How To Get A Head Through Negotiation

They came and besieged him in Abel Beth- maacah, and they cast up a siege ramp against the city, and it stood by the rampart; and all the people who were with Joab were wreaking destruction in order to topple the wall. (2 Samuel 20:15 NASB)

Joab replied, “Far be it, far be it from me that I should swallow up or destroy!  Such is not the case. But a man from the hill country of Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, has lifted up his hand against King David. Only hand him over, and I will depart from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head will be thrown to you over the wall.” (2 Samuel 20:20-21 NASB)

One of the most difficult things any US Administration faces is negotiations in the Middle East.  It  seems to be one of the most difficult places for people to get along.  Whether because of oil or religion, or even different people-groups, it seems that there is always turmoil in the Middle East.  In some wars early in Israel’s 20th Century history, they used tactics from Scripture to form their battle plans.  I wonder if we can find negotiation strategies in there too?

The rebellion of David’s son, Absalom, has just been put down when a ‘worthless fellow’ named Sheba son of Bikri starts another.  It’s not really much of a rebellion as very few seem to actually follow him.  It’s more a tribal dissatisfaction with David; they headed home instead of escorting him to Jerusalem.  But Sheba did lead some, all the way up from Gilgal (near Jericho) to a northern city with three names, Abel-Beth-Maacah, “Meadow House of Pressure”.

Playing It Out

Joab and the army follows him (after Joab murders his replacement), and besieges the city.  They are causing all sorts of destruction tearing down the wall to get in, when he and this ‘wise woman’ negotiate:

(The curtains rises on a scene of mayhem with warriors tearing down a high stone city wall and killing those trying to stop them)

Woman: (calls from above the wall, off stage) “I want to talk to Joab – go get him!”

Joab: (enters stage right huffing from fighting)

Woman: “You Joab?”

Joab: “I”

Woman: “Listen to your woman servant.”

Joab: “Okay” (all the warriors stop fighting, take a ‘standard union ten’ leaning on their ‘tools’, and pull out their smart-phones)

Woman: “It used to be said you could come to Abel to settle a dispute peaceably.  I am one of those mediators of peace in Israel.  So why are you destroying a venerable city with a history of peace?”

Joab: “I’m not a ‘destroyer'” (looks around at the death and destruction he and his men caused, then back at the woman) “I’m a ‘seeker’, I’m seeking a certain man named Sheba son of Bikri who rebelled against the king.  Let us have him, and we’ll pack up and leave.”

Woman: “Oh, I didn’t realize.  In that case I’ll have his head thrown over the wall to you.”

(a ‘head’ flies over the wall and Joab catches it)

Joab:  “Thank you!” (looks around at the men, blows a rams horn) “Okay men, let’s roll-out.  We’re done here!”

(warriors shuffle off stage left leaving the ‘mess’ behind)

The Difficult Rules Of Re-Framing

I believe there is a pattern here that may help the US State Department in negotiations, or at least understand negotiation problems they encounter.  The basic idea is ‘re-framing’ situations in favor of the negotiator.  But first, the right negotiators need to be brought together (this may be our biggest problem actually).  Once the right people sit at the table, the ‘re-framing’ can begin.

Rule 1: The Obvious Details Are Irrelevant

Re-framing has a few rules that would drive most Americans nuts.  Like the first one which essentially states that ‘the obvious details of the situation are irrelevant.’  Joab stands among the wreckage of Abel-Beth-Maacah and says he’s not a destroyer.  The situation clearly indicates that, whatever else he may be, he is also a destroyer, but he denies it.  The woman, on her part, doesn’t dispute this.  That could seriously affect the ability of our negotiators right there.  Rule 2 of ‘re-framing’: Accept the other side’s re-frame without refutation.

Rule 2: Accept The Other Side’s Re-Frame Without Refutation

Now, of course you can’t re-frame something that isn’t ‘framed’, so the woman had to ask.  But she began the process by ‘re-framing’ Abel-Beth-Maacah as a peaceable faithful city; not one warranting this battle.  Again, Joab simply accepts this re-frame of the city, and re-frames his own position.  Perhaps I’m projecting my own foibles on our State Department negotiators, but I think it’s an American tradition to want to be proven right.  So accepting someone else’s re-frame of them or us is not easy, and often unacceptable.

We (or I) look at the obvious situation, and refuse to let go of what we believe to be the obvious conclusion.  For instance, Joab is wreaking destruction on this city, and yet the woman accepts his ‘re-frame’ of himself as a ‘seeker’.  That would drive me nuts!  “Really? Well you’re leaving a wide path of destruction in your pursuit!”  The woman doesn’t do this.  I would, she would not.  Yes, I would want the enemy to stop destroying my city, but I’m not sure I’m willing to accept their re-framing of what they’re doing in such a way that justifies the destruction they’re causing.  See my point?

On the other side, though, Joab accepts the woman’s re-frame of the city as peaceable.  Clearly they are harboring the rebel, Sheba son of Bikri.  It’s difficult to imagine they hadn’t heard of the argument at the Jordan where he led Israel to abandon David.  So, how could they not know what Joab was after?  Yet she claims this city is where you ‘settle disputes’ not conduct battle.  Joab accepts this.  They harbor fugitives, but aren’t taking sides.  Really?  Well, it’s enough for Joab, but it would drive me nuts.  I would want to justify my actions by pointing out their obvious error, Joab does not feel the need.

Rule 3: Seek A Solution Which Retains The Strength of Everyone’s Position

This final rule of ‘re-framing’ is ‘seek a solution which retains the strength of everyone’s position.’  What I see here is that the woman’s method of complying with Joab’s request for Sheba is to throw his head over the wall.  Obviously, Joab would have accepted a ‘live’ Sheba, but she provides justice to the city by ensuring Sheba’s already dead.  The city is vindicated, the walls are never breached, and Joab has his man.  Everyone retains their position of strength, well, except for Sheba. But he wasn’t negotiating.


Obviously, I’m not that familiar with how we negotiate in the Middle East, but I believe these three rules would help.  We may have already formed a more sophisticated, complex set of rules to guide our negotiations in that part of the world.  But maybe these three would suffice.  Perhaps the real hurdle would be to find two wise negotiators to effectively apply them.  There’s also the good chance that Middle Eastern negotiators already apply them, and we’re behind in understanding the ‘unwritten rules’.

What I learn here about my relationship with my Master is that it’s not necessary for me to be right, even about what appears to be obvious.  Truly, the sheer number of details I don’t know is staggering, but I’m usually fine with my ignorance; assuming what I don’t know to be irrelevant.  If I would simply let my ‘opponent’ re-frame even the obvious, and re-frame my own position, I think I may be able to make headway where I’ve struggled so far.  The basic thing is that I don’t need to be right.  I don’t need to know it all, or have the best, most accurate view point or position.  What does my Master want?  That’s all I need to focus on.

That’s what I learn through the knothole I’m looking through.  What’s your perspective through yours?


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