This is a gruesome chapter in the history of Israel that vividly illustrates the violence of the times. David is returning from across the Jordan to Jerusalem while attempting to reunify his kingdom. The king and the kingdom are vulnerable, and an opportunist named Sheba rises up to take advantage of this weakness. David wisely recognizes that Sheba’s rebellion must be quickly stamped out but makes a mistake in who he appoints to do the job.
As commander in chief, David appoints Amasa, the former leader of Absalom’s army, to gather troops from Israel to put down the revolt. David is justifiably angry with Joab since he was the one who killed Absalom, but David fails to recognize Joab’s power and ruthlessness. Amasa fails in his attempt to gather an army and when he returns Joab quickly eliminates him as a rival by killing him.
Joab is now second in command and knows that victory in this battle against Sheba will restore him to his proper place in the kingdom as first in command. He and his troops focus on finding Sheba and when they do they encounter a wise woman in the city where Sheba is trapped. She is able to convince the people that sacrificing Sheba is the best way to save their city. Sheba is executed and his head tossed over the wall to Joab and his troops. This ends the rebellion and Joab is restored to his position as first in command.
What about us?
Have you ever fought and struggled to achieve a high position at work or in the church? I do not know where I learned it but beginning in adolescence, I determined that tearing other people down was the best way to stay on top. I never killed anyone in a physical sense, but I am sure there were many instances where I violated Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 5:22.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.Matthew 5:21-22 NIV
This is one of the dangers in reading stories like this one. In the short-term Joab appears to be successful as a result of his ruthlessness and willingness to murder. He will eventually receive justice, but it will be a long time in coming. Joab was passionate about preserving David’s kingdom. In his mind that end justified any means he thought necessary. This is not the example of Jesus. It is much easier to do the right thing when your desire is to be the servant of all.
A Wise Woman
I think we can learn a great deal from the wise woman of Abel. In essence her means were the same as the means that Joab used. She had a man executed. I will not say that she had no self interest in this situation. I will argue that her greater interest was in preserving her city and preventing destruction that might further the divide in David’s kingdom. She understands the danger that Sheba presents to her city and to the kingdom. He was divisive and he had to go.
These are difficult days for the church in the United States. Division is everywhere. In divisive situations people sense an opportunity to gain power and position. It is easy to stir up anger and promote rebellion against those who are attempting to lead. I think Paul’s instructions as he closes his letter to the Romans are very clear.
17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.Romans 16:17-18 NIV
When we see or hear someone who is attempting to create division, we should stay away from them. I listened to a podcast yesterday that I am going to unsubscribe from. My primary reason for unsubscribing was that the hosts seemed to take as much pleasure in tearing down people who disagreed with them as they did in attempting to present an alternative point of view. My opinion is that they seemed determined to divide.
In the case of local congregations this can be a major challenge. Finding leaders with the wisdom and courage of the wise woman in Abel is difficult. Instead, it seems to be the divisive who rise to positions of influence. When these influencers appear, I think it is wisdom to warn them directly and then ask them to leave if they continue to work to divide. I know from experience that this is not easy. It is not easy to maintain the right spirit. Removing a divisive influence is unlikely to please anyone. Still, it must be done, or God’s kingdom will suffer.