Friday, May 25, 2012

By Association: Zeruiah


It took me a few days to settle on Zeruiah as the woman for the week.

My research differs on the placing exactly, but it's safe to say she is one of the top ten most mentioned women in the Bible. Surprised? I was too.

This made me excited to take a closer look at her until I realized that despite the high number of times her name appears in the Bible (and it is all the same Zeruiah), we have no record of any of her words or actions. We know her only by association to her family.

She was the daughter (perhaps step-daughter) of Jesse, the sister of King David, and the mother of Abishai, Joab, and Asahel.

I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to go about looking at a woman who I know nothing about except who her family is. But, her name wouldn't leave my mind, so I dug in and started wrestling with the names and stories and timelines of the Hebrew Scriptures.

We'll take a look at what we can infer about her childhood and her motherhood and make some guesses. I feel my lack of theological education deeply here today. Questions like: Just how big of a deal is it that her sons are defined by being hers? Or, is that more about connecting them to their uncle David? Just how often are children referred to in relation to their mothers and only their mother in scripture. Off the top of my head, I can't think of another. If anyone has the knowledge to expand upon these or offer additional insight, please do share!

We'll start with exploring the life of Zeruiah as a daughter and a sister and then move on to her life as a mother.

Daughter and Sister

in 2 Samuel 17:25 we read about Zeruiah's brother-in-law " . . . who had married Abigal, the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab's mother."

in 1 Chronicles 2:13-16 we read, "Jesse fathered . . .David. . . And their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail."

There are a few theories about the appearance of different parental names here (Jesse and Nahash)

1. Nahash is a woman - Jesse's wife. My instinct says this is not the case since it's uncommon for children to be listed as descendants of their mothers rather than their father.

2. "Nahash" is a typo/error in 2 Samuel 17:25. The name "Nahash" appears just a couple lines below as the father of Shobi, one of the men who brought food and water to David and his men.

3. Jesse married Nahash's widow. So, Nahash is the biological father of Abigail and Zeruiah and Jesse is their step-father. Making the girls the half-sisters of David and the other sons of Jesse.

I lean towards options 2 or 3, but don't have any solid reason to think so. The fact that 1 Chron says Jesse "fathered" the boys and then lists the girls as "their sisters" makes me lean towards 3 a bit more. Option 2 seems plausible to me as well though.

Regardless, Zeruiah was a part of the family of Jesse in some way. She has a connection to King David as his sister.

Let's refresh our memory a bit on the childhood of King David. We'll use it later to make some inferences about Zeruiah's life since all we have to know her by is context and association.

David was our shepherd boy. He slew lions, bears, and giants alike with stones

He was a musician - he played a harp for King Saul to soothe him. A king that later pursued David and tried to kill him.

He was anointed King by a prophet at a young age.

David may have been the baby of the family, but he was clearly blessed and gifted.


Over and over we see the names of her sons coupled with her name. It was important to identify these men as belonging to their mother. In a nation dominated by patriarchal heritage we see the mother's name over and over again. To my knowledge, we don't know their father's name at all. Let's take a look at who her sons are and then make some inferences about what that could say about Zeruiah. There is more to these men, I'm just highlighting some parts I found interesting.

All of Zeruiah's sons were part of David's men. Working for him and fighting for him.

Abishai - the eldest: A leader of "David's Mighty Men." These were the thirty chiefs "who gave him strong support in his kingdom, together with all Israel, to make him king, according to the word of the Lord" (1 Chron 11:10). Abishai, "was the chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against 300 men and killed them and won a name . . . He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander" (1 Chron 11:20-21)

Joab - the middle son: The head commander of David's army. One of his battles was the fight against the Syrians and he put is brother Abishai in charge of the forces against the Ammonites, suggesting that Joab had a higher military ranking than his older brother. Later we see "Joab was commander of the kings army." (2 Chron 27:34) Joab defeated both the Syrians and then Rabbah (1 Chron 19-20).

When David was "incited by Satan" to count the number of people in Israel - he ordered Joab to do the counting. Joab argued back, disagreeing with this course of action, but ultimately followed through with his uncle King's request, leaving out the counts of the tribes of Levi and Benjamin because the "kings command was abhorrent to Joab." (2 Chron 21:1-6). And, it turns out Joab was right. God struck Israel with a devastating famine and David confessed his sin. (perhaps it was a sin of pride in the size of the nation? I'm not sure). (Side Note: Goodness gracious is David's story full of interesting. I think I'm going to read the Chronicles more. So glossing over things here.)

Asahel -- the youngest: Asahel is described as being "fleet of feet" (2 Sam 2). He was killed in the battle of Gibon and is known as one of David's Mighty Men (1 Chron 11:26)

I encourage you to read the full story in 2 Samuel 2-3, but a very brief summary of the the death of Asahel and his brother Joab's reaction is this:

David's men met with Abner, commander of Saul's army, at the pool of Gibeon. Ish-bosheth, son of Saul, was set up as king of Israel - with the exception of Judah which David was king over. The two armies under the commands of Joab and Abner created a plan to see which army was stronger. It didn't work, 12 men on each side were killed. In the aftermath, Asahel pursued Abner. Abner, perhaps out of either fear or respect for Joab, begged Asahel to stop following him but Asahel continued. Abner killed Asahel. Later, as David was struggling to unite the nation in the midst of a civil war (and doing a good job for we are told his armies were growing stronger and Saul's were growing weaker) he meets with Abner. Joab hears of this meeting and is outraged, certain that Abner is trying to trick David. Joab finds Abner, takes him to the gates of the city, and kills him. David is outraged and grieved. He makes it clear that the death of Abner was not his wish nor his order. He curses the house of Joab (and Abishai gets thrown in there as well) and orders Judah to grieve for Abner. David names Zeruiah while he is condemning Joab's acts, "These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The Lord repay the evil-doer according to his wickedness!" (2 Sam 3:39)

These men were strong. They were fiercely loyal to their brothers, to their King, and to their God - sometimes to the point of recklessness and sometimes in conflict to each of those loyalties.

Inferences about the life and character of Zeruiah

I wonder if she felt tenderly towards her youngest brother. I can imagine him being the type of boy you are drawn to. Did she adore her young brother who played a harp and tended sheep while the other brothers were away at war? Did she feel proud when he was able to so valiantly defend his flock? Did she know of David's anointing that day? If so, what were her thoughts? Joy, fear, both?

I can't help but think that she must have spoke positively about David to her sons. Three men don't grow up to be so passionate in protecting their uncle king if they grew up listening to the bitter or jealous words from their mother. Perhaps it could've been easy to be envious of young David or to question the authenticity of the prophet Samuel's anointing a shepherd king. I feel like Zeruiah must have believed. Zeruiah must have understood the truth of the destiny of David and she must have taught that to her boys.

To go one step further - Zeruiah must have believed strongly in God and who He said He was. Her sons defended David, but they didn't shy away from questioning his actions when they thought it contradicted God's will. Zeruiah's boys were strong of body and of mind. They had passions and struggled to balance them in a world that demanded big decisions.

Her sons would be among the men who ministered to and took care of David as he ran for his life. They would fight for him, protect him, and stand up to him when they thought he was erring. They would make foolish mistakes and act out of misguided loyalty.

She raised three men to honor their uncle and anointed King, to be sensitve to the leading of God, and to protect each other.

None of these things answer my questions about why she is mentioned by name so often and yet we are left with none of her words or actions. Surely countless women of God raised the men we see in the Bible - teaching them from their earliest days to love God and King and family - and yet their names are not repeated over and over again in connection to their sons. Why Zeruiah? I don't know.

Despite the fact that it seems Zeruiah was an exceptional mother, we have no Biblical record of her sons explicitly "rising to call her blessed" (Prov 31), but I will. Blessed Zeruiah, your name peppers the stories of King David. Over and over I've read it in years past and never gave it pause. Thank you for raising men, imperfect and human as they were, whose stories give us lessons and history. Your name was not a mark of shame upon them. It was not a cause for concern that they were identified as your sons rather than of their father. You were given honor. While I wish I knew more about you and who you were, I'm thankful that I now know your name and know that whatever it is you did was powerful and it mattered to the entire nation of Israel and, consequently, the world.


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  2. ah! I spent quite some time reading about her after I finished reading the Bible in 26 days a few years ago. I just couldn't get her out of my head.

    I've always had a fascinating with David's Mighty Men and the fact that she raised THREE of them makes me incredibly curious about her.

  3. i had trouble following the generational references, but wow!

    i did think of timothy as another who was mentioned by [their] mother's heritage (and his grandmother's as well, i believe). plenty of thought provoking info and def stirred interest!

  4. Very interesting. I think is really interesting how much we can draw on from what little is said about her. Great post!