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Two wise women

I find two of the most intriguing women who lived during the time of David are known only as “wise women.” While tradition assigns names to the wise men mentioned in Matthew, these individuals are identified only by the cities in which they lived—Tekoa and Abel. One speculation is that there were other such women in the land, and specific identification was of less importance than what they did. This post will concentrate largely on the woman from Tekoa, and incidentally with her counterpart in Abel.

The first encounter

Tragedy and heartache had visited David. His daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, David’s firstborn son. In an act of passionate vengeance, Absalom (her full brother) murdered the rapist, and then fled his father’s wrath to the safety of his mother’s people in Geshur (2 Samuel 13:37-39). For three years, David mourned for his exiled son.

Joab, David’s nephew and commander of his army, was astute and knew his king well. Unless David reconciled with Absalom, the fate of the monarchial line was at stake. He devised a plan which included a wise woman in Tekoa.

Who is this woman?

Though nameless in the Bible, the fact that Joab knew of her and sought her out indicates she was a familiar figure. Presumably, she enjoyed some reputation in the environs of the area in which she lived.

What made her wise?

Claudia Camp, in her essay, The Wise Women of 2 Samuel,[1] presents a plausible scenario in my opinion. The Book of Proverbs has much to say about wisdom, its value indicated by the abundance of cautions and advice contained within its pages. Proverbs also “gives an indication of a mother’s role in the training of her children, not only as infants and toddlers, but also in the proper attitudes and actions of adult life,” she says. Furthermore, she notes that Proverbs 1:8 and 6:20 speak of the commands and instructions of fathers as a parallel to the law of mothers. Teaching children about life was a joint venture.

In Camp’s view, this woman likely heard axioms concerning wisdom repeatedly during her upbringing. She probably even memorized them and had them emphasized as object lessons at every opportunity. In turn, she passed these on to her own children. As she grew in wisdom from her life experiences, she might also have grown in stature not only in her family, but in her community as well. As others began to seek her counsel, she was gradually regarded as the village wise woman.

Wise women in action 

Both women exhibited some similarities of approach. First, they spoke with confidence and a certain authority (though not officially as a prophet or judge). They both were courageous—one in presenting a total fabrication to her king in order to change his mindset, and the other in effecting the decapitation of the secessionist and rebel, Sheba (2 Samuel 20).

Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel.

Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Additionally, each woman used a common wisdom device, the utterance of proverbs or sayings (14:14; 20:18). Camp comments, “A saying, then, is employed by a wise person for a particular purpose, possibly to educate another (which always involves some implicit directing as to what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) or, as in this case [referring to the wise woman of Abel’s exchange with Joab], to exert influence over another’s action in a way that carries some authority” (pg 198).

“Acts” of persuasion

The wise woman of Tekoa, through her believable performance of a purely fictional scenario, was able to change King David’s perspective enough to bring about reconciliation and preservation of his line of succession. Though Joab had “put words in her mouth” (2 Sam. 14:3)—by essentially giving her a script—she had to draw on her own instincts and “wisdom” as to timing, and method of presentation.

The power of reasoning

On the other hand, the proverb spoken by the woman in Abel informed Joab that to attack the city to get at Sheba would be wrong (2 Sam. 20:18). After all, she reminded him, Abel’s reputation was as a “mother in Israel,” given to counsel, peace, and faithfulness. Perhaps she drew on her store of sayings, learned from her childhood, as she reasoned with this commander bent on assault. Principles such as, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…” (Pro. 15:1) or “by long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks a bone” (Pro. 25:15) come to mind. Whatever the case, her wise words carried weight with Joab (he was willing to listen) and the citizens of Abel (they were willing to act). The imminent attack averted, a potential flashpoint for civil war among the tribes of Israel was effectively quenched.

More to learn

These two anonymous women, sought out for their wisdom, positively affected David’s reign. The Bible notes other women who exhibited good judgment and insight. We will meet them in future posts and explore the impact of wisdom in their lives and in the lives of others.

Meanwhile, now might be a good opportunity to review the sayings of the Book of Proverbs. One never knows when she might find herself thrust into the role of a “wise woman.”


[1] Alice Bach, editor, Women from the Hebrew Bible (1999), pg 201

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

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