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David, part 22

The Revolt of Israel under Sheba.

2 Samuel 20

The king was conducted from Gilgal by all the people of Judah and half the people of Israel, and all the men of Israel came to the king, and said, "Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen you away, and have brought the king, and his household, and all David's men with him, over Jordan?" This gave rise to a contention between the tribes concerned, the men of Judah urging that the king was near of kin to them, and the men of Israel maintaining that they had ten parts in the king. This is the great contention between the members of the Lord's household, which was as early as Cain and Abel, and as late as the twelve apostles, whether goodness or truth, or charity and faith, is entitled to pre-eminence, and has more interest in the king and a better claim to his favour. In the present case, as in many others before and since, the difference was not settled. We only read that the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel. If the men of the Church could only see that charity and faith are both excellent, and both necessary to the existence of true religion, they might agree to live and work harmoniously together. Love or charity is, indeed, nearer of kin to the king, when David is king, but truth or faith has ten parts in him, not only because the truths of faith are numerous, but because they are the ten words which, as the laws of justice and judgement, are the habitation of the throne of God. The unsettled contention between these two divisions of the people resulted in a revolt. "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. So every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri: but the men of Judah clave to their king, from Jordan even to Jerusalem." This contention among the tribes, like that among the apostles, took place by the way, as the king went up from Gilgal, and the malcontents left the king to follow Sheba.

When the king came to Jerusalem, his first act was to shut up the ten women, his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and they lived in widowhood till the day of their death. These were the unfortunate women we read of in Absalom's rebellion. Now that they were denied, though not by their own fault, and were as things profaned, they must be separated; since good profaned cannot be united to truth, which itself would be profaned by such an alliance.

David then commissioned Amasa to assemble the men of Judah within three days, which is, spiritually, to combine the principles of good according to the laws of truth. But Amasa failing to appear at the appointed time, the king commanded Abishai to take his lord's servants and pursue after Sheba, and there went after him Joab's men, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men.

And here an event is recorded which we must pause to consider.

When they went forth and were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. And Joab, under the pretence of friendship, took Amasa by the beard with his right hand and kissed him, while with his left he thrust his sword into his body. Joab had killed Abner, the captain of Saul's army, who adhered to Ish-bosheth, and now he slays Amasa, who had led the army of Absalom, but only when they had been received into favour by David. Naturally considered, it was, of course, jealousy in one case and revenge in the other that led Joab to commit these crimes. But they were the crimes which finally rose up in judgement against him, and condemned him, although they were not the immediate cause of his death. He was accused by David of slaying deceitfully two men more righteous than himself, who had given him no just cause of offence. Of course we are to regard the subject in its spiritual sense. And if we see in Joab a type of that rationality which partakes more of the natural mind than of the spiritual, we may perceive the reason of Joab's conduct both to David and to those whom David favoured to the prejudice of Joab's interests and authority.

Amasa, like Joab, was a nephew of David's, being the son of his sister Abigail, as Joab was of his sister Zeruiah. In chapter 27:25, Amasa's father, Ithra, is said to have been an Israelite, but in 1 Chronicles 2:17, he is called an Egyptian. How are we to account for this discrepancy? If one statement is wrong, it is more likely to be that in Samuel; for it is not usual to intimate that a man of Israel is an Israelite. But it seems possible that both statements may be true. Ithra may have been an Ishmaelite by descent and an Israelite by adoption. We find in the same chapter of Chronicles in which Ithra, or Jether, is called an Ishmaelite, the account of a man of Israel, who had no son, giving his daughter, an heiress, to an Egyptian servant, who became, by marriage, a member of the commonwealth of Israel, and whose children and descendants were enrolled as belonging to the tribe of Judah. We cannot, perhaps, infer much from the name, which was borne by several pure Israelites, but the first instance in which it occurs is as the name of a foreigner, Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses. Considering Ithra to have been a re-born Ishmaelite, his son must have inherited the nature of the wild-ass man of the desert, refined and elevated by the purer and nobler blood of Isaac. The younger of two sisters, also, has generally the higher signification, as Rachel the younger sister of Leah, and Mary the younger sister of Martha. So also their sons, as Joseph and Benjamin. The principle which Amasa represented was also more comprehensive than that of which Joab was the type. The two separate streams in which the blood of Abraham had flowed for centuries met and mingled in the blood of Amasa. He must therefore have represented the rational in a broader and even higher sense than as represented by Joab; the rational, which is distinguished into internal, external, and middle, being capable both of particular and general advancement.

Amasa, who had supported the rebellion of Absalom, was appointed by David to suppress the insurrection of Sheba; a characteristic of that faculty which can act cither in separating or in uniting the spiritual mind and the natural, according as it sides with the one or the other. It can be converted from the negative to the affirmative side, and be as powerful in supporting a cause as it formerly was in opposing it, even when the cause is that of God and religion.

Amasa was sent to assemble the men of Judah within three days; but he tarried longer than the set time; and David, fearing that Sheba's insurrection might do him more harm than Absalom's rebellion, despatched Abishai with all the king's servants that were in Jerusalem in pursuit. Joab with his men followed. Meantime Amasa returned, and seems to have been sent to join Abishai. And when they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. Joab, simulating friendship, went up to Amasa, and took him by the beard with his right hand to kiss him, while with the left he thrust his sword into his side and killed him. This may be regarded as an act of revenge, and, like the murder of Abner, was intended to remove a dangerous rival out of the way. But there is in other minds the spirit from which these acts proceeded. There is a conflict of spiritual as well as of natural interests. The Lord's own disciples contended among themselves which should be greatest in His kingdom. The contention among the disciples represented a contention which takes place in the mind of every disciple among the principles which the twelve represented. There is a contention whether, for instance, charity, faith, or works shall be greatest, and shall rule over the others. Joab had hitherto been the greatest in the kingdom of David; and he retained his ascendancy to the last; for we find him, after the death of Amasa, at the head of the army again, even although the king evidently wished to supersede him. And so it is in our religious experience. We desire to place the truths by which we oppose our spiritual adversaries under a more perfect leadership; so that there is a conflict within a conflict. While there is a conflict between motive and act, there may be a conflict between motive and motive; a conflict between the spirit and the flesh, and a conflict at the same time within the spirit itself, which grieves that it is not right with God. Nor does this conflict end till the state of the religious life itself passes into one purer and higher. Some of David's aspirations are only realized in Solomon. It is well that these things are in the heart. The Lord will bring to pass all the desires of the faithful; but the times and the seasons are in His hand.

One of Joab's evil qualities was duplicity. He was like those who attempt to serve God and Mammon. With Joab it was himself and the king. The slaying of his own rival first and the slaughter of the king's enemies next. With the right hand of simulated goodness he took Amasa by the beard to give him the kiss of brotherly love, while with the sinister hand of concealed self-interest he slew him with the sword of falsehood, for the truth is turned into falsehood by those who use it falsely. Yet Joab, though not commissioned to engage in suppressing the insurrection, seems to have taken the place of Amasa, and assumed the chief command. For one of Joab's men said, "He that favours Joab, and he that is for David, let him go after Joab." And "all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri."

It is rather remarkable that after the defeat and death of Absalom, and indeed out of it, there should arise an attempt to divide, if not to overturn, the kingdom of David. But we need not be greatly surprised if we reflect that want of harmony between the understanding and the will is a condition of mind incident to all stages of the regenerate life till that work is completed; for the establishment of harmony and union between these two faculties is the new birth itself. Conflict between will and understanding is also conflict between good and truth, and between charity and faith. Not that there is or can be any conflict between these two, as they are in themselves. True faith can never be opposed to true charity. It is only in the human mind that they can come into conflict; for there only can one be made to contemn the other. The Christian moralist may contemn faith, and the Christian believer may contemn charity. The more common error is to claim supremacy or independence for faith. This claim was represented by the revolt of Sheba the son of Bichri, in which he was joined by the tribes of Israel, as opposed to the tribe of Judah, which adhered to David. This is a heresy which owes its origin to evil, or to the absence of goodness. This is expressly mentioned in the present case, for Sheba was a man of Belial. If the radical meaning of the word were applied to the heresy, it would exactly describe its nature; for while a life of charity is a useful life, a life of faith without charity, or of truth without goodness, is a "useless "one, and a useless life is liable to become a wicked and sinful one, which the word, when applied to any one, generally signifies.

Pursued by Joab, Sheba took refuge in Abel, a city belonging to the tribe of Manasseh. There is nothing particular recorded of this city except in this instance; and that is highly creditable to it. It had become proverbial for wisdom, so much so, that "they were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter." When Joab came to Abel he cast up a bank against it, and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down. A peaceful city is converted into a theatre of war. A city is the emblem of doctrine. Manasseh, the eldest son of Joseph, represented the new will, as Ephraim, his younger son, represented the new understanding; and the tribes descended from them had a similar meaning. But there is something connected with the formation of the new will that throws light upon the case we are now considering. "Manasseh signifies forgetftulness, thus, in the spiritual sense, removal, namely, the removal of evils, as well actual as hereditary; for when these are removed the new will arises; for the new will exists by the influx of good from the Lord. This influx is continual with man, but evils, actual and hereditary, hinder and oppose reception; wherefore on their removal the new will comes into existence. That the new will is thus formed appears manifest with those who are in misfortune, misery, and disease; for whereas on such occasions there is a removal of self-love and the love of the world, from which all evils flow, at such times a man thinks well of God and of his neighbour; he is also in like manner well disposed in will towards his neighbour in temptations, which are spiritual griefs, and thus interior miseries and desperations. By these more especially the removal of evils is effected; and after evils are removed celestial good from the Lord flows in, whence comes the new will in the natural mind, which in the representative sense is Manasseh."

We have here, then, an exemplification of this state. There are evil, misfortune, misery; temptations, which are spiritual griefs, and desperations. The disturbing elements have been drawn from many of the tribes, from Manasseh as well as the others, and now they find shelter behind the walls of one of her cities. The name of this city is not the same as that of Adam's second son, whom Cain slew. Abel signifies mourning. We find it in Abel-mizraim, which received its name from the great mourning at the floor of Atad, where Joseph and his company rested when he went up to bury his father in Canaan. The name was also given to the great stone on which the Israelites set down the ark of the Lord, when it was brought out of the country of the Philistines, to express, we may suppose, the lamentation of the people, because the Lord had smitten above fifty thousand of the men of Beth-shemesh for having looked into the ark (1 Sam 6:14-19). To distinguish the Abel of the present chapter from others, it is called Abel of Beth-maachah, the whole signifying the mourning of the house of oppression. The state and condition of the city were such as its name expressed. It was like a mind oppressed by the presence of evils, both active and hereditary, within, and pressed upon by the demands of truth and duty from without. The walls that surround and defend a city are like the truths of the literal sense of the Word that serve as the defence of doctrinal principles. As the outworks of a principle, they are the first to be assailed; and when they can no longer defend, the principle itself must give way. When resistance is continued, the consequence of being overcome is like that which attended the conquest of resisting cities, when all were put to the sword. When evil predominates in the mind, the result of determined opposition to the truth is, that good and evil perish together, they are involved in one common ruin. The state of the mind is not determined by the relative amount of good or evil it contains, as if one could be weighed in a balance against the other. The ruling principle determines the character of the mind, whatever its secondary and accidental qualities may be. Sheba and no doubt many of his followers had made or forced their way into the city of Abel, and may have found others there who favoured their cause. They seem to have formed a strong party, else the inhabitants would have gladly opened their gates to Joab. It is not unlikely that many of the men leaned to Sheba's side; but the city was saved by a wise woman. "Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, to Joab, Come near here, that I may speak with you." When she had obtained the ear of Joab, after reminding him of the proverbial wisdom of the people of Abel, she said, "I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: you seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why will you swallow up the inheritance of the Lord? " When Joab had assured her it was far from his wish to swallow up or destroy, and that he would depart on their delivering up Sheba, the woman said to Joab, "Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall. Then the woman went to 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 to the king."

The perceptive wisdom of women is more rapid in its operation and more certain in its conclusion than the reasoning intelligence of men. Their wisdom is the highest logic, although it is not syllogistic, which all right reasoning is said to be. It is the logic of good sense, because it is true thinking from right feeling. Such is the wisdom of every good woman; and such was the wise woman of Abel. Her wisdom was the truth of goodness. The decisions of that truth are Yea and Amen, from which there is no appeal, because none is felt to be necessary. Those who are in doubt, or with whom there is a difference between the will and the understanding, and who yet sincerely desire to have their doubts removed and their differences settled, need only to ask counsel at Abel, and the matter will be ended. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." "The just shall live by his faith." These are among the means by which the mind is quieted and its conflicting faculties are reconciled.

The wise woman had no hesitation in promising to Joab that the head of Sheba should be thrown to him over the wall. And when she went to the people in her wisdom she seems to have had no difficulty in persuading or convincing them of what was right for them to do. "Wisdom is justified of all her children." Beheading Sheba was cutting off the head of the insurrection. Principles may be thus destroyed as well as persons. Principles are as the head which rules, and on which the rest of the parts depend, and when the ruling element is separated from the dependent parts the whole falls to the ground. The head of Sheba, after being cut off, was thrown over the wall. It was like a principle that is cast out from the mind, and is thus rejected and repudiated. This in the case of Sheba satisfied Joab, who returned to Jerusalem to the king.

Thus ended the rebellion; and the order which followed, as the result of peace, is expressed by the concluding statement respecting David's affairs, and his ministers, from Joab, who was over all the land of Israel, to Ira the Jairite, who was a chief ruler about David.

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