Amongst all the cities and countries that bear the name of Abel, the most celebrated is that in 2 Samuel 20, made famous by the history of a foolish Sheba and a wise woman. The woman's expression is not a little wrested and tortured by interpreters: "They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel; and so they ended the matter."
The Greek version hath more perplexed it. The Latin interpreter renders it thus: "They spake a word in former days, saying, Asking he was asked in Abel and in Dan, if those things have failed which the faithful of Israel laid up. Asking they will ask in Abel, and so if they have failed."
If any one can make any tolerable sense of these words, he would do well to teach others how to do it too; especially let them tell the reason why Dan should be added here. It is true Dan and Abel-beth-maacah are mentioned together as not very distant from one another, 1 Kings 15:20: and if we do by the words understand their neighbourhood to one another, I see nothing else that can be picked out of them.
However, both the Roman and Alexandrian editions agree in this reading, which have the preference of all other editions of the Greek version. And let them now, who are for correcting the Hebrew Bibles by the Greek, say, whether they are for having them corrected here; only let them give me leave to enjoy the Hebrew text as we now have it.
The Hebrew makes the sense plain, if the first words be but rightly applied, namely, to Sheba and his party speaking; "When Sheba and his followers came hither, they at first certainly said thus, That they would ask Abel of its peace, or on whose side it was, and so they made the matter entire," or made a show of their own integrity. For that that Joab was chiefly to be satisfied in, was, that this city had not taken part with the conspirators; which is directly done, if we admit this sense and interpretation of the words. This prudent woman assures him, that "those of Abel had by no means invited Sheba and his fellow-rebels into their town, or by any consent with them in their rebellions, would ever willingly have admitted them; but that they were miserably deceived by their fawning and false words, while they only pretended to inquire about the peace and well-being of that city: and that you may know more effectually that all this is true which I now affirm to you, we will immediately throw you the head of Sheba over our wall."