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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 20

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-22

The rebellion of Sheba 20:1-22

"The account of Sheba’s rebellion against David serves as a counterpoise to the story of Absalom’s conspiracy (2 Samuel 15:1-12) in chapters 15-20, which constitute the major part of the narrative that comprises chapters 13-20 (more precisely, 2 Samuel 13:1 to 2 Samuel 20:22), the longest definable literary section of the Court History of David (chs. 9-20 . . .)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 1042.]

Not all the people of Israel followed David. Some lined up behind Sheba, a discontented Benjamite who sought to split the kingdom as Jeroboam did 45 years later. He sounded his rebel call in Gilgal and then proceeded north gathering supporters.

"It is no coincidence that independence is declared in practically identical terms in the cry of 2 Samuel 20:1 b and 1 Kings 12:16. Sheba ben Bichri was before his time-so a ’worthless fellow.’ After Ahijah’s intervention, the time had come." [Note: Anthony F. Campbell, Of Prophets and Kings: A Late Ninth-Century Document (1 Samuel 1 -2 Kings 10), p. 83.]

This was another premature act, like the Israelites demand for a king before God gave them David. The notation of David’s dealings with his ten concubines (2 Samuel 20:3; cf. 2 Samuel 15:16; 2 Samuel 16:21-22) shows that the king behaved in harmony with the spirit of the Mosaic Law. The Law prohibited a woman who had had relations with two consecutive husbands from going back to her first husband (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The Law did not address David’s case specifically, but Deuteronomy 24 was what seems to have guided his decision.

"The presence of concubines suggests how much the monarchy has embraced the royal ideology of the Near East, which is inimical to the old covenant tradition. David takes a drastic step of confining the concubines and presumably having no more to do with them. His action is most likely a concession and conciliatory gesture to the north. . . . In making this move, David not only distances himself from his own former practice but also offers a contrast to the conduct of Absalom (2 Samuel 16:21-22)." [Note: Brueggemann, First and . . ., p. 330. ]

David’s action may also indicate that his temporary exile drove him back to the Lord and increased his desire to please Him. David had promoted Amasa by making him commander of the army in Joab’s place (2 Samuel 17:25), probably because Joab had killed Absalom (2 Samuel 19:13). Unfortunately Amasa moved too slowly (2 Samuel 20:5), so David put Abishai in charge (2 Samuel 20:6). The writer probably referred to the soldiers as "Joab’s men" (2 Samuel 20:7) because they had formerly been under Joab’s command.

Joab greeted Amasa in a customary way (2 Samuel 20:9). [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 454. See Edward A. Neiderhiser, "2 Samuel 20:8-10: A Note for a Commentary," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24:3 (September 1981):209-10, for further explanation of how Joab deceived Amasa.] He kissed the man he was about to slay, as Judas did centuries later (Luke 22:47-48). Solomon avenged Joab’s murder of Amasa when he came to power (1 Kings 2:32-34). Perhaps David did not execute Joab because he felt gratefully indebted to him for his great service, and Joab was an effective commander who advanced David’s interests. Some leaders still publicly decry the methods of people whom they privately encourage.

Abel Beth-maacah lay about 90 miles north of Gilgal and four miles west of Dan. Sheba had far fewer soldiers than Joab did (2 Samuel 20:11; 2 Samuel 20:14). The saying, "They will surely ask advice at Abel [Beth-maacah]," (2 Samuel 20:18) means people regarded the residents of that town as wise. The city was a mother in Israel (2 Samuel 20:19) in the sense that it exercised a beneficent maternal influence over its neighboring villages. Similarly "daughters," when used in reference to a town, represents the town’s satellite villages (e.g., Judges 1:27; et al.). The epithet "mother in Israel" describes only Deborah elsewhere in the Old Testament (Judges 5:7).

"Abel is characterized in the proverb as a city with a long reputation for wisdom and faithfulness to the tradition of Israel. It is, therefore, a mother in the same way Deborah was: a creator and hence a symbol of the unity that bound Israel together under one God Yahweh. And it is the wise woman’s implicit appeal to this unity that stops Joab in his tracks." [Note: Claudia V. Camp, "The Wise Women of 2 Samuel: A Role Model for Women in Early Israel," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 43:1 (January 1981):28.]

"The inheritance of the Lord" (2 Samuel 20:19) refers to Israel (cf. 2 Samuel 21:3). Evidently Sheba, though a Benjamite, lived in the hill country of Ephraim (2 Samuel 20:21). David’s rule was again secure with the death of Sheba, another man who rebelled against the Lord’s anointed and died for it.

"Wise words override ruthless policy. At the end, not only the woman and the city are saved; something of David’s dignity and self-respect are also rescued from Joab’s mad, obedient intent." [Note: Brueggemann, First and . . ., p. 332.]

"In an earlier incident, another ’wise woman’ had co-operated with Joab and had undertaken the delicate task of bringing the king to a new viewpoint (2 Samuel 14:1-20)." [Note: Baldwin, pp. 280-81.]

Compare also Abigail’s wise counsel to David (1 Samuel 25). This story teaches much about wisdom and folly.

"First of all the woman saw the problem realistically; the danger must have been clear enough to everyone in Abel, but there may have been some false hopes of rescue or intervention. Secondly, she did something about it-she did not wait for somebody else to act but took the initiative herself. Then she argued her case, challenging the rightness of Joab’s actions; and he was forced to agree with what she said. So a compromise was reached; and finally she took steps to fulfil [sic] the terms agreed. In other words, wisdom was a combination of intelligent insight and bold action. The Old Testament rarely separates the intellectual from the pragmatic: wisdom is not simply knowing but also doing." [Note: Payne, p. 257.]

The wise woman contrasts with foolish Joab who, nonetheless, showed wisdom himself when he listened to and cooperated with the woman. Sometimes very devoted people, such as Joab, can do much damage similarly in a church. Talk solved a problem that war would only have complicated. Wisdom saved the woman, her city, David’s reputation, Joab’s career, and many innocent lives. Her wisdom in action bears four marks: seeing the problem, acting to correct it, arguing her case persuasively, and fulfilling her responsibilities. God’s glory evidently motivated and guided her actions (2 Samuel 20:19). Sheba’s folly is clear in that he was easily offended, unable to muster support, and initiated a fight he could not win.

Verses 23-26

David’s administrators 20:23-26

"With Joab’s return to the king in Jerusalem, the grand symphony known as the Court History of David reaches its conclusion for all practical purposes (at least as far as the books of Samuel are concerned . . .). The last four verses of chapter 20 constitute a suitable formal coda, serving the same function for the Court History that the last four verses of chapter 8 do for the narrative of David’s powerful reign . . ." [Note: Youngblood, p. 1048.]

This list of David’s chiefs of state concludes a major section of Samuel (2 Samuel 9-20, "David’s troubles") just as a former list closed another major section (2 Samuel 2-8, "David’s triumphs"). Probably this list reflects David’s administration toward the end of his reign. The former list evidently describes David’s cabinet at an earlier time.

2 Samuel 8:15-182 Samuel 20:23-26
Joab: armyJoab: army
Benaiah: Cherethites and PelethitesBenaiah: Cherethites and Pelethites
Adoram: forced labor
Jehoshaphat: recorderJehoshaphat: recorder
Seraiah: secretarySheva: secretary
Zadok and Ahimelech: priestsZadok and Abiathar: priests
David’s sons: chief ministers (priests)Ira: priest

The "forced labor" force, the corvée, was an age-old institution (cf. Deuteronomy 20:10-11; 2 Samuel 8:2; 2 Samuel 8:6; 2 Samuel 8:14). It consisted of prisoners of war who worked on such public construction projects as highways, temples, and palaces. Adoram (Adoniram) later became a prominent figure in the apostasy of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:18-19). Ira may have been a royal adviser in the same sense as David’s sons had been previously. The Hebrew word kohen ("priest," 2 Samuel 20:26) seems to have this meaning elsewhere (e.g., 2 Samuel 8:18). [Note: Cf. Goldman, pp. 236, 319.]

This long section of David’s troubles contains selected events that show that even the Lord’s anointed was not above a principle by which God deals with all people. Obedience to the revealed will of God brings blessing to the individual and makes him or her a channel of blessing to others. However, disobedience brings divine judgment in the form of curtailed blessing (fertility). Here we also see the serious effects of arrogance before God.

". . . the narrator has invited the reader to pay particular attention to the social and psychological aftermath of adultery, as well as to the obvious fulfilment [sic] of God’s judgment as pronounced by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:10-12)." [Note: Baldwin, p. 282.]

Another major lesson is that rebellion against the Lord’s Anointed cannot succeed. The parallels between David and Jesus Christ in these chapters stand out. Jesus, as David, suffered rejection at the hands of "His own," left His capital in apparent disgrace, but will return to rule and reign.

Seven sub-conflicts appear within this sixth major conflict section in Samuel. Mephibosheth and Jonathan’s line conflicts with David’s faithfulness (ch. 9). The Ammonite coalition conflicts with David (2 Samuel 10:1 to 2 Samuel 11:1). David’s unfaithfulness to the covenant conflicts with Yahweh’s faithfulness (2 Samuel 11:2 to 2 Samuel 12:25). Ammon conflicts with David (2 Samuel 12:26-31). Amnon conflicts with Absalom (chs. 13-14). Absalom conflicts with David (ch. 15-18), and Sheba conflicts with David (chs. 19-20).

God’s basic commitment to David resulted in his anointing, which guaranteed much blessing. David’s basic commitment to God, his heart for God, resulted in his never losing a battle with a foreign nation, as far as the text records. David’s occasional violation of the covenant resulted in some other losses (2 Samuel 11:2 to 2 Samuel 12:25; ch. 25).

Similarly God’s election of the believer results in much blessing for him or her. The believer’s commitment to God as lord of his or her life results in a life characterized mainly by victory and success. The believer’s occasional violation of God’s revealed will results in some defeat for him or her. Even an elect believer, such as Saul, can experience a tragic life if he or she does not commit himself or herself to following God faithfully (Romans 12:1-2).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 20". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-20.html. 2012.
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