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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And there happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.
The son of Bichri ... - Rather, "a Bichrite," formed like the names "Ahohite," "Hachmonite," etc. 2 Samuel 23:8-9, and so called from Becher, the son of Benjamin Genesis 46:21; 1 Chronicles 7:6-8 Saul was also of this family. It is evident that the transfer of the royalty from their tribe to that of Judah still rankled in the hearts of many Benjamites (2 Samuel 16:8 note).
2So every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri: but the men of Judah clave unto their king, from Jordan even to Jerusalem.
From Jordan ... - The men of Israel only escorted David from Jordan to Gilgal, and there left him; but the men of Judah in a body went with him all the way to Jerusalem.
3And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.
4Then said the king to Amasa, Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present.
To Amasa ... - Evidently feeling his way toward fulfilling the promise to Amasa (marginal reference).
5So Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah: but he tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him.
He tarried - The cause of Amasa's delay is not stated. It may have been the unwillingness of the men of Judah to place themselves under his orders, or it may have been caused by a wavering or hesitation in loyalty. This last is evidently insinuated in 2 Samuel 20:11, and no doubt this was the pretext, whether grounded in fact or not, by which Joab justified the murder of Amasa before David.
6And David said to Abishai, Now shall Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than did Absalom: take thou thy lord's servants, and pursue after him, lest he get him fenced cities, and escape us.
To Abishai - Probably, as the king was on bad terms with Joab, and wished to deprive him of his post as Captain of the host, he gave his orders to Abishai, and weakly connived at the execution of them by Joab, which was inevitable.
7And there went out after him Joab's men, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men: and they went out of Jerusalem, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.
8When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. And Joab's garment that he had put on was girded unto him, and upon it a girdle with a sword fastened upon his loins in the sheath thereof; and as he went forth it fell out.
Amasa went before them - Rather, "advanced to meet them." Amasa was no doubt returning to Jerusalem, according to his orders 2 Samuel 20:4, and was probably much surprised to meet the army in march. Joab's resolution was quickly taken.
And Joab's garment ... - Render, "And Joab was girded with his military garment, as his clothing, and upon it" - i. e., the military garment - (or "him"), "the girdle of a sword fastened on his loins in its sheath, and as he went forth" (to meet Amasa) "it fell" out of the sheath. What appears to have happened is that, by accident or design, Joab's sword fell out of the scabbard on the ground as he was going to meet Amasa, and that he picked it up with his left hand so as to have his right hand free for the customary salutation 2 Samuel 20:9. This awakened no suspicion in Amasa's mind. Compare the case of Ehud, Judges 3:21.
9And Joab said to Amasa, Art thou in health, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him.
10But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died. So Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri.
11And one of Joab's men stood by him, and said, He that favoureth Joab, and he that is for David, let him go after Joab.
He that favoreth Joab ... - This speech, addressed to Amasa's followers as well as Joab's, shows very distinctly that the rivalry between Joab and Amasa, and David's purpose to make Amasa captain in Joab's room, were well known; and shows also the real reason why Joab killed Amasa. What is added, "and he that is for David," was intended to identify Joab's cause with David's, and also to insinuate that Amasa had not been loyal to David (2 Samuel 20:5 note).
12And Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a cloth upon him, when he saw that every one that came by him stood still.
All the people ... - i. e., the levies which Amanda had been leading to Jerusalem; they were irresolute as to what they should do, and the stoppage at Amasa's body very nearly led to their refusing to follow Joab. But upon the prompt removal and hiding of the body they passed on and followed Joab, their old captain.
13When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.
14And he went through all the tribes of Israel unto Abel, and to Bethmaachah, and all the Berites: and they were gathered together, and went also after him.
Abel - More commonly called 2 Samuel 20:15 "Abel-Beth-maachah" to distinguish it from other places of the name of "Abel" (a grassy plain). It is represented by the modern Abil-el-Kamh, a Christian village on the northwest of lake Huleh, the ancient Merom. Compare 2 Chronicles 16:4, "Abel-maim," Abel by the water.
And all the Berites - What this means is utterly unknown. Many approve of the reading of the Latin Version, connecting it with what follows: "And all the choice young men mustered and followed him."
15And they came and besieged him in Abel of Bethmaachah, and they cast up a bank against the city, and it stood in the trench: and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down.
Cast up a bank - See the marginal references. The throwing up of mounds against the walls of besieged places by the besiegers is well illustrated in the Assyrian sculptures.
The trench - The "pomoerium," or fortified space outside the wall. When the mound was planted in the pomoerium the battering engines were able to approach close to the wall to make a breach.
16Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.
17And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.
18Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.
This was an old proverb. Abel, like Teman, and some other places, was once famous for the wisdom of its inhabitants 1 Kings 4:30-31. The wise woman was herself a remnant of this traditional wisdom.
19I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?
I am one ... - The woman speaks in the name of the whole city, which she means to say was peaceable and loyal.
20And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.
Joab's character is strongly brought out in the transaction. Politic, decided, bold, and unscrupulous, but never needlessly cruel or impulsive, or even revengeful. No life is safe that stands in his way, but from policy he never sacrifices the most insignificant life without a purpose. (Compare 2 Samuel 2:27-30.)
21The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city. And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall.
22Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king.
23Now Joab was over all the host of Israel: and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and over the Pelethites:
Now Joab ... - This is by no means an unmeaning repetition. Joab had been dismissed to make room for Amasa, and was now, as the result of his successful expedition against Sheba, and the death of Amasa, reinstated in his command. Moreover, this was a fresh beginning of David's reign, and therefore a statement of his chief officers is as proper as in 2 Samuel 8:16, when he had just established himself on the throne of Israel. Compare 1 Kings 4:2-6.
24And Adoram was over the tribute: and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder:
Adoram - Not mentioned before by name or office. Apparently, therefore, the office was not instituted until the latter part of David's reign, and its duties probably were the collection of the tribute imposed upon vanquished nations, or the command of the forced levies employed in public works. Adoram was stoned to death in the beginning of the reign of Rehoboam 1 Kings 12:18.
25And Sheva was scribe: and Zadok and Abiathar were the priests:
26And Ira also the Jairite was a chief ruler about David.
Ira the Jairite - Not mentioned before: perhaps the same as "Ira an Ithrite" (marginal reference), i. e., an inhabitant of Jattir in the hill country of Judah Joshua 15:48; 1 Samuel 30:27. Perhaps we ought to read "Ithrite," for "Jairite."
A chief ruler ... about David - More simply and clearly, "was David's kohen" (2 Samuel 8:18 note). In the early part oph David's reign his own ons were כהן kôhên (chief rulers). The deaths of Amnon and Absalom, and the dissensions in the family, had probably caused the change of policy in this respect.