An obscure pagan king teaches every generation a lesson about the dangers of having an overly suspicious attitude.
31 min
1 It happened after this that Nahash the king of the people of Ammon died, and his son reigned in his place. 2 Then David said, "I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, because his father showed kindness to me." So David sent messengers to comfort him concerning his father. And David's servants came to Hanun in the land of the people of Ammon to comfort him. 3 And the princes of the people of Ammon said to Hanun, "Do you think that David really honors your father because he has sent comforters to you? Did his servants not come to you to search and to overthrow and to spy out the land?" 4 Therefore Hanun took David's servants, shaved them, and cut off their garments in the middle, at their buttocks, and sent them away. 5 Then some went and told David about the men; and he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, "Wait at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return."

6 When the people of Ammon saw that they had made themselves repulsive to David, Hanun and the people of Ammon sent a thousand talents of silver to hire for themselves chariots and horsemen from Mesopotamia, from Syrian Maacah, and from Zobah. 7 So they hired for themselves thirty-two thousand chariots, with the king of Maacah and his people, who came and encamped before Medeba. Also the people of Ammon gathered together from their cities, and came to battle. 8 Now when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men. 9 Then the people of Ammon came out and put themselves in battle array before the gate of the city, and the kings who had come were by themselves in the field.

10 When Joab saw that the battle line was against him before and behind, he chose some of Israel's best and put them in battle array against the Syrians. 11 And the rest of the people he put under the command of Abishai his brother, and they set themselves in battle array against the people of Ammon. 12 Then he said, "If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the people of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will help you. 13 Be of good courage, and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the Lord do what is good in His sight." 14 So Joab and the people who were with him drew near for the battle against the Syrians, and they fled before him. 15 When the people of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fleeing, they also fled before Abishai his brother, and entered the city. So Joab went to Jerusalem.

16 Now when the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they sent messengers and brought the Syrians who were beyond the River, and Shophach the commander of Hadadezer's army went before them. 17 When it was told David, he gathered all Israel, crossed over the Jordan and came upon them, and set up in battle array against them. So when David had set up in battle array against the Syrians, they fought with him. 18 Then the Syrians fled before Israel; and David killed seven thousand charioteers and forty thousand foot soldiers of the Syrians, and killed Shophach the commander of the army. 19 And when the servants of Hadadezer saw that they were defeated by Israel, they made peace with David and became his servants. So the Syrians were not willing to help the people of Ammon anymore.

20 It happened in the spring of the year, at the time kings go out to battle, that Joab led out the armed forces and ravaged the country of the people of Ammon, and came and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem. And Joab defeated Rabbah and overthrew it. 2 Then David took their king's crown from his head, and found it to weigh a talent of gold, and there were precious stones in it. And it was set on David's head. Also he brought out the spoil of the city in great abundance. 3 And he brought out the people who were in it, and put them to work with saws, with iron picks, and with axes. So David did to all the cities of the people of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.
- I Chronicles 19:1-20:3

If you've lost the story because of the strange names, this is basically what happened:

When David was on the run from Saul, he received help from Nahash who was Hanun's father. They joined together against Saul's forces. When Nahash died, David tried to form an alliance with his son Hanun as a favor (because he was much stronger). Hanun and his advisors were suspicious of David's intentions because there was a time when these two nations had been at war. They humiliated the ambassadors (made them return without pants and shaved their beards) as a way of rejecting the offer of peace and alliance. Once they realized the possible ramifications of their offense, Hanun and his advisors prepared for war by hiring mercenaries from surrounding nations to fight the Israelites. The rest of the story describes how David destroyed these people in three separate phases:

  1. Joab, David's chief military commander, defeated the Ammonite army and local mercenary forces in an initial battle.
  2. Then David himself led the troops against Hadadezer, a more powerful Arabian king, brought in by Hanun.
  3. The final stage came in the spring as the war stopped because of winter. It was during this spring campaign, while Joab was making a final attack on Hanun's capital city, that David had his affair with Bathsheba. Joab did defeat the city and David went to remove Hanun's crown and put his people into slavery. David did not cut the people up with saws and axes as the wording suggests but rather made them tear down the walls of their own homes and fortress.

From David's perspective, this story is a good historical account of how the king and the military carried out diplomacy and war almost 2,700 years ago.

From Hanun's perspective, it teaches us a valuable lesson on the dangers that result from having a suspicious mind.

Suspicion vs. Caution

It would have greatly helped Hanun if he knew the difference between suspicion and caution.

Suspicion

  • Is based on feelings and intuition.
  • It is subjective in nature.
  • It is an impression based on external signals mixed with our pre-conceived ideas and character. For example, Hanun was a pagan, insecure (new to his job), knowing that the Israelites had once been enemies.
  • David's offer, through these eyes, was seen as suspicious and threatening.

Caution

  • Is based on fact and communication.
  • It is not what we feel about something but what we know to be true about something because of knowledge, usually through investigation or communication. Hanun could have reserved judgement until he had direct communication with David and made up an agreement to protect his interests. That would have been cautious.

The Bible says that caution or prudence seeks knowledge and avoids needless battles (Proverbs 13:16; 22:3). Caution has a "go slow" approach, reserves the decision or judgment until enough facts can be gathered. Suspicion goes by feeling and usually wants to believe the worst.

Hanun's Suspicious Mind

Hanun was obviously a very suspicious man and his attitude and actions provide important lessons for us today because many of us struggle with the problem of having a suspicious mind.

1. Suspicion Leads to Trouble

Hanun found out that groundless suspicion often leads to trouble. He let others feed his suspicious mind with false information. If you are suspicious by nature, then everyone and everything seem to have evil motives. This kind of attitude doesn't allow for the building of relationships with people because you're always fearing what you feel will be the worst about them. It also leads to quick accusations and unfair judgments of people and situations. Suspicious people already have their minds made up so there is no room for explanations or the benefit of the doubt. Suspiciousness will cause us to make rash and unfair judgments, and decisions we are likely to regret.

2. Don't Cover a Mistake With Another Mistake

A suspicious mind often leads us to make mistaken judgments and then pride will lead us to try to cover that mistake with more bad decisions. Hanun made a dreadful mistake in judgment and a deadly move in humiliating David's emissaries. Instead of acknowledging the mistake and making an attempt at an apology and reconciliation, he chose to multiply his errors by going to war. I've seen this happen when people make a bad decision and then lie to cover it up.

  • A single couple goes too far sexually and then gets an abortion to eliminate the problem.
  • Two friends argue and begin to tear each other down to others in an effort to show that they were right, and end up ruining a longtime relationship.

Two wrongs certainly don't make a right, but suspicious people have a hard time with this concept because their basic problem is that they believe that they are always right and anyone else who disagrees with them immediately becomes suspect.

3. When You're Wrong, No Amount of Power Will Make You Right

Hanun made a foolish decision because he was naturally suspicious. When it became evident that this was a fatal choice, he tried to use force to confirm his convictions. The Bible tells us that he lost the war, he lost his nation and his own personal freedom and position.

Nietzsche, the philosopher, proposed the idea that the most powerful people should make the rules and establish what is right and wrong. This is morality by force, or might makes it right.

What is essentially right, however, has been established by God from the beginning of time and no human power or might is able to change what is basically right or wrong. (To lie and steal is wrong no matter what.)

Even if Hanun had won the war against David, he still would have been wrong and would have had to answer for it to God eventually.

How to Deal With Suspicion

The story is ancient but the problems and lessons are contemporary and relative. How can we avoid Hanun's mistakes and neutralize our own suspicious nature?

1. Check it Out

  • Solomon says that, "…A prudent man acts with knowledge." Proverbs 13:16
  • If you are not sure, if your intuition sends out a warning, check it out so you can base your feelings on facts and not simply facts on feelings.

Taking the time to know the facts will help you avoid jumping to hasty conclusions.

2. Take People as They Are

  • Not everyone is like us or lives up to our criteria for the perfect person.
  • Allow people to be themselves. Allow situations to explain themselves until proven otherwise.

We save ourselves and others a lot of pain and trouble if we avoid second-guessing everyone else's motives.

3. Trust God

  • The essential difference between Hanun and David was not military or culture, it was faith.
  • David trusted God to protect and guide him in his affairs, Hanun trusted human advisors and his own suspicious mind.

Suspicion is a sign of fear and insecurity. Faith in God is the greatest antidote to these and the only way to calm a suspicious mind.

Summary

Suspicious minds can lead us to make bad decisions about people and keep us isolated and perpetually stuck in the vicious cycle of fear and insecurity. When you make a mistake or hurt someone because of this weakness:

  • Apologize and acknowledge the reasons why you did what you did.
  • Cut your losses and make things right as soon as you can. Don't bluff or make it worse.

If you're looking for a change of heart in this area:

  • Replace suspicion with caution. This is the true and biblical virtue perverted into suspiciousness by fear and poor self-worth.
  • Be more accepting and forgiving of people as they are and you will see that others will begin treating you in the same way.
  • Have more faith in God to protect your life and interests. Trust Him to help you discern what and who is good and evil. This will prove a powerful antidote to a suspicious mind.