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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 20

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-7

Second Samuel - Chapter 20

Sheba’s Rebellion, vs. 1-7

The large number still dissatisfied with David’s rule showed that they were still ready to oppose him when a leader arose. A trouble­maker from the tribe of Benjamin, called a man of Belial (worthlessness), named Sheba took advantage of the situation. Out of a jealous quarrel over who should have been consulted in bringing the king back from exile appeared another serious revolt. Sheba blew the war trumpet to call the people to hear him. He knew just what to say to appeal to their wounded pride, "We have no part in David, nor inheritance in the son of Jesse. Everyone go home to your own tents." Sheba revived the slur popularized by Saul against David, "the son of Jesse," a mere nobody.

So the bulk of the northern men went off after Sheba, while the tribe of Judah remained loyal to David and returned with him to Jerusalem to the palace. The first matter claiming David’s urgent attention was what to do with the ten concubines whom he had left to tend his house, who had been raped by Absalom. As customary for the times David put them away. They were kept isolated, in widowhood, until their death, though David provided for their food and clothing. This may seem harsh for the women, but it was the expected thing for the time. Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, had protested to Abner, the captain of the host under Saul, when he thought he had violated this custom in taking Rizpah, the concubine of Saul (2 Samuel 3:7-11).

David also addressed himself to the problem which Sheba had raised. True to his promise he promoted Amasa, Absalom’s erstwhile captain of the host, to that position in kingdom, thus ousting Joab from the position. The wisdom of this move on David’s part is highly debatable, in the light of what follows, may not have been as widely acceptable as David expected it to be. Certainly it was opposed by the men around David, most loyal to him.

Amasa was sent out to gather the forces of Judah to pursue Sheba and put an end to his rebellion. David expected him to accomplish this in three days, then return to Jerusalem for further instructions. At the end of the set time, however, Amasa had not completed his task and had not returned. David chafed with anxiety lest Sheba fortify himself in the cities of the north and escape from them. Impatiently he turned to Abishai, the captain of the mighty men, still spurning Joab, and put him in charge of routing and disposing of Sheba.

David’s men were pleased to go out under the leadership of Abishai. Even Joab and his own personal command followed him, and so did the special forces under Benaiah, the Cherethites and Pelethites. All of these forces together did not comprise a large army, but they were a very formidable fighting force, with skills of warfare to withstand much larger forces. And so they set out to assault Sheba and his followers.

Verses 8-13

Amasa Murdered, vs. 8-13

The meeting of Abishai and Joab with Amasa at the stone of Gibe­on brought the cousins face to face and to a point where someone had to give to the other. It is not clear how they met, the Scriptures saying that Amasa went before them. It may mean that he met them in his rounds gathering his forces, or perhaps he was leading his army out ahead of them. Anyway they were finally coming together.

From the sequel it is obvious that Joab had planned for the meet­ing. He carried a sword on a girdle around his garment, which surely was not unusual for a professional soldier like Joab. However, it appears that Joab had so fixed his sword that it would fall out of the sheath at the proper time. So as Joab and Amasa came to meet each other Joab’s sword fell out of his sheath. However, he had retrieved slightly it and was carrying it in his hand as they came together.

It is also obvious that Amasa did not suspect Joab of trickery. It looked as though he had merely retrieved his fallen sword and had not thrust it back into the empty sheath before he reached out to take Ama­ss by the beard and kiss him, as was the custom with relatives. But Joab carried the sword in his hand for a deadly purpose. As he kissed his cousin he struck him with the sword under the fifth rib, that vital area of the heart Joab knew so well. Joab’s hatred for Amasa was so great that he not only stabbed him in the heart, but also-proceeded to disem-bowel him, spilling his bowels on the ground. Joab and Abishai left Amasa dying in the road and .continued pur­suing Sheba. One of Joab’s loyal men stood by the dying man and chal­lenged all who would follow Joab as their leader. But the men coming up­on the bloody scene and seeing Amasa wallowing in death throes stood still, astounded at what they saw. Joab’s man saw this was defeating his purpose, so took Amasa’s body from the road and placed it in a field. Spreading a garment over him so the soldiers could not see what had happened. After this the men continued after Joab and Abishai.

Joab’s murder of Amasa was another of his dastardly deeds, for which David never forgave him and eventually sentenced him to death. Yet Joab remained extremely popular with his men, and David risked the loss of his able men by replacing him with Amasa. In fact, it may be thought that David did not exercise a great deal of foresight in attempt­ing to replace Joab with Amasa. Amasa had been among the rebels, even their captain. Although he must have been acclaimed highly by many, it seems he had difficulty raising an army to subdue Sheba. Alto­gether it was a case of leaving God’s will out of consideration, and this always results in bad decisions (Proverbs 28:26).

Verses 14-22

Sheba Executed, vs. 14-22

Sheba had made his way across all the tribes of northern Israel to the city of Abel Beth-maachah. This was in the far north, slightly northwest of the city of Dan, and though allotted to the Israelites, was still inhabited by the Maachathites. During the reigns of David and Solomon it was subject to Israel. Joab traversed this same area as he followed Sheba. The Berites are only mentioned here in the Scriptures and were evidently other pagan people inhabiting the area to which Sheba had fled.

Joab set siege to Abel, casting up a bank, or an embankment against it. The trench was a kind of palisade behind which the archers and stone-throwers could be sheltered from the defenders who would hurl missiles against them from the wall. He then brought up battering rams to batter down the wall of Abel to get in and capture Sheba.

At this juncture there appeared a wise woman on the wall calling for an audience with Joab. When he came, and assured her that he was the captain, the woman spoke to him of the reputation of the city of Abel, as a place to which people came to ask counsel for its wisdom. Many questions had been settled, she claimed, by seeking counsel at Abel. This was her invitation to Joab to receive counsel about what he was preparing to do. She accused him of attempting to destroy a city and a mother in Israel and of swallowing up the inheritance of the Lord.

Joab denied that he wanted to swallow up or destroy anything, but that he was besieging the city because of the rebel, Sheba the son of Bichri, who had lifted up his hand against the king. If the city would deliver up Sheba to him he would withdraw the siege army from Abel. The woman agreed that Sheba would be executed and his head thrown over the wall to Joab. She was true to her word. When Joab saw that Sheba was dead he blew the trumpet to withdraw the army. The men returned to their homes, and Joab returned to Jerusalem to face David, with his insubordinate murder of Amasa.

Verses 23-26

David’s Officials, vs. 23-26

The Scriptures are wholly silent about David’s reaction toward Joab when he returned from his defeat of Sheba with the blood of Amasa on his hands. Other passages, however, show how despicable he considered the deed to be. It seemed that he could not get rid of Joab as hard as he tried. He must have had no other recourse than to continue him as captain of the host. Benaiah also continued as captain of the special forces. Adoram must have been a very young man at the time, for he continued over the tribute through the forty years of Solomon’s reign and was stoned to death by the dissident followers of Jeroboam after Rehoboam’s accession (1 Kings 12:1).

Jehoshaphat was over the records, and he also continued into the reign of Solomon. The scribe, or secretary, was Sheva (his name is variously written Seraiah, Shisha, and Shavsha in other passages). Zadok of the house of Eleazar and Abiathar of the house of Ithamar continued as the chief priests. Ira and Jairite was David’s minister, or priest, in his personal affairs.

Learn from these things 1) Acting vindictively against one who has wronged you is liable to beget vindictiveness in return; 2) entrusting a business to one who is not of proven capability will produce embarrassment; 3) right or wrong, the heroes usually have their own way in a matter until they answer to God; 4) people would escape many heartaches by putting their trouble makers out of the way.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 20". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-samuel-20.html. 1985.
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