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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 20

 

 

Introduction

David’s Great Sins And Their Consequences (11:1-20:26).

We now come to a crucially significant aspect of David’s reign which explains the dark side of that reign. Up to this point all has been pictured as success, and YHWH has been portrayed as with David in all that he has done (even though some of it came after this incident). But from this point on in the narrative we are faced with another aspect of David’s life, and it does not make pleasant reading, for it deals with a period of complacency in David’s life which resulted in heinous sins, and the great problems that then resulted from them. We are not to gather from this that YHWH ceased to bless David. Indeed some of the incidents previously described undoubtedly occurred after what happened here (e.g. his being granted a palace of cedar), and it is made clear in the narrative that YHWH is still active on David’s behalf (2 Samuel 17:14). But there is a deliberate attempt in the following narratives to draw out how David did fail, and the consequences of that failure for at least some of what followed in the latter part of his reign. And what is even more significant is that the narratives appear to have come from records maintained under the authority of David himself (2 Samuel 9 onwards have reasonably been seen as being selections from ‘The Court History Of David’).

This in itself is unusual in that reigning monarchs usually tended to ensure that all indications of failure in their reign were omitted from their records, or at least were altered in order to take the sting out of them. It is therefore an indication of David’s genuineness of heart before God, and of the writer’s intention of writing only to the glory of God, that they did not do the same.

Some have seen chapter 11 onwards as intended to explain how it was that Solomon came to the succession. That is certainly a very important aspect of these chapters, and was possibly in the writer’s mind. But had that been their sole main purpose much that was derogatory to David could have been omitted. So we must certainly add the fact that the writer was equally concerned to bring out how what followed was the result of David’s own weakness and failure as revealed in his adultery with Bathsheba and his cold-blooded murder of Uriah the Hittite. Together with the description of the consequences to the realm of David’s arrogant numbering of Israel (chapter 24), it was intended to bring out that even David was flawed. It was a deliberate reminder that we are to look forward to the coming of the righteous everlasting King of the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 2:10; Genesis 49:8-12; Psalms 2:7-12; Numbers 24:17-19; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4) who would be even greater than David.

In some ways David’s life story is very similar to that of Saul, for we saw how Saul’s story began with his success during his rise to power (1 Samuel 10-11), continued with success, even when accompanied by failings (1 Samuel 13-14), and culminated with a description of his success over all his enemies, because YHWH was with him (1 Samuel 14 47-48). This was then followed by a description of Saul’s great sin, and his resulting downfall (1 Samuel 15 on). What follows indicates that there was something similar in the pattern of David’s life. He too began with great success (1 Samuel 17-18), continued with success even when accompanied by failings, and was triumphant over all his enemies (3-10), only to find himself involved in sins so dire that it is almost beyond belief. For what now follows is a story of flagrant disobedience in respect of God’s Law, and despicable betrayal of those who trusted him, and both on a huge scale, although it must be admitted that they were in fact totally ‘out of character’ with the David usually portrayed to us. It is a reminder that such failure can happen even in those who seem most above it.

There are, of course, a number of differences between Saul and David which explain why Saul finished up in the shame of rejection, while David moved on from his sin to greater things. The first difference is that Saul’s sins were comprised of blatant disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands which had been made on him as YHWH’s Anointed, and were in fact in character in that they arose from his casual attitude towards crucial religious requirements concerning which he felt he could compromise (even though he was actually scrupulous concerning more minor ritual), while David’s sins, for all their enormity, were not a result of disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands given to him as YHWH’s Anointed, but were the consequence of failing in his general responsibility and (temporarily) in his response to God’s Law during a period of spiritual declension.

The second difference was that Saul sought to brush his failures off, and did not treat them seriously enough to fling himself down before YHWH crying for forgiveness, while David knew how to repent, and did precisely that. When David was faced with having failed and grieved YHWH he was distraught, and came directly to YHWH in humble repentance, seeking forgiveness (see Psalms 51).

This section could also equally be headed ‘The Consequences of Forgiven Sin’, for it reveals that even though David was forgiven, the consequences of his sins for others went on and on. Thus it commences with David committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11), something which results in YHWH indicating what punishment will follow (2 Samuel 12:10-14), and goes on to describe how that punishment actually came about (chapters 13-20). And yet that punishment is not simply to be seen as the arbitrary result of God carrying out His prophecy, for the sins of David’s sons are clearly to be seen as directly resulting from David’s progeny voluntarily following their father’s own example of sexual misbehaviour and betrayal. David was thus to learn through bitter experience that what we sow we reap, and we undoubtedly see the outworking of that process in the following chapters. And it all arose because David had become complacent and arrogant, and had slumped into a state of spiritual lethargy, thereby ceasing to fulfil his spiritual responsibilities towards YHWH This was brought out by the fact that, unlike the old David, he preferred to linger in Jerusalem in a state of boredom and spiritual emptiness rather than be out on the front line.

We must not be deceived. What David did with Bathsheba was not the momentary failure of a strongly tempted man. It was the direct result of his spiritual lethargy and growing royal arrogance. And the whole incident reveals what a sad condition he had fallen into, for it reveals the picture of a man who was saying to himself, ‘I am now the king. I can do what I like. Nothing can be withheld from me. I am master of all I survey.’ That indeed was why he was still in Jerusalem. It was because he no longer felt it necessary to fulfil his obligations towards YHWH and towards his people. That could now be left to others as he himself enjoyed a life of lazy indolence. After all, he no doubt argued to himself, he had earned it. But like Moses when he arrogantly and disobediently struck the rock in the Wilderness of Sin (Numbers 20:6-12), David too had become arrogant and disobedient, and like Moses would have to suffer the consequences of forgiven sin.

The Direct Consequences Resulting From David’s Sins (13:1-20:22).

Having confirmed YHWH’s acceptance of David as a forgiven sinner following on his great sins, an acceptance which was confirmed by YHWH’s naming of Solomon and by David’s victory over the Ammonites, the writer will now go into some depths to make clear what the consequences nevertheless were of David’s sins. For what David had done inevitably affected his sons, who were vividly aware of his sin while at the same time not sharing with him in his repentance. David’s sad period of arrogance bred in them a similar royal arrogance and an inevitable carelessness in respect of sexual matters and of violence towards others, which they began to see as a royal prerogative. ‘After all,’ they would say, ‘we are only behaving like our father did, and what other role model do we have? He is the only royal example that we know.’ Thus while David still had authority over his kingdom, he had lost his personal parental authority over his own sons because of his own bad example. It was one of the great disadvantages of polygamy that the children tended to receive their personal training from their mothers, and from servants, with their father being a distant father figure, so that what they learned from him was usually conveyed by his outward behaviour generally, something which was of crucial importance as an example to his children. (It is a reminder to all parents that they should keep in mind that what they are speaks far louder than what they say).

Sadly the next eight chapters in Samuel will deal with the direct consequences of David’s sins, and is an illustration of how the sins of the fathers can affect their offspring. The chapters cover a period of sexual misbehaviour and violence that will now plague the house of David, presented in the most vivid form:

· The sexual misbehaviour of David’s firstborn, Amnon, because of his royal arrogance, the ravishing of David’s beautiful daughter (2 Samuel 13:1-22).

· The subsequent death of Amnon at the hands of Absalom, David’s third son (2 Samuel 13:23-39).

· The subsequent estrangement of Absalom from his father (2 Samuel 14:1-20).

· Absalom’s partial restoration and his successful plotting against David with the intention of seizing the throne (2 Samuel 14:21 to 2 Samuel 15:6).

· Absalom’s rebellion against his father and his sexual misbehaviour with David’s concubines (2 Samuel 15:7 to 2 Samuel 16:23).

· The subsequent warfare that resulted finally in the death of Absalom at the hands of David’s servants, to the great grief of his father (2 Samuel 17:1 to 2 Samuel 18:33).

This will then be followed by:

· The re-establishing of David’s kingship and his mercy shown or rewards given to those who had behaved ill or well towards him (2 Samuel 19:1-39).

· The disenchantment of a part of Israel because they considered that David had favoured Judah during the restoration of the kingship, and the subsequent further rebellion which was in the end defeated (2 Samuel 19:40 to 2 Samuel 20:22).

But even with these consequences the overall picture given is one of YHWH’s faithfulness to David. Because he had truly repented He would see him through it all and bring him through triumphantly.

SECTION 9. The Course Of The Civil Wars Resulting From Absalom’s Rebellion (15:13-20:22).

Absalom’s rebellion blossomed and the result was that David had to flee from Jerusalem. But he was soon to discover that he was not without friends as first Ittai the Gittite affirmed his loyalty along with his Philistine mercenaries, then the priests brought the Ark of God which ‘supervised’ the departure from Jerusalem as an indication that God was with him, and this was followed by the arrival of Hushai the Archite, who would counter the wisdom of Ahithophel, and Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth who provided provisions for the journey. On the darker side he was cursed and wished good riddance by Shimei the Benjaminite, but took even that as a good omen because the curse was based on false premises.

Following on this the course of the war is described, and it is made clear that in every way YHWH was acting on David’s behalf and confounding all the efforts of Absalom, with the final result that Absalom himself was killed and his forces suffered a humiliating defeat. Unfortunately, as a result of subsequent events, this would lead on to a second rebellion among the many disaffected people in Israel, a rebellion which would finally be crushed by Joab.

Analysis Of The Section.

a Absalom raises rebellion against David and enlists the services of the wise Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:13-31).

b The ancient Hushai the Archite comes to David and is called on to counter the wisdom of Ahithopel (2 Samuel 15:32-37).

c Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, meets David with provisions and traduces Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 16:1-4).

d David is cursed by Shimei as a man of blood and Abishai wishes to execute him (2 Samuel 16:5-14).

e Conflicting advice on how to ensure that David’s power will be broken among the people (2 Samuel 16:15 to 2 Samuel 17:14).

f Hushai warns David that he must flee over the Jordan to escape the people (2 Samuel 17:15-23).

g The opposing armies prepare for battle and David pleads for mercy for his son (2 Samuel 17:24 to 2 Samuel 18:5).

h The final battle (2 Samuel 18:6-17).

g David receives tidings of the course of the battle and mourns for Absalom (2 Samuel 18:18-33).

f Joab warns David of the consequences of his behaviour with regard to his people (2 Samuel 19:1-8 a)

e David calls for the restoration of his power among the people (2 Samuel 19:8-15).

d Shimei meets David and pleads for forgiveness while Abishai wishes to execute him (2 Samuel 19:16-23).

c Mephibosheth meets David and David learns of Ziba’s treachery (2 Samuel 19:24-30).

b The ancient Barzillai conducts David back over the Jordan (2 Samuel 19:31-40).

a Sheba raises a rebellion against David and is betrayed by the wise woman of Abel (2 Samuel 19:41 to 2 Samuel 20:22).

Note that in ‘a’ Absalom rebels against David and is assisted by a wise man, and in the parallel Sheba rebels against David and is betrayed by a wise woman. In ‘b’ the ancient Hushai the Archite comes to David’s support, and in the parallel the ancient Barzillai conducts David back across the Jordan. In ‘c’ Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth traduces his master while bringing provisions to David in order to obtain favour, and in the parallel Mephibosheth exposes his servant’s villainy. In ‘d’ Shimei curses David and is threatened by Abishai, and in the parallel he begs forgiveness and is threatened by Abishai. In ‘e’ Absalom receives advice on how he can break the power of David, and in the parallel David calls on Judah to restore his power. In ‘f’ Hushai warns David to flee over the Jordan to escape the people, and in the parallel Joab warns David of the consequences of disaffecting his people. In ‘g’ the armies prepare for battle, and in the parallel David receives tidings about the result of the battle. Centrally in ‘h’ the final battle is described.


Verse 3

On His Arrival In Jerusalem From Gilgal David Deals With The Problem Of The Concubine Wives With Whom Absalom Had Sexual Relations (2 Samuel 20:3).

Meanwhile, while much of this was going on, David had moved on to Jerusalem, and once there he had to decide what to do about the concubine wives with whom Absalom had publicly had sexual relations. It was in fact a tricky problem because technically the concubines were now Absalom’s former wives. Thus for David to have had further relations with them would probably have been thought of as having sex within the forbidden degrees (something which, of course, Absalom had done - Leviticus 20:11), even though strictly speaking a father lying with his son’s wife was not included in the list. It was certainly not something which David felt like risking just because of a few concubines.

This event is included here because it was David’s final act of removing all trace of Absalom’s rebellion from Jerusalem, for these concubines had unwittingly become an important symbol of Absalom’s rule. They were, however, also dynamite, for as the former king’s widows they could not be available for remarriage. This was why, although they were well treated and looked after, they had to be kept under careful guard. It was recognised that anyone who married one of these concubine widows would be able, should they so wish, to claim direct connection with the throne.

Analysis.

a And David came to his house at Jerusalem, and the king took the ten women, his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward (2 Samuel 20:3 a).

b And he provided them with sustenance, but did not go into them (2 Samuel 20:3 b).

a So they were shut up to the day of their death, living in widowhood (2 Samuel 20:3 c).

Not that in ‘a’ David ‘put them in ward’, and in the parallel he shut them up to the day of their deaths. Centrally he provided them with ample sustenance.

2 Samuel 20:3 a

‘And David came to his house at Jerusalem, and the king took the ten women, his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward.’

When David arrived back in his palace in Jerusalem, which he had left in the care of ten of his concubines, he put the ten in safe and sheltered accommodation. Due to what his son had done he could no longer see them as available to him because they had become his son’s wives, and therefore untouchable by him. But he nevertheless treated them with due honour. However, in view of their status they had also to be closely watched and guarded. Marrying someone who had been so closely connected with both the king, and then the rival king, could have given people ideas, and that could not be allowed (compare 1 Kings 2:22).

2 Samuel 20:3 b

‘And he provided them with sustenance, but did not go into them.’

In that sheltered accommodation he provided them with ample food and drink, and no doubt forms of entertainment, but abstained from having sexual relations with them because they were now his son’s widows, something which was almost certain to have put them in the eyes of many people within what would have been seen as the forbidden degrees (it was forbidden for a son to have sexual relations with his father’s wives, and probably the reverse therefore held true). It was not a matter of being unkind to them, but of political necessity.

2 Samuel 20:3 c

‘So they were shut up to the day of their death, living in widowhood.’

Thus as royal widows they were provided with all the comforts under the king’s protection, while at the same time being kept under close guard. This does not necessarily signify that they were not allowed out, veiled and suitably guarded. It only indicated that they had to be constantly watched. The necessity for this arose because, as we have already seen, to have allowed anyone else to have sexual relations with them could have endangered the throne and complicated the succession.

We must not necessarily feel that they had been hard done by. They had simply been unfortunate. And yet we must remember that they would have had every luxury, would been provided with amusements, and would probably have had as much freedom as most highbred women of the day. All that they had really lost was a place in the official harem, and an occasional night with David, and even that would not have been guaranteed, even if Absalom had not ‘defiled’ them. Indeed many probably envied them greatly. Their great loss would be in the fact that they could no longer have children.


Verses 4-10

The Failure And Death Of Amasa (20:4-10a).

Amasa, David’s close relative and new commander-in-chief, was now called on by David to gather together the men of Judah ‘within three days’ so as to deal rapidly with the threat being caused by Sheba, so that they would be able to act before he could become a real danger. Amasa was, however, clearly either inefficient or careless for he failed to achieve David’s target, or to report back at the proper time, possibly partly because men were reluctant to follow the general who led them to defeat when fighting for Absalom, but also partly because he did not treat his position seriously enough. There is no doubt that he unquestionably and completely failed in his duty. The result was that David then turned to the faithful Abishai, who had previously led one of David’s three units against Israel, and was standing by him, and called on him to gather David’s troops and pursue Sheba before he could establish himself. We must undoubtedly see his command to Abishai as arising because Abishai was close at hand, and immediately available, and therefore also as including his brother when he could be contacted. It was thus a request that he go with his brother (when he could make contact with him) so that they might both go and pursue Sheba. This is evident from what follows.

Accordingly Abishai swiftly gathered together Joab’s men (presumably the standing army always held at the ready), together with David’s bodyguard and mighty men, and set off in pursuit of Sheba, and was at some point joined by Joab. And when they reached the great stone at Gibeon they came across Amasa who, seemingly unconcernedly, came to meet them. This put them under a huge dilemma. Their mission was now extremely urgent and there was no time for negotiating with or arguing with the official commander-in-chief who had already proved so negligent and inefficient. Nor did they want to have to do battle with any men who were with him. So Joab made a swift decision, and presumably on the grounds of treason and failure to observe the king’s commands, summarily executed him. He would no doubt argue afterwards that it had been necessary because of the urgency of the situation. He had proved himself unfit to command and had actually been subordinate in that he had not reported back to David. Thus Joab and Abishai, entrusted with the king’s urgent command, had had no alternative.

a Then the king said to Amasa, “Call me the men of Judah together within three days, and be you present here.” So Amasa went to call the men of Judah together, but he lingered longer than the set time which he had appointed him (2 Samuel 20:4-5).

b And David said to Abishai, “Now will Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than Absalom did. You take your lord’s servants, and pursue after him, lest he obtain for himself fortified cities, and tear out our eye” (2 Samuel 20:6).

c And there went out after him Joab’s men, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men, and they went out of Jerusalem, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri (2 Samuel 20:7).

b When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. And Joab was girded with his war clothing which he had put on, and on it was a girdle with a sword fastened on his loins in its sheath, and as he went forth it fell out (2 Samuel 20:8).

a 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 paid no heed to the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So he smote him with it in the body, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again, and he died (2 Samuel 20:9-10).

Note that in ‘a’ Amasa carelessly ignored the injunction that had been urged on him by David, and in the parallel he carelessly ignored the sword that was in Joab’s hand. In ‘b’ David declares that Amasa’s lateness and carelessness might well be responsible for great harm which Sheba might cause, and calls on Abishai to prepare David’s servants to chase after Sheba, and in the parallel Amasa arrives too late, and meanwhile Joab, Abishai’s brother, has prepared himself for the chase. Centrally in ‘c’ Abishai leads out Joab’s men, and David’s bodyguard and mighty men.

2 Samuel 20:4

Then the king said to Amasa, “Call me the men of Judah together within three days, and be you present here.” ’

Having appointed Amasa as commander-in-chief of the armies of Israel/Judah ‘the king’ called on him to muster the men of Judah ‘within three days’ and to personally report back to him. (Three days may in fact have indicated ‘a few days’, as it so often does, but it was nevertheless specific. It did not justify delay). The point was that promptness and speed were essential, for David recognised that this was an emergency situation, and having been caught out by Absalom, he did not intend also to be caught out by Sheba.

2 Samuel 20:5

So Amasa went to call the men of Judah together, but he lingered longer than the set time which he had appointed him.’

So Amasa set about mustering the army of Judah. But he did not do it with sufficient urgency. Thus when the time limit arrived the forces were nowhere to be seen, and nor was Amasa, who was supposed to have reported back. He was seemingly not astute enough as a general to recognise, as David himself had, the need for all speed before the rebellion could be established. It must therefore be appreciated that his failure to report back by the time allotted was gross dereliction of duty. It was indeed to treat the king with unforgivable casualness. Amasa was thus gravely at fault and liable for severe punishment however we look at it.

2 Samuel 20:6

And David said to Abishai, “Now will Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than Absalom did. You take your lord’s servants, and pursue after him, lest he obtain for himself fortified cities, and tear out our eye.” ’

Having waited in vain for Amasa’s appearance with the army of Judah David was now extremely concerned. Consequently he turned to Abishai, who as we have seen from past incidents was constantly in attendance on him (e.g. 2 Samuel 16:9; 2 Samuel 21:17; 1 Samuel 26:6-9), and expressing that concern, pointed out that this delay could well prove disastrous for the kingdom. It could even result in Sheba doing more harm to the kingdom than Absalom had done. It was therefore necessary that something be done immediately in order to try to rectify the situation.

So he looked to the man who was immediately to hand, to Abishai, one of his chief generals, to do it. We may reasonably assume that Joab was temporarily absent from the court for some reason. However, while his command to Abishai was in the singular it must necessarily be seen as including Joab, once he could be contacted, for Joab was not in disgrace, and Abishai and Joab had always worked in collusion in maintaining David’s armed strength (2 Samuel 10:9-10; 2 Samuel 18:2). Furthermore Joab was seemingly still in command of the standing army now known as ‘Joab’s men’. Abishai would thus recognise that he was being expected to carry out the king’s command in the usual way, in conjunction with his brother when he could be contacted, and that David was looking to him to act personally with all speed with the forces that they had immediately available. The command was addressed to him because it would appear that Joab was simply not at present immediately to hand, and the task was urgent. The urgency of the situation demanded that Abishai take the matter in hand.

And that task was simple. To pursue and destroy Sheba before he had time to consolidate and establish fortified cities, thus putting himself in a position to tear out the kingdom’s very eye. To tear out the eye (the literal translation) was to render the opponent helpless, or at the least to make him severely handicapped.

2 Samuel 20:7

And there went out after him Joab’s men, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men, and they went out of Jerusalem, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.’

So Abishai immediately left the king’s presence, summoned Joab’s men (the standing army), the king’s elite troops and bodyguard (the Cherethites and Pelethites), and David’s chief officers and mighty men, who would all be close by and could be immediately called on, and left Jerusalem in order to pursue Bichri, being joined at some stage by his brother whom he had no doubt urgently summoned by messenger. Unlike Amasa they were both experienced commanders and fully aware of the urgency of the situation.

The fact that it does not say ‘Joab and his men’ can be seen as confirming that for some reason Joab was temporarily absent, possibly on affairs of state, for it is quite unnecessary to assume that there had been a rift between him and David however unhappy Joab was at losing his position as commander of ‘All Israel’. David would undoubtedly have given him another comparably high position in his court.

2 Samuel 20:8

When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. And Joab was girded with his war clothing which he had put on, and on it was a girdle with a sword fastened on his loins in its sheath, and as he went forth it fell out.’

When, in carrying out their pursuit, they arrived at the great stone of Gibeon (which was in Benjamin and was some miles/kilometres north of Jerusalem), Amasa came to meet them. We are given no details of his situation and do not know whether he had the men of Judah with him. On the other hand he would arrive as the official commander-in-chief, and would undoubtedly have wished, in view of his superior rank, to take over the pursuit. We are not told anything about how far he had accomplished the task that David had set him of mustering the men of Judah, nor why he was at Gibeon, rather than in the south where the mustering of the men of Judah would have had to take place, nor why he had not reported back to David when he was supposed to. It is possible that he had learned of the pursuit being carried out by Joab and Abishai while still mustering the troops, and so had himself hastened to meet them with a view to exerting his command, leaving whatever troops he had mustered to follow behind, hoping thereby to preserve his status. But it is equally possible that his presence there indicated how far he was failing is his urgent task of mustering the men of Judah. After all, what was he doing in Benjamin?

By now Joab had joined up with Abishai, and was clad for war, wearing over his ‘war clothing’ a belt into which was tucked the scabbard which contained his sword. And as he went out to meet Amasa his scabbard fell out from his belt. Knowing Joab we may suspect that this was not in fact accidental. Joab could certainly not draw his sword as he approached Amasa, but to have in his hand a sword and scabbard which had fallen from his belt would not appear at all suspicious, just careless (unless you knew Joab really well).

2 Samuel 20:9

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.’

Then Joab greeted Amasa, and asked him how he did, after which he took Amasa by the beard with his right hand, seemingly in order to greet him with a kiss of welcome. It would appear that in that society to take the beard in this way was, like a formal handshake, an act of friendship. Possibly it contained the same idea behind it as a handshake, in that it demonstrated that the sword hand was empty. This act of laying hold of the beard in order to give a kiss of friendship was, in fact, still customary among Arabs and Turks as a sign of friendly welcome even in more recent days.

As we are given nothing of the background, and as there were no repercussions on Joab later as a result of what followed, it seems reasonable to assume that Joab considered that he had some good reason for thinking that Amasa’s failure to muster the troops quickly enough, and to report back, was due either to an act of open treachery, or to an act of clear insubordination, or at the best to an act of gross negligence sufficient to endanger the kingdom. And, whichever it was, his failure to report back to the king within the time allotted was in itself almost treason. He was certainly to be seen as due for severe punishment, for the kingdom was at stake. This would no doubt explain why Joab felt himself justified in executing him, lest in his treachery, or gross negligence, or perverseness he in some way sought to hinder the pursuit, thus causing unnecessary delay. We must recognise that there was no time here for niceties, and they could not stop to argue, nor to do battle with him if he proved intransigent. Joab thus saw himself as executing someone while on active service because of his failure to obey the king’s commands. (Nevertheless we do not need to dismiss the suggestion that he almost certainly had a dual motive, for we have already come to recognise that anyone who sought to take over Joab’s position as commander of the armies of Israel was in grave danger of his life (compare Abner in 2 Samuel 3:27). Even Joab, however, could not have murdered either of them out of hand without an ostensibly good reason).

2 Samuel 20:10 a

‘But Amasa paid no heed to the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So he smote him with it in the body, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again, and he died.’

Amasa revealed his own military naivete by paying no heed to the sword that was in Joab’s left hand. He did not appear to have considered the fact that he had committed gross folly. It was probably the same lack of military astuteness that had caused him to delay in the mustering of the troops. Thus he was taken completely by surprise when Joab’s kiss of friendship ended up by being a sword in the body, which resulted in his bowels coming out and falling on the ground. We note that Joab did not need to strike twice. There was nothing inefficient about his military expertise. And in consequence Amasa died a traitor’s death.

It is made clear later that David did not approve of this execution (1 Kings 2:5), for when he could he preferred to exercise mercy, but there can be little doubt that he recognised that to quite some extent Joab had been justified in what he did the light of the urgency of a war situation. It was presumably that fact that prevented Joab from being punished. Considerable leeway had to be given to a successful general who had constant life and death decisions to make, even if it was stored up in the mind in order to affect future decisions.


Verses 10-25

The Pursuit And Death of Sheba And Establishment Of The Kingdom (2 Samuel 20:10-25).

The pursuit of Sheba now went on relentlessly as David’s elite troops, ably led by Joab and Abishai, came up to Abel where Sheba and his men had taken refuge, having no doubt learned of the approaching forces. Sheba was aware that he had not yet had time to gather sufficient forces to meet them head on. For the men of Israel may angrily have returned home in response to his call, but it was clear that on the whole they had not yet again joined up with him (and possibly did not intend to. A walk out was one thing, secession was quite another).

And there Joab laid siege to Abel, no doubt having firstly made an offer for them to surrender peaceably (Deuteronomy 20:10). This offer had clearly been rejected, presumably by Sheba’s men who were guarding the gate. (Sheba would know what the consequences would be to him of surrender). Joab’s men therefore began to follow the expected procedures for siege warfare. They built up a mound leading up to the city and began to batter at the city walls.

But a wise woman in the city, who had had no part in the rebellion, and did not want to see the city devastated, went to the walls and called on Joab to ask why he was so intent on destroying a city which was so well known as being a source of wisdom, and why he was so keen on slaughtering innocent Israelites. Joab’s reply was that he wished to do neither. Let them but hand over Sheba and his troops would immediately withdraw. At that the wise woman promised that Sheba’s head would shortly be thrown to them over the wall, and on returning to the city elders, persuaded them that that was the wise and only thing to do. It is clear that she was a woman greatly respected for her wisdom and influence, for they took notice of her advice and accordingly Sheba’s head was thrown over the wall, at which Joab and his men returned to Jerusalem and to their homes.

The message intended to ring out from this passage is quite clear. Those who are truly wise follow the anointed of YHWH.

a And Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichr (2 Samuel 20:10 b).

b And there stood by him (Amasa) one of Joab’s young men, and said, “He who favours Joab, and he who is for David, let him follow Joab” (2 Samuel 20:11).

c And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a robe over him, when he saw that every one who came by him stood still (2 Samuel 20:12).

d When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri. And he went through all the tribes of Israel to Abel, and to Beth-maacah, and all the Berites, and they were gathered together, and went also after him (2 Samuel 20:13-14).

e ‘And they came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah, and they cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart, and all the people who were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down (2 Samuel 20:15).

f Then a wise woman cried out of the city, “Listen, listen. Say, I pray you, to Joab, “Come near here, that I may speak with you” (2 Samuel 20:16).

g And he came near to her, and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” And he answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your handmaid.” And he answered, “I’m listening” (2 Samuel 20:17).

f Then she spoke, saying, “It was their custom to speak in old time, saying, “They shall surely ask counsel at Abel,” and so they ended the matter’ (2 Samuel 20:18).

e “I am of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. Do you seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel? Why will you swallow up the inheritance of YHWH?” (2 Samuel 20:19).

d ‘And Joab answered and said, “Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy. The matter is not so. But a man of the hill-country of Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, has lifted up his hand against the king, even against David. Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head will be thrown to you over the wall” (2 Samuel 20:20-21).

c 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 (2 Samuel 20:22 a).

b And he blew the ram’s horn, and they were dispersed from the city, every man to his tent (2 Samuel 20:22 b).

a And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king. And Joab was over all the host of Israel, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and over the Pelethites, and Adoram was over the men subject to taskwork, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder, and Sheva was scribe, and Zadok and Abiathar were priests, and also Ira the Jairite was chief minister unto David. (2 Samuel 20:22-26).

Note that in ‘a’ Joab and Abishai set out (from Jerusalem) in pursuit of Sheba, and in the parallel Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king and became commander-in-chief over the whole of the armies of Israel, with all authority restored. In ‘b’ the man called for a loyal following of Joab, and in the parallel, having loyally followed him, Joab’s men returned home. In ‘c’ the traitor Amasa’s body lay wallowing in its blood, and in the parallel the bloody head of the traitor Sheba was thrown over the wall. In ‘d’ Sheba’s rebellion is described, and in the parallel Joab described Sheba’s rebellion to the wise woman. In ‘e’ the besiegers attempted to destroy the city, and in the parallel they were asked why they were attempting to destroy the city. In ‘f’ a ‘wise’ woman cried out from the city to Joab, and in the parallel she stressed that Abel was ‘the city of the wise’. Centrally in ‘g’ she managed to obtain the ear of Joab, something which was central to the successful conclusion of the siege.

2 Samuel 20:10 b (e-Sword Note: For commentary on 20:10a, see the comments on 2 Samuel 20:9)

‘And Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri.’

Any controversy with Amasa having been swiftly cut short, Joab and Abishai then urgently pursued after Sheba.

2 Samuel 20:11

‘And there stood by him (Amasa) one of Joab’s young men, and said, “He who favours Joab, and he who is for David, let him follow Joab.” ’

Meanwhile one of Joab’s young men stood by the body of Amasa hoping to prevent it from delaying the pursuit. And as he stood there he called on the pursuers to consider their loyalty to Joab and David. Let them not be delayed by the custom of paying respects to a fallen hero (compare 2 Samuel 2:23). It would appear that when a recognised ‘hero’ had fallen during a pursuit, it was the custom for all who passed his body to stop and pay respects in a way that apparently caused considerable delay, probably involving some ritual. Part of the reason (but not the whole) may well have been in order to protect the body of the fallen ‘hero’ from scavenging birds and animals. The young man was afraid that in doing so, the men in question might cause an unacceptable delay.

Alternately it may be that he was speaking to the men of Judah who had come with Amasa who would naturally stop when they saw their leader lying dead in the highway, but in view of 2 Samuel 2:23 it appears that there was more to it than that.

2 Samuel 20:12

‘And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a robe over him, when he saw that every one who came by him stood still.’

His efforts were, however, in vain, for as Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the midst of the highway all the people who passed stood still. Accordingly, recognising that he had no alternative if there was to be no delay in the pursuit, the young man lifted up the body of Amasa and carried it into the neighbouring field and covered it with a robe, precisely because all who came by stood still.

2 Samuel 20:13-14

‘When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri. And he went through all the tribes of Israel to Abel, and to Beth-maacah, and all the Berites, and they were gathered together, and went also after him (2 Samuel 20:13-14).’

Once the body was removed from the highway there was no further delay, and all who passed that way continued on without hesitating, in order to pursue after Sheba. Sheba meanwhile went through ‘all the tribes of Israel’ mustering all who would follow him, from Abel, and from Beth-maacah (the region around Abel) and from ‘all the Berites’, and a goodly number followed him. ‘All’ regularly means ‘a portion of’ as it clearly does in this case, for his appeal appears to have been limited to three places, and in the end all who did follow him seemingly fitted within the walls of a city that was certainly not one of the largest in Israel.

“Abel and Beth-maacah.” The names appear in the name Abel-beth-hammaacah ("the meadow of the house of Maacah") in 1 Kings 15:20 and in 2 Kings 15:29. Here in 2 Samuel 20:14 we have Beth-maacah and in 2 Samuel 20:15 (in the Hebrew) it is Abel-beth-hammaacah (Maacah having the article ‘ha’ before it). ‘Beth-maacah was clearly a region far to the north which contained the city of Abel. In 2 Kings 15:9 Abel-beth-maacah is mentioned, along with Ijon and other places, as a city in Naphtali captured by Tiglathpileser, king of Assyria. This taking of the city also appeared in the records of Tiglath-pileser. In 1 Kings it is mentioned along with Ijon and Dan and "all the land of Naphtali" as being smitten by Benhadad of Damascus in the time of Baasha. In the account in 2 Chronicles 16:4, parallel to the one in 1 Kings 15, the cities mentioned are Ijon, Dan, and Abel-maim. Abel-maim may either be another name for Abel-beth-maacah, or the name of another similar place in the same vicinity. Abel is also mentioned in Egyptian records. There is therefore no doubting it to be historical. The prevailing identification of Abel-beth-maacah is with Abil, a city a few miles West of Dan, which is on a height overlooking the Jordan near its sources. The adjacent region is rich agriculturally, and the scenery and the water supply are especially fine. Abel-maim, "meadow of water," would thus not be an inapt designation for it. The Berites are otherwise unknown.

2 Samuel 20:15

‘And they came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah, and they cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart, and all the people who were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down.’

On learning of the approach of Joab and Abishai, Sheba and his forces took refuge in the city of Abel in Beth-maacah. The inhabitants, while possibly sympathetic, would probably have had little choice in the matter, especially once Sheba’s forces had been allowed to enter the city as ‘locals’. And once David’s men had arrived they therefore set about trying to reduce the city by casting up a mound which enabled them to batter the walls. This was possibly necessary because the city stood on its own mound. Any appeal to surrender would have been addressed to those defending the gates, and those would have been Sheba’s men who were unlikely to surrender.

2 Samuel 20:16

‘Then a wise woman cried out of the city, “Listen, listen. Say, I pray you, to Joab, “Come near here, that I may speak with you.”

But there were others in the city who were not quite so pleased at what was going on. So a wise woman came to the wall of the city (away from the gate) and called down to the invaders to bring Joab to speak to her. (The wall would not have been very high). Note her repetition of ‘listen, listen’, and compare Joab’s later ‘far be it, far be it from me’ in verse 20. Wise women (women especially recognised for their wisdom) clearly had great influence in Israel.

2 Samuel 20:17

‘And he came near to her, and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” And he answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your handmaid.” And he answered, “I’m listening”.’

When Joab came to speak with her in respect of her call, the woman then checked that it was really him and that he was really paying attention to her, and in reply Joab confirmed that it was he and declared, ‘I’m listening’. The continual stress on this is clearly intended to fix our concentration on the words that follow.

2 Samuel 20:18

‘Then she spoke, saying, “It was their custom to speak in old time, saying, ‘They shall surely ask at Abel,’ and so they ended (the matter)”.’

The wise woman’s first emphasis was on the fact that by reputation Abel was a city renowned for its wisdom. In the past if anyone was seeking advice they would be told, ‘Ask at Abel,’ for there they could be certain they would find a wise man or wise woman who could solve their problem or dispute. And we already know that she was a wise woman. We are thus intended to recognise that whatever decision Abel comes to (which will be support for the Anointed of YHWH) will be a revelation of that wisdom.

2 Samuel 20:19

“I am of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. Do you seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel? Why will you swallow up the inheritance of YHWH?”

She then emphasised that she herself was not involved in any attempt at secession or rebellion. She was one of those who were peaceable and faithful in Israel, as were most in her city, for she was one among many. She wanted peace not war, and was loyal to the king. Thus Joab should ask himself whether it really was his desire to destroy such a city (i.e. the inhabitants of such a city), when it was like a mother in Israel, and was part of the inheritance of YHWH.

Alternatively some would see the ‘mother in Israel’ as referring to the wise woman. The description of Israel as the inheritance of YHWH could signify the people (Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 32:9) or the land and its cities (Deuteronomy 20:16; Deuteronomy 21:23; Deuteronomy 25:19; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 26:19). But what Joab was to be aware of was that he was swallowing up what was YHWH’s. And as we shall now see, the emotional picture conjured up by the words ‘swallow up the inheritance of YHWH’ clearly spoke to Joab’s heart.

2 Samuel 20:20-21

‘And Joab answered and said, “Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy. The matter is not so. But a man of the hill-country of Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, has lifted up his hand against the king, even against David. Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head will be thrown to you over the wall”.’

The repetition of ‘far be it, far be it’ brings out that Joab was moved by her words as he cried, ‘Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow or destroy --.’ And he insisted that it was not so. What did, however, concern him was that the city contained within it a man who had lifted up his hand against the king, even against David, a man whose name was Sheba the son of Bichri. Let him be delivered up to Joab and he would immediately withdraw his troops. It is a testimony to Joab’s reputation for honouring his word that he was immediately believed. He was a man in whom there was much good, a loyal servant to David, and if he was occasionally too quick to shed blood, he was also a man who knew how to refrain from shedding blood under other circumstances. We must remember in this regard how little time he had spent in princes’ palaces, and how much time he had been involved in the theatre of war, a place where to kill was often the only solution to a problem. Thus it is not surprising that he often sought bloody solutions.

The woman thought over what Joab was saying, and then promised him, ‘Behold his head will be thrown to you over the wall.’ Sheba had clearly not made too great an impression on at least one inhabitant of Abel.

2 Samuel 20:22 a

‘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.’

Then the woman went away to discuss the matter with the elders of the city, and through them with the people, advising them through her wisdom. And the result was that they banded together and, in spite no doubt of the resistance of some of his men, cut off Sheba’s head and threw it over the wall as the wise woman had promised. It is clear from this that Sheba’s actual support in the city was not all that great. They had probably only opened the gate to him because many of their fellow-countrymen had gathered to him, and they had felt it only loyal to do so. But few felt that they owed him enough support to interfere. The planned secession had seemingly been a bit of a damp squib.

Note the continued emphasis on the woman’s wisdom. What the city folk did was to be seen as wise, because it came from a wise source.

2 Samuel 20:22 b

‘And he blew the ram’s horn, and they were dispersed from the city, every man to his tent, and Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.’

As good as his word, once he had verified that the head was Sheba’s, Joab then blew the ram’s horn and mustered his troops and they returned to their own homes, whilst Joab returned to Jerusalem to report to the king, and to continue to serve him loyally. Here at least was one man who always kept the king in touch and submitted his report on time. But what he had done to Amasa, whilst it could be partially justified as necessary in an atmosphere of war, was not forgotten by David. One day he would be called to account.

2 Samuel 20:23-26

And Joab was over all the host of Israel, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and over the Pelethites, and Adoram was over the men subject to taskwork, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder, and Sheva was scribe, and Zadok and Abiathar were priests, and also Ira the Jairite was priest (chief minister) to David.’

The section closes with an indication that after the rebellion were quashed the land was once again at peace, and all was quiet. Joab was restored as commander-in-chief of ‘all the host of Israel, Benaiah was still over the royal bodyguard, Adoram was set over those who were subject to taskwork, probably mainly non-Israelites, part of whose responsibility would be the building of the royal palace and the strengthening of the fortifications in Jerusalem and other major cities, Jehoshaphat was still the recorder, and he would among other things be keeping the records of the events of David’s reign, Sheva was the Scribe, replacing Seraiah, who had possibly died, Zadok and Abiathar continued as Priests (High Priests), and Ira was David’s priest in the place of David’s son.

We can compare the list in 2 Samuel 8:15-18. Joab, Benaiah, Jehoshaphat, Zadok and Abiathar have retained, or have, at least in Joab’s case, been restored to, their positions, Sheva has replaced Seraiah as Scribe, possibly because Seraiah has since died, David’s sons are no longer mentioned as priests, possibly because those still alive were not yet of age, while those who would have been of age have died. They are therefore replaced by Ira the Jairite of whom nothing further is known. Adoram being appointed as task-master is an indication of the increasing sophistication and growing wealth of the kingdom.

Adoram is called Adoniram in 1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 5:14, where he is overseer over the tributary service in the time of Solomon. He is called Adoram in 1 Kings 12:18 and Hadoram in 2 Chronicles 10:18. These are both merely contracted forms of Adoniram. The same man appears to have filled a similar office under three kings, David, Solomon and Rehoboam, but we must bear in mind that he did not enter into office until the close of David's reign, (he is not mentioned in 2 Samuel 8:16) and that his name only occurs in connection with event taking place on Rehoboam's ascent of the throne, so that he need not have filled the office for any length of time under the latter. For the idea of tributary labourers compare 1 Kings 5:13.

The section thus ends on a note of optimism with normality restored and the future seen as fully under control.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 20:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-20.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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