The inhabitants of Abel Beth Maacah watched and listened as an army began a siege against their city. The army built a ramp and battered the wall of the city to gain entrance. (For the whole story, read II Samuel 20:1-22.)
Abel was a peaceful city, loyal to the fledgling nation of Israel and its King David. They could see no reason why an Israelite army would attack them. A wise woman decided to ask. She called out from the city:
“Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” (II Samuel 20:16)When Joab came to listen, she said:
“Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel.* Why do you want to swallow up the LORD’s inheritance?” (II Samuel 20:18-19)Joab was known to be loyal to King David. But Joab was a ruthless man who didn’t hesitate to murder anyone who got in his way. He planned to destroy the entire city of Abel to capture the man he was pursuing. In reality, David had appointed Amasa to gather and lead an army from Judah to capture the rebel Sheba. But when Amasa didn’t return quickly, David sent Abishai in command of Joab’s company of men. When Amasa finally joined Abishai’s army, Joab murdered him and took command of all the troops. Abishai, Joab’s brother, didn’t offer any resistance to his command being taken, perhaps, realizing those loyal to Joab would not back up his appointment by the King.
Joab presented himself to this city official, the wise woman, as a loyal subject of King David.
“Far be it from me!” Joab replied, “Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! That is not the case. A man named Sheba son of Bicri, from the hill country of Ephraim, has lifted up his hand against the king, against David. Hand over this one man, and I’ll withdraw from the city.” (II Samuel 20:20-21)The wise woman apparently thought he could not be trusted inside the gates of her city, so she promised to execute the criminal: “His head will be thrown to you from the wall.” (II Samuel 20:21) She must have had the authority to make this promise and expect to have it carried out.
She called a town meeting. All the people agreed with her and followed her advice to “cut off the head of Sheba son of Bicri” and they “threw it to Joab.” In effect, they had a trial and found Sheba guilty of the charge of treason. (II Samuel 20:1-2)
Joab kept his promise to the wise woman and he returned to David in Jerusalem.
This city faced a life or death situation. It was a matter of survival. One wise woman gathered information, held off an army with diplomacy, called a meeting and persuaded her fellow citizens of the best action to take to save the city. The townspeople had the discernment to recognize wise counsel when they heard it.
Everyone needs wisdom to make daily decisions. The situations we face are seldom as dire as the one the city of Abel faced, but bad decisions, or postponed decisions, can have long term consequences.
God has given us principles of wisdom in The Holy Scriptures. He will also give us wisdom when we ask him.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
*Zondervan NIV Study Bible study notes for II Samuel 20:19: “a mother in Israel” refers to “a town that produced faithful Israelites--cities were commonly personified as women.”