In I Chronicles 19, Nahash the king of Ammon has died, and Nahash’s son Hanun takes his father’s place as king. David sends messengers to comfort Hanun because Nahash had been kind to David, probably when David was on the run from King Saul. Hanun’s advisers, however, are suspicious, and they think that David is sending those messengers to spy out the land for war. Consequently, Hanun humiliates David’s servants by shaving half their bodies, from the head to the buttocks. Realizing that he has probably offended David by doing this, Hanun prepares for war, and he pays people in other countries to come and assist him. In II Samuel, it was during this war that David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (II Samuel 11).
The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary refers to Jewish commentators who struggled with a question. In Deuteronomy 23:6, God prohibits the Israelites from seeking the peace and prosperity of the Ammonites and Moabites. The rationale is stated in Deuteronomy 23:4: “Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee” (KJV). But here David was, seeking the peace and prosperity of the king of Ammon. Was David violating God’s law in doing so?
The Artscroll lists solutions that commentators have proposed. The first one is that David was not offering kindness to the king of Ammon but was simply repaying the favor that the king’s father Nahash had done for David. David was not offering kindness gratis, which is what is prohibited, but rather is repaying a kindness. The problem that the Artscroll has with this solution is that David was not repaying Nahash for Nahash’s kindness, for Nahash was dead; rather, David was extending kindness to Nashash’s son, and that did not count as a repayment, for Nahash’s son was not the one who had been kind to David. Nahash was.
The second solution is that the prohibition on seeking the peace and prosperity of the Ammonites applies to specific situations. The Israelites when making war on a city are not to offer the Ammonites peace, and the Israelites are not to allow any Ammonite to dwell in Israel as a ger toshav—-a Gentile resident alien in Israel who observes some of God’s commands but not the entire Torah. These are forbidden, according to this solution, but extending a personal kindness to an Ammonite (as David did) is allowed.
The third solution is that David was aware of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:6, and he did not want to repay Nahash’s kindness while Nahash was still alive because that would look like he was trying to establish a treaty with Nahash and the Ammonites, which would presumably go against Deuteronomy 23:6. Consequently, David waited for Nahash to die and then sought to repay Nahash’s kindness by sending his messengers to comfort Hanun, Nahash’s son. That would not look like David trying to establish a treaty with the Ammonites, but rather it would look like David seeking to comfort a son who is mourning for his father.
The Artscroll itself goes another route. It says that David in I Chronicles 19 felt secure, since he had defeated several nations, and he felt like extending goodwill to a nation that had historically been an enemy to Israel. David was either trying to be overrighteous—-more righteous than the standard that God set forth in the Torah—-or David was technically compliant with the Torah yet was violating its spirit. According to the Artscroll, David should have realized that reaching out to Ammon was undesirable and would backfire, that God knew what God was talking about when God forbade Israel to deal with Ammon. It did backfire, for the Ammonites humiliated David’s servants and geared up for battle. Moreover, according to the Artscroll, the command in Deuteronomy 23:6 may have played a role in the Ammonite advisers’ suspicion of David. They knew that the Torah of Israel forbade the Israelites to seek the peace and prosperity of the Ammonites, and so they were suspicion when David was extending kindness to their king. They thought David was really trying to undermine their country.
On the one hand, this discussion seems to me to stereotype an entire people-group as no-good, and I have issues with that, for I would prefer to judge people according to the content of their character rather than saying they’re no-good because they belong to a certain people-group. On the other hand, I see here wisdom that I can apply to my own life, in that I should not be quick to trust everyone. I know that the New Testament talks about loving everybody, even enemies, and there is a place for that. But Jesus did tell his disciples to be wise as serpents, and helpless as doves (Matthew 10:16).