II Samuel 20

The Word Made Fresh

1A rabble-rouser named Sheba son of Bichri, from the tribe of Benjamin was in the crowd. He blew a trumpet and called out to the Israelites, “We have nothing to do with David. We have no share in the son of Jesse! Let’s get out of here, Israel!” 2Then the men of Israel left David and followed Sheba, but the people of Judah remained faithful to their king and walked with him from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

3When David arrived in Jerusalem he gathered the ten concubines he had left behind to keep his house and put them in another house where they lived under guard. He never again went to them, and they stayed there as widows for the rest of their lives.

4Then the king said to Amasa, “Summon the men of Judah to meet with me in three days, and you come, too.” 5Amasa did as David asked, but didn’t act as quickly as David had ordered, 6so David told Abishai, “Sheba son of Bichri will do more harm to us than Absalom. Take my men and chase him down before he holes up in some fortified place and escapes.”

7Joab’s men followed after Abishai as well, along with the Cherethites and Pelethites and others. They left Jerusalem and pursued Sheba son of Bichri.

8While they were at the rocky outcropping at Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Joab was wearing his military gear, with a sword strapped to his waist in its sheath, and he slipped it out as he approached Amasa. 9Joab greeted him, saying, “I hope you’re well, brother,” and he gripped Amasa’s beard with his right hand to kiss him. 10Amasa didn’t notice he was holding the sword, and Joab thrust it into his stomach, spilling his intestines on the ground, and he died without Joab having to strike again.

Then Joab and his brother Abishai continued to pursue Sheba. 11One of Joab’s men stood beside Amasa’s body and yelled, “Whoever is for Joab and David, follow Joab!” 12Amasa was bleeding out on the road and passing soldiers were stopping and staring, so the man pulled Amasa’s body off the road and threw a blanket over him. 13After he did that, all the soldiers hurried on with Joab to catch Sheba son of Bichri.

14Meanwhile, Sheba was passing through the territories of the tribes of Israel. He came to Abel Beth-Maacah, where all of his father’s relatives joined him. 15Joab surrounded the town so that no one could enter or leave. They built a dirt ramp against the town’s wall and began to batter the wall to break through.

16Then a wise woman from the city called out, “Listen! Let me speak to Joab!” 17When Joab approached she asked, “Are you Joab?”

“I am,” he said.

“Listen to me,” she said.

“I’m listening.”

18“There used to be a saying, ‘Take it to Abel,’ and people would come here to have their disputes settled. 19I am a woman of peace, and a woman of faith. You’re trying to destroy a city that is like a mother to Israel. Why are you trying to destroy such a gift from the LORD?”

20“No, no!” Joab objected. “I have no desire to destroy such a heritage. 21Not at all! But you have a man from the hill country of Ephraim, Sheba son of Bichri, who has threatened king David. Give him up to me and I will withdraw!”

The woman answered, “We’ll throw his head over the wall to you!” 22Then she told all the people what she thought they should do, and they beheaded Sheba son of Bichri and threw his head over the wall to Joab. Then he had the trumpet sounded and withdrew from the city. They all returned to their homes, and Joab went back to Jerusalem to the king.

23Joab was now in charge of the army. Benaiah son of Jehoida commanded the Cherthites and Pelethites special forces. 24Adoram was in charge of forced labor. Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was the records keeper. 25Sheva was the royal secretary. Zadok and Abiathar were the priests, and Ira the Jairite was also David’s personal priest.


1-2: The grudge between Judah and Israel results in another attempt to overthrow David. Sheba, from the tribe of Benjamin, attempts a coup. Saul was a Benjaminite; this dispute is an extension of the conflict between David and Saul. Sheba succeeds initially in drawing off the support of the northern tribes. Notice that there is now a regular reference to what will become two separate countries: Judah and Israel.

3: We interrupt this tale to bring you a breaking news story: What became of the king’s concubines who were publicly violated by Absalom? Our diligent reporter has found that David has put them in seclusion. They will be provided for from the king’s treasury, but never again will they entertain the king.

4-10: David summons Amasa to gather the armies of Judah together, but Amasa delays. David then asks Abishai to pursue Sheba. Joab, ever bold to protect his own interests, goes out behind him. He meets Amasa at Gibeon and murders him in cold blood.

11-13: A curious detail is added: the body of Amasa draws the attention of passing warriors, so is dragged away from the road and hidden.

14-22: Now it is Joab who pursues Sheba to Abel Beth-Maacah in the extreme north, well on the way to Damascus. He lays siege to the city, and a wise woman agrees to throw Sheba’s head over to him if he will cease and desist. He agrees, she tosses, and Joab’s position as commander of the army is secured.

23-26: He returns to Jerusalem where he resumes sole command of the army. David reorganizes his administration. Benaiah is still over the mercenary forces. Adoram is now in charge of the forced labor; this is the first mention of Adoram and the first mention of forced labor; it is a new department in David’s government, and is a sign (at least to me) that not all is well in David’s kingdom. Jehoshaphat retains his position as royal record keeper (see 8:16). Sheva is a new name as secretary, unless it is a form of the name Seraiah, who was mentioned before (8:17). Zadok and Abiathar retain their positions as priests, but Ira the Jairite is a new name and appears only here as David’s private priest.

The list suggests that David’s leadership has undergone subtle changes, but also shows a good bit of stability of his inner circle of key officials.


This chapter spells the end of internal attempts to oust David — at least until he is an old man, when his sons will fight over the succession. Joab continues to take matters into his own hands to ruthlessly secure his position as head of the military. Later, he will try to continue to secure his place by backing one of David’s sons to succeed David. The wrong son. Ambition is not one of the “seven deadly sins,” but blind ambition, the kind that ignores the welfare of everyone else, is never in keeping with the will of God.