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Archive for October 15th, 2018


2 Samuel 10Open to Failure

Monday, October 15, 2018

Dorè: David Attacks the Ammonites

We might take a lesson from both David and the Ammonites today; and each of these lessons will save us suffering if we can be open to their message.  From the Ammonites who expect insult and war, we see that when we take a bellicose stance, we guarantee our suffering.  It seems we humans are often eager to fulfill our own dark hope.  Nestled against Israel’s eastern boundary, this tribe may have felt a kind of national inferiority.  Along with the Moabites, these descendents of Lot struggled to maintain peace within and along their borders.  Rightly or wrongly, the young king Hanun took an aggressive stance against David when he rejected David’s offer of amity and instead sought allegiance against Israel with the Arameans, another small kingdom to the north.  All hope for independence is dashed and in the end these Ammonites – whose rudeness stirs the Israelites to revenge – becomes subject to Israel, and the Arameans stand down from their aggressive posture.  We can never know if David somehow plotted in hopes that this scheme would bring him a vassal state; but we can easily see that the ultimate outcome for the Ammonites was the same – or perhaps even worse.  When we expect insult and take a bellicose stance, we guarantee our suffering.

Van Honthorst: King David Playing the Harp

The major player in this reading is, of course, David and from him today we might learn: We are most open to failure when we are at our most secure.  From the HarperCollins Bible Commentary, “If, on the one hand, we think of the Ammonite war as after the events of chap. 8, we are struck by the rapidity with which what appeared secure has again become a threat. If, on the other hand, we read the war account as a flashback, we may be struck by the irony of the context in which David’s adultery and murder have been set.  It is at the very peak of his power, when YHWY is giving him victory wherever he goes (8:14), that the king most conspicuously fails.  Security breeds insecurity; success incubates failure.  It is as the gift of the kingdom is being made complete that YHWY’s chosen one chooses to grasp most rapaciously what is not his to grasp.  In short, it is at his most secure that David turns out to be most open to failure”.  (Mays 269)

We know this statement to be true if we take an honest look at our own lives and at the lives of friends and enemies.  Cinema and literature reinforce the universal concept that we learn from our mistakes rather than our successes.  We also know that we are most conciliatory, most ready to listen, and most open to change when we are faced with multiple obstacles; and that we are most closed, most deaf to common sense, and most eager to control our environment and others when we are at the peak of accomplishment.  All of this is perhaps because we have forgotten some central truths: that God is the author of all good, that we can choose to enter into this goodness with God or we can choose reject God in the belief that we alone are responsible for all that has gone well in our lives.  In short, it is at our most secure that we turn out to be most open to failure.

In David’s actions and thinking, and in the actions and thinking of the Ammonites, we discover the hidden pitfalls of success and promises of disappointment.  We find an openness to failure that is certain to bring great pain and a guarantee of hardship and suffering.  None of this suggests that success is something to be avoided or that failure is the mark of holiness.  On the contrary, we experience happiness and joy despite our failures and along with our successes at precisely those times when we nurture an openness to God and forego our natural tendency to remain open to failure.


A re-post from September 12, 2011.

For more information about the Ammonites we might take a look at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01431b.htm and http://www.bible-history.com/geography/maps/map_of_ammonites_territory.html. OR https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ammonite 

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 269. Print.

Images from: http://www.mundellchristianchurch.com/art/2Sam-12-David-Attacks-the-Ammonites.html

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