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David, part 13

David's Ill-Requited Friendship For the King of the Ammonites.

2 Samuel 10

Great events sometimes arise out of trifling circumstances, and bloody wars have been undertaken to redress some small wrong or revenge some slight or fancied insult. "The beginning of strife is as when one lets out water," says Solomon (Prov 17:14). Or it is like the cloud no bigger than a man's hand, which was quickly followed by a heaven black with clouds and wind, and a great rain (1 Kings 18:44, 45). The whole cloud material was there, though invisible; and a slight electric change was all that was needed to produce a storm. So is it often in our public wars and private contentions. The warlike and contentious spirit is there, and little suffices to let it loose, so as to deluge fields with blood and spread and perpetuate discord among men. But the interest and honour of nations must be maintained, and men must stand upon their personal rights. By all means. But in our times, and with the nations and people of Christendom, let it be on Christian principles. Those who lived in less enlightened ages, and under a less perfect religious dispensation, must be judged by a lower standard.

This chapter of the Book of Samuel gives an exemplification of serious consequences resulting from an apparently slight offence. The king of the children of Ammon died; and David said, "I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness to me. And David sent to comfort him by the hand of his servants for his father." The princes of the Ammonites persuaded the new king that David must have an interested motive in this embassy. "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." As the men were greatly ashamed, the king said, "Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return." The result of this insult was war, first with the Ammonites, aided by the Syrians, in which they were defeated, and next with the Syrians themselves, in which David slew the men of seven hundred chariots, and forty thousand horsemen, and reduced them to servitude.

There is no account elsewhere of Nahash, the king of Ammon, showing kindness to David. This Nahash is supposed to be the son of the Ammonitish king who, forty years earlier, besieged Jabesh-gilead, which was relieved by Saul. Though an hereditary enemy of Israel, he might show kindness to David, as did Achish, king of the Philistines, while Saul was their common enemy. David, in his prosperity, desired to return to the son the kindness that the father had showed him in his adversity. But why should David desire to cultivate friendly relations with the king of the Ammonites? The children of Ammon were of the nations with whom the children of Israel might make peace, representing, as one of those remote from Canaan, what could be subordinated to right principles. David might, therefore, lawfully send to Hanun a message of condolence on the death of his father. But there was now on the throne of Ammon a king that knew not David, whom his princes easily persuaded to distrust and insult. The treatment to which the king subjected David's messengers was, according to the ideas of the times, most ignominious. Those messengers were no doubt men of rank, whose flowing beards and rich and ample apparel reflected the dignity and grandeur of the court to which they belonged and the king they represented, and were intended to show honour to those to whom they came. To have refused their message, would have been discourteous and unfriendly, but besides this, to send them away with half of their beards shaved off and their garments cut so as to shamefully expose their persons, was certainly a wanton insult and great indignity. Our principal concern is to understand what it means and what instruction it affords.

The hair in general and the beard in particular, and the garments, are so often spoken of in Scripture in what is called a figurative sense, that it is not necessary to show that they have a symbolic meaning. We need only to consider what their meaning is.

It would be an interesting inquiry, why the Creator has given a natural covering to animals, which he has denied to, or but sparingly bestowed on man. Without attempting to discuss so large a subject, a few remarks upon it may be ventured. One of the fathers of the Development theory, while believing that Nature has done all else for man, cannot help thinking that we must recognise the hand of God in this. According to this admission, man's peculiar condition in this respect is at least evidence of design. This we need not stop to consider. We do not so much desire to know its economical purpose, as to ascertain its secondary cause, and thence its meaning. First of all, it implies, because it necessitates, the existence in man of a reasoning power. The being who is thus circumstanced, and has to provide what his condition requires, must see the connection between end and means, and between cause and effect. May not that mental power which sees the bodily need and exerts itself to supply it, have had some share, as a secondary cause, in producing it? All creatures are the organized forms of their own nature. They are made for the life they are intended to lead. Their whole structure, even to the hair, and feathers, and scales with which they are covered, is a development of their nature, and an adaptation to their mode of life. The animal soul clothes itself with an animal body, in every particular its own image, and therefore its own instrument. This is equally true of man. The human soul clothes itself with a human body, because this is its form, its image, its instrument. But there is this important difference between an animal and a man. An animal is born with all the knowledge which its nature requires. Man is born only with the faculty of acquiring knowledge, not with any undeveloped fund of knowledge, yet with the inflowing light of discernment. Animals are born with clothed minds, and as a consequence they are born with clothed bodies. They neither sow nor reap, nor toil nor spin to feed and clothe their bodies, because neither labour nor skill is required of them to feed and clothe their minds. The Creator has given man a naked body because He has given him an unclothed mind. Man has, by study and labour, to acquire knowledge, and clothe his mind with ideas; and as a consequence, he has to acquire the materials and form them into garments for his body. In brief, the clothing of animals grows out of their bodies because their knowledge grows out of their minds. Man has to acquire and put clothing on his body, because he has to acquire and put garments on his mind. It is on this ground that there is an analogy between the knowledge that clothes the mind and the garments that clothe the body.

Yet the human body is not left without a natural covering entirely. The head in all, and the lower part of the face in man, have a covering for beauty and glory. This, too, has its origin in correspondence. The celestial degree of the mind, to which the head corresponds, is in its nature and activity spontaneous. The men of the celestial Church did not, and the celestial angels do not, like the spiritual, lay up their truths in the memory and their garments in the wardrobe, and put them on as occasion requires. The celestials apply the truths they acquire immediately to the life. There is an important difference, however, between the hair of the head and the beard. The hair of the head comes by birth, the beard comes with manhood. And as the period of manhood is that in which reason asserts its power and assumes its sway, and as man, by the exercise of his reason, passes from knowledge into intelligence, therefore the beard is the emblem of intelligence, as indeed the face is of the rational mind, out of which it grows.

As knowledge is to the mind what clothing is to the body, this is the Scripture meaning of garments. But that to which they correspond is the knowledge of Divine and spiritual things, or, truth as the clothing of goodness. As the hair and the garments serve a similar use, they have a similar meaning. There is this difference: the hair corresponds to that truth which celestial goodness puts forth, and garments correspond to those truths which spiritual goodness puts on; one comes by immediate, the other by mediate influx, or, one comes from within, the other from without.

One more particular respecting the hair and the garments. As a covering for the body they answer to the ultimate truths of the mind, in which its inward principles terminate, and which preserve them in their integrity and connection. So that when those ultimate truths are removed, the effects on the mind are like those which the removal of the hair and garments would have on the body. Besides being exposed to injuries, the vital heat would be dissipated, and disease would in all probability speedily bring its existence to a close. So with the mind.

Hanun did not, however, denude David's messengers entirely of their hair and garments. His purpose was not so much to injure as to insult, to express contempt for the king of Israel, and cast ridicule upon his servants. The Ammonitish king and his advisers were like those who not only refuse to receive the messengers of the King of kings, the prophets and evangelists, but who heap up contempt and ridicule upon them. Their mode of manifesting their contempt is very significant. They shaved off half the men's beards and cut their garments in the middle. In its evil sense, to halve is to divide, to divide is to dissipate, and to dissipate is to destroy. The act of king Hanun represents, therefore, a state of antagonism to Divine and spiritual truth of a very decided and hopeless kind. Simple denial of revealed religion, deeply mistaken though it is, may be sincere, and resolved upon after serious reflection. But when denial not only refuses to listen to the message of peace and goodwill, but treats the messengers with contempt and ridicule, unbelief is not only intellectual but moral denial. It is like the treatment to which the Lord Himself was subjected in the Praetorium, when, with daring derision, they took off His own garments and dressed Him in a purple robe, and put a crown upon His head and a reed in His hand, and saluted Him with, Hail, King of the Jews! Another representative act of those who crucified the Lord more formally resembles that of Hanun to the messengers of David, and has a similar meaning. The soldiers parted the Lord's garment. They did not indeed divide it in two but four parts; but four has often the same meaning as two, the multiples of numbers having the same general meaning as the roots. The Lord's outer garment, which was the one the soldiers divided, represented, in relation to Him as the Word, the literal sense of the Word, which contains, supports, and preserves its Divine and spiritual senses; and when that is rent and divided, it is practically destroyed; and the higher truths which express themselves through the lower, though, like the Lord's seamless garment, preserved entire, are disposed of by the providential decision of the lot, so as to save it from division and profanation. For profanation is one of the evils represented by division, and is one of the evils represented by the Ammonites. But how do the evil divide the truth? Not as the workman, who has shown himself approved to God, rightly divides the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), giving to every one according to his capacity. The division of truth by the evil is not the apposition, but the opposition, of truth to truth, and especially of truth and goodness. But how can one truth be brought into conflict with another truth? With the letter of Scripture this can be done, and often is done, by placing its apparent truths in opposition to its real truths, which produces a seeming contradiction. Some also who reject the Word of God, do so, partly at least, on the ground that its tendency, if not its teaching, is immoral, and that its human authors,.besides whom they acknowledge no other, under the guise of doing men service, seek only to seduce and enslave them; just as the princes of the children of Ammon suggested to Hanun their lord, "Thinkest you that David does honour your father, that he has sent comforters to you? has not David rather sent his servants to you, to search the city, and to spy out, and to overthrow it? "The Ammonites, we have said, represented those who profane truth—those who maintain, not only that the truths of the Scriptures are divided against themselves, but that they are hostile to goodness, because they lead men to neglect their true interests in this world in order to secure an imaginary happiness in a world which has no existence.

It is true there is a deeper kind of profanation than this, which is committed by those who first believe the truth and then deny it. This arises, not from a change of mind only, but from a change of heart. No one who has really believed the truth of God can reject it unless his faith has been undermined by evil. Yet we must draw a distinction between the truth as it is revealed in the Word of God, and as it is represented to be in human creeds. These forms of faith may be matter of belief and afterwards of denial, without the truth itself being absolutely rejected.

But there are the victims as well as the subjects of this unbelief to be considered, the messengers of David as well as the princes of Hanun. Viewed abstractly, these represented the truths themselves which the spiritual Ammonites profane, the prophets and apostles as present with us in their writings. But the messengers of David represent also those who acknowledge the truth, which the prophets and apostles have written, those who are in the faith of the truth, and belong to the Lord's kingdom. How do these suffer injury from those represented by the Ammonites? and how is the injury to be repaired?

Two circumstances recorded in the earlier part of the Hebrew Scriptures will help us to understand the nature of the injury sustained by David's servants. When Joseph's brethren sold him to the Ishmeelites, they stripped him of his coat, which they made use of to deceive their father and conceal their own wickedness. When Joseph fled in horror from the enticements of his mistress, she caught hold of and retained his garment, which she employed as evidence against him, so that he was cast into prison. The spiritual meaning of these circumstances is this. When the faithful are deprived of ultimate truth, they are left unprotected; and that which was given as a defence is even turned in the hands of their enemies into a testimony against them. How is this? Those who are opposed to the truth of Scripture seize on the apparent truths of the letter, and employ them to invalidate its real truths, and thus to prove what is false to be true, and what is good to be evil; as Joseph's enemies did in regard to him. It is a cause of great distress to the faithful to see what they hold sacred thus profaned, by men seizing and mutilating the ultimate truths of the Word, to show that the teaching of the Holy Book is neither true nor good. And not the least dangerous enemies of revealed truth are some of its professed friends, whose laboured criticisms and materialistic systems of interpretation tend to degrade the Word to the level of a common writing, composed by men with views as different as were those of the times in which they lived. This, it is true, affects only the letter of the Word. But the letter of the Word is the clothing of its spirit. And when that is marred and severed from its spirit, which is the Spirit of God, it has breathed into it the spirit of man, which is that of its human interpreter.

But in the Scriptures these oppositions of the false to the true and the evil to the good are, in the spiritual sense, descriptive of oppositions in the mind itself, as inward trials of faith and love. In the mind of the spiritual man, or of him who is becoming spiritual, doubts and difficulties arise on those very points and questions, which the natural man settles either by an easy or elaborate negation. There is no solid and settled faith without intellectual conflict, no deep and abiding love without moral temptations. The Egyptian and the Philistine, the Moabite and the Ammonite have all to be encountered and overcome in the errors and evils which they represent. The Ammonitish principle assails us when we are tempted to doubt the Divinity and spirituality of the Word, on the ground covered by the question, How can that be, in its essence, Divine and spiritual, which, in its form, is, in many instances, so human as to be inconsistent and contradictory, and so natural as to be concerned with the affairs of this world only? These are doubts to which the young Christian is perhaps most liable. He looks at the Word more with the eye of science than with that of spiritual discernment. It is but right that he should. By all means let him bring his scientific faculty and knowledge to bear upon the Scriptures. But let him not trust to these alone. There is, however, a time, or rather a state, in the experience of every earnest inquirer, even when he inquires in an affirmative spirit, when these doubts are so prominent and so powerful as seemingly to deprive him of half his faith. It is a favourable sign if, in this state of mind, which seems to be forced upon him, he feels distressed and ashamed. There is the sure ground of hope in such a state of mind. It prepares it for hearing and following the counsel that will repair the temporary loss he has suffered, and restore him to a more perfect spiritual faith. The counsel to such tempted ones is that given by David to his insulted messengers: "Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return."

Jericho was the first city to which the children came after they had crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land. As in passing through the Jordan the Israelites received a second baptism, the first being that to Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor 10:2), these two answering to the baptism of John and that of Jesus; and as those who pass through baptism are to be instructed in the truth of Jesus and to enter on a new life, instruction in new and higher truths, and a new life in accordance with them, were represented by Jericho. What, then, are the truths instruction in which are the requisite means for restoring to the intellect the intelligence and power of faith?

To those whose scientific faculty and knowledge have brought them into distrustful doubt, there is a science which will resolve all scientific doubt, because it enters into and enlightens all science. The science of Correspondence is the science of sciences. Creation was framed, and the Word of God was written, according to the law of correspondence. This explains the nature of the connection which exists between God the Creator and His works, and between God the Revealer and His revelation. It explains the nature of the connection which exists between the works of God and His Word, and between the different parts of these with each other. Correspondence is the universal bond that holds all things in connection and in harmony with God and with each other. We all acknowledge the intimate connection that exists between the words and works of men. If a man is perfectly sincere, his words and his works are but two different modes of expressing his mind. His will and understanding are manifested equally in both; and each might be translated into the other. Few seem to think that there is as perfect a connection or correspondence between the words and the works of God. Yet this must absolutely be the case. The correspondence between Creation and Revelation being perfect, we should regard them both in the same way. If we look at the works of God only sensually and superficially, we see many things under an appearance which is widely different from, and sometimes opposite to, the reality. Where would have been the science of astronomy if men had never looked up into the heavens with any other eye but that of sense? Where would have been the science of geology if men had never looked deeper than the surface of the earth? On the same ground, where would true theology be if men looked no deeper into the book of God than the letter? Besides these and other intellectual considerations that counteract the influence of negative reasoning from science, there is a moral consideration of the very highest importance in the settlement of doubts. "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God" (John 7:17). "He that is of God hears God's words" (John 8:47). These are among the lessons we have to learn for the. strengthening of our faith, in a state of trial such as that represented by the sufferings of the messengers of the king of Israel to the king of the Ammonites.

Although David must have felt keenly the insult that had been offered him by Hanun, he does not appear to have meditated any swift revenge. The Ammonites were the first to move; and in doing so, they perhaps only anticipated what they knew must happen. "When the children of Ammon saw that they stank before David, the children of Ammon sent and hired the Syrians of Beth-rehob, and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand footmen, and of king Maacah a thousand men, and of Ish-tob twelve thousand men." Against these combined forces David sent Joab, who defeated them, and returned to Jerusalem. But the Syrians gathered themselves together again. "And Hadarezer sent, and brought out the Syrians that were beyond the river: and they came to Helam." There David himself at the head of the Israelitish army met them, and slew the men of seven hundred chariots and forty thousand horsemen. Then "all the kings that were servants to Hadarezer made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more."

It would occupy too much space to enter into the particulars of this narrative. We have recently seen David engaged in war with several of the Syrian nations, whom he conquered and made tributary. But the same spiritual evil, like the same natural enemy, is not always, when once defeated, entirely subdued. Old evils enter into new combinations, and call up others to strengthen their forces. For there is a confederacy between things evil as there is a connection or confederacy between things good. David speaks of this in the Psalms: "Yours enemies make a tumult:... they are confederate against You: the tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assur also is joined with them; they have helped the children of Lot" (Ps 83:2,5-8). Almost all the nations which have appeared in the historical part of the Word on which we have been engaged, are introduced here, and they are all confederate against God, to help the children of Lot, as the Syrians are here. But not only do evils and falsities become confederate among themselves, but evil becomes confederate with good and falsity with truth. "Syria is confederate with Ephraim," is recorded of a time in the Jewish history which represented the Church in the last stage of its decline, and is therefore followed by the Divine promise, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son" (Isa 7:2, 14). The mixture of principles in their nature opposite is the worst kind of profanation. But even in these times, and in the worst states of temptation, the faithful have an unfailing support and guide, sufficient, if they but trust and follow Him, to overcome all the power of the enemy, and to break up the confederacy so far, at least, as that the Syrians shall fear to help the children of Ammon any more.

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