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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

2 Samuel 20

Verses 1-26

2 Samuel 20:1 . Sheba, a Benjamite, and a captain high in command under Absalom, in whose heart the embers of revolt were still burning. This man, seeing the anger of the tribes at not being called to bring back the king, took occasion to excite fresh revolt. The events seem to be fortuitous, but providence overruled them to teach David to depend on God, and not on man; to purge his kingdom of rebels, and to remind him of the innocent blood of the brave Uriah.

2 Samuel 20:3 . Ten concubines living in widowhood. This was according to the law. Leviticus 18:0.

2 Samuel 20:18 . They shall surely ask counsel at Abel. This judicious counsel refers to a custom which had risen to a proverb, that she might advise Joab with the better grace. Possibly some druidical loggin-rock might have existed there, or some pythoness of great fame.

2 Samuel 20:25 . Zadok and Abiathar, who like David had lived through all these storms, were the priests. The Chaldaic reads princes: they had, it would seem, this title added for their virtues.


When the clouds, elevated in the higher regions, descend on those below, being driven by counter currents of air, then the lightnings glare, and the thunders are heard afar. So when a nation is agitated by internal war, the wicked impelled by the worst of passions shed blood, and create confusion; but God whose views are fixed on justice and truth, manages the malignancy of those passions to render to the evil doers the just reward of all their crimes. This principle, so often exemplified in the sacred writings, is most strikingly so in the complicated revolts against David. The ten tribes who reproached Judah for conducting the king to his capital before they could possibly arrive, meant to plead their right in the king, and assert their equality for the future: to renew the war, they had no design. But when strife is once begun, who can say where it will end. Sheba, hating David, took advantage of the tumult to aspire to the crown.

The king unable to bear the sight of Joab, who had slain his misguided son, persisted in the appointment of Amasa to the office of captain-general of his army. To crush the revolt in its birth, he appointed him to assemble the men of Judah in three days. But this loyal tribe, more conscious of the general’s faults than of his merits, were slow to appear in arms. The three days expired, and neither general nor army appeared. Abishai therefore was sent with the guards, and the forces in Jerusalem, in pursuit of Sheba. Joab, now blanched in the service, accompanied his brother simply as a volunteer. After a few days, Amasa joined the army with his levies near Gibeon. Joab seeing him invested with the full command, and wearing the insignia of honour which he himself had long worn, felt arise in his black soul every sentiment of murder against his own cousin! After a life of victories he could not bear to retire from the service branded with crimes, and under the king’s displeasure. Or if he must retire, he thought Abishai had the fairest claim to honours and dignities he had fairly earned. Therefore finding himself under the command of a pardoned rebel, he resolved to give him the stroke of death.

The artifices which Joab employed in the assassination of his rival, were of a character which no man could have invented and executed, but one consummate in wickedness. Afraid of the king’s vengeance, he delayed the execution of his plot till the army was at a distance from Jerusalem, and till he found his popularity would ensure his protection and command. On approaching his rival, as though he was about to pay his respects to the commander in chief, he contrived to let his dagger drop, that in case of seeing Amasa take the alarm, he might not be accused of drawing his weapon on his superior. He took him by his beard, after the manner of saluting venerable men, and then gave him the fatal stab. This was the fourth time he had stained his conscience with blood. Abner he had assassinated as well as Amasa; in Uriah’s fall he had been the agent of David; and the guilty Absalom he had pierced in defiance of the king’s command. How mysterious is providence, that Amasa should now fall for the blood which was shed in the rebellion; and how wicked was Joab to slay a relation, merely because the king had forced upon him the chief command.

Mark farther, the artifices of Joab to avoid punishment; he pursued Sheba with the utmost vigour and success, that giving peace to the kingdom he might obscure the odium of his private conduct by the splendour of his public actions. What pride, what malice, what revenge and cunning lay couched in the heart of man! In the siege of Abel we have to admire the prudence and courage of a matron who saved her city from destruction, when the engines of war were battering the walls, and when no warrior dared to show his face more than for a moment above the breastworks; yet this woman, protected by her sex, addressed the assailants, and called to speak with the general. Joab having presented himself, inspired for the salvation of her people, she opened the conversation by gently reproaching him for not having regularly summoned the city as the Lord had commanded. Having gained his ear, she asked whether he meant to destroy a mother in Israel, and to cut off the inheritance of the Lord. Joab overpowered by her eloquence, and not a little astonished at her courage, denied that to be the case; and pleaded vengeance against Sheba only. So the woman persuaded her fellow citizens to throw him the trophy of Sheba’s head; and thus saved, not only her city, but all the rebels from destruction. Truly, wisdom is often better than might.

From the expeditious manner in which David directed the rebels to be pursued, and from the ardour with which the army executed his commands, we may learn to pursue our rebellious propensities of nature into all the retreats and strongholds of the heart. Nor should we abate in vigour till we see the old man crucified with Christ, that the body of sin may be destroyed. Then, being dead with him, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection. The peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep the heart and mind in the knowledge and love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ. Happy is that soul, serene is that conscience, where pride is changed into humility, anger into meekness, and hatred into love. The Sheba is slain, and David enjoys his kingdom in internal repose.

David, profiting by past defeats, that no more rebellions might break out, appointed a regular administration of public affairs. Every great officer of state had his department assigned, that the concerns of the empire might be managed with expedition and effect. So let it be in the church of God; and the younger being subject to the aged, all things will be done in harmony and love.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.