Here we have, I. The preparation which the Ammonites made for war, 2 Sam. 10:6. They saw they had made themselves very odious to David and obnoxious to his just displeasure. This they might easily have foreseen when they abused his ambassadors, which was no other than a challenge to war, and a bold defiance of him. Yet, it seems, they had not considered how unable they were, with their thousands, to meet his; for now they found themselves an unequal match, and were forced to hire forces of other nations into their service. Thus sinners daringly provoke God, and expose themselves to his wrath, and never consider that he is stronger than they, 1 Cor. 10:22. The Ammonites gave the affront first, and they were the first that raised forces to justify it. Had they humbled themselves, and begged David’s pardon, probably an honorary satisfaction might have atoned for the offence. But, when they were thus desperately resolved to stand by what they had done, they courted their own ruin.
II. The speedy descent which David’s forces made upon them, 2 Sam. 10:7. When David heard of their military preparations, he sent Joab with a great army to attack them, 2 Sam. 10:7. Those that are at war with the Son of David not only give the provocation, but begin the war; for he waits to be gracious, but they strengthen themselves against him, and therefore, if they turn not, he will whet his sword, Ps. 7:12. God has forces to send against those that set his wrath at defiance (Isa. 5:19), which will convince them, when it is too late, that none ever hardened his heart against God and prospered. It was David’s prudence to carry the war into their country, and fight them at the entering in of the gate of their capital city, Rabbah, as some think, or Medeba, a city in their borders, before which they pitched to guard their coast, 1 Chron. 19:7. Such are the terrors and desolations of war that every good prince will, in love to his people, keep it as much as may be at a distance from them.
III. Preparations made on both sides for an engagement. 1. The enemy disposed themselves into two bodies, one of Ammonites, which, being their own, were posted at the gate of the city; the other of Syrians, whom they had taken into their pay, and who were therefore posted at a distance in the field, to charge the forces of Israel in the flank or rear, while the Ammonites charged them in the front, 2 Sam. 10:8. 2. Joab, like a wise general, was soon aware of the design, and accordingly divided his forces: the choicest men he took under his own command, to fight the Syrians, whom probably he knew to be the better soldiers, and, being hired men, better versed in the arts of war, 2 Sam. 10:9. The rest of the forces he put under the command of Abishai his brother, to engage the Ammonites, 2 Sam. 10:10. It should seem, Joab found the enemy so well prepared to receive them that his conduct and courage were never so tried as now.
IV. Joab’s speech before the battle, 2 Sam. 10:11, 12. It is not long, but pertinent, and brave. 1. He prudently concerts the matter with Abishai his brother, that the dividing of the forces might not be the weakening of them, but that, which part soever was borne hard upon, the other should come in to its assistance. He supposes the worst, that one of them should be obliged to give back; and in that case, upon a signal given, the other should send a detachment to relieve it. Note, Mutual helpfulness is brotherly duty. If occasion be, thou shalt help me, and I will help thee. Christ’s soldiers should thus strengthen one another’s hands in their spiritual warfare. The strong must succour and help the weak. Those that through grace are conquerors over temptation must counsel, and comfort, and pray for, those that are tempted. When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren, Luke 22:32. The members of the natural body help one another, 1 Cor. 12:21. 2. He bravely encourages himself, and his brother, and the rest of the officers and soldiers, to do their utmost. Great dangers put an edge upon true courage. When Joab saw the front of the battle was against him, both before and behind, instead of giving orders to make an honourable retreat, he animated his men to charge so much more furiously: Be of good courage and let us play the men, not for pay and preferment, for honour and fame, but for our people, and for the cities of our God, for the public safety and welfare, in which the glory of God is so much interested. God and our country was the word. “Let us be valiant, from a principle of love to Israel, that are our people, descended from the same stock, for whom we are employed, and in whose peace we shall have peace; and from a principle of love to God, for they are his cities that we are fighting in the defence of.” The relation which any person or thing stands in to God should endear it to us, and engage us to do our utmost in its service. 3. He piously leaves the issue with God: “When we have done our part, according to the duty of our place, let the Lord do that which seemeth to him good.” Let nothing be wanting in us, whatever the success be; let God’s work be done by us, and then God’s will be done concerning us. When we make conscience of doing our duty we may, with the greatest satisfaction, leave the event with God, not thinking that our valour binds him to prosper us, but that still he may do as he pleases, yet hoping for his salvation in his own way and time.
V. The victory Joab obtained over the confederate forces of Syria and Ammon, 2 Sam. 10:13, 14. He provided for the worst, and put the case that the Syrians and Ammonites might prove too strong for him (2 Sam. 10:11), but he proved too strong for them both. We do not hinder our success by preparing for disappointment. The Syrians were first routed by Joab, and then the Ammonites by Abishai; the Ammonites seem not to have fought at all, but, upon the retreat of the Syrians, to have fled into the city. It is a temptation to soldiers to fly when they have a city at their backs to fly to. It is one thing when men may either fight or fly and another thing when they must either fight or die.