Hostility: The Continued Consequences of Sin On Display
Sunday School Lesson for August 11, 2002
Background Passage: 2 Samuel 19:8-20:26
Sheba Opposes King David (20:1-2)
With the return of David to the holy city, opposition to his authority soon reached a climax with the arrival of “a trouble maker named Sheba.” This scoundrel of a man, originally from the tribe of Benjamin, was apparently a high-ranking officer in Israel’s army who began to take advantage of the strife between the northern and southern tribes. Seeing a ripe opportunity for self-advancement—he “happened to be there”—Sheba attempted to entice the disenchanted tribes in the north to rebel against David. His method was quite simple and dramatic. At the sound of the “trumpet” Sheba would cry out, “We have no share in David, no part in Jesse’s son!” This indicates that Sheba correctly suspected that “David’s loyalties basically [lay] in the south and therefore [urged] the representatives of the northern tribes to recommend secession” [Youngblood, 1043].
Verse 2 reveals that Sheba’s strategy achieved some measure of success. David was soon “deserted” by “all the men of Israel” who, at least temporarily, gave their allegiance to Sheba. Dale Davis summarizes the seriousness of this treasonous action on the part of Sheba:
But why is this scoundrel such a scoundrel? Because he is rejecting Yahweh’s chosen. He is rebelling—and calling the northern tribes to rebel—against Yahweh’s anointed king (1 Sam. 16:1-13) and breaking the covenant that bound the king and the northern tribes in mutual loyalty (2 Sam. 3:21; 5:3). Perhaps Sheba could whitewash his deed alleging that Judah’s nasty words (19:43b) had caused him emotional distress or that David’s politicking (19:11-15) smacked of gross favoritism. All of which should not alter his crime: rebelling against covenant kingship and, in so doing, rebelling against Yahweh [203-04].
Joab Murders Amasa (20:3-13)
When David arrived back at his royal “palace in Jerusalem,” he commanded “Amasa,” one of Absalom’s former generals, to call “the men of Judah to come to me within three days” (v. 4). For strategic reasons, David desired to quickly attack the forces marshaled by Sheba “before the revolt could effectively organize and spread” [Bergen, 435]. However, when Amasa failed to return in the time specified by king David, “Abishai,” the brother of Joab, along with “Joab’s men and the Kerethites and Pelethites and all the mighty warriors,” was sent after Sheba instead (v. 6). Bergen speculates that the reason Joab was not appointed to lead the effort against Sheba was that he had been “demoted as a result of his treatment of Absalom (cf. 18:14)” .
When Abishai and his men arrived at “the great rock in Gibeon,” about six miles from Jerusalem, Amasa himself joined them. This coincidental meeting provided Joab with an opportunity to reclaim his position as leader of David’s military forces. As the text indicates, Joab stealthily engaged the unsuspecting Amasa in a conversation—“How are you, my brother?” Then Joab “plunged” his “dagger” into the belly of Amasa with such force that “his intestines spilled out on the ground” (v. 10).
With Amasa now out of the way—note that his dead body was unceremoniously dumped in a nearby field (v. 12)— and Abishai apparently offering no resistance to the change in leadership, Joab and his men continued to “pursue Sheba son of Bicri” (v. 13). With this action, Abishai “disappears from the record, unable to hold his own once Joab had asserted his authority” [Baldwin, 279].
Sheba Dies (20:14-22)
With the forces now commanded by Joab in hot pursuit, Sheba went to the north “through all the tribes of Israel” into the “region of the Berites.” Some authorities have located the spot where Sheba eventually took refuge—“Abel Beth Maacah”— some thirty miles to the north of the Sea of Galilee, or ninety miles from Gilgal. When Joab’s troops discovered Sheba and his men there, a “siege ramp” was erected in order to bring down the city wall. Bergen notes that this was a “time-tested tactic for conquering a walled city” and explains that this method was employed “in combination with the use of a battering ram, which could crush or displace the stones in the outer wall or perhaps destroy the city gate” .
As Joab’s men hammered away at the walls of the city, an unnamed “wise woman” appealed for an audience with Joab, the commander—“Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” When Joab agreed to come to her, she appealed to him to end the violent effort to destroy her city in the pursuit of Sheba. Her words were pointed and filled with emotional power—“You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel” (v. 19). Her haunting question—“Why do you want to swallow up the Lord’s inheritance?”—served to remind Joab that both the people and the land of Abel Beth Maacah were also included among the covenant nation. With this, he agreed to call off the destruction of the city provided that the citizens would deliver Sheba into his hands (v. 21). The woman, speaking on behalf of the residents, promised “[Sheba’s] head will thrown to you from the wall” (v. 21).
The story ends on the rather gruesome note that the woman and the people of her city kept their word—“they cut off the head of Sheba . . . and threw it to Joab” (v. 22). In response, Joab kept his word and sounded the trumpet, signaling the end of the mission and the call for his soldiers to return home. Youngblood points out the irony in the way this story comes to a climax: “By echoing the language of v.1 (“he sounded the trumpet”), the narrator brings the story of Sheba’s revolt to a fitting conclusion. Whereas Sheba had sounded a trumpet to rally secessionists, Joab does so to call off the siege of Abel and send his men on their way” .
Two: The trivialization of human life—Throughout our study of 2 Samuel, we have observed graphic violence and the loss of life on practically every page. How does a society come to the place where human life, made in God’s very image and likeness, is devalued and desecrated so readily?