Abel-beth-maachah (also rendered Abelbethmaachah) was a prominent city in far northern Israel, in the vicinity of the city of Dan, in the allotted tribal territory of Naphtali (see Tribal Lands). The city name is composed of three Hebrew words; Abel (pronounced in Hebrew, aw-bale) which means meadow (the Abel of Abel-beth-maachah is not the same word as the name Abel, Cain's brother; that Abel is pronounced in Hebrew as heh-bel which means vanity or short-lived), beth (pronounced in Hebrew, bayth) which means house (other towns also have beth, meaning house, in their name e.g. Bethlehem which means house of bread) and maachah (pronounced in Hebrew, mah-ak-awth) which means a plain. Abel-beth-maachah means meadow of the house of Maachah, or meadow of the house of the plain.
"They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel"
After his revolt against King David failed, Sheba, a Benjamite (David replaced Saul as king; Saul was a Benjamite, hence Sheba's deadly resentment toward David) fled to Abel-beth-maachah, here referred to as "Abel of Bethmaachah." Joab, David's nephew and a loyal battle commander for his uncle, pursued Sheba and laid siege to the city. The inhabitants of the city, realizing that they would all be destroyed if they continued to harbor Sheba, surrendered him, or rather his head, to Joab who then withdrew his forces back to Jerusalem.
"When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri. And he went through all the tribes of Israel unto Abel, and to Bethmaachah, and all the Berites: and they were gathered together, and went also after him. And they came and besieged him in Abel of Bethmaachah, and they cast up a bank against the city, and it stood in the trench: and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down. Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee. And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab?"
"And he answered, I am he."
"Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid."
"And he answered, I do hear."
"Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter. I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of The Lord?"
"And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy. The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city."
"And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall."
"Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king" (2 Samuel 20:13-22 KJV)
Years after the incident with Sheba, Abel-beth-maachah was taken by Benhadad, a Syrian king who was then allied with King Asa of the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel and Judah were at war at the time (see Jews At War With Israel).
"And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel [see Kings of Israel and Judah; also Israelite Dynasties] all their days. And Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, that he might not suffer any to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah."
"Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasures of the house of The Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and delivered them into the hand of his servants: and king Asa sent them to Benhadad, the son of Tabrimon, the son of Hezion, king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus, saying, There is a league between me and thee, and between my father and thy father: behold, I have sent unto thee a present of silver and gold; come and break thy league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me."
"So Benhadad hearkened unto king Asa, and sent the captains of the hosts which he had against the cities of Israel, and smote Ijon, and Dan, and Abelbethmaachah, and all Cinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. And it came to pass, when Baasha heard thereof, that he left off building of Ramah, and dwelt in Tirzah. Then king Asa made a proclamation throughout all Judah; none was exempted: and they took away the stones of Ramah, and the timber thereof, wherewith Baasha had builded; and king Asa built with them Geba of Benjamin, and Mizpah." (1 Kings 15:16-22 KJV)
Tiglathpileser, king of Assyria (see Ancient Empires - Assyria), later conquered the area of Abelbethmaachah during the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel (see the Fact Finder question below).
"In the two and fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned twenty years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of The Lord: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin."
"In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria." (2 Kings 15:27-29 KJV)
Fact Finder: How and when did the northern kingdom of Israel fall?
See The Galilee Captivity