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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Sheba raises an insurrection, and gains a party in Israel, 2 Samuel 20:1, 2 Samuel 20:2. David shuts up the ten concubines who were defiled by Absalom, 2 Samuel 20:3. Amasa is sent to assemble the men of Judah, 2 Samuel 20:4, 2 Samuel 20:5. And in the mean time Abishai is sent to pursue Sheba, 2 Samuel 20:6, 2 Samuel 20:7. Joab treacherously murders Amasa, 2 Samuel 20:8-12. Joab and the army continue the pursuit of Sheba, 2 Samuel 20:13, 2 Samuel 20:14. He is besieged in Abel; and, by the counsels of a wise woman, the people of Abel cut off his head, and throw it over the wall to Joab; who blows the trumpet of peace, and he and his men return to Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 20:15-22. Account of David's civil and military officers, 2 Samuel 20:23-26.
1And 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.
Sheba, the son of Bichri - As this man was a Benjamite, he probably belonged to the family of Saul; and he seems to have had considerable influence in Israel to raise such an insurrection: but we know nothing farther of him than what is related in this place.
We have no part in David - We of Israel, we of the ten tribes, are under no obligation to the house of David. Leave him, and let every man fall into the ranks under his own leader.
2So 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.
3And 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.
The ten women - He could not well divorce them; he could not punish them, as they were not in the transgression; he could no more be familiar with them, because they had been defiled by his son; and to have married them to other men might have been dangerous to the state: therefore he shut them up and fed them - made them quite comfortable, and they continued as widows to their death.
4Then said the king to Amasa, Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present.
Then said the king to Amasa - Thus he invests him with the command of the army, and sends him to collect the men of Judah, and to come back to receive his orders in relation to Sheba, in three days. It appears that Amasa found more difficulty in collecting his country-men than was at first supposed; and this detaining him beyond the three days, David, fearing that Sheba's rebellion would get head, sent Abishai, who it appears was accompanied by Joab, to pursue after Sheba.
Amasa, it seems, got up with them at Gibeon, 2 Samuel 20:8, where he was treacherously murdered by the execrable Joab.
5So Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah: but he tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him.
6And 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.
7And 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.
8When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. And Joab's garment that he had put on was girded unto him, and upon it a girdle with a sword fastened upon his loins in the sheath thereof; and as he went forth it fell out.
Joab's garment - It appears that this was not a military garment; and that Joab had no arms but a short sword, which he had concealed in his girdle; and this sword, or knife, was so loose in its sheath that it could be easily drawn out. It is thought farther, that Joab, in passing to Amasa, stumbled, (for so some of the versions, and able critics, understand the words it fell out). and that the sword fell down when he stumbled; that he took it up with his left hand as if he had no bad intention; and then, taking Amasa by the beard with his right hand, pretending to kiss him, he, with his sword in his left hand, ripped up his bowels. This seems to be the meaning of this very obscure verse. It is worthy of remark that in the Eastern country it is the beard, not the man, which is usually kissed.
9And Joab said to Amasa, Art thou in health, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him.
10But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died. So Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri.
In the fifth rib - I believe חמש chomesh, which we render here and elsewhere the fifth rib, means any part of the abdominal region. The Septuagint translate it την ψοαν, the groin; the Targum, the right side of the thigh, i.e., (the phrase of the Targumist being interpreted), the privy parts. That it means some part of the abdominal region, is evident from what follows, And shed out his bowels to the ground. It appears from this that, in plain English, he ripped up his belly.
11And one of Joab's men stood by him, and said, He that favoureth Joab, and he that is for David, let him go after Joab.
He that favoureth Joab - As if he had said, There is now no other commander besides Joab; and Joab is steadily attached to David: let those therefore who are loyal follow Joab.
12And Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a cloth upon him, when he saw that every one that came by him stood still.
Amasa wallowed in blood - It is very likely that Amasa did not immediately die; I have known instances of persons living several hours after their bowels had been shed out.
13When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.
14And he went through all the tribes of Israel unto Abel, and to Bethmaachah, and all the Berites: and they were gathered together, and went also after him.
Unto Abel - This is supposed to have been the capital of the district called Abilene in St. Luke's Gospel, Luke 3:1.
Beth-maachah - Is supposed to have been in the northern part of the Holy Land, on the confines of Syria, and probably in the tribe of Naphtali.
15And they came and besieged him in Abel of Bethmaachah, 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.
They cast up a bank against the city - The word סללה solelah, which we render bank, means, most probably, a battering engine of some kind, or a tower overlooking the walls, on which archers and slingers could stand and annoy the inhabitants, while others of the besiegers could proceed to sap the walls. That it cannot be a bank that stood in the trench, is evident from the circumstance thus expressed.
16Then 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.
A wise woman - She was probably governess.
17And 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.
18Then 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.
They shall surely ask counsel at Abel - This is a proverb, but from what it originated we know not; nor can we exactly say what it means: much must be supplied to bring it to speak sense. Abel was probably famed for the wisdom of its inhabitants; and parties who had disputes appealed to their judgment, which appears to have been in such high reputation as to be final by consent of all parties. To this the wise woman refers, and intimates to Joab that he should have proceeded in this way before he began to storm the city, and destroy the peaceable inhabitants.
19I 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?
I-- peaceable and faithful in Israel - I am for peace, not contention of any kind; I am faithful - I adhere to David, and neither seek nor shall sanction any rebellion or anarchy in the land. Why then dost thou proceed in such a violent manner? Perhaps the woman speaks here in the name and on behalf of the city: "I am a peaceable city, and am faithful to the king."
A mother in Israel - That is, a chief city of a district; for it is very likely that the woman speaks of the city, not of herself.
20And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.
21The 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.
His head shall be thrown to thee - Thus it appears she had great sway in the counsels of the city; and that the punishment of a state rebel was then, what it is now in this kingdom, beheading.
22Then 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.
23Now Joab was over all the host of Israel: and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and over the Pelethites:
Joab was over all the host - He had murdered Amasa, and seized on the supreme command: and such was his power at present, and the service which he had rendered to the state by quelling the rebellion of Sheba, that David was obliged to continue him; and dared not to call him to account for his murders without endangering the safety of the state by a civil war.
Benaiah - over the Cherethites - Benaiah was over the archers and slingers.
See the notes on 2 Samuel 8:18.
24And Adoram was over the tribute: and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder:
Adoram was over the tribute - Probably the chief receiver of the taxes; or Chancellor of the Exchequer, as we term it.
Jehoshaphat - recorder - The registrar of public events.
25And Sheva was scribe: and Zadok and Abiathar were the priests:
Shevah was scribe - The king's secretary.
26And Ira also the Jairite was a chief ruler about David.
Ira - was a chief ruler about David - The Hebrew is כהן לדויד cohen ledavid, a priest to David; and so the Vulgate, Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic. The Chaldee has רב rab, a prince, or chief. He was probably a sort of domestic chaplain to the king. We know that the kings of Judah had their seers, which is nearly the same: Gad was David's seer, 2 Samuel 24:11, and Jeduthun was the seer of King Josiah, 2 Chronicles 35:16.
The conclusion of this chapter is very similar to the conclusion of 2 Samuel 8:16-18 (note), where see the notes.