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2 Then David said, “I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent some of his servants to console him concerning his father. But when David’s servants came to the land of the Ammonites,
3 the princes of the Ammonites said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think that David is honoring your father because he has sent consolers to you? Has David not sent his servants to you in order to search the city, to spy it out and overthrow it?” (2 Samuel 10:2-4)

My only reading language is English, and I am reading and researching the New American Standard Bible.

This was in my regular study today, and my study of I Samuel is recent enough that the reference to a "showing of kindness" to David confused me.

Searching for an act of kindness. I find no reference to Nahash (or any other Ammonite king) showing kindness to David.

Searching for Nahash, king of Ammonites. In I Samuel 11, it is Nahash's siege of Jabesh-Gilead that brings in Saul as a deliverer, and thus sets him on the throne, which ultimately leads to David ascending to the throne of the united kingdom forty years later. That might be stretched enough to call it a kindness, but I would have questions about the wisdom of an ethics professor who presented that theory of kindness to me in a classroom setting.
At any rate, that happened before David was born.

Is it possible that David is being ironic (or something else) when he sends the servants? Was he, in fact, sending them to spy out the land?

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This is a great question.

Most commentators suggest that Nahash had most likely offered him some assistance and security during the time of his flight from Saul. After all, Moab and Philistine (see 1 Sam. 21 and 22) were eager to extend their protection to David (not out of compassion but because Saul was their common enemy), so it is not far fetched that Ammon did the same. Though this is never mentioned directly in the bible, there is some evidence later in 2 Samuel 17:27-30 to suggest this:

When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils,[g] 29 honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, “The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.”

In this scenario David is fleeing Absalom, not Saul, and a certain Shobi son of Nahash shows up among the loyal friends of David who provide him with food and shelter from his enemies. It is extremely likely that Shobi son of Nahash is none other than than the son of Nahash king of Ammon himslef, and that he was David's old acquaintance from many years before while he was fleeing Saul. The descriptions match up very well with what we know of Nahash king of Ammon. So it seems likely that Nahash had offered David some protection while he was fleeing Saul (as Saul was their common enemy) and that David now felt obligated to return this favor to his son Hanun.

It is worth noting that Shobi remained loyal to David even after David had waged war with king Hanun and conquered Rabbah (ibid. 12:26) Shobi's homeland. This raises some possibilities; namely that Shobi himself was his brother (most likely half-brother) Hanun's enemy and a viable candidate for the throne as well, and was hoping now to secure favor in David's eyes and strengthen his alliance with Israel by showing him support when he needed it most, however this is pure speculation and beyond the scope of this question.

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  • If I am correctly understanding your answer, we can use what we KNOW to fill in the gaps. – Papa Pat Dec 4 '19 at 16:29
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    Trapped by five-minute edit limitation again! Here's what I was TRYING to say: If I am correctly understanding your answer, we can use what we KNOW to fill in the gaps. KNOWN: David receives outside help when he flees Saul: Philistines, I Sam 21,27; Moab I Sam 22; Individual Hittites, I Sam 23,26, II Sam 11; Carmel, I Sam 25. KNOWN: David says Nahash was kind to him. KNOWN: Shobi, son of Nahash, helps David later, when he is fleeing again. THEREFORE, the kindness was probably rendered to David when he was fleeing Saul. That seems quite logical to me! – Papa Pat Dec 4 '19 at 16:40
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    Yes that's what I'm saying. I'm glad you found my evidence compelling. – Bach Dec 4 '19 at 18:49

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