2 Samuel 20:18
Then the woman said, "Long ago they used to say, 'Seek counsel at Abel,' and that is how disputes were settled.
An Old-Time CustomJ. Parker, D. D.2 Samuel 20:18
Asking Counsel At AbelJ. Parker, D. D.2 Samuel 20:18
A PeacemakerB. Dale 2 Samuel 20:15-22
Abel's Oracle; or Prudence and PeaceablenessF. Hastings.2 Samuel 20:16-22

2 Samuel 20:15-22. - (ABEL-BETH-MAACAH.)
Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear! hear? (ver. 16).

1. Hard pressed by the forces of Joab, Sheba threw himself into the fortified city of Abel-beth-Maachah (in the northwest extremity of Palestine). The feelings of its inhabitants toward him are not stated. But Joab soon appeared; and, without entering into any negotiations with them, made preparations for attack. "Taking advantage of an oblong knoll of natural rock that rises above the surrounding plain, the original inhabitants raised a high mound sufficiently large for the city. With a deep trench and strong wall it must have been almost impregnable. The besiegers cast up a mount against the city, 'and it stood in the trench'" etc. (Thomson, 'The Land and the Book'). A deadly conflict was imminent.

2. At this juncture a wise woman presented herself at the wall; and, having obtained a hearing, sought to make peace; nor was her endeavour fruitless. "There was a little city," etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:14, 15). "Wisdom is better than strength. Wisdom is better than weapons of war; but one sinner destroyeth much good" (Ecclesiastes 9:16, 18). As one bad man exposed the city to destruction, so one good woman effected its deliverance.

3. There is often much need of a peacemaker to heal the strife that arises between individuals, families, cities, Churches, and nations. Regarded as an example to others, this "wise woman" of Abel -

I. POSSESSED AN EXCELLENT SPIRIT; observant, prudent, sagacious, peaceful, faithful, just, and benevolent. Hence she was prompted to go of her own accord, individually and independently, to "seek peace, and pursue it" (1 Peter 3:11; Psalm 34:12-16; Genesis 13:8, 9).

1. Being grieved at the sight of strife between brethren, and the prospect of the miseries which they were about to inflict on each other.

2. Being desirous of preventing the evil which threatened them, and promoting their welfare. Her chief concern was about her own city, which was likely to be the greater sufferer; but she was also (like Joab, ver. 20) concerned about others, and the general good of Israel, in which Abel was "a mother city," a part of "the inheritance of Jehovah" (ver. 19).

3. Having faith in the common sense of men, their regard for their own interest (when they saw it, not blinded by prejudice), their love of justice, their generally good intentions (when not under the influence of wrath and revenge), and their susceptibility to the power of persuasion.

4. Being determined to make every possible effort and sacrifice, and undergo any personal risk and suffering for the sake of peace. She was doubtless willing (as others have been) to lay down her own life if thereby the lives of others might be spared. "Peacemakers are fire quenchers, who, although they may with plying of engines and much ado, rescue a pile of buildings from the flames, yet their eyes will be sure to smart with the smoke" (R. Harris).

II. ADOPTED AN ADMIRABLE METHOD; thereby justifying the "wisdom" with which she was credited. Perceiving that there was some misunderstanding between the contending parties, her aim was to clear it up; if there were any real cause of contention, to remove it; and thus dispose them to peace. This she endeavoured to effect by:

1. Seizing the opportune moment for interposition; promptly availing herself of the pause before the attack. Instead of "battered the wall" (Authorized Version), read, "were devising to throw down the wall." There is generally such a time for the work of a peacemaker, which, if it be neglected, may be afterwards too late.

2. Making use of courteous, gentle, reasonable, and impressive speech. "Hear the words of thine handmaid." Like the woman of Tekoah (2 Samuel 14:4), she was a mistress in the art of persuasion. "The tongue of the wise is health" (Proverbs 12:18); "a tree of life" (Proverbs 15:4; Proverbs 10:20; Proverbs 18:21).

3. Ascertaining the nature of the misunderstanding, and the occasion of complaint; and, for this purpose, going directly and separately to the persons concerned, and learning it from their own lips. She knew the sentiments of her people, especially that they felt aggrieved that no communications should have been made to them by Joab, and suspected his destructive and merciless designs. And now she sought to discover what were his real thoughts and purposes in relation to them. How much mischief would be prevented if contending parties would only be at pains to understand one another!

4. Removing all misconception, and producing the conviction in each party of the just aims and good intentions of the other. To Joab she said, "You evidently deem this city deficient in good sense; whereas it has been always noted for its wisdom and conciliatory disposition and counsel. You think the people contentious and rebellious; I assure you in their name that we are among the most peaceable and faithful in Israel. Yet, without any communication with us, so as to ascertain our feelings, and without any reasonable cause, you are about to give an important city of Israel to the devouring sword. Why will you bring to ruin what belongs to the Lord?" On the other hand, from his reply, it was made apparent that he was not desirous of their destruction (as they supposed), but only sought to inflict a just punishment on a notorious traitor in their midst, and was under the necessity (if, as he had supposed, they harboured him, participated with him in rebellion, and resolved to defend him to the utmost) of making an attack upon them for that purpose. "Far be it, far be it from me... The matter is not so," etc. (vers. 20, 21). Misunderstanding was now at an end, but a real occasion of difference remained.

5. Obtaining needful concessions on both sides. "Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city... Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee through the wall." If (as is doubtful) the people had (from whatever reason) at first shown favour to the cause of Sheba, they were now persuaded by her to do otherwise, "and so they ended the matter."

6. Requiring no sacrifice of principle; but only urging a course conformable to "goodness, righteousness, and truth," and consistent with professed obedience to the will of the Lord. "The just punishment of one atrocious criminal is frequently mercy to great numbers" (Scott). "Follow peace with all men, and holiness" (Hebrews 12:14; Romans 14:19; James 3:17, 18).

III. ACHIEVED AN EMINENT TRIUMPH - the triumph of peace. "And he blew the trumpet" (ver. 22) summoning to peace, as Sheba had blown it summoning to war (ver. 1). It was a victory over error, distrust, wilfulness, wrath, injustice, rebellion; and one by which:

1. An immense evil was prevented.

2. The general good was promoted.

3. The Divine kingdom (as represented in the government of David) was confirmed.

4. The peacemaker's joy was fulfilled. The wise woman accomplished what she had set her heart upon; and in blessing others was herself blessed. "Blessed are the peacemakers," etc. (Matthew 5:9). "Of the following things," said a Jewish rabbi, "men reap the fruits both in the present and the future life - honouring father and mother, bestowing benefits, and making peace between men."


1. It is hardly possible to estimate too highly the worth of peace among men.

2. Those who would make peace between others must themselves be at peace with God, with their own hearts, and with their neighbours. The peacemaker must not be a peacebreaker.

3. The greatest Peacemaker the world has ever seer. is Jesus Christ, who is "our Peace" (Ephesians 2:14).

4. In proportion as we partake of his spirit we shall endeavour to heal all unholy strife and promote "peace on earth." D.

They shall surely ask counsel at Abel.
It will have to come to that again. Things cannot be settled really and lastingly except by counsel, wisdom, consent. The sword has had its day; it is a fool's argument. What is the idea of the text that is translatable into the practice of all places and all ages? Whether there was an oracle at Abel, whether there was a counsel of referees there, whether this one wise woman had in her own hand, as it were, the decision of important controversies, we can never determine: suffice it to know that there was a time, holy, sabbatic time, when men said, Let us go to the little town of Abel and talk this matter out: and so they ended the matter. The point to which we should direct attention is that there comes a moment when things must be settled by authority. Blessed are they who consent to the constitution of that authority; then it is no longer despotism or tyranny, it is settlement by consent. In old time men were wont to take counsel at Abel; and so they ended the matter. They discussed it, canvassed it, threshed it out, and went into it through and through, saw what it was made of, and then, having done so, they put out hand to hand, and were men and brothers once more. This same principle is amongst us like a ghost. Sometimes we get it in a concrete form and work it into the very practice of life, yet it is ever amongst us as a kind of spectre, some being more or less afraid of it, some offering it hospitality, all acknowledging that if it really could be brought into play on a large and just basis it would settle everything.

I. THE ABEL OF EXPERIENCE. There is an Abel, a venerable city, called Experience; why not go down to the Abel of experience, take counsel there: and so settle the matter? Experience ought to go for something. Experience is man's account of life. He tells you where he has been, what he has done, how he has conducted himself, and what results have accrued from the policies and the processes which he has adopted. We ought to hear that man. We always think there is a shorter cut than he took. Every age think it could work the programme better than Solomon worked it. For a long period this must go on, but the day will come when experience will go for something, when grey hairs will be taken as the symbols of philosophy, when the wrinkled face will itself be a title to be heard on all the practical questions and issues of life.

II. THE ABEL OF TIME. Why not go to another aspect of this same experience, another corner of this same Abel, and consult Time? Why not admit Time to our counsels? Why leap at new theories? Why bristle up when the unpronouncable name of some lager-beer drinker is associated with some new mare's nest in the realm of letters and theology? How many theories have come and gone! Where are they? Gone with the lager-beer! When men come to you with new theories, you should say, We must test these, or see them tested by long time. The Cross — the weird, grim, ghastly Cross — is nineteen centuries old, and it lifts itself up to-day the symbol of universal life. As for these theories and inventions of yours, it is only right that we should see how they bear the stress and the sifting of time. In old time our fathers were wont to come to the Abel of the Bible; venerable men would say, To the law and to the testimony! Perhaps they had too narrow a way of referring to the scriptures; they might make too much of a chapter and a verse, they might not sufficiently compare Scripture with Scripture and get their souls into the very genius of Divine revelation as to speak Biblically rather than textually: but their principle was right. They said, We know nothing of God but what is revealed, we know nothing of the future but what is written in the Book, we know nothing about sin and about redemption except what we are told by the revelation of God, as we believe it to be: therefore let us go to:

III. THE ABEL OF THE BIBLE, take counsel, and so end the matter. I am here to say in my own name, as the result of my own searching and experience, that I can get no answers to the greatest problems of mind and time equal in largeness, in precision, in hopefulness, to the answers that are given in the Bible. There are other answers, but I have found none that can stretch themselves with ease and dignity over the whole space of necessity.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

It has been supposed that the true interpretation of asking counsel at Abel is that Abel had become famous for its wisdom. In one of the Targums we read: "Remember now that which is written in the book of the law, to ask a city concerning peace at the first. Hast thou done so to ask of Abel if they will make peace." No certain interpretation can be given to the words; but we are at liberty to remember that even superstition has sometimes played a useful part in history. Men have attached importance to times, places, emotions, and by so much have been checked in their impulses and subdued in their fiery ambitions.

(J. Parker, D. D.).

Abel, Abiathar, Abishai, Absalom, Adoram, Ahilud, Amasa, Benaiah, Berites, Bichri, Bichrites, Cherethites, Dan, David, Gibeon, Ira, Jehoiada, Jehoshaphat, Jesse, Joab, Kerethites, Maacah, Pelethites, Sheva, Zadok
Abel-beth-maacah, Gibeon, Jerusalem, Jordan River
Abel, Advice, Ago, Counsel, Dan, Diligently, Dispute, Ended, Faith, Finished, Former, Formerly, Inquire, Matter, Often, Ordered, Question, Saying, Settled, Spake, Speak, Speaketh, Spoke, Surely, Thus, Wont
1. By occasion of the quarrel, Sheba rebels in Israel
3. David's ten concubines are put in confinement for life
4. Amasa, made captain over Judah, is slain by Joab
14. Joab pursues Sheba to Abel
16. A wise woman saves the city by Sheba's head
23. David's officers

Dictionary of Bible Themes
2 Samuel 20:1-22

     5087   David, reign of

Appendix 2 Extracts from the Babylon Talmud
Massecheth Berachoth, or Tractate on Benedictions [76] Mishnah--From what time is the "Shema" said in the evening? From the hour that the priests entered to eat of their therumah [77] until the end of the first night watch. [78] These are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. But the sages say: Till midnight. Rabban Gamaliel says: Until the column of the morning (the dawn) rises. It happened, that his sons came back from a banquet. They said to him: "We have not said the Shema.'" He said to them, "If the column
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life

The Sixth Commandment
Thou shalt not kill.' Exod 20: 13. In this commandment is a sin forbidden, which is murder, Thou shalt not kill,' and a duty implied, which is, to preserve our own life, and the life of others. The sin forbidden is murder: Thou shalt not kill.' Here two things are to be understood, the not injuring another, nor ourselves. I. The not injuring another. [1] We must not injure another in his name. A good name is a precious balsam.' It is a great cruelty to murder a man in his name. We injure others in
Thomas Watson—The Ten Commandments

Alike from the literary and the historical point of view, the book[1] of Samuel stands midway between the book of Judges and the book of Kings. As we have already seen, the Deuteronomic book of Judges in all probability ran into Samuel and ended in ch. xii.; while the story of David, begun in Samuel, embraces the first two chapters of the first book of Kings. The book of Samuel is not very happily named, as much of it is devoted to Saul and the greater part to David; yet it is not altogether inappropriate,
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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