The David Saga, Episode 12 – Rebellion and Flashbacks

For this week, please read 2 Samuel 20-24. In our episode this week, David crushes another rebellion and there are flashbacks to David’s war with the Philistines and the destruction of Saul’s family. 


In episode 11, we have the conclusion to Absalom’s Rebellion. Absalom takes the advice of David’s spy Hushai and delays his pursuit of David until Absalom has amassed a larger army. During the delay, David takes refuge in the city of Mahanaim, east of the Jordan River. There David resupplies, regroups, and reorganizes his army. The forces of David under Joab, Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite meet the forces of Absalom in the Battle of the Forest of Ephraim. David’s forces prevail in the battle and Joab kills Absalom (against David’s direct orders) after Absalom’s hair becomes entangled in an oak. David mourns Absalom’s death until Joab tells him that his mourning is an insult to his troops. In the remainder of the episode, we see David refusing to exact vengeance against those who supported Absalom and reconciling himself to his people. Because of Joab’s disobedience and to further reconcile himself with the rebellious troops, David appoints Absalom’s military commander, Amasa, as his own military commander.

Sheba’s Rebellion: (Ch. 20)

David reconciles himself to Israel. However, a Benjamite by the name of Sheba believes there is still sufficient anti-David sentiment in the population to launch a new rebellion. Unlike Absalom, Sheba only rallies the northern tribes and does not seek so much to overthrow David as to break his kingdom in two.

David sends his new commander Amasa out against the rebel with a contingent of Judean troops. Amasa, however, fails to timely move against Sheba. David refuses to go to Joab whom he recently demoted, and instead calls on Abishai to move against the Sheba. Joab goes out but under Abishai’s command.

Abishai (and Joab) meet up with Amasa. Joab takes Amasa aside and leans in as if to greet him with a kiss. Instead, Joab takes his dagger and disembowels Amasa on the spot. Joab’s murder of Amasa has mixed motives. First, Amasa is an inadequate commander, and Joab’s murder saves David from himself. Second, like Joab’s murder of Abner, the elimination of Amasa will allow Joab to retake his position as commander of David’s forces.

Wise Women of Abel: Joab and Abishai pursue Sheba to the walled city of Abel on Israel’s northern frontier and they begin to besiege the town. Here we meet an unnamed but wise woman. The Hebrew word for wisdom, chokmah, is feminine, and throughout the Scriptures, wisdom is often personified as female (See, Proverbs 3). This woman is presented to us in the story as wisdom personified.

Wisdom requires both insight and action. First, the woman sees the problem at hand. The town is harboring a rebel and his army. David’s forces have the town surrounded and besieged. No supplies can get into the city. Realistically, there is little hope of any outside rescue. The woman knows how this will end. Over the next few months, as supplies run low, hunger and disease will grip the town, and eventually, Joab’s forces will overwhelm the defenders. At the moment everyone left in the town will be at the mercy of Joab. The woman dispels any false hope of victory or even survival.

Second, the wise woman takes the initiative to prevent the inevitable. She does not simply think about the problem but she devises and carries out the solution. She argues her case. She calls to Joab from the top of Abel’s gate. She says that the town is peaceful and faithful and therefore should never be destroyed. Joab agrees that under normal circumstances, no harm should come to the town of Abel; however, Abel is harboring the rebel Sheba and therefore these are not normal circumstances.  Having secured Joab’s understanding that the only reason Abel is in danger is because of Sheba, she takes care of the problem.

The wise woman goes to the town’s people and tells them of their two choices. We can see her gathering the town together. She tells them they can either continue to shelter Sheba and be subject to the siege and death or they can dispose of Sheba and return to their normal lives. The choice is easy. The townspeople heed wisdom’s advice. They decapitate Sheba and toss his head over the wall to Joab. The rebel Sheba having died, Joab calls off the siege and returns to Jerusalem. Wisdom has saved the city. 

Destruction of Saul’s Family: (flashback) (Ch. 21:1-14)

Up until now, we have only known the fate of a few of Saul’s descendants. We know that Saul and three of his sons were killed in the Battle of the Jezreel Valley (1 Sam. 31). We know another of Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, was assassinated by his neighbors. (2 Samuel 4). In 9:1, David asks the question “Is there still anyone left of the House of Saul?” It was after this question, that David discovered Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, and invited him to come to live with him in Jerusalem.

Until now, however, we did not know what happened to Saul’s other sons between the death of Ishbosheth and the discovery of Mephibosheth. The story of the destruction of Saul’s family begins during Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land four hundred years earlier. Joshua 9. The Gibeonites were an indigenous Canaanite people who came to Joshua during the conquest and sued for peace. They entered into a covenant with Joshua whereby they would remain in the land and worship Israel’s God, and Joshua and all of Israel would allow them to remain undisturbed. 

Saul broke this covenant. (21:2). In his zeal for Israel, Saul attacked the Gibeonites because they were not of the people of Israel. And because Saul was king, and the Gibeonites were not Israelites, no justice was given to the Gibeonites for Saul’s actions. Ethnic minorities have little avenues for recourse.

During the time of the flashback, famine has now gripped the land for three years. David (who like us, does not know this history) inquires of the Lord as the cause of the famine. God tells him the famine is caused by the bloodguilt of Saul’s ethnic cleansing against the Gibeonites. David goes to the Gibeonites and asks them how this bloodguilt may be atoned for. The Gibeonites do not want monetary compensation, but an eye-for-an-eye. Their solution is that just as Saul sought to wipe them out, so they should be allowed to wipe Saul out. They demand that Saul’s seven remaining sons be handed over to them and hanged before the Lord as an expiation for Saul’s sins.

David grants the Gibeonites’ request. The seven remaining sons of Saul are rounded up and hanged on the “mountain before the Lord.” God heeded the supplication of David and the Gibeonites, and the famine ended. Conveniently, there was now no one left in Saul’s household to challenge David’s rule. As we looked at in prior episodes (or even with Absalom), David never personally eliminates challenges to his rule, he leaves that work up to others – Philistines, Ammonites, Joab, or the Gibeonites.

War with the Philistines: (flashback) (Ch. 21:15-22, 23:8-39)

In this flashback, we see a brief listing of the battles between David and the Philistines after the Battle of the Rephaim Valley in episode 7 (2 Sam. 5). These brief flashback accounts of the battles do give some insight into David. There is a battle in which David was in a sword-to-sword fight with a Philistine giant when it appears that the Philistine has gained the upper hand and is set to kill David. Abishai rushes to David’s aid, and just as the Philistine sets to dispatch David, so Abishai dispatches the Philistine. After the battle, David’s men tell him he is no longer allowed to go out to battle with them. This incident occurred prior to the siege of Rabbah in episode 8 (2 Sam. 11) and helps to justify why David was in Jerusalem and not with his men when he spotted Bathsheba.

We are given the list of David’s elite soldiery. There are the Three and the Thirty. These men performed extraordinary deeds in the various battles with the Philistines soon after David established his capital in Jerusalem. The Three are the medal-of-honor recipients. There was Josheb-basshebeth who slew eight hundred Philistines in one battle. Eleazar who rose up with David when their army had fled and struck the Philistines until his hand was unable to release his sword. Shammah who took his stand when his men fled and single-handedly held off a Philistine assault.

The Thirty are David’s special forces. Abishai was their leader. It was these troops that spearheaded David’s assaults. Included in this list is Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba. As the story of David wraps up, we are reminded of the times when David was a young warrior-king and on top of the world.

The Census: (flashback) (Ch.24)

The Book of Samuel ends with David building an altar to God. It would be here that Solomon will eventually build his Temple. (1 Chron. 21:28,  2 Chron. 3:1). The story begins with God inciting David to take a census of the people. This action by David angers God. We are not told why God is angry. The census may have angered God because it shows David’s arrogance for wanting to number the people under his control. The census may have also angered God because it shows the potential strength of David’s army (500,000 men in Judah and 800,000 men in the other tribes). Therefore, David will begin to trust in the size of his battalions and not in God. Regardless of the reason, God is angry. The prophet Gad comes to David and says that God will bring a punishment of David’s choosing – three years of famine, three years of fleeing, or three days of plague. David chooses the plague, and the angel of destruction goes throughout Israel killing 70,000 men.

As the destroying angel approaches Jerusalem, God repents of the punishment and tells the angel to halt. At that moment, David sees the angel. This all happens at the threshing floor of Arauhah Ornan the Jebusite. At the instructions of Gad, David buys the threshing floor and builds an altar to God. David also buys the oxen for the sacrifice from Arauhah and makes the required sacrifice that ends the plague. It will be at this site that David’s son Solomon constructs the Temple.


The story of David ends next week with David’s death and Solomon’s ascension to the throne. Before he dies, however, David gives some last advice to Solomon on who will need to die in order for Solomon to secure his reign. This is similar to the last meeting between Don Vito and Michael Corleone. (video)

I will call upon the Lord, *
   and so shall I be saved from my enemies.

He reached down from on high and grasped me; *
   he drew me out of great waters.

He delivered me from my strong enemies and from those who hated me; *
   for they were too mighty for me.

They confronted me in the day of my disaster; *
   but the Lord was my support.

Psalm 18: 3,17-19 (2 Sam. 22: 4, 17-19)

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