2 Samuel 20:18
Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.
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(18) Ask counsel at Abel.—The simplest and most obvious explanation is here the true one, viz., that Abel had become proverbial for its wisdom. An ancient Jewish interpretation, which has been incorporated into the Targum, is, however, of sufficient interest to be mentioned: “Remember now that which is written in the book of the Law to ask a city concerning peace at the first? Hast thou done so, to ask of Abel if they will make peace?” The reference is to Deuteronomy 20:10, &c.

20:14-22 Justly is that place attacked, which dares to harbour a traitor; nor will the heart fare better which indulges rebellious lusts, that will not have Christ to reign over them. A discreet woman, by her prudent management, satisfied Joab, and yet saved the city. Wisdom is not confined to rank or sex; it consists not in deep knowledge; but in understanding how to act as matters arise, that troubles may be turned away and benefits secured. A great deal of mischief would be prevented, if contending parties would understand one another. Let both sides be undeceived. The single condition of peace is, the surrender of the traitor. It is so in God's dealing with the soul, when besieged by conviction and distress; sin is the traitor; the beloved lust is the rebel: part with that, cast away the transgression, and all shall be well. There is no peace on any other terms.This was an old proverb. Abel, like Teman, and some other places, was once famous for the wisdom of its inhabitants 1 Kings 4:30-31. The wise woman was herself a remnant of this traditional wisdom. 18-20. They were wont to speak in old time—The translation of the Margin gives a better meaning, which is to this effect: When the people saw thee lay siege to Abel, they said, Surely he will ask if we will have peace, for the law (De 20:10) prescribes that he should offer peace to strangers, much more then to Israelitish cities; and if he do this, we shall soon bring things to an amicable agreement, for we are a peaceable people. The answer of Joab brings out the character of that ruthless veteran as a patriot at heart, who, on securing the author of this insurrection, was ready to put a stop to further bloodshed and release the peaceable inhabitants from all molestation. According to this translation the sense is, This city which thou art about to destroy is no mean and contemptible one, but so honourable and considerable for its wisdom, and the wise people in it, that when any differences did arise among any of the neighbours, they used proverbially to say, We will ask the opinion and advice of the men of Abel about it, and we will stand to their arbitration; and so all parties were satisfied, and disputes ended. But there is another translation in the margin, embraced also by some others, which seems to be the best:

They (i. e. the citizens of this city) plainly (or, commonly) spake (among themselves) in the beginning, (to wit, when Sheba and his men first came into the city, and they were informed, that Joab was pursuing him,) saying, Surely they will ask of Abel, and so make an end. They will peaceably expostulate the business with us, and inquire why we received Sheba into our city; and whether we would deliver him up into their hands, and would inform us of the reason of their hostile attempt upon us, and offer to us conditions of peace, which by God’s law, Deu 20:10, they were to do even to strange, and much more to Israelitish cities. So she doth both modestly reprove Joab for the neglect of this duty, and oblige him to the performance of it.

Then she spake, saying, they were wont to speak in old time,.... It was a common saying, a proverbial expression among the ancient sages:

saying, they shall surely ask counsel at Abel, and so they ended the matter. Abel, it seems, had been a city so famous for wise and prudent men, that it was common for the inhabitants of other cities, in the several parts of the kingdom, when any controversy arose among them, to say to one another, since we cannot agree this matter among ourselves, let us go to Abel, and take advice there, and leave it to their arbitration; and so they did, and things were presently brought to an issue, and happily concluded; nay, when the king had a mind to make a decree or law, as R. Isaiah observes, he used to send to Abel to know whether they would submit to it; and if they agreed to it, then he proceeded in it; for other cities followed their example, so famous was this city, and of so great account: now the woman argues from hence, that surely such a renowned city should not hastily be destroyed; but the Targum directs to another sense, and which perhaps is best, and is followed by Jarchi, Kimchi, and others, paraphrasing the words thus,"she spake, saying, I remember now what is written in the book of the law, to ask a city first, saying, (will ye make peace?) so shouldest thou have asked of Abel, will ye make peace, or receive terms of peace?''referring to the law in Deuteronomy 20:10; signifying, if that had been attended to as it ought (for if such methods were to be taken with Heathen cities, much more with a city of Israel, as Abel was), things would soon have been agreed and issued; had Joab upon approaching the city proposed his terms of peace, they would have immediately yielded to them, and so the matter would have ended at once; for they were a peaceable people, as it follows: though Dr. Lightfoot (b) gives another sense of these words, that Sheba and his party when they came to the city,"they at first certainly said thus, that they would ask Abel of its peace (or on whose side it was), and so they made the matter entire, or made a show of their own integrity:''by which this woman assured Joab, that the men of Abel had not invited, nor willingly received Sheba and his rebels into the city, but they had deceived them by fawning and false words, pretending only to inquire about the peace and welfare of their city.

(b) Works, vol. 2. p. 367.

Then she spake, saying, {l} They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.

(l) She shows that the old custom was not to destroy a city before peace was offered, De 20:10,11.

18. They shall surely ask counsel at Abel] Let them by all means inquire of Abel. The phrase is that commonly used for inquiring of God. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 16:23. The city had been proverbial for its wisdom from ancient times; men consulted it as an oracle for the settlement of their disputes; a city of such reputation, loyal moreover and peaceable, ought not, she implies, to be thus attacked. Possibly she means further to hint, that if Joab had consulted the inhabitants, as men were wont to do in olden times, and had negotiated for the surrender of Sheba, the siege might have been avoided. This rendering is certainly preferable to that in the margin: They plainly spake in the beginning, saying, Surely they will ask of Abel, and so make an end: which means that at the beginning of the siege the inhabitants expected Joab to communicate with the city and offer terms, in accordance with the law which prescribed that a city should be summoned to surrender before it was besieged (Deuteronomy 20:10 ff.). An ancient Jewish interpretation however explains the passage to refer to that law, for the Targum renders: “Remember now that which is written in the book of the law, to ask a city concerning peace at the first. Hast thou so done, to ask of Abel if they will make peace?” The Sept. rendering may be noted as curious, but is probably derived from a corrupt text and not to be adopted. “It was asked [conj. let them ask] in Abel and in Dan whether the customs have failed which the faithful of Israel ordained.”

Verse 18. - They were wont to speak, etc. The Hebrew literally is, they used to say in old time, They shall surely ask at Abel; and so they finished (the matter). But of these words two completely distinct interpretations are given. The Jewish Targum records the one: "Remember now that which is written in the book of the Law, to ask a city concerning peace at the first. Hast thou done so, to ask of Abel if they will make peace?" The woman, that is, was referring to the command in Deuteronomy 20:10, not to besiege a city until peace had been offered to the inhabitants on condition of their paying tribute. When a city was captured the lot of the inhabitants, as the woman declares in ver. 19, was utter destruction; and the Law mercifully gave them the chance of escaping such a fate. Joab had not complied with this enactment, but had assumed that the people would support Sheba, and was proceeding to the last extremity without consulting them. This interpretation gives an excellent sense, but cannot be wrung out of the present Hebrew text without violence. The other interpretation is that of the Authorized Version, that the woman was commending her words to Joab, by reminding him that Abel had been famed in early times for its wisdom, and had probably been the seat of an oracle in the old Canaanite times. When, therefore, people had carried their dispute to Abel, both sides were content to abide by the answer given them, and so the controversy was ended. Literally, these words mean, "they shall surely inquire at Abel," the verb being that specially used of inquiring of God. 2 Samuel 20:18Then a wise woman of the city desired to speak to Joab, and said (from the wall) to him (2 Samuel 20:18), "They were formerly accustomed to say, ask Abel; and so they brought (a thing) to pass." These words show that Abel had formerly been celebrated for the wisdom of its inhabitants.
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