“Now there happened to be there…” Where is there? In Gilgal (2 Sam. 19:40). It was there that the people of Israel accused the men of Judah of stealing away King David from them, because they brought the king over the Jordan River (2 Sam. 20:41). The men of Israel claimed ten shares in David and the men of Judah claimed that David is a close relative (vv. 41-43a). It was the men of Judah whose words were heavier or harder, ESV says fiercer. So 2 Samuel 20 picks up where we left off last time, “Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite” (v. 1a).
The author doesn’t wait for us to form an opinion about Sheba, but tells us up front that he is a “worthless man” or literally, “a man of Belial.” Remember what Shimei, a Benjaminite, said as David and Co. were leaving Jerusalem when Absalom revolted and rebelled? “And Shimei said as he cursed, ‘Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man!” (2 Sam. 16:7). The irony of it all is that the worthless men that we are meeting in 2 Samuel continue to come from the tribe of Benjamin. But David has dealt, very closely in fact, with “wicked and worthless fellows” before (see 1 Samuel 30:22), while at other times he ultimately allows Yahweh to deal with them (1 Sam. 25, esp. vv. 17, 25; see also 1 Sam. 2:12; 4:11). What does “worthless” mean? Proverbs 6:12 says, “A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech.” The worthless person is equated with the wicked man in this proverb, as they are seen in company with one another in 1 Samuel 30 (see above). How is Sheba such a man?
Sheba blows the trumpet, after the men of Israel said they have ten shares in David, and says, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” (v. 1b). To rebel against Yahweh’s king is to rebel against Yahweh, and this is what Sheba is stating. This rebellion appears different from Absalom’s. Absalom looked to have David killed, Sheba doesn’t seem interested in dethroning David, but establishing a new regime instead. The note about the ten concubines being where it is, helps us see that David came back into Jerusalem, but it wasn’t as celebratory as last time (2 Sam. 6:16-23). But there seems a likely connection between the portions of Israel, ten (2 Sam. 19:43), and the concubines, also ten (2 Sam. 20:3).
David senses the danger so immediately sets his new commander Amasa (2 Sam. 19:13 to gather up Judah to quickly strike Sheba (2 Sam. 20:4-5, remember Ahithophel’s advice to Absalom? 2 Sam. 17:1-3). But Amasa hasn’t returned in the time allotted so Abishai, Joab’s brother, is given charge to take “your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get to fortified cities and escape from us” (v. 6b). The very next verse tells us, “And there went out after him Joab’s men…” (v. 7a). Are they David’s servant or Joab’s? The text has us consider who is Abishai’s lord? David or Joab? The young man who stands by the dead body of Amasa says, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab” (v. 11b). Joab being listed first and last isn’t by mistake.
Amasa joins up with Abishai and Joab comes to Amasa and drops his sword on the ground. They are at “the great stone that is in Gibeon” (v. 8a). Abimelech killed his brothers, sons of Gideon, on a stone before claiming to be king (see Judges 9). Was Joab’s killing of Amasa by the great stone a signal that Joab sought the crown, or at least who would wear the crown (see 1 Kings 1:5-8)? I don’t think Amasa didn’t see the sword (v. 10a), but he wasn’t concerned about it since it was in Joab’s left hand (like the servants of Eglon king of Moab likely checked Ehud’s left side for any weapons, but Ehud was left handed, see Judges 3:15-23). Most fighters were right-handed and thus if the sword was in his right hand, it wouldn’t be good. But it wasn’t good for Amasa anyway, Joab spilled his guts onto the ground in one strike. Joab is commander once again (v. 23).
Sheba, oh yeah that was how the chapter started, made it to a fortified city (vv. 14-15, see v. 6b) called Abel. Good thing the city of Abel had a wise woman in town, because Joab and his men were readying themselves to throw down the wall (v. 15). The last wise woman we read about was from Tekoa (see 2 Sam. 14). This wise woman from Abel points to the history of the city (v. 19) and that she is a peaceable and faithful Israelite, so why is Joab trying to destroy this city? Joab’s words are quite ironic “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy!” (v. 20). Really?! What about Abner, Absalom, & Amasa? Moving on, Joab asks for Sheba to be given over for he has “lifted up his hand against King David” (v. 20). “And the woman said to Joab, ‘Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall’” (v. 21b). She goes to the people in her wisdom and sure enough (see Ecclesiastes 9:13-16), Sheba’s head was cut off (v. 22).
The chapter closes with a focus on David’s administrators. The previous administrator list at the start of David’s reign began with “David reigned over all Israel” (2 Sam. 8:15a), a point absent from the list here in 2 Samuel 20. The fact that there is a second list shows that the kingdom remains standing, despite the battles from within (Joab and Amasa) and the rebels from without (Absalom and Sheba). Yet Joab’s name is mentioned a lot, and mentioned first among administrators too. Has he become the man of the kingdom? We return to the earlier question, who is your Lord? If David’s Descendent, Jesus, then trust and obey Him!