We’re continuing our study of the life of David in 2 Samuel, and today we’re in 2 Samuel 20. This lesson was challenging to me at first. I reached out to Chris and a pastor here at Second for help, but what God would say to us wasn’t entirely clear to me.
II. Disgruntled Joab
So first let’s look at our scripture today and gain an understanding of what’s happening. Our cast for today’s episode consists primarily of Sheba, Amasa, Joab and David. We’ve met David and Joab in our previous studies, but two of these names are new.
Joab was a remarkable nephew of David, a son of David’s sister Zeruiah. Zeruiah had 3 sons who each have a role in today’s scripture. The oldest is Abishai, then comes Joab, and the youngest was Asahel.
We first met Joab when Ishbosheth, “Man of Shame,” had assumed the throne, propped up by Abner, even though both of them knew that David had been selected by God to be the king of Israel. At a showdown between David’s army and Ishbosheth’s army, Abner tried to flee, but Joab’s youngest brother Asahel chased him down. At the last second, Abner turned and thrust his spear into Asahel, instantly killing him. Joab has just lost his youngest brother.
In a short while, a truce is called, and Abner agrees as part of this truce to serve David. When Abner walks into the city gates to assume his role under David, however, Joab assassinates him, revenge for killing his younger brother.
Sure, Joab was in charge of David’s army, and helped David win many battles, but David was afraid of him. Far too often, Joab served the king in his Joab’s way, took matters into his own hands, and was ruthless about his revenge. In 2 Samuel 3:39, David says,
“I am the chosen king, but Joab and Abishai have more power than I do. So God will have to pay them back for the evil thing they did.”
A few weeks ago, we studied about the insurrection of Absalom. He’s the arrogant but pretty son of David with a great head of hair. Joab was still David’s commander at this time. David had asked Joab to put down the revolution of Absalom, but be gentle with Absalom himself. After all, Absalom was still David’s son. Joab wasn’t gentle, though; when Absalom got his hair caught in the branches, Joab went to see him and threw three spears into body of Absalom to kill him.
David was unhappy with Joab’s actions, and when he went to talk to Joab about it, Joab rebuked David for mourning over his son. After all, his son had tried to overthrow David. Chris did a masterful job last week talking about David’s flaws and Chris’s failure to get straight A’s in French, and how David’s army absolutely slaughtered Absalom’s army. It’s like Joab was saying, “David! Man-up and stop grieving. You won the battle! Yeah, I killed your son, get over it already.”
Eventually, David had to remove Joab from his position as the commander of Israel’s army. He had to – Joab would win battles, sure, but he outright assassinated Abner and then killed David’s son who was hanging helpless from a tree. David chose another nephew, Amasa, son of a different sister of David’s, to lead his army. Amasa and Joab were cousins to each other.
This didn’t sit well with Joab. Besides being rivals and cousins, Amasa had led Absalom’s army when Absalom had tried to overthrow David. Joab considered Amasa a traitor, while David considered Amasa as far easier to work with than Joab had been.
III. The Failed Revolution of Sheba
Anyway, David had successfully put down the insurrection of Absalom with Joab’s help, but lost his son Absalom when Joab killed him. Joab gets pushed out of his role as commander of the Israeli army, now headed by Joab’s cousin Amasa, who Joab hates. Y’all got all that, who hates who?
And David’s troubles aren’t over. Absalom had almost succeeded in his revolt, but a man named Sheba, a distant relative of Saul, sees an opportunity. Which brings us to our scripture today in 2 Samuel 20:1-2,
Now a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bikri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted,
“We have no share in David,
no part in Jesse’s son!
Every man to his tent, Israel!”
So all the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba son of Bikri. But the men of Judah stayed by their king all the way from the Jordan to Jerusalem.
If it isn’t one revolution, it’s another. Sheba manages to incite a great many people to follow him, though David still successfully rules Judah and Jerusalem. David then calls to his commander – no, not Joab, that other commander, Amasa, and told him to gather the troops in verse 4,
Then the king said to Amasa, “Summon the men of Judah to come to me within three days, and be here yourself.”
Amasa might have been in charge, but that doesn’t mean he was any good at his job. Verse 5 says,
But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him.
I image David sitting at the window, checking his watch, and saying, “Where *is* that Amasa? He should have been here by now. We have an insurrection to go to that starts at 7.”
After 3 days, David tells Joab’s older brother – not Joab, but the Joab’s remaining brother Abishai– to take whatever troops are left and go after Sheba. No telling where Amasa is with the main regiment of troops. Verse 6-7,
David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba son of Bikri will do us more harm than Absalom did. Take your master’s men and pursue him, or he will find fortified cities and escape from us.” So Joab’s men and the Kerethites and Pelethites and all the mighty warriors went out under the command of Abishai. They marched out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba son of Bikri.
So along the way, Abishai and Joab head after Sheba, when they run into Amasa. Amasa had apparently found some rocks to stand around, I don’t really know what he was doing there, and Joab sees his opportunity to do evil:
While they were at the great rock in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Joab was wearing his military tunic, and strapped over it at his waist was a belt with a dagger in its sheath. As he stepped forward, it dropped out of its sheath.
Joab said to Amasa, “How are you, my brother?” Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly, and his intestines spilled out on the ground. Without being stabbed again, Amasa died.
Joab and Abishai started out on their original mission, which was to pursue Amasa, but there’s a problem: there’s a dead body in the middle of the road:
Then Joab and his brother Abishai pursued Sheba son of Bikri.
One of Joab’s men stood beside Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab!” Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the middle of the road, and the man saw that all the troops came to a halt there. When he realized that everyone who came up to Amasa stopped, he dragged him from the road into a field and threw a garment over him. After Amasa had been removed from the road, everyone went on with Joab to pursue Sheba son of Bikri.
Does this seem callous to any of you? It does to me. But wait, the callousness is not yet over. Joab and Abishai arrive at a little town called Abel Beth Maaka. There’s a city wall, protecting the city, and Joab builds a ramp and starts battering the wall down. A woman inside the walls comes out and says, “Who’s making all the racket? You kids better stop with all that noise! You kids get off my lawn!” Here’s the verses, 2 Samuel 20:14-19,
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. 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, a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” He went toward 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.
She continued, “Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. 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?”
Joab responds, “Who, me?” I just want to kill Sheba.
The wise woman answers, “Oh, is that all you want? Well, we can cut off his head and toss it over the wall for you, if you’d like.”
Joab replies, “That’ll be fine, have a nice day.” You might think I’m making this exchange up, but that’s the way I read it.
“Far be it from me!” Joab replied, “Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! 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.”
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.
So what’s the moral of the story?
I confess, I read this section several times, studied, prayed… I asked advice from a pastor here who told me not to lose my head about it. Really.
There are no good guys in this story, no moral high ground. To me just a bunch of people doing their own thing, not trusting in the Lord, reaping the repercussions of their decision. One of my favorite sayings is, “If you can’t be a good example, then do your best to be a horrible warning.” Maybe that’s what’s going on.
IV. The Sword Will Never Leave David’s House
Or on the other hand, step back and look at the big picture. We have to go all the way back 2 Samuel 12. Chris did an excellent lesson on confession and transgressions and Psalm 32 and a study of David’s infidelity with Bathsheba, as well as forgiveness and the promise of eternal salvation if we are faithful and confess our sins. And Theresa taught us about grief and one of the phrases in her handout struck me, it said,
When we do not obey God, grief with guilt and consequences will be the canvas where the episodes of our life will be played out.
Even though David is not a big part of today’s scripture, we are seeing that in force in today’s scripture. When David had Uriah the Hittite murdered, Nathan’s prophecy to David was in 2 Samuel 12:9-10, the Lord said,
Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
The sword will never depart from your house. David was guilty of a great many things, and when Nathan confronted David about it, David confessed that he had sinned. I think that’s one of the many reasons David was a man after God’s own heart – David’s first response wasn’t, “but he deserved it” or “I deserve this,” but “I have sinned.”
And the Lord is quick to forgive, but forgiveness doesn’t erase the repercussions. Christians cannot rob a bank and expect they will avoid jail time. Christians cannot drink to excess and expect that they will avoid cirrhosis of the liver. All sins have consequences, even seemingly minor ones such as gossip. Has anybody here ever gossiped? And that’s not everyone, at least that’s not what I heard.
I was thinking about these after meeting a couple on the beach recently. My wife, being a people person, does an excellent job of starting a conversation and turning it to theological questions. We were just walking by and I don’t remember why we stopped to talk. The couple apparently had been having a discussion about religion. She was Catholic and telling the man that he had to go to church to go to heaven, and going to church with her was probably necessary if they were going to continue dating. He was working on probably his 3rd or 4th beer of the morning, saying that Jesus loved everybody and so he was going to heaven even if he didn’t go to church. True story.
And then somehow we got involved. I just wanted to pick up seashells and dip my toes in the sand.
I don’t remember the nuances of the conversation. I’m pretty sure I took the position that there was some truth in what each of them were saying. For her benefit, I told her that only by placing her faith in Jesus as her Messiah would she be saved, that church attendance had nothing to do with salvation. Nor were there any works necessary to minimize purgatory, that Jesus told the thief on the cross that today he would be with Jesus in heaven, not stop in Purgatory on the way.
For his benefit, I told him how Jesus said many would say to him, “Lord, Lord,” and Jesus would reply, “Away from me, I never knew you.” And this is where the discussion got odd. He told me of course he knew Jesus, so Jesus must know him.
So I explained that Jesus meant something deeper than a passing acquaintance, that you had to place your trust in him. And he replied that’s exactly what he was doing, he just didn’t need to go to church or read the bible to make that happen.
So then I explained from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that our earthly works that did not further God’s kingdom would be burned, but the man would himself would be saved, he’d have that singed smell like a leftover campfire, and that our works that furthered the kingdom of God would be turned into crowns that we would then throw at the feet of Jesus.
He asked, well, what if he didn’t get a crown? I replied, well I suppose you’d at the back of the crowd, empty handed, wishing you had a crown to worship Jesus with.
He said, “I’d still be saved, though, right? I just wouldn’t have a crown?” And I said, “Yeah, probably, something like that.” He took another sip of beer and said, “I’m ok with that.”
I wasn’t sure what to do with that. My unexpressed opinion was that one could not possibly love Jesus without a desire to get to know Him better, but I realized how much of my life had been spent in just that state, trusting in Jesus, too lazy to get to know Him better.
One thing we did not discuss, though, ties into our scripture, how the sword will never leave the house of David. Or what I consider a related scripture, Exodus 34:7 (and multiple other places in scripture),
Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Sins just don’t affect us. They affect those around us, they affect our children, they affect our children’s children. I was asked recently why God punishes our children for things we do, but that’s not really a good question. God doesn’t punish our children, and God makes this clear in scripture like Ezekiel 18:20,
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
We are all responsible for our own sins, whose wages are death. But that doesn’t mean that others aren’t affected. It’s especially visible when a pastor sins – after all, pastors are people, and all have sinned. I used to read bible studies and listen to podcasts from the Mars Hill church in Seattle, Washington. The church had grown to over 12,000 people attending weekly and was considered a role model for evangelism and emerging churches.
But then the pastor published a book, and then used church money to buy all the copies of the book so the book would skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Pastors and congregation objected, considered it unethical, and the resulting notoriety had people looking into the actual book itself which turned out to have large sections plagiarized from other pastors. When confronted, the Mars Hill pastor went on the offensive and bullied his staff that disagreed with him. Within a year, the church – a megachurch – had disbanded and is no more. One man’s sin of pride had repercussions that affected thousands.
But God’s not punishing the congregation, no. But they are impacted by another’s sin.
Same thing in the house of David. David’s heart may have been for God, but he had plenty of actions that brought calamity upon his house. Sons that rebelled, sons that tried to overthrow him. David’s inconsistent role model set a poor example that brought collateral damage on his household, and the sword never left the house of David.
Joab probably looked at the life of David and saw an adulterer and a murderer who got away with his crimes. As a result, Joab probably saw nothing wrong with murdering David’s son Absalom, and then murdering his cousin Amasa, all to regain his position as commander of the Israeli army. And why not? David had Uriah murdered, didn’t he?
I read no scripture when studying for this lesson that Joab had a strong faith in God, or any faith at all for that matter. He was a power hungry egomaniac with murderous intentions. He was certainly impacted by the sins of David, but David, despite his many flaws, loved the Lord. As a result of his love for the Lord, his eternal destination was secure. It was his temporal, earthy life that was so tumultuous. The sword never left his house, and family and friends alike were killed.
Our sins have repercussions. We are forgiven, for sure. When we enter the kingdom of heaven, God promises to separate us from our sins as far as the east is from the west. They are buried in the sea and forgotten.
But friends and family, children and grandchildren, are certainly left to deal what we leave behind, just as we are dealing with the sins of our parents and grandparents. None of us are perfect.
A quick look now at Romans 6:23,
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Have you ever noticed that we earn death, but eternal life is a gift? Our father in heaven loves us despite our many flaws and sins and freed us from the penalty of sin.
Praise be to our Father in heaven for the gift of life we do not deserve, and freedom from the death we do deserve.
To God be the glory. Amen.
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