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2 Samuel 20:1-22 – Sheba Rebels


Civil war again breaks out between Israel and Judah, this time under Sheba's rebellion. David's quick response preserves the unity of the nation. As before, Joab, not David, is blamed for the bloodshed.


David's problems are not over. Absalom's rebellion was symptomatic of unrest throughout the realm as Sheba's revolt shows. The flow of the narrative is set forth in the first two verses where it is stated that Judah remained loyal to David when Sheba, an opportunistic Benjaminite, persuaded the northern Israelite tribes to abandon the king. Verses 4-22 describe Judah's loyalty and the quelling of Israel's revolt in reverse order:

A Trumpet blow (v. 1)
B Israel rebels against David (v. 2a)
C Judah remains loyal (v. 2b)
X David's concubines (v. 3)
C′ Judah's loyalty (vv. 4-13)
B′ Israel's rebellion stopped (vv. 14-22a)
A′ Trumpet blow (v. 22b)

Serving as a hinge in the center of the passage is the obscure notice of David's concubines (v. 3). Actually, this little slice of life symbolizes much of importance. The ten concubines were the women David had left in Jerusalem when he fled before Absalom (2 Samuel 15:16). Absalom's rape of these women (2 Samuel 16:20-23) was a claim to be king, as well as a fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy (2 Samuel 12:12). David's provision for these women in a guarded house testifies to his compassion. His refusal to have sexual relations with them, however, was a political statement: the kingdom needed to be reestablished.

Lodged within this simple structure is the provocative tale of the "wise woman" who negotiates peace amid overpowering military might and delivers her city. The peace is won at the expense of Sheba, whom the townspeople kill in accordance with the negotiations worked out by Joab and the wise woman (vv. 16-21). The parallels between this "wise woman" story and the wise woman of Tekoa (14:1-20) suggest that they form a frame around Absalom's rebellion (chapters 15-19).

2 Samuel 20:1-22

The Rebellion of Sheba

20Now a scoundrel named Sheba son of Bichri, a Benjaminite, 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.

David 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.

Then 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.’ 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. 11And one of Joab’s men took his stand by Amasa, and said, ‘Whoever favours 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.

14 Sheba* 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.

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