Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The angry altercation between the tribes led, according to the proverb (Proverbs 15:1), to fresh troubles. These foreboded greater disasters than had yet occurred, but were happily arrested in the bud. Although suppressed, they must yet have intensified the tribal jealousies, and have sowed the seed of future dismemberment. So goes on the long catalogue of sorrows, following one after another from David’s sin.
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.(1) Sheba, the son of Bichri.—The English follows the ancient versions in taking Bichri as a proper name. Most recent commentators consider it as a patronymic, the Bichrite, i.e., of the family of Becher, the second son of Benjamin. He was, to this extent at least, of the same clan with Saul. He was there, at Gilgal, with the representatives of the ten tribes, and took advantage of the dispute just mentioned to renew the rebellion of Absalom.
Every man to his tents.—Comp. the cry of Jeroboam as he inaugurated his rebellion (1Kings 12:16). It was the signal of revolt.
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) Men of Judah clave.—David’s negotiations with Judah had now resulted in an entire reversal of the position of the tribes towards him; Judah, among whom the rebellion originated, and who had been tardy in returning to their allegiance, were now fierce in their loyalty, while Israel, who had only joined the already organised rebellion, and afterwards had first proposed the return of David, had become alienated and rebellious.
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) Living in widowhood.—This was the necessary result, under the system of polygamy, of what had happened. The clause may be understood as “in widowhood of life,” as in our version, or “in widowhood of the living,” i.e., while their husband was living, as in the Chaldee.
Then said the king to Amasa, Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present.(4) To Amasa.—Thus David begins the fulfilment of his promise of 2Samuel 19:13. It proved an act of very doubtful expediency at this crisis.
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.—No cause is assigned for this, and various conjectures have been made. The simplest explanation may be drawn from the fact that, in 2Samuel 20:8, Amasa is met on his return at Gibeon. He had therefore gone quite out of the bounds of Judah into Benjamin, and had consumed more time in consequence of exceeding his instructions. The fact suggests great doubt of his fitness for the place David had promised him. Joab appears to insinuate (in 2Samuel 20:11) that Amasa was not really loyal.
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) David said to Abishai.—David is determined to pass over Joab, and, therefore, when Amasa fails in this crisis, requiring immediate action, he summons Abishai, and puts him in command of such forces as were at hand in Jerusalem, and gives him orders for the rapid pursuit of Sheba. The clause “escape us” is difficult, and doubtful in the original, and the English follows the Vulg. Others translate “pluck out our eye,” i.e., do us great harm; others as the LXX., “over shadow our eye,” meaning either cause us anxiety, or hide where we cannot find him.
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) Joab’s men.—The body of men who were usually under Joab’s immediate command, and who would readily follow his brother, whom they had been accustomed to see associated with him. On “the Che-rethites and the Pelethites,” see Note on 2Samuel 8:18. “The mighty men” (see 2Samuel 23:8) appear to have been an especial body of heroes, probably made up chiefly of those who had been with David in his life as an outlaw.
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) Went before.—Translate, met. (Comp. Note on 2Samuel 19:6.)
As he went forth it fell out.—The object of this verse is to explain how Joab, in consequence of the arrangement of his dress, was able to stab Amasa without his purpose being suspected. He had a girdle bound round his military coat, and in this he had stuck a dagger so arranged that it might fall out as he advanced. He then picked this up naturally in his left hand, and stretching out his right hand to greet Amasa, his movements gave rise to no suspicion.
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= Abdomen. (See Note on 2Samuel 2:23.)
So Joab and Abishai.—Joab here comes forward as the commander of the pursuit without previous mention. He may have accompanied Abishai from Jerusalem, or he may have joined him on the route; but, now, having murdered Amasa, he assumes his old place as commander-in-chief, doubtless with the connivance of his brother.
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 man.—Com. 2Samuel 20:7. Time was too precious for Joab himself to wait. He must put down the rebellion of Sheba by rapid action, and thereby render himself impregnable in the high office which had been his, and which he had now again usurped. He left one of his trusty men, however, by the body of Amasa, with a battle cry which should suggest that he had rightly been put to death for his doubtful loyalty, and that all who were attached to Joab and loyal to David should follow Joab. Joab’s real motive for murdering Amasa, as for murdering Abner (2Samuel 3:27), was personal jealousy and ambition.
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) The people stood still.—These were probably the very people whom Amasa had just been gathering from Judah and Benjamin. Whoever they may have been, they were naturally overcome and paralysed for the moment at the sight of the great leader whom the king had just promoted wallowing in his blood. Joab’s warrior, seeing the effect of their consternation, removed and concealed the body, and the pursuit then went on.
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) Unto Abel, and to Beth-maachah.—Abel has been identified with the modern Christian village of Abil (called “Abil-el-Kamh,” on account of the excellence of its wheat (north-west of Lake Huleh). It is called “Abel-Beth-maachah,” in 2Samuel 20:15 (the “of” should be omitted), and is spoken of under that name in 1Kings 15:20 and 2Kings 15:29 in connection with Ijon and Dan, and in the same connection is called “Abel-maim” (“Abel of waters”) in 2Chronicles 16:4, to distinguish it from other places of the same name. It was at the extreme north of the land.
All the Berites.—Apparently a family, or clan, in the north of Israel, otherwise entirely unknown. The LXX. and Vulg. here apparently follow a different text. The Bishop of Bath and Wells supposes the Hebrew word to be a form of the word for “fortresses,” but no such form is known.
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)Abel of Beth-maachah.—Omit the preposition “of.” (See 2Samuel 20:14.)
Stood in the trench.—The “trench” is the space between the wall of the city and the lower outer wall. When the besiegers had succeeded in planting the mounds for their battering engines in this space they had already gained an important advantage.
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) 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.
And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.(20) Far be it from me.—Joab strongly disclaims the idea of any further harm to any one than the necessary destruction of the rebel Sheba. Joab’s character “is strongly brought out in the transaction. Politic, decided, bold, and unscrupulous, but never needlessly cruel or impulsive, or even revengeful. No life is safe that stands in his way, but from policy he never sacrifices the most insignificant life without a purpose.”—Speaker’s Commentary.
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) Mount Ephraim.—The range of hills so called because much of it lay in the tribe of Ephraim, although extending south into Benjamin.
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) To his tent= to his home. (Comp. 2Samuel 20:1, 2Samuel 18:17; 1Kings 12:16, &c.)
Benaiah.—In the four closing verses of this chapter there is again given a short summary of the chief men of David’s reign, as if to form the conclusion of this account of his life. A similar summary has already been given in 2Samuel 8:16-18, and the changes introduced here mark a later period of the reign. It is noticeable that Joab still remains commander-in-chief. On Benaiah and the force which he commanded, see Note on 2Samuel 8:18. (See also 2Samuel 23:20-23.)
And Adoram was over the tribute: and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder:(24) Adoram was over the tribute.—The same office was held by Adoniram in Solomon’s reign (1Kings 4:6; 1Kings 5:14), and by Adoram at the beginning of the reign of his successor (1Kings 12:18). Αll those may have been the same person, or at least of the same family. “The tribute” should rather be the levy, the forced labour so largely employed by Solomon. It is remarkable that there is no trace of such an office in 2Samuel 8:16-18, nor in the parallel (1Chronicles 18:14-17). It was a feature of Oriental despotism only introduced towards the close of David’s reign, and carried to much greater length under Solomon.
And Sheva was scribe: and Zadok and Abiathar were the priests:(25) Sheva.—This officer is called Seraiah in 2Samuel 8:17. Nearly all the officers mentioned here are the same as in 2Samuel 8:16-18, where see the Notes.
And Ira also the Jairite was a chief ruler about David.(26) Ira also the Jairite.—He is not mentioned in the other lists of the king’s officers; Ira, an Ithrite, is found in the list of David’s “thirty and seven” heroes in 2Samuel 23:38, but there is no ground for identifying the two persons. On the office of “chief ruler,” or cohen, see Note on 2Samuel 8:18. Earlier in David’s reign the office had been occupied by his own sons, but the murder of the eldest, the rebellion and death of Absalom, and other disorders in his household had led apparently to a change.