Sheba's Rebellion

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How are you to read the Old Testament? The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10.11, reminding his Corinthian readers of God's judgments for the sexual sin of his people in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt, wrote this:

"Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come."

The Old Testament provides warnings. Then as we heard in our New Testament reading, Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 3.15-17):

"The sacred writings… [referring to the Old Testament] are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

So the Old Testament points forward to salvation through Jesus Christ – but remember there are three tenses to salvation: salvation for and from past sins, salvation in living a present saved life and salvation as future glory. But it is also good for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. Well in our series on the life of David, we have come to chapter 20 of 2 Samuel, whose warnings and lessons we need to heed. And my headings tonight are first, An Introductory Lesson; secondly, The Sin of Rebellion; thirdly, The Social Consequences of Sexual Sin; fourthly, Peace Not War.

1. An Introductory Lesson

Where are we now in the life of David? Well, the rebellion led by Absalom has by 2 Samuel 20 come to an end with David's General, Joab, defying David's orders and killing Absalom. Joab found Absalom caught up by his long hair in a tree, after his horse had left him having gone from under him. But there are now problems or seem to be. There is still division among the people although Absalom is dead. The majority think that David should be brought back as he did well for them in the past. David then asks the priests in Jerusalem to foster a similar desire in the people there. To keep people happy he replaces the unpopular general Joab with Amasa, Absalom's general. So David then was sent for and met by all the people at the Jordan. And there is at last real peace; and David was to be brought back to Jerusalem as victor.

But the people from the north of the Country, known as the tribes of Israel, were put out. That was when the people of the south, identified as the "men of Judah" (David's own tribe but on Absalom's side), were privileged in the process of bringing David back to Jerusalem. At which point someone by the name of Sheba – described in verse 1 as "a worthless man"

"…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!'"

And poor David! Here he is facing another rebellion with a major rebellion having just ended and ending with the death of his son which affected him very badly. Who knows exactly how David must have been feeling? Who knows what it's like when you have just dealt with one problem and think you can relax and take things easy; but the phone goes and there's a new major problem. Well, that is not abnormal in the life of a believer. It was the case for God's people in the kingdom of Israel and Judah; it is the case with God's people today. Paul wrote (2 Timothy 3.12): "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

And Paul's follow up teaching for new converts was (Acts 14.22) "encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many [not just some] tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." But remember, as we shall see, that God is in control of all that is going on; and as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10.13:

"[God] is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted [or tested] beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

Both in Old and New Testament times, God's people are taught and strengthened in their spiritual lives often not by easy times. It is by times when there are the three "P's" of pressure, problems and persecution. But God is with you and in control – never forget. So much then by way of introduction.

2. The Sin of Rebellion

Look at verse 2:

"So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem."

It is not clear what politically is going on. Sheba might have planned all this, or just seized an opportunity for power, for with power goes wealth. But if it is like today, there will have been confusion all round and mixed motives. And the frightening thing was and is the madness and conformism of crowds who follow such leadership. Verse 2 again:

"So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba."

Solomon Asche's famous conformity experiments reveal that it can be only 25% of people (one in four) who will always resist following a majority when they are clearly wrong. Human beings, for whatever reason, don't want to be the odd men or women out. So Jesus had to say,

"Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets."
(Luke 6.26)

But that, however, is what God's faithful people in every generation have to be – often in a minority. Think of Noah, Abraham, Lot, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and, of course, Jesus on the Cross when "all left him and fled" (Mark 14.50).

Sheba is described as a "worthless man". That is not a description of his character but because of the evil that he was encouraging. For as we have been thinking, King David's line is so crucial for God's great plan of saving the world. The covenant that God established with David as recorded in 2 Samuel 7.16 promised David's "house and… kingdom shall be made sure forever." God's plan, of course, was that Jesus was going to be, centuries later, the one who would be that eternal King of David's line. That means the folly of the crowds and their conformism was generating a dangerous national group. For they would have frustrated, through an opportunist named Sheba if successful, the great plan of God for the salvation of the world. That was what was at stake in this sin of rebellion. So you are to be warned – warned of uncritically following rebellious majorities when you may be fighting against God in going with current fashions.And that brings us, thirdly, to the next warning in this passage and, it is the warning about

3. The Social Consequences of Sexual Sin

Look at verse 3:

"And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood."

So the first thing king David had to do after his reinstallation was to sort out his harem. David's vulnerability as a human being was regarding sex. And that is a great warning for us all today in this licentious, destigmatizing, anarchistic, sexualized Western world. Now the reason why sexual sin has to be highlighted is because it is so disruptive of family life with families being the essential building blocks of society. Create unstable families and you have unstable societies, with Prisons like Acclington as shown on Panorama last Monday. And David's history certainly teaches us this lesson.

Over the period we've been studying in David's life, we have seen how David had eight wives plus a number of concubines – they may have numbered more than these 10. He had 19 children whose names we know, and, seemingly, others of whom we know nothing. Tamar, the daughter of his fourth wife, was raped by Amnon, the son of his third wife. Absalom, the brother of Tamar, then murdered Amnon (who was his half-brother Amnon). Absalom then had self-imposed exile at the home of his mother's parents. Then he came back with Joab acting as a broker between Absalom and David, but eventually Absalom rebels against David and is killed (as we've seen in recent weeks) by his former ally Joab. And as you read on in the history books, you will learn that Adonijah, the son of David's fifth wife, tried to stage a coup. But David put it down and Solomon, the son of his eighth wife, Bathsheba, became king and eventually had Adonijah, his half-brother killed. 1 Kings 1.6 says this of Adonijah:

"His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, 'Why have you done thus and so?'"

The fact is David started wrong. 2 Samuel 5.13 tells us that he had more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron as King. But one fundamental law concerning Israel's Kings is as clear as clear. Deuteronomy 17.17 says, a king "shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away." But David had all these wives. And the 10 concubines he'd left behind in Jerusalem now had to be locked up for life – perhaps for their own safety – but it was terrible for them. It had been terrible for them after Absalom's rebellion started. These poor women had been incestuously raped by Absalom in what was a public orgy. He had been advised that in this way (2 Sam 16.21):

"all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened."

Sadly terrible rapes in warfare happen even today. But this was all of a piece with the sexual breakdown that was going on in David's household. And it was fed by the wickedness of that incident on a lazy afternoon described in 2 Samuel 11.2:

"Late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house… he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful."

And he acquired the woman, Bathseba, and slept with her and she became pregnant. Then worse than getting her pregnant, David arranged for her husband to be killed by a subterfuge with Joab, his general. As you read the details of what happened, you see that David was breaking all the commandments of the second table of the 10 commandments – numbers 5-10. Breaking the 10th commandment, coveting his neighbour's wife, led to his breaking the 7th commandment and committing adultery. In order to break the 8th commandment, stealing what did not belong to him, he broke the 6th commandment and committed murder. He broke the 9th by bearing false witness against his neighbour. And he brought dishonour to his parents and thus broke the 5th. Yes, eventually after a year of living as though nothing was wrong, the prophet Nathan forced David to see reality. He confessed his sin and God forgave him. So he could write,

"blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered" (Psalm 32.1).

But the social consequences remained. According to Nathan, the prophet, Absalom's rebellion was a consequence, and so was all that is happening in chapter 20.

"What he now suffered was not the visitation of God's wrath, but a fatherly chastening, designed to deepen his contrition and quicken his vigilance."
- W.G. Blaikie, Expositor's Bible: The Second Book of Samuel

The social consequences of sexual sin are dire! Who needs to learn that lesson tonight? We all need to be reminded of those consequences with the culture and media telling us otherwise. But never forget, the New Testament makes it clear there is forgiveness as David experienced, which is total. However, the consequences may remain which God uses to mature you and teach you why his will and commandments are good and for true human flourishing. And you can then share the lesson with others from what you have learnt. Remember David, for all his faults, was mightily used by God! Moving on, fourthly, this chapter has a lesson regarding:

4. War and Peace

Look at verses 4-7:

"Then the king said to Amasa, 'Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.' So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him. And 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, 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. They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri."

David wants to take quick action to put down the new rebellion. But when Amasa takes longer than he should to get the troops together, David sends Abishai, accompanied by Joab his brother, to quash the rebellion. So the remaining verses in the chapter tell how Abishai and Joab on their way meet Amasa at Gibeon. And as Amasa goes forward to meet and greet Joab, Joab treacherously kills him. One of Joab's men then stands by the dead body and recruits men for David in Joab's name. Joab then besieges Sheba in Abel, in the far north of the country. A wise woman soon challenges Joab saying (verses 19-20):

"'I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?' Joab answered, 'Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy!'"

So peace came through her securing that Sheba was beheaded and the head cast over the wall to Joab. Joab then raises the siege of the town. The death of Sheba brought that peace. And such peace was always God's wish, so long as righteousness was also established.

But you say isn't the Old Testament full of war? Yes, but war was not God's ideal. The fact is illustrated by David, being a man of war, not being able to build the Temple that Solomon was to build. And here even the utterly violent Joab has to admit the woman is right and unnecessary warfare was not needed. That lesson became crystal clear when Jesus came – that peace is obviously better than war. And in this gung-ho world and West that has not experienced locally war since 1945, that lesson certainly needs to be learnt. And remember, the Jews unlike the Romans never gloried in war.

I must conclude. I do so with a basic question about chapter 20. Where is Jesus in this passage? True, all sin points to the Cross. However, that is not the obvious message from this passage. No! But don't think that the work of Jesus Christ is only to atone for the sins of the world, and that is all the Bible is about. It is vitally about that. But Jesus Christ is also the one who, as of now, is holding this whole universe together. Colossians 1.16-17, referring to Jesus, says this:

"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

So he is the creator of all thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities, including Davidic authorities. But then note two things: one, he himself, risen but before his Ascension, taught in his Great Commission for his disciples to evangelize the world, in Matthew 28.28 that:

"All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me."

And note, two, Paul saying of political rulers in Romans 13.1 that …

"…there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God."

So which person of the Trinity (of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is directly involved in that institutionalizing process? Answer: the divine Son. For the divine Son risen and ascended, reigns "at the right hand of the Father", as we regularly remind ourselves in the Creeds. But that won't be forever. Because one day at the end of history, when Jesus returns, 1 Corinthians 15.24 tells us,

"then comes the end, when he [the Son] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power."

But the one we know as the risen Jesus is now the divine agent providentially in control of the whole of history, including its politics. So God the Son, the Lord of history, is behind all of chapter 20 and in control; and in control of 2017 and us. And by his Holy Spirit he is teaching us and in the light of the New Testament,

  • That hard times themselves teach great lessons.
  • Beware of following the wrong crowd; and remember sedition and rebellion in the State, unless the ruler is making you act in defiance of God's commands, is wrong.
  • The social consequences of sexual sin are in the end dire, but there is always forgiveness through Christ.
  • The goal of good government should be peace and not war, so how we should pray for our Government and then witness in the nation to Jesus as the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace.
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