This passage can be seen on a couple of levels. From one perspective there is David expressing condolences for the son of Nahash who at some time earlier was kind to David. As humans can be sometimes, we find that Hanun’s treatment of David’s emissaries is humiliating. And we see Hanun provoking David into war. Well, as the old saying goes, “like father, like son” – Hanun appears to be cut from the same cloth. It could also be said that David is not quite filled with a capacity for love in his sending of Joab and the enforcement team – David has not quite matured to the level of his descendant…Jesus.
The other side of this story is indicative of a large part of the Bible in general – there is a great deal of killing…David, the one who is “a man after God’s heart” or the writer of all those beautiful Psalms, is involved in a lot of killing. So what do we say about moral balance here? This story, in particular, is not intended overall to show us how to live. David, like so many others in the Bible, is shown as someone with whom God works…with whom God still works today…people we see at work, church…even in the mirror every morning. The Bible is not about utopian society nor a utopian history. The Bible shows us that God works with all sorts of people for salvation…it is an ongoing story of God working within both the good and bad of the social, cultural, political and ethical world just as it is. In fact, no where in the Bible does it say that morality is a precursor for holiness or salvation. It is God who does the embracing of us…in all our sinful glory…working with us, through us, etc shaping our salvation. This story like the whole of the biblical story is all about God working and not a moral handbook because, in the end, it is really about God’s best even at our human worst.