Shmuel II Twenty: Sheba

The Israel/Judah division continues. A man named Sheba, from the tribe of Benjamin, declared that Israel should go to the tents, rather than follow David. “And all the men of Israel went up from after David, following Sheba the son of Bichri, but the men of Judah cleaved to their king from the Jordan until Jerusalem (Samuel II 20:2).” David returns to Jerusalem, in spite of the divide amongst the people. He reunites with the wome that he left behind, his concubines. And then he calls for the men of Judah to rally to him. “And Amasa went to call together the men of Judah, but he tarried past the set time which he had appointed him (Samuel II 20:5).” David wanted the men quickly, but Amasa didn’t deliver. So David goes to Abishai, because he’s worried. He thinks that Sheba is more dangerous than Absalom was, so he sends Abishai to pursue him.

“And Joab’s men went after him with the archers and the slingers and all the warriors; and they went out of Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri (Samuel II 20:7).” Joab runs into Amasa while chasing Sheba, and greets him warmly. But Amasa doesn’t notice Joab’s sword, and ends up getting stabbed. Amasa bleeds, and Joab continues to pursue Sheba. This is all told with remarkably little emotion, even for this level of drama. Joab tracks Sheba to a city. A wise woman from within the city calls to him. “I am of that are peaceful and faithful to Israel; Do you seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel? Why should you swallow up the inheritance of the Lord (Samuel II 20:19)?” Joab explains that he’s not there to destroy the city, he only wants Sheba. So the women of the city band together to behead Sheba and throw his head over the wall so that Joab will leave the city alone. Again, this is told matter of factly, when it’s an insane story. The people just behead him? How is this a thing? Sometimes Tanakh stories are truly bizarre, especially the ones that tended to get passed over when I was in school. I don’t know what to make of them. Why were they important enough to get canonized, but not to be explained or regularly taught?


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