Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.Ch. 20. Sheba’s Rebellion
1, 2. Fresh outbreak of rebellion, headed by Sheba
1. there] At Gilgal. The dispute offered an immediate opening to a bold and ambitious leader, who hoped to restore the sovereignty to the tribe of Benjamin.
a man of Belial] A worthless or wicked man. Cp. 1 Samuel 10:27, and note on 1 Samuel 1:16.
the son of Bichri] Rather, a Bichrite, or member of the clan tracing its descent from Becher the second son of Benjamin (Genesis 46:21).
part] Better, portion, a different word from that in ch. 2 Samuel 19:43, and the same as that in 1 Kings 12:16.
the son of Jesse] There is a touch of contempt in this name for David. Cp. 1 Samuel 20:27; 1 Samuel 20:30-31; 1 Samuel 22:7-9; 1 Samuel 22:13; 1 Samuel 25:10.
every man to his tents] Nominally a call to disperse and return to their homes (1 Samuel 13:2; 2 Samuel 18:17); really an invitation to join him in rebellion. The same words served as the signal for the revolt from Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:16).
So every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri: but the men of Judah clave unto their king, from Jordan even to Jerusalem.2. went up] From Gilgal in the valley of the Jordan to the hill country of Ephraim.
And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.3. David’s return to Jerusalem
3. living in widowhood] Either in widowhood for life, or as the Targum explains it, in widowhood while their husband was still alive. Since they had been appropriated by Absalom, they could no longer be regarded as members of the royal harem, nor could they be set at liberty.
Then said the king to Amasa, Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present.4–13. The pursuit of Sheba. Amasa murdered by Joab
4. to Amasa] The commission was given to Amasa in fulfilment of the promise privately made to him (ch. 2 Samuel 19:13).
Assemble me the men of Judah] Clearly then “the men of Judah” in 2 Samuel 20:2 were only a small body of representatives.
So Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah: but he tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him.5. he tarried longer] Some may have resented the change of generals and distrusted Amasa; some may have been half-hearted about David’s restoration; so that he found that the task took longer than he expected.
And David said to Abishai, Now shall Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than did Absalom: take thou thy lord's servants, and pursue after him, lest he get him fenced cities, and escape us.6. to Abishai] David now gave his orders to Abishai, being determined at any rate to supersede Joab. For the moment Joab seemed to acquiesce, and marched out under his brother’s command (2 Samuel 20:7), intending to wait his opportunity. This speedily presented itself: without scruple he murdered his rival, and then by Abishai’s consent, resumed his old position as commander-in-chief (2 Samuel 20:10-11).
thy lord’s servants] The bodies of troops mentioned in 2 Samuel 20:7, which formed a small standing army.
escape us] A phrase of doubtful meaning, found nowhere else. Either as E. V. following the Vulg. escape us: or pluck out our eye = do us serious injury: or as the Sept. overshadow our eyes = cause us anxiety.
And there went out after him Joab's men, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men: and they went out of Jerusalem, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.7. the Cherethites, and the Pelethites] See note on ch. 2 Samuel 8:18. the mighty men] Or Gibbôrîm. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 15:18.
When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. And Joab's garment that he had put on was girded unto him, and upon it a girdle with a sword fastened upon his loins in the sheath thereof; and as he went forth it fell out.8. the great stone which is in Gibeon] Some isolated rock, well known as a landmark.
went before them] Lit. came before them, i.e. met them, apparently as he was returning to Jerusalem, after raising an army in Benjamin as well as in Judah.
And Joab’s garment, &c.] This description of Joab’s dress is intended to explain how he contrived to stab Amasa without his design being suspected. In the girdle which he wore over his military dress was stuck a dagger. As he met Amasa he contrived to let this fall out of its sheath on the ground. He picked it up in his left hand, and the movement being apparently purely accidental, excited no alarm in Amasa’s mind.
as he went forth it fell out] As he went out to meet Amasa. But it does not appear whence Joab went out, and the words may also be rendered, and it (the sheath) came out (from the girdle), and it (the sword) fell down. The Sept. has a simpler reading, involving a slight change in the Heb. text: and the sword came out and fell down.
And Joab said to Amasa, Art thou in health, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him.9. took Amasa by the beard] It is said to be still customary among the Arabs and Turks to lay hold of a person’s beard in giving him the kiss of welcome.
But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died. So Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri.10. in the fifth rib] In the belly. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 2:23.
strake him not again] Cp. 1 Samuel 26:8. Strake is an archaism for struck. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 12:15; Acts 27:17.
So Joab] Better, But Joab, &c. Covered with the stains of murder (1 Kings 2:5), Joab started in pursuit of Sheba, leaving his victim where he fell.
And one of Joab's men stood by him, and said, He that favoureth Joab, and he that is for David, let him go after Joab.11. one of Joab’s men] One of Joab’s young men, perhaps one of his armour-bearers (ch. 2 Samuel 18:15), remained by the corpse at Joab’s command in order to invite Amasa’s followers to join Joab. Time was too precious for Joab himself to lose a moment.
He that favoureth Joab, &c.] Lit. He that delighteth (ch. 2 Samuel 15:26) in Joab. He appeals to their personal attachment to himself as general, and to their loyalty to David; insinuating that Amasa was not faithful to the king, and had met his death justly for his treachery. Joab’s real motive in murdering Amasa, as before in the case of Abner, was jealousy.
And Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a cloth upon him, when he saw that every one that came by him stood still.12. all the people] Here and in 2 Samuel 20:13, the troops which Amasa had been mustering.
When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.
And he went through all the tribes of Israel unto Abel, and to Bethmaachah, and all the Berites: and they were gathered together, and went also after him.14–22. Sheba besieged in Abel-Beth-Maachah
14. And he went] Joab marched rapidly northward, gathering forces as he went.
unto Abel, and to Beth-maachah] Abel was apparently near Beth-Maachah, which is not elsewhere mentioned as a distinct place, and was commonly called Abel-beth-Maachah to distinguish it from other places named Abel (= meadow). It was also known as Abel Maim = meadow of waters (2 Chronicles 16:4). It was one of the towns which fell a prey to Benhadad (1 Kings 15:20), and afterwards to Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29). The name Maachah may point to some connexion with the Syrian kingdom of that name (ch. 2 Samuel 10:6). Its site is supposed to be marked by the village of Abil, about twelve miles north of Lake Huleh, the ancient Waters of Merom.
all the Berites] If the text is sound, Berim or the Berites must be the name of a district or people in northern Palestine otherwise unknown to us. But perhaps following the Vulg. and the indications of the Sept. we should read and all the chosen men were gathered together.
And they came and besieged him in Abel of Bethmaachah, and they cast up a bank against the city, and it stood in the trench: and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down.15. cast up a bank] The besiegers erected a mound of earth against the city wall to enable them to batter the upper and weaker part of it. This stood in “the trench” or outwork of the city: a term which includes the low outer wall and the space between it and the main wall. For mention of siege mounds see 2 Kings 19:32; Isaiah 29:3; Jeremiah 6:6; Jeremiah 32:24; Jeremiah 33:4; Ezekiel 4:2; Ezekiel 17:17; Ezekiel 21:22; Ezekiel 26:8; Daniel 11:15. They are represented on the bas-reliefs depicting the siege of Lachish which were found at Kouyunjik. Layard’s Monuments of Nineveh, Vol. II. PI. 18, 21.
Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.16. a wise woman] Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 14:2.
out of the city] The Sept. reads “from the wall.”
And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.
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.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.”
I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?19. I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel] I am peaceable and faithful in Israel. The woman speaks in the name of the city, asserting its peaceableness and loyalty. By an irregularity of construction, hardly reproducible in English, the predicate is in the plural, referring to the inhabitants. Lit. I am peaceable faithful ones of Israel.
to destroy a city and a mother] Lit. to slay: the personification of the city is kept up. On “mother” as applied to a city (metropolis) see note on ch. 2 Samuel 8:1.
the inheritance of the Lord] Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 10:12, 2 Samuel 14:16; 1 Samuel 26:19.
And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.
The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city. And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall.21. a man of mount Ephraim] The name “mount Ephraim,” applied to the central mountainous district of Palestine, was extended southwards so as to include part of the territory of Benjamin. See note on 1 Samuel 1:1.
Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king.22. in her wisdom] The “Preacher” illustrates the truth that “wisdom is better than strength” by a parable strikingly similar to this incident, and possibly suggested by it (Ecclesiastes 9:13-16).
they retired] They were dispersed to their several homes.
Now Joab was over all the host of Israel: and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and over the Pelethites:23. Joab] Retaining his post in spite of David’s resolution to depose him.
the Cherethites] So the Qrî and the Sept. and Vulg.: but the Kthîbh has the Cari, a word found in 2 Kings 11:4; 2 Kings 11:19 (E. V. wrongly captains), and like Cherethites variously explained to mean executioners, the body-guard acting in that capacity, or Carians, foreign mercenaries employed as a body-guard.
23–26. The officers of David’s court
A similar list has already been given in ch. 2 Samuel 8:16-18. There the account of the general administration of the kingdom appropriately follows the summary record of the wars by which that kingdom was established; and the repetition of it here, after David’s restoration to the throne, is equally appropriate. Some differences between the lists are explained by their belonging to different periods.
And Adoram was over the tribute: and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder:24. Adoram] Perhaps the same as Adoniram (1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 5:14), who held the office in Solomon’s reign, and Adoram, who held it at the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign (1 Kings 12:18), but possibly three persons of the same family, who succeeded one another in the office, are meant. The Sept. reads Adoniram here.
over the tribute] Better over the levy (1 Kings 4:6 marg., 2 Samuel 5:14); superintendent of the forced levies employed in public works. Adoram was stoned to death by the people in the rebellion at the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign, as the representative of the hated system of forced labour which had oppressed the people beyond all endurance in Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 12:4). The appearance of this new officer in the closing years of David’s reign is most significant of the vast change which had taken place in the character of his rule.
And Sheva was scribe: and Zadok and Abiathar were the priests:25. Sheva] Or Sheya, apparently another name for the Seraiah of ch. 2 Samuel 8:17.
And Ira also the Jairite was a chief ruler about David.26. a chief ruler about David] Minister to David. The post formerly held by David’s sons. See on ch. 2 Samuel 8:18.