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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 20

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



“Now there happened to be there a worthless fellow, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite; and he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel”! So all the men of Israel withdrew from David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri; but the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.”

“Sheba… blew the trumpet” Here the trumpet was blown to raise an army, but in 2 Samuel 20:22, below, Joab blew the trumpet to signal the cessation of hostilities. “Different blasts on the trumpet were used to denote different things.”(F1) Of course, that is the way it still is today, as for example in the well-known “reveille” and “taps”.

This new rebellion was the direct result of the bitter words exchanged in the quarrel mentioned at the end of the preceding chapter. Josephus tells us that, Sheba’s actions occurred, “While these rulers (the men of Israel and those of Judah) were disputing with one another.”(F2) “The fierce words of the men of Judah led to evil results,”(F3) giving us another example of the frequent danger of winning an argument.

“We have no portion in David… no inheritance in the son of Jesse” As Caird observed, “This war-cry raised by Sheba lasted longer than his rebellion; because it was raised again successfully against Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:16).”(F4)

“All the men of Israel withdrew from David, and followed Sheba” The literal text here is: “All the men of Israel went up from after David to after Sheba.”(F5) “All the men of Israel,” as used here, probably refers merely to the representatives of the northern tribes who had brought their complaint to David and engaged in that bitter controversy with the elders of Judah. Certainly, Sheba soon found out that all Israel would not follow him.

“The men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem” This was David’s homecoming, but the happiness of it was marred by a new rebellion, which, at that point, was an unpredictable threat. “David arrived home with only his Judean escort and all the rest of Israel apparently in open rebellion.”(F6)

Verses 1-2


In this chapter, we have the homecoming of King David, the happiness of which was overshadowed by a new rebellion led by Sheba. We also see the results of some of David’s rash and unwise decisions.

Verse 3


“And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house, and put them in a house under guard, and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up till the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.”

This writer finds no way to justify this tragic treatment of ten faithful concubines who had committed no crime, who were guilty of no unfaithfulness, and who presumably had taken good care of things during David’s absence. Not the least of David’s sins was his polygamous marriages, which were not only wrong in his case but provided the royal example for the wholesale debauchery of his son Solomon.

“David… put them in a house under guard… so they were shut up till the day of their death” Oh yes, the text says that the king “provided for them,” but it was still the provision that any jailor gives his prisoners. We feel disappointment at the tenderness with which many scholars have written about this contemptible act of King David.

Verses 4-9


“Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” So Amasa went to summon Judah; but he delayed beyond the set time which had been appointed him. And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom; take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get himself fortified cities, and cause us trouble.” And there went out after Abishai, Joab and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men; they went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment, and over it was a girdle with a sword in its sheath fastened upon his loins, and as he went forward, it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother”? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword which was in Joab’s hand; so Joab struck him with it in the body, and shed his bowels to the ground, without striking a second blow; and he died.”

“Then the king said to Amasa” “This man was a nephew of David, the son of David’s sister Abigail, and his father was an Ishmaelite (1 Chronicles 2:13-17).(F7)

“Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself” This assignment should have been easy enough for Amasa, as he was specifically recognized as the leader of Absalom’s army gathered from all Israel. The situation required haste. The king recognized that Sheba should not be given time to amass an army and to rally the people behind him.

There is no doubt that this action was David’s preliminary move leading to the formal appointment of Amasa as commander-in-chief in the place of Joab. “But this first step toward the fulfillment of that promise to Amasa was a very imprudent act, like the promise itself.”(F8)

“But he delayed beyond the set time appointed him” Why was this delay? Willis suggested the following reasons: (1) he did not think it necessary to hurry; (2) he did not know how to summon the troops quickly; or (3) the men of Judah had lost confidence in him.(F9) There is also the possibility that he might have contemplated casting his lot with the new rebellion under Sheba. Whatever the reason, David, still reluctant to place Joab in command, summoned Abishai and sent him after Sheba.

“And David said to Abishai, Take your lord’s servants and pursue him” (Sheba) This, of course, was David’s way of insulting Joab, whom he would not forgive for the murder of Absalom. It is to Joab’s credit that he, along with the “mighty men” and David’s personal bodyguard of the Cherethites and the Pelethites, consented to follow after Abishai. David’s instructions for Abishai to take your lord’s servants is a reference to David’s personal bodyguard.(F10)

“Sheba… will do us more harm than Absalom” “David need not have been worried. The tribes had had their fill of civil war, and the next time we hear of Sheba he is unsuccessfully canvassing the country for support, accompanied only by his own clan.”(F11)

“And they went out after Abishai” This means that Abishai was the commander, but that situation did not prevail very long. Joab was the real leader in whom all of the soldiers placed their trust and confidence.

“When they were … in Gibeon … Amasa came to meet them” Joab, no doubt, had anticipated this meeting and had prepared for it.

“Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment; over it was a girdle with a sword in its sheath… and as he went forward it fell out” “The sacred text here as well as that of the Septuagint (LXX) is corrupt, and we can only guess,”(F12) as to exactly what happened here. Some believe that Joab murdered Amasa with the sword that fell out of the sheath; but others suppose that he used a second weapon concealed in the sleeve of his left hand. Cook favored the first of these views,(F13) and Tatum suggested this: “Joab tricked Amasa by letting one sword fall from his belt; and then, pretending to greet Amasa as a brother; and when he came close, he drew out a hidden sword and thrust it into his abdomen.”(F14) To this writer, Tatum’s explanation seems more likely to have been the way it happened. It is hard to believe that Amasa would have seen Joab pick up a naked sword off the ground (even if it had been with his left hand) without any suspicion or caution on Amasa’s part.

“And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him… But Amasa did not observe the sword which was in Joab’s hand” Joab’s right hand was on Amasa’s beard, so the sword had to be in his left hand, and the fact that Amasa did not see it indicates that Joab had concealed it in his sleeve until the moment he used it.

“Without striking a second blow; and he (Amasa) died” “The experienced slayer of men knew the most effective stroke.”(F15)

Verses 10-13


“Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab’s men took his stand by Amasa, and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” And Amasa lay wallowing in his own blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped; and when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field, and threw a garment over him. When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri.”

“Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba” Note that Joab is mentioned first, having taken complete control of David’s army.

“One of Joab’s men took his stand by Amasa” The business of dispatching Amasa, having been completed, Joab, the experienced general, proceeded to get on with the business of quelling the rebellion. This man stationed by Amasa’s body was for the purpose of urging the troops to follow Joab and was undoubtedly doing so under the specific orders of Joab.

“Any one who came by, seeing him, stopped” No wonder they stopped. There lay the notorious Amasa wallowing in his own blood. Joab’s man, noting the delay, promptly removed the body to a nearby field and covered it.

Verses 14-22


“And Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth-maacah; and all the Bichrites assembled, and followed him in. And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah; they cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart; and they were battering the wall to throw it down. Then a wise woman called from the city, “Hear! Hear! Tell Joab, `Come here that I may speak to you.’“ And he came near her; and the woman said, “Are you Joab”? He answered, “I am.” Then she said to… him, “Listen to the words of your maidservant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” Then she said, “They were wont to say in old time,’ Let them but ask counsel at Abel’; and so they settled a matter. I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel; you seek to destroy a city which is a mother in Israel; why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord”? Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David; Give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.”

“And Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel” Sheba succeeded in rallying no support except his kinsfolk; so there was nothing left for him to do except to enter the fortified city of Abel and try to hold out there against David. That place was located at the extreme northern boundary of Israel. “It is identified as the modern Tel Abil, twelve miles north of Lake Huleh and four miles west of Dan.”(F16) DeHoff also tells us that, “It is supposed to have been the capital of the district called Abilene in Luke 3:1.”(F17)

“Then a wise woman called from the city” “This woman was probably someone on the border line between a prophetess and a witch, two classes which were not always clearly distinguished.”(F18) She must be credited with ending the rebellion of Sheba and saving the city of Abel from destruction.

Verses 23-26


“Now Joab was in command of all the army of Israel; and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the Cherethites and the Pelethites; And Adoram was in charge of the forced labor; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder; and Sheva was secretary; and Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira the Jairite was also David’s priest.”

“With this list of David’s chief officers, the narrator closes the history of David’s reign. The remaining four chapters of Second Samuel form a kind of appendix.”(F19)

“Joab was in command of all the army of Israel” “The king did not venture to dispute Joab’s right to resume his post of commander-in-chief.”(F20) As DeHoff said, “Joab had murdered Amasa and seized supreme command. David was not deceived as to the kind of man Joab was, but he needed him as a leader at that time.”(F21)

The similarity of this list and the one in 2 Samuel 8:16-18 has been made the basis of claiming the lists to be variations of the same listing; but, as Keil wrote, “This list belongs to a later period in David’s reign.”(F22) This is certainly true, because David’s use of forced labor did not take place in the first part of his reign but in the latter part of it. This use of forced labor by David was adopted by his son Solomon and greatly developed by him.(F23) It was this very thing that fueled the rebellion against Solomon’s son Rehoboam.

“And Ira… was also David’s priest” The word priest here is probably a reference not to a priest at all, but to one of the officials in David’s government. (See a thorough discussion of this in my commentary on 2 Samuel 8, pp. 110-112.)

David never forgave Joab for the murder of Absalom, Abner and Amasa; and near the end of his life, David left orders for his son Solomon to destroy Joab. Still, evil as Joab surely was, he was the principal military architect of building and sustaining the throne of David, a fact that David never seemed to recognize.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 20". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-20.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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