David was once a holy man, utterly committed to God’s ways and God’s Word, and when he became king his kingdom was righteous and secure. But it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen that hasn’t it? Sadly, over these past months walking through the concluding chapters of 2 Samuel I speak for many when I say we’ve almost grown used to seeing a holy people walk in unholy ways. As if we’re in the middle of a kind of Groundhog Day time loop, except this one is far worse because there is no radio waking us up with Sunny and Cher’s I Got You Babe. It really might seem these chapters are just more of the same, causing us as readers to be bored, creating in us a desire to escape to something altogether different. But wait, if the weatherman Phil Connors can find meaning and purpose in the repetition of small town Punxsutawney, can’t we find meaning and purpose in the seeming repetition of these chapters in God’s Word? Indeed we can.

While it might seem to be more of the same, this chapter reveals to us the great instability and weakness of David’s kingdom. Which stirs within us a longing for a greater kingdom, for a greater King, ultimately pointing us far ahead to the stability and strength of Christ and His Kingdom.

Turn there with me now, to 2 Samuel 20, where we see first…

Another Rebellion (v1-2)

If you remember, as chapter 19 ended there was a heated debate between those in the North (referred to as ‘Israel’) and those in the South (referred to as ‘Judah’). The debate surrounded who would support David as king and come back into Jerusalem with him. Those from Judah boasted of their family ties to David, while those in the North boasted that they had backed David first and were vastly larger than Judah. Things escalate and 19:43 tells us Judah’s words were fiercer than the words of Israel. You’d think David would be in a safe position if two groups are arguing over who is more committed to him, right?[1] Wrong. It doesn’t even skip a beat as chapter 20 begins. Look at v1-2, “Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.”

After years of dealing with the rebellion of Absalom David can’t even get a breath before another rebellion begins. The fight between the North and the South opened a door for a man named Sheba. We don’t need to wonder about what kind of man Sheba is because we’re told in v1-2 that he is a ‘worthless man’ who is from the tribe of Benjamin. Any other Benjamites come to mind who gave David trouble? Saul comes to mind most prominently, and Shimei comes to mind most recently. Once again notice its Saul’s house at odds with and making things difficult for David. Worthless Sheba blows a trumpet and makes a pronouncement, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!”[2] But wait, didn’t we just hear in 19:43 that Israel in the North had ten tribes in David? Is Sheba contradicting that? No, the North is made up of ten tribes that have been in David. What Sheba does here is make a defiant statement saying he no longer wants any share in David. Absalom’s rebellion had taken years to build, to plan, and to execute while Sheba seems to seize an opportune moment when a new rebellion could grow quickly and easily.[3] His pronouncement proves his worthlessness, because he’s not only disobeying the authority God has put over him in David, he’s defying God by rebelling against David. Well what happens? In v2 all Israel followed after Sheba, only Judah stayed with David and went along with him from the Jordan back into Jerusalem.

How dreadful is it to see the clouds immediately return after the rain as a new trouble rises out of the ashes of the former? But should we think it a strange thing, for David, if the end of one trial is merely the beginning of another?[4] No, I don’t think so. Because Nathan told David back in 12:10 that the sword would never depart his house because of what he did. And as it isn’t strange for David, we could also say, this isn’t strange for Jesus. He experienced this to a far severer degree. Not for sins of His own but for those whom He came to save, He endured much evil. Surrounded by ‘Hosanna!’ one day and ‘Crucify!’ the next. And I don’t think we should consider it a strange thing for the same pattern to be true of us either. Jesus told us that we’d experience trouble in this world, so we should expect it, but thankfully He also told us that in Him there is great assurance because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). From all this many have rightly said every one of us is either coming out of a trial, are in the midst of a trial, or coming into a trial.

So here we see the instability of David and his kingdom points our eyes ahead to the stability of Christ and His Kingdom. Before we see more about what this new rebellion leads to, next we see…

Another Tragedy (v3)

“And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.”

As David comes back into the city, he now for the first time since he left sees the group he put in charge of the house, his concubines. And we’re taken back to the horrendous scene in chapter 16 when Absalom laid with them in full sight of everyone up on the roof. As we read v3 how David makes arrangements for them we feel something irreversibly sad.[5]We never hear from any of them in this verse, we only read what David did for them. They had watched over his house and now he puts them in another house and places a guard there to watch over them, taking care of all their needs for the rest of their lives as if they were widows. David was likely not doing this to imprison them, but to care for them, distance himself from them, and turn away from wicked practices he previously indulged in.[6] But I think this is a tragic scene. Usually a concubine became a concubine because of the wishes of others. Some parents gave their daughters up to be concubines, for money or for other constraints. Some young girls were stolen and became slaves, while others became concubines because they could not refuse the desires of a king. So, for no fault of their own these ten women join Tamar in the wake and wreckage and misery that is the fallout of sin in David’s kingdom. Sure David is back in the city, and sure David is king once again but sin and misery follows him like a dark shadow which he (and others) can’t escape.

Some of you hearing this know too well what kind of pain comes from the sins of others. For no choice of your own, some of you have suffered greatly from someone else’s choices. This kind of wreckage isn’t tied to David’s time alone, but is present in all times, and this ought to grieve us. In some cases justice can truly come and we should work toward that, but in some cases (like this one here) it won’t come in this life. In this we remember: David was not a king who could make sad things untrue, but his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ is. And He has promised to bind up the brokenhearted and wipe away all our tears.[7] Not vaguely but in reality. Revealing to us the greatness of the Father’s love by embracing the fullness of the Father’s justice on the cross, bringing peace to sinners. Peace with God and the peace of God to all who believe.

So, for the second time we see the instability of David and his kingdom pointing our eyes ahead to the stability of Christ and His Kingdom.

Another Conflict (v4-13)

“Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him. And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us.” And there went out after him Joab’s men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men. They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it fell out. 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 did not observe the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died. Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab’s young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him. When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri.”

Remember Sheba is the one rebelling, but as the details of this conflict unfold it is Joab who takes center stage. In v4-5 David orders his new commander Amasa to get the army of Judah together in three days. But for whatever reason, whether the troops were tired of war and didn’t want to come back so soon or whether Amasa simply couldn’t handle such a task, he wasn’t able to meet this deadline. So in v6 David orders Abishai to go after Sheba with another select army. But look in v7, who goes out to war? Not Abishai’s men but Joab’s men go out. Something doesn’t sit right in this. It might look alright on the surface, you know, like a Taco Bell burrito, but we know it won’t end well. In spite of David’s desires and directions, Joab is seemingly still the leading man. So out they go and on their way to deal with Sheba they stop in Gibeon to meet with Amasa. It seems he now has been able to muster an army. But was this to be a joining of forces? Was it a chance meeting? Did David know of this? The text isn’t concerned with answering such questions, rather it’s concerned to tell us how Joab murdered Amasa.[8]

There it is in v8-10. Joab was subtle in v8, dressed for war but intentionally carrying an unsecured sword on his belt, so that when he greeted Amasa it fell out. Joab was treacherous in v9, faking camaraderie with Amasa by embracing him as a friend. Joab was unabashed in v10, tricking Amasa publicly with his loose sword trick in front of all his troops. He thought Joab was picking his sword back up but he wasn’t. Joab was quick in v10, striking Amasa only once in the gut spilling out his innards for all to see. In all of this Joab was defiant, because once again another person seemed to be a rival to his own power and his own agenda. It was Abner back in chapter 3, it was Absalom back in chapter 18, now it’s Amasa in chapter 20. The troops seem to rally around Joab and Abishai, and after they moved Amasa’s body out of the way so it wouldn’t distract anyone else, they pursue Sheba.

Joab doesn’t receive a clear worthless verdict like Sheba does in v1-2, but I don’t see how we can arrive at another conclusion. He isn’t a mystery, he’s very much like many today within the Church. He verbally acknowledged David’s rule, but time and time again, he eagerly disregarded David’s will.[9] Do not be deceived, Joab’s may exist in David’s kingdom, they may run rampant in Christ’s Church, but in the end, they’ll be outed as what they truly are when Christ’s Kingdom comes in full.

So, for the third time we see the instability of David and his kingdom pointing our eyes ahead to the stability of Christ and His Kingdom.

Another Wise Woman (v14-22)

“And Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth-maacah, and all the Bichrites assembled and followed him in. And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah. They cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart, and they were battering the wall to throw it down. Then a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.’” And he came near her, and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” He answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your servant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” Then she said, “They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter. I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the LORD?” Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David. Give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” 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. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.”

We return to Sheba in v14 and find that he was only joined in his rebellion by his fellow Bichrites even though he went a great distance north to the city of Abel trying to gain support. In v15 Joab and the army get to Abel and began attacking it, by building a mound that stood against the outer walls of the city from which they could try and break through. In the midst of their attack, in v16, a female voice stops them calling out for a one on one meeting with Joab. He meets her in v17 and they begin talking in v18. She lets him know of the legendary wisdom of the city of Abel, that she is a prominent part of that, and challenges him to not cut off or swallow up a city that functions as a ‘mother in Israel.’ Joab, in v20, backs off right away and lets her know they’re only after Sheba. And once again a wise woman saves people from unnecessary violence.[10] Abigail did this long ago, a wise woman from Tekoa did it more recently, now it’s a wise woman from Abel who in wisdom knew one man could save the city from destruction and bring peace, so over the walls his head flew in v22.

This reminds of Caiaphas’ words in John 11:50, who said it’s better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish. Sheba didn’t intend it, but he ended up saving the city of Abel with his death. Little did Caiaphas know how his words about Jesus pointed to how Jesus would willingly give His life to ransom a people with His blood for God from every tribe, language, people, and nation in order to make of them a Kingdom.[11]

But notice how v22 ends. Sheba’s rebellion began with a trumpet blast and it finishes when Joab sounds another trumpet blast. After this Joab “…returned to Jerusalem to the king.” There is no mention of any repercussions coming to him for killing Amasa defiantly against David’s orders. This seems to leave us with the taste that Joab is the unassailable commander while David is the powerless king.[12] Again, this is something that shouldn’t happen. Authority is given by God for the benefit of God’s people, yet here it’s shirked. David wasn’t willing, it seems, to say the hard thing to Joab. Yet we get it. The same kind of thing happens in far too many churches as the elders aren’t willing to say hard things for the good of the Church or bring discipline where it’s needed. Which, in effect, opens the doors for Joab’s of all kinds to settle in. But praise God all this will end with another trumpet blast and the dawn of the true Kingdom. 

So, for the fourth time we see the instability of David and his kingdom pointing our eyes ahead to the stability of Christ and His Kingdom.

Conclusion: Another List (v23-26)

“Now Joab was in command of all the army of Israel; and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and Adoram was in charge of the forced labor; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder; and Sheva was secretary; and Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira the Jairite was also David’s priest.”

Earlier at the end of 2 Samuel 8 we find a very similar list to the one here that shows us the officials in David’s administration after David had secured the kingdom. Back in chapter 8 it gave us a sense of great stability as David reigned over all Israel. Here in this list though, we get a different sense. Yes David’s kingdom is still intact, and yes David is king, but my oh my is it weak, sinful, corrupt, and fragile. It was a kingdom made to be holy that now it looks a lot more like the worldly kingdoms around it.[13]

So, for the fifth and final time we see the instability of David and his kingdom pointing our eyes ahead to the stability of Christ and His Kingdom.

So I ask again, as you have tracked through this chapter, do you feel like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day? I hope you haven’t. Rather I hope you see that we who have come to Jesus receive a Kingdom that can’t be shaken (Heb. 12:28), a Kingdom that can’t be built by cunning, deceit, or brute force (2 Cor. 4:2), a Kingdom that in which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17).

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), vol. 2, 430.

[2] This same pronouncement is used in 1 Kings 12:16 as God’s people officially split into two different nations.

[3] John L. Mackay and J. Gary Millar, ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2019), 441.

[4] Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 429.

[5] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 252.

[6] John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 472.

[7] Davis, 2 Samuel, 253.

[8] Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 431.

[9] Davis, 2 Samuel, 256.

[10] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 401.

[11] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007), 469.

[12] Mackay and Millar, ESV Expository Commentary, 444.

[13] Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2018), 356.

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