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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 20

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verse 2


“There.” “In Gilgal, at the assembly of the tribes; the word indicates directly the place; indirectly the time of the following history.” (Erdmann). “A man of Belial.” A worthless man. “He was,” says Luther, “one of the great rogues of the high nobility, who had a large retinue among the people, and consideration or name, as Catiline in Rome.” “A Benjamite.” “Probably one of the rabid Sauline party, if he were not, as is possible, of Saul’s own family.” (Erdmann) “To his tents.” “See on 2 Samuel 19:8.”

2 Samuel 19:2. “Went up.” “From the plain of Gilgal to the hill country of Ephraim.” (Erdmann).

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Chapter 2 Samuel 19:41, to 2 Samuel 20:2


I. The fidelity of those who serve from self-interest cannot be depended on for a single day. All the acts of the men of Israel at this time seem to have been inspired by one consideration only, viz., What line of policy looks most likely to promote our interests? There was no question as to their duty, either to God or man. Hence they rallied to the standard of Absalom when he bid fair to overturn the throne of his father, returned to David when they found they had embarked in a losing cause, and revolted again from him the first moment all did not fall out in accordance with their wishes. So little are those to be depended on who have no higher rule of life, and so greatly are those to be pitied who put their trust in them. “We have ten parts in David,” said they, and, almost in the same breath, We have no part in him. To-day, Hosanna, to-morrow, Crucify.—Henry.

II. The unreasoning discontent of the multitude is the opportunity of the selfish and ambitions leader. There are always men quick to take advantage of the passion and ignorance of their fellow creatures, and to use them as stepping stones for their own aggrandisement. But for the foolish petulance of the men of Israel on this occasion, this son of Bichri would have never had even the pitiful notoriety which he thereby acquired; and there have been many like him in all ages who have only risen from obscurity by similar means. It would have been indeed for the peace of the world if all such reckless men had met with as speedy a downfall as did Sheba, but they have often lived long enough to involve many more in a common ruin. Before men give themselves up to the leadership of another they should consider well whither he is leading them and what guarantees he can give that his motives are pure. But they cannot do this if they themselves are under the dominion of pride and envy, as the men of Israel were at this time. Where any unruly passion is in the ascendant, the voices of reason and conscience are not listened to, and downfall of some kind must come.


Chap, 19, 2 Samuel 19:41-43. In the conduct of the different tribes on this occasion, we may see a faithful picture of what is every day to be witnessed in the world around us. While some men, although convinced of the proper course to pursue, are still talking about their intentions—are consulting with their own interests—resolving, and hesitating, and again resolving—yet, after all doing nothing effectually; others like the tribe of Judah, when once persuaded of their duty, admit no farther argument on its expediency, but act with promptitude and decision. This forward zeal, however, gave great umbrage to the rest of Israel, for, like other worldly characters, it was not so much the good itself that they desired to see done, as to have themselves the credit of performing it.—Lindsay.

Verses 3-13


2 Samuel 20:3. “Living in widowhood.” Lit. In widowhood of life. Probably meaning so long as their lifetime, or it may mean during the lifetime of David. “They were not divorced, for they were guiltless; but they were no longer publicly recognised as David’s wives; nor was their confinement to a sequestered life a very heavy doom in a region where women have never been accustomed to go much abroad.” (Jamieson).

2 Samuel 20:4. “Said to Amasa.” Thus appointing him to the position which he has promised him in 2 Samuel 19:13.

2 Samuel 20:5. “He tarried.” “Either because he met with distrust and opposition among the people, and could not so soon execute his commission; or, because he did not wish to make haste, and nourished in his breast traitorous designs.” (Erdmann).

2 Samuel 20:6. “Abishai.” “Joab’s was still David’s official commander-in-chief, but David speaks to Abishai rather than to him, because he wished to have nothing to do with the latter on account of his crabbedness, and further knew that be would take Amasa’s appointment ill.’ (Erdmann). “Servants, soldiers.” “The standing army in distinction from the levy of the people for which Amasa was sent.” (Erdmann). “Escape us.” The verb means “to take away,” and the phrase has been variously rendered, escape, turn away, and tear out, our eye. This latter rendering (adopted by Keil, Thenius and others) is taken to be equivalent to “severely injure us.” But it seems more probable that one of the other readings is more correct, and that the expression means to elude the sight—to escape.

2 Samuel 20:7. “Joab’s men.” Some have thought it strange that those who went out with Abishai should be so designated, and have, therefore, without sufficient reason, substituted Joab’s name for that of his brother in 2 Samuel 20:6. But from what follows, Joab appears to have marched with his brother to the field. “Cherethites.” etc. (see on 2 Samuel 8:18). “The mighty men.” Gibborim. “The six hundred heroes mentioned in 2 Samuel 15:18.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 20:8. “The great stone,” etc. Doubtless an isolated rock of considerable size. Gibeon lay north-west of Jerusalem, in the mountains of Ephraim, whither Sheba (2 Samuel 20:2), had gone.” (Erdmann). “Went before,” rather came towards. “Joab’s garment.” “The minute description of Joab’s military dress and arms is intended to make it clear how he could suddenly kill Amasa without anyone’s noticing his purpose.” (Erdmann). “His loins.” “This statement receives ample illustration from the Assyrian sculptures on which warriors are depicted, their swords not upon the thigh, but on the loin or side.” (Jamieson.) “Fell out.” Josephus explains that Joab purposely allowed it to drop out so that stooping to raise it at the moment when he saluted Amasa, he might hold it naked in his hand ready for action, without exciting suspicion.

2 Samuel 20:9. “By the beard.” A mode of salutation in the East. Kissing the beard is also a token of great respect and goodwill. “My brother.” “He was his first cousin.” (Biblical Commentary).

2 Samuel 20:10. “Fifth rib.” “Rather the abdomen.” (Keil). “Joab and Abishai.” “The connection of the two favour the view that Joab had gone out at the head of the body of troops under Abishai.” (Erdmann).

2 Samuel 20:11. “By him,” i.e., Amasa, no doubt by Joab’s command. “He that favoureth.” etc. This was said to the men whom Amasa had gathered, and who came on ignorant at first of their leader’s fall, and then of the cause of his death. This plan of Joab identifies his cause with that of David.



I. The consequences of violating God’s laws are not in this life confined to him who violate them. David had no sooner returned to his city and his palace than he found himself confronted with a difficulty arising out of a double transgression. As we have before had occasion to remark (see on 1 Samuel 1:2, etc.), polygamy was a violation of God’s intention with regard to marriage, which brought great sorrow upon David and upon others. The practice of concubinage seems a much farther remove from the Divine ideal, and a nearer approach to the customs of the heathen nations, and must in any case have often been felt to be a hardship by the woman. But David’s great transgression entailed upon the women of his harem a heavier penalty than was common to such a position. It it true they were Eastern women, and therefore less alive to their humiliation by Absalom than women of this age and nation would be in similar circumstances, but they were women, and we have no reason to suppose they were entirely destitute of the instincts and desires proper to their sex. Upon them the consequences of David’s transgression fell very heavily, and endured to the end of life. The certainty that in this sense, as in many others, no man liveth to himself, ought to be a strong motive to keep us from forbidden paths.

II. The consciousness of even pardoned guilt makes one in power weak and cowardly towards similar offenders. One of the most bitter elements in David’s cup of affliction after his fall must have been to see his own evil deeds so faithfully imitated by those around him, and to feel unable to deal out the punishment they deserved. Amnon closely copied his adultery and Absalom his act of murder, without his being able to deal with either as he could have done if he had himself been innocent. And now when he probably hoped he had reaped the last of the harvest from that fatal sowing of sin, he sees his deed reproduced by Joab with startling similarity. The master had not scrupled to remove by violent means one who stood in his way, and it could not be expected that his less scrupulous servant would falter on the same line of action. Truly Joab had known the way before (2 Samuel 3:27), but he could be bolder now that David had gone the same road. David had been able to declare himself guiltless before the Lord from the blood of Abner, but he is silent concerning the death of Amasa, remembering without doubt how he had once commanded Joab to commit as cowardly a crime. It must have surely been this sense of blood-guiltiness which sealed his lips at this time, and almost compelled him henceforth to accept in silence whatever measures Joab thought fit to adopt, and to leave to his son the odious task of reckoning with him.

Verses 14-26


2 Samuel 20:14. “Abel.” Lit., meadow, and the name of several places in Palestine, but from its proximity to Beth-Maachah (with which it is sometimes joined, 2 Samuel 20:15; 1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29), known to be the present Christian village of Abilel-Kamh (wheat meadow) in the extreme north of the country.

2 Samuel 20:15. “They.” “Him”. Evidently the first pronoun refers to Joab and his followers, and the second to Sheba. “A bank.” “The first preparation for a siege was the construction of a causeway, or embankment, for wheeling the battering rams and other military machines close to the walls,” (Jamieson). “It,” i.e., the embankment, “in the trench,” rather, by the wall.

2 Samuel 20:16. “A wise woman.” (See 2 Samuel 14:2). Some suppose her to have been, like Deborah, a judge or leader.

2 Samuel 20:18. “They were wont,” etc. These words are variously explained, but the most natural construction appears to be that Abel had formerly been famed for the wisdom of its inhabitants, and that it was unfair to besiege the city without consulting them. Erdmann observes that “negotiation before laying siege to a city (and a foreign city, indeed), such as the woman here refers to, is prescribed in the law. (Deuteronomy 20:10 sqq. comp. Numbers 21:21.)

2 Samuel 20:19. “A mother.” A chief city. (See on 2 Samuel 8:1). The villages surrounding such a city were called her daughters. (See the margin in Numbers 21:25; Numbers 21:32) etc.

2 Samuel 20:21. “Hath lifted,” etc. Some have supposed that the inhabitants of Abel now learned for the first time of the guilt of Sheba.

2 Samuel 20:22. “The woman went,” etc. To report the result of her parley, and to counsel the inhabitants to give up Sheba. “And Joab returned,” etc. “The issue of this occurrence, how David received the victorious Joab, is omitted in our present narrative; he was, doubtless, now also forbearing to a man who as a soldier was indispensable to him, and who, with all his punishment—deserving savagery, always meant well for his government.” (Ewald.)

2 Samuel 20:23. “The enumeration of David’s cabinet is here given to show that the government was re-established in its wonted course.” (Jamieson.) “Benaiah” (see on 2 Samuel 8:18).

2 Samuel 20:24. “Adoram.” Or Adoniram. “The nature of his office is indicated 1 Kings 5:14 sq. compared with 1 Kings 4:6.” (Erdmann.) He continued in office until the time of Rehoboam (see 1 Kings 12:18, and is called Hadoram in 2 Chronicles 10:18).

2 Samuel 20:25. “Ira.” Not mentioned elsewhere. For his office see on chap, 2 Samuel 8:18, where David’s sons are mentioned as holding such a position. The other names and offices enumerated are alike in both places.



I. A peace-maker is a blessing, both to the victors and the vanquished. A victorious commander may deservedly win great praise when be wins a great battle, because he may really be the means of bringing peace to a nation. Yet the blood of many may cry against him, because he can only gain his end by the loss of many, and the tears and maledictions of those whom he defeats mingle with the rejoicings of those whom he saves. And not only so, the blood of many of his own faithful followers must flow to win him reputation and success, so that, if he be a truly humane man, he will feel indeed that “there is nothing so terrible as a victory except a defeat,” and will rejoice greatly if wrongs can be put right in any other way. Greatly are they to be held in honour, who, by wise words and deeds, avert so great a catastrophe as war, especially that most terrible form of it—civil war. It was Joab’s good fortune to have such a mediator at the siege of Abel—one who had sufficient good sense and influence enough with both parties to put an end to the strife without injury to the innocent on either side. For this good office this nameless woman deserves to be held in honourable remembrance now, as she doubtless was by her fellow-countrymen of her own day. To her must be awarded the blessing of the peace-makers—to be “called the children of God.”

II. The life of one man is sometimes justly sacrificed to secure the life of many. Sheba had no reason to complain that the citizens of Abel bought their own safety with his head. Although it is cowardly and wrong at all times to act upon the doctrine of Cairaphas (John 11:50) and save many at the expense of one, yet it is right to do this when the one man is the sole cause of the impending calamity, when the mass of the people have been misled and injured by him, and when there can be no safety for them while he lives. Such appears to have been the state of things in relation to Sheba and the inhabitants of Abel, and therefore they only acted in accordance with a recognised and just law when they delivered his head to Joab.


2 Samuel 20:20. Joab, in the prosecution of war, does not seem chargeable with peculiar “swiftness to shed blood,” inasmuch as he could exclaim, as if indignant of the imputation, “Far be it from me that I should swallow up or destroy!” But when his private and personal interests were affected, he then gave full scope to his furious passions, without regard either to God or men. A man’s general conduct may be good, and even exemplary, so that on the whole he may move in the world with reputation and usefulness, yet one indulged lust or passion may lead him on to crime and infamy.—Lindsay.

Spiritually the case is ours; every man’s breast is as a city inclosed; every sin is as a traitor that lurks within those walls. God calls to us for Sheba’s head, neither hath he any quarrel to our person, but for our sin. If we love the head of our traitor above the life of our soul, we shall justly perish in the vengeance. We cannot be more willing to part with our sin than our merciful God is to withdraw his judgments.—Bp. Hall.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/2-samuel-20.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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