarrassed emissaries could reach the Jordan River. David sent men to bring them new clothes at the site of the wrecked city of Jericho. The emissaries were told to remain there until their beards were evenly grown out.
   Meanwhile Hanun also received some news that caused him to hastily call together the rash Ammonite chiefs who had talked him into mistreating the Israelites. (I Samuel 10:3-5; I Chronicles 19:3-5.)
   "I made a deadly mistake when I listened to you men," he angrily told them. "If King David had no previous intention of attacking us, he has reason to now. He is very angry. So are thousands of Israelites, and here we are with hardly enough fighting men to be called an army!"

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Publication Date: 1985
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