From the Woman Who Subdued a General
I love bringing to light the stories of Biblical characters that are not well-known and not often talked about. One of those is the wise woman of Abel of Beth-maacah, found in II Samuel 20:14-22. She is a woman of valor who confronted a powerful military leader and saved her city. Through her story, I will point out some key negotiating tips that could be useful in any type of negotiation. However, before delving into the ins and outs of how to negotiate effectively, we need to understand the enormity of her achievement. We will start by first looking at the key players and the surrounding circumstances of her story.
The Scene: A Kingdom in Rebellion
King David is recovering from an attempted coup by his son Absalom. After quelling the rebellion, there is a man named Sheba who takes advantage of some of the lingering support for Absalom and the dissatisfaction in Israel (the northern part of David’s Kingdom). He uses it to entice people against King David. David has the loyal support of Judah (the southern kingdom), but couldn’t afford to lose Israel. He, therefore, sends his military to pursue Sheba.
Knowing that the very capable forces of King David are after him, Sheba flees and finds refuge in a city called Abel of Beth-maacah. When David’s military reaches the city, they make preparations to storm it and capture Sheba. While right in the midst of trying to bring the wall down, they are approached by a woman (II Samuel 20:15-16).
The General: The Ruthless Joab
The commander in charge of David’s army, the general for all intents and purposes, is a man by the name of Joab and he also happens to be David’s nephew. For years, Joab had defeated entire armies and fought under David’s rule as his highest-ranking officer. While serving David, he had executed the king’s orders with deathly precision and at times had taken it upon himself to exert his own justice. He had killed a man in cold blood to avenge his brother and he was the one that had carried out David’s command to have Uriah killed (Uriah has a pretty phenomenal and little-known background as well–read it here).
Joab was a military guru. Fighting, strategy, tactics were in his genes. He was one of three brothers, all of which held prominent roles within David’s military. The man was fierce, a born warrior. He was not the type of man that you would want to have as an enemy. However, at this juncture in the narrative, Joab had fallen out of favor with David. He was not even supposed to be in charge of Sheba’s pursuit.
David had just handed over Joab’s command to a man named Amasa. While General Amasa was gathering forces to go after Sheba, time was of the essence, so David sent a smaller, secondary force to catch up to Sheba first. The demoted Joab joined himself up with that secondary force (easy to do since his brother Abishai was in charge of it).
In their pursuit, they ran into general Amasa. Joab feigned respect and while giving the man a kiss, stabs him (commentators speculate it was out of jealousy). Joab easily retakes command of the military because he has a long history with his men and is a respected warrior. Despite his ruthlessness (and disrespect for David’s wishes), he is still intent on following through with the King’s orders to capture and kill Sheba. Joab reaches the city with his men and encounters a woman. (For a full analysis on Joab, read, “Joab: Commander of David’s Army.“)
The Woman: A Strong Woman in a Male-Dominated Society
The Bible does not tell us her name and we don’t know much about her character. However, I get the feeling that she was the sort of woman that spoke her mind. From the account, we know that she was an intelligent and wise woman, and may have even held a certain level of influence similar to a judge.
We know from Deborah in the book of Judges that there was room for women to acquire positions of power and influence in Ancient Israel, but I can’t imagine it was easy. I believe she probably battled rejection and constantly had to fight against social barriers in order to get to that position.
Relevant Article: How Jesus Empowered Women
During this time period, women had very limited roles. They typically would not have held positions of leadership because social and political institutions generally excluded them. There were exceptions of course, like Deborah, but that was usually the exception and not the rule. To state it plainly, men dominated and women took a secondary role. Women might have had a stronger and vocal role within the confines of the family unit, but in public, women were more subdued and expected to remain so.
The Exchange: The Woman Faces the General
Imagine the scene unfolding before her. Her beloved city is under siege by David’s powerful military. David’s victorious military expeditions must have been common knowledge. She knew that if his army was going to overtake the city, that they would succeed. There were two possible scenarios here on the state of the city’s leadership:
1) The male leadership was either confused, inept, or paralyzed with fear (or maybe all three). Tired of waiting for them to confront the situation, this woman decides to take matters into her own hands.
2) She was the primary leader having risen to that position amidst a lot of opposition. By this point, however, she is well respected and immediately goes into action as she sees her city about to be destroyed.
Regardless of her position within the city, she knows that the only way to save her people is to address the commander of the army, Joab.
She yells out (to anyone that can hear her I presume) and asks for Joab by name. It was a dangerous proposition to expose herself to an army that was in the midst of battering the city walls, but she did so anyway. Joab agrees to meet with her. Why? Maybe because she was a woman and he felt she wouldn’t have posed much of a threat. Maybe it was because he was intrigued that no one else in the city had the courage to confront him. Maybe he was just curious enough to want to meet this brave woman. Or maybe he agreed because he appreciated the wisdom of women since he himself had sought the help of a wise woman before (see Biblical record of “The Wise Woman of Tekoa”).
In the exchange, the woman tells Joab that she is a woman of peace and that she is faithful. She also reminds Joab that her city has a long history and asks him why he wishes to destroy it. Joab responds that his intent is not to destroy the city but to capture Sheba. He assures her that if he can have Sheba, that he will spare the city. She agrees and convinces her people to turn Sheba in.
There is a lot to learn from this woman’s negotiating skills as she achieves a favorable outcome under very tense and frightful circumstances. This woman is able to do something few had done before. She manages to disarm General Joab with the power of her words and negotiates a peaceful end. Considering who Joab was, that was not an easy task.There is a lot to learn from this woman's negotiating skills as she achieves a favorable outcome under very tense and frightful circumstances. Click To Tweet
Top 5 Negotiation Skills from the Wise Woman of Abel
On the surface, her story seems simple enough. However, by digging into the story we find several key negotiating skills that can be used for modern applications. I identify five of them below that can be used in most types of negotiations whether it is a business transaction or pitching an idea to your ministry leadership. If you believe that your proposal is valid, then keeping these negotiating tips in your back pocket will help you be successful
Negotiating Tip One: Be Bold
This woman boldly asks for Joab. Joab outranked her, was more important than her, and was certainly more powerful than she was. But she believed in the righteousness of her cause. She didn’t send a messenger to do it for her. She didn’t ask another man to approach Joab on her behalf. No, she was willing and ready to make the request on her own.
So when you need to negotiate for something that you believe is right, you must be bold about it. Whether in business or even Christian circles, do not let male-dominated leadership deter you from asking for what you want if you believe it is the right thing. The Bible is filled with women that had to confront male leadership to acquire what they wanted and needed. This wise woman was just one of many.Whether in business or even Christian circles, do not let male-dominated leadership deter you from asking for what you want if you believe it is the right thing. Click To Tweet
Negotiating Tip Two: Be Respectful and Humble
Although it seems that boldness and humility stand in juxtaposition to one another, it is possible to do both. This woman shows us how to do this perfectly. When Joab finally comes to her, the first words she speaks are, “Listen to the words of your servant.” These words acknowledge his position of authority and in doing so she is respectful in her tone. She also acknowledges her position vis-à-vis Joab and therefore shows humility. Boldness is the willingness to approach the general. Humility is being willing to acknowledge who the higher authorities are.
Showing respect and humility in any situation makes you likable and it is also Biblical. Most people are willing to work with someone that is likable. If your tone is arrogant or rude, those you are trying to convince will make up their mind about your proposal before you even get a chance to present it.
Also, keep in mind that humility is not purposefully trying to sound uneducated or dumb in an effort to stroke someone’s ego. Even though the wise woman is humble, in the next tip we learn that she is very knowledgeable and uses it to her full advantage.
Negotiating Tip Three: Know Your Stuff
Scholars believe that in the phrase
“They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter.
that the woman was alluding to Deuteronomy 20:10-11.
This is from a section in Deuteronomy that outlines the laws concerning warfare. Specifically, in these two verses it is explained that if Israel was to draw near a city to fight against it, they were to first offer the city a chance for peace. If the city refused, then they could besiege it.
In his pursuit of Sheba, Joab “forgot” this very important law. He was going to besiege the city without first offering terms of peace. The woman, however, knew and understood the laws concerning warfare and used that to gain the upper hand on Joab.
Negotiating Tip Four: Give Room for People to Save Face
What is very interesting about this woman’s technique is that she implied that Joab was in the wrong without actually saying it. Although there is a time and place to Biblically correct people, especially fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, in most day-to-day negotiations you need to allow room for people to save face.
Joab had been publicly corrected before and probably embarrassed by David when his command was taken from him. And yet, he ignored the King’s command and took his position back by killing the new general in cold blood. If the woman had been more direct and accusatory, I don’t believe the outcome would have been so amicable. He just did not seem to be the type of person that took correction nor criticism easily. And most people are that way.
Some of the most successful negotiations that prevented nations from going to war were achieved because the opposing leader was saved from looking foolish or weak in front of his people. As a former Realtor, if I wanted to convince a seller to lower their price, I would have never used words to imply that their asking price was ridiculous or that their home was not worth it. In a similar way, if you believe the other’s side position is “wrong,” using words that would humiliate or openly criticize someone will most likely not get you what you want.
Negotiating Tip Five: Seek to Understand What the Other Side Really Wants
The woman finishes her statement with a question. She is giving Joab the opportunity to explain why he is so anxious to destroy the city.
As a Realtor, I had to constantly negotiate prices and terms on various real estate sales. One of the key components of coming up with a proposal that was acceptable to both sides was truly understanding what each side wanted. Nine times out of ten, it was possible to negotiate something agreeable to both sides once I incorporated that into the equation. People often get fixated on their first idea for a solution (like Joab initially did), without taking the time to see that there are multiple methods to achieving what they truly want.
After the woman asks him what he wants, Joab explains to the woman that his desire is not to destroy the city. He just wants to capture Sheba. At some point, Joab himself realizes that he can achieve his goals and spare the city if the city is willing to hand over Sheba. Allowing Joab to express what he really wanted, gave way to a solution that would work for both Joab and the woman.
With that information in hand, the woman was able to go back to the people of the city with the final proposal. The city agreed, and they cut off Sheba’s head and threw it over the wall for Joab. The final outcome: the city was spared.
Negotiation is an art that is used in many circles. So whether you are in business, the non-profit sector or you are a mom negotiating with the PTO–remember what we learned from this wise woman!!
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