Over the past several months we have been studying about Israel’s united monarchy. As stated previously in this series, after several centuries of local and regional governance under various judges the 12 tribes of Israel united to form a single nation under the headship of a king. This united kingdom lasted for about 120 years before splintering into 2 separate nations.
David was the second king to reign over united Israel. His rule can be divided clearly into 2 distinct halves. The first part was filled with great success and prosperity - which we discussed earlier in this study. Then David committed an awful sin. After this, his kingship was fraught with strife and difficulty.
Last Sunday we read about Absalom’s attempt to overthrow the government and this morning we will learn of even more hardships that followed. In light of this, I have titled today’s message “David’s Troubles Continue”. It is the 22nd sermon of this current series.
I. SHEBA’S REVOLT (2 Samuel 20)
Following Absalom’s failed conspiracy, David returned to Jerusalem to continue his reign. He was welcomed by several leaders from the tribe of Judah as he crossed over the Jordan River back into the country. Their disingenuous greeting troubled several men from the other 10 tribes of Israel who jealously believed that David favored them because he himself was a Judahite. Sheba, a scoundrel from the tribe of Benjamin, rallied a group of Israelites to join him in a revolt against David.
Upon his arrival to the capital city David put aside the concubines that he’d left there during Absalom’s conspiracy, presumably because they had been violated. Then he ordered Amasa, his new military commander, to quickly muster together some fighting men to deal with Sheba and his revolutionaries. But Amasa was taking too long, so David sent a group of men under the leadership of Abishai and Joab instead. Amasa met up with Joab and Abishai at Gibeon.
Joab had been David’s longtime friend and general, until being abruptly replaced by the conspirator Amasa. Joab hated Amasa for this, and therefore struck him in the belly with a sword. As Amasa laid on the road dying in a pool of his own blood, Joab rallied all of the troops to himself. Under Joab’s leadership, they continued their mission to put down Sheba’s revolt. Amasa’s lifeless body was removed from the roadway and tossed into a field.
Joab’s men came to the walled city of Abel Beth-maacah. Sheba and his rebels had taken refuge there. Joab laid siege upon it, seeking top topple the walls and invade. A wise woman who lived there asked Joab why he sought to destroy their city. Joab explained that he was pursuing Sheba who’d hidden himself inside. Hearing this, the woman summoned the men within Abel Beth-maacah. They searched for, found, and decapitated Sheba, then tossed his head over the wall to Joab. Thus, Joab called off his siege and he and his army returned to Jerusalem. Sheba’s revolt was squashed and Joab reclaimed his place as the general of Israel’s military.
One of the lessons that can be drawn from this story is that things often go much easier if you ask for help or at least explain your motives. Granted, this is a morbid example but it still applies. By explaining himself to the woman and asking for her assistance, Joab was able to accomplish his mission more quickly and with considerably less effort.
II. GIBEONITE REVENGE (2 Samuel 21; 1 Chronicles 20:5-8)
Unfortunately, a severe famine fell upon the nation of Israel which lasted for 3 years. The LORD spoke to David and explained that the famine was the result of a sin committed by King Saul decades earlier. Apparently Saul had ruthlessly killed some Gibeonites in an attempt to remove them from Israel completely, thereby violating an ancient treaty that dated back to the time of Joshua. Hoping to end the famine, David met with the Gibeonite leaders and asked what they would accept as restitution for King Saul’s past sin. They requested that 7 of Saul’s sons be given to them to be hanged.
In keeping with their request, David turned 7 of Saul’s remaining sons/grandsons over to the Gibeonites, not including his friend Mephibosheth. The Gibeonites killed them all by hanging them from trees. Rizpah, the mother of 2 of those who’d been executed, came and protected their exposed bodies from being devoured by birds or other scavengers. David was moved by her actions, and ordered that the bones of Saul and Jonathan be excavated and returned from Jabesh-Gilead to Israel. David then took the remains of Saul and Jonathan, along with those of the 7 sons of Saul who’d been killed, and buried them together in the country of Benjamin in their family grave.
The debt of Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites was paid and the famine finally ended. In the months that followed, war resumed between Israel and the Philistines. Over the course of several battles, David’s men killed the last of the Philistine giants - thought to be the descendants of Anak.
As seen elsewhere in Scripture, this story shows how the sins of one person can have consequential and disastrous effects on others even years after the fact. It is also an example of God’s just requirement that sins must be paid for. The LORD doesn’t just forgive debts without payment. This is what makes Jesus’ death so important. We can be forgiven only because Jesus offered himself as the restitution for our sin.
III. DAVID’S CENSUS (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21)
David decided to take a census in Israel. He put Joab in charge of conducting it, despite Joab’s initial objections to doing so. The census took 9 months to complete as Joab traveled throughout the kingdom taking count. When it was complete, the number of eligible fighting men numbered in Israel was 800,000 and the number in Judah was 500,000. When these amounts were added to the men already enlisted in the standing army, the totals were even higher. The tribes of Benjamin and Levi were excluded from the census.
For some unknown reason, this action greatly angered the LORD. Various theories have been suggested as to why God was displeased with David’s census. Nevertheless, God sent the prophet Gad to present David with 3 choices of punishment for numbering the people. Israel could either suffer from 3 additional years of famine (remember that they had just come out of one), 3 months of defeat at the hands of their enemies, or 3 days of plague and pestilence. David was distressed, but opted to suffer at the hand of God rather than those of men.
God sent a severe plague upon Israel and some 70,000 men died. As the destroying angel approached the city of Jerusalem, David cried out to God for mercy. Gad told David to go and build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah (also called Ornan) the Jebusite. When David arrived, Araunah offered to give his property to David for free but the king insisted on paying for it. David stated that he would not give a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing. David bought the threshing floor and oxen, built an altar, and there made burnt and peace offerings to God. The LORD was moved and the plague ceased. Later, David paid even more to purchase all of the acreage around the threshing floor.
One of the lessons that can be drawn from this chapter speaks to the nature of an acceptable sacrifice. Notice that David was unwilling to offer God something that didn’t cost him anything. All too often people give God menial or meager gifts that don’t really require any sacrifice from them at all. Such giving doesn’t please the LORD. Christians should give sacrificially while trusting that God will provide for their every need.
Rape. Murder. Estrangement. Conspiracy. Revolt. Famine. Plague. These 7 words describe David’s life and Israel’s condition in the years following his sin with Bathsheba. The strength and overall health of the nation had deteriorated significantly. It is interesting to see how the well-being of an entire country can be so profoundly affected - either positively or negatively - by the actions and behaviors of their leadership.
Let’s close today’s message by reviewing what we’ve learned. First, simply asking for help can save you a lot of time and trouble. Second, God is just and therefore demands payment for our sins. Third, pleasing and acceptable giving to God requires some degree of sacrifice. May we take each of these lessons to heart as we aspire to live for Jesus this week.