In the midst of David’s mercy towards his enemies in chapter 19, we are immediately met with a Benjaminite who has led Israel astray. Chapter 19 ended with a quarrel, where Judah welcomed David first without Israel’s participation, and immediately in chapter 20 we see the lofty Israelites jumping onto the bandwagon of Sheba soon after Absalom’s death.
Yet, the narration of chapter 20 does not introduce us to David’s reaction to Sheba’s rebellion. Rather, we are told that David put his ten concubines under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them, living as if in widowhood to the day of their death (v.3). This picture is in response to 2 Samuel 16:22 – perhaps implying that the concubines no longer belonged just to David as they were soiled by Absalom and became tools in shaming David’s kingship. Like a widow without children and without further inheritance as none of them had David or anyone else as their husband, so also are those (Proverbs 17:6) who align themselves to Satan as their true baal, as their true lord and husband – for by him, no childbirth may result (contrary to the blessing of those who are born under righteous parents – Proverbs 20:7). For what goodness can come out of any other seed than the Seed of the Father? What children can come from the flesh and not by the Spirit? (c.f. Genesis 16:4).
Upon seeing this clear-cut imagery of David and Absalom’s households, we are then brought to see Amasa, temporarily made commander of the army, lead the pursuit against Sheba’s rebellion. Yet, the son of Zeruiah is instead appointed due to Amasa’s delay after three days (v.4-5) though eventually he managed to catch up with them (v.7-8). However, soon we perceive that he is but among the list of those wrongfully murdered by Joab. Uriah. Abner. Absalom. Amasa. These are but a number of the men whom Joab treacherously killed – though seemingly by the direction of David, Joab’s vengeful streak has been becoming more and more apparent throughout the past 19 chapters of 2 Samuel. The irony of his deceit is displayed in v.8, revealed for all to see – and yet Amasa is blind to Joab’s murderous inclination.
What, therefore, is the significance of Amasa’s death in chapter 20 by Joab the murderous man, who (like in chapter 18) became the responsible army commander to achieving victory for Israel (by executing Absalom) and achieving victory against Sheba’s rebellion (v.22)? Is it not just an extension of Joab trying to hide the blood and flesh of the satan which runs through him?
Note carefully v.11-13: whoever favors Joab… let him follow Joab. David is placed in second place; not only that, but the LORD is entirely absent. The men only stopped to look at poor Amasa – the man who was the object of David’s affection (2 Samuel 19:13). This same man, the commander of David’s army, is now lying on the ground wallowing in his blood and entrails on the ground. Who stopped to bury this man? “And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all (my emphasis) the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him” (v.12). All the men stopped to see this injustice being done (though the narrative is silent on the judgment of this scenario) and yet all they did was watch. Is this not the sin of Adam, that he did not prevent the serpent from continually deceiving Eve? Is this not the sin of the neighbour (Deuteronomy 22:8)? Yet, the innocent blood of Abel (Matthew 23:35; Hebrews 12:24) cries out and no one rushes to save Amasa. Instead, he is lamely covered by a garment (Isaiah 26:21 and Jeremiah 9:1; contrast to Ezekiel 16:8), when he should be covered by the garment of righteousness (Isaiah 61) and the corner of His glorious robe (Ezekiel 16) – but all the men return to mindlessly following Joab (v.13) and not the LORD – desensitized to the madness of this son of Zeruiah.
As if the poor attempt at concealing the innocence behind the deaths of Uriah, Abner, Absalom and Amasa were not enough – the Hebrew language is itself a witness against Joab’s treachery. He arrives at Abel of Beth-maacah. Abel, though not identical in vowels to the name of Adam’s second son, uses the same Hebrew root characters; and Maacah is the name of Absalom’s mother. Yet, Joab’s connection to these two is that Abel is the first man to die since the foundation of the world, murdered innocently by his brother – just as Joab has murdered David’s flesh Amasa (2 Samuel 19:13) and Absalom mercilessly. Furthermore, the second connection is revealed by the wise woman’s query:
2Sa 20:19 I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the LORD?”
Indeed, why will Joab swallow up the heritage of the LORD? Joab’s denial in v.20 is now especially profound given Amasa’s painful and unwarranted death earlier in the chapter. More ironically, Joab has already swallowed up the heritage of the LORD – of his lord David, by murdering Absalom, the son of this mother Maacah which bears the same name as the city. Maacah, the mother of Absalom is a true mother in Israel, though spiritually Beth-maacah may be the birthplace of spiritual sons of God – the Hebrew word-play surely brings out the guilt of Joab in the emblematic stories of Abel and Absalom as Maacah’s son. Notice how the chapter ends in an anti-climax – does Joab win the battle? Is he the one to defeat Sheba in a long-drawn heroic and dramatic battle?
No – instead, we are left with a loquacious wise women, who in her wisdom (first stated in v.16 and repeated in v.22) cut off the head of Sheba. Joab and his men did not walk in wisdom; yet the woman, in her wisdom, accomplished a clean cut victory in the battle without so much as Joab’s assistance. His works could not save him; his hands are covered with the blood of the innocent; his military achievements fall drastically short in the face of the shame of this wise woman whose wisdom triumphs Joab’s physical might. While the people worked together (v.22) in the meadow of the house of Maacah (Abel of Beth-maacah) to destroy this rebellious son of the Benjaminites, Joab’s trumpet call only led to the disperse of people rather than uniting them to worship before the LORD and before David (v.22).