posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 05:01 PM
2 Samuel has a particular interest for students of history, as the only book of the Bible where it’s possible to follow the messy details of
It can be read around (and may have been written around) the career of David’s nephew Joab, who spends the book, apart from a brief interval, as the
leader of David’s armies.
Now Joab and Amasa were cousins, and nephews of David, being sons of Zeruiah and Abigail, both sisters of the king.
They were on opposite sides in the crisis of Absolom’s rebellion, for Joab remained faithful to David, while Amasa was appointed as commander of
The battle which saw the death of Absolom did not completely settle the country.
There was strife among the tribes of Israel about inviting the king back.
Even David’s own tribe of Judah needed to be won over, since Amasa remained powerful.
David used the leading priests to send a message to the elders of Judah.
He reminded them that they were his kinsmen.
He told them that “the word of all Israel has come in to the king”, and they were in danger of being left behind.
He reinforced the message with a personal promise to Amasa, that he could have Joab’s post as the commander of David’s armies.
These arguments were enough to “sway the heart of all the men of Judah as one man”, so they formally invited him back.
David came down to the eastern banks of the Jordan to meet the tribe of Judah, who crossed over in order to escort him back across the ford.
There were also a thousand representatives from Benjamin, some of whom were there because they had compromised themselves when he went into exile.
The man who most needed to redeem himself was Shimei the son of Gera, who had cursed him, calling him a man of blood and throwing stones at him.
So the renewal of David’s fortunes called for some high quality grovelling;
“Your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all of the house of Joseph to come down to meet my
lord the king.”
Joab’s brother Abishai wanted the man put to death anyway (he had offered to do it himself at the time of the cursing). However, David rebuked the
truculence of “the sons of Zeruiah”. He did not want the joy of his return to be marred by executions.
By the time David reached Gilgal, a place which symbolised Israel’s original crossing of the Jordan, he was accompanied by “all the people of
Judah and also half the people of Israel”.
But the mood was being spoiled by Israel’s growing resentment over the dominance of Judah in the proceedings.
They demanded to know why the men of Judah had “stolen the king away”.
Judah’s answer was that the king was “near of kin to us”.
“We have ten shares in the king”, retorted Israel, “and we were the first to invite him back”, and Judah’s reply was even fiercer.
Israel was being pushed into a reaction of “Keep him, then, we’ll find one of our own”, and this was voiced by a “worthless man”, Sheba the
son of Bichri, who blew the trumpet and declared
“We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse;
Every man to his tents, O Israel”.
This was Amasa’s first test as commander of David’s armies, and it seems to have exposed his inexperience.
David instructed him to gather the armed levies of Judah and report back in three days.
When the time came, there was no sign of him.
The delay was troubling. Once Sheba had the chance to start seizing fortified cities, there would be no shifting him and the insurrection would
So David instructed Abishai (rather than Joab) to take the professional soldiers, the Cherethites and Pelethites and the “mighty men” and go north
in direct pursuit.
When the leaders reached the great stone in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them.
This must have been a puzzling apparition. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and without the army which he was supposed to be
Joab went forward to give him a warm cousinly greeting; “Is it well with you, my brother?”
He took hold of him by the beard, with his right hand, in order to kiss him.
But Joab was an old soldier, and he knew that holding a man by the beard is a good way of keeping him still while you stab him. Evidently he could use
his sword with his left hand (and an older soldier than Amasa would have been watching for that).
Then the two brothers continued in pursuit of the enemy.
One of Joab’s men was left behind with the body, urging everyone who came up to ignore it and follow on after Joab.
Once he saw this wasn’t working (people would insist on stopping to have a long look), he dragged the body off the highway and concealed it with a
The insurrection was less formidable than David feared.
Sheba “passed through all the tribes of Israel” in full retreat.
It seems that he did not dare to face the professionals in the open field, or else he had been defeated in an unmentioned battle.
He took refuge in Abel, in the far north, and the king’s army came up to besiege it. They raised up a mound outside the city, next to the ramparts,
as a platform for the battering ram, which they began to use.
A wise woman of the city appeared on the walls, to negotiate with Joab.
Why did he want to destroy such an established city of Israel?
Joab replied that there would be no need to destroy the city, if the city would only give up Sheba the son of Bichri, which was all he wanted.
The elders of the city thought about this, and threw down Sheba’s head.
Then Joab gave the signal for the armies to disperse, and returned to Jerusalem and the king.
There was a kind of happy ending, then.
The house of David regained control of both kingdoms, until his undiplomatic grandson separated them again.
Joab regained his post as commander, until he took the wrong side in the crisis of David’s death.
We don’t know David’s reaction to the death of Amasa, but he might have complained, once again, that the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him.
Where is the theology in this story?
In the absence of any direct intervention by God, though the characters frequently appeal to his name, we can only learn about him indirectly.
In the first place, we can recognise real politics in the details of this narrative.
Gibbon described history as a record of the “crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind”.
“What it’s all about is the dirt”, as one of my tutors used to say.
We can see from the rough-and-tumble nature of these relationships, tinged with brutality and treachery, that events are taking place in the real
This is history, not legend.
And the implication is that the relation between the God of Israel and his people is embedded in the world of history, not restricted to the world of
In many cultures, stories about the gods belong only to the world of legend, and the gods are correspondingly distant.
This God maintains himself close to his people, in the middle of real-world events.
It’s obvious enough, in the second place, that the protagonists in these events are filled with flaws.
Even David has his weaknesses, and he ignores the spirit of at least one of the laws of Moses.
This is evidence that a good relationship with God does not depend on being perfect, and that must be encouraging for the rest of us.
These are real people, in short, and God is prepared to work with them as real people.
Finally, if this is God promoting the kingdom of David and developing his own plans, he’s clearly working very indirectly, which says something
about his methods.