Introduction: 2 Samuel 20 continues the story of the many conflicts that overtook Israel after David misused his power to commit acts of polygamy, adultery, deceit, and murder. God forgave David after he repented by sparing his life. Yet, David’s sins still brought consequences to first his family and then the nation. This chapter tells of the Sheba’s rebellion that followed immediately after Absalom’s rebellion. From the rebellions that Satan inspired and David’s efforts to extinguish them, God reveals seven lessons on defeating rebellions. These include: (1) unity, (2) purity, (3) vigilance, (4) righteousness, (5) love, (6) being Spirit-led, and (7) justice.
First, acting under Satan’s influence, Sheba started a rebellion by inflaming divisions within the 12 tribes. From his evil acts, God warns that unity in the Body of Christ is necessary to defeat Satan’s rebellions. Second, David responded to Sheba’s evil acts by putting away his ten concubines. From David’s example, God reveals that purity within the Body of Christ is also necessary to defeat Satan’s rebellions. Third, unlike his failure to act in response to Absalom’s rebellion, David acted quickly to extinguish Sheba’s rebellion. From David’s example, God reveals that sin must be promptly removed to defeat Satan’s rebellions. Fourth, David’s former general Joab used deceit and murder to kill David’s new general. From Joab’s evil acts, God warns that rebellion cannot be defeated using Satan’s tools. Fifth, Joab sought to kill Sheba by destroying an entire city where he was hiding. Joab failed to follow God’s rules of warfare in his siege. From Joab’s acts, God warns that defeating rebellions requires loving those lost to sin. Sixth, God sent a woman to rebuke Joab and convince the city elders to kill Sheba and end the rebellion. This woman represented the Holy Spirit. From her example, God reveals that to defeat rebellions leaders must be led by the Spirit and not by the flesh. Finally, when David installed his second administration, he took no action against Joab and allowed him to stay as head of the army. From David’s mistake, God reveals that believers need godly leaders who will pursue justice to prevent further rebellions. Without justice, conflicts will inevitably reemerge.
Sheba incites the ten northern tribes into a revolt. The peace following David’s victory over Absalom’s troops did not last long. Before David had even returned to Jerusalem, a Benjamite from Saul’s tribe named Sheba led the ten northern tribes into a new revolt: “1 Now a worthless fellow happened to be there whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite; and he blew the trumpet and said, ‘We have no portion in David, nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” 2 So all the men of Israel withdrew from following David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri; but the men of Judah remained steadfast to their king, from the Jordan even to Jerusalem.” (2 Sam. 20:1-2). Sheba was an opportunist. The tribe of Judah (and Simeon which it had absorbed) returned back with David across the River Jordan without the ten tribes to the north. This caused the ten tribes to feel slighted and less important in David’s kingdom: “But the men of Israel answered the men of Judah and said, ‘We have ten parts in the king, therefore we also have more claim on David than you. Why then did you treat us with contempt? Was it not our advice first to bring back our king?’ Yet the words of the men of Judah were harsher than the words of the men of Israel.” (2 Sam. 19:43). These divisions would persist and eventually lead to the partition of Israel.
Sheba incites a rebellion against David’s kingdom1
Sheba exploited pre-existing divisions based upon pride and coveting within the tribes. Tensions between the tribes dated back to Jacob’s dysfunctional family of 12 boys through four different mothers. Jacob created jealousy and competition within the tribes when he favored Joseph and Benjamin over his 10 other sons. These tensions most likely laid dormant during the tribes’ 400 years of oppression in Egypt. Yet, these tensions came to the surface when the 12 tribes competed for influence after they settled in the Promised Land. Pride and coveting drove the three tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah to fight to gain supremacy. During the time period of the judges, the tribe of Ephraim tried to assert its dominance over Israel. Ephraim was prideful and felt entitled to the glory of victory for at least three reasons. First, Joseph, the patriarch of this tribe, had saved the 12 tribes from death by bringing them to Egypt. Jacob then switched the birth order of Joseph’s two oldest children, Manasseh and Ephraim, to make the second born Ephraim the firstborn in terms of power and prestige (Gen. 48:13, 17-20; 41:50-51; Nu. 13:8, 16). Second, Joshua, the Jews’ leader in their conquest of the Promised Land, was a member of the Ephraim tribe (Nu. 13:8; 14:6-9). Third, also during the time period of the judges, the tribe of Ephraim guarded the ark in its territory and hosted all sacrifices and the three yearly festivals for the nation (Josh. 18:1). In other words, it was the de facto capital of the 12 tribes. Thus, elders from the tribe of Ephraim argued with Gideon from the tribe of Manasseh out of jealousy after his soldiers defeated the Midianites without involving Ephraim in the battle (Jdgs. 8:1). The elders from Ephraim later confronted a judge named Jephthah after he also failed to consult with them before fighting the Ammonites (Jdgs. 12:1-3). When Saul became Israel’s first king, he used his power to place cronies from his tribe of Benjamin in all the positions of power. When David became a threat, he used the threat of their loss of power to turn the tribe of Benjamin against David: “Saul said to his servants who stood around him, ‘Hear now, O Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse also give to all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds?” (1 Sam. 22:7) After Saul’s death, Judah was the only tribe to back David because they also wanted to reign supreme (2 Sam. 2:10-11). The tribes then fought a civil war for seven years to determine who should be king (2 Sam. 2:12-4:12). When Saul’s last son Ish-bosheth was murdered by his own commanders, the remaining tribes all professed their loyalty to David and acknowledged that they were of the same flesh and blood: “Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and your flesh.”’ (2 Sam. 5:1). As a Benjamite, Sheba sought to use David’s family civil war to allow the tribe of Benjamin to lead again. He sought to create doubt about David’s legitimacy and questioned his humble heritage. He wanted the tribes to question whether a king from the tribe of Judah would give them their allotted power within Israel. Those who coveted power joined in his rebellion. As one commentator observes: “In 2 Samuel 19:40-43 leaders from these same ten tribes argued with the tribe of Judah over who honored David more. Their response to Sheba’s rebellion shows that their desire to honor David had nothing to do with honoring him, but in exalting self.” (David Guzik on 2 Sam. 20).2 The sins of pride and coveting would continue within the 12 tribes after David and later divide the country.
Israel’s division and future partition were the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy. The civil strife within David’s kingdom was also a fulfillment of the prophet Nathan’s warning that David would experience ongoing conflict within his “household” because of his prior sins: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; . . .” (2 Sam. 12:11). This curse was at first limited to David’s family. Yet, it then spread to the “household” of his kingdom. God used the words “household” and “kingdom” together when He formed His covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:11-16). After David’s troops defeated Sheba’s rebellion, the conflict between the tribe of Judah and the northern tribes lay dormant during Solomon’s reign. Yet, after Solomon’s death, a rebel quoted Sheba’s words to start a new civil war between the tribes: “When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, ‘What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; to your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!’ So Israel departed to their tents.” (1 Kgs. 12:16). The tribe of Ephraim then again became the dominant power in the north after Israel divided into two nations. Yet, the tribe of Ephraim was later condemned for its pride and apostasy (Hosea 4:17; 5:3). Its pride led to its decline (Prov. 16:18).
Sin and rebellion will spread when leaders reject God’s Word. The men who followed after Sheba might have deluded themselves into thinking that David was not worthy to lead because his sins and his dysfunctional children. Yet, by challenging David’s right to rule, they were rebelling against God’s Word. God had clearly and unequivocally spoken on this subject. He had formed an eternal covenant with David and his descendants to rule forever. ‘“Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’ (2 Sam. 7:16). Thus, those who followed after Sheba were directly rebelling against God and acting under Satan’s influence. Satan’s goal has always been to break down order through rebellion. His goal is to create chaos and misery. Satan first led a third of the angels in rebellion against God’s rule (Rev. 12:3-9). He then led Eve to rebel against God’s rules (Gen. 3:1-4). He then lead Adam and Eve to rebel against each other (Gen. 3:16). Satan also becomes the father of those who rebel (Jo. 8:44). Jesus once quoted a prophesy: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mk. 14:23). When influenced by Satan, the corrupt “despise authority.” (2 Pet. 2:10). Solomon later said that rebellion was the sign of an “evil man.” (Prov. 17:11). According to Paul, rebellion is also part of the spirit of “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2). Samuel also said that: “. . . rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft . . .” (1 Sam. 15:23). After leaving Egypt, the Jews’ lack of faith caused them to repeatedly rebel against God and His appointed leader Moses (Nu. 14:22). As a result of the Jews’ repeated refusal to obey and have faith, God eventually banished them to spend 40 years wandering in the desert (Nu. 14:34). For everything good and holy, Satan has created a counterfeit to deceive people. If God’s perfect government leads to peace and harmony (1 Tim. 2:1-2), rebellion only brings strife, death, and misery.
Be wary of false leaders who rebel against God’s Word. Throughout history, there have been many false leaders who have led God’s people into rebellion against His Word. Believers must be wary of these false leaders: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15). “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” (Matt. 24:11, 24). Thus, you must test every person who seeks to guide you on your walk with Christ: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jo. 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21). If a leader preaches a standard of morality that is directly contrary to God’s Word in the name of either tolerance or diversity, that leader is preaching rebellion. When someone seeks to lead, are you testing his or her claims against God’s Word? Is your church guiding God’s flock in this area?
A leader’s pride and coveting can lead an entire nation into rebellion. The tribes’ rebellion against David was ultimately rooted in pride and coveting. They felt that they should lead, and they coveted power. These sins will lead to rebellion because they can never be satisfied. The reason for this is that the pleasure Satan offers from coveting never lasts long (Heb. 11:25; Lk. 12:19-20). The coveting that he offers can only be satisfied through more coveting: “He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, and he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations and collects to himself all peoples.” (Hab. 2:5). “And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each one to his unjust gain, to the last one.” (Is. 56:11). “Sheol, and the barren womb, earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says, ‘Enough’.” (Prov. 30:16). Coveting is so dangerous and powerful that it brought down Solomon, the wisest man in his day (1 Kgs. 4:30). His coveting led him to take 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kgs. 11:3). His lust for women also turned his heart away from God (1 Kgs. 11:4). He then began to serve other gods and did evil in God’s eyes (1 Kgs. 11:5-6). David’s coveting for Bathsheba led to his adultery and his murder of her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:14-15). If someone seeking to lead is filled with pride and coveting, that person will also likely rebel against God’s Word. Like Sheba, such a person can even incite an entire nation into rebellion. When the Church stays out of politics, it gives Satan’s followers control.
Unite others in the Body of Christ. Unlike Sheba, believers are called upon to act with one accord as the Spirit leads the body. “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Ro. 12:5). “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17). “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12). “But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor. 12:20-21). “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;” (Eph. 4:4). You must also be motivated by love when you act with others: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:14). Sheba acted with neither one accord nor with love. Like Sheba, do your actions divide others for your glory?
David ends his improper relationship with his ten concubines. David’s first response to the rebellion was to purify his walk with God. This included putting away his ten concubines: “3 Then David came to his house at Jerusalem, and the king took the ten women, the concubines whom he had left to keep the house, and placed them under guard and provided them with sustenance, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as widows.” (2 Sam. 20:3). When David fled from Absalom, he left ten concubines in Jerusalem to maintain his claim to the capital (2 Sam. 15:16). Based upon Ahithophel’s wicked advice, Absalom then slept with them in public: “they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.” (2 Sam 16:22). This was part of David’s curse for his adultery, murder, and deceit: ‘“ . . . I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.’” (2 Sam. 12:11-12). “You shall betroth a wife, but another man will violate her; you shall build a house, but you will not live in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but you will not use its fruit.” (Dt. 28:30). David had repented. Now, he needed to turn away from his sinful lifestyle.
David was not following God’s will when he took concubines and wives3
God’s prohibition against multiple wives. There is great confusion across the commentaries regarding what motivated David’s actions. Many believe that David put away his ten concubines in an effort to regain favor with the tribes who questioned his leadership. Many believe that David was trying to follow the law that prevented a man from remarrying a wife after he divorces her and another man marries her (Dt. 24:1-4). Yet, David never divorced these women, and Absalom never married them. The law also did not prevent a couple from reuniting as husband and wife after a wife is brutally raped. Such a rule would be absurd on its face. David’s real problem was that his polygamous lifestyle violated God’s law. God’s law was clear that David could have only one wife: “He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; . . .” (Dt. 17:17). Yet, out of pride and covetousness, David rebelled against this law. After marrying seven wives (six too many), David then took concubines and additional wives: “Meanwhile David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron; and more sons and daughters were born to David.” (2 Sam. 5:13). David thought that he could avoid God’s law by adopting the world’s standard that these were “concubines”, not “wives.” Yet, God referred to these women as his “wives” when He punished David: ‘“ . . . I will even take your wives . . . and he will lie with your wives . . ..’” (2 Sam. 12:11-12). David's real problem was that he could not return to his old sinful ways and lead Israel. Thus, he ended his unlawful relationship with his ten concubines. The ten concubines foreshadowed the judgment under God’s Ten Commandments. He did not divorce six of his seven wives to fully comply with this law. Yet, as a changed man, he never took another wife or concubine as long as he lived.
Live as a new creation. Because of Jesus’ death and the Holy Spirit within you, you also have been given a new beginning (Ez. 36:26; 2 Tim 1:14; Rom. 8:9). You have also become a new creation: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:24). As a new creation, God will forget your old sins: “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12; same 10:17; Is. 43:25; Jer. 31:34; 50:20; Micah 7:18). As a new creation, He wants you to put away your old sinful ways: “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,” (Eph. 4:22). Like David, have you put away the sins of your old life to fully serve God and His people?
The Church must be pure to be an instrument of judgment. God commands believers to be holy (Lev. 11:44-7). Believers are His salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-14). He also uses believers as His instrument of justice, just like He did through David (Ro. 13:4). Our salt should sting in the wound of sin. Yet, we are warned that “if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” (Matt. 6:23). Jesus warned the church of Pergamum that it was polluted by its sins of sexual immorality: “you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” (Rev. 2:14). Pergamum symbolized the union of the Church and the world. Today, the rates of divorce, premarital sex, adultery, drug abuse, and sexual diseases within the Church have exploded. The Church cannot be God’s agent of change when it is polluted by sexual sin. The Church must also help to elect leaders who are not trapped in sexual sins. Just like David, a leader trapped in sexual idolatry can bring chaos to the nation.
Amasa delays in executing David’s order, and Joab pursues Sheba’s forces. In an effort to prevent Sheba’s rebellion from spreading, David ordered his new general Amasa to strike Sheba in three days. When Amasa could not act within this time, David turned to Abishai to lead his forces. But David’s former general Joab took control: “4 Then the king said to Amasa, ‘Call out the men of Judah for me within three days, and be present here yourself.’ 5 So Amasa went to call out the men of Judah, but he delayed longer than the set time which he had appointed him. 6 And David said to Abishai, ‘Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom; take your lord’s servants and pursue him, so that he does not find for himself fortified cities and escape from our sight.’ 7 So Joab’s men went out after him, along with the Cherethites and the Pelethites and all the mighty men; and they went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri.” (2 Sam. 20:4-7). When Absalom rebelled against David, he appointed Amasa to fight against David (2 Sam. 17:25). After David put down Absalom’s rebellion, he agreed as a gesture of unity to allow Amasa to command his forces (2 Sam. 19:13). Yet, Amasa was not a competent commander. For this same reason, Joab decisively defeated 20,000 of his men in battle (2 Sam. 18:6-8). Also because he was not a competent commander, he failed to assemble the troops in three days as David ordered. David knew that any insurrection had to be put down quickly. David was able to rebuild his forces and defeat Absalom because Hushai tricked Absalom into rejecting Ahithophel’s advice to launch a quick assault on David’s weakened forces (2 Sam. 17:1-14). Thus, David knew that he could not delay in attacking Sheba. David then turned to Abishai. Abishai was David’s nephew and one of his mighty men (1 Chr. 2:16). He went with him to Saul’s tent (1 Sam. 26:7-11). He was also a leader in the war against Ish-bosheth (2 Sam. 2:18, 24). David’s forces also included gentiles called the Cherethites and the Pelethites. They had fought alongside David since the beginning of his reign (2 Sam. 8:18). With these loyal forces, David hoped to quickly put down Sheba’s rebellion. Yet, David’s old commander Joab coveted his old position of influence and took back control of David’s forces.
Joab’s pursuit of Sheba’s forces4
The flesh is at war with the Spirit. Sheba symbolized the flesh and its constant war with the Spirit. “And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” (Gal. 4:28-29). Satan seeks to put your flesh at war with God’s Spirit: “[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . . and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7-8). “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Gal. 5:17). If you give in to your flesh, the devil will ultimately enslave you: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Ro. 6:16; Gal. 4:7-9). If you then fail to ask for Christ to deliver you from your bondage, He will turn you over to your addictions until you repent: “Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, . . .” (Ro. 1:24-33; Ps. 81:12). Thus, you must pick that which you will serve: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24). Jesus’ point is that you cannot lead a dual life. You are either serving God or Satan.
Sin must be eliminated from the Body, or it will spread like cancer. Although this account was a real event, it is also filled with symbolism. David learned from Absalom’s rebellion that he could not allow rebellion to fester in his kingdom. Jesus warns that you must immediately remove sin from your body: “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.” (Matt. 18:9). Paul also commanded believers to make no provision for the flesh: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Ro. 13:14). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16). “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24). “[K]nowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Ro. 6:6). Part of living by the Spirit requires that you renew your mind every day to live by Jesus’ will: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). Are you purging the things of the flesh from your life?
Joab betrays and murders Amasa. Driven by jealousy, Joab deceived and then murdered his rival Amasa: “8 When they were at the large stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was dressed in his military attire, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened at his waist; and as he went forward, it fell out. 9 Joab said to Amasa, ‘Is it well with you, my brother?’ And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. 10 But Amasa was not on guard against the sword which was in Joab’s hand so he struck him in the belly with it and poured out his inward parts on the ground, and did not strike him again, and he died. Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri.” (2 Sam. 20:8-10). For Joab, the ends justified the means. Thus, he was willing to rebel against his king’s orders and use Satan’s tools of deceit and murder. Believers, however, cannot defeat Satan’s rebellions by using his tools. Instead, believers are to prevail through love and righteousness.
Joab deceives and murders his rival Amasa5
Don’t use Satan’s tools of deceit and murder. Joab used deceit to murder Amasa. As a deceiver and as a murder, Joab was using Satan’s tools and acting under his influence. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jo. 8:44). Joab deceived and murdered without remorse because he had done both in the past without remorse and without any real consequences. For example, he once used a fake widow’s deception into tricking David into bringing Absalom home from exile (2 Sam. 14:1-121). Joab also previously committed murder when he killed a general named Abner after Abner switched sides in Israel’s civil war to support David (2 Sam. 3:6-11). Joab could not forgive Abner and was filled with vengeance because he killed Abner’s brother Asahel in battle (2 Sam. 2:18-24; 3:26-30). Joab later again violated David’s orders and murdered his son Absalom after he was caught hanging by a tree (2 Sam. 18:11-15). Most likely because of these acts, David did not turn to Joab to lead the troops after Amasa proved to be incompetent. David previously warned that God would judge Joab. “May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil.” (2 Sam. 3:39(b)). And God would ultimately hold Joab accountable (1 Kgs. 2:5-6).
Jealousy also places you under Satan’s influence. Joab was jealous of Amasa for taking his job as David’s general. Unlike Joab, you should never give into your flesh by envying or being jealous of others: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” (Gal. 5:25-26). Jealousy is one of the deadly sins of the flesh (Ro. 13:13; Gal. 5:19-21). Just as jealousy led to Cain’s murder of Abel and Joseph’s brothers’ attempt to kill him, jealousy is a gateway sin that can lead to even worse things in your life: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” (Jam. 3:16). “Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Prov. 27:4; 6:34). God wants you to be content with what He has given you. “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Phil. 4:11). Like Joab, are you jealous of other people’s gifts?
God’s army fights best when His leaders exhort others to righteousness and faith. An army cannot win when generals conspire amongst themselves for power. There must be trust and cohesion for soldiers to trust each other in battle. Believers also must work together as part of the large body of Christ. To be effective in spiritual warfare, a leader must encourage the troops to act with righteousness and faith to allow God to prevail for them: “2 When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. 3 He shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be faint hearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them,’” (Dt. 20:2-3). In modern warfare, soldiers build trust in each other by training together. In spiritual warfare, you are to build up your brothers and sisters through encouragement, mentoring, and discipleship. We see an example of this in how Christ dealt with Peter. At one time, Peter grew weak in his faith when he tried to walk on water. He felt fear when he took his eyes off of Jesus to look at the waves in front of him (Matt. 14:30). He again grew weak in his faith when the people accused him of being a follower of Jesus after His death. He then denied Jesus three times (Matt. 26: 69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:54-62). Jesus would always encourage Peter after his failures. Joshua and Caleb provide another example of the type of encouragement that believers are all meant to provide. They were God’s two witnesses who tried to encourage the fearful people to have faith that they could conquer the giants in the Promised Land (Nu. 14:9). Every believer in Christ is part of His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Thus, you also have a similar calling to use God’s Words to encourage, restore, or uplift another. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13). “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11). “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” (Ro. 15:2). “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” (1 Cor. 14:3; Eph. 4:29; Jude 1:20). Unlike Joab, the leaders of the Church must exhort their members to fight in righteousness and faith.
To succeed in spiritual warfare, a good leader also encourages other leaders. In addition to encouraging the troops, Moses also knew the importance of encouraging his leaders. If they became afraid, those troops under their command would feel fear as well. Thus, Moses also encouraged Joshua to reflect on all that God had done for them: “I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings.’” (Dt. 3:21). Moses then encouraged him not to be afraid because God would also deliver the Promised Land to him as well: “so the Lord shall do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross. Do not fear them, for the Lord your God is the one fighting for you.’” (Dt. 3:22). Instead of killing Amasa, Joab should have encouraged him on how to be a better and more responsive commander for David. Are you mentoring someone in your life? Are you raising up a leader in God’s army?
Joab assumes command and violates God’s rules of war in besieging Abel Beth-maacah. After ruthlessly assuming command of David’s army, Joab then assembled a united force from the 12 tribes and ruthlessly besieged a wall city of Jews where Sheba and his men were hiding: “11 Now there stood by him one of Joab’s young men, and said, ‘Whoever favors Joab and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.’ 12 But Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the middle of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa from the highway into the field and threw a garment over him when he saw that everyone who came by him stood still. 13 As soon as he was removed from the highway, all the men passed on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. 14 Now he went through all the tribes of Israel to Abel, even Beth-maacah, and all the Berites; and they were gathered together and also went after him. 15 They came and besieged him in Abel Beth-maacah, and they cast up a siege ramp against the city, and it stood by the rampart; and all the people who were with Joab were wreaking destruction in order to topple the wall.” (2 Sam. 20:11-15). The men who saw Joab followed him after they mistook his violent ways for godly strength. Yet, believers are warned never to envy and follow violent people: “Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.” (Prov. 3:31). Joab’s violent ways also violated God’s rules of warfare.
Joab ruthlessly lays siege to Abel Beth-maacah6
Fight only when peace is not possible. Part of knowing how to fight is knowing when not to fight. Even when you are stronger in your faith or physical strength, you must not intimidate or kill unnecessarily in war. Thus, Moses taught that war was only to be used as a last resort: “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace.” (Dt. 20:10). Joab never gave the city of Abel Beth-maacah holding Sheba the opportunity to surrender and give him up. Joab also failed to show love to those trapped by sin. This lesson also applies in modern warfare. War imposes a terrible cost upon society. A government that leads a country into war unnecessarily will lose people, treasure, and the support of its people and its friends. Jesus also taught that the peacemakers would be blessed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9). “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Ro. 12:18). “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mk. 9:50). Because Jesus has come to fulfill the law, He also wants everyone to be reconciled with God. To conform to the Law, He will speak peace to those who surrender to Him: “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; and the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zech. 9:10). He gave His life so that all could know this peace. Are you striving to bring God’s peace to those around you? Or, do your words cause unnecessary pain and division?
God’s prohibition against total warfare. Through the symbolism of cutting down trees, Moses warned that a force laying siege to an enemy’s fort could not cause lasting damage to civilians: “19 When you besiege a city a long time, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you? 20 Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls.” (Dt. 20:19-20). This rule has a modern application today. Modern armies cannot use their technology to destroy an environment with long-term consequences to civilians merely to win a short-term war. Germany became militarized after World War I because the allies put such harsh conditions upon them that their economy imploded. Following World War II, the city of Nagasaki Japan lived for decades with the consequences of the first nuclear weapon. Although nuclear weapons have arguably prevented World War III because of their deterrent, their actual use in war is prohibited by these verses. God gave the Earth to mankind and made them stewards over it (Gen. 1:26-31). When war is fought, civilians must be protected. Destroying everything will destroy their chance to be restored after the evil in their lives is gone.
Follow God’s guidance to surgically remove the rebellion out of your life. When you let Him guide you, Jesus will prune the branches in your life so that they will bear His fruit and not the fruit of rebellion (Jo. 15:2). Jesus is the green tree that you must stay connected to (Lk. 23:31). A tree that does not bear fruit in Christ is cut down and cast into the fire: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” (Jo. 15:6). “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 7:19). “[A]nd if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.” (Lk. 13:9; Ezek. 20:47-49). How do you ensure that you bear fruit in Jesus? You must put your trust in Him to surgically remove just the evil and not the good in your life. “ Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. “For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jer. 17:7-8). Are you letting Jesus prune you by submitting to His discipline so that you may grow His fruit? Do you write off people engaged in sin as if they were dead trees? Or, do you see each sinner as a potential fruit tree waiting to be trimmed?
Love your enemies, even those who hurt you. Unlike what Joab tried to do to this city, God commands His people to love those trapped in sin: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:18). Because the people ignored this commandment, Christ made it a central teaching. Moreover, He expanded it to include a person’s enemies and strangers: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jo. 13:34; 15:17; Matt. 22:39; 19:19). Every New Testament writer repeated this central commandment: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” (Ro. 13:8, 10). “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”’ (Gal. 5:14; Heb. 13:1; 1 Pet. 1:22; Eph. 5:2; 1 Jo. 3:11, 23; 4:7, 21). Unlike Joab, will you show love to your enemies?
Vengeance belongs to God alone. Throughout his life, Joab had taken vengeance into his own hands. Yet, God commands that we leave vengeance to Him: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Ro. 12:19). Have you forgiven your enemies?
A woman from Abel Beth-maacah delivers Sheba and spares the city from destruction. In addition to violating God’s Word, Joab’s actions were about to cause countless innocent civilians to suffer. God then sent a wise woman to bring reason to Joab and the city: “16 Then a wise woman called from the city, ‘Hear, hear! Please tell Joab, ‘Come here that I may speak with you.’’ 17 So he approached her, and the woman said, ‘Are you Joab?’ And he answered, ‘I am.’ Then she said to him, ‘Listen to the words of your maidservant.’ And he answered, ‘I am listening.’ 18 Then she spoke, saying, ‘Formerly they used to say, ‘They will surely ask advice at Abel,’ and thus they ended the dispute. 19 I am of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You are seeking to destroy a city, even a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the Lord?’ 20 Joab replied, ‘Far be it, far be it from me that I should swallow up or destroy! 21 Such is not the case. But a man from the hill country of Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, has lifted up his hand against King David. Only hand him over, and I will depart from the city.’ And the woman said to Joab, ‘Behold, his head will be thrown to you over the wall.’ 22 Then the woman wisely came to all the people. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they were dispersed from the city, each to his tent. Joab also returned to the king at Jerusalem.” (2 Sam. 20:16-22). God would not have needed to send this woman if Joab had followed God’s law regarding warfare. Like Joab, many today ignore the wisdom of God’s Word and do what feels right to them. Joab was no better than Sheba for the suffering that they both created. Both men were guided by their flesh instead of God’s Word and the Spirit.
A woman from Abel Beth-maacah cuts off Sheba’s head to end Joab’s brutal siege7
Be led by the Spirit, or your flesh may lead you into rebellion. The woman in this account was real. Yet, she also symbolized the Holy Spirit. To end Sheba’s rebellion, Joab had to listen to the Holy Spirit. To defeat rebellion, Paul warns believers to be led by the Spirit, not the flesh: “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Ro. 8:12-14). Unlike Joab, you do not need to wonder where God is guiding you when you read His Word and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” (2 Pet. 1:19). “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26). If you follow a leader like Sheba or Joab, you will likely misread God’s will, and you will likely be led by your flesh. This in turn will cause you to rebel against God’s Word. This may also cause others to rebel.
The way which seems right to mankind leads to death. Both Sheba and Joab did what felt right in their own eyes. Yet, the Bible warns: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Sheba’s decision to rebel and live outside of God’s protections ultimately lead to his death. Joab’s decision to fight total warfare against a city filled with God’s people would have also killed many. There may be people in your life who offer what seems like the perfect worldly advice for you. Yet, if the Holy Spirit has not confirmed that path for you, the path may result in misery.
David delegates authority in ruling over Israel. After defeating the rebellions of Absalom and Sheba, David installed leaders for his second reign as king: “23 Now Joab was over the whole army of Israel, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; 24 and Adoram was over the forced labor, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder; 25 and Sheva was scribe, and Zadok and Abiathar were priests; 26 and Ira the Jairite was also a priest to David.” (2 Sam. 20:23-26). This account of David’s administration is noteworthy for what it is missing. When the Bible listed the men who helped David lead at the beginning of his first reign, the Bible stated that David reigned with justice and righteousness: “15 So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.” (2 Sam. 8:15.) Nothing similar is stated here. By allowing his murderous general Joab to stay in command and without any consequences, David did not reign with either justice or righteousness.
A Spirit-led leader must pursue justice. Through Moses, God warned that a Spirit-led leader must pursue: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” (Dt. 16:20). God appointed the kings to “do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kgs. 10:9). A king is supposed to sit “on the throne of justice.” (Prov. 20:8). This means that a Spirit-led leader must care about addressing wrongs and the plight of those in need: “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov. 31:9). “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.” (Ps. 82:3). “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” (Dt. 10:18). Christ also expects every believer to seek to resolve injustice around them. “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). “[L]earn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17). On the Day of Judgment, Jesus will ask what each person did for the oppressed and needy (Matt. 25:40). By allowing Joab to remain in command of his forces, David showed that he valued the ends more than the means. He knew that Joab was both a wicked and a violent man. Yet, he was successful in his job.
Justice requires judgment. Joab was guilty of four murders. These included Abner, Uriah, Absalom, and Amasa. On three occasions, he had also directly defied David’s orders not to kill men or to allow someone else to lead. To be a just king, David needed to judge Joab for his many evil acts. Some claim that a loving God would never judge others. God is in fact the source of all love: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jo. 4:8). Yet, God is also just: “For I, the Lord love justice . ..” (Is. 61:8). As a just God, He cannot ignore sin. Because God is fair, He judges His people before He judges others: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God . . .” (1 Pet. 4:17). Those who have trouble accepting this need only ask if they would like to live in a society where murderers, rapists, and robbers are not judged. Anarchy would reign, and people would live in fear. We demand justice because God has put His law in our hearts (Rom. 2:15). Thus, without losing their salvation, believers will still one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ to account for their deeds (Ro. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). A just lead must also judge evil. Without justice, rebellion will reemerge in either the Church or in civil society. People will fight against the injustice of their leaders.
A just leader also should not be yoked together with evil people. In addition to marriage, God warns believers against being unequally yoked with non-believers or evil people in any area: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ 17 ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord.’” (2 Cor. 6:14-17). David should have kept himself clear from ungodly men like Joab. Are you keeping yourself separate from ungodly associations?
A Spirit-led leader pursues justice through Spirit-led believers. God previously used Jethro to rebuke Moses for attempting to resolve all of the people’s disputes on his own (Ex. 18:13-18). Through Jethro, God advised Moses to select God-fearing men who loved the truth and hated dishonest gain (Ex. 18:21). In the New Testament, such a leader is referred to as either being full of the Spirit (Acts 6:3). God does not call you to serve alone. Instead, you are called upon to serve with others (Ro. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:20). David was right to delegate the responsibilities of governing to others. Yet, he needed to search for God-fearing people to lead. He should have further prayed for God to confirm the right people. Are you walking with the Spirit so that God can use you?