Let’s read 1st Chronicles 20:1-2, “Then it came to pass, that after the year was expired, at the time that kings go out battle, Joab led forth the power of the army, and wasted the country of the children of Ammon, and came and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried at Jerusalem. And Joab smote Rabbah, and destroyed it. And David took the crown of their king from off his head, and found it to weight a talent of gold, and there were precious stones in it; and it was set upon David’s head: and he brought also exceeding much spoil out of the city.” These verses must be understood before we can look at verse 3. Israel had been at war with the Ammonites for some time and forced them to take their last stand in the city of Rabbah. Joab’s siege against the city lasted about two years and at the very end David joined them for the final conquest, resulting in a deposing of their king and a spoiling of the city.

Now let’s read verse 3: “And he brought out the people that were in it; and CUT THEM with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. Even so dealt David with all the cities of the children of Ammon.” The NKJV renders it this way, “And he brought out the people who were in it, and PUT THEM TO WORK with saws, with iron picks, and with axes. So David did to all the cities of the people of Ammon.” There is quite the difference in these two translations and because of this TWO INTERPRETATIONS have been adopted. We will look briefly at both of them.

Those who hold to the KJV translation believe that David literally CUT THE PEOPLE OF AMMON TO PIECES with the farm instruments that are mentioned. They point to Amos 1:13-14 which says, “For three transgressions of the people of the people of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because THEY RIPPED OPEN THE WOMEN WITH CHILD IN GILEAD, that they might enlarge their territory. But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and devour its palaces.” (NKJV). Based on this passage, they would say David was justified in ripping and hacking them up for they had done the same to the women and children in Gilead. They also turn to 1st Samuel 15:3 where God told King Saul, “Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” Because of the enormity of Amalek’s sins, which included gross idolatry that involved sacrificing the children to the false gods, God ordered Saul to exterminate them. They would then say that the Ammonites were also guilty of idolatry so this sin also justified David’s execution of the people.

Others believe the NKJV is the proper rendering of this verse and they believe that David subjected his enemies to slave labor, and thus he PUT THEM TO WORK with the saws, picks and axes. They would point to 2nd Samuel 12:31 which speaks of the same historical event. It reads, “And he brought forth the people that were therein, and PUT THEM UNDER saws, and UNDER harrows of iron, and UNDER axes of iron, and MADE THEM PASS THROUGH THE BRICKKILN” (KJV). This verse adds the thought that David also made them serve Israel by “making bricks” which speak of “service” and NOT being put to death. Their most important argument though would be that “cutting the Ammonites” to pieces would have been out of keeping with David’s character, which was normally one of showing mercy to his enemies.

I lean towards the second view, and I would like to add another reason why David would not have unjustly slaughtered the whole race of Ammonites. If you read all of 2nd Samuel 12 you will see that while the war was raging on, David committed the horrible sins of adultery (with Bathsheba) and murder (of Uriah). We also read of Nathan the prophet revealing his sin and of David’s repentance and God’s forgiveness to David. It would be hard to imagine David, after being shown mercy from God, turning around and ripping his enemies to pieces. I believe he was more inclined to SHOW MERCY TO THEM.  (210.3)  (DO)