2 Samuel 20 (NRSV)
The Rebellion of Sheba
Now a scoundrel named Sheba son of Bichri, a Benjaminite, (that is, from the same tribe as King Saul) happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and cried out, “We have no portion in David, no share in the son of Jesse! Everyone to your tents, O Israel!”
2So all the people of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba son of Bichri; but the people of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.
Conflict continues — Israel breaks away from David and only Judah (David’s tribe) remains loyal.
3David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to look after 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.
Absalom had raped these ten concubines to show all the land that he was in rebellion against his father. Once David returned, he could not divorce the women, or marry them to someone else, or punish them, for they were innocent victims of Absalom’s (and David’s) sins. But neither could he be intimate with them again, since they were effectively defiled. Yet again we see the innocent suffering on account of the guilty.
4Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” 5So Amasa went to summon Judah; but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him.
6David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom; take your lord’s servants and pursue him, or he will find fortified cities for himself, and escape from us.”
David knows there is no time to waste. Amasa did not do what was needed in a timely manner, so David appointed Abashai to pick it up. Perhaps David did not choose Joab because of the fact that Joab had killed Absalom. And there is another fly in this ointment: Joab and Abashai were brothers.
7Joab’s men went out after him, along with the Cherethites, the Pelethites, and all the warriors; they went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba son of Bichri.
8When they were at the large 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 at his waist; as he went forward it fell out.
9Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. 10But Amasa did not notice the sword in Joab’s hand; Joab struck him in the belly so that his entrails poured out on the ground, and he died. He did not strike a second blow. Then Joab and his brother Abishai pursued Sheba son of Bichri.
Joab killed Amasa in the same way he killed Abner in chapter 3 — a dagger in the belly. He may have defended his own treacherous behavior by calling it loyalty to David in ridding the king of a rival. But David never forgave Joab for these murders (see 1 Kings 2:5).
11And one of Joab’s men took his stand by Amasa, and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” 12Amasa lay wallowing in his blood on the highway, and the man saw that all the people were stopping. Since he saw that all who came by him were stopping, he carried Amasa from the highway into a field, and threw a garment over him. 13Once he was removed from the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba son of Bichri.
14Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth-maacah; and all the Bichrites assembled, and followed him inside. 15Joab’s forces came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah; they threw up a siege-ramp against the city, and it stood against the rampart. Joab’s forces were battering the wall to break it down. 16Then a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, I want to speak to you.’” 17He 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.”
He answered, “I am listening.”
18Then she said, “They used to say in the old days, ‘Let them inquire at Abel’; and so they would settle a matter. 19I 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?”
20Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! 21That is not the case! But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David; give him up alone, and I will withdraw from the city.”
The woman said to Joab, “His head shall be thrown over the wall to you.”
22Then the woman went to all the people with her wise plan. And they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, and all went to their homes, while Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.
23Now Joab was in command of all the army of Israel; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was in command of the Cherethites and the Pelethites; 24Adoram was in charge of the forced labor; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was the recorder; 25Sheva was secretary; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; 26and Ira the Jairite was also David’s priest.
Even now, as David is approaching the end of his reign of around 40 years, he is dealing with an almost constant stream of discord and conflict and murder. How his soul must have longed for peace! HERE is the “Prayer of St Francis of Assisi” — composed by John Rutter and sung by The Cambridge Singers.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me bring love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.