Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The wise woman of Abel

Last time we left off with Joab and his army, marching up to the walls of the town of Abel, or Abel Beth Macaah. Their goal: to ferret out the rebel Sheba, son of Bikri, and stamp out the rebellion against King David.

Joab is going to meet the woman that the Bible does not specifically name -- she is simply referred to as the "wise woman of Abel." My studies showed that scholars think the "wise woman" role was one that was not uncommon in the days of the judges and in early monarchies. These were women who were known for wise judgment, quick thinking, rhetorical skills, and skillful negotiating. Several chapters earlier (II Samuel 14), Joab had consulted with the wise woman of Tekoa, so it was something that he was familiar with already. Since he was aware of the women's traditional role, he had no problem pausing when he heard her tell him to "listen" and it may be why he didn't hesitate when approaching a walled city that was under siege -- he realized that she had the authority to negotiate.

But he hasn't met her yet! I'm getting ahead of myself!

Joab and his captains instruct the soldiers to begin their standard assault, or siege, of the city. The fact that the wise woman refers to the city in their conversation as a "mother of Israel" might refer to the fact that Abel Beth Macaah was a capital in the region. So, it probably had more (and better) walls and gates than some cities would have. They began to "cast up a bank" against the city; in other words, they threw great earthworks against the walls so that they could more easily climb and gain entrance into the city. When they got closer, or they were almost at the top of the walls, they could begin to batter them down. So, as they were working so hard to batter down the walls, a female voice rings out, "Hear, hear!" In our language, she would perhaps have said, "Listen!"
             a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” 17 He went toward her, and she asked, “Are you Joab?”“I am,” he answered.She said, “Listen to what your servant has to say.”“I’m listening,” he said.18 She continued, “Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. 19 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 theLord’s inheritance?”
In these verses, we can see a couple of things. First, she knew who was battering down the walls of the city. Joab's reputation would have preceded him, so to speak, as a ruthless and skilled fighter. He was a leader to be reckoned with, and word would have spread out in front of his oncoming army. So, she knew with whom she was dealing.

Secondly (and this is more important), she didn't care with whom she was dealing! She wasn't scared of him. She was much more driven by her reverence for, and reliance upon God.

Here is how we know that: she was reproaching him.  Seriously.

She was telling him to remember the rules of warfare. Yep, there were rules. Look with me in Deuteronomy:
               When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 
          (Deuteronomy 20:10)

This wise woman was questioning his failure to follow the rules! She feared God more than she feared Joab, and she feared God's law more than the leader of the king's army.

Now she has Joab in a position that is very unfamiliar to him -- the position of having to explain his conduct to someone! He just goes and does and doesn't ask. He's a leader. He's accustomed to doing what he wants, when he wants to, and to whom he wants to do it!  But he now is being required to explain why he is laying siege to her city . . .  he tells her about the rebel that they followed there.

The ball is in her court now, and he is probably not comfortable with that. But she tells him that they will find the rebel, and throw his head over the wall to the army, and then they will expect them to withdraw. (Somehow I would hope they might remove some of the earthworks, but maybe that wasn't part of the bargain.)

It doesn't take too long. The rebel is found, and killed, and then to prove it, they throw his head over the wall. Gruesome. Yucky. But we can learn from this wise woman of Abel.

Several people in our story were presented with opportunities. Joab had an opportunity to advance himself, and claim the leadership of the army. Amasa had an opportunity for greatness as the army's leader, but he didn't take advantage of it. The wise woman found an opportunity to spare many innocent lives, and also to avert a war. Let's look at some of her qualities that we might admire.

First, she was indeed wise. Today, if you and I want to learn about wisdom, we turn to the Word, and many of us will turn first to Proverbs. Let's look at chapter three:
Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;
    nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.
Wisdom is not the same as how smart we are on a test, or how much education we have had. It's a gift to us from God. And it's not the proud or the conceited who receive it -- it's the humble people who ask Him for it. Another verse in Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of that wisdom, right? Well, if we fear the Lord, we are going to truly respect His word; that is what the wise woman of Abel did. She paid close attention to His word, and reminded Joab of what it said!

If we want to have the wisdom that the wise woman of Abel had, and that Solomon had, we must acquaint ourselves with the word of God. We need to meditate in it. We need to memorize it. (I am so preaching to myself here, too.)  And of course, we need to ask Him for it.
 'Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding'. (Proverbs 2:3, KJV)


Cathy said...

Speaking for myself, my life would be so much better if I would stop, ask God whether I should do or say something, and then go ahead, based on His guidance and the wisdom He gives. However, I seem to have this reversed. I go full steam ahead with what I want to do or say, and then have to back track, and ask for God's help and forgiveness for getting out of the mess I got myself into. Lord, help us to seek and desire and ask for Your Wisdom, first and always1

Austin Towers said...

We can learn so much from this unnamed woman. Like Cathy, I wish I'd wait before opening my big mouth sometimes! Yes we need to meditate on the Word profoundly. It will give us all the wisdom we need. I love it that wisdom is always in the feminine in scripture :)

Katie Isabella said...

My mouth gets ahead of me most times BUT I HAVE learned to ask Him for permission for even some mundane activities before I do them. He never fails me.