Ammon (Judges 10)

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Illustration: King David fights the Ammonites

Excavations of Rabbah-Ammon, the capital of ancient Ammon, indicate occupation levels going back to the Early Bronze Age. Although it appears to have been an important city in the Middle Bronze Age, it experienced the population decline that was characteristic of the region’s Late Bronze period. Fortifications appear again from the Iron Age, suggesting that Ammon was once again becoming a powerful state.

The Bible indicates that the Ammonites were related both to the Moabites and to the Israelites (Genesis 19:37-38). By the time of the exodus the Ammonites and the Moabites together occupied the southern Transjordan. When the Israelites passed through this territory on their way to the promised land, they were specifically forbidden because of this relationship to conquer the land of the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 2:19, 37).

During the period of the judges the Ammonites and Amalekites aided the Moabites in regaining land lost to Israel (Judges 3:13), but the Lord raised up Ehud to deliver his people. Later, Jephthah routed the Ammonites who were oppressing Israel, especially the Transjordan tribes (Judges 10:6-33). That Ammon had become an impressive force by this time is evident from the eleventh century B.C. massive stone fortifications that have been discovered there. When Nahash ascended the Ammonite throne in approximately 1020 B.C., he attempted to reestablish control over the Transjordan tribes, attacking Jabesh Gilead (1 Samuel 11:1).King Saul led 33,000 soldiers to rescue the town, crushing Nahash’s forces (1 Samuel 11:4-11).

Nahash and David were on friendly terms while David was fleeing from Saul. When Nahash died, David sent his condolences to his heir, Hanun, but Hanun shamed the delegation David had sent, thereby inciting war (2 Samuel 10:1-6). David’s army defeated Hanun’s mercenaries, and Rabbah, the Ammonite capital, was eventually defeated by Joab (2 Samuel 11:1, 12:26-31).

The Ammonites later declared their independence from Israel after the Egyptian pharaoh Shishak invaded the region only much later called Palestine. In the mid-ninth century B.C. the Ammonite king Baasha joined the league that stopped Shalamaneser III as he drove toward the Mediterranean Sea. This league, mentioned in Assyrian annals, was headed by Hadadezer of Damascus and Ahab of Israel. Soon afterward the Ammonites, Moabites and Meunites attacked Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:1-30), perhaps fearing that Judah was growing too powerful under his rule. But the members of the Transjordanian league turned against each other and ceased to threaten Judah (2 Chronicles 20:22-23).

King Uzziah of Judah was able to regain control over Ammon in the early eighth century B.C. When the Ammonites attempted to revolt against Uzziah’s successor, Jotham, they were quickly defeated and afterward sent an annual tribute to Jotham (ca. 740 B.C.). The Assyrian king  Tiglath-Pileser reduced all the states of the area to vassalhood around 732 B.C., including Israel, Judah and Ammon. Several Ammonite kings are mentioned in subsequent Assyrian annals as having paid tribute to Sennacherib and Esarhaddon, and it appears that Ammon enjoyed a degree of prosperity under Assyrian rule.

When the Assyrian Empire fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C., Ammonites moved into territory once held by Judah. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon protected the Ammonites from invading Arab forces, while using Ammonite forces to harass the Judahites in the Transjordan (2 Kings 24:2). As Babylonian oppression increased, however, Ammon joined a conspiracy, led by Judah, against Babylon. When it failed, as Jeremiah had warned that it would, many survivors fled to Ammon as Nebuchadnezzar crushed Jerusalem. Ammon was later annihilated as Nebuchadnezzar attacked Rabbah (ca. 581 B.C.). Although Ammonites still lived in the area at the tim of the exiles’ return from captivity (Nehemiah 2:10), they never again enjoyed freedom.


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