2 Samuel 19(40)–20(26)


Last week we read how David began to return to Jerusalem after the death of his son, Absalom, who had risen up against him in rebellion and had tried to take the kingdom from him. But Absalom was now dead; and so David began to return to Jerusalem. But chapter 19, which tells us about David’s return, ends with an argument. It’s an argument between the men of Israel and the men of Judah. The men of Israel comprise the ten northern tribes of Israel; and the men of Judah are from the southern tribe of Judah. So, ten tribes are arguing with one tribe. And according to verse 41, the men from the ten tribes complained to David that the men from the tribe of Judah had stolen him away and had brought him and his household across the Jordan.

This goes back to what we read near the beginning of chapter 19. Do you remember? The ten tribes agreed to bring David back to Jerusalem as king. And while they were still making arrangements to get him, David heard about it and he sent word to the tribe of Judah — his own tribe — telling them to get a move on so that they could bring him back. And so, the people of Judah hurried up and they met up with David before the other tribes; and they accompanied David across the Jordan into the land of Israel.

And when they reached Gilgal, the men from the ten northern tribes finally arrived. So, they’re late. And they’re annoyed that the men of Judah didn’t wait for them so that they could have met the king together and brought him across the Jordan together. So, they’re annoyed with Judah. The men of Judah responded by saying that after all, they’re closely related to David, because David was from the tribe of Judah. He’s one of them. So, why shouldn’t they be the first to bring him back? And then they added that they haven’t received any beneficial treatment from David. That’s what they mean when they say they haven’t eaten any of his provisions or taken anything for themselves.

Well, you might be related to David, but there are ten of us. That’s what the ten tribes are saying in verse 43. There are ten of us and therefore we have a greater claim on David than you. So, why do you treat us with contempt? And while you may have been the first to bring David back, we were the first to suggest it. It was our idea!

And look at the last line of chapter 19:

But the men of Judah responded even more harshly than the men of Israel.

So, both sides were speaking harshly, but the men of Judah were even harsher than the men of Israel. And so, while David is back as king, the nation is divided. And that means the conditions are just right for a troublemaker like this man Sheba, whom we read about in chapter 20 who wants to start another rebellion. But unlike Absalom, who wanted to be king in place of David, Sheba wants to split up the kingdom. He wants to divide the people. He wants to take the ten tribes of Israel and create a whole new kingdom of his own.

Verses 1 and 2

And so, according to verse 1, he sounded a trumpet and shouted:

We have no share in David,
no part in Jesse’s son!
Every man to his tent, O Israel!

When he said that they have no share in David he means that there’s nothing for them in David’s kingdom. They would be better off on their own. And so, all the men of Israel — that is, all those who belong to the ten northern tribes — deserted David and went home, whereas the men of Judah stayed by their king. They remained on David’s side and accompanied him along the way from Gilgal to Jerusalem.

Verse 3

The country is now divided. And that means that David’s return to Jerusalem is muted, isn’t it? We might have expected that crowds would have turned out to see David. We might have expected there to have been a big street party to celebrate. We might have expected lots of rejoicing. But there’s none of that. In fact, what we read in verse 3 about David’s return is a bit sad, isn’t it? He returned to his palace and he took his ten concubines — the ten women Absalom had publicly slept with — and he put them in a house under guard. The commentators suggest that the guards were there to protect them, rather than to imprison them. And it seems that David provided for them, so that they had everything they needed. Nevertheless, he really had nothing more to do with them and we’re told that they were kept in confinement until the day of their death. And so, they lived the rest of their lives as widows.

And that’s all we’re told about David’s return. So, there’s no victory parade. There’s no great celebration. There’s no party. All that we’re told about David’s return is the arrangements he made for these woman who had been violated by his son and who lived the rest of their lives as if they were widows.

Verses 4 to 7

On his return to Jerusalem David had to deal with the aftermath of Absalom’s rebellion. And, at the same time, he had to deal with Sheba’s rebellion. And so, we read in verse 4 that he instructed Amasa — whom he had appointed commander-in-chief of his armies — to get all the men of Judah together and to meet him in three days. But Amasa wasn’t able to do it in time. We don’t know why he failed to make the deadline, but David wasn’t prepared to wait any longer. He had to act quickly. And so, he turns instead to Abishai, who was Joab’s brother, and had always been a reliable commander in the army. And David instructs Abishai to get the men together and to pursue Sheba. And we’re told in verse 7 that Joab’s men — notice the narrator refers to them as Joab’s men and not Abishai’s men — along with the Kerethites and Pelethites and the mighty warriors went out under the command of Abishai. Joab, you might remember, had once been commander-in-chief of David’s armies, but David has appointed Amasa in his place. But Joab hasn’t gone away. He’s still around. And though Abishai was in command for now, it soon becomes clear that Joab is still the one who is in charge.

Verses 8 to 10

Soon they reached Gibeon, which was about five miles from Jerusalem. And there they met Amasa. Joab goes up to greet him. And it’s not entirely clear what happened, but Amasa saw that Joab had dropped his dagger. That was a bit clumsy of him, wasn’t it? And then Amasa saw Jaob reach down casually to pick up the dagger with his left hand. And then Amasa saw Joab reaching out his right hand to greet him. And while they’re embracing one another — and Joab and Amasa were cousins and no doubt they have often embraced one another — but wile they’re embracing, the next thing Amasa knew was that Joab had thrust his sword into his belly so that his intestines spilled out. And so, Amasa died. Joab, his cousin, had killed him. Well, we’ve seen before how ruthless Joab could be. He was a stone-cold killer. And without even pausing for a moment, Joab and Sheba continued with their pursuit of Sheba. He’s like a killing machine and he doesn’t pause or hesitate for a minute, but keeps going after his next target.

Verses 11 to 13

You know what rubber-necking is, don’t you? When there’s an accident on the road, all the passing cars slow down because everyone wants to turn their necks and take a look at what has happened. And it seems that in verses 11 to 13 the men of Judah were guilty of rubber-necking. One of Joab’s men stood beside Amasa’s dead body and said:

Whoever favours Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab!

But as the soldiers set off, they all stopped to take a look at Amasa’s body which was lying on the road. And so, this man decided to drag the body into a field and he covered it up so that nothing would slow the men from following Joab as he pursued Sheba.

Verses 16 to 22

Where is Sheba now? According to verse 14, he passed through all the tribes of Israel before arriving at this city called Abel. Joab and his men arrived and lay siege to the city. And they began to batter the walls of the city to bring it down so that they could get inside and get Sheba.

But then a wise woman appears. Perhaps she’s up on the wall. And she wants to speak to Joab. ‘Listen to what your servant has to say’, she said. ‘I’m listening’, Joab replied. And she tells him how the people of Abel have always had a reputation for being peaceful and faithful. So, why do you want to destroy us? Joab replies that he doesn’t want to destroy Abel and the only reason he’s there with his army, laying siege to the city, is because Sheba is there and he’s lifted his hand against the king. Hand him over and we’ll go away and leave you all in peace. And the wise woman is not only wise, but she’s a bit ruthless — isn’t she? — because she said to Joab:

His head will be thrown to you from the wall.

And so, she went away and spoke to the others and the next thing Joab knew, Sheba’s head was lobbed over the wall of the city. Joab blew his trumpet and they all went home. The crisis was over.

Verses 23 to 26

And the final verses of the chapter contain a list of David’s officials at that time. A similar list appeared in chapter 8, right after David had taken the throne in Jerusalem. In fact, the lists are very similar and the same names appears with only a few changes. And so, this tells us that despite Absalom’s rebellion and despite Sheba’s rebellion, David was still the king and he was still ruling over the people with the help of these men.

Application 1

The significance of this chapter for us is to teach us that God’s kingdom always faces opposition and trouble. David, you see, was God’s anointed king in those days. And he ruled over God’s people on God’s behalf. In other words, he ruled over God’s kingdom. And ever since David was anointed king over God’s kingdom, he faced opposition and trouble, didn’t he? He faced trouble from the Philistines and the other nations who used to attack Israel. And he faced trouble from some of his own people, because first there was Saul who wanted to kill him; and then there was Absalom who wanted to be king in his place; and then there was Sheba who wanted to divide the kingdom. David hardly ever got a chance to rest, because there was always some crisis to deal with, some danger to face, some trouble to contend with. And so, this chapter, and the rest of 2 Samuel, teaches us that God’s kingdom always faces opposition and trouble.

And, of course, you see it right throughout the Old Testament, don’t you? You see it in the beginning, when righteous Abel was killed by his brother, Cain. You see it in the days of the patriarchs, when Hagar’s son Ishmael despised Sarah’s son Isaac, who was the son of the promise, and when Esau hated his brother Jacob, who had inherited the promises of God. You see it in the way Joseph’s brothers hated him, because God had chosen to make him ruler over his people. You see it in the book of Exodus and in how Pharaoh and the Egyptians feared the Israelites and oppressed them with hard labour. You see it in the ways the nations attacked the Israelites in the wilderness and in the Promised Land. You see it in the days when the Assyrians and Babylonians invaded the land of Israel and took God’s people away into exile. You see it in the way Daniel’s three friends were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to worship an idol. You see it in the way Daniel himself was thrown to the lions because he would not stop worshipping God. You see it in the opposition Nehemiah encountered when he was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. In other words, you see it throughout the Old Testament times.

And then, when the Lord Jesus was born — and he was God’s true anointed king — he too faced opposition and trouble from those who did not believe. So, when the Lord Jesus was born, Herod tried to kill him. During his lifetime, the Pharisees and Sadducees and the teachers of the law were against him. Then they falsely accused him before Pilate and they convinced Pilate to crucify him. And so, God’s true anointed king was killed and his body was laid in a tomb.

But God raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place to rule as head and king of the church, which is the kingdom of God today. So, in Old Testament times, God’s kingdom comprised the people of Israel. And in those days, the people of Israel faced all kinds of opposition and trouble. But after the coming of Christ, God’s kingdom comprises the members of the church which has spread throughout the world. And the members of the church face all kinds of opposition and trouble. And so, all over the world, Christians are persecuted for the sake of Christ and they are despised and they face discrimination and they are beaten and they are killed for Christ. And in our own country, we are despised and mocked and ridiculed for what we believe. And we are put under pressure to give up what we believe and to conform to the ways of an unbelieving world. And so, not many weeks go by before there’s another story in the news in which someone is attacking the church for what we have always believed. And not only do we face opposition and trouble from an unbelieving world, but very often we face trouble from within the church, because there are many within the church who do not believe and they’re always stirring up trouble for the church.

And so, just as David got no rest, because the kingdom of God in his day faced opposition and trouble, so we get no rest, because the kingdom of God in our day faces opposition and trouble. And, of course, behind all the opposition and trouble we face, there’s the Evil One, the Devil, who hates Christ the King and who hates Christ’s kingdom. He hates the church and he is continually at work to stir up opposition to the church.

And so, believers today, members of Christ’s kingdom today, can get no rest, but instead, in the face of this opposition and trouble, we have to hold on to what we believe and we need to stand firm in the faith and we need to take our stand against the Devil’s wicked schemes, trusting in the Lord to help us and to strengthen us and to keep us.

But will it always be like this? Will there be no end to the opposition and trouble? Will the church always be persecuted? Well, God has revealed to us that the opposition and trouble will come to an end, because, in the end, the Devil will be destroyed; and all who sided with the Devil in this life will be destroyed; and Christ’s kingdom will be the only kingdom left. And until the end comes, God will keep his kingdom and he will sustain it through all its troubles. And so, even though the Philistines and other nations attacked David, David and his kingdom survived. Even though Saul attacked David, David and his kingdom survived. Even though Absalom attacked David, David and his kingdom survived. And even though Sheba attacked David, David and his kingdom survived. And even though Satan and an unbelieving world attack Christ and his kingdom today, Christ and his kingdom will survive.

Do you remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2? He saw a great statue made of gold and silver and bronze and iron and clay. And then a rock smashed against the statue so that the statue was broken into pieces. And the pieces were blown away by the wind and only the rock was left. And the rock grew and grew until it became a mountain that filled the earth. And Daniel interpreted the dream for Nebuchadnezzar. The great statue represented the kingdoms of the earth which are all destined to perish. Not one of them will be left standing. And the rock which became a mountain which filled the earth is Christ the king who came into the world to establish a kingdom that will one day fill the earth and which will endure forever.

And so, despite the opposition and trouble we face today, we’re to stand firm in the faith, because the kingdoms of the earth will perish, and only Christ’s kingdom will endure. And just as God kept David, through all his troubles, so he will keep you. And so, trust in him. Trust in him to keep you. And trust in him to keep Christ’s kingdom forever.

Application 2

But before we finish, there’s one further point to make. Think about David’s reign and how it’s been marked by violence. His son Amnon raped his step-sister. Amnon was then murdered by Absalom. Absalom rose up in violent rebellion against David. Absalom ended up being killed by Joab who also killed Amasa. And then Sheba rose up against David. David’s reign was marked by violence.

But we need to remember that everything that happened to David was under the control of the Lord God. We know that because God foretold that this was what David’s reign would be like, because didn’t God warn David back in chapter 12 that the sword would never depart from his house? And so, this was all part of God’s plan for David. We might not understand it, but it was God’s will for David to suffer like this.

And it was God’s will for David to suffer like this, because by his suffering he was foreshadowing the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is the king. He is the king of kings who rules over all. But for a time, when he lived on the earth, he suffered in many ways. And most of all he suffered the wrath and curse of God. And he suffered the wrath and curse of God in place of his people. That is, he took the blame for us and for what we have done wrong. He suffered the punishment we deserve for a lifetime of disobedience to God, so that all who believe in him as the only Saviour of the world are delivered from God’s wrath and curse and receive forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of everlasting life in God’s presence.

It was God’s will for David to suffer because by his suffering David foreshadowed the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered and died to pay for our sins and who was raised to give us life. And so, if you believe in him, if you trust in Christ the Saviour who died for sinners, then you are pardoned by God and you will live with him forever and forever in that new and better world where they will be no more suffering or death, but only perfect peace and rest.