In this passage we run across another model peacemaker. And I love this woman and the confidence with which she does her peacemaking. I think it is a great corrective to some teachings of hyperpatriarchs who would object to her involvement in issues outside the home. And I think it models to us how women can be very involved in peacemaking, even as it sometimes intersects with men.
And the reason I say she is a model is that the passage calls her "wise" in her peacemaking two times. She was wise. Wisdom is to be imitated. She shows initiative, courage, tact, diplomacy, and decisiveness. And it's pretty obvious that she does not have the same tunnel vision that we men sometimes do. We men tend to be so goal oriented that it is very easy for us to miss alternative solutions. You see, Deuteronomy 20 commanded Israel's armies to offer peace and to dialogue with a city before they went to war against it, Joab had been so focused on his goal of squashing the rebellion, that he did not do so. She very tactfully reminds him of this fact. For Joab, this city was an obstacle to his goal, so squashing the city like a bug seemed like the logical thing to do. And the men defending the city have tunnel vision too. They see Joab as a dangerous enemy determined to annihilate them, so they hunker down into a win-lose option as well, hoping (obviously) to be on the winning side. But this amazing woman rejects the idea that there are only two options – win or lose. She was looking outside the box for another solution. She knew that options would be closed off at the end of a war, so she took the initiative to seek an alternative solution while there was still some room for negotiation. I love this woman's example. So I am presenting her to you this morning as a peacemaker who tries to think outside the box. Let's go through the passage phrase by phrase.
Try to make contact (v. 16)
Take the initiative (v. 16a)
Verse 16 begins, "Then a wise woman cried out from the city." She obviously thinks it is nuts to just wait for the inevitable. She takes the initiative. Nobody else is acting to avert disaster, so she decides that she needs to do something.
Now I will grant that there are people who take initiative who actually make matters worse, so this point by itself does not guarantee peace making. In fact, it can be peace breaking. So add the word "wise" to the outline, and you've got a better picture. It was wise initiative. And let me define initiative. Initiative is 1) doing the right thing, 2) without having to be told, 3) in a proactive manner, 4) and despite discouraging prospects. Have you taught your children to take initiative? Let me repeat that definition. Initiative is 1) doing the right thing, 2) without having to be told, 3) in a proactive manner, 4) and despite discouraging prospects. It's the opposite of being passive and waiting for something good to happen.
And all through this sermon I am going to be giving side applications. And I'm going to do that right now: Don't ever think that a submissive woman must be a passive woman. The Proverbs 31 woman was anything but passive. I like what Mary Kay Ash said on this subject. She said, "There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened." And here was a woman who made things happen without ceasing to be a wise woman.
And sometimes women second-guess themselves as to whether they have authority to take initiative. I'm going to embarrass my wife by using her as an illustration of a woman with initiative. My wife knows my desires, passions, and vision for the future, the oversight I have given on the budget, and my philosophy of the family, and because of that, she can make snap decisions without having to consult me in an emergency. She anticipates what I want, and takes initiative, even if I haven't necessarily thought of it myself. Let me give you a scenario of a woman whose boss could not be reached and who took initiative on his behalf. And you can tell me if you get nervous over this, because I don't. You can argue about whether she should even be in the workplace, but that's a different issue. I'm just using her as an illustration of initiative and you could transfer the application to the home. The article says,
Helen's manager was due to meet with her and her co-workers to discuss their role in the next product rollout. Unfortunately, he's been snowed in at an airport on the other side of the country, and his cell phone battery is dead. The deadline is tight, and the team can't afford to waste a day because of his absence.
Helen was the last person to talk to her boss before he left, and he'd outlined who was going to be doing what on the project. So, Helen takes command, and, within an hour, everyone on the team has their preliminary tasks mapped out.
When her boss arrives in the office three days later, he's impressed and grateful that Helen took responsibility to get the project moving. If she hadn't, several valuable days would have been lost.1
There are some people who would have problems with a woman doing that. Not me. She was in total submission to her boss's stated desires when she took this initiative. She was anticipating what her boss would have wanted. When a woman is in total submission to her husband and has her husband's trust, she can have great initiative without in any way undermining his leadership.
And it's that kind of initiative that makes a husband/wife team have such synergy of efforts. You know what synergy is, right? Synergy is the increased output from combined effort. For example, a single thread may be able to hold up one pound. You would expect, that three threads that are wound together would hold up three pounds, but in reality those three threads put together can hold up 8 or 9 pounds. Six threads multiply that effect. Let me give you another example of the power of synergy. I stand amazed at the videos of what draft horses can do. They are powerful animals. At one county fair the first prize winning horse was able to pull 4500 pounds and the second place finisher pulled 4000 pounds. Well, they hitched the two together to see what they would be able to pull as a team. So keep in mind that the total pulled when they were not a team was 8500 pounds, but when hitched together, they pulled 12,000 pounds.
The ideal marriage is a marriage that has synergy – where the man and the woman can get much more accomplished together than they would have accomplished when not married. And why do they accomplish more? Because of the economic principles of synergy, division of labor, and specialization. But some men are such micromanagers and some women are so needy, that they actually accomplish less together than they would have if they had remained single. And I know that this is a long rabbit trail, but it is really important that we men understand that when we can trust our spouse to know our philosophy of the household, our wives can take initiative without in any way undermining our leadership. But we must relinquish the micromanaging philosophy that says that everything has to be done exactly so and has to be approved by us. We are wearing ourselves out when we do that, and the team can go no higher and no further than our limitations.
And proof that this woman wasn't undermining the desires of the leaders of that city can be seen by the fact that the leaders were unanimous in agreeing with her in verse 22. She had anticipated the desires of the leadership, even though they themselves had not thought of this idea. That's the kind of woman you want side by side with you. You don't have to micromanage her. You know that her initiative is always going to be engaged in for your best interests. And that was true even though this was a very stressful situation. I love this woman. She is just like my wife who anticipates my desires and takes initiative without having to be told to do so. And yet she is in total submission to me. And in conflict resolution, people of initiative are indispensible because they can take the needed action at just the opportune time.
Be courageous/bold (v. 16)
And that brings up the second subpoint under "Trying to make contact." Sometimes this takes courage and boldness. With arrows flying through the air, it was probably dangerous for any one of the soldiers to stick his head up over the wall. And yet, somehow this woman found a person who was somewhat isolated from the rest of the army. I think she is on a different part of the wall than where the battering of the walls is happening. We aren't told how it happened, but she finally saw a person close enough to yell at, yet far enough away from the center of battle that she could stick her head above the wall and yell at him and try to get his attention. When that rare opportunity presented itself, she wouldn't have had time to go the leaders of the city and ask them if she could talk to that person. The opportunity would have been lost. She knows that she needs to snatch the opportunity while it was still there and she yells out. So there is initiative, but there is also boldness in doing this. There was some risk in her doing this.
Sometimes being a peacemaker can make you a bit nervous. I remember one time having to engage in an intervention on behalf of a woman who was being abused by her husband. I was calm, but forceful in telling this man that what he was doing was illegal, but more importantly was against God's moral law and he needed to quit it. He flew into a rage and tried to punch me in the head. I told him, "You can beat me up, but it is my responsibility before God to confront you." Initially he got even angrier, and I really wondered if I was going to be beaten to a pulp. But after talking him down, the guy calmed down, repented, and we were able to make progress on peacemaking – and especially dealing with anger. But sometimes it takes boldness and courage to be a peacemaker. It takes boldness to stick your head up over the wall when the arrows are flying. And if we are too timid, we are less likely to be good peacemakers.
If need be, involve others (v. 16b)
The third subpoint under "trying to make contact" is there are times when you cannot do it yourself and you need to involve someone else. This woman could not get Joab's attention, so she yells at this soldier, "Hear, hear! Please say to Joab, ‘Come nearby, that I may speak with you.'" Now, in some circumstances this could have been meddling. If the leaders were already trying to parley with Joab with a white flag of negotiation, it would have been presumptuous for her to do her own negotiations independently. In fact, it could have been an act of rebellion. But what she was doing was trying to act in a way that would not undermine the leadership, and yet recognizing that the leadership either did not have the opportunity to act or were failing to act for another reason. So she tries to conscript help. She yells for a person to bring Joab over. Why the soldier bothered to listen to her, we aren't told. But he must have been intrigued by her demeanor, and he called Joab.
Try to gain a hearing (v. 17)
The woman then tried to gain a hearing with Joab. And it is so important that we try to gain a hearing when hostilities have made people unwilling to listen to each other. It takes effort to gain a hearing. Verse 17.
2Sam. 20:17 "When he had come near to her, the woman said, "Are you Joab?" He answered, "I am." Then she said to him, "Hear the words of your maidservant." And he answered, "I am listening."
So in that verse she accomplished the general goal of point number I – try to gain a hearing. They may not want to listen to you, but try to gain a hearing anyway. It may take courage. It may take initiative.
But do so with humility (v. 17)
But I want you to notice that she gained this hearing with humility, not with arrogance. She said, "Hear the words of your maidservant." That is a very humble and self-effacing statement. You are much more likely to gain a hearing from a hostile person if you approach him with humility than if you approach him angrily and arrogantly. I am your maidservant. I am here to serve your best interests. So that is Roman numeral I – try to gain a hearing.
Speak with confidence (vv. 18-21)
She speaks with authority as one who is in the right
But the fact that she was humble did not mean she was servile or that she lacked confidence. And that is Roman numeral II. I think it was her very confidence that gained her a hearing. We will look at verses 18-21 in more detail in a little bit, but I want you to notice three things about her speech that make Joab take her seriously. First of all, she speaks with authority. She obviously had no authority over him, but there were three things that gave her whole a demeanor an authority that came God. And the first thing that gave her a sense of authority is that she knows what she is talking about and she knows that she is right. Let's just read through verses 18-21 in one fell swoop, and then I will comment on it.
2Sam. 20:18 "So she spoke, saying, "They used to talk in former times, saying, ‘They shall surely seek guidance at Abel,' and so they would end disputes."
2Sam. 20:19 "I am among the peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?"
2Sam. 20:20 "And Joab answered and said, "Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy!"
2Sam. 20:21 "That is not so. But a man from the mountains of Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, has raised his hand against the king, against David. Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city." So the woman said to Joab, "Watch, his head will be thrown to you over the wall."
How could she be so confident? How could she speak with such authority? Well, think about it. If the leaders are presented with an alternative: kill the rebel Sheba or have the city and all its men destroyed, do you think they are going argue? I don't think so. This was not an ill-founded confidence. She knew what her leaders would want. And it was being in tune with what they would want that enabled her to speak with such authority.
At our previous church there was a woman who was married to a military man who would be gone for months at a time. (And she wouldn't mind me telling you this story.) Anyway, the woman asked my wife for counsel on how to deal with conflict in their marriage. She said that the first month that her husband was back was horrible because they would have constant conflict. Well, as my wife dug a bit into what was happening it became quickly evident that when the husband was gone, the wife would see herself as in charge and when he came back she would have to transition to seeing him as in charge. When he was gone she would do things her way and when the husband came back, she would have to switch to doing things his way, and there was a period of conflict and adjustment. And it wasn't like either of those ways of doing things was bad – it was just two different ways.
Anyway, Kathy told the woman that when I (her husband) am gone I am still in charge and she tries to anticipate exactly what I would want. And she taught our kids to do the same thing with their bosses – anticipate their desires even before they tell you. Anyway, because Kathy always acted as if I was in charge whether I was present or not, her behavior never had to change whether I am present or gone. There might be some things she might have to ask my guidance on, but for the most part she knew what my leadership would want and there was no period of adjustment when I came back. And she told the woman to make it her goal in life to be a helpmeet and to try to understand and anticipate her husband's philosophy. Well, she did. And just that little adjustment completely solved their problems. That woman no longer lived independently when the husband was gone, and the transition after deployment was finished was as smooth as could be. Though she continued to make decisions with confidence and skill, it was not an independent confidence. And I believe this woman's confidence was not an independent confidence, but a confidence in knowing exactly what the city leaders would want. It was a confidence that she was doing the right thing. And who knows, she may have even been the wife of one of those city leaders, though we don't know that.
She speaks with confidence as one who is in line with God's law (cf Deut. 20:10-14 and the implication of v. 18)
The second thing that gave her confidence was that she knew that Joab had violated God's law and what she was asking for was something that Deuteronomy 20 mandated anyway – to talk to the city before you war against the city. Commentators point out that this is one of two things implied in her phrase, "They used to talk in former times, saying, ‘They shall surely seek guidance at Abel,' and so they would end disputes." Obviously it is giving a historical fact about Abel being a place that people would go to for wisdom (and some people think for prophetic wisdom, since Deborah too was called a mother in Israel – but that is debated). But commentators point out that this was also a polite way of asking, "Why did you declare war without ever talking to the leaders of this city – without ever asking for their counsel? That's what people used to do." Deuteronomy 20 mandated talking to the leaders of even a pagan city before declaring war upon it – how much more so upon an Israelite city. Some commentators believe that it is almost certain that this was in the background of her thinking.
So knowing God's Scriptures gave her authority. There have been times when I have had to confront a person about sexual immorality or something else and people have said, "The Bible says, ‘Judge not that you be not judged.'" And my response? "Oh, I'm not judging you; God is. I'm just telling you what God thinks. I'm a sinner just like you are, but both of us need to listen to God when He clearly speaks in the Scripture." Even if you have no authority over a person, 1 Peter 4:11 calls us to speak with the authority of being an oracle of God or a mouthpiece of God. Well, we can only do that if the Scripture backs us up. And when the Scripture backs you up, you have that spiritual authority.
Peacemaking is not just telling people to quit fighting and to be nice. That's humanism. Biblical peacemaking is approaching the conflict from the objective status of knowing the truth and standing on the side of truth. Too much peacemaking out there ignores the truth and sweeps sin under the carpet. So she had confidence because she knew she was right. Second, she had confidence because she had the authority of Deuteronomy 20 behind her.
She speaks with confidence in standing for something that is in Israel's best interest (v. 19)
In effect Christian nation should not fight Christian nation
The third thing that gave her confidence was that she was seeking something that was actually in Joab's best interest and in Israel's best interest. Verse 19:
2Sam. 20:19 "I am among the peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?"
This implies three things. First, it implies that a Christian nation should not be fighting a Christian nation. It is definitely not in the country's best interests.
"a mother to Israel" – It was a city that served Israel's interests and had nurtured Israel.
Secondly, that the city of Abel was "a mother to Israel" was probably a reference to the protective status that this city had served Israel with down through history. Now, it may have some other implications of being a prophetic center as well, though I'm not quite so certain of that. But since it was near the northern border, it had born the brunt of invasions and had served Israel well. It was certainly not in Israel's best interest to be destroying Abel – one of the key defensive cities for David. There is debate on the exact meaning of the term, but there is no mistaking the implication that you shouldn't be attacking your mother. You need your mother. It's not in your best interests to attack your mother.
"swallow up the Lord's inheritance" – Joab is taking something that does not belong to him
And then the third reason she had confidence in speaking to Joab was that God had given the tribe of Dan this city as an inheritance, and it was not for the taking of any other tribe. Why are you eating or swallowing up something that doesn't belong to you? If the Lord has given this city as an inheritance to us, you are obviously out of the Lord's will to independently take it from us. She obviously wasn't aware of the situation of Sheba being a rebel against David. Sheba may have told the city a totally different story. But in any case, this represents her initial shock that Israel would attack and try to take away a part of the inheritance of the tribe of Dan. But the point I am making is that she was able to speak out of confidence because she felt that what she was doing was in the right.
A peacemaker cannot go into a peacemaking situation without having confidence in the rightness of doing so. Some of the peacemakers that America sends out to other countries are in a bind because they are really not defending a policy that is defensible. It's really hard to convince people to be at peace when you are not in the right. If Abel had started this war, she would have made no progress with Joab. If she was timid, nothing may have happened. If she was only concerned about her own skin, nothing may have happened. But her confidence in God's Word and that a resolution could be achieved won the day.
Try to focus on a basis for trust (vv. 18-19a)
History of wisdom (v. 18a)
The third major thing that her speech accomplishes is that it is trying to build a basis for trust. Why should Joab trust her, and why should he trust the city? Well, verses 18-19 show three additional things that formed a basis for trust. She told Joab of Abel's history of wisdom.
"They used to talk in former times, saying, ‘They shall surely seek guidance at Abel,' and so they would end disputes.
The city had been trusted for a long time to be a place where you could find wise counsel; and specifically, wise counsel for disputes. We are in a dispute here, so why don't we parley? There is plenty of reason to trust negotiations just based on our history of conflict resolution. So that's the first basis for trust – a good track record.
I've known people who want to be involved in counseling and conflict resolution, yet they not only have no track record of their own success for peacemaking, they have a track record for creating constant conflict. I had a pastor approach me one time and give me a flier that he wanted me to distribute to the whole congregation. It was advertising his marriage counseling services. And I almost laughed out loud because right on the brochure he gave as one of his chief qualifications that he had been divorced. And as I asked further questions, I discovered that he had been kicked out of his liberal church pastorate because of his sexual shenanigans with the secretary. Great track record. No, there would be no trust for marital counseling there. But the city of Abel has a track record that you can trust.
History of conflict resolution (v. 18b)
So first of all, Abel had a track record of wisdom. It wasn't just a youngster wanting to counsel. Secondly, it had a track record of actually settling disputes very successfully. She said, "and so they would end disputes." In other words, they were successful. So she is telling Joab that there were resources in the city for a wise resolution of any conflict, including this one.
A commitment to faithfulness and peace (v. 19a)
Thirdly, she herself was a woman committed to being faithful to the Lord and pursuing peace. She said, "I am among the peaceable and faithful in Israel." And since she was among the peaceable and faithful in Israel, she implies that there were others in the city who could be trusted to pursue peace rather than to simply try to win a war. In effect she was encouraging Joab not to engage in the fallacy of guilt by association. It appears that she didn't even know why Joab was fighting the city, but if there was a good reason, don't assume that everyone in the city has the same issue or the same problem. It really is a very veiled rebuke to Joab. But she frames it in a way that forms a basis for trust. Even though it is a speech with Hebrew metaphors that are obscure to us, it really is a cool little speech once you understand the metaphors.
Try to appeal to common interests
But there is a fourth dynamic that I see for peacemaking in this passage: it is that she was trying to appeal to the common interests that they both had. She didn't just focus on who was right and who was wrong. She tried to find out what was driving Joab so that she could figure out a way of meeting his goals and still meeting the city's goals. Finding common ground is one of the key principles in Ken Sande's book, The Peacemaker. How can we both have our central aims achieved rather than making this a win-lose situation? Now, some situations can't be anything other than win-lose or even lose-lose. But this point is trying to figure out how can we turn it into a win-win situation.
Even Joab wasn't interested in destruction for destruction's sake (v. 19b)
You seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?"
Whatever she meant by that, it must have struck a chord with Joab because he immediately responds:
… "Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy!
He is somewhat taken aback by what she had to say. Even Joab had no interest in destruction for destruction's sake. He must have realized that he was partly in the wrong on this. But he also feels that she has misunderstood, so he defends himself. His goal was to do away with rebellion and to seek the peace of the nation. So she was able to appeal to a common desire between both parties. And when it comes to national politics, there have occasionally been wise negotiators who have done exactly this. Even in pagan nations they have occasionally been able to do this. I'll give you an example:
Thucydides gave an account of a fascinating debate that took place after the Mytilenian Revolt that started in 427 BC.2 After a five-year war, the revolt was put down, and the Athenians debated amongst themselves on what punishment should be meted out to the Mytilenians. There were many speeches, but Thucydides picked out the speeches of Cleon and Diodotus. Cleon spoke for harsh punishment by putting all the Mytilenian men to death and enslaving all the women and children, whether they were aristocrats or commoners. It would have left the area abandoned and desolate. However, he argued that 1) it would serve as a strong deterrent because others would be fearful of being similarly wiped out and would not dare to war against them, 2) second, that enemies will stay enemies and to show mercy would prove dangerous in the future, and 3) thirdly, he argued that failure to punish in this way would teach other states that they can get away with revolt without much danger, and so there would be endless revolts.
Diodotus gave a rebuttal to Cleon using the tactic of pointing to common interests that both sides had. He argued that only the leaders of the revolution should be put to death. And his reasoning was that if everyone was put to death when there was a revolt, people would fight to the final man, knowing that they would die anyway, and so there really would be no motivation to surrender. So it would make future wars more difficult. Second, this would guarantee longer and more costly wars. Thirdly, the prize of the captured state would be worthless since it would be left in ruins. Fourth, if other nations did to them what they were planning to do to the Mytilenians, their own commoners would be less likely to aid them in war if they knew the punishment was annihilation. Fifth, the commoners in the other country would be less likely to revolt against the aristocrats if they would be dead either way. Diodotus won by a very slim majority, but his approach to the debate showed that he was trying to think of what would motivate both sides of the debate and what would be in the common interests of both sides.
And that is exactly what she is doing in her argumentation. She is saying that he is destroying a city that acts like a mother to Israel.
Joab had a vested interest in the future survival of this city (v. 19c)
She is saying secondly that Joab had a vested interest in the future survival of this city. If it really is a mother in Israel, Israel will be hurt if the mother is hurt. Now these kinds of negotiations don't always work out. Pride, anger, and so many other things can get in the way of genuine resolution.
A few weeks ago I mentioned the account that R. L. Dabney gave of a delegation from the South begging president Abraham Lincoln to consider a compromise and to not go to war.3 Colonel Baldwin assured Lincoln that he would not have to compromise his views on Union, and sought to convince Lincoln that they had the votes to eventually make reunion possible if he would only concede the unconstitutional point. Colonel Baldwin said,
Only give this assurance to the country, in a proclamation of five lines, and we pledge ourselves that Virginia (and with her the border States) will stand by you as though you were our own Washington. So sure am I of this, and of the inevitable ruin which will be precipitated by the opposite policy, that I would this day freely consent, if you would let me write those decisive lines, you might cut off my head, were my life my own, the hour after you signed them."
He was offering his life in place of the country going to war, and guaranteeing that union could be achieved without war if he would only strike the unconstitutional issue at stake that was so harming the South. So Colonel Baldwin was engaging in exactly this kind of negotiation by showing what was at stake for both sides (horrible, horrible losses) and what would be beneficial to both sides. Unfortunately, Lincoln adamantly refused any compromise, saying, "What then, would become of my tariff?" So there are no guarantees that peacemaking will work, but appealing to common interests can sometimes be an effective strategy.
Joab comes into agreement with her on these issues (v. 20)
And in the case of Joab, we've already seen that it worked. In verse 20 Joab says that he had no interest in destroying Abel or swallowing up their inheritance as if it belonged to him. That was not his intent.
Narrow down the real problem (v. 21)
The real troublemaker was Sheba
Then in verse 21 we see a narrowing down of the discussions to what the real problem was. And you will never have peacemaking if you don't have this point. Too many times the peripheral issues cloud the discussions. Joab was treating Abel's closed gates as being the real problem. Abel was treating Joab's hostile intentions as being the real problem. But it suddenly dawns on Joab that she and the city probably don't have a clue about the real character of Sheba, and he tells her what the real problem is. It's too bad that he hadn't done this earlier. He says,
2Sam. 20:21 "That is not so. But a man from the mountains of Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, has raised his hand against the king, against David. Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city."…
Let's assume that the city had 20,000 people in it. By fighting against the city, Joab had been generalizing the problem as being 20,000 strong. When discussion ensued, it got narrowed down from 20,000 to only one problem – Sheba. And since they both had narrowed things down to agree to the same problem, they could come to resolution. In the story I told you about Colonel Baldwin and Abraham Lincoln, they couldn't narrow things down to one problem. Lincoln and the Southern Delegation saw two totally different problems and it was impossible to come to an agreement. For the South it was the survival of the Constitution that was at stake. For Lincoln, it was money and maintaining the union. One eyewitness quoted Lincoln as saying, "If I do that, what will become of my revenue? I might as well shut up housekeeping at once!" In my view, Lincoln's unconstitutional philosophy was the Sheba, but that is the subject for another discussion.
She was willing to deal with the real troublemaker
Though the North was not willing to deal with the unconstitutional philosophy of Lincoln, this woman was certain that her city would deal with the real problem. The second half of verse 21:
So the woman said to Joab, "Watch, his head will be thrown to you over the wall."
Because of her willingness to deal with the real problem, she managed to negotiate a deal with Joab. In the process she saved countless lives. But this has application to our lives as well. If the only solution you can think of to resolve a conflict between two people is to ask them to stop it and to be nice, you are unlikely to be successful. Many parents don't deal with the real issues at stake in the conflicts between their children. They try to separate them and try to get them to be nice. But there is likely a sin that needs to be beheaded in one or both of the children before peace can ensue. Without narrowing down the problem we are covering the problem with a Band-Aid.
I have read humanistic books on peacemaking that miss this principle completely. All they are focused on is point number IV. And as a result they are useless books. One book on conflict resolution was absolutely confident that they could resolve differences between prolifers and abortion advocates by highlighting things that they have in common. They could work together for a common good. I'm sorry. That won't work. If the godly goal is not shared by both sides, then peacemaking will not work. And that is the huge mistake many people make in our culture. Christians want us to be so nice that they end up harboring the enemy of God and of His Word. For example, they stay in a liberal denomination that has denied the Gospel, denied the inerrancy of Scripture, has promoted homosexuality and abortion, and they have stayed because they are focusing on some things that they have in common and yet are utterly ignoring the dangerous Shebas who need to be metaphorically beheaded. And in the process the whole church keeps getting more and more corrupt. The Shebas guarantee that they will get more corrupt. As long as politicians in Washington DC are treasonous Constitution-breakers, no Constitutionalist should even bother looking for common ground with them. There are some things that you must fight a win-lose battle over. There are some things so bad that if you don't fight for them, you are being faithless. In the last century, J. Gresham Machen worded it well in his fight against liberalism. He said,
In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.
And there are too many people who want us to leave the Shebas alone. But Joab knew that if he left Sheba alone, the whole kingdom was in jeopardy. There can be no peace treaty between prolifers and abortionists because abortion is a Sheba that must be stopped. That must be a battle that continues until one side or the other completely loses. If the first four points are being followed without the godly goal of point V, you actually end up sweeping the problems under the carpet and perpetuating them.
So yes, we should try to make contact with those that we are war with (point I), we should speak with the confidence that comes from knowing the Bible and standing for truth (point II), it is always helpful if the other side knows that we are trustworthy (point III), and it is useful to appeal to common interests as we present our goals (point IV), but let's make sure that we really are dealing with the problems that God sees as problems and not see the conflict itself as being the only problem. Some people are so conflict aversive that they will never deal with Sheba. But this unnamed lady was a true peacemaker because she was quite willing to fight against Sheba, once she understood that Sheba was the problem. And this was a place where Joab was right, and she did need to be instructed on that.
Go through the same process with the other side and get both sides to deal definitively with the real issues (v. 22)
And in verse 22 she went through the same process of convincing the leaders of Abel to deal with the same issues. Verse 22 says,
2Sam. 20:22 "Then the woman in her wisdom went to all the people. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab. Then he blew a trumpet, and they withdrew from the city, every man to his tent. So Joab returned to the king at Jerusalem."
This verse shows the power that wisdom and peacemaking can have to change nations. You don't have to have bazookas and tanks to win a culture. You only have to have the truth and to use it under the power of God's Spirit. And if you are skeptical about whether that is possible, you don't know history. You need to read about how country after country was won to Christ in the 300's and following: Armenia, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc. They were won by the Word of God. Brueggemann makes a very insightful statement when he says about this passage,
The raw political strength that dominates this story… presents the wise woman… as an important contrast. She stands as an alternative to the relentlessness of David and the ruthlessness of Joab. In the midst of Jerusalem's Realpolitik, the wise woman can remember another way. She can still imagine that careful speech, peaceable treasuring, and secure trust offer another way in public life. There is more to public life than David's sexual politics or Joab's killing fields.4
Wow! You could almost say the same about our country, couldn't you? So this passage gives us a glimmer of hope in the midst of horrible political circumstances. On the one side, an entire city was facing death. On the other side, David was being held captive to a certain degree by the political machinery. It could have been discouraging times to live in. Yet here was a woman who had the faith to instantly take advantage of a providential opportunity, and as a result of doing so, she brought a peace that seemed impossible just hours before. Peacemaking can sometimes happen from people and places far removed from the centers of power. God can use the most unlikely of candidates – a little maid speaking with confidence about God's ability to heal her mistress' husband, the powerful Naaman. And think of the national peace that came from that little maid's testimony. And the application really goes way beyond peacemaking. Do we have the courage to take advantage of the providential opportunities God brings into our paths? God could use you to turn our city upside down.
And if you want a book of stories from the past 2000 years of unknown men, women, and even children who had a profound impact upon their local cities, read George Grant's book, Third Time Around. And the subtitle is, A History of the Pro-Life Movement From the First Century to the Present. That is an incredibly encouraging book. It looks at times and circumstances that were far more evil and depressing than anything we are facing, yet people like this lady took advantage of the providential opportunities that God was giving, and though weak, were used by God to turn cultures upside down. I'm not kidding; that is not an exaggeration. God used ordinary people to turn cultures upside down.
You can read about the impact that a runaway girl, Dympna, made in the Flemish lowlands. She had to flee from the incestuous advances of her father, but God used her to establish orphanages, to care for the poor, to oppose abortion. During a fearful time when others were trying to withdraw and to protect themselves from the Barbarian hordes that were still threatening the frontiers, and from the Norse raiders who were attacking the coastline, and from the feudal rivalries that were paralyzing the interior, she saw it all as opportunity to minister the grace of God. When humanism is falling apart, what a great opportunity there is to present the answers of Scripture. She didn't get discouraged. She saw these things as opportunities to advance to healing Shalom of God in her country. And God gave her enormous success in changing that land. Now it may be that she was not even trying to be a success. She was just looking to be faithful to God in the face of opportunity. But it is recognizing opportunity (and not running from it) that is half the battle. And we are going to be closing with a song that challenges us to have initiative and to seize the small opportunities that God presents to us like this woman did. May it be so, Lord Jesus. Amen.
http://thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/readings/thucydides6.html. See the use of this as an illustration in peacemaking in Judith Pressler, in "Peacemaking and Procedural Justice," in Peacemaking, (Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 2000), 38-39. Also see http://spot.pcc.edu/\~rflynn/HST\_101/Online%20Readings/Mytilenian\_Debate.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mytilenian_Debate. ↩
R. L. Dabney, Discussions, vol. 4 (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 1979), 87-100. ↩
Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 332-333. ↩