“So all the men of Israel deserted David and followed Sheba son of Bicri" (II Samuel 20:2a, NLT). The men of Israel, miffed because only half of them got to escort the king while the whole army of Judah had the honor, were ripe pickings for a man like Sheba. Playing on their wounded spirits, he enticed them away from David.
“But the men of Judah stayed with their king and escorted him from the Jordan River to Jerusalem” (II Samuel 20:2b). The men of Judah showed loyalty. They hadn’t been swayed by Sheba’s speech. But the wound had been inflicted and would continue to fester.
In a quick side note, the Bible adds at this point: “When David came to his palace in Jerusalem, he took the ten concubines he had left to look after the palace and placed them in seclusion. Their needs were provided for, but he no longer slept with them. So each of them lived like a widow until she died” (II Samuel 20:3).
Showing his absolute power as Israel’s new leader, Absalom had raped all ten of David’s concubines who’d been left behind to care for the palace. Having been defiled in this way, David could no longer have them as his own. But neither could anyone else. Absalom’s sin ruined the lives of these ten women. So David did the only honorable thing he could do: he provided for them the rest of their lives.
That taken care of, “the king told Amasa, ‘Mobilize the army of Judah within three days, and report back at that time.’ So Amasa went out to notify Judah, but it took him longer than the time he had been given” (II Samuel 20:4-5).
Let me add a little background here: Amasa had been appointed by Absalom to lead his troops against David. David, in an act of reconciliation, had kept Amasa as a leader for his own military forces. David may also have kept Amasa out of resentment toward Joab, David’s military leader who had disobeyed David’s order to “deal gently” (II Samuel 18:5) with Absalom and had instead made sure he died. Bear in mind, though, that Joab had merely been protecting David from an enemy, albeit David’s own son, whom, allowed to live, would not have stopped trying to kill David to take over his throne.
Amasa was the son of David’s sister Abigail – see First Chronicles 2:17 – and therefore, the cousin of Joab, whose mother Zeruiah was also a sister of David – see Second Samuel 17:25. This would mean that both Amasa and Joab were David’s nephews.
First Chronicles 2:16 and Second Samuel 2:18 list Joab, Abishai and Asahel as brothers and sons of Zeruiah. Joab had been David’s right-hand man from the beginning of his kinghood and had been the one to obey David’s order to send Bathsheba’s husband Uriah to his death – see Second Samuel 11:1-21. Abishai was also one of David’s faithful. Asahel, the youngest son of Zeruiah, ended up being killed by Abner in self-defense – see Second Samuel 2:18-26; his death was later brutally avenged by Joab and Abishai – see Second Samuel 3:22-30.
Twice David, in anger, shouted, “What do I have in common with you, you sons of Zeruiah?” (II Samuel 16:10 and II Samuel 19:22). What’s up with that? I speculate that Zeruiah was a strong-willed woman who was perhaps not David’s favorite relative. Whatever the reason, I don’t think David meant the phrase “sons of Zeruiah” as a compliment.
Back to our passage. David had ordered Amasa to “Mobilize the army of Judah… within three days” but Amasa hadn’t gotten the job done. So “David said to Abishai, ‘Sheba son of Bicri is going to hurt us more than Absalom did. Quick, take my troops and chase after him before he gets into a fortified town where we can’t reach him’” (II Samuel 20:6).
David realized time was his enemy. The longer he waited to deal with Sheba, the more entrenched he and his followers would be. David wanted him stopped before he could cause any further trouble.
As Barney Fife would say, David wanted to “nip it in the bud.” We’ll see what happened tomorrow.
Copyright © 2013
Judy Woodward Bates