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The Courageous Wise Woman of Abel Beth-maacah

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Have you ever heard of the woman in the Bible who subdued a general? The Bible describes her as the wise woman of Abel Beth-maacah. She is a courageous woman who confronted a powerful military leader and saved her city. Her account is powerful and a wonderful example of how to wisely confront difficult situations. Before we can appreciate the extent of her accomplishment, we need to set the context for her story (II Samuel 20:14-22). 

The Scene: A Kingdom in Rebellion

King David is recovering from an attempted coup by his son Absalom. After quelling that rebellion, a man named Sheba takes advantage of lingering support for Absalom and general dissatisfaction within Israel (the northern part of David’s Kingdom). Sheba 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 Beth-Maacah. When David’s military reaches the city, they make preparations to storm it and capture Sheba. While trying to bring the wall down with a battering ram, 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 who had carried out David’s command to have Uriah killed (Uriah has a pretty phenomenal and little-known background as well).

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Joab was a military guru. Fighting, strategy, and tactics were in his genes. He was one of three brothers, all of whom held prominent roles within David’s military. The man was fierce, a born warrior. He was not the type of man anyone would want 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 gathered 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 feigns 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 of Joab, read, “Joab: Commander of David’s Army.“)

The Woman: A Person of Influence

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 or a prophet.

Archaelogical excavations from the location believed to be Abel Beth-maacah, reveal the possibility that this city was known as a place where people would go to get answers. Ritualistic items were discovered and they may have been used to provide political advice, used in divination, or to play games. Because of this evidence and in conjunction with scripture about seers (or prophets) in the Bible, scholars believe there is a possibility the wise woman could have been a prophet. Either way, the wise woman of Abel certainly held a position of power and influence within the city.

The Exchange: The Wise Woman of Abel Faces the General

Imagine the scene unfolding before the wise woman of Abel. 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, they would succeed. There were two possible scenarios here on the state of the city’s leadership:

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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. 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.

The wise woman of Abel Beth-maacah 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 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 dared 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, he will spare the city. She agrees and convinces her people to turn Sheba in.

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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 achieves 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 and it certainly makes her into one of the most courageous women in the Bible.

Other articles you may like about women in the Bible:

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Image with blue background and a sword with wreath in front of a city wall with the words, "The woman who subdued a general," about the wise woman of Abel Beth-maacah
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