The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a small country with a population of only around 6.5 million people – for reference, that is a smaller population than the city of New York. During the past few months, I have been in and out of Jordan several times. Each time I visit, I have come to appreciate the country more and more. During my first trip to Jordan (Spring of 2009), I did not get the best impression. Our tour guide was obnoxious – I don’t mean to be so blunt – but it is true. Our driver was a maniac – we saw our lives flash before our eyes several times during that trip! In case you think I am exaggerating, the accident that we got into on the Kings Highway helps to prove my point. When we went to visit Mt. Nebo (where Moses died), one of the Jordanians at the gate made some rude comments to me including “Hey baby, my name is Moses… let me lead you to the Promised Land.” An original pick-up line, if nothing else. All that to say, I wasn’t all that impressed. However, some of the biblical history of Jordan caught my attention. Below is something that I wrote after returning from that first trip which tells a little bit about some of the things we learned about Amman, the capital of Jordan.
April 19, 2009
One of my favorite things about our time in the Holy Land was that almost every place we visited had not only one story… but perhaps two or three that happened in the very same place. The Judean Wilderness is where the Israelites traveled under the leadership of Joshua toward the town of Jericho… where David ran and hid from Saul amongst the rocks and the stones… the same place where John the Baptist had his ministry… the same place where Jesus was tempted… the same desert where the Dead Sea scrolls were found along the coast of the Dead Sea. This blew my mind!
We arrived in Amman, Jordan and traveled toIsrael following a similar path to the way that the Israelites would have entered the promised land. Amman is one of the oldest and longest inhabited cities in the world. In the OT – it is referred to as Rabbath Ammon, the capital city of the Ammonites (around 1200 BC).
The Ammonites were descendents of Lot– the nephew of Abraham. In Genesis 19, we learn a bit about their origin. Sodom and Gomorah had been destroyed… Lot’s wife had died – you may remember she turned back to look at the destruction of the two cities and was turned into a pillar of salt. Lots two daughters were afraid. One of their fears was that everyone had been destroyed – so they would not be able to have children. So… what did they do (this is actually a rather horrific story) – they got their father drunk and both slept with him. They both became pregnant and each had a son. One daughter had Moab– who became the Moabites and the other daughter had Ben Ammi – whose people were known as the Ammonites. Amman, Jordan still carries their name even to this day.
But my favorite story about the city ofAmman has to do with King David. The King of the Ammonites had died – and the kings son took over the throne. 2 Samuel 10 verse 2 tells us that David decided to show kindness to the new king – so he sent out a delegation to express sympathy to the son (whose name was Hanun) concerning his father. But… some of the Ammonite commanders didn’t trust David (by the way – they were known to be a ruthless bunch)… they thought that David was sending his people to them to spy on them. So, they decided that they were going to disgrace David and his men… So, do you know what they did? I can’t believe that I had never read this story in the Bible before… The Ammonite king and his commanders seized David’s men and shaved off half of each man’s beard… but that wasn’t all! They cut off their garments at the buttocks… and sent them back to David.
During that time – the only time a man’s beard would be cut off was if a man was in mourning – or if he was a slave. This was a defaming thing to do to David’s delegation. So much so that when David received word of it – he told his men to wait in Jericho until their beards could grow back so that they would not return toJerusalemin shame. Cutting off the clothes of the men – especially at the buttocks – made David’s men look ridiculous and was similarly a sign of shame.
Such was my first encounter with the Biblical history of Amman… a story with which I was not at all familiar prior to my visit! All of this reminds me of God’s words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 2:18-29: “When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendents of Lot.”