Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II SAMUEL CHAPTER 19
"And the king raged" (v 1). David was beside himself with grief over the loss of Absalom, whom he still loved in spite of everything. The rabbis state that with the first seven of his eight repetitions of "My son, my son" (verses 1 & 5), David elevated Absalom's soul from all seven levels of hell, and with the eighth, he brought him to the life of the world to come (Sotah 10b brought by Rashi on v 1).
David's grief put a complete damper on the joy that should have accompanied his restoration to the kingship, and when the people returned to Mahanayim from the battlefield, they slunk back into the city feeling like exposed thieves.
Joab, who had born the main brunt of the actual battle against Absalom, had no patience for David's orgy of grief over a son who had not only rebelled against him but had almost killed him. Joab berated the king for "loving your enemies and hating those who love you" (v 7). Joab threatened David with a far worse rebellion if he refused to pull out of his mourning and pacify the people. David acceded and held his peace against his ever-more assertive commander-in-chief, but already had in mind to replace him and immediately prior to his own death ordered Solomon to take vengeance on Joab (I Kings 2:5-16).
With the collapse of Absalom's rebellion, the tribes of Israel and the tribe of Judah - neither of which had exactly given their support to David - now began bickering over who should have the honor of restoring him to the kingship. The people were returning to their senses, realizing that David had been the national savior while Absalom had contributed nothing and was now dead (v 10). Nevertheless, as we will soon see, these new-found feelings of loyalty to David were to prove short-lived, showing the people's great fickleness.
David sent Tzadok and Eviatar, (who had been serving as High Priests concurrently after Eviatar's failure to elicit an answer from the Urim Ve-Thumim) to sue for reconciliation with his own tribe of Judah after their having gone after Absalom. True to character, David particularly sought reconciliation with Amasa, despite his having served Absalom as commander-in-chief (ch 17 v 25). David now wanted to appoint him as his own commander-in-chief in place of Joab.
As the tribe of Judah accompanied David back across the Jordan into the Land of Israel proper, he was greeted with a succession of delegations. First came Shimi ben Gera , the Benjaminite who had cursed and stoned David on his flight from Jerusalem (ch 16 vv 5ff) and who now wanted to apologize in order to save his own skin. Joab's brother Avishai wanted to kill Shimi ben Gera, but once again David dissociated himself from the "trigger-happy" sons of Tzeruyah and forgave Shimi - though he later instructed Solomon to take vengeance on him (I Kings 2:8-9). The Midrash states that David saved Shimi because he saw with holy spirit that Mordechai was destined to come forth from Shimi's loins and save Israel from extermination. From Esther 2:5 we see that Mordechai was descended from Shimi! (Yalkut Shimoni).
Following Shimi came Tziva, the servant of the House of Saul whom David had appointed executor/manager of Saul's estates for the benefit of his grandson Mephiboshes, and who had slandered Mephiboshes to David claiming that he failed to join David in his flight because he was hoping to seize the throne for himself (ch 16 vv 1-4). The lame Mephiboshes now came to greet David literally disheveled because of his consternation over David's plight, and claiming that Tziva had deceived him. When David ordered that the estate be divided between Tziva and Mephiboshes, a heavenly voice declared that his own kingdom would therefore be torn apart and divided between his grandson Rehaboam and the rebel king of the Ten Tribes, Jeraboam (Talmud Yoma 22b).
Barzilai the Gil'adite who escorted David across the Jordan had no need to make any apologies to David, having been one of his chief supporters when he fled to Mahanayim (ch 14 v 27). Yet when David invited Barzilai to accompany him back to Jerusalem and live in the court, Barzilai argued that he was too old to enjoy the life of the court because he longer felt any taste in his food and couldn't hear the singing properly. The Talmud cites Barzilai as the exemplar of senility but states that senility jumped on him prematurely owing to excessive self-indulgence (he mentioned the female singers) yet is not inevitable in old age, citing the case of an old maid in the house of R. Judah the Prince who even at the age of 92 still regularly checked the taste of the food as it cooked in the pot (Talmud Shabbos 152a).
Having crossed the Jordan into the Land of Israel proper, David arrived in Gilgal, where arguments broke out between the men of Israel (the Ten Tribes) and the men of Judah over whether the latter had been justified in being the first to escort David back. Considering that neither side had given David their support against Absalom, their arguments seem somewhat fatuous: each side was hurt and ruffled over being upstaged by the other, and the Israelites' protestations of loyalty to David soon proved disingenuous when they angrily went after Sheva ben Bichri instead, as narrated immediately afterwards.
"And all the men of Israel went up from going after David and went after Sheva ben Bichri" (v 2). Although the rebellion of Sheva ben Bichri, who was a relative of King Saul, takes up far less of the narrative than that of Absalom, David considered it to be potentially far more serious (v 6).
There is some evidence of cracks in the unity of David's supporters. Having sent his new candidate for commander-in-chief, Amasa, to muster the tribe of Judah, David soon discovered that Amasa had no intention of rushing into action because he failed to bring troops within the three day time-limit he had been given. David immediately dispatched Joab's brother Avishai against Sheva ben Bichri. Joab saw this as a further step towards his own displacement and personally went out with the troops after the rebels, intending to take matters into his own hands. Meeting the unsuspecting Amasa on the way, Joab once again demonstrated his "trigger-happy" attitudes and killed him in vengeance for his having supported Absalom and in order to secure his own position.
With David's men in pursuit, Sheva ben Bichri advanced towards the north of Israel , arousing all the tribes against David as he went. The town of Aveil Beis Ma'achah where Joab caught up with him (v 14) is near the northern border of present-day Israel between Metulla and Kfar Giladi, while the "Beirim" whom he recruited to his cause (ibid.) are thought to have lived in the town of Biryiah immediately north of Safed.
THE WISE WOMAN OF AVEIL BEIS MA'ACHAH
Once again a mysterious wise woman suddenly appeared just in time to save Israel from needless bloodshed by calling to Joab from the walls of Aveil Beis Ma'achah as he laid siege to the town in order to capture Sheva ben Bichri. The sages identified this wise woman with Serah, daughter of Asher the son of Jacob, who is credited with having sung to Jacob that Joseph was still alive and with having helped Moses discover where Joseph's coffin had been hidden in the Nile when the time came to take it up out of Egypt . Serah daughter of Asher was among those who entered the Land with Joshua, and would now have been very many hundreds of years old. Those who find their belief being stretched beyond limits may rationalize that the ancient SPIRIT of the wise Serah spoke through the lips of the mysterious wise woman of Aveil Beis Ma'achah. "ANOKHI SH'LOOMEY EMOONEY YISRAEL" - "I am from among the complete believers of Israel " (v 19). This woman was the inner soul of the long-suffering people, appealing to Joab for an end to the cycle of bloodshed. She wanted him to understand that the inhabitants of the town harbored no traitorous feelings against David. In her words to Joab in v 18 - "Let them surely ask in Aveil and they would certainly make peace" - she alluded to the Torah law that when an Israelite army makes war against a gentile city, they should first offer them peace (Deut. 20:10). How much more so, then, should Joab invite the Israelite inhabitants of Aveil to make peace!
The wise woman persuaded the inhabitants to deliver Sheva ben Bichri to Joab because otherwise the entire town would be killed. Normally if someone threatens to kill all the members of a group unless they hand over one of their number, it is forbidden to do so, because "we do not cast off one soul in order to save another". However, "if the designated individual deserves the death penalty like Sheva ben Bichri, they should give him over, though we do not issue such a ruling from the outset. However, if he does not deserve the death penalty they should all die rather than hand over a single Israelite soul" (Rambam, Yesodei HaTorah 5:5).
With the delivery of Sheva ben Bichri's head to Joab, the revolt was at an end and now that David's kingship was reestablished, our text concludes by enumerating his principal officers.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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