Revive Our Hearts Podcast

One Wise Woman

Leslie Basham: Does it feel like you’re surrounded by violent people who keep escalating tensions? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth asks . . .

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: But what if we were different? What if we acted and spoke in wisdom? Now, this is an Old Testament story that doesn’t have the benefit of grace and the gospel to inform how this woman acts. The end is not something that I’m going to recommend as a way that we deal with our difficult situations. But I think there’s a principle here and an insight for as women living in hostile territory, sometimes maybe in your marriage. Are you going to light the fuse or are you going to defuse the situation?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for Monday, August 26, 2019.

Today Nancy begins a short series exploring an obscure story from the Old Testament. You may be surprised at how much it applies to your life! 

Nancy: I’m doing something new in my quiet time this year . . . actually, it’s probably going to take me about a year-and-a-half. I have a journaling Bible. I’m reading through the Scripture, and it has lines in the margin for journaling. I’m also doing it with a translation that I haven’t read through before: the Christian Standard Bible, which I recommend, but it’s new to me.

A lot of times as I’m journaling, God is just speaking to me about passages that I haven’t thought a lot about before. I’m doing some recording this year with just short series that are things that I’ve picked up in my quiet time—things I’ve been reflecting on, meditating on—that I want to have a chance to share with you.

Today we’re going to look at some of the fruit of my quiet time, my journaling, from an obscure passage in 2 Samuel chapter 20. Let me encourage you to be turning there; actually, we’re going to start at the end of chapter 19, just to give us some context. We’re jumping down into just a small slice in the life of David.

David is the King of Israel at this point. There’s a woman who you’ve probably never heard of or thought much about before. We’re not even told what her name is. We’re going to look at this woman, but before we do, you know that there were a lot of different women who figure into the life of David.

He had a number of wives. Remember, one of those wives was Michal, who was Saul’s daughter. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah but David took her, abused his power, and committed sexual sin with her, and then had her husband murdered.

The story we’re going to be reading today, a lot of this . . . A lot of the tension and the conflict that’s going on at this time indirectly is the consequence of David’s sin with Bathsheba. There’s another woman named Abishag who comes into David’s life, late in his life. You read about it in 1 Kings chapter 1.

David is an old man and this woman (Abishag) is brought to the palace to attend to the king and to be his caregiver when he’s in his advanced age. When he can’t get warm, she lies down to keep him warm, but there’s not a sexual relationship. So that’s one of the women in his life. We don’t have that kind of thing happening today . . . hopefully! (laughter)

Then there were a number of women in David’s life and kingdom who made appeals that averted disaster. You remember Abigail—she’s the best known, probably—in 1 Samuel 25. She was a wise woman, and she made an appeal. Because of her, her angry, foolish husband Nabal’s plan to destroy David were thwarted.

In 2 Samuel 14 you have the wise woman of Tekoa who urged David to bring home his estranged son, Absalom. She had a role in David’s life. 

And then, today, we’re looking at a wise woman in 2 Samuel chapter 20. She’s just known as “the wise woman of Abel.” That’s the name of a city, and you’re going to see how she plays into David’s life.

Now, the context is that there’s a lot of political unrest going on. There are the seeds of what is going to become the divided kingdom. There will be the north and the south, and already that division, that fissure, is starting to take place.

If you back up to 2 Samuel 19, beginning at verse 40, the end of that chapter, David has been exiled from Jerusalem by his son Absalom who led a revolt. And now Absalom’s rebellion has been quashed. Absalom is dead and David has returned to Jerusalem to be restored as the king. It’s been a long, hard, sad period in David’s life.

Yet, there are still some people who are disloyal to David. They followed Absalom. They don’t like the fact that David is still the king. So there’s this dispute and this discord that is brewing between the men of Judah—which is the southern tribe that David came from—and the men of Israel—which are the ten northern tribes.

Now, the whole thing together is called Israel, but when the kingdom split, it was Israel in the north and Judah in the south. As you read in 2 Samuel 19 . . . By the way, is just how I do a lot of my Bible study. As I was reading through this passage not too long ago, I realized that there were a lot of references to the people of Judah and the people of Israel. The men of Judah and the men of Israel, and they kept being contrasted. I thought, Hmm, there’s a fight brewing here. I noticed that, and that’s what led me to this wise woman of Abel. So, 2 Samuel 19, verse 40: 

The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way. 

You see there’s some disunity here, because, where are the other half of the people of Israel? They’re not in agreement. 

Then all the men of Israel came to the king and said to the king, “Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David's men with him?” All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is our close relative. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king's expense? Or has he given us any gift?” 

And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?” But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel” (vv. 41–43).

Now, we’re not going to unpack that whole section. Can you tell that there’s some conflict here? There are some lines being drawn between the men of Israel in the north and the men of Israel in the south, which is David’s tribe.

So we come to chapter 20, and again before we read it, I want to just identify who the major characters are in this story. When my mother tells these complex stories, we tease her. We call it, “a hairdresser story.” So this something she heard at the hairdresser. 

This is like, “The son of so-and-so and the mother of this and these people . . .” You can’t even tell who’s who in the story! Sometimes you feel that way when you jump down into a passage like the one we’re going to look at today.

So we have King David who has just been returned to power. Then we have Sheba (we’re going to get to know him). He is an ungodly man who tries to start an insurrection against David. So the disloyalty is not over; there’s still trouble brewing!

And then we have Joab, who is David’s nephew and military commander. He’s a hot-headed man; you see him throughout the story of David. He’s the one who killed Absalom, contrary to David’s orders. 

In order to not have all of Absalom’s followers mad at him, David says, “Joab, you’re outta here!” David fires him and promotes a man named Amasa in Joab’s place. “You’re going to be the commander of the army now.”

Amasa had been the captain of Absalom’s army (this is what I mean by a “hairdresser story!”). So Joab is mad and has it in for Amasa, because Joab is being replaced by the man who had been David’s enemy. And then we have Abishai who comes into the story—he’s Joab’s brother. You’ll see all this.

And then, with all of this cast of characters who are fuming and feuding, we have one nameless (to us) wise woman. You’re going to see how she makes such a difference! So, 2 Samuel 20, verse 1: 

Now there happened to be there a worthless man [in the CSB that I’ve been reading, it calls him, a wicked man] whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” 

This is as they would say, “Them’s fightin’ words!” This man is upset; he’s a worthless man; he’s a wicked man. He’s trying to appeal away followers to leave David and to go with him.

Sheba is from the tribe of Benjamin. Who is another king of Israel who was also from the tribe of Benjamin? King Saul, who was David’s predecessor. Saul had always been out to kill David, but David would never fight back. David just waited and said, “When it’s God’s time to put me in there, He’s going to put me in there.”

Well, Sheba is from the tribe of Benjamin and perhaps he was just loyal to Saul’s kingdom that had just been overthrown. He’s disloyal to David; he’s divisive. You can see trouble and conflict brewing here. He’s a malcontent; he’s a troublemaker, and he campaigns and he gains a following. He asserts and appoints himself as the leader of this resistance movement.

Now, just a clue: it’s not going to end well for Sheba. And as you see Sheba taking on David, you can see how different this was from David’s attitude toward Saul. David said, “I’m not going to touch the Lord’s anointed.” (see 1 Sam. 24:10)

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David [they deserted him] and [they] followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah [David’s tribe] followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem (v. 2). 

So the lines are drawn and David has yet another civil war on his hands!

He’s just gotten over this thing with Absalom, who had done the same thing. He had drawn away people who were loyal to him, had broken up the kingdom. And now David’s dealing with this again. Verse 3 is a parenthesis; we’re not going to go into that. It has to do with the ten concubines of David that Absalom had raped in his rebellion against his father.

You see the tragic effects that our sins have on others, and it goes on for generation to generation. That’s another whole story that’s inserted here in verse 3. And by the way, I don’t mean to say this is trite or light; it’s very significant, and it will have a bearing on David’s life for generations to come. 

But back to the current story: 

Then the king said to Amasa [remember that Amasa is Absalom’s former general whom David has in a conciliatory move promoted to command his army], “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself” (v. 4). 

Now, three days is not much time for this assignment: “Go gather all the troops to me, because we’ve got to deal with this uprising.” But David knew that time was of the essence, and he couldn’t afford to let this rebellion of Sheba gain the upper hand. So he says, “Hurry! Get the troops and come back here!”

So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him (v. 5). 

David is impatient. He’s like, “C’mon! C’mon! When are the troops coming?” And he decides, “I can’t afford to wait any longer. Sheba has to be stopped now!” So David says, “I don’t know what’s with Amasa, I don’t know why he’s not here, but I’ve got to send somebody!”

So he decides to send his royal guard, Abishai, and his brother Joab, who was David’s former general who had just been displaced by Amasa. Have you got all that? “Hairdresser story!” 

David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord's servants and pursue him [Sheba], lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us.” And there went out after him Joab's men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men” (vv. 6–7). 

So Abishai takes his brother, and they take these troops and, 

They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them (vv. 7–8).

So Amasa, who’d been out trying to gather his own troops, he realizes that David has sent some other troops; he says, “I want to join up with you guys.” Now remember, Joab doesn’t like Amasa, because Amasa has replaced him as the commander of the army. 

Now Joab was wearing a soldier's garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it [just happened to fall] out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” 

And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. [He’s pretending to be a friend; it’s all a sham! It’s all deception.] But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab's hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died (vv. 8–10).

So Joab is a ruthless, brutal man who uses deception to assassinate his competitor, Amasa. 

Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. [This what they’ve been sent to do, to stop this uprising.] And one of Joab's young men took his stand by Amasa (vv. 10–11).

Now, Joab had struck Amasa and it says he died, but he probably did not—commentators say—die immediately. He’s there like dying, but it’s taking a while to die from this wound. So one of the young men stands there and says: 

“Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” [The lines are drawn!] And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. [So we’ve got gawkers who are stopping the mission from going on. This is a gory story! (Did I tell you that?)] And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him.

When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. [That’s the point! That’s what they’re trying to do: stop this uprising against David.] And Sheba [for his part] passed through all the tribes of Israel [he heads north] to Abel of Beth-maacah, and all the Bichrites assembled and followed him in (vv. 11–14). 

Abel is a city about a hundred miles north of Jerusalem, and Sheba and his men fled there to find refuge. Joab and his men—sent by David—are right behind them in hot pursuit!

And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah (v. 15). 

So Sheba runs into this city and then Joab and his men come and they say, “You’re not getting out of here alive!” So they besiege the whole city. “They cast up a mound against the city.” Picture a ramp built to get to the top of the wall.

They cast up a mound against the city and it stood against the rampart, and they were battering the wall to throw it down (v. 15). 

This is an angry mob! You’ve got angry men inside who want to overthrow the king. You’ve got the king’s men coming against the city and saying, “We’re going to destroy the city, and we’re going to kill you Sheba if it’s the last thing we do!” 

So the city of Abel—who had nothing to do with all this conflict (they’re just kind of like innocent bystanders but now)—they are caught in the crossfire. Sheba is hiding in the city with his men. And Joab and his men are determined to capture and kill Sheba. They’re threatening a whole city with violence! This is, can we say, a crisis!

It’s a life-and-death situation. It’s tense; it’s intense. There are many lives at stake. This is a matter of survival for the people of Abel! There has already been bloodshed. There was this guy who was lying out on the highway, and they threw him into a field and covered him with a garment so people wouldn’t . . . you know. There’s been a lot of bloodshed.

Absalom’s been killed. It looks like there’s going to be a lot more bloodshed before it’s all over. And so, the men are at conflict with each other: we have the men of Judah (Joab leading his troops) and Sheba, the rebel, leading his troops (the men of Israel). All these men are contentious, combative, antagonistic. They’re warriors. They’re quick to make threats. 

You saw this at the end of chapter 19: “Why did you do this?” 

“Well, why did you do that!?” 

“Well, their words were fiercer than their words!” 

We have these contentious parties of men who are making threats. They’re using force; they’re drawing lines; they’re mobilizing armies. They’re not afraid to use violence to make their point and get their way and win the upper hand. It’s like battle-to-the-death here! 

And then we have verse 16, and it’s just a whole different tone and feel! “Then a wise woman called from the city . . .” So you have these war-like men fighting, contending, scrambling, scrapping, killing, battering down walls,whatever they have to do. And then the wise woman speaks up. 

We’re not told her name; we’re just told that she was wise. What a way to be known! I’ll just tell you, at the end of my life if I’m known as a wise woman of God, that’d be enough for me! That would be enough for you. Here you have one wise woman against all these hot-headed men. And she was just the person who was needed in this desperate situation!

You may live in a desperate situation . . . maybe not quite this desperate! Would anybody say that you have conflict in some sphere—in your home or your workplace or your church or somewhere? There’s trouble brewing; there are people opposing each other. There are people saying ugly things? 

I mean, who of us doesn’t have at some point of our life something like that going on? It may not be quite this vicious, but it can escalate and become super-vicious, right? And what is needed in a situation like that is a voice, sometimes of a wise woman. It was just what was needed in that situation. Maybe it is just what is needed in your situation.

So this wise woman says, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.’” She asked for an audience with the leader of the troops that are trying to batter down the wall of her city. She wants to talk to him face to face.

And isn’t it true that sometimes the hottest, most intense conflicts can be defused by just communicating in person, face to face? This is what you see in terrorist situations or in hostage situations, where they send in a negotiator. They want to talk to the person who is making trouble—get to know him, just to have some sane reasonable talk, just bring down the temperature, right? 

We want to de-escalate the situation. That’s what wisdom will help us to do in tense situations. It helps us to listen; it helps us to talk, to communicate. She’s not afraid of Joab. The Joab we’ve seen is a ruthless, vicious, violent man! Maybe she was afraid of him, but she still said, “Let’s talk. I want to talk to Joab.”

Maybe she is thinking, If he puts a face to the people in this city, if he can hear the voice, if he can talk to one person, maybe he’ll think twice about demolishing this whole city so he can have his way against Sheba. So she puts herself out there in harm’s way, but she does it in a way that defuses the tension.

“And he came near her . . .” I mean, he’s like taken back by this! It’s like everybody stops shouting for a minute. “. . . and the woman said, ‘Are you Joab?’ He answered, ‘I am.’ Then she said to him, ‘Listen to the words of your servant.’ And he answered, ‘I am listening’” (v. 17). 

Now here’s a wise woman who ends up in conversation with this man. 

She may have been a prophetess. We’re not told. We don’t know anything more about her than what is told in this passage. But we know that everything that we do see about her character and her tactics is in contrast to the character and the tactics of all the other people in this story. It’s a contrast to Sheba and to Joab and to the men of Israel and the men of Judah.

They’re warlike; they’re stirring up conflict; they’re baiting each other; they’re debating each other. “Off with your head!” is the whole mind-set here. They’re saying foolish things; they’re saying hateful things; they’re saying angry things; they’re doing angry things. And here is a woman who’s life stands in contrast to all those men.

Joab, as we learn throughout the record of his life, was a man to be feared. But here’s a woman who feared God more than she feared man. She was willing to strike up the conversation and say, “Look, it doesn’t have to be this way!”

Here’s a woman who is concerned for her own city, like, “The thing is going to go up in flames!” There are grenades going everywhere just to get this one man, Sheba, who is in the middle of this city. It’s almost as if you can sense her saying, “Look, I don’t know who’s right. I don’t know who’s wrong. I’m not going to take sides on this thing, but we’re in a crisis! This is a desperate time!” All these hot-headed men are going to do some stupid things here, but here’s a woman who’s clear-headed and who doesn’t cower and who doesn’t say, “They’re going to kill us all!”

She doesn’t just stand by and wait for the other men of her city to fix it, nor does she raise up her own army, which would just be another angry force here. She had no force she could use. She’s a picture, really, of weakness when contrasted to these mighty men who are at each other’s throats.

Here’s a woman who says, “Somebody has got to do something. Somebody’s got to calm the tension here.” And because of the wisdom that was in her heart, it came out in her conversation and in her actions. God uses the wisdom of this woman to defuse the situation and ultimately to divert disaster from this whole town . . . and many lives are spared!

She’s willing to be used; she’s available to be used; she’s willing to be a part of the solution. Now, you’re going to have to come back tomorrow for the end of the story, to see what happens here. It’s a kind of strange story. It’s already been strange, and the end is even stranger!

But I just want to point out the power of God to work through a wise woman who’s not afraid, who steps up, who says, “I’m not going to add to the chaos. I’m not going to add to the people screaming at each other. I’m going to change the dance step. I’m going to have a different spirit.”

I was struck by this woman (and we’ll see the rest of her story tomorrow), because I realize how many of us live in some realm of our life in a place that’s hostile, that’s hot-headed, that there’s competition. There’s competing. There are people at each other’s throats. And the tendency is to just join the chaos!

But what if we were different? What if we acted and spoke in wisdom? Now, this is an Old Testament story that doesn’t have the benefit of grace and the gospel to inform how this woman acts. The end is not something that I’m going to recommend as a way that we deal with our difficult situations. But I think there’s a principle here and an insight for as women living in hostile territory, sometimes maybe in your marriage. Are you going to light the fuse or are you going to defuse the situation?

Oh Lord, would You make us wisdom women? Would You make us wise women? Help us to know in our city, in our town, in our circumstances, in our situation what it is that we can say and do that will make a difference to calm things down so that You can be magnified and lives can be spared! We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: The wisdom we see modeled for us in this little-known Bible passage is something all of us need. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been praying we would have the ability to stand up against senseless evil.

To do that, we need godly strength. The wise woman of Abel demonstrated that calming strength as she confronted the chaos that threatened her whole town. Our friend Mary Kassian would probably call that “the right kind of strong.” 

That’s the title of her newest book. And in it, Mary explores the surprisingly simple habits that give women genuine, godly strength. Today and tomorrow you can receive the book as a thank-you from us for your gift in support of Revive Our Hearts. Your donation can be in any amount. 

Simply visit ReviveOurHearts.com and click where you see “Donate.” Or you can always call us at 1–800–569–5959. 

If you were facing an incredibly tense situation, what words could you use to relieve the strain? Tomorrow Nancy will show us what the wise woman of Abel said, and did, to calm a mob of angry men. Be sure to catch tomorrow’s episode of Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you be wise and strong. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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