II Samuel 20:14-26
14 Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel Beth Maakah and through the entire region of the Bikrites, who gathered together and followed him. 15 All the troops with Joab came and besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maakah. They built a siege ramp up to the city, and it stood against the outer fortifications. While they were battering the wall to bring it down, 16 a wise woman called from the city, ‘Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so that I can speak to him.’ 17 He went towards her, and she asked, ‘Are you Joab?’ ‘I am,’ he answered. She said, ‘Listen to what your servant has to say.’ ‘I’m listening,’ he said. 18 She continued, ‘Long ago they used to say, “Get your answer at Abel,” and that settled it. 19 We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up the Lord’s inheritance?’ 20 ‘Far be it from me!’ Joab replied, ‘Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! 21 That is not the case. A man named Sheba son of Bikri, from the hill country of Ephraim, has lifted up his hand against the king, against David. Hand over this one man, and I’ll withdraw from the city.’ The woman said to Joab, ‘His head will be thrown to you from the wall.’ 22 Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bikri and threw it to Joab. So he sounded the trumpet, and his men dispersed from the city, each returning to his home. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem. 23 Joab was over Israel’s entire army; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; 24 Adoniram was in charge of forced labour; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; 25 Sheva was secretary; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; 26 and Ira the Jairite was David’s priest.
We will now look at the conclusion of Sheba’s attempt to divide Israel. It is sad that we must learn this lesson, but we certainly must because today as in David’s and Paul’s days wolves are dividing and devouring sheep. Jesus, in Mat. 7:15 said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” And Paul in Acts 20:28-30 warned the believers at Ephesus, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”
1. The Need for Wisdom 14-17
Apparently Sheba, as with Amasa in Judah, also had more difficulty raising an army than he first thought. If he had not had some encouragement and acceptance, he would not have ventured on his mission. Evidently there was some sentiment in his favor at the beginning. But in his army recruitment efforts all over the land, had he raised up an army in the 10 tribes proportionate to the greater population there, he would have had more men in his army. Though we do not know the number, we can guess from the fact that the whole army was inside of Abel-Beth-Maacah, a city in the north part of Israel within the territory of Naphtali, that the army was not as large as it might have been. Verse 14 says, “Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel Beth Maakah and through the entire region of the Bikrites, who gathered together and followed him.”
Regardless of the size of the army it nevertheless was a rebellion and needed to be stopped. So the war proceeded to Abel-Beth-Maacah. Later in Israel’s history that city would be taken by the king of Assyria because II Kings 15:29 says, “In the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria.”
We do not know if Sheba entered the city by force or peaceably, but we do see that those that were gathered to him were Bikrites or Berites, men of Beeroth. Beeroth means wells and this city was one of the four of the Hivites which entered by fraud into a league with Joshua. It belonged to Benjamin according to Joshua 18:25. The rebellious Sheba evidently found enough men in and near Beeroth to make up a small army, enter and possibly possess or occupy or at least camp in Abel-Beth-maacah.
So to fight against Sheba and the men from Beeroth, Joab drew up all his force against the city, besieged it and battered the wall evidently in preparation for an all-out attack. We do not read that Sheba conquered the city so it is questionable that he forced his way in. By the same token, as we shall soon see, the people of the city were willing to choose their own path quite separately form the direction in which Sheba was leading his followers. Verse 15 says, “All the troops with Joab came and besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maakah. They built a siege ramp up to the city, and it stood against the outer fortifications. While they were battering the wall to bring it down . . .” Even though the city may not have invited Sheba to come there, still they allowed him to be there. This incriminated them all for, as Jesus taught, those that are not against us are for us—but these, by their complacency, appeared to be for Sheba and therefore were about to be destroyed on that basis.
It is a moral reality that we are guilty of partnership in crime and guilty of being complicit sometimes by merely remaining quiet and allowing the wrong to occur, without opposing it. There was a need for wisdom in that city if it was to be spared—the citizens were too complacent and the wolves took advantage of them. The same is true today. All that needs to happen for evil to prosper is for good people to remain quiet. We need to do more than just passively not help evil; we need to actively oppose it. If we don’t know how to do that—and every situation is different—then we pray for wisdom that we might know. Neutrality is not an option. We pray against evil and then, when God shows us what to do, we act against it.
The city needed someone to lead it in its opposition to a movement that they did not want to support. How do we know they were not supportive, in a few moments we will see how quickly they agreed with the solution to their problem that the wise women provided. First, let us recognize that they needed a wise solution just like in our ministry situations when the sheep in our charge are being injured, we need wisdom as to how to handle the situation without making it worse. A discreet and good woman of the city of Abel brought this matter, by her discrete conduct, to a good conclusion. She satisfied Joab and yet saved the city.
The wise women made an agreement with Joab. Why was it that none of the men of the city were willing to do this? Yes, this city needed wisdom if there were no men who would resist the wolves. Either they were unwise, which may be excusable, or unconcerned or they sided with Sheba, neither of which was justifiable. This one nameless wise woman and her discretion saved the city. Gender differences are not important when it comes to solutions to problems. Regardless of their source if an idea is good it should be received on its own merits. Men are the head of the marriage and family, but that does not mean that they have a monopoly on brains or crowns. Wisdom is valuable whether it be found in the brave heart of a man or the tender chest of a woman. If wisdom be found in the weaker vessel let it save the day just as readily as if it were found in a noble man.
Proverbs 2:2 says, “turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding –” And Proverbs 3:13 says, “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,” There are many verses that laud the value of wisdom as you know.
Notice that the first thing this discrete woman did was to gain an audience with Joab. In this alone she set herself apart from everyone else in the city. Verses 16-17 say, “a wise woman called from the city, ‘Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so that I can speak to him.’ He went towards her, and she asked, ‘Are you Joab?’ ‘I am,’ he answered. She said, ‘Listen to what your servant has to say.’ ‘I’m listening,’ he said.” This may have been a new experience for Joab—to be engaged with a female in a military matter. But, to his credit, he was willing to listen and to say that he was listening. If we want to be problem solvers, we need to learn to listen, and humbling ourselves to acknowledge that we know we need to listen is a good start in the problem-solving conversation. Thankfully, the need for wisdom at Abel was recognized by these two actors in the drama.
2. Wisdom Illustrated 18-22
The woman was able to frame the problem in terms clear enough to demonstrate that the whole city did not need to be battered to the ground and all the citizens and the visiting soldiers did not need to be killed. She helped identify the key root of the problem and worked toward addressing that. She reasoned with him very ingeniously. She began in verse 18 by stating that the city was famous for wisdom, “She continued, ‘Long ago they used to say, “Get your answer at Abel,” and that settled it.’’’ This was as though to claim, 'We are prudent people. We can act as referee. All will agree with our judgment and recommendation. Our sentence is a discrete statement. Consult with us and the matter is over—ended. Shall such a city be destroyed? Should we not be invited to the table? You have brought battering rams against our walls, but would it not be better if you were to lend us your ears for a brief moment?' And by this implied that she or the men of the city could suggest a solution much better than Joab’s conduct of the battle thus far. Lets take a moment to appraise the value of this wise beginning. She stopped the battering rams and destruction and brought Joab to the table. Then, after making an agreement with him, she brought the leadership of the city to the table. What she did was to stop unthinking and irresponsible hateful action and get people to think. If leaders today can make just that one step, it is a worthy step in the right direction. Talking and thinking is more productive than fighting—whether it be with words or weapons. Continued fighting is, by contrast, counterproductive. The problem gets worse.
Now, back to her line of argument. She persuaded Joab that the inhabitants were generally peaceable and faithful in Israel. Verse 19 says, “We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up the Lord’s inheritance?” She was representing the city, not just presenting her own individual opinion. Our city is peaceful, not turbulent, we are known for our loyalty to the king. Our city is a mother in Israel, that is to say we are a guide and nurse to the neighboring towns and country. We are a part of “the Lord’s inheritance.” We are not a city of heathen, but of Israelites. Destroy us and Israel becomes weaker. Make us an offer of peace before you attack us. There were many such peace-making thoughts included in her logical, persuasive and influential presentation to Joab, who was now the acting captain of the armies of Israel.
Israel had a kind of military code of conduct. Moses, practical and wise as he was, through the inspiration and leading of the Lord laid down many laws and many kinds of laws. One of them was how to conduct wars. Deut 20:10, for example says, “When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace.” Therefore the citizens of Abel had expected him to offer them peace before he made an attack according to that known law of war. She tactfully upbraids Joab for not offering them conditions for peace as she hopes it is not too late to ask for terms of surrender.
Joab and Abel’s wise advocate soon agree that Sheba’s head will be the price. Sheba, not Abel’s citizens, was the problem. And though Joab, in a personal quarrel had come up the road on which he killed Amasa is now able to play the part of a general, did not delight in the shedding of blood and hoped rather for the head of Sheba instead of conducting the siege of the city. Verses 20 says, “‘Far be it from me!’ Joab replied, ‘Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy!’” Our quarrel is not with your city; we are the army of Israel and would risk our lives for your protection. Our quarrel is with the traitor that is lodging among you; deliver him to us, and we will be through here.
This seems to be representative of many quarrels in the church—the problem would be solved if contending parties would just understand one another. The city stubbornly resisted the attack, believing Joab wanted to ruin it, but all he wanted was Sheba’s head. Joab furiously attacked the city thinking that perhaps all the citizens are with Sheba. Both were mistaken; remove the misperception and the matter is settled. Surrender the traitor and the problem is resolved. This is the way it is in God’s dealing with the human soul, when it is besieged by conviction and distress. Sin is the traitor; cast away the transgression, and all will be forgiven. With God there is no peace on any other terms. Our nameless heroine immediately agreed with the proposal: “The woman said to Joab, ‘His head will be thrown to you from the wall.’”
It did not take her very long to persuade the citizens that it would be better to throw the head of Sheba down to Joab than for the city to be destroyed. We don’t know if she needed to use as much tact with the citizens as she did with Joab or not, but we do know that she was successful. In her wisdom she went to the city leaders and persuaded them to cut off Sheba’s head, possibly by some public procedure in their government. The head was removed from the body and thrown over the wall to Joab. Verse 22 says, “Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bikri and threw it to Joab. So he sounded the trumpet, and his men dispersed from the city, each returning to his home. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem.” Joab saw the head and knew the traitor’s face, and looked no further. No one else needed to be afraid or in danger. The public safety was secured, and no obligation for any public revenge existed. Joab stopped the battle and returned to Jerusalem with peace which was a greater trophy rather than a victory.
Unity, partnership and cooperation between adversaries is a greater victory than to win an argument. Joab was an Israelite and so were the citizens of Abel. When they together resolved the conflict, they both won and Israel won.
When my wife and I resolve our conflicts, we both win; the marriage wins. When we have a problem, neither she nor I are the problem. The problem is the problem. We are partners in problem-solving and conflict-resolution; we are not adversaries. I have no desire to win. Sometimes we use my idea and sometime we use hers. Sometimes we combine both our ideas into a new idea, but, in all instances, we are on the same side, the same team and we work together to solve the problem. This works in a marriage and it works just as well in inner-church conflict resolution.
3. David’s Officials 23-26
Here is a record of the condition of David’s court after his restoration. Joab lost and then regained and retained the office of general, being too strong and resilient to be displaced. Benaiah, as before, was captain of the guards and Jehoshaphat retained his position as recorder.
Here is the whole list of officials as recorded in verses 23-26, “Joab was over Israel’s entire army; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; Adoniram was in charge of forced labour; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; Sheva was secretary; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira the Jairite was David’s priest.”
We will notice three changes. One new position is established which was not mentioned in II Sam 8:16-18, the last time David’s government was reported. Apparently with the passage of time and the development of organizational structure in the kingdom, someone was needed to organize the forced labor. Adoniram held the position for a long time, probably successfully until the early months of the reign of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. Of that occasion, however, sadly it is recorded, “King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labour, but all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam, however, managed to get into his chariot and escape to Jerusalem” (I Kings 12:18). An alternate name for is Adoniram is Adoram. He remained in his office a very long time, but in the end, it cost him his life.
The second change is that David’s sons are no longer serving as priests as they had previously (II Sam 8:16-18). Ira the Jairite now served as David’s priest. Let us hope he served more nobly than David’s sons had.
The third change is that Sheva is now secretary in place of Seraiah, unless that was simply a name change since the two names are a little similar.
For the pastor and Christian leader, the big take away from this lesson is that it is worthwhile to help arguing factions get to the table to pray, think and talk. Talking without thinking can be counterproductive and to think without talking may show weakness.
Going without talking is weakness if something should be said and isn’t being said. Or, not talking, could show wisdom if the other party is not willing to listen. To add unwanted words in an argument can be like adding wood to a fire. Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down” (Proverbs 26:20). So we must decide whether to talk or not and then, when we talk, what to say. But first of all we need to do a lot of talking with God. He will give us wisdom.