Seize the Day? (II Samuel 20)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 20:2–20:26
Crying for a King
Seize the Day?
II Samuel 20:1-26
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
May 4th, 2014
I. Carpe Diem
Penned by the Roman poet Horace about twenty-three years before the birth of Jesus, the phrase “carpe diem” is one of the most familiar Latin phrases in the English-speaking world. Roughly translated it means “pluck the day” or “enjoy the day”, but we're more familiar with the translation, “seize the day”.
Now think about that phrase for a moment. Is that an expression that glorifies God? Carpe diem. Is that a phrase fitting for followers of Christ? Well, I think it depends. In one sense, the New Testament has a very similar phrase: “redeem the time”, found in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 4. Both phrases can mean “to make the most of a present opportunity”; “to not let something pass you by”. And it does glorify God when we make the most of the present by obeying His word and living boldly in faith.
But...but carpe diem can also be a sentiment that dishonors God. How? When we SEIZE that which dishonors God. When we SEIZE in a way that dishonors God.
Turn with me to II Samuel 20. This morning, as we return to our ongoing study in the books of Samuel, we are, in one sense, coming to the end of the book. You see, chapter 21-24 represent a kind of appendix to the book. That means chapter 20 is the end of the main storyline. And if that's right, then we should be especially interested in how the author concludes the main storyline.
II. The Passage: “We Have No Portion in David” (20:1-26)
In II Samuel 20, we find two distinct, but related sections. The first is a kind of frame for the second. Or we might say it 'bookends' the middle. 20:1-6, and 20:14-26 are the buns of the hamburger, while 20:7-13 is the patty. So let's look at those 'bookends' first. To understand these sections, we need to remember what happened at the end of chapter 19.
You may recall that in verses 41-43 of chapter 19, we saw the men of Judah and the men of the other 11 tribes of Israel arguing about bringing King David back to Jerusalem after Absalom's revolt was crushed. Remember, a majority of these people probably supported Absalom. But now that he was dead, they were concerned about what David would do. And so everyone was trying to jockey for position in terms of David's 'good graces'.
So this is the contentious context for II Samuel 20:1. Let's begin reading there, down to verse 6, and then we skip down to verse 14.
A. Sheba Seizes the Day (20:1-6, 14-26)
Listen as I 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!”  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.  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.  Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.”  So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him.  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.” [skip down to verse 14, the beginning of the other 'bookend']...And Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth-maacah, and all the Bichrites assembled and followed him in.  And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah. They cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart, and they were battering the wall to throw it down.  Then a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.’”  And he came near her, and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” He answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your servant.” And he answered, “I am listening.”  Then she said, “They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter.  I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the LORD?”  Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy!  That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David. Give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.”  Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.  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;  and Adoram was in charge of the forced labor; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder;  and Sheva was secretary; and Zadok and Abiathar were priests;  and Ira the Jairite was also David's priest.
So it's pretty clear which character is the main focus in this literary 'frame'. It's a guy named Sheba. We know nothing about this man other than what we learn in verse 1: Sheba was a “worthless man”, literally in Hebrew, “a son of Belial”, a title used fifteen time in the Old Testament of people who are morally and spiritually corrupt. And the rest of the chapter demonstrates Sheba's character.
We could say that Sheba cried “carpe diem” in verse 1. He was “seizing the day”, wasn't he? He saw an opportunity amidst the arguments, amidst the rhetoric. He saw an opportunity to secede from David's leadership, and maybe become a rival king over the other tribes. We don't quite know what his endgame was.
We do know, according to verse 2, that the men of Israel followed Sheba's lead. But by the time we find Sheba hiding out at Abel, he doesn't seem to have any real support apart from some men from his own clan. And the people of Abel don't seem persuaded by his charisma, or lack thereof. They turn out to be quite willing to trade his head for the departure of David's army.
Now, there are a couple sections in the midst of this 'hamburger bun', sections that are not directly connected to the story of Sheba's revolt. The first is in verse 3, and the second is in verse 23-26. Verse 3 describes how David took care of, but sequestered the ten concubines that Absalom had raped in chapter 16. Those last verses are simply a description of David's leadership team. So, why include these? Well, at the very least, I think we can say that both of these sections are connected to the story in the sense that they confirm that David had truly reestablished himself as the true king of Israel. I think we can say a bit more about verse 3, but let's save that until later.
B. Joab Seizes the Day (20:7-13)
What I want you to see at this point is that 'hamburger patty' is very similar to the buns. Look with me at verses 7 through 13. We should be wondering how Joab ended up leading the army when it was first Amasa, and then Abishai who was sent out as the general. Well, we find the answer to that change in this section. Verse 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.  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.  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.  But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab's hand. [remember, the right hand was where you normally held your sword—so Amasa is not suspicious of the sword in Joab's left hand, the sword he just picked up off the ground] 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.  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.”  And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him.  When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri.
Like Sheba, Joab “seized the day”, didn't he? He saw an opportunity and he took it. Now, the gruesome violence that Joab's uses here should come as no surprise. He did the same exact thing to Abner, Saul's general in II Samuel 3:27. More recently, in chapter 18, he also thrust three javelins into David's son Absalom as hung in that tree by his neck. Joab is no stranger to violence and to using it to get what he wants.
By why Amasa, his own cousin? Well, you may remember in 19:13 that David had made Amasa his new general in the place of Joab. Now, that move was surprising in two ways: 1) Joab was the victorious general who had crushed Absalom's rebellion, and 2) Amasa was Absalom's general. Why in the world would David promote Amasa and demote Joab?
I think we could say that 1) David was chastising Joab for disobeying a direct order not to hurt Absalom (18:5), and 2) David may have felt it was necessary to promote Amasa as a means of reuniting a divided nation. But clearly, Joab is not pleased with this change. And so, once again, he resorts to murder as a means of SEIZING what he wants. Maybe he figures that if he can defeat Sheba, and return to Jerusalem victorious, David will have to overlook Amasa's death. Verse 23 confirms that his gamble paid off: Now Joab was in command of all the army of Israel...
III. Seize or Receive?
Okay, I think it would be really good for us to think more about this idea of carpe diem. Before we do that, let me mention why the main storyline of Samuel ends this way, that is, why was chapter 20 included in this book? I think this is where verse 3 comes into play. More than just being a sad note about the fate of these mistreated concubines, verse 3 points us back, not only to Absalom's actions in chapter 16, but also back to God's announcement in chapter 12. Remember God's judgment against David's sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah, judgment announced by the prophet Nathan.
“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’  Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.” (II Samuel 12:10-11)
So the main storyline of Samuel ends by touching on both of those elements: not only Absalom's sin with the ten concubines, but also the fact that David's kingdom is still characterized by division and violence God's word will stand. Why does Samuel ends this way? I think to prepare us for I Kings and the transition to Solomon's reign and to the building of the Temple.
But for us this morning, I think there are a few other lessons that we can take with us from this chapter. Let's touch on four of those (to be clear, I think this is really just one lesson with three sub-points revealing the true nature of the issue, so…). First of all...
1. In light of the whole book, the author is asking us, “Seize or receive?”
David was a man of faith. In light of that, we might ask, “What was the clearest demonstration of David's faith?” Was it when he fought Goliath? Or maybe it was in the face of another battle, or when he lived among the Philistines? No, I think the clearest demonstration of David's faith in the books of Samuel was how, for so many years, he waited, and waited, and waited for God to give him the throne of Israel. He did not seize the throne from Saul. He waited in order to receive it in Yahweh's timing.
But as we see from II Samuel, David is not completely innocent in this matter.
David might not have seized the throne, but he was passive when it came to others 'seizing', if it meant he maintained his position. That's what we see with Joab. And as we just talked about, David was certainly guilty of seizing what did not belong to him in regard to Bathsheba. Even in that incident, David takes advantage of Joab's violent ruthlessness in order to get rid of Bathsheba's husband and cover up his sin.
And so in II Samuel 20, I believe the author is highlighting this same contrast: seize or receive? What about us? What about you? Have you ever seized the day in a way that really was, as Paul described it in Galatians 5:13, simply you using “your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh”? You seizing what did not truly belong to you? Sometimes we see an opportunity for personal glory. Sometimes we see an opportunity for immoral pleasure. Sometimes we see an opportunity to spread rumors, or to unfairly profit, or to harshly criticize in order to make ourselves feel better. And so we seize the day?
How have you, how are you seizing, instead of receiving? Do you take, when God says wait? Do you grab, when God says give? We're all guilty of this, aren't we? But think about this...
2. When we seize, others suffer.
Think about the visuals here. Sheba jeopardized the safety of a whole city because he tried to “seize the day” and take advantage of the divisions that existed among God's people. And how could we forget the image of Amasa, verse 12, “wallowing in his blood in the highway”. What a disturbing picture of Joab's handiwork.
But do we see the damage we cause when we seize instead of receive. People saddened so that we can be happy. Another humiliated so you can look superior. Someone in lack so that you can enjoy the gain. Feelings smashed so that you can feel smug. Do you see that? When we “seize the day” like this, then in some way, others will suffer. But that leads to another sobering reminder we have here...
3. Seizing always feels like Joab, but always ends like Sheba.
Not only is there a contrast here in terms of the larger book, but we also find a contrast in terms of the successfulness of seizing. When we take, when we grasp, when we seize in sin, we always feel like Joab, that is, we always feel like we WILL get what we want, consequence-free. Joab plotted and slashed his way back into his old job. And his plan worked. But in reality, seizing always ends like Sheba: with serious consequences. And a life of taking always ends with everything being taken from us. We have to see that when we are tempted to seize. We have to be sobered by that.
To go back again to the Galatians, Paul makes this same point:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (6:7-10)
Even Joab would find this out. Just read I Kings 2 to find out what happened to Joab for all the blood he shed. But there's one more aspect of this seizing that we discover in II Samuel 20...
4. Seizing can be against or in the name of God's anointed.
What do I mean by that? Well, listen to how one commentator expresses this idea...
Could it be that II Samuel 20 depicts a double rebellion? There is Sheba who wants to leave the Davidic kingdom behind; and then there is Joab who will not be controlled within the kingdom, but is ever hacking and slicing away to keep his own position unrivalled. There is spillover in principle. “Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). There is such a thing as acknowledging the king's sovereignty and disregarding his will. Such folks will have no place in the kingdom at the last. There are scores of Joabs on our church membership rolls. (Dale Ralph Davis)
I think we could say seizing doesn't always look like sin. I have no doubt that Joab always thought he was acting in the king’s and in the kingdom’s best interests. We might say to ourselves, “Well, I'm not a sinner”, and yet we live like a Pharisee. We baptize our selfishness and pride, and then justify our words and behavior. We need God to give us new eyes to see all the ways in which we are seizing instead of receiving.
IV. The One Who Was Pierced
It would be easy for someone to read this chapter and ask, “Where is God?” And we know part of the answer to that in light of what we read in chapter 12 about God’s judgment against David. But wherever we are in Scripture, whatever we are studying, we also have to ask, “Where is Jesus?” Where is Jesus in II Samuel 20? We know from the NT that everything in the OT is pointing us to Him and to the Good News. So where is He?
Well, it would be easy to see Jesus, as we have before and as we should, in the person of David, since both are God’s anointed kings. If we do that, then like Sheba, haven’t all of us rebelled against the Son of God? Isn’t that what sin is, exclaiming “We have not portion in God”? Going our own way? But I also think we can see Jesus in the person of Amasa. No, not Amasa the turncoat; not Amasa the incompetent. But Amasa, the one who was pierced. Amasa, the one wallowing in blood; a victim of our violence.
On the cross, Jesus suffered because of our seizing. But we can live, because He did not grasp, but gave. We can receive, because He did not seize the day in sin. Instead, as He prayed in Gethsemane, Jesus lived to do God’s will, not His own. The only way to NOT ‘seize the day” in sin, the only way to not live a life of seizing, is to trust in the One who chose to submit rather than seize. Do you know that He wants to change you? Listen and consider the example of Jesus Christ, the One who was pierced…
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant… (Philippians 2:4-7)