The Bible is full of epithets that capture the character of a man. David is “a man after God’s own heart”. Abraham is “the friend of God”. Moses is “the servant of God”. Equally telling (though not as flattering) is the description of Sheba the Bichrite, who is presented in 2 Samuel 20:1 as, “a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri.”
That’s maybe not the way that any of us would prefer to go down in history, but from all we see of Sheba, he appears to earn the descriptor. He appears in the aftermath of Absalom’s rebellion, when David is trying to conciliate his rebellious subjects. A conflict has arisen between the people of Israel and the people of Judah because all of the Judahites showed up to escort David home to Jerusalem, but only half the Israelites did. The remaining Israelites are upset that they didn’t have the chance to participate.
Probably, the controversy would have blown over, but Sheba shows up and persuades the disaffected Israelites to rebel against David again. He and his band of followers go through all the cities of Israel causing trouble until Joab and David’s army pen him up in a city called Abel of Beth-Maacah, in the northernmost part of the nation. Joab knows his business, so he has a siege mound constructed and busily starts battering down the walls of Abel.
At this point, a wise woman from Abel asks Joab why he’s doing this. Joab explains that he doesn’t have anything against the people of Abel. He just wants Sheba’s head. The woman agrees that this is reasonable, and in due course the offending head is separated from its body and tossed over the wall to Joab. At this, he goes home and takes the army with him, leaving the city in peace. With the end of Sheba, the problems end too.
Today, we probably shouldn’t turn to decapitation to settle our disputes (no matter how tempting it may be), but we should be on our guard against the likes of Sheba. Some people simply have a genius for trouble. Wherever they go, contention follows.
This is particularly apparent in areas with a large number of local churches. Such a man will show up, place membership, and promptly begin to stir up factions in the church. Then, after he’s got the brethren at each other’s throats, he will leave the wreckage behind him to go cause more trouble in the congregation across town.
When our congregations start having trouble, then, we need to look for the Sheba. Sometimes, problems arise diffusely, but at other times, they all can be traced back to a single man. Absent him, there would be no problem. In such cases, Titus 3:10-11 is precisely on point. Either the troublemaker quits causing problems, or he must take his problems elsewhere. As the wise woman of Abel understood, without the worthless man, you can have peace.