Subversive Sheba

“And 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. So 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. And 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. Then said the king to Amasa, Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present. So Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah: but he tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him. And 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. And 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” (2 Samuel 20:1-7).


The account of Sheba’s revolt against David is interjected with two other stories which at first glance do not seem to fit together, but the writer is following a chronological order of events here and so they would be out of place elsewhere. In this passage we are introduced to the rebellion of Sheba, then we learn of how David dealt with the concubines before the story continues.

The contention

David had only just recovered by the revolt of Absalom when yet another one rears its ugly head against him. In our previous study we noted the contention between Israel and Judah over the king, yet how quickly the tribes of Israel changed sides once again! Unless this plot to destabilise the nation was speedily dealt with it would be worse for David than Absalom’s attempt. It is also likely that Sheba was one of those who argued with Judah, and not receiving a satisfactory response from David, he decided to establish a separate state for Israel outside of the king’s dominion.

Sheba is described as “a man of Belial” which indicates that he was a worthless and wicked individual who knew only to cause strife. The interesting thing here is that Israel once again was willing to follow a character that was evil rather than godly. Though nothing is known of this man, he must have been a person of considerable power and influence, before he could have raised so sudden and extensive a sedition” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary).

They had also forgotten the twenty-thousand souls that lost their lives in the previous rebellion (2 Samuel 18:27). Sheba was a Benjamite who was still loyal to Saul’s dynasty and refused to accept David as king. We must note that Sheba saw nothing wrong with the wicked and ungodly way that Saul ruled the nation. It is possible that this man, other than seeking to create a separate state, may have thought of the ten tribes as being racially different from Judah. In 2 Samuel 19:43 Israel claimed to have “ten parts” with David, but now they wanted “no part” with him. One day they are eager to own him as their king, but the next they reject him completely.

The concubines

In the midst of dealing with Sheba’s revolt, David also had to do something about the concubine’s that were violated by Absalom. David orders that these women kept in isolation for the rest of their lives. Jewish writers say that the widowed queens of Hebrew monarchs were not allowed to marry again but were obliged to pass the rest of their lives in strict seclusion. This does not infer that they were imprisoned but that they were not allowed to come near the king or marry anyone else. Matthew Henry suggests that they might have become an offence to David and their presence a constant reminder of Absalom’s wickedness; “Those whom he had loved must now be loathed.”

The command

David commanded the captain of his army, Amasa, to destroy both Sheba and the rebellion. This man was not the best person for the job, for he played his part as Absalom’s captain in that coup against David. He proved that he was unable to lead his men to victory. David had Joab at hand but chose to ignore him in favour of Amasa, this was a grievous error. Amasa took much longer to assemble a decent army, which may suggest that the men were not enthusiastic about being led by him. Judah may have “clave” to David (:2) but they were certainly not happy with his choice of military leader. They may have used fierce words to Israel (2 Samuel 19:43), yet their fighting spirit was deflated.

It seems that David asked Abishai to take charge of the military situation and go out against Sheba before he had time to secure himself. Though Joab has not been ordered to take a battalion of men, he does appear to muster an army to follow the first group into battle. It is possible that three armies went out to destroy Sheba; Abishai’s men, Amasa’s delayed army, and those who followed Joab. Whichever way we look at it, we find that David passed over Joab twice, which may indicate the reason why Joab behaved with regards to Amasa (see next study).


Dissention troubled David once again, and yet again we find Israel deserting him in favour of a troublemaker. Maybe Sheba took advantage of the dissatisfaction of the ten tribes with regards to the king, and thought he was capable of setting up a more democratic society governed by the people rather than a monarchy. It does seem that he had no intention of attacking or removing David as did Absalom, but the revolt was no less serious.