Today we’re looking at 1 Chronicles 20:3.

So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.

2 Samuel 10:4 (NIV)

When David sent a delegation of peace to pay his respects to Hanun after the death of his father. Hanun’s commanders incited Hanun against David, suggesting that he had sent men to spy out the city instead of expressing his sympathy. Shaving off half of their beards was a grave insult since the beard was the sign of a free man. In doing this, Hanun treated David’s men like slaves. Only priests wore undergarments. At best, they had on robes under their clothes, so cutting their clothes in this fashion would have exposed them.

This incident reminds me that sometimes it doesn’t matter how well we try and treat other people. That even our purest motives can be met with scorn and derision. As Children of God, we are called to love others. Even our enemies when they persecute and mistreat us.

This brings me to this verse that stems from the incident here in 2 Samuel 10:4. 

1 Chronicles 20:3

And brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes. David did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then David and his entire army returned to Jerusalem.

1 Chronicles 20:3 (NIV)

This is an interesting verse because there are basically two different translations that give totally different meanings. Only one of them can be right. Here’s the same verse from another translation.

And he brought out the people who were in it, and cut them with saws and with sharp instruments and with axes. And thus David did to all the cities of the sons of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem. 1 Chronicles 20:3

(NASB 1977)

As you can see, one version says that David put the people to work. Enforcing slavery on them, while the other version says he brutally killed them with saws and axes. Most of the Bible translations I’ve read support the labor perspective, while some the killing view. Fortunately (or not?), there’s another take on this found in 2 Samuel.

He also brought out the people who were in it, and set them under saws, sharp iron instruments, and iron axes, and made them pass through the brickkiln. And thus he did to all the cities of the sons of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 12:31 (NASB 1977)

As we can see, the version I included here (NASB 1977) has a slightly different view on what was done with the saws and other instruments in 2 Samuel than it does in 1 Chronicles 20:3. Most of the other versions that support the labor perspective say the people were put to labor here as in 1 Chronicles 20:3. However, the most recent version of the NASB says something different than its 1977 and 1995 versions. 

He brought out the people who were in it, and put them to work at saws, iron picks, and axes. And David did the same to all the cities of the sons of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.

1 Chronicles 20:3 (NASB)

This most recent version favors the labor perspective. With these two different perspectives, the logical question is “which perspective is the correct one and why is there a difference in translations?”

The problem with 1 Chronicles 20:3 has to do with this word here: “sur.” This word means “cut” in Hebrew and is used only one time in the Bible. Right here in 1 Chronicles 20:3. In the parallel verse, 2 Samuel 12:31 the word that is used is “sum” or “sim” and means “to place, set, or put.” The difference in translations is directly related to how this word is understood. However, I think the main problem with interpreting this verse has to do with the brutality of killing people with saws versus consigning them to hard labor. There is one additional point I’d like to address.

Samuel was written around 960 BC. and 1 Chronicles was likely written between 450 and 425 BC. which means Samuel was written long before 1 Chronicles. Therefore, 1 Chronicles could be influenced by Samuel but not vice-versa. This is a fact. Considering this fact, it makes more sense that Samuel is correct, while the problematic word “sur” used in 1 Chronicles is likely an error due to some error in the earliest versions of the text.

I’m not a translator, but these issues that I’ve addressed would appear to me to be some of the issues a translator might address in a case like this in 1 Chronicles 20:3. I do find it interesting that the NASB changed the translation they had from their 1977 and 1995 versions (same as 1977) from the torture and killing perspective to the labor perspective. 

As for which perspective is correct. I don’t know. I expect that this is one of those things we may never get an answer to on this side of Heaven. 

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be free from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.