2 Samuel 20:8-10: A Note For A Commentary -- By: Edward A. Neiderhiser

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 24:3 (Sep 1981)
Article: 2 Samuel 20:8-10: A Note For A Commentary
Author: Edward A. Neiderhiser

2 Samuel 20:8-10: A Note For A Commentary

Edward A. Neiderhiser*

After the revolt of Absalom had been crushed, David found it necessary to set about the task of reconsolidating his shattered kingdom. At the revolt of Sheba ben-Bichri, David sent his troops north. Amasa, the newly appointed leader, was late arriving and joined the army at the great rock of Gibeon. Joab, the former commander, went out to meet him and with a deadly bit of deception killed him.

Why Joab killed Amasa is rather plain. David in trying to regroup after the Absalom disaster had to make special concessions to his own people, the tribe of Judah, in order to regain their support (cf. 2 Sam 19:11–12), much to the displeasure of the northern tribes (cf. 19:41–43). Part of the deal was to replace Joab with Amasa as commander of the army (19:13). Amasa, however, proved less than satisfactory in the position (cf. 20:5–6), and Joab, by killing him, reasserted himself as commander.

The problem is not why but precisely how Joab worked his treachery. Following the RSV, the text in 2 Sam 20:8b–10 reads as follows:

Now Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment, and over it was a girdle with a sword in its sheath fastened upon his loins, and as he went forward it fell out. 9And 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. 10But Amasa did not observe the sword which was in Joab’s hand; so Joab struck him with it in the body, and shed his bowels to the ground, without striking a second blow; and he died.

It has often been assumed by commentaries that the text as it stands in Hebrew is corrupt, that it does not as it now stands give the entire picture. Either something has fallen out or the present text must be amended to restore a clear view of Joab’s action. The meaning of the text as it stands, however, would seem to be a great deal more plain than commentaries have been wont to make it.

Two theories as to the nature of the deception have enjoyed widespread support.

The first is that the sword of Joab is a short sword or dagger that is not worn on the outside of Joab’s outer garment but is in fact hidden beneath it.1 Thus the deception is similar to that of Ehud the Benjamite in Judges 3. Since the text does not specifically say that the sword fell to the groun...

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