After the Syrians and the children of Ammon fled from Joab and Abishai his brother, the Syrians sent for “the Syrians that were beyond the river; and Shophach the captain of the host of Hadarezer” (1 Chronicles 19:16). At this point, there was a shift in the conflict and it became personal for David. He may have felt threatened or insecure in his new position as king of Israel, but instead of asking God for counsel, David took matters into his own hands.
It says in 1 Chronicles 19:17, “And it was told David; and he gathered all Israel, and passed over the Jordan, and came upon them, and set the battle in array against them. So when David had put the battle in array against the Syrians, they fought with him.” The original conflict was between David and Hanun the son of Nahash, the Ammonite that had been defeated by Saul. David’s decision to cross over the Jordan with all his army opened the door to a war between Israel and Syria.
Crossing over the Jordan may not seem like a big deal, but it was symbolic of returning to a point in time before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. In a sense, it was like opening an old wound or taking a trip down memory lane in order to rewrite history. The word translated passed in the phrase, passed over Jordan, is the Hebrew word ‘âbar (aw – bar´). “This word communicates the idea of transgression, or crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of wrong” (5674).
The word ‘abar literally means to cross over, but its used very widely of any transition (5674). The significance of David’s decision probably lies in its outcome. David did not eliminate the Syrians or defeat them to the point where they were no longer a threat. He merely established a peace treaty with them that enabled him to dominate them temporarily.
David’s pursuit of external peace was a problem because he took matters into his own hands. David was not relying on the LORD for his victory. He was using a show of strength, he may have had as many as a half a million soldiers with him when he passed over the Jordan, in order to intimidate Shophach the captain of the Syrian army.
The transition that occurred at the point when David passed over the Jordan with his army was probably a transition in David’s attitude. Whether it was pride or a lack of humility, David’s dependence on the LORD was no longer evident. Perhaps David thought he was in control of the situation. The victory he achieved was his last before his internal peace began to diminish.