Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
I CHRONICLES CHAPTER 19
When Nachash (="serpent") king of Ammon died, King David felt under an obligation to send emissaries to comfort his son Chanoon (="gracious"!!!) in his mourning "for his father performed a kindness towards me" (v 2). This kindness had been performed when David took his father and mother and brothers out of Israel to his great grandmother Ruth's native country of Moab in order to escape Saul's persecution (I Samuel 22:3). The king of Moab killed the entire family except for David's brother Elihoo, who is the only one mentioned thereafter (I Chron. 27:18) and who escaped by fleeing to Ammon where he was received by Nachash.
Suspecting that David's emissaries had come to spy on Ammon and foment revolution, the gracious Chanoon shaved them and cut off their garments in the middle, exposing their private parts - just about the most demeaning and humiliating thing it was possible to do to anyone. Realizing the dangers to which this provocation exposed him, Chanoon proceeded to hire Aramean mercenary chariots and riders. The Arameans were a people spread across a huge swathe of the Fertile Crescent stretching from Aram Nahariyim (between the Tigris and Euphrates) all the way across to Damascus and the Golan Heights . Our text refers to three major Aramean centers - Aram Naharayim, Aram Maachah and Aram Tzovah (v 6) all of which were offspring of the Aramean mother people (see Rashi on v 6). The Arameans had set their evil eye against Jacob and his offspring from the times of Laban and Bilaam.
The town of Meid'va where the Aramean mercenaries encamped was about 50 km south west of present-day Amman , Jordan , which, as its name suggests, was the main Ammonite center. Thus in campaigning against Ammon, David's commander-in-chief Yo'av had one enemy army ahead of him and another formidable enemy army to his rear (v 10). This was why he took a selected elite army under his command to fight the Arameans, sending his brother Avishai against Ammon. [Rashi on v 11 notes that unlike in the book of Samuel, Yo'av's brother is throughout Chronicles called AV'SHAI, because if he were called by his full name of AV-YISHAI (=father-Jesse) this would have detracted from the honor of King David, whose was Yishai's son, whereas AV'SHAI, son of David's sister Tzeruyah, was merely his grandson.]
The Arameans fled and the Ammonites returned to their city, but the Arameans now called in reinforcements from their kinsmen east of the Euphrates . In II Samuel 10:16 their commander-in-chief was called SHOVACH "because he was as tall as a SHOVACH" (=a dovecote, positioned high above the reach of predators), while in our text he is called SHOPHACH, "because he used to pour out (SHOPHECH) blood like water" (Rashi on v 16).
It appears from verse 17 that King David himself led the entire people to battle against the Arameans, and scored a decisive victory which left them subject to him thereafter.
Verses 1-3 of our present chapter give a highly condensed narrative of Yo'av's campaign to subdue Rabbah, the capital of Ammon, compared with the version in II Samuel chs 11-12. This is because it was during this campaign that David took Bathsheva, sending her first husband Uriah HaHitti to his death in Yoab's campaign. Since that episode does not reflect credit on King David, it is omitted from our text here in DIVREY HAYAMIM, which was written to give honor to David and his house.
V 2: "And David took the crown of their king from upon his head. and it was on the head of David." The sages discussed whether David actually wore this weighty crown on his head or whether it was somehow positioned hovering above his head, held in place, perhaps, by the magnetic force of the "precious stone" it contained (Avodah Zarah 44a). [Lovers of Rabbi Nachman may be interested to consider the connection between this crown and the crown above the king's head in his story of "The Spider and the Fly".]
The judgments executed by David upon the Ammonites with saws, iron harrows and axes may seem somewhat barbaric to those with delicate sensitivities, but apparently David knew better how to address cruel people in the only language they understood than those "enlightened" people today who think that terrorists and violent criminals should be handled with kid gloves.
The account in our text (vv 4-8) of David's later wars against the Philistines and their monstrous champions is also somewhat abbreviated compared to the narrative in II Samuel 21:15-22, since the latter indicates that David was in mortal danger and became exhausted, which does not reflect to his credit (see Rashi on our present text v 4). There is some discussion among the commentators as to whether or not Goliath of Gath (v 5) is identical with Goliath the Philistine whom David killed at the start of his career (see Rashi and RaDaK on v 5). From Rabbi Nachman's discussion of Goliath and his death (Likutey Moharan II, 4) it is evident that he and the other giants and monsters described in our text embody tough spiritual KELIPOTH (husks) covering and concealing the unity of God, and their falling before David and his warriors was a spiritual triumph for Israel .
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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