This sermon is number 3 in a series of 5
Little Women - Part 3
"The Woman Of Abel"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now we're turning in our Bibles to 2 Samuel chapter 20, and I trust that some of you have found - between last week and this week - where the woman of Abel is. There was some great discussion going on, whether it was Eve, Abel's mother, or whoever it was. Of course, she's found in 2 Samuel chapter 20, and we'll read a good bit of the chapter tonight from verse 1, so that we can really know the context in which we find this lady.
Second Samuel chapter 20, verse 1: "There happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel. So every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri: but the men of Judah clave unto their king, from Jordan even to Jerusalem. And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood. Then said the king to Amasa, Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present. So Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah: but he tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him. And David said to Abishai, Now shall Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than did Absalom: take thou thy lord's servants, and pursue after him, lest he get him fenced cities, and escape us. And there went out after him Joab's men, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men: and they went out of Jerusalem, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. And Joab's garment that he had put on was girded unto him, and upon it a girdle with a sword fastened upon his loins in the sheath thereof; and as he went forth it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, Art thou in health, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him. But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died. So Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab's men stood by him, and said, He that favoreth Joab, and he that is for David, let him go after Joab. And Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a cloth upon him, when he saw that every one that came by him stood still. When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.
"And he went through all the tribes of Israel unto Abel, and to Bethmaachah, and all the Berites: and they were gathered together, and went also after him. And they came and besieged him in Abel of Bethmaachah, and they cast up a bank against the city, and it stood in the trench: and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down. 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. Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king". Amen.
Tonight we look at 'The Woman Of Abel'. Now if, in our first study, week one, as we looked at Rahab, there was a hint of espionage; and then last week, when we looked at Abigail, it seemed to be a tale of romance; well, surely tonight's story is something more like a spaghetti western! The blood and guts being the predominant feature!
Now before looking at our lesser-known lady, we need to meet some of the other characters, and of course understand the broader story in which the woman of Abel comes to play such a pivotal part. Let me give you a bit of the background to chapter 20 of 2 Samuel. Of course, this occurs after the rebellion of Absalom, David's son, and that rebellion was successfully thwarted. Now David has begun to re-establish his reign from his throne in Jerusalem, but all is not yet well. In these last verses of chapter 19, we see that relations were tense between Judah and the northern tribes of Israel. It seems that the northern tribes of Israel were half-hearted about their allegiance to David. If you look at verse 20, you see there that all the people of Judah, in the second half of the verse, conducted, or the word is 'escorted', the king, and also half the people of Israel. Only half of them, literally they were half-hearted. Even though in verse 43 of chapter 19 they claimed to have a greater share in the king - they say, 'We have ten parts in the king, and we have also more right in David than ye', that is speaking of Judah - because there were ten tribes of them, they felt, 'Well, we have more claim over David'. Yet those were empty words, because their heart was not completely with him.
So it's in the midst of this political instability that we enter chapter 20, and we meet a rabble-rouser by the name of Sheba. He is designated as a Benjamite, and you will remember that the tribe of Benjamin was Saul's tribe - David's predecessor - and Sheba attempts a revolt against King David. In verse 1 we see that it seems he takes the words of Judah that they spoke in verse 42, 'Because the king is near of kin to us' - he was of the tribe of Judah - and he turns on the king on the basis of that statement, and rebels. He defiantly announces that the ten tribes have no part in David, the middle of verse 1: 'We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel'. Now that statement 'Every man to his tents', simply means 'Let's go home, and from our homes we will resist the king'.
Then in verse 2 of chapter 20 we see that only Judah was left to David: 'So every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri: but the men of Judah clave unto their king, from Jordan even to Jerusalem'. Now although it does say 'every man of Israel' did not follow after David, that has to be understood in a restricted sense. We know from reading later on in this book that it was probably a dissident group of these ten tribes, not every single man of them, but a representation that followed this rebel Sheba.
I don't know how many of you can remember the premiership of Harold MacMillan between 1957 and 1963 when he was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but when he was asked what represented the greatest challenge for a statesman, he answered: 'Events, my dear boy, events'. Events create opportunities, and people use events, particularly in the political realm, as opportunities either negatively or positively. Here we see that Sheba saw this tribal conflict between the ten tribes of the North and Judah at the South as an opportunity to promote himself. Because he was a Benjamite he probably hoped to get some of the support from Saul's friends who, of course, were David's enemies. Now in verses 4-7 we find that by now Joab, who you will be familiar with if you know the story of David's life, he has now been demoted and a man called Amasa has been put in his place. Amasa was Absalom's rebel commander, who is now in charge of David's army. David orders Amasa, because of the rebellion of Sheba, to assemble the soldiers of Judah within three days and pursue and capture this rebel, Sheba. Now, of course, we read that Amasa did not complete his job within that time, for whatever reason, so David orders Abishai to take command of Amasa, and to prevent Sheba from getting established in the fortified cities of the nation.
Then, as we look at verses 8 through to 10, Amasa's slowness to carry out the orders could have resulted in greater disaster. David actually says that the rebellion could have become one greater even than Absalom's. Now this relinquishing of authority by Amasa provided Joab with an opportunity. Joab saw this as a chance to kill Amasa, and to regain his lost position as chief in the army. So the account says that as they reached a large stone marker in Gibeon, Amasa came to greet Joab and Abishai. With a great show of friendliness Joab grabs Amasa's beard - as was the custom then to give him a kiss in greeting - however, if you look at verse 8, it seems to indicate that Joab apparently contrived to let his sword fall out of its sheath, so that as he picked it up he was able to stab the unsuspecting Amasa - who, incidentally, was his cousin.
Now, after Amasa's death, command transferred again to Joab. If you know anything about the biographical details of King David, one thing you will know is that Joab - though he was fiercely loyal to David - he was a ruthless and brutal character. We don't have time to look into his life story, but we know of course that he murdered Abner, against David orders he murdered Absalom, David's son - and now we find him murdering Amasa, and apparently throughout his whole life David did nothing to discipline him. The question must be asked: perhaps was that because Joab knew a bit too much about David? I remind you of 2 Samuel 11 verse 6, where David gave the orders for Uriah to be put at the forefront of the battle in order to die, so he could steal his wife Bathsheba - and who was the army captain that he ordered to do that task? It was Joab. Joab knew about his murder, Joab knew about his adultery, Joab knew about how he had indulged his son Absalom. Perhaps Joab just knew a little bit too much.
Well, as I've said, events create opportunities. Amasa was chosen to lead David's army to victory, but what did he do? He delayed and he lost his opportunity for greatness. However, Joab sees this weakness in Amasa, and ruthlessly seizes his opportunity and removes him and get his old job back. Then, as we look at verse 10, the second half, through to verse 13 - when Joab and Abishai begin to pursue Sheba, we see that their followers froze at the gruesome sight of Amasa wallowing in his own blood on the highway. It's not until the body is removed that Joab's men follow him to pursue Sheba. Then in verses 14-22, at last - you'll be glad to know - from all this bloodshed we meet our heroine, the wise woman of Abel. This hunt for Sheba, the rebel, led them to the far north to a city the Bible calls Abel-Bethmaachah. It was about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee in the Hula Valley, and it was, it seems, a city very famous for the wisdom of its people.
If you look at verse 15 we read: 'They came and besieged him in Abel of Bethmaachah, and they cast up a bank against the city, and it stood in the trench: and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down'. Joab and his men begin to siege the city. They put these ramparts around the walls in order to climb them and eventually batter them down to gain access to the city, and eventually capture this rebel, Sheba. Here enters the wise woman of Abel, verse 16: 'Then', as they were battering down the walls, 'a wise woman cries out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee'. So this wise woman calls to Joab and asked him why he was going to destroy what he calls, if you look at it, 'the mother city in Israel', a mother in Israel. That is simply a metaphor for a very important city in the nation, it may even have been a capital city, regionally speaking, in that area.
She describes in verses 18 to 19 how this city was famous, in a proverbial sense, for its wisdom and the wise people in her, verse 18: '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?'. If you had a question, if you had a query, if you had a problem or a puzzle, the place to go was the city of Abel. Now sometimes I think I see humour where there is no humour, and I have to beware of a wicked sense of humour! But nevertheless I can't help but see a little bit of humour in this account, because up until this point - around verse 16 - we've got all this macho action, bloodshed, positioning for political and military power. Then all of a sudden we see this trained assassin scaling the wall of this city, and all of a sudden this woman is shouting down at him - I don't know whether she was shouting down or not, but she certainly was shouting in his direction - and I can only imagine her saying: 'Hey! What do you think you're doing?'.
It wasn't just a foolhardy objection on the part of an ignorant bystander. In all likelihood, this woman of Abel knew exactly who Joab was. In verse 17, in fact, she asks him: 'Are you Joab?' - the inference was that she knew exactly who this ruthless character may be. If she knew who he was, she therefore most likely knew his reputation as a very ruthless, bloodthirsty warrior. What I want you to note this evening is that she had something greater in her heart than a fear of Joab. This little woman had a fear of God. Now you might say: 'Well, how do you know that? I mean the text, does it indicate that?'. Well, it does, I feel, because she was making an appeal to Joab that was based on the law of God. Now you have to dig a little deeper for this, and we find it in Deuteronomy chapter 20 and verse 10, I will read it to you if you don't look at it - it says this: 'When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it'.
You see, in the law of God there were also laws of warfare. When you came to siege a city, before sieging it you had to offer peace, you had to deal with the inhabitants of the city - and if you did make an agreement with them, you were to abide by that agreement. In other words, you were to seek peace before war. So this law in Deuteronomy 20:10 required an assaulting army to offer peace before making war. Now we don't know this woman's name, let alone her occupation - it may well be that she was a judge in the city of Abel - but whatever her occupation, the woman questioned Joab's failure to submit to the citizens' terms of peace in accordance to Deuteronomy 20 and verse 10. In other words, if we can put it in our vernacular: she threw the book at him! What a woman! She feared God more than Joab, she feared God's law more than the warrior of the King.
Now Joab explained to her that he was simply after the rebel leader Sheba, hiding inside. Now incidentally, I don't ever remember Joab having to explain anything to anybody! But he's having to explain something to this woman, if you look at verse 20, he says: 'Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy'. Now you can be sure of one thing: if Joab had a grievance against the people of Abel, and if it was in his political expediency and interest, he would have slaughtered every single one of them and razed the city to the ground. Yet, before the wisdom of this woman he is somewhat silenced. What I want you to note is that because of her wisdom she effectively takes ownership of this traumatic tinderbox of a situation. She agrees - the ball is now in her court, she's in the driving seat - she agrees to have Sheba killed, and his head to be thrown over the wall as proof that he was dead. Within a matter of minutes that was done, the man was searched out of the city, wherever he was hiding, his head was cut off - decapitated - cast over the wall. Joab blows the trumpet, his army retreats, returns to Jerusalem. His mission is accomplished, the city is saved, and a potentially disastrous situation has been defused.
Joab saw his opportunity to advance himself. Amasa missed his opportunity of greatness. This woman of Abel found an opportunity to end a war and prevent many innocent deaths. Now there are many lessons that we can learn from the woman of Abel tonight, and hopefully we'll get a good lot of them looked at this evening, but I want you to note that as we look at each of them - particularly the first three - they are all leading to a predominant trait in this woman's life, and that's what I want us to be left with tonight to consider.
First of all, as we learn lessons from this little-known lady of the Bible, the first thing we need to see which is quite obvious is her wisdom. I've spoken a great deal already about opportunities, and how these characters in this story used their opportunities whether for good or for evil. One thing is for sure: as Christians, even in this dispensation, if we are wanting to use our opportunities well for the Lord Jesus and for God's glory, one thing we will need is wisdom how to use our opportunities!
Now if you want to learn about wisdom, there is no greater book to turn to than the book of Proverbs. Turn with me to it for a moment - and Proverbs, of course, details the invaluable, priceless nature of wisdom. Proverbs 3 and verse 13, we read: 'Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her'.
Proverbs shows us right throughout its chapters that wisdom is not to be equated with intellect or education, it's got nothing to do with those things. Whilst you might be educated and intellectual and be wise, they are not the same commodity, because wisdom is something that is given by God, it is His gift. We see within this book alone that it is the humble, not those who are puffed up in their own understanding and wisdom, who receive this wisdom from God. Look at chapter 1 and verse 7, we find this foundational verse of the book of Proverbs, it's repeated again another two times throughout the book: 'The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge', or wisdom, 'but fools despise wisdom and instruction'. So it is those who fear the Lord that acquire this gift of God's wisdom. Now it follows through, doesn't it, logically and biblically, that if you fear the Lord you will fear His word. If you fear the Lord, you will fear the law of the Lord just like this woman did - Deuteronomy 20 verse 10 that she quoted, effectively anyway, to Joab.
This is right throughout the whole of the scriptures, and of course we know it too well when we come into the Acts of the Apostles and we see there that the disciples of the Lord Jesus were commanded not to be preaching and teaching in the name of the Lord Jesus. What does it say in Acts 5:29? 'Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men'. They feared God, and that was the beginning of their wisdom. They feared God's word and the Gospel that they had been trusted with, more than the authorities of their day.
I wonder do you want wisdom? Would you like to have the wisdom of Solomon? Would you like to have the wisdom of the woman of Abel? It's very simple: if you want such priceless wisdom, you need to acquaint yourself with the word of God. You can't bypass this book, and you need to meditate in it day and night. You need to memorise it, you need to assimilate it and digest it into your very being. You need to surround yourself with those who love the law of the Lord, and those who are wise in it. Now that means going to a place where the word of God is faithfully preached and taught, but it means having friends around you and confidants and counsellors who know God's wisdom from this book. It also means that you need to ask God for it. James, of course, says: 'You have not because you ask not', and in Proverbs 2 we see there what is tantamount to an instruction to ask God for this wisdom. While reading the word of God, and meditating on it, and listening to it, and experiencing it in your own life and the lives of others, you need to humbly come and implore God to give it to you. Verse 3 of chapter 2: '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'.
So, by implication, I think this lady had to be very acquainted with God's word. She had to have meditated in it day and night - how many of you could have quoted Deuteronomy 20 verse 10? Or any of Deuteronomy for that matter! It's interesting, she quotes it, and the Lord quotes it three times in His temptation facing the devil - it's a wonderful book. She was surrounded, I'm sure, by people who loved the law of God, and she prayed - maybe in a position of leadership in the land - for that knowledge, that she would dispense according to God's will the authority and the responsibilities that He had given to her.
Her wisdom is staggering - but do you know something? We see from her example that it is not enough to possess wisdom. What do I mean? Well, in this woman of Abel we see that her wisdom was active. She had wisdom, but her wisdom was active. In other words, she put her wisdom to good use. God had called her to act in this moment of time, and she did, and God was with her in the midst of it. She was called to do something, she did what she needed to do, God blessed it, God honoured it. Through this woman God saved innocent inhabitants of the city of Abel.
Now I don't know whether you'll agree with me or not, but I reckon that one of the sins of evangelical, Bible believing Christians today that must rank as at least one of the highest is that of having knowledge without action, that of knowing something and not using that knowledge, of knowing even what to do and how to do it, when to do it, but not doing it. Today, I think more than any generation in the history of Christendom, and arguably in the history of any of God's people, whether we talk of the church or the nation of Israel, we know more about the Bible, know more about spirituality, there are more resources than there have ever been - yet we know more and we do less! It's an indictment to us all. Her wisdom was more than wisdom alone, her wisdom was active. She was not a hearer or a learner of the Word alone, she was a doer of the same.
Then thirdly, as we move gradually toward what I think is her greatest trait, we see that not only had she wisdom and her wisdom was active, but her active wisdom was spontaneous. Teddy Roosevelt, the once President of the United States, once said: 'Nine-tenths of wisdom consists in being wise in time' - did you hear that? Nine-tenths of wisdom consists in being wise in time, using your wisdom at the right time in time. Now so many of us are wise after the event, aren't we? We have that great gift of hindsight, and perhaps others are very able to advise you on how you should have behaved, or how you shall behave even though they don't stand in your shoes or sit in your hot seat - they're not in your situation - but it's different when you're there. The big question that we should ask ourselves, as we look at the example of this woman in an awful predicament, is: how would you have fared in such a crisis? What would you have done? What would you have said? Maybe the more general question needs to be asked of us tonight: what do we do when we enter the crises of life? How do we respond? How do we react?
Now here's a great lesson, and if you can grab hold of this I believe it will be a great help to you in the everyday bread and butter issues of your life, and it's simply this: ultimately how we behave in a crisis or a dilemma is determined by what we do the rest of our time. Have you got that? When the heat is on and we find our backs to the wall, how we react will be determined according to what we do all the other moments in our lives. I think I've used the illustration before, it can be used of sports competitors - rugby, football, whatever team sport you care to speak of. The players' spontaneous reactions on the field are determined, if they are a professional sports person, according to what they were trained to do in practice. So in the heat of the moment they will behave as they have been programmed to behave in such a situation. Now if they go into the match cold without any training, or missing the nights with the boys in the cold and in the ice when there's no glory, when there is no praise, no cups, no matches to win, their own reactions will come out according to their emotional reflexes. The same with a soldier, they are trained in the heat of the battle to behave in a certain way, and that comes out - why? - because it has been put in at great pains with high discipline.
So what determines how you spontaneously react in a crisis is what you do every other day of your life. When you're faced with a dilemma and you don't know what decision to make, and the decision you have to make has to be made quickly - just like this woman - it's too late trying to prepare for the crisis when you find yourself in the middle of it! You mightn't have time to fall on your knees and pray. You mightn't have time to get your concordance and see what God's Word has to say in such a circumstance. But if you are channelling the word and wisdom of God into your heart day and night, moment by moment, month by month, year by year, the Holy Spirit brings it out when you need it - in a split second, in that moment! Her active wisdom was spontaneous. I love this, because so many of us are so willing to pass the buck - 'Oh, I couldn't make that decision on my own, I would have to consult somebody else over that' - or passively, we're willing to wait for someone else maybe to come along and save the city. Did she do that? No! She knew if she didn't act the city would be sacked, her children would be killed, so she acted quickly and decisively.
How we see her active wisdom in its spontaneity. But this is what I've been leading up to this evening, fourthly I want you to see not only her wisdom, and the fact that her wisdom was active, and her active wisdom was spontaneous, but her spontaneously active wisdom was motivated by courage. Now many call her 'the wise woman of Abel', and I think that's right, we have seen her great wisdom - but I think if you home in only on her wisdom, in a sense you miss the point somewhat of her greatest characteristic. What I mean is simply that if she had spontaneously active wisdom, and then in the heat of the moment she was paralysed by fear and trepidation - that would have been no use to anybody! That's why I like the title 'the able woman of Abel', because not only did she have this spontaneously active wisdom, but she was able to execute it, use it in the midst of this terrible situation. She had wisdom, but the significance of this event, I believe, is the fact that she had courage to use it!
During his years as Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. On one occasion he was censuring Stalin in a public meeting, and he was interrupted by a shout from a heckler, and he cried: 'Well, you were one of Stalin's colleagues, why didn't you stop him if he was wrong?'. Khrushchev loudly said: 'Who said that?'. There was an agonising silence, and no one followed to reply, no one even dared to move a muscle - and then Khrushchev replied very quietly: 'Now you know why'. Fear! We dare not underestimate what fear can do to us. We could have all the wisdom in the world, it could be active wisdom at certain times in our lives, it can even be spontaneous and come to us in a moment of need, but at the end of the day we can be paralysed by fear from doing the right thing at the right time! You see, there are only two responses that we can have essentially in the midst of a crisis: one is fear, and the other is courage. As Proverbs 29:25 says: 'It is the fear of man that brings a snare', it entraps us, ensnares us from acting as we should and applying the wisdom that we may have.
I want you to see two things about her courage tonight, for this is the paramount characteristic I believe that we find in the woman of Abel. I want us to learn first of all that her courage put the men to shame. One writer puts it like this: 'The men in the story appear to behave only in the conventional terms: mobilise the army, build a siege ramp, violently smash the city walls, squelch the rebellion - but the woman looked for another solution, one that would keep the peace and spare lives on both sides. Because she acted wisely and well, interceding on behalf of her people, innocent lives on both sides of the city walls were spared'. Now I want you to note a couple of things about how she put the men to shame in this situation. I believe you'll find them clearly in the text, the first is this: this woman, by the writer I believe, is shown to be more able than any other of the people in the city of her town to face Joab. The application is that she was more able, probably, than the rest of the elders and the judges of the city at that time. She was the one who took the issue in hand, she was the one who had the ingenuity and the wisdom and applied it with her courage - she and only she!
Secondly, she is not only shown to be more able than her other elders, she is shown to be equal to Joab. Now this isn't irrelevant stocking filler for the story here, this is God's Holy Spirit that is inspiring these lines so that we might learn. She is the one who essentially uses a theological and doctrinal argument to show to Joab that what he is doing, according to the law of God, is wrong and he shouldn't be doing it! She was equal for him. Then the third thing that shows her putting the men to shame is that she was more powerful than Sheba. She was the one who got his head chopped off and thrown over the wall. In the greater picture, she was the one who thwarted the division of the Israelite kingdom, she was the one who stopped this schism and rebellion taking fruition. She puts these men to shame.
Now you might be asking: 'Well, why does she have such prominence? Why does the writer give it to her?'. Well, I think one reason may well be in order to humiliate the male dominated society in which she lived. We've got precedent for this in Deborah in the Judges: Barak needed her, he wasn't willing to go on his own. Then in Isaiah 3 and verse 12, the prophet says: 'As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them'. So there was a sense in which God could have used this to show the pitiful state of the male leadership at the time in the nation. He has to use a woman to deliver them because the men are so powerless. We see this in Abigail, we looked at her last week, but we didn't note that we see her as vastly superior to the men in the story. We dare not miss this: Abigail is seen as super-above her husband, Nabal the fool, but Abigail is also shown to be ethically and spiritually superior in the moment to the King, David, who was going to slaughter Nabal and all the house.
Now I don't need to tell you folk here tonight that male leadership is at a low ebb in society in general, but especially in the church of Jesus Christ. Feminism in society at large, and evangelical so-called feminism in the church, political correctness has effectively emasculated men from the leadership role. Men feel disenfranchised in the home and in the church, and I have to say that some women would put men to shame as far as their spirituality goes and their spiritual wisdom. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 16:13 says: 'Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong'. In other words, act like men! Some men act like women, and women act like men! Women, I know this is your night and your series so I'm not going to steal it on you, but women, one thing you can do is encourage men to be men. You don't have to be married to do that.
There was a party on board a cruise ship in full swing, and speeches had been made by the captain, the crew and some of the guests. They were enjoying a week-long voyage, and sitting at the head of the top table with the captain was a 70-year-old man. He looked quite embarrassed, he was doing his best to accept the praise that was being poured on him because earlier that morning a young woman had apparently fallen overboard, and within a few seconds this elderly gentleman was in the cold, dark waters at her side. The woman was rescued, and the elderly man became an instant hero. The time finally came for the brave passenger to speak, and the whole stateroom fell into a hush as he rose from his chair. He went to the microphone, and in what was probably the shortest hero's speech ever offered he spoke these stirring words, he said: 'I just want to know one thing: who pushed me?'.
Friends, our men need a push to be men, and to be leaders. Now I'm not saying that women, you're to be pushy, but if there's anybody to give them a push, it's the women. Not push them out of the road and take their place, no, no, no - encourage them to be men, to fill their role and their position. For in this instance, and in many instances in Scripture, we see that the women put the men to shame. It's not to take anything away from these women, no, no, far from it. They stand alone in integrity before God, and according to the witness of the revelation of the Bible - but it's at the detriment to the men of their time.
Then secondly we see in her courage that it demonstrates the honourable place women have in the Bible. Apart from the fact that she put men to shame, she stands in her own right as a woman of wisdom, a woman of action, a woman of courage and integrity. Now let me say before anyone misunderstands what I'm saying, or misrepresents it: we always must keep within the biblical boundaries concerning male and female roles in the church of Jesus Christ, and this passage has no relevance to church order in the New Testament. Yet that being said - the Bible does not teach, of course, women elders, women leaders - but that being said, I can't help thinking that the Bible gives more honourable place to women than some in the church do!
Now this might be uncomfortable for some of you, but the facts are here, even in the New Testament: God used women. They weren't in positions of leadership, they weren't in positions of government in the New Testament assembly, that's always male, but they were prominent. Even in the New Testament we read of women disciples, we read of women helpers we read of those who were in the Gospel with the apostles, we read of women prophetesses. But there are even special distinctions given to women in the New Testament, and we miss them at our peril: the last to be at the cross were the two Marys; the first at the tomb was Mary Magdalene; the first to proclaim the resurrection were the two Marys; the first to speak to the Jews was Anna the prophetess; the first to attend a prayer meeting, the first ever church prayer meeting, was not only the men but the women in the upper room; the first to greet the first missionaries in Europe was a group of women by a river who were praying; and the first convert in Europe was Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened in Acts chapter 16 - a woman.
There is an honourable place that women have in the Bible that should be reflected in the church of Jesus Christ today, without muddying the waters or feeling intimidated regarding the rules and leadership in the church. I feel that the opposite is the case. It would have been sufficient, would it not, for the record to be - if the narrator had wanted it to be - simply: 'The city of Abel handed over Sheba to Joab, and he was dead, and that was the end of the whole situation'. But the author doesn't do that, the author of 1 and 2 Samuel highlights her, as he does highlight other women. Abigail was in 1 Samuel, you remember; and we find several women who he cites, women of nobility, wisdom, godliness and courage - why does he do it? Because in his day he wanted us to know first of all that women are important to God, he wants us to see secondly that women have been used in very important ways in redemption history. Thirdly, and this is the most frightening for some of you men, at times in biblical history women were the only ones God could turn to. Do you not like that? It's too bad, for that's what's there! That's what we find in Deborah.
Now, you women ought to be feeling good: God wants you, as women, to do something for Him. Do it biblically, do it according to the Scriptures, but courage is not a manly thing: courage is a godly thing, it is a holy thing! Now whilst none of us might be scaling a wall, or fighting off brutal enemies in an army, our households, our families, our nation, our church is under siege of various kinds. Homes are being broken and captivated by all sorts of evil. Churches are being bombarded by wholesale wickedness, an onslaught from every side. I want to tell you this evening: women, you have a special role to play in that battle, and you have something to do that men can't do.
This story tonight is a gruesome, disturbing story, but the facts of life for many people today are equally as harrowing. The only answer is godly wisdom, active wisdom, spontaneous wisdom, courageous wisdom - that wisdom is needed in both men and women. May God give you that wisdom tonight, may you seek it with all your heart and get it, may God use you, may God bless you - and in blessing you, bless others.
Our Father, we thank You that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, there is no bond or free, there is no male or female, and by grace we are all equal. Yet we acknowledge that in the New Testament Church there are roles for redeemed men that are not given to women, and yet we see that there are ministries that women can fill that men cannot. Lord, help us not to despise each other and our gifts, help us to operate biblically but also compassionately and, in the right sense, charismatically according to the gifts of the Spirit that You have gifted us with. Lord, help us to operate as a body, and Lord we pray that all of us, whether male or female, may have God-given wisdom from Your word that might be active in our lives, spontaneous in our crises and dilemmas, and courageous when it is so necessary - that Christ may have all the glory as men see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven. Part us now with Your blessing, we pray, till we meet again. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the third recording in his 'Little Women' series, entitled "The Woman Of Abel" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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