In this chapter, and the previous four chapters, we see that David’s troubles and the trouble for his household are continued to be lived out as Nathan the prophet told him earlier, 2 Samuel 12:10.
Sheba Rebels Against David
‘Now a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bikri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted, ‘We have no share in David, no part in Jesse’s son! Every man to his tent, Israel!’ So all the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba son of Bikri. But the men of Judah stayed by their king all the way from the Jordan to Jerusalem. When David returned to his palace in Jerusalem, he took the ten concubines he had left to take care of the palace and put them in a house under guard. He provided for them but had no sexual relations with them. They were kept in confinement till the day of their death, living as widows. Then the king said to Amasa, ‘Summon the men of Judah to come to me within three days and be here yourself.’ 2 Samuel 20:1-4
Not long after the death and fall of Absalom and his men, 2 Samuel 18:9-15, another rebellion begins to rise against David and his household. This rebellion is led by Sheba and it’s possible he was trying to take advantage of the complaints the northern tribes made, 2 Samuel 19:40-43.
He openly declared that the Benjamites have no share in David, Jesse’s son. The good news for David is that his cry for war wasn’t going to last very long, 1 Kings 12:16. He appears to have gathered a large number of men behind him, which tells us the men of Judah didn’t really appease the complaints against the northern tribes, 2 Samuel 19:40-43.
Notice that David returned to Jerusalem and provided for his concubines all the days of their lives, but he didn’t have any kind of sexual relations with them. This is because they had become defiled after Absalom had openly slept with them, 2 Samuel 16:22.
Amasa was a nephew of David, the son of David’s sister Abigail, and his father was an Ishmaelite, 1 Chronicles 2:13-17. He was the former rebel commander of Absalom’s army, 2 Samuel 17:25.
‘But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him. David said to Abishai, ‘Now Sheba son of Bikri will do us more harm than Absalom did. Take your master’s men and pursue him, or he will find fortified cities and escape from us.’ So Joab’s men and the Kerethites and Pelethites and all the mighty warriors went out under the command of Abishai. They marched out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba son of Bikri.’ 2 Samuel 20:5-7
For some reason Amasa had been delayed, this is possibly because he knew Sheba and wanted to give him time to escape or gather an army to fight against those who were loyal to David.
There are other possibilities for his delay, maybe he didn’t think it was necessary to hurry up, maybe he didn’t know how to summon the troops quickly, or maybe the men of Judah had lost confidence in him.
Whatever the reason, David was still reluctant to place Joab in command, and so he summoned Abishai, who quickly gathered an army and sent him after Sheba.
‘While they were at the great rock in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Joab was wearing his military tunic and strapped over it at his waist was a belt with a dagger in its sheath. As he stepped forward, it dropped out of its sheath. Joab said to Amasa, ‘How are you, my brother?’ Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly, and his intestines spilled out on the ground. Without being stabbed again, Amasa died. Then Joab and his brother Abishai pursued Sheba son of Bikri. One of Joab’s men stood beside Amasa and said, ‘Whoever favours Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab!’ Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the middle of the road, and the man saw that all the troops came to a halt there. When he realized that everyone who came up to Amasa stopped, he dragged him from the road into a field and threw a garment over him. After Amasa had been removed from the road, everyone went on with Joab to pursue Sheba son of Bikri.’ 2 Samuel 20:8-13
Because Joab had been relegated when Amasa was appointed as the commander of David’s army, Joab appears to have an opportunity to get rid of Amasa. Joab pretends to be Amasa’s friend and so whilst he’s on his way to meet those who were rebelling, he murders Amasa in the middle of the road, 2 Samuel 3:27.
However, by doing so, Amasa’s dead body lying in the middle of the road became an obstacle for the soldiers who were chasing Sheba. As soon as Amasa’s body is removed from the road, everyone then followed the command of Joab.
‘Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel Beth Maakah and through the entire region of the Bikrites, who gathered together and followed him. All the troops with Joab came and besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maakah. They built a siege ramp up to the city, and it stood against the outer fortifications. While they were battering the wall to bring it down, a wise woman called from the city, ‘Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.’ He went toward her, and she asked, ‘Are you Joab?’ ‘I am,’ he answered. She said, ‘Listen to what your servant has to say.’ ‘I’m listening,’ he said. She continued, ‘Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up the LORD’s inheritance?’ ‘Far be it from me!’ Joab replied, ‘Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! That is not the case. A man named Sheba son of Bikri, from the hill country of Ephraim, has lifted up his hand against the king, against David. Hand over this one man, and I’ll withdraw from the city.’ The woman said to Joab, ‘His head will be thrown to you from the wall.’ Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bikri and threw it to Joab. So he sounded the trumpet, and his men dispersed from the city, each returning to his home. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem.’ 2 Samuel 20:14-22
Sheba passed through Beth Maakah, which was a fortified city, near Dan in the land of the Naphtali, in the north of Palestine. It appears that Sheba is running as far north as mobile and as far away as he can from Joab and his army. He appears to be heading towards his father, Bichri who was the father of Sheba, 2 Samuel 20:1.
When Joab’s men reached the city, a wise woman came forward to negotiate terms of peace but there was only one thing which would meet the requirements of Joab and that was the head of Sheba. It was left to the men of Beth Maakah to cut off Sheba’s head and throw it over the wall to Joab.
‘Joab was over Israel’s entire army; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; Adoniram was in charge of forced labour; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; Sheva was secretary; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira the Jairite was David’s priest.’ 2 Samuel 20:23-26
Here we have a list of David’s key people who were in government, 2 Samuel 8:16-18 / 1 Chronicles 18:14-17. It’s with this list that the writer closes the history of David’s reign. The remaining four chapters of 2 Samuel form a kind of appendix.
This list belongs to a later period in David’s reign because David’s use of forced labour didn’t take place in the first part of his reign but the latter part of it.
This use of forced labour by David was adopted by his son Solomon and greatly developed by him, sadly, it would be because of this forced labour that later would cause another rebellion against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam.
Although Joab was loyal to David and a great military commander of his men, 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 kill Joab, 1 Kings 2:5-6.
Go To 2 Samuel 21