Unnamed Heroines of Scripture: Wise Woman of Tekoah

The woman of Tekoah is a troublesome figure for Bible students. At first read, her story in 2 Samuel 14 is a mix of virtue and offense, an imperfect icon in a sinful world. Some say she was bold, brave and God-fearing. But, through a shrewd ruse, she enabled the return of an unrepentant murderer and the eventual overthrow of God’s chosen king. Other scholars would sooner call her a villain than a heroine!

How can we stand by her with such a divided record? Perhaps the secret lies in the center of her argument to King David and her appreciation of divine mercy to forgive even the worst of sinners. Concerning God’s mercy, the Holy Spirit records her words, “But God would not take away a life; He would devise plans so that the one banished from Him does not remain banished” (2Sa 14:14 HCSB). As we review her account, please consider her central God-honoring thought in your evaluation.

The king’s son, Absalom, was driven from the kingdom for his sin. There was no doubt that proud Absalom was unfit for royal office, and David the king justly left him in exile. But, after three years, David the father still loved and longed for his disgraced son (2Sa 13:29). Joab, David’s loyal aide, noted how this affected his king. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas 1:8 KJV). Something had to be done, and with a wise woman from the nearby town of Tekoah, the plan was hatched. Joab would observe his work from behind the scenes.

Dressed in mourning clothes and acting a part with great skill, the woman sought counsel from King David. Tearfully, she told him a contrived story about her two sons, how one killed the other in a rage. Naturally her extended family wanted justice, at the expense of her only heir. Using heart-rending emotion, she referred to her living son as her “one remaining ember” (2Sa 14:7 HCSB). Without him, life lacked purpose. She would have no future, no light and no joy.

Joining his heart to her own, King David promised the young man protection. Boldly pressing the matter, the wise woman of Tekoah asked him to uphold his vow in the name of God. The king, deeply moved, consented. By David’s merciful command, not a hair of the fictitious boy’s head would fall to the ground – and her trap was set. Pushing his counsel beyond her ploy, the woman changed her tone, “Let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak one word unto my lord the king” (2Sa 14:12 KJV). With some curiosity, he granted her request.

Throwing off the guise of her story, the heroine of 2 Samuel 14 courageously challenges her king. Her argument speaks, “You helped me recover my son, but have not brought back your own banished one!” Forcefully noting the brevity of life, she famously quotes how death renders us all like water spilled on the ground which cannot be recovered. Any loss of life, be it Amnon the murdered or Absalom the murderer, is a tragedy. The situation calls for mercy, and the true purpose of her act is revealed: King David, if God is rich in mercy to reconcile those banished from Him by sin, shouldn’t you show mercy and bring back your son as well?

Stepping back slightly, the woman of Tekoah appeals to King David’s wisdom (2Sa 14:17). Perhaps he would grant her story-request, but because of the similarity to his own predicament, at least she knew he would listen. Having heard, perhaps he would provide merciful relief for her, and for his own son as well. The arrow struck true, and the king relented. But David knew his courtiers well. He discerned that Joab was behind the day’s events and takes the lesson with honor. Her story accomplished its goal; Absalom would return.

Is this wise woman a biblical heroine or a crafty villain? While we cannot recommend that any true follower of Christ emulate her acting methods, the woman of Tekoah faithfully and boldly sought the wellbeing of her king and honored the name of God. Indeed, her appeal to David invoked God’s mercy and foreshadowed His great plan to restore to Himself a world banished from His presence by sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. Her wisdom led David’s heart, divided between the duties of king and father, to restore his relationship with Absalom. Her bravery and perseverance before King David were for his benefit and for the kingdom, not her own interests or fame. Indeed, we never hear from her again.

It is ironic that her story, which reconciled David and his son for a time, could so divide the Bible’s readers today. In closing our evaluation, let’s focus on the woman of Tekoah’s wise appeal for David to show mercy and be reconciled to his son. David knew the mercy of God in his own life, and so do we. He spoke often of his failures and God’s lovingkindness in the Psalms. Our sins once barred us from God. Today, we respond with New Testament truth: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5 KJV).

God looks for those who know His mercy to have forgiving hearts ourselves. The Lord Jesus declares that the merciful are blessed with divine mercy, and that He would have His people show mercy over offering sacrifices (Mat 5:7; 9:13). David’s pain was real. For years his heart was divided and wounded. Reconciliation brought relief. Like the king in that day, many believers are living with restless, wounded hearts, too. Perhaps your heart is divided, struggling to seek peace with another today. If we would take one lesson from the wise woman of Tekoah, a bold heroine before her king, perhaps it could be the value of having merciful hearts before our God.