A New Uprising

As David was proceeding on his way to Jerusalem, a quarrel arose between the men of Israel and the men of Judah. The former, who had been the first to press for David's return, were angry that the men of Judah had presumed to claim the privilege of bringing back the exiled monarch. But the men of Judah warmly contended that the king was their nearer kinsman. This dispute, insignificant as it might appear, grew step by step into a violent feud and led, not long afterwards, to the most serious consequences.

Sheba, a Benjaminite, a turbulent and ambitious man, was the first to take advantage of the estrangement and stirred up a revolt. He sounded the trumpet-call and exclaimed, "We have no part in David; neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tent, O Israel!" So the fickle Israelites followed Sheba, while the men of Judah clung to David. To Amasa, Joab's successor in the chief command, the king gave his instructions for the coming campaign. But Amasa did not assemble the army within the appointed time; and David, suspecting treachery and impatient of delay, sent for Abishai and bade him at once commence the pursuit, to prevent Sheba from escaping into one of the walled cities. Abishai and Joab set forth immediately at the head of their host. Near Gibeon, Joab and Abishai met Amasa. Joab saw an opportunity to punish Amasa for his part in Abasalom's revolt. The unsuspecting Amasa was not wary of Joab. Pretending to extend to Amasa a friendly embrace, Joab buried his sword in Amasa's side and slew him instantaneously.

Joab and Abishai proceeded swiftly on their pursuit, leaving the corpse of Amasa lying across the highway. At last Joab discovered that Sheba had taken refuge in a northern town on the banks of the Jordan, at Abel of Beth-Maachah. He surrounded the town, threw up a bank, commenced to dig trenches, and prepared to batter down the walls. But a wise woman saved the town. She appeared at the gates and called to Joab. She entreated him to spare the innocent city and its inhabitants and to be satisfied with the death of the traitor Sheba, whom she promised to deliver into his hand. Then she went to the people, and persuaded them to follow her counsel. The head of Sheba was cast over the walls to Joab. Thus the war was ended, and the soldiers dispersed to their homes.

Famine

In David's declining years, several serious national calamities occurred that made the people aware of G‑d's anger, and the necessity of seeking His forgiveness. At the height of David's reign, a famine broke out that lasted for three years. Realizing that it was a punishment from G‑d, David caused a thorough investigation to be made to End out whether some people were guilty of idolatry, or other secret evils; when no evil was discovered, David consulted the Prophet and learned that the famine was a punishment for two national mistakes: the lack of respect for the first anointed King Saul, and the persecution of the Gibeonites, who had been promised by Joshua that no evil would befall them.

David set out to correct the mistakes. It was too late to do anything about the first, but the second could be redeemed. He summoned the elders of the Gibeonites and promised them he would do anything to make amends for the bad treatment they had received. The Gibeonites demanded that Saul's grandchildren be put to death publicly to atone for the acts of Saul, who, suspecting them of disloyalty, had encouraged an unfriendly attitude towards the Gibeonites, causing the death of many of them.

Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son, alone was spared. Seven other princes of Saul's family were publicly hanged by the Gibeonites. To the surrounding tribes this was an act of great justice which inspired them with awe and admiration for Israel. For after all, were not the Gibeonites a subdued tribe, who had obtained Joshua's oath by trickery? The result was that one hundred and fifty thousand neighboring tribesmen came and, professing the Jewish faith, begged to be accepted as members of the Jewish nation.

When the Gibeonites displayed such cruelty, David knew that they must not be allowed to mix freely with the Jewish people. So, although forbidding any acts of persecution against the Gibeonites, he banned their intermarriage with the Jews.

David ordered a state funeral for the seven princes, as well as for the remains of Saul and Jonathan, which were exhumed and transferred from Jobeah in Gilead, to be interred in the family grave of his father Kish. Wherever the funeral procession passed, the people came out en masse to pay homage to their fallen king and princes, and national mourning was observed throughout the twelve tribes of Israel.

A State Census

Another calamity befell Israel in the wake of a census which David had conducted. The recent revolts of Absalom and Sheba had moved David to a desire to introduce national conscription in order to raise the strength of his army. Joab advised him to abstain from it. But the king persisted in his resolution, and the census was taken from Dan to Beersheba.

The census lasted nine months and twenty days. It revealed that the tribe of Judah alone could muster half a million men of military age, the tribes of Levi and Benjamin—three hundred thousand, and the rest of the tribes' eight hundred thousand men.

Now according to the Torah, a national census was permitted only in special circumstances, and in a certain way, namely, by each inhabitant's contributing a coin or other object, after which the objects were counted and the number of the people thus ascertained. When Saul conducted a mobilization before the battle with Amalek, he had ordered each soldier to bring a lamb, and the lambs were then counted. David, however, overlooked this law and counted the people as the neighboring nations counted theirs. The results of the census brought a sense of pride and vainglory to many Jews, who were now inclined to rely more on their own strength than on Divine protection. Thus, the census greatly displeased G‑d.

David soon realized that he had sinned, and he prayed to the L-rd for forgiveness. However, a pestilence broke out among the people, causing fearful destruction, but sparing Jerusalem. It carried off seventy thousand men. The angel of the L-rd was stayed in his fatal progress at the threshing-floor of Araunah, the Jebusite; and it was there, in accordance with the word of the prophet Gad, that David built an altar and offered up sacrifices. This place was Mount Moriah, where the "Binding of Isaac" had taken place, where the Holy Temple was to be erected by Solomon, David's son. Here G‑d's mercies were roused and the plague was stayed.