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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 2 Samuel 20

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The Rebellion of Sheba

A. David returns to Jerusalem and to an insurrection.

1. (2Sa 20:1-2) Sheba’s rebellion.

And there happened to be there a rebel, whose name was Sheba the son of Bichri, a Benjamite. And he blew a trumpet, and said: “We have no share in David, nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” So every man of Israel deserted David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah, from the Jordan as far as Jerusalem, remained loyal to their king.

a. There happened to be a rebel: Sheba took advantage of David’s weakened position after Absalom’s failed rebellion and the conflict between Judah and the other ten tribes (2 Samuel 19:40-43). He based his rebellion on three principles common to rebels:

We have no share in David: Sheba denied the king’s sovereignty. He claimed that David had no right to reign over him or the ten tribes of Israel.

The son of Jesse: Sheba devalued the king’s identity. Jesse was a humble farmer and Sheba wanted to emphasize David’s humble beginning.

Every man to his tents: Sheba decided to go his own way and drew others with him. He acted on his low opinion of David.

i. G. Campbell Morgan thought the phrase “We have no share in David, nor do we have an inheritance in the son of Jesse” was an effective slogan promoted by Sheba. “The story should teach us that popular and plausible catchwords ought to be received and acted upon with great caution.”

b. Israel deserted David: Sheba succeeded in drawing away the ten northern tribes and David had another civil war to deal with.

i. In 2 Samuel 19:40-43 leaders from these same ten tribes argued with the tribe of Judah over who honored David more. Their response to Sheba’s rebellion shows that their desire to honor David had nothing to do with honoring him, but in exalting self.

ii. We might say that the tribe of Judah treated the other ten tribes unfairly, but “Injustice is never corrected by a yet deeper wrong.” (Morgan)

iii. We might say that it is in the nature of men to divide. We have to be held together by the Holy Spirit. Paul put it like this: I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3). We don’t make the unity of the Spirit, we keep the unity of the Spirit – but we must keep what He makes.

c. The men of Judah... remained loyal to their king: The desertion of the ten tribes was distressing but the loyalty of the men of Judah was wonderful. When others desert or divide it gives a greater opportunity to demonstrate loyalty.

i. We should imitate the loyalty Judah showed to their king. This means we must be loyal to Jesus in spite of the mocking of the multitude. We must be loyal to Jesus in spite of the rebellion of the flesh. We must be loyal to Jesus in spite of the times when He seems distant.

2. (2Sa 20:3) David puts away the women Absalom violated.

Now 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 seclusion and supported them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up to the day of their death, living in widowhood.

a. Put them in seclusion: Absalom raped these ten concubines as part of his rebellion against David (2 Samuel 16:20-23). Upon his return, David set them aside as unfortunate victims of Absalom’s sin.

i. “He could not well divorce them; he could not punish them, as they were not in the transgression; he could not more be familiar with them, because they had been defiled by his son; and to have married them to other men might have been dangerous to the state.” (Clarke)

b. They were shut up to the day of their death, living in widowhood: The sad fate of David’s ten concubines is an example of how our sin often has horrible effects on others. They suffered because of Absalom’s sin – and David’s sin.

3. (2Sa 20:4-5) David tells Amasa to marshal an army to deal with Sheba’s rebellion.

And the king said to Amasa, “Assemble the men of Judah for me within three days, and be present here yourself.” So Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah. But he delayed longer than the set time which David had appointed him.

a. The king said to Amasa: Amasa was Absalom’s former general and David made him the commander of his army as a conciliatory move after the death of Absalom.

b. Assemble the men of Judah for me within three days: David knew that time was of the essence. When Absalom had the chance to quickly crush David, he did not take advantage of the opportunity. David did not want to make the same mistake with Sheba.

c. He delayed longer than the set time: Amasa wasn’t up to the job David gave him. He was not a completely competent military man, and Joab (the former commander of David’s army) defeated Amasa soundly when they fought together.

4. (2Sa 20:6-7) Tired of waiting, David sends his royal guard.

And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he find for himself fortified cities, and escape us.” So Joab’s men, with the Cherethites, the Pelethites, and all the mighty men, went out after him. And they went out of Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri.

a. David said to Abishai: David gave these orders to Abishai. He was the commander over your lord’s servants – David’s personal guard.

b. So Joab’s men... and all the mighty men, went out: Joab was the field commander of these troops, but Abishai was in command over him.

B. Joab kills Amasa and defeats Sheba.

1. (2Sa 20:8-10) Using deception, Joab murders Amasa.

When they were at the large stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa came before them. Now Joab was dressed in battle armor; on it was a belt with a sword fastened in its sheath at his hips; and as he was going forward, it fell out. Then Joab said to Amasa, “Are you in health, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not notice the sword that was in Joab’s hand. And he struck him with it in the stomach, and his entrails poured out on the ground; and he did not strike him again. Thus he died. Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri.

a. Amasa came before them: Amasa didn’t assemble the army of Judah quickly enough, but he didn’t want to be left out of the battle. He joined the troops loyal to David at Gibeon.

b. Joab took Amasa by the beard: Joab approached Amasa with cunning and deception. Holding the beard was a sign of a friendly welcome, and the fallen sword made it seem that Joab was unarmed.

c. He struck him with it in the stomach: Joab showed how ruthless he was. He murdered Amasa – the man who replaced him as commander of David’s armies – out of both rivalry and concern that Amasa did not genuinely support David.

i. “It is very likely that Amasa did not immediately die: I have known instances of persons living several hours after their bowels had been shed out.” (Clarke)

2. (2Sa 20:11-14) Joab takes command of the troops loyal to David.

Meanwhile one of Joab’s men stood near Amasa, and said, “Whoever favors Joab and whoever is for David; follow Joab!” But Amasa wallowed in his blood in the middle of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he moved Amasa from the highway to the field and threw a garment over him, when he saw that everyone who came upon him halted. When he was removed from the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. And he went through all the tribes of Israel to Abel and Beth Maachah and all the Berites. So they were gathered together and also went after Sheba.

a. All the people went on after Joab: For all his ruthless devotion to David, Joab was a true leader. The soldiers naturally followed the commander who successfully led them many times before.

b. He went through all the tribes of Israel: Joab was able to find men loyal to David in all the tribes of Israel. Though Sheba was able to assemble an army against David, there were still many people loyal to David.

3. (2Sa 20:15-22) The end of Sheba’s rebellion.

Then they came and besieged him in Abel of Beth Maachah; and they cast up a siege mound against the city, and it stood by the rampart. And all the people who were with Joab battered the wall to throw it down. Then a wise woman cried out from the city, “Hear, Hear! Please say to Joab, ‘Come nearby, that I may speak with you.’ ” When he had come near to her, the woman said, “Are you Joab?” He answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Hear the words of your maidservant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” So she spoke, saying, “They used to talk in former times, saying, ‘They shall surely seek guidance at Abel,’ and so they would end disputes. I am among the peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the Lord?” And Joab answered and said, “Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy! That is not so. But a man from the mountains of Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, has raised his hand against the king, against David. Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city.” So the woman said to Joab, “Watch, his head will be thrown to you over the wall.” Then the woman in her wisdom went to all the people. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab. Then he blew a trumpet, and they withdrew from the city, every man to his tent. So Joab returned to the king at Jerusalem.

a. A wise woman cried out from the city: When Sheba took refuge in the city of Abel, Joab set a siege against the city. Siege warfare was a terrible ordeal for the citizens of the besieged city, and this wise woman was smart enough to seek a speedy end to the struggle.

b. Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city: Joab was a practical man. He had nothing against the city of Abel, only against Sheba. If the people of Abel helped him get Sheba it was all the better.

c. They cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab: Sheba probably thought he was safe within the walls of that city, but no one is safe when they run against God’s will. There isn’t a wall high enough or strong enough to protect against God and His will.

i. We can make a spiritual analogy out of Sheba, his rebellion, and his refuge in the city of Abel. “Every man’s breast is a city enclosed. Every sin is a traitor that lurketh within those walls. God calleth for Sheba’s head, neither hath he any quarrel to us for our person, but for our sin. If we love the head of our traitor above the life of our soul, we shall justly perish in the vengeance.” (Trapp)

ii. “It were happy if all such traitors might hop headless.” (Trapp)

iii. So ended the rebellion of Sheba. Yet the division between Judah and the other eleven tribes of Israel remained. After the death of Solomon there was a civil war that permanently divided the united kingdom into two nations: the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel.

4. (2Sa 20:23-26) David’s second administration.

And Joab was over all the army of Israel; Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; Adoram was in charge of revenue; Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder; Sheva was scribe; Zadok and Abiathar were the priests; and Ira the Jairite was a chief minister under David.

a. Joab was over all the army of Israel: Though he gained the position through murder, David allowed Joab to take control over the armies of Israel.

b. Benaiah... Adoram... Jehoshaphat... Sheva... Zadok and Abiathar... Ira the Jairite: The greatness of David’s kingdom was not built on David’s abilities alone. He knew how to assemble and lead an effective team.

i. Some think that the idea behind the phrase “chief minister” is that Ira was sort of a chaplain to David. “He was probably a sort of domestic chaplain to the king.” (Clarke)

ii. If David – a man after God’s heart and the sweet psalmist of Israel – needed devotional “help,” we should not think ourselves above it.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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