And 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.

II Samuel 20:1

Nathan the prophet had told David after the death of Uriah, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.” Little did David at that time realize how painfully true, this would be. And it continued to be so after he had returned to the throne of Jerusalem after his fleeing from Absalom.

It began with what could only be considered a picky little squabble. The men of the tribe of Judah, after first hesitating to give any indication of support to David at all, had suddenly turned under the requested encouragement of Zadok and Abiathar the priests to meet David with a rousing welcome at the ford of Jordan. In fact, the whole ceremony of welcome all of the way from Jordan to Jerusalem was so completely dominated by them that the rest of the tribes felt slighted. Judah had been the leading tribe in Absalom’s rebellion, it had been the last to urge his return, and yet it had received almost exclusive recognition in his restitution. Angered, the rest of the tribes sent a hot message to David complaining, “Why have our brethren the men of Judah stolen thee away, and have brought the king, and his household, and all David’s men with him, over Jordan?”

It was not, however, the king that gave the answer. Whether through the neglect of David or what, the men of the tribe of Judah heard of the complaint and immediately sent off a reply in the same unbrotherly tone, “Because the king is near of kin to us: wherefore then be ye angry for this matter? Have we eaten at all of the king’s cost? or hath he given us any gift?”

Here was something which David’s kingdom at this point did not need and could not stand—an arrogant claim of superiority, by one tribe over against the others. Already the feelings of the eleven tribes were smarting, and for Judah now to claim that it had a right to special privileges and considerations because the king was of their kin was too much. Quickly the wounded answer came back from the other tribes in their own defense, “We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than ye: why then did ye despise us, that our advice should not be first had in bringing back our king?” But the men of Judah felt themselves to be in the position of power, and they were not about to share it with any others.

It was a time when David surely should have stepped in and used some of his natural discretion. When before the eleven tribes had invited his return while as yet the tribe of Judah was unheard from, he had had the wisdom to wait and to see to it that Judah was encouraged, so that willingly he might be received back by the same nation. And now it was just the other way around: the men of Judah had drawn close to him while the other tribes felt alienated and distant. Just a few words. of kindness and recognition was all that was needed. But David Was growing old, and through all of the hardships of recent years, he had lost a great deal of his former versatility. It was becoming so easy for him to draw back and let things go their own course in the hope that they would take care of themselves. And so he did here.

In fact, it might have even worked, had it not been for the fact that there was an opportunist waiting to take advantage of his failure. It was a man named Sheba, of the tribe of Benjamin and possibly relation to the family of Saul. He had no particular ability and there was no particular reason why he should ever be granted any special recognition. But the possibility was there to created trouble and he was unscrupulous enough to use it. The people felt forsaken and rejected and were open to any suggestion that might seem to restore their own feelings of importance and self-respect. It didn’t matter who gave it.

Thus Sheba took to himself a trumpet and blew it. This was the customary sign for the giving of an important announcement or the starting of a campaign of one kind or another. When a crowd had gathered around, this is what he said, “We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.” It spoke to the hearts of the people, for this was exactly how they felt. Quickly the word spread through all of the nation and soon there were sizeable numbers of every tribe but. Judah which had turned from David and were claiming allegiance to Sheba.

David, when he heard of this new development, was agitated and even frightened. Hardly had one rebellion been stomped out and there was another one in the making. This time, however, he was not going to wait to give it time to grow and fester. Immediately he called his new captain, Amasa, and instructed him, “Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present.”

As it was, however, Amasa was hardly an experienced leader. He had served in the position of captain for only a short time under Absalom and that quite unsuccessfully. The men under him were strange and suspicious; it had been so very shortly before that he had been fighting against them as a rebel and an enemy. And then besides, he was not particularly courageous. Delay as was followed by Absalom was much more easily followed than quick and decisive action. The result was that the three days which David had allowed, and more, had passed with nothing happening.

But David was impatient. His had always been the way of quick and definite action. Delays such as this simply were not to his liking. And yet, he had just so recently appointed Amasa to his position. It would hardly reflect well to discharge him immediately. The result was that he decided to bypass him. He turned to a man whom he knew he could trust to lay out a prompt and powerful attack against an enemy, Abishai, Joab’s brother. To him he said, “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.”

In his choice of Abishai David had been quite correct as far as expecting decisive action. What he forgot was the closeness of that family and the opportunity that this provided for Joab.

As it was, David should have known better than to think that a man of Joab’s strength could be merely shunted aside after all of the years in which he had ruled David’s army. In fact, David himself was really not capable of getting along without him. Although at times David disliked Joab’s self-assured and determined manner, and at times he suffered under his presumptuousness, as in the death of Absalom, he needed this strength of a strong captain to maintain the power of his kingdom. This was evident in the fact that so soon again he turned back from Amasa to Abishai.

But the matter even went much deeper than that. This rebuff had hit Joab where it hurt as nothing else could. All of his life had been spent in David’s service, and it had been a service of complete loyalty and dedicated throughout. Even the killing of Absalom had been more out of a consideration of David’s own well-being than anything else. His sudden rejection by David, thus in favor of Amasa, had hit him in the one tender spot which he had, his loyalty to his king and master. It was a blow from which he never fully recovered again so that he could never give himself as completely to the king’s service as he had before.

Nevertheless, even at this he remained the strong character and determined fighter he had always been. Thus when Abishai his brother was called upon to lead the army for his campaign he saw his opportunity. He simply joined himself to Abishai’s party. Moreover, hardly had the army left Jerusalem when he singled out and approached Amasa. Just as he came close to him he caused, as though accidentally, that his sword should fall out at Amasa’s feet. With his left hand he stooped to pick this up, and when he rose up he extended his right hand to Amasa’s face as though to grasp him in an embrace; and with a kiss, according to the usual custom of intimate greeting, he politely asked, “Art thou in health, my brother?” But his intentions were quite different. With the left hand, he took the sword which he held and thrust it into Amasa’s heart so that he fell dead to the ground. It was Joab’s way of doing a thing, not greatly different from his slaying of Abner or even of Absalom, cold-blooded, perhaps, but quick, definite and final.

Neither was Joab ashamed of what he had done. Although he himself went on, he left one of his men standing by the body of Amasa to meet everyone who came along with the challenge, “He that favoureth Joab, and he that is for David, let him go after Joab.” As it was, however, the whole thing was too repulsive. Rather than hastening to join Joab in his regained strength, they stood in stony and shocked amazement unable to move. Realizing this, the servant of Joab soon shoved the body off into the ditch, covered it with a cloth, and merely urged the people to go on after Joab, which most of them freely did.

It was not long under the restored leadership of Joab that the pursuit of Sheba was turned into a rout. From city to city he fled with an ever dwindling army. He never had been much of a leader and with Joab pursuing him few were willing to help. At last he took refuge in a walled city named Abel of Bethmaabhah. Immediately Joab set a siege about the city and erected fortifications about it.

It was while this was taking place that a woman of the city called down. “Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come, near hither, that I may speak with thee.”

Quickly the message was brought to Joab and he approached as close as he safely could to hear what she had to say. Once the woman had ascertained that it was indeed Joab to whom she spoke, “Hear the words of thine handmaid. They were wont to speak in old time, saying, they shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter. I 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?” Evidently so small had Sheba’s force become that his presence in the city was hardly recognized as the cause for the attack of Joab. Actually, the people did not even know for sure why they were being besieged.

But Joab was quick with an answer. He said; “Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy. The 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.”

To this the woman answered Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall.” And so it was that the revolt of Sheba was ended.

As for Joab, with yet another victory to his credit, he could not easily be dispensed with again. Neither did David want to try it once more. As much as Joab’s harsh and often cruel ways were opposed to his own nature, through the years he had developed a reliance upon him which could hardly be broken. With little more ado, he merely allowed Joab to return to his old position.