At the conclusion of chapter 19, hot words were exchanged between the men of Israel and the men of Judah—with the men of Judah being the harsher of the two. This created an opportunity for a demagogue to arise, and history shows us that such opportunities are seldom neglected.
“And there happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel . . .” (2 Sam. 20:1).
Summary of the Text
For most of this chapter, this account is structured in a chiasm:
A. Tents and trumpets (2 Sam. 20: 1-2);
B. David orders the rebellion be dealt with (2 Sam. 20: 3-7);
C. Joab takes out Amasa (2 Sam. 20: 8-13);
B’ Joab deals with the rebellion (2 Sam. 20:14-22a);
A’ Tents and trumpets (2 Sam. 20:22b).
A worthless man named Sheba reverses the claims of Israel, moving from “ten parts” in the king to “no part” in the king (v. 1), and this son of Belial initially got quite a following (v. 2). David returned to Jerusalem, and that return is simply marked in the pathetic story about the concubines (v. 3). David then told Amasa to muster the troops within three days in order to go after Sheba (v. 4), which Amasa failed to do (v. 5). Remember that Amasa had been Absalom’s commander, and David would have to have been none too sure about him. So David commanded Abishai to pursue Sheba (v. 6). But in the next breath we see the pursuit is taken up byJoab’s men (v. 7), along with David’s personal bodyguard. When they got to Gibeon, they met Amasa (v. 8). Joab had arranged for his sword to be loose and available in an unusual place. He greeted Amasa treacherously (v. 9), and then struck him in the fifth rib (v. 10). He didn’t have to strike him twice, and Amasa died in a welter of blood. One of Joab’s men then rallied the troops in the name of Joab and David, with Joab’s name tellingly first (v. 11). But the body of Amasa was hindering the pursuit (v. 12), and so he was pulled out of the road and covered up (v. 13).
By the time Sheba got to the fortified city of Abel in the far north, he didn’t have nearly the following he had at the beginning (v. 14). It becomes apparent by this point that he was not the real threat. Joab and his army besieged the city (v. 15), and a wise woman of the city cried out to Joab (v. 16)—in poetry. She confirmed his identity (v. 17), and then spoke to him about what he was doing. She told him that Abel was known as a city of wisdom, not a city of rebellion (vv. 18-19). Why would you destroy such a city? Joab denied the accusation (v. 20). The problem here was Sheba, he said (v. 21). The wise woman was clearly one with authority, and she promised that the rebel head would be thrown over the wall immediately. She then went and had it arranged (v. 22). Good to his word, Joab blew a trumpet, and every man returned to his tent (v. 22).
In the new consolidation, the roster of authorities is then given, and Joab is at the head of the list (v. 23). Benaiah was commander of the bodyguard (v. 23). Adoram was in charge of the corvée, or forced labor (v. 24), with Jehoshaphat as the recorder (v. 24). Sheva was scribe (v. 25), and Zadok and Abiathar continued as priests in the public worship (v. 25). A man named Ira apparently replaced David’s sons as a private priest, as a private chaplain of sorts (v. 26).
The Blood of Gibeon
Joab killed Amasa at Gibeon by stabbing him in the belly. Gibeon was the same place where civil war had broken out originally, when there had been a choreographed combat between 12 champions from both sides (2 Sam. 2). As you recall, all 24 had died the same way—and in the same way that Amasa dies here. Joab kills Amasa by a similar method to the one he had used on Abner (2 Sam. 3:27).
As this history unfolds, we see how Joab—a highly skilled and competent man—placed his foundational allegiance. Joab was, at the end of the day, a true blue Joabite. And the structure of the narrative shows us that Joab, although he dispatched the threat posed by Sheba, was in fact himself the threat posed by Sheba. Joab succeeded in hamstringing the king, and there wasn’t a thing in the world that David could do about it. In fact, this amounts to an almost coup. This is why David leaves the problem of Joab to his son, Solomon.
The Wise Woman and the Head Wound
One of the great redemptive themes of Scripture is given to us in the first pages of the Bible. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his
heel” (Gen. 3:15). We are given a number of glimpses of this throughout Scripture. A woman throws a millstone from a tower, and it crushes Abimelech’s head (Judg. 9:53). Jael, the wife of Heber, nails Sisera’s head to the ground with a tent peg (Judg. 4:21). Esther arranges to have Haman hanged by the neck until dead (Esther 7:1). We have this incident, where a wise woman arranges to have the head of a son of Belial thrown over the wall—yet another deliverance via yet another woman who administers a head wound. When a wise woman kills a foolish man, you can expect it to be a head wound. And never forget that godly women aresly.
In the New Testament, we have the same promise discussed in terms of its ultimate fulfillment. We, the congregation of Christ, are the bride of Christ, and we are that wise woman. “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen” (Rom. 16:20). This is a head wound, and it is administered by the bride of Christ, by the woman of faith.