Wednesday, June 7, 2017

2 Samuel 20:16-21 -- On Communication, Compassion, and Compromise

"Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.
And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.
Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.
I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the Lord?
And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.
The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city. And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall."
2 Samuel 20:16-21

In this story, a guy names Sheba rebelled against King David, and led most of the tribes of Israel away from him.  So, David's people gather an army to go after him, and Joab is one of the leaders chasing after him.  They fight through and chase him to this city, called Abel, and they start battering the wall to break it down.  And that's where these verses come in.  Instead of letting it play out with mass destruction, this wise woman talks to Joab, and negotiates peace by giving up the person who rebelled against the king.  It sounds sort of simple in the story, but I am sure that it was difficult on both sides, both to effectively pardon the people who had been following Sheba by only asking for him, and to control the army that probably would have gotten some loot by sacking the city anywa.  On the wise woman's side it similarly would have been difficult to convince Sheba's followers to give him up, and thus the rebellion, in order to protect the innocent.

I think the lessons for us here are somewhat complex, but also very important.

First, we need to be willing to talk through disagreements.  I don't mean that we have to feel obligated to engage with people who are obviously hostile and only interested in attacking, especially online. Although it is sometimes possible to break through hostility with kindness, it definitely isn't something we are obligated to do.  We can, though, make sure that *we* are taking it down several notches and not *being* hostile to others, but showing our openness and willingness to listen and consider.  To be willing to really talk takes some serious listening and compassionate response, rather than just hurling our obviously superior arguments at one another, and mocking people who disagree with us. Kind communication is a key to solving most differences, and if either the wise woman or Joab hadn't been willing to let go of their hostility and talk, and also to listen, there would have been a lot of bloodshed on both sides.

Another lesson is that we should treat even our apparent enemies with respect and remember that they are people like us, and they don't deserve harm or death, but they do deserve compassion.  Joab didn't have to destroy a city or a mother in Israel in order to meet the demands of justice.  He asked for the minimum he needed, and didn't add anything for his time or try to set an example of the city or anything else.  He did what was needed and no more.  And the wise woman appealed to Joab's good side because she believed that he *had* one.  Let's not buy into the popular media idea where the bad guys all deserve to die, and the good guys can get away, literally, with murder.  There are different rules in the real world--God's rules--and if we start buying into hatred, then we're always in the wrong.

The final lesson I will mention is that we have to be willing to make compromises in dealing with other people.  We can't have everything we want all the time, and although on a personal level that is often frustrating, it is an excellent way to learn to see that other people have needs too.  I am certain that the wise woman didn't want to take someone's life, but she talked the rest of the city into it because it was best for the city, and perhaps the kingdom.  Joab probably didn't want to leave armed rebels in the city to build up and possibly return to war with the King, but he took the success he knew he could get, and saved the lives of many, who then had a choice whether to change or not rather than dying as rebels on that day.

When I mention compromise, I of course don't mean going against what God says.  We can't compromise in that area.  But we certainly *can* compromise on a lot of things, and listen, and learn to love and not hate.  It takes time, and effort, and sometimes we have to pry open our minds a little bit so that we can consider new ideas about the world, about ourselves, and about others.  But as we work to accept and understand and love others, we'll also grow closer to God, because we're doing his will.  Today, let's be like the wise woman and Joab and be willing to communicate, show compassion, and compromise.  We might not save a city, but we'll probably save (and build) a lot of relationships, maybe a job or two, and avoid a lot of trouble as well.

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