David Chapter 6: Who Are Your Advisers?

Illuminare

If there’s nothing we learn from history, it’s the fact a king is only as good as his advisers. The quality of advice determines the destiny of nations. If the king’s advisers are parochial the center cannot hold. The story you’re about to read is a graphic demonstration of this truth. It is also the story of beards.

In our modern world the growing of a beard is nothing but a fashion statement. Not so in the ancient world. They took beards seriously, perhaps too seriously. Nations have gone to war because someone cut off someone’s beard! A beard was considered a symbol of dignity and wisdom.

Beards have an interesting history. In ancient Greece the beard was considered a badge of honor and a sign of virility. In ancient India they punished adultery and hypersexuality by cutting off beard. Spartans punished cowards by shaving off a portion of their beard. Now, another thing about the ancient world is that you need allies not just beard. That’s because nations were constantly at war. Warring had a calendar, like summer vacation. The ancients went to war during spring, which is why 2 Samuel 11 opens with, “In the spring of the year, when kings normally go to war…” David had a number of allies. One was King Nahash, the king of the Ammonites. At his death he was succeeded by his son, Hanun.

Just a bit of history. The Ammonites were descendants of Ben-Ammi. Ben-Ammi was Lot’s son as well as grandson through his younger daughter. If you recall Lot’s daughters had got him drunk and slept with him. Their rationalization was there were no men around after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. One of the offspring was Ben-Ammi. That name can either mean “son of my kindred” or “son of incest”. And it can also mean “son of my people.” Have your pick. The Ammonites were traditional enemies of Israel. It was quite significant therefore that they formed an alliance with David. Wanting the alliance to continue David sent ambassadors to Hanun to commiserate with him on the loss of his father. But Hanun’s generals wanted a bigger role in the new government and took on advisory role. They took advantage of the young man’s naivety and advised him to dishonor David’s emissaries. Those ambassadors they said were spies: they came to spy out the land so David could invade it. Which is really bunkum. It doesn’t make sense. But the young man chose to believe them. The head of state security probably led the charge.

If that was not incredible enough what the young man did next was perplexing. He decided to embarrass David and Israel by turning the ambassadors into clowns. He got barbers to shave off half of the beards of the ambassadors. Reminds you of a clown with a two-toned afro – orange and lemon green right down the middle. What he hoped to achieve with this stunt is not exactly clear. We can only nail it down to childishness. And he didn’t stop there. He cut out the seat of the robes of the ambassadors exposing their buttocks. These are respected people. It was most embarrassing. The ambassadors were so ashamed they couldn’t go back to their state capital. David instructed they stay in Jericho until their beards grew back. That would have taken months. This young man effectively declared war on Israel on the bad advice of the hawks in his cabinet. But here’s what’s even more surprising: he never thought of the consequences. The Bible records as follows: “When the people of Ammon REALIZED they had angered David…” Meaning it took some time for things to dawn on them. But what did they expect?! The young man trivialized the presidency. He was highly irresponsible. And his army wasn’t strong. That was why his father formed an alliance with David in the first place.

Fearing retaliation Hanun hired 33,000 mercenaries. At the ensuing battle the mercenaries took off. They probably said to themselves, “I can’t come and kii myself for Hanun. If he wan be barber make he dey cut beard dey go!” The mercenaries later regrouped, brought in reinforcement and lost again. The Israeli army killed over 40,000 of them. The Ammonite army was completely destroyed. The nation was lost. But even if that army hadn’t been destroyed the nation would still have been destroyed economically. The economy was bleeding. The young man was paying mercenaries. Seventy thousand soldiers as at last count! That was expensive. Incidentally it was while the Israeli army was laying siege to the Ammonite capital that the Bathsheba affair took place. But that’s a discussion for another day. David wasn’t at that battle. He was in bed with Bathsheba. Hanun lost the kingdom to bad advice.

Which kind of reminds one of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. He was a yuppy like Hanun. His father had turned Israel into Dubai. Israel was essentially a desert, but it became tourist destination. Though it must be said they didn’t have Emirates Airline in those days. Everyone came by Camel Express. There were massive public works going on, just like in Dubai. Israel was a perpetual building project. Parks, gardens, irrigation projects, the famed temple, the royal palace complex, cities, ports, military outposts… Solomon’s focus was commercial. He controlled the trade routes out of Edom, Arabia, India, Africa, and Aba, sorry Judea. He essentially turned Israel into a regional trade hub and financial center. But it all came at a price – taxation was heavy.

When Solomon died, Rehoboam his son became king. The people made representation to him to reduce the tax burden. Rehoboam asked for three days to review their demand, which was a wise decision. He’s got to consider the impact of revenue reduction on the fortune of the state. He took another wise decision. He contacted the ministers who advised his father. These were the brains behind the Israel miracle. And they had political experience. They counselled the young man to say yes to the people in order to gain their loyalty. PR wise all he needed was a new posture. He needed to signify a new era of compassionate governance. 1 Kings 12:7. Amazingly the young man rejected their counsel. He then sought the advice of his yuppy friends. These were fellow millennials. He needed “modern thinking”. The old guys didn’t understand modern trends. This was the advice his friends gave him:  “These people who complain, ‘Your father was too hard on us; lighten up’ – well, tell them this: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. If you think life under my father was hard, you haven’t seen the half of it. My father trashed you with whips; I’ll beat you bloody with chains.” 1 Kings 12: 10-11. Sounds like one of those trash talks you see on Twitter, so unstatesmanlike. It’s not the kind of press release you would expect from the presidency. And it was totally devoid of wisdom and commonsense. When the people heard the response they revolted. The young man lost 83.33% of the kingdom. He ended up controlling two out of twelve tribes. You’re only as good as your advisers.

Bringing it home, one should get good advisers. Trendy doesn’t mean wise. And that’s the place of mentors. They’ve seen life, they have experience.

It’s a pity Rehoboam failed to read his father’s book: “Unfailing love and faithfulness protect the king; his throne is made sure through love.” Proverbs 20:28. Meaning, when the love of the people begins to waiver the throne is imperiled.

© Leke Alder | talk2me@lekealder.com.

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