What do we know about the Ammonites?

A group of people called the Ammonites is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, but who are they? In the early history of Israel, the Ammonites were generally viewed as an enemy of Israel. A look at some of the verses that mention this group helps to explain why.

The origin of the Ammonites is found with Abraham's nephew Lot. Genesis 19:37-38 explains that one of Lot's sons named Ben-Ammi (meaning "son of my people") was the one through whom the Ammonites descended. Ben-Ammi's descendants were a nomadic people who lived in the territory of modern-day Jordan. Even the Jordanian capital of Amman reflects the name of these ancient inhabitants.

During the time of Moses, the Ammonites were one of the groups of people who refused to assist God's people when they were in the wilderness. God punished them for this action (Deuteronomy 23:3-4). However, unlike other people groups that the Israelites destroyed in the Promised Land, God instructed, "And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession" (Deuteronomy 2:19).

Later in the Old Testament the Ammonites are again mentioned as people who followed false gods. Israelites were not permitted to marry Ammonites as a result. King Solomon would later disobey this teaching (1 Kings 14:21). Further, many Ammonite war practices were extremely violent. At one point, an Ammonite leader planned to gouge out the right eye of every Israelite as part of a treaty (1 Samuel 11:2). Scripture states that the Ammonites would rip open pregnant women in lands they had conquered (Amos 1:13).

The end of the Ammonite people is not entirely clear. The first Jewish king, King Saul, defeated the Ammonites and made them his servants. They later regained power yet would be defeated along with many other nations under King Nebuchadnezzar in the seventh century BC. A man named Tobiah the Ammonite is mentioned in Nehemiah 2:19 at the end of the Old Testament period (400s BC).

The last mention of Ammonites outside of the Bible was by Justin Martyr. He wrote in the second century AD that the Ammonites were numerous. Yet after this time the Ammonites would disappear, likely becoming absorbed within Arab society within a few centuries.

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