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Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 20 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/29/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 20
“Peaceable and Faithful in Israel”
With friends like this, who needs enemies. That’s a common saying that I thought of us as studied this passage. Here we continue to see what we began to see in last week’s message. All is not well among God’s people. No sooner do they end the civil war between supporters of Absalom versus supporters of David than they begin fighting again. As we see the continued struggles for peace among God’s people, we are confronted again ourselves with this same quality that we still struggle within the church. Will God’s people have peace with one another? Will we have peace with our fellow Christians? Yes, we might say we do as we look around at one another here in this room. But as we look around, we remember that there are many other Christians not just in this world, but in this city and in this area, that are not here. The reason many of them are not here reflect the lack of peace that continues today among God’s people.
And so let’s begin then today looking at the various conflicts that are seen here among God’s people. There are actually several layers of conflict in this passage. Let’s notice them each and then think about what contributed to the conflict. I think of James 4:1 that asked “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” Let’s ask that same question as we consider the different conflicts in this passage.
So, first you have the larger overarching conflict between Israel and Judah. We saw this at the end of last week’s passage. Chapter 19:41-43 is the context for why another revolt broke out. Basically the 10 tribes of Israel thought the one tribe of Judah was trying to push them away from the king and the honor and privilege that came along with being close to the king. Judah in turn claimed that they weren’t getting any special privileges from David, but did retort that they were the closer in terms of family, since they were of the same tribe. But Israel in turn responded that there were more of them, ten tribes to one. So, they were fighting in a sort of jealous spirit, afraid the other would end up in some greater position within the kingdom. And we should add to this matter that the one person who could have probably helped resolve the conflict was King David, and yet he said nothing during the whole argument. He was silent and seemingly uninvolved.
So then, that brings us to the next conflict in this passage. It’s the conflict between Sheba and David. Of course, in some sense it’s still the conflict between Israel and Judah because Sheba will represent the most upset of Israel, and David will be supported by Judah. So, Sheba basically sees how Israel’s concerns were dismissed by Judah, and he calls for a revolt. His words in verse 1 stand out to us not just for their boldness, but because they will be used again. He says, “We have no share in David, nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” Two generations later, in 1 Kings 12:16, these words will again be uttered by the tribes of Israel, then to leave David’s grandson King Rehoboam and to split permanently off from Judah to be their own country. Then the division that is temporarily healed here in this passage becomes permanent.
And so it’s Sheba who initiates this revolt here against King David. And notice what we learn about Sheba in verse 1. Our pew bible calls him a rebel. That’s about as nice of a way to translate it as you can. The word means that he is a morally worthless man, literally a son of Belial. Verse 2 says that he immediately gathers a following. It is sad that any in Israel would even listen to such a man. But I guess that’s is part of the point. Such worthless men often deceive God’s people into listening to their wrong ideas. David himself recognizes the danger here. Notice verse 6. David thinks Sheba could end up doing far more harm than Absalom did in his revolt. So he takes Sheba very seriously and immediately dispatches his new military commander Amasa to assemble the forces and prepare to go after him.
So then the next conflict we see here is between Joab and Amasa. We see that in a sneaky and ruthless way, Joab kills Amasa. This was so shocking that as the army saw Amasa’s dead body it became a big distraction, and they had to move it out of view. Now, I just mentioned that Amasa was the new commander of David’s forces, which of course reminds us that he had replaced Joab. I might also mention that Joab and Amasa were cousins. And yet that didn’t stop Joab from taking out Amasa. Joab, true to his character, would not be so easily demoted. And so it is clear that Joab uses these events to take out Amasa and then lead the army to a glorious victory over this revolt, ultimately securing his role as the army’s commander. This would have made it difficult for David to try to do anything about it. In fact, that is how the chapter ends, describing the key leaders in David’s restored kingdom, and it lists Joab first as the commander of the army. Of course, we could also mention that in all of this Joab probably had the additional motivation to pay back Amasa for his previous treason. Remember, Amasa had rejected his uncle David as king in order to serve his cousin Absalom instead. So this all being said, it stands as yet another aspect of the division present here among God’s people.
Lastly, I’ll point to the conflict between Joab and Sheba, and thus between Joab and the town of Abel. As Joab pursues the villainous Sheba, notice that Sheba heads northward through the whole land of Israel, verse 14. He ends up in Abel, at the northern tip of Israel. Along the way he has been trying to gain support and stir up rebellion, though apparently not too successfully. But you see how Sheba is trying to create more conflict and division among God’s people. Well, Joab and the army pursues him to Abel where he takes up refuge. It was a walled city, and so Joab and his men begin to besiege it. Per verse 15, it sounds like they were preparing to try to take down the walls. Obviously this puts the city and its inhabitants in great danger, and presumably at odds with Joab and David’s army.
And yet here is where we turn to our second point for today. I want us to see this wise woman of Abel in verse 16, and see what she does for promoting peace. For it’s when Joab and the army are about to bring destruction to the town of Abel that she speaks up. What a commendable woman we see here. Her actions here remind me somewhat of Abigail who work for peace between David’s men and the men of her household, after her husband had so badly insulted David.
And so faced with Joab and this army against her and her city, she cries out to Joab from the city. She is going to be a peacemaker and a mediator here. And so she begins by giving Joab a history lesson about the town of Abel. Look at verse 18. Evidently it was a town well known for helping people solve their disputes. It was so well known for that there was even a local proverb that expressed that. In other words, it seems that when people had conflicts and disputes they would take the matter to this town of Abel and they would be able to find people there that could give counsel to their conflict and ultimately bring peace and reconciliation. What an interesting thing. In a chapter so full of conflicts and divisions if only they had made use of such a town and of such mediation. But alas, they did not.
And yet this woman essentially does provide such mediation here. She stands between Joab’s army on the one hand and her whole town on the other. In verse 19, she then refers to herself as peaceful and faithful and makes a final appeal to Joab. She asks him why he would destroy such a city which has been like a mother to Israel. That’s again an interesting concept. Think of how mothers so often have to step in and help siblings settle their fights. That’s what this city has been to Israel, and frankly Israel needs such a mother right now. In fact, she herself actually serves as such a mother in this situation. And so then she makes it religious. She asks him, “Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?” And she wins him over. In her wisdom, in her peacemaking, in her mediation, she wins over Joab. In all of Joab’s harshness, in all his pragmatism, in all his ruthlessness, she appeals to him in the name of the LORD, and he responds positively. He clarifies that he has no desire to destroy the city, only to stop the rebel Sheba.
So notice what happens. She proposes that she can have the head of Sheba thrown down to him. And then look in verse 22. It says that she then goes in her wisdom to all the people of the town. So she is acting as this mediator and peacemaker. And they agree with her and they cut off Sheba’s head and throw it down to Joab. Joab then blows the trumpet signaling victory and they return to Jerusalem. Her mediation and peacemaking saves the city. And I love the connection of this with her wisdom. She, like what her city was known for, used wisdom to understand the situation and the concerns of all the parties, and work for a peaceable solution.
So this brings us then to our third and final point. I’ve titled it “making peace” on your outlines. I want to step back then and recognize the peace that ends up in all of this. This wise woman really shines her, and the result is not just peace for her town. But as the passage concludes we realize that there is finally again peace in the whole land. It’s this passage that actually marks the ending of the whole big section of Absalom and his rebellion. Finally, after all that trouble and turmoil and conflict, there is renewed peace in the nation. David is finally reestablished as the king over all the tribes, and his kingdom is restored. As I said, that’s why this passage ends with verses 23-27 listing all these officials of David. It is very similar language to what was at the end of 2 Samuel 8, which described David’s officials when David’s kingdom was first established. It lists this new list now, because this is the reestablishing of David’s kingdom. And so it is wonderful to see how the kingdom is finally restored and at peace. And it was a nice conclusion to all of this to see how God used this wise woman of Abel to act as a peacemaker and mediator so that there would finally be peace.
And yet I might mention at this point a contrast. As this wise woman shines in this passage, it really serves as a foil to king David. What I mean is that David as king did not act in any sort of peacemaking or mediator type of role here. I hinted at the beginning of our message for today of how David could have been useful in stepping in right at the start between Judah and Israel’s conflict. In fact, when Israel first mentioned their grievance in chapter 19, they actually addressed David directly. And yet the men of Judah jumped in and gave their side of the story and David remained silent. David, King David, David the man after God’s own heart, was not a peacemaker or mediator between his brothers here. He didn’t bring his people together. He falls short in this regard. Of course, we could even point to a similar idea with the conflict between Joab and Amasa. After Joab murders Amasa, there is nothing said from David at this time. Shouldn’t he have done something then? He will much later on his deathbed instruct his son Solomon to do something about this. But that is a long time later and only shows that he knew he should have done something about it. My point is that this passage again shows that David, as wonderful as a king as he was, has his failings. He’s not the ultimate king for God’s people. In this passage we see his lacking ability to bring peace to his people.
In contrast, we have King Jesus. Jesus is the peacemaker and mediator that David was not. Jesus does this first and foremost in our relationship with God. Our greatest conflict in life is the conflict we as humans have with our Maker. God made us, but in different ways we have turned our backs on God and offended God in our sin and rebellion. In our actions, we have earned God’s anger toward us. And yet that is where Jesus steps in. Jesus in his wisdom makes a way of peace between us and God. Jesus understands that the real problem is our sin and lack of righteousness. Such is the offense we have given to God. And so Jesus steps in personally and takes away the offense. Those who then turn and trust in him by faith are forgiven of their sins. The result is what we call reconciliation. We are reconciled with God. The dispute that God has with us is ended. We are then at peace with God.
But King Jesus then also works for peace in our relationships with other Christians. He does this in several ways. I’ll mention five. One, he prays for such peace between us, as we see in John 17 in Jesus’ high priestly prayer. Two, Jesus teaches us and commands us to be peacemakers, like in the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitude of “blessed are the peacemakers,” and in the teachings of turning the other cheek and loving our enemies. Three, Jesus tells us that the example of how he has forgiven us through the cross, show us that we ought to forgive others. Four, Jesus has given us of his Spirit. His Spirit is one that cares about things like peacemaking and that is what is at work within us. Five, Jesus teaches us pray for wisdom, and we’ve seen today how wisdom is an essential component to effective peacemaking.
And so brothers and sisters, we return then to where we started. Today among God’s people, there is yet a struggle for peace among us. The things that caused such division in today’s passage still are some of the reasons we struggle today. Things like jealousy and a lust for power and privilege over others, is one source. Things like either impotent silence or proactive harshness can certainly contribute to it. Worthless men like Sheba who creep in unnoticed into the church can certainly bring division. These and other temptations can threaten the peace of the church.
And as we said at the start, Christ’s church is divided today. It’s divided among so many denominations, some for doctrinal reasons, some for other reasons. If we spend time reflecting on what causes quarrels and divisions among Christ’s church, we can come up with many reasons to explain why there is so much fraction and division. When we try to think of how we can “fix” this, it seems overwhelming. I mean, using today’s passage as an analogy, at this point the major rift between the 10 tribes of Israel and the 1 tribe of Judah were able to be fixed. But when they later divide again, then it becomes a permanent division in Israel’s history. This is something akin to different denominations in the Old Testament. They had that conflict and division between the people of God. And for us now so many years later, after all the history that has led to all the division, how can we ever be whole and at peace again?
I suspect based on my understanding of the future from the Bible, that such total peace won’t be achieved until Christ’s return and we come to be with him in glory. And yet surely we have a command today to pursue such peace among our brothers. In other words, we aren’t to wait until glory to find that peace with our fellow believers. We are to pursue it. Again, I must confess, that can seem to be a daunting task. Where do we even start? How do we go about this?
Well, that is why we need wisdom. In this section of 2 Samuel we’ve seen a lot of bad wisdom; wisdom used for evil purposes. But at the end of this major section in the book we see wisdom used in a good way, for peacemaking. That is what we are to seek. Seek that wisdom from above, and use it for peacemaking in the church.
That means we pray for such wisdom. It means we study about peacemaking and reconciliation. The Scriptures teach us much on this subject, especially the book of Proverbs. And then we look to put such wisdom and peacemaking into practice. One area that us in the OPC can do is to start with ourselves. Our own denomination often has the negative stereotype in the Christian community as being overly narrow in our holding of reformed theology. Now, I am not saying we should just drop our reformed convictions or disregard the importance of sound doctrine. But surely wisdom can help us reflect on how we can be more charitable in our convictions without compromising our convictions. Surely wisdom can help us to lovingly bring our fellow Christians along in sound doctrine, while also teaching us humility to see what we can learn from our fellow Christians. Wisdom for us will allow us to learn where we need to learn instead of falsely thinking we already know everything.
Brothers and sisters, let us see how Christ would have us to wisely contribute to peacemaking among God’s people. That wise woman called herself peaceful and faithful. We could ask that of ourselves? Could we be called peaceful and faithful. Hopefully we can say “yes” in at least some way, but we all know there are ways we would have to say “no”. The good news is that we know who is our king. King Jesus, unlike King David, does perfectly hold such qualities. And he has this desire for his people. We know he will not sit back silently while we divide from one another. Rather, see how he, the Prince of Peace, speaks even today through his Word to proclaim his desire for peacemaking among his people. Let us strive for such, knowing that our peacemaking Lord will be with us and giving us grace to progress even in this area. Let us see the value in pursuing this even until that day when he comes to bring in the fullness of peace in the age to come. Amen!
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.