The land of Ammon was an important region in the Old Testament, located east of the Jordan River. Though not as well-known as some other biblical lands, Ammon played a notable role in several key biblical stories and prophecies.
The Ammonites were the primary inhabitants of the land of Ammon. They were descendants of Ben-ammi, who was the son of Lot through an incestuous relationship with his younger daughter (Genesis 19:38). This made the Ammonites distant relatives of the Israelites, as Lot was Abraham’s nephew. However, the Ammonites were often enemies of Israel.
Prominent Stories Involving Ammon
Here are some of the most significant biblical events connected to the land of Ammon:
- The Ammonites refused to allow the Israelites under Moses to pass through their land on the way to Canaan (Deuteronomy 2:19-21). This hostility set the tone for future relations.
- Jephthah led the Israelites to victory over the Ammonites after they attacked Israel (Judges 10-12). However, Jephthah also made the infamous vow that resulted in the sacrifice of his daughter.
- Saul fought against the Ammonites and delivered the people of Jabesh-gilead from them in one of his early military victories (1 Samuel 11).
- David also led battles against the Ammonites while king. His most well-known clash with them involved the cruel humiliation of his emissaries, which led to the famous war with the Arameans described in 2 Samuel 10.
- King Solomon had many foreign wives, including Ammonite women like Naamah. These relationships turned his heart from God (1 Kings 14:21, 31).
- Several prophets, like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zephaniah, pronounced judgments against Ammon for its pride, opposition to Israel, and worship of false gods like Molech (Jeremiah 9:25-26; Ezekiel 25:1-11; Zephaniah 2:8-11).
As these examples demonstrate, conflict and conquest colored much of the biblical history of relations between Israel and Ammon. The Ammonites consistently opposed Israel militarily and religiously.
The Nature of the Land
Geographically, Ammon was located just north of Moab on the eastern side of the Jordan Valley, extending from the Jabbok River in the south to the Yarmuk River in the north. The Ammonite capital city was Rabbah, which later became an important city under the name Philadelphia during Greek and Roman rule.
The Bible indicates the land of Ammon was very fertile, known for its agricultural produce and livestock. For example, when the Israelite tribes of Reuben and Gad asked Moses for permission to settle on the east side of the Jordan, they said, “The country which the Lord defeated before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock” (Numbers 32:4). Jeremiah 49:4 mentions Ammon’s “valleys” (ESV) or “fruitful fields” (NIV) as a source of their pride.
Archaeological evidence confirms the Ammonites had an advanced agrarian society centered around farming and herding. Their principal deity, Milcom, reflected this in his characterization as an agricultural god.
Origins and Culture of the Ammonites
In addition to descending from Lot and Ben-ammi, the Bible contains other clues about Ammonite origins and ethnicity. Deuteronomy 2:10 says they were previously known as the Zamzummim, before being destroyed and dispossessed by the Amorites. Amos 9:7 also identifies them being led from Kir, associating them with the Arameans.
Linguistically, Ammonite names and language share similarities with Hebrew, indicating a common early Northwest Semitic background. The Ammonite dialect was likely very close to biblical Hebrew.
Culturally, the Ammonites followed religious and social customs that were similar in many ways to those of the Moabites and other nearby peoples. Their worship of foreign gods like Milcom and Molech brought prophetic condemnation but likely resulted from the broader influences of Canaanite religion in the region.
Archaeological evidence of Ammonite civilization has been limited compared to other biblical lands. The Bible indicates they built fortified cities with gates and bars (1 Samuel 13:5; 2 Samuel 12:26). Rabbah was particularly notable, described as the “royal city” and containing a citadel (2 Samuel 12:26; Amos 1:14).
Artifacts confirming aspects of Ammonite culture include statues, inscribed pottery, jewelry, and cultic items. Particularly distinctive are Ammonite inscribed bronze bottles called “bathtub balsamaries” used for perfume or oil.
Hostility Toward Israel
One of the most consistent characteristics of the Ammonites throughout Scripture was their nearly perpetual hostility and aggression toward Israel:
- As mentioned, they refused to allow Israel passage through their land under Moses (Deuteronomy 2:19-21).
- After Israel’s exodus, the Ammonites joined Moab in hiring Balaam to curse Israel, though God turned the curses into blessings (Deuteronomy 23:4).
- During the period of the judges, the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight Israelite armies under the leadership of Jephthah (Judges 10:9; 11:4-33).
- The Ammonites showed cruelty against the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead in 1 Samuel 11, arousing Saul’s first military response.
- 2 Samuel 10, already noted, describes the Ammonites’ outrageous mistreatment of David’s emissaries, leading to war.
- In the days of Jehoshaphat, the Ammonites united with Moabites and Edomites to attack Judah (2 Chronicles 20:1).
- Later, the Ammonites supported the Babylonians against Judah and joined the gleeful destruction after Jerusalem fell (Ezekiel 25:3, 6).
This consistent enmity became a defining feature of the Ammonites’ relationship with Israel. Jewish historian Josephus (First Century AD) summarizes it: “Now as to the Ammonites and why it was that the Israelites did not destroy them utterly, I will inform you. It was not because they wanted the power to do so but because the law of Moses had forbidden them, and promised that they should not meddle with or injure those that were kindred to them” (Antiquities 6.5).
Prophecies Concerning Ammon’s Judgment
In keeping with Ammon’s hostility toward Israel, God pronounced judgments against them through several prophets. Some examples:
- Amos 1:13-15 – For atrocities against Gilead, God promised fire upon Rabbah that would consume its fortresses.
- Jeremiah 9:25-26 – God promised punishment upon all who trusted in their own power and boasted against Him, including Ammon.
- Jeremiah 25:15-21 – Ammon was among the nations that had to drink from the cup of God’s wrath.
- Jeremiah 49:1-6 – Ammonites would be driven out by an attacking nation from the north as punishment for taking Israelite lands.
- Ezekiel 21:28-32 – The Ammonites would be struck down and destroyed by the sword along with others who scorned God’s people.
- Ezekiel 25:1-11 – Because Ammon rejoiced when the temple was profaned, their people would be given over to plunderers and perish from the land.
- Zephaniah 2:8-11 – God would destroy Ammon’s false gods and lay waste her land.
These prophecies foretold what history confirms—the decline and eventual disappearance of the Ammonites under the successive conquests of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Today there is no remaining trace of the Ammonite civilization.
Relations with Other Nations
In addition to Israel, the Bible records interaction between Ammon and several surrounding nations:
- Arameans (Syrians) – Ammon hired Arameans to fight King David (2 Samuel 10). Later, Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria claimed to conquer Ammonite cities held by the Arameans (734 BC).
- Moabites – Ammon and Moab were often allies against Israel, banding together during the time of the judges (Judges 3:13-14). But there was also ongoing conflict over territorial claims (see Jeremiah 48:1-25).
- Edomites – Edom joined Ammon and Moab during Jehoshaphat’s reign to fight Judah (2 Chronicles 20:1). But Obadiah prophesied doom upon both Edom and Ammon (Obadiah vv. 1-7).
- Babylonians – The Ammonites welcomed the Babylonian conquest of Judah (Ezekiel 25:3-6). But Babylon later turned on Ammon as well during its regional domination.
Interaction with these nations provides fuller context about Ammon’s role during the shifting Near Eastern power dynamics of biblical times. Ammon was often a marginal kingdom maneuvering to protect itself, sometimes by exploiting conflicts between larger powers.
Kings of Ammon
Though giving less detail than for Israel and Judah, the Bible names several kings who ruled over Ammon:
- Nahash (1 Samuel 11) – Defeated at Jabesh-gilead, initiating Saul’s kingship.
- Hanun (2 Samuel 10) – Humiliated David’s servants because he thought David sent spies.
- Baalis (Jeremiah 40:14) – Plotted with Ishmael against Gedaliah’s life in Judah after the Babylonian conquest.
- Amminadab (first half of 600s BC) – Named on the Assyrian Royal Annals as a vassal paying tribute to Assyria.
The Bible highlights the first three of these kings in their dealings with Israel. The broader history of Ammon’s kings remains hazy, though the territories they ruled evidently extended north of Ammon proper based on extrabiblical sources.
Lessons from Ammon’s Legacy
Though mostly remembered for its hostility toward Israel, examination of Ammon in the Bible also yields some potential lessons based on its legacy:
- God keeps His promises of judgment, especially toward those who oppose His people.
- Material prosperity often leads to spiritual complacency, pride, and arrogance without true wisdom.
- Rejoicing at others’ misfortunes invites eventual judgment.
- Outright opposition to God’s purposes brings ultimate self-destruction.
- God alone determines the appointed times and boundaries for nations.
The land of Ammon illustrates these spiritual principles through its centuries of conflict with Israel culminating in divine judgment. This fulfills God’s purpose that the rise and fall of nations testify to His sovereignty in history (Isaiah 14:26-27).
Though not one of the preeminent lands of the Bible, study of Ammon enhances understanding both of the immediate context for key biblical events and of God’s dealings with proud nations that defy Him. The largely vanished kingdom offers a warning to all who oppose the Lord and His people.