2 Samuel 20:1-22 – Sheba Rebels


2 Samuel 20:1-22


Civil war again breaks out between Israel and Judah, this time under Sheba’s rebellion. David’s quick response preserves the unity of the nation. As before, Joab, not David, is blamed for the bloodshed.


David’s problems are not over. Absalom’s rebellion was symptomatic of unrest throughout the realm as Sheba’s revolt shows. The flow of the narrative is set forth in the first two verses where it is stated that Judah remained loyal to David when Sheba, an opportunistic Benjaminite, persuaded the northern Israelite tribes to abandon the king. Verses 4-22 describe Judah’s loyalty and the quelling of Israel’s revolt in reverse order:

A Trumpet blow (v. 1)
B Israel rebels against David (v. 2a)
C Judah remains loyal (v. 2b)
X David’s concubines (v. 3)
C′ Judah’s loyalty (vv. 4-13)
B′ Israel’s rebellion stopped (vv. 14-22a)
A′ Trumpet blow (v. 22b)

Serving as a hinge in the center of the passage is the obscure notice of David’s concubines (v. 3). Actually, this little slice of life symbolizes much of importance. The 10 concubines were the women David had left in Jerusalem when he fled before Absalom (2 Samuel 15:16). Absalom’s rape of these women (2 Samuel 16:20-23) was a claim to be king, as well as a fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy (2 Samuel 12:12). David’s provision for these women in a guarded house testifies to his compassion. His refusal to have sexual relations with them, however, was a political statement: the kingdom needed to be reestablished.

Lodged within this simple structure is the provocative tale of the “wise woman” who negotiates peace amid overpowering military might and delivers her city. The peace is won at the expense of Sheba, whom the townspeople kill in accordance with the negotiations worked out by Joab and the wise woman (vv. 16-21). The parallels between this “wise woman” story and the wise woman of Tekoa (14:1-20) suggest that they form a frame around Absalom’s rebellion (chapters 15-19).