Due to a heavy travel schedule during the rest of May and June, this will be my last post on the website until July. We are traveling to PA and NC next week and to Egypt and Jordan next month. We are very much looking forward to seeing friends and relatives next week and the pyramids, etc. in Egypt, along with Petra, etc. in Jordan next month. In the meantime, may the Lord bless and keep you. Bob
In the last essay, we studied 2 Samuel 18:19-19:15, which records the restoration of David to his throne. In this essay we are ready for what I have called “The Politics of the Restoration.” During Israel’s civil war, people obviously took sides. Therefore much healing was needed as David came back to the throne. Many who had participated in the rebellion now were talking support of David for political reasons. They needed to be seen as David’s supporters if they were to have a future in Israel.
We already have seen David reaching out to his own tribe of Judah. But in verses 16-23 we see others taking the initiative and coming to David. Some wanted to patch up their relationships to David even before he returned to Jerusalem, while others desired to strengthen their ties to David.
Among the first to seek reconciliation with David was Shimei; and of those who wished to strengthen their relationship to him, one of the first was Ziba. Since Ziba is mentioned in only two verses (vv. 17-18), we will talk about Ziba first. He was the servant of Saul whom David had assigned to serve Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. You will recall that at the beginning of the revolt Ziba came to David saying that Mephibosheth had stayed in Jerusalem, because he was supporting Absalom in hope of getting the throne. It never occurred to David that Ziba was lying, so on the spot he gave all of Mephibosheth’s property to Ziba (16:1-4). Now we see Ziba rushing out to the Jordan in an attempt to patch things up. However nothing is said about any conversations he had with David.
Shimei is a more interesting case, and he gets more attention from the author. You will remember that Shimei was the Benjaminite of the house of Saul who had cursed David and thrown stones at him as David left Jerusalem (16:5-13). Now here he is, at the head of the line, seeking forgiveness.
Abishai saw right through Shimei’s self-interest and suggested that Shimei be put to death. But David, also playing politics, in demonstration of his secure hold on the throne, declared that no one would die that day. Then the king gave Shimei his oath that he would not kill him. And David honored that public oath. But David did not actually forgive Shimei; and years later, while on his deathbed, David took revenge by instructing his successor, Solomom, to kill Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9).
The next suppliant we are told about, in verse 24-30, was Mephibosheth. David once again demonstrates his weakness. It rather quickly becomes clear that Ziba, who already had come to the Jordan to proclaim his allegiance, had misrepresented Mephibosheth to David in order to take advantage of his crippled master. Mephibosheth had not washed his feet or clothing, or trimmed his beard, all signs of deep mourning, since David left Jerusalem. And now he comes to David in complete humility asking for nothing but what the king would give.
David, apparently in his embarrassment that he had been taken in by Ziba, refused to completely undo the wrong. Instead he partially corrected it by misquoting himself. He had told Ziba back in 16:4 that Ziba could have all of Mephibosheth’s property. But now he declares that he had given Ziba half of it.
In verses 31-40 the author tells us about one more of the many individuals who undoubtedly came to David in those days. It was Barzillai the Giliadite, who had supplied David with provisions while he was in Mahanaim in Gilead (17:27-29).
David offered, out of courtesy more than anything, to take Barzillai back to Jerusalem where he would find a place for him. Barzillai politely refused the offer by suggesting he was too old. But then he asked David to take Chimham, who apparently was Barzillai’s son, and use him as David would, meaning of course show him favors. David agreed. And when David was giving Solomon those deathbed instructions that we mentioned earlier, he asked Solomon to let the sons of Barzillai continue to eat at the king’s table (1 Kings 2:7).
Unfortunately, as David prepared to return to Jerusalem, escorted by Judah and half of the other tribes, not everything went smoothly. Perhaps David miscalculated when he rallied the tribe of Judah to him. At any rate, we see in verses 41-43 that his action sparked a conflict.
“All the people of Israel” here refers to the leaders of the half of Israel that was not already gathered in support of David. They obviously felt that they were being shut out of their proper place in the restoration. The leaders of Judah defended themselves, and the incident escalated into a really angry argument.
Chapter 20 continues the story. What David was doing while this argument was going on is not said. But in any case, the politics spun out of control. The whole situation exploded into a renewal of the war when a Bejaminite named Sheba suddenly called on Israel to withdraw support from David, which they did, though it appears from the following account that most of them quickly abandoned the effort. Then David, accompanied by the tribe of Judah, returned to Jerusalem. Verse three tells us how David resolved the issue of the ten concubines he had left behind to look after his palace, all of whom Absalom had defiled. David took care of them the rest of their lives, but he had no relations with them. They lived as though they were widows.
Verses 4-13 make up an interesting passage. Verse four records David’s first assignment to Amasa, his new army commander. He was to gather the forces of Judah together and return in three days. But Amasa failed. It may have been because the people of Judah would not follow his orders. We aren’t told. But when he didn’t show up on time, David ordered Abishai to pursue Sheba, which he did with his own men, Joab’s men, and David’s bodyguards.
At some point Amasa caught up with them, apparently with the intention of taking command. But Joab, who apparently also was with the army (though unnamed to this point), as he had done so often in the past, took things into his own hands. He assassinated Amasa much as he had Abner years earlier (3:22-39). Then he and Abishai continued to pursue Sheba.
In verse 14-24 we see that the war came to an end in an unusual fashion. Joab, who now assumed command of David’s army, trapped Sheba and his fellow Bechites in the town of Abel, which was located in the extreme northern part of Israel, north of the Sea of Galilee, near the city of Dan. This indicates that the masses of people from the ten tribes already had abandoned Sheba. Only the Bechites, Sheba’s own group, still were with him.
Joab immediately besieged the city and built a ramp to the top of the wall. Then they began to break down the wall (vv. 14-16). All of that is what we would expect. But then something unusual took place.
A woman who is described as “wise” called from the city wall for Joab (v. 16). Joab came to hear what she had to say (v. 17). Therefore he must have had some knowledge that she represented the inhabitants of the city. First, she told Joab that in the past her city had a reputation of settling disputes. Then she explained that many in the city, like herself, were peaceable; and they didn’t want Joab to destroy their city. Joab replied that he would withdraw if they would deliver up Sheba. She told him, rather dramatically, “His head shall be thrown over the wall to you” (vv. 18-21). And that is what happened. So Joab pulled his army away and returned to Jerusalem (v. 22).
The passage ends with a summary of David’s officers of state. You may recall a similar list appeared near the end of the last major section of the book (8:16-18). Most of the names are the same. David’s sons no longer are listed as priests. Instead Ira the Jairite is listed as a priest. And a new department of government, so to speak, appears on the list; namely, a department of “forced labor” under the leadership of a man named Adoram.
Turning to application, we see both the good and evil of politics at work. On the dark side, we saw the self-serving of Shimei and Ziba, the squabbling of the tribes, and the rebellion of Sheba. And of course, once again we saw Joab get away with murder.
On the good side we see the humility of Mephibosheth and David’s treatment of Shimei (even though David’s oath to Shimei turned out in the end to be insincere) and his treatment of Barzillai. One thing is certain. Politics tends to be messy and ugly, and someone always gets hurt.