The Bible Contains the Strangest Things
Readers of sacred Scripture are frequently arrested by stories that would never make the cut, were I the compiler. But every biblical narrative has a purpose in the plan of God. Aside from having an infatuation with the text, each student of biblical studies must inquire of the oracle of God: What am I to grasp from this story? Take, for example, the odd and embarrassing story found in 1 Chronicles 19.
The story unfolds with the death of Nahash, the king of Edom. Hanun, the son of Nahash, is crowned the king of Edom. David, grateful for a long and happy relationship with Nahash, sends a retinue of significant men to express his condolences. The Ammonite princes convince Hanun that David’s motives must be impure. Seizing the messengers, they shave their beards and cut the bottoms off all their formal garments, leaving them exposed from the center of their buttocks (1 Chron 19:4). David’s men explain the inhospitable actions of the Ammonites and seek David’s advice about what to do.
David advises the delegation to remain in Jericho until their beards redevelop and a shipment of clothing is doubtless ferried down to cover the nakedness of the party expressing David’s concerns. David marshalls the army under Joab, and the Ammonites are devasted and routed. Why is this story in God’s Word? Why would anyone care what transpired with the Davidic mourners? Several salient lessons emerge from this provocative tale.
First, never attribute your own salacious motives to others whose mission may be more noble! Motives belong to the recesses of the thoughts and passions of the soul. Difficult enough is the task of discovering why a person acts in the manner of his choice. Motives belong to the jurisdiction of God, and only He can reveal judgements about motives. Attribution of deleterious motives cost the Ammonites everything. The price tag is seldom less. The caution about reading impropriety into the motives of others is part of that cost. The process of the princes of Ammon was fatally flawed at critical points.
As Hebrews 4:12 clearly stipulates, only the Word of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Not only can we humans not evaluate either the thoughts or intents of the heart, but another fatal flaw of this approach was the inability to note the intervention of God is David’s life. God clearly stirred the noblest of impulses in David, but the princes of Ammon were quite unable to discern the movement of God in the action of David.
The second lesson in this piquant apologue is that as believers preach the Word of God, they never ought to be involved in the deliberate humiliation of another human. Shaving the beards of the men stripped them of their “manhood.” The Bible makes clear that God is the creator of two genders—men and women. He honors every expression of this distinction. As God said in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Womanhood and manhood in all the expressions of both continue to be critically important to God even if the social order has abandoned them and their respective distinctions. Although insufficient to deprive the men of their manhood, the plan is at least to humiliate them in the loss of that manhood.
Another feature of this pericope is the overall providence of God. Instead of trusting God, the princes of the Ammonites take matters into their own hands. Doing this, they unleash a series of attacks that benefit no one. Learning to wait on the Lord, to trust the God of all the earth to do what is right, the ingenuity of man seeks to trump the righteous actions of God.
Consequently, one of the strangest stories on the pages of Holy Scripture turns out to be brim full of spiritual insight. “Dear God, grant to me the spiritual eyes essential to grasp your Word, the Bible, and to follow its instruction.”