In looking at the life of King David, we come upon the story related to King Hanun of the Ammonites. Though it is brief, it does make a telling point, fitting in with the Scriptural theme of exile and exodus in what is a rather obvious way. Hanun’s father had died “and his son Hanun succeeded him” (2 Samuel 10:1b). Upon learning of this event, “David said, ‘I will express my loyalty to Hanun son of Nahash just as his father was loyal to me’.” (10:2a) To fulfill this desire, David sent a group of servants to Hanun so that they might express to him a message of sympathy. For some reason, in a way that is reflective of the poor advice that would later be acted upon by Solomon’s son Rehoboam, Hanun was convinced that these messengers that were carrying a message of sympathy were actually spies. In response, “Hanun seized David’s servants and shaved off half of each one’s beard. He cut the lower part of their robes off so that their buttocks were exposed, and then sent them away” (10:4). As a result, we find that “the men were thoroughly humiliated” (10:5b).
Though as we read this, we do not find any wrongdoing on behalf of these men, or their king, in connection with this treatment at the hands of a foreign nation, the picture that is painted, through the shaving of the beards and the cutting away of the garments, is thoroughly exilic in nature. With a reasonable degree of certainty, it can be insisted that the telling of this story amongst God’s people would conjure up thoughts of the curses promised by God in Deuteronomy. Undoubtedly, these men, being so roughly treated, would have been subjected to ridicule at the hands of those who are oppressing them---bringing shame and humiliation upon them.
David’s first reaction is to acknowledge the humiliation and exile that has come to them, telling them to “Stay in Jericho until your beards have grown again; then you may come back” (10:5c). With this, David even speaks the words of exile (stay in Jericho) and exodus (then you may come back). Not only would those that experienced and heard the story be reminded of the Deuteronomic curses and the faithful God that stood behind those curses made in accord with His covenant, but they would also have been reminded of the larger story of Israel in Egypt, and of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, especially considering the oft-told nature of that worldview-shaping story.
In that there was no clear wrongdoing on behalf of this group of men, it is similar to the story of Israel in Egypt, as there is no Scriptural presentation of any reason for Israel’s subjugation there beyond the fact that a king eventually came to power in Egypt that did not know Joseph. Is this not what we see in this story as well? Clearly, David has a relationship with King Nahash of Ammon. David said that Nahash had “been loyal” to him. However, this relationship apparently did not exist with the son of Nahash, so it could be said that a new king came to power over Ammon, that did not know David. The result here, just as it had been in Egypt, was oppression, and a humiliating display of domination that would have caused these men to figuratively “grown” for deliverance. What comes of this? When David learns of the suffering and shame that has come upon these messengers that he himself has sent out, he is indignant. Just as Israel’s God would hear the groaning of His people in Egypt, David hears the groaning of these men and takes action. They have suffered, and he is going to enter in to vindicate them in their suffering. They have been sent into exile, and David is going to provide exodus.
In this situation of exile in need of exodus, David takes the position that is occupied by the Lord in the story of the deliverance from Egypt. Like the God of Israel’s disgust with Egypt, David is disgusted with Ammon (10:6). Also like God, David sends a deliverer to carry out his wishes, sending “Joab and the entire army out to meet them” (10:7b), just as the Lord would send Moses to confront the oppressors of His people. Though the Ammonites are not immediately put down, just as Egypt was not immediately put down, but rather, experienced numerous displays of power at the hands of God’s appointed representative, they eventually succumb to Israel. We read about this at the beginning of chapter eleven, in that “In the spring of the year, at the time when kings normally conduct wars, David sent out Joab with his officers and the entire Israelite army. They defeated the Ammonites” (11:1a). In yet another remarkable parallel to the story of the Exodus, the defeat of those that had attempted to oppress the people of the Lord, and who had desired to shame and humiliate them, the Ammonites were defeated in the spring. So too were the Egyptians. Such is the ongoing and fascinatingly repetitive story of Israel’s faithful God.