The Anatomy of Rebellion
Scripture: 2 Samuel 20
2 Samuel 20 tells the story of Sheba’s rebellion, but rebellions never happen in a vacuum. No one leads a rebellion believing they are in the wrong. No one takes a risk like that unless they believe their cause is just or at least that it will gain them something – power, money, glory.
In the case of Sheba, the writer tells us why he became a rebel at the end of chapter 19.
41 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?”
42 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?”
43 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.
There is a rift forming between the ten northern tribes and the tribe of Judah, later joined also by the tribe of Benjamin. These ten tribes are already known as the “men of Israel” with “ten shares in the king”.
Now let’s read chapter 20.
1 Now there happened to be there a worthless 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!”
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.
Sheba basically declares independence and the other ten tribes follow suit. Under normal circumstances, the people had every right to decide who they wanted as king. But this was not a normal political arrangement. This was a theocracy. God had given them a king, so declaring independence was a form of rebellion.
Their grievance seems to be the favoritism that David showed to his own tribe, the tribe of Judah. Never mind the fact that David was gracious with all of them after they rejected him in support of Absalom! And this is how rebellion against God often looks.
A root of bitterness starts to grow in our hearts. We evaluate our circumstances and start to believe that God is withholding something from us. He’s not answering my prayers. God has his favorites and I’m not one of them.
Never mind the fact that He created me. He put me in the world He created. He fills my lungs with air. He keeps my heart beating. And he’s not finished with my story yet. But we would rather focus on that feeling of bitterness, because it justifies whatever lifestyle we prefer. It softens our own guilt when we pass judgment on God.
In our hearts we declare that we have no portion with God, forgetting that we only exist by His grace, and we should be amazed that He has any portion at all with us…
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.
These were the women Absalom violated. Presumably, they were actually virgins before that. And now they are off limits. David provides for them, but they would never be married.
This is a very intentional reference by the writer. It is no coincidence that there were ten concubines. They represent, symbolically, the ten tribes of Israel that claimed to have no portion with David. Those tribes were also being provided for by God. Rejecting David was choosing to live in widowhood. We will come back to this.
4 Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” 5 So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him.
6 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.” 7 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.
8 When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. 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 fell out.
9 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. 10 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.
Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. 11 And one of Joab’s young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.”
Sheba is not really the main character of this chapter. The main character is Joab. Sheba’s rebellion is obvious, but short lived. Joab’s army pursued Sheba to a city in the north, but the residents of the city refused to protect him. They cut off his head and threw it over the wall to Joab. And then the chapter ends like this:
23 Now Joab was in command of all the army of Israel; and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the Cherethites and the Pelethites; 24 and Adoram was in charge of the forced labor; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder; 25 and Sheva was secretary; and Zadok and Abiathar were priests; 26 and Ira the Jairite was also David’s priest.
Do you see anything missing here? Every commentary mentions the fact that David is not listed. He’s still the king, but Joab is listed first. Compare this to the previous list from chapter 8:
15 So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people. 16 Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder, 17 and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Seraiah was secretary, 18 and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and David’s sons were priests.
This is a very noticeable change. As the story builds, the writer is suggesting that Joab has the real power. Twice David has tried to replace Joab and twice Joab assassinated his rival. Several times now, David has commanded Joab to do something, and Joab did the opposite – believing his way was better than David’s. And this is the true rebellion of chapter 20.
Religious people tend to focus on the obvious rebellion of people like Sheba. It reminds me very much of the difference between the younger brother and the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Which brother do we judge more harshly? The younger brother. His sin is obvious to us. His rebellion is flagrant. He runs away and squanders his inheritance in loose living.
But the younger brother was not the main character of Jesus’ parable either. It was the older brother. He stayed home. He kept working. And yet, he did it for himself… not because he loved his father. It was this less obvious rebellion that Jesus intended to reveal with the parable.
The rebellion of Joab was motivated by a belief that Joab had earned his position. He deserved his position. He knew better than David what David needed. He was not going to stand by and let weaker men take something that belonged to him.
And that’s what pride looks like. Pride hates grace. Pride is infuriated by the notion that God would bless people who don’t deserve it. If we believe it is possible to earn God’s favor and that we have done a good job, then we will be offended deeply by God’s grace – especially to the more obvious rebels of the world.
Jesus emphatically spells this out for us in Luke 18:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Do you see the difference? God is not interested in works offered to him in pride. God is interested in our repentance and faith. That word “justified” is the key. Cover to cover, God’s plan of salvation is “through faith”.
“Abraham believed the Lord, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Genesis 15:6
“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” – Galatians 2:16
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
I want to be clear. Rebellion is rebellion is rebellion. Sheba absolutely deserved the judgment he received. Had he returned to David in repentance, I have no doubt that David would have been merciful. He might even have tried to give him Joab’s job.
If we die in rebellion and not in Christ, we will face the judgment of God. But the difficulty is that no one wants to believe they are living in rebellion against the God of the universe.
Very often, for church people, our rebellion is more like the rebellion of Joab and less like the rebellion of Sheba. We don’t really see the need for grace. We talk about it. We understand the theology. But we don’t really believe we need it.
In truth, pride is at the heart of every rebellion. We believe, deep down, that we know better than the God who created us. And we desperately need God to dissect and expose that pride. We need to stand naked and humbled before a holy God who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Do you remember I told you we would come back to the ten concubines? Those women were probably forgotten by everyone… except Jesus. I think it is very likely that they were the inspiration for another parable Jesus told – the parable of the ten virgins.
I want to close with it:
1 The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.
11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Jesus is talking about a wedding, an event that should be an important and joyful event for the bride and the groom. But imagine if half the wedding party showed up unprepared. Half of the groomsmen forgot their tuxes. Half of the bridesmaids forgot their makeup bags or their shoes. We’re talking chaos on what is supposed to be a very joyful day!
That’s what Jesus is describing. Just as the ten concubines represented the nation of Israel, the ten virgins represent the visible church. Jesus is speaking to us. And what is he saying? He’s saying that half the people in the church are not going to be ready when Jesus returns. And we’re not going to be able to borrow salvation from someone else. If we are not ready, we will not be invited in.
This is intended to be a wakeup call. Don’t sleep on the kingdom. Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand.