AN EXPOSITION OF SECOND SAMUEL 20:1-8, 15-22
The Rebellion of Sheba
1 AND there happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.
The phrase, “a man of Belial” (be’-le-al; worthless), was used by the Hebrews to speak ill of someone. We are introduced to a man whom the author of Holy Scripture speaks ill of. His name, Sheba. His father was known to be Bichri (bik’-ri; firstborn).They were from the tribe of Benjamin, known for its warlike spirit. It is unfortunate that Bichri is mentioned, for he raised a worthless son. It is possible for a good parent to produce children who prove to be rebellious, resentful, and full of hatred.
Generally, when a child is brought up properly, they will be good and decent. However, that is a proverb. The reality is that individuals are responsible for their own attitude and actions. Sometimes a son goes astray and becomes contemptuously known as “a man of Belial.” Let every man ask himself, “Am I a man of Belial, or am I a man of God.” The epithet “man of God” is used often in Scripture. It is a lovely expression that speaks of a person who walks with God.
As Sheba steps onto the stage of Hebrew history, he does so as a man who is not walking with God. He is a villain for he is found opposing a true man of God in the person of the king, David.
For some reason, Sheba is opposed to David, and he wanted others to know just how hostile he was to the king. To that end he blew a trumpet, thereby calling attention to himself.
Once he had gathered people around him, the man of Belial spoke saying, “We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.” Perhaps you have heard someone say after a contentious presidential election, “Well, he is not my president!” “He will never be my president!” Such civil discourtesy, and resistance to reality, is not new. Sheba was very modern when he presumed to speak for others and said, “We have no part in David.”
It is possible that Sheba was expressing what many others were saying, for the northern tribes were still resisting the idea that their king, Saul, was dead, and his dynasty had ended. David now took Saul’s place as the next king of the land. David was king by Divine design, for the prophet Samuel had anointed David in the name of the Lord. But Sheba did not like that fact.
Therefore, not only would Sheba call attention to himself and his displeasure by blowing a trumpet, not only would Sheba voice his contempt for the son of Jesse, Sheba would incite resistance shouting, “Every man to his tents, O Israel.” That was Sheba’s cry of disloyal opposition. The anger and passion of Sheba was electrifying. A zealous person can be very persuasive, no matter how foolish, and unreasonable, they may be.
2 So every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri: but the men of Judah clave unto their king, from Jordan even to Jerusalem.
The northern tribes of Israel followed the rebel Sheba. In their rebellion they brought chaos to society and civil war. Sheba, and his followers, did not care. Their hatred for David led to self-destructive, and other destructive acts of political, military, and civil resistance, verbal abuse, and violence. Then, the man of Belial had the audacity to blame David for all that was wrong in Hebrew society.
A psychologist would call this projection. Projection occurs when a person blames another individual for what they are doing. Projection is a human defense mechanism so that a person does not have to face up to the hatred in their own heart, the rebellion against divine establishment, and the ruthlessness of their own soul. People excuse in themselves what they condemn in others. For Sheba, no amount of public self-promotion was sufficient. No amount of verbal abuse of David was satisfactory. Northern resistance to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah would not be relented until David either abdicated the throne, or was dead. What would David do?
3 And 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 ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.
4 Then said the king to Amasa, Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present.
After assessing the situation, the Bible tells us the actions that David took. First, David set his own house in order, according to the social customs of his day. Specifically, David took the ten women whom his son Absalom had intimate relations with in the sight of all Israel (2 Sam. 16:22), and placed them in protective care until the day of their death.
Another way David set his house in order was by calling his nephew, Amasa (burden) and personally ordering him to assemble the men of Judah within three days to do battle. While issuing this general call to arms through Amasa, David made a point to tell Amasa, “and be thou there present.” “Amasa, make sure you are present and ready for duty.”
The reason for this specific command to Amasa was because David was giving his nephew a chance to redeem himself. Amasa had formerly united with Absalom during his revolt against David. Amasa had been made an officer in Absalom’s army. But his forces were defeated by Joab.
Taken captive, Amasa was taken to David who showed incredible mercy. David gave Amasa an opportunity to reverse his life, unite with righteousness, and fight for a just cause on the side of the Lord’s anointed. “Amasa, you make sure you are there.” In this way, David set his own house in order.
5 So Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah: but he tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him.
The tardiness of Amasa to assemble the men of Judah within three days for battle may have been due to an unwillingness of soldiers to follow a man who has proven to be a traitor to the king. David may trust his nephew. David might be willing to give Amasa a second chance, but the men of Judah were more hesitant. So Amasa “tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him.” Growing impatient, and knowing that the time for battle was urgent, David gave an important military assignment to Abishai.
6 And David said to Abishai, Now shall Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than did Absalom: take thou thy lord’s servants, and pursue after him, lest he get him fenced cities, and escape us.
Abishai (the present of my father), was another nephew in David’s family. He was a great warrior, and a loyal follower of David in his battles against the Edomites, the Ammonites, and the forces of Absalom. Having proven himself to be personally courageous, trustworthy, and successful in battle, David assigned to Abishai, along with other warriors, the task of putting down the Sheba rebellion. If Sheba was not immediately sought out and destroyed, he would find refuge in a sanctuary city, and escape justice. Therefore, the hunt was on.
7 And there went out after him Joab’s men, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men: and they went out of Jerusalem, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.
Abishai was able to unite with his brother, Joab, who had gathered a fighting force. Then they united with the Cherethites, and the Pelethites to pursue Sheba. The Cherethites refer to men from an island of Southwest Greece known as Crete which is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Crete is a rugged mountainous region. The people from Crete had a reputation that was less than ideal. A Greek philosopher, Epimenides (600 BC), characterized the Cretans as perpetual liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12). While the Cretans had many character flaws, apparently they made good body guards (2 Sam. 8:18; 1 Kings 1:38, 44).
While the Cretans were proven warriors, the Pelethites may have been couriers of the king’s orders to distant places (2 Chron. 30:6). A military needs good fighting men, but it also needs good information regarding troop movement, and other vital statistics. With a large military force on the hunt, led by at least two capable and determined generals who were provided with good information, and the order to kill the rebel leader, Sheba did not stand a chance in the small nation of Israel. When he was found, Sheba was in the city of Abel of Beth-ma’achah.
15 And they came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-ma’achah, and they cast up a bank against the city, and it stood in the trench: and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down.
Those who abuse the law and cause civil unrest will seek the protection of the society they sought to overthrow.
16 Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.
17 And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.
18 Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.
19 I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?
20 And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.
21 The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city. And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall.
22 Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king.
Once the woman and the inhabitants of the city understood the seriousness of the situation, and the lawless treachery of Sheba, they wanted nothing to do with him. In an act of righteous judgment the people cut off the head of Sheba and cast it over the city wall to Joab. Justice was satisfied. A second trumpet was blown, this time to sound forth that righteousness was restored to the land of Israel. The military force “retired from the city.” The citizen-soldiers went home.
Consider Some Spiritual Lessons from the Narrative
Venting does nothing but produce more verbal and physical violence. The Bible tells us to put away our anger, not vent it.
By the grace of God, David was not alone in the land. The men of Judah stood with David, and thereby came to represent a spiritual truth. God has a remnant according to the election of grace.
By giving Amasa a second chance, David was reflecting the grace of God which gives us many chances in life to do right, and to be right. His mercies are renewed every morning. Great is His faithfulness.
Logical steps must be taken in difficult days. Period of personal and national pressure is no time to fall apart, emotionally or intellectually. A person must sit down, take a deep breath, and plan what to do. Plan your work; work your plan.
Rabble rousers seldom sustain a following. In the end, Sheba found himself alone, in hiding, and terrified. People who incite violence are often cowards. They find their courage in those they arouse to anger, and depend on others to protect them.
Never underestimate the courage of a woman, or how ruthless women can be. Many a man has lost their head over a woman, in more ways than one. Consider some women of the Bible who caused men to “lose their heads” literally, or figuratively.
Delilah. She exposed Samson’s secret because he lost his head over her, figuratively.
Salome. She seductively danced before King Herod, and was rewarded with the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Her bloody request was insisted upon by her godless mother, Herodias.
Herodias. Herodias was born into a violent family. Her grandfather, King Herod the Great, killed her grandmother, the lovely, tragic Mariamne, in a fit of jealous rage. Then he killed Herodias’ father, his own son. Her mother fled to Rome with Herodias and her younger brother Agrippa, and stayed there until it was safe to return – when King Herod was safely dead. Herodias grew up as a royal aristocrat in Rome, pampered and spoiled. Her first husband, and the father of her daughter Salome, was her uncle Philip, also a son of Herod the Great. Philip was a rather dull man, and she soon divorced him and married Philip’s half-brother Herod Antipas (who was also her uncle). It was this union which John the Baptist denounced, and for which he lost his head for doing so.
The Jewish historian, Josephus, records the end of Herodias. As political unrest grew, the time came when Herodias joined Herod Antipas in exile in Lugdunum (Antiquities of the Jews 18, 7, 2). Herod had been defeated in battle and was exiled by Aretas. Salome also reportedly decided to join Herod and Herodias in exile rather than be alone. The emperor had sent them to Spain and as she was passing over a frozen river, the ice broke and she sank in up to her neck and died.
The way of the wicked is hard.