David desired the new king of the Ammonite’s loyalty. The counselors of the new king, however, looked upon David’s kind act as really nothing more than deception. They were convinced David was making plans to overthrow the new king. In order to thwart this they humiliated David’s ambassadors and gathered a large army. The large army did not help the Ammonites fend of defeat. The humiliation suffered by David’s messengers might appear to be perplexing to us. Why not purchase new clothing and shave off the remainder of the beard, and go home? “Although the men would easily be able to secure other garments once they were out of Ammon, they could not have simply shaved off the other half of their beards, because Israel considered it disgraceful to be clean shaven” (ArtScroll, p. 261).
Application: It is interesting to note that Jewish commentators have taken note that David’s good intentions in this chapter backfired because the Torah did not allow for the Israelites to seek the peace or prosperity of the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 23:1-8). If Ammon was familiar with the Torah injunction, the new king might have had cause to be concerned. Surely, however, they would know that humiliating the king’s ambassadors was not good for public relations! Knowing that they prepared for battle. David was victorious, but a lesson from the Midrash teaches: “One should never try to substitute his own judgment for that of God, by being ‘more righteous (i.e., compassionate)’ than the Torah” (p. 260).