Sheba’s Rebellion – 2 Samuel 20

Read the Passage: 2 Samuel 20

David’s Return (20:1–3)

In 2 Sam. 19:9–10 we saw that there was some dispute among the tribes of Israel regarding bringing David back from exile. Providentially, via political maneuvering recorded in 2 Sam. 19:11–14, David was invited by the tribe of Judah to return to Jerusalem. When David returned from exile, it was the tribe of Judah who met him and escorted him into Jerusalem (cf. 2 Sam. 19:15). While these events may seem innocent enough, 2 Sam. 19:41–43 reports that the other 10 tribes—that is, all Israel minus Judah and likely Benjamin—were offended that they were not part of the decision to reinstate the king. It seems their offense was based upon the fact that they had not fully decided to bring David back, were not consulted about the final decision, and they were not invited to the inauguration. Judah responded by noting that David was from the tribe of Judah and that the king had not given them any special favors.

Although 2 Sam. 19:43 might lead to the conclusion that the dispute between the tribes of Israel and Judah was ended peacefully, in 2 Sam. 20:1 we learn that a man named Sheba led a rebellion against David. He is described as a “worthless man,” a term which indicates Sheba had impure motives in causing disunity. Moreover, it is interesting that Sheba is identified as a Benjaminite, for this tribe was usually allied with the tribe of Judah. Nothing else is known about Sheba, yet he must have been a person of some influence, as when he declared independence from David, “Every man of the house of Israel deserted David” (2 Sam. 20:2). Almost as a parenthetical note, it is recorded at 2 Sam. 20:3 that when David arrived in Jerusalem, he sequestered the ten concubines whom he had left in Jerusalem to keep the palace, for they had had sexual relations with Absalom (cf. 2 Sam. 15:16; 16:21–22).

Amasa’s Death (20:4–10)

Recall that Amasa, who was David’s nephew, had been commander of Absalom’s army. At 2 Sam. 19:13 it was reported that David had made Amasa commander of his army in the place of Joab. At Sheba’s rebellion David instructed Amasa to assemble the army within three days, which was a very challenging task for a new commander. When Amasa was unable to fulfill this command in time, David ordered Abishai to pursue Sheba with his mighty men. Note that Abishai was Joab’s brother and also David’s nephew. Amasa finally caught up with Abishai and his troops near Gibeon. Joab, who was with Abishai and the mighty men, approached Amasa and killed him. Joab’s murder of Amasa is very similar to the way in which he’d killed Abner, the former commander of the army of Israel, as well as his murder of Absalom. Joab then assumed his prior position as commander of the army, and pursued Sheba.

Sheba’s Defeat (20:11–26)

Joab’s ruthlessness and leadership skills are on full display in the account of his killing of Amasa. After publicly killing his cousin Amasa in cold blood, leaving him wallowing in his own blood in the road, Joab was still able to inspire the army—some of whom had surely been recruited by Amasa—to follow him into battle. Despite David’s clear desire to replace Joab with Amasa and then Abishai, David was unable to rid himself of Joab (cf. 2 Sam. 20:23). 2 Sam. 20:14–15 notes that Joab mustered an army from all areas of Israel and corned Sheba in the city of Abel of Beth Maachah. This city was in the extreme northern part of Israel, some 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Apparently, this city had given Sheba refuge, at least initially, for Joab’s army began to construct a siege mound against the city, as well as battering the walls, which signaled the plan for a protracted battle against the city.

We might expect the balance of this chapter to describe a long battle between Joab and Sheba; yet, this conflict was resolved rather quickly. The text tells us that “a wise woman” (2 Sam. 20:16) asked to speak with Joab about terms of peace. While this woman is otherwise unknown in Scripture, it is clear that she knew her Bible, for she in speaking with Joab she appealed to Deut. 20:10, which reads, “When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it.” In her dialog with Joab, this woman learned that if the city would surrender Sheba, then army would depart. The text reports, “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 to Joab” (2 Sam. 20:22). This ended the siege as well as Sheba’s rebellion. In 2 Sam. 20:23–26 we read details of David’s government after his return from exile.

Application Questions:

  1. What affect would Absalom’s death have had upon David? In what ways was the king who left Jerusalem different from the king who returned from exile?
  2. How important is unity and consensus within the Body of Christ? What can be done to preserve unity in the church? How important is doctrine to unity?
  3. Why did David sequester the ten concubines whom he had left in Jerusalem? Does David’s treatment of his concubines seem fair?
  4. Given that Joab murdered Abner (cf. 2 Sam. 3:27), Absalom (cf. 2 Sam. 18:14), and Amasa (cf. 2 Sam. 20:10), why did David not kill him?
  5. Why is the woman in city under siege described as being wise? What is wisdom? How does wisdom differ from intelligence?