NOTE: There is more Scripture quoted here than words that I put in an average post. There is a lot of blood in the life of King David, thus Solomon was given the task of building the temple. But a lot of that blood is by the hands of David’s military commander, Joab. The long line of blood tells a grim story. But we will start with who Joab was. He was a nephew, the son of David’s sister, Zeruiah. All three of Zeruiah’s sons became great warriors for David.
Jesse was the father of
Eliab his firstborn; the second son was Abinadab, the third Shimea, the fourth Nethanel, the fifth Raddai, the sixth Ozem and the seventh David. Their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah’s three sons were Abishai, Joab and Asahel. Abigail was the mother of Amasa, whose father was Jether the Ishmaelite.
- 1 Chronicles 2:13-17
Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.
Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David. The length of time David was king in Hebron over Judah was seven years and six months.
Abner son of Ner, together with the men of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, left Mahanaim and went to Gibeon. Joab son of Zeruiah and David’s men went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. One group sat down on one side of the pool and one group on the other side.
Then Abner said to Joab, “Let’s have some of the young men get up and fight hand to hand in front of us.”
“All right, let them do it,” Joab said.
So they stood up and were counted off—twelve men for Benjamin and Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, and twelve for David. Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together. So that place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim.
The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the Israelites were defeated by David’s men.
The three sons of Zeruiah were there: Joab, Abishai and Asahel. Now Asahel was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle. He chased Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he pursued him. Abner looked behind him and asked, “Is that you, Asahel?”
“It is,” he answered.
Then Abner said to him, “Turn aside to the right or to the left; take on one of the young men and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.
Again Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me! Why should I strike you down? How could I look your brother Joab in the face?”
But Asahel refused to give up the pursuit; so Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He fell there and died on the spot. And every man stopped when he came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died.
But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner, and as the sun was setting, they came to the hill of Ammah, near Giah on the way to the wasteland of Gibeon. Then the men of Benjamin rallied behind Abner. They formed themselves into a group and took their stand on top of a hill.
Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?”
Joab answered, “As surely as God lives, if you had not spoken, the men would have continued pursuing them until morning.”
So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the troops came to a halt; they no longer pursued Israel, nor did they fight anymore.
- 2 Samuel 2:8-28
Just then David’s men and Joab returned from a raid and brought with them a great deal of plunder. But Abner was no longer with David in Hebron, because David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that the king had sent him away and that he had gone in peace.
So Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone! You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.”
Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it. Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.
Later, when David heard about this, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the Lord concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner. May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.”
(Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.)
Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.” King David himself walked behind the bier. They buried Abner in Hebron, and the king wept aloud at Abner’s tomb. All the people wept also.
The king sang this lament for Abner:
“Should Abner have died as the lawless die?
Your hands were not bound,
your feet were not fettered.
You fell as one falls before the wicked.”
And all the people wept over him again.
Then they all came and urged David to eat something while it was still day; but David took an oath, saying, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun sets!”
All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people there and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.
Then the king said to his men, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!”
- 2 Samuel 3:22-39
David and all the Israelites marched to Jerusalem (that is, Jebus). The Jebusites who lived there said to David, “You will not get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.
David had said, “Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief.” Joab son of Zeruiah went up first, and so he received the command.
- 1 Chronicles 11:4-6
David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people. Joab son of Zeruiah was over the army; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelek son of Abiathar were priests; Seraiah was secretary; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; and David’s sons were priests.
- 2 Samuel 8:15-18
Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”
Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him. When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they fled before Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.
After the Arameans saw that they had been routed by Israel, they regrouped. Hadadezer had Arameans brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam, with Shobak the commander of Hadadezer’s army leading them.
When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam. The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him. But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there. When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.
So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.
- 2 Samuel 10:9-19
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
- 2 Samuel 11:14-17
Joab son of Zeruiah knew that the king’s heart longed for Absalom. So Joab sent someone to Tekoa and had a wise woman brought from there. He said to her, “Pretend you are in mourning. Dress in mourning clothes, and don’t use any cosmetic lotions. Act like a woman who has spent many days grieving for the dead. Then go to the king and speak these words to him.” And Joab put the words in her mouth.
- 2 Samuel 14:1-3
Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.”
But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lay a hand on the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.’ And if I had put my life in jeopardy—and nothing is hidden from the king—you would have kept your distance from me.”
Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
- 2 Samuel 18:11-15
Joab was told, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, “The king is grieving for his son.” The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.”
- 2 Samuel 19:1-7
Joab said to Amasa, “How are you, my brother?” Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly, and his intestines spilled out on the ground. Without being stabbed again, Amasa died. Then Joab and his brother Abishai pursued Sheba son of Bikri.
- 2 Samuel 20:9-10
So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.”
But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?”
The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel.
- 2 Samuel 24:2-4
Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. (His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.)
Adonijah conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they gave him their support. But Zadok the priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei and Rei and David’s special guard did not join Adonijah.
- 1 Kings 1:5-8
So Benaiah entered the tent of the Lord and said to Joab, “The king says, ‘Come out!’”
But he answered, “No, I will die here.”
Benaiah reported to the king, “This is how Joab answered me.”
Then the king commanded Benaiah, “Do as he says. Strike him down and bury him, and so clear me and my whole family of the guilt of the innocent blood that Joab shed. The Lord will repay him for the blood he shed, because without my father David knowing it he attacked two men and killed them with the sword. Both of them—Abner son of Ner, commander of Israel’s army, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of Judah’s army—were better men and more upright than he. May the guilt of their blood rest on the head of Joab and his descendants forever. But on David and his descendants, his house and his throne, may there be the Lord’s peace forever.”
- 1 Kings 2:30-33
[1 Kings 2:30] ”Solomon was to be the king after David, but his elder brother, Adonijah, was preferred by Joab, the captain of the army, and by Abiathar the priest. When Solomon came to the throne, Adonijah was afraid for his life and fled to the horns of the altar for shelter. Solomon provisionally forgave him until he began plotting again, and it became necessary for Solomon to strike a heavy blow He determined to begin with Joab, the bottom of all the mischief. No sooner had the king determined this than Joab fled to the altar, which he had seldom approached before. He was an elderly man who had, thirty or more years before, committed two atrocious murders, and now they came home to him. As far as we can judge, he had shown little respect to religion during his lifetime. He was a rough man of war and cared little enough about God, the tabernacle, the priests, or the altar; but when he was in danger, he sought refuge in that which he had neglected. He is not the only man who has done this. But the altar was of no use to him. We may derive two lessons from this. The first is that outward ordinances are useless. Before the living God, who is greater and wiser than Solomon, it will be of no use to anyone to lay hold on the horns of the altar. But second, there is an altar—a spiritual altar-where if someone lays hold the horns and says, ‘No, for I will die here,’ he will never die, but he will be safe against the sword of justice forever for the Lord has appointed an altar in the person of his own dear Son, Jesus Christ, where there will be shelter for the vilest of sinners if they do but come and lay hold of it.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
What Do We Know about their Relationship?
Note (a confession): And may I, based on the title of this section reveal that after reading the Bible from cover to cover, I have always thought of David as a young man and Joab as a loving uncle that took care of his nephew. I had never really dug into the Scriptures in that regard until now.
Joab is David’s nephew, along with Joab’s brothers Abishai and Asahel. Asahel is killed by Abner as Abner was trying to run away from David’s army and Asahel was the marathon runner of the family and would not stop chasing him. Abishai came to David’s aid in a battle with the Philistines, saving David’s life. It was this incident that caused David’s soldiers to insist that David stay behind and not enter the battle anymore. Abishai is listed as one of David’s mighty warriors and a leader among them. But not Joab.
Joab and Abishai kill Abner for having killed Asahel, but David mourned the death of Saul’s military commander. Even at this early stage, before Joab is officially named as the military commander, David is thinking that Joab will pay for the blood he has shed.
It is in 1 Chronicles 11 where Joab is given command of the army for his exploits in taking the city of Jerusalem. Odd, it was a book on the people in the Bible that described Joab’s victory against the Arameans in 2 Samuel 10 that caused David to appoint him commander, yet David was given credit for the Aramean, Ammonite victory and Scripture states it was the taking of Jerusalem.
Next, David had an affair with Bathsheba. He used Joab to “resolve” the issue by having Uriah killed in battle. Uriah died at the hand of the enemy only because Joab retreated and left Uriah behind.
Then Absalom has his brother killed for having raped Absalom’s sister, Tamar. Absalom goes into a self-imposed exile. Joab then sees David moping the loss of Absalom, in spite of being a murderer (not even killing in battle). He tricks David into getting Absalom to return. Absalom then, having gotten away with murder, thinks that the next step as the untouchable son of a king is to become king. David and his supporters flee from Absalom. In the end, Absalom is hanging from a tree by his long hair. Although Joab had strict instructions to save the boy’s life, he has his men kill Absalom.
Again, David mourns, naturally. Even though Absalom was unrepentant in his sin, David loved him. And as a result, David appoints Amasa, David’s nephew and cousin of Joab, as the new military commander. The narrative points out that at this point, Joab no longer is looking out for David’s best interests, but his own. He murders Amasa and reclaims command of the military.
In spite of all this, Joab counsels David against the census that leads to God punishing Israel.
But, as David is getting older and unable to carry out the duties as king, Adonijah sets himself up as king with Joab’s support. David leaves word to Solomon that after his death, Joab must pay for the blood he shed. Benaiah, one of the other great warriors of David’s army, kills Joab as Joab tried to take refuge at the horns of the altar.
What Can We Infer about their Relationship?
The first mention of Joab in the NIV is in 1 Samuel 26, where Abishai, Joab’s brother, assists David. When we have not heard of Joab prior to this, then why mention Abishai as Joab’s brother? It may be that Joab was already established in the Judah army of David as a leader of men. This may be a wild enough inference to be a gap filler, but it is an odd introduction for Joab in the Bible.
Also, when I was in ROTC, while the Vietnam War was raging, our senior instructor confessed that the US Army had difficulty in turning people into civilians after being in combat. It was not a matter of the song from the end of World War I, “How ya’ gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Parie (Paris)?” It was that the infantry soldier had faced death and possibly had killed other people. Going back to plow the field or work in a factory did not feel right. The issue of PTSD was raised. In a comedy routine, that was meant to not be very funny, George Carlin starts with World War I and the term “shell shock.” As he goes to World War II, Korea, and then Vietnam, the name for the disorder got longer, and it seemed the understanding got shorter. Like I said, not funny, but sobering.
I added that to illustrate that Joab had a lifetime of military exploits before he and Abishai murdered Abner. Then Joab murdered Absalom and Amasa, his own relatives. And King David mourned the loss of those men who were murdered, not in battle. Joab had seen so much blood, he could no longer see the difference, but David could.
In What Ways Can We Fill in the Gaps about their Relationship?
We might use a gap-filler here in that David recognized the blood thirsty attitude of Joab to lead the army in greater and greater victories, but the Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. God will use what one person means for harm and God will use that for His ultimate victory. But David may not have had the heart to depose Joab, until Joab had Absalom killed. Then, David might have been afraid of Joab after Amasa was killed. Why would David have allowed Joab back into the position of military commander, after murder?
And in Joab doing the ugly murders to solidify David’s reign as king, he might have thought David was too soft. After all, David wrote all those songs and danced around in his underwear. Who could take someone like that to be a king to be feared? To the killer, macho reigned and playing the harp was not macho.
What Can We Learn from this Relationship?
As countless murder mysteries will tell you, probably because it is true, once you have killed and have blood on your hands, it is easier to do it again and again.
David had a lot of blood on his hands, but in loving God, David was able to accept God’s mercy. Joab, as Rev. Spurgeon describes him, may not have been a steady “church goer.” He probably never had a thought of having his sins washed away. He had only done what he, not necessarily David, thought was best for David.
David allows his flaws to show through here, and we will see more of his flaws in the next couple of weeks. Here, he needed a strong military. There were so many enemies. But in not serving his nephew’s heart issues, he unwittingly fed his nephew’s blood lust.
What we can learn from this is that some relationships are hard to deal with. We need to keep communication open, even when it is unpleasant. When we have loved ones who suffer from PTSD or anger issues, we need to know how to show love to them. Sometimes a gentle touch or remembering the ones who are far away with a phone call, something that maintains the contact so that they know we are loved. Was Joab salvageable? But when we realize that our loved one has an issue dealing with one aspect of his life, we should not contribute to that issue. As I started this paragraph, something that is hard to deal with.
And maybe, there are no clear-cut answers for this relationship. Only God can sort some of these issues out.
What Have We Learned thus far?
We have learned to:
- Own our own mistakes and not blame others.
- Be faithful to God, and worship properly, in the proper spirit.
- Go to God in prayer, especially before any major decisions.
- Do not show favoritism among family members, but always go to God.
- Forgiveness is extremely important for none of us are perfect except for God.
- Beyond physical love, there are other expressions of love, and respect is very important.
- A relationship requires maintenance, nurturing, and an acceptance of the roles.
- Be humble and listen to wise advice, and even wait when necessary.
- At times, we must be bold and trust God, and we must obey.
- And to love, love, and love.
- Be trustworthy. Trust is required.
- And don’t worry. God has this situation, and He has us in the palm of His hand.
- And remember to forgive others and confess our sins.
- And never go against what God instructs us to do.
A Closing Prayer
We look to You for guidance. It is easy to allow someone to be our strong arm, to defend us, but if that strength gets in the way of them having a well-balanced life, give us the strength to help them rather than contribute to the problem by enjoying their protection. There can be other aspects of human relationships that could be useful to one and damaging to the other, but You, Lord, know more about that than we do. It may be difficult to understand but give us wisdom in dealing with the situation.
In Thy Name we pray,
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.