I am sure that everybody knows about Saul, David, Bathsheba, Absalom, Solomon and Tamar, but this article is about a scoundrel named Joab, the son of Zeruiah who was a commander in King David’s army. Nitzevet was David’s mother and she was the second wife of David’s father Jesse, or perhaps his concubine as this was a common practice in these days and the first wife was the mother of David’s half-brothers and half-sisters. The bible does not mention all that many women, at least up until the time of David and Zeruiah was David’s half sister, and she became the mother of Abishai, Joab and Asahel and there is no mention of her husband.
The short story on David is that he was chosen by the Lord, he played the harp for King Saul, he killed Goliath, Saul becomes jealous and turns against David, David marries Saul’s youngest daughter Michel, David becomes good friends with Saul’s son Jonathan, David meets Abigail and she becomes a widow and then marries David, then David marries Ahinoam of Jezreel who was the wife of Saul and the mother of his wife Michel which he thought would legitimize his claim to the throne, Saul loses the favor of God and he is killed in battle. David becomes King of Judah and then the King of Israel.
That is enough background to start my story, so Joab was a nephew of the king, related by blood, and his men called him lord or the prince of the king’s army. Joab served as commander of David’s armies because of his victory over the Jebusites, resulting in the possession of the city of Jerusalem. It was through this victory that Jerusalem became ‘the city of David’. David was ruler of Judah in the south of the holy land, while one of Saul’s remaining sons, Ishbosheth the youngest of his four sons, his legitimate successor, was still ruling northern Israel. Abner, who was a cousin to Saul and commander-in-chief of his army from the north, met Joab and his brother Asahel in lands between north and south, and fighting broke out. Abner reluctantly killed Asahel in self-defense and fled, with Joab in pursuit. The men remained mortal enemies ever after this first armed encounter.
King David wanted peace with the northern kingdom, and agreed to meet with Abner, and the two men greeted each other with courtesy and terms of friendship. Abner swore allegiance to David, which caused Joab to blow a fuse, and his desire to avenge his brother’s blood drove him to deceive and murder Abner. On hearing about this new allegiance, Joab used his role as a commander in David’s service to request to speak with Abner after David was gone. When these two men met, instead of greeting Abner in peace as David had done, Joab stabbed him in the belly. Joab took the law into his own hands and he became an assassin. When David heard about Abner’s death he pronounced a curse over Joab and his future descendants saying, “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”. David made a long lamentation, fasted for sorrow for the murder of Abner and declared that he had absolutely nothing to do with the murder of the popular northern commander. David did nothing to punish Joab, because this basically had eliminated David’s only possible rival. Joab was useful to David, as he kept the king’s hands clean in this murder.
Joab next appears in the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, whom David had managed to impregnate while her husband was on duty in the army. David was unable to persuade Uriah, with kind words, shore leave or alcohol, to go home and sleep with his wife to cover up his own misdeed. David gave a message to Joab to make sure Uriah got slaughtered in battle, and the evil deed was done. God sees all, so later David was punished for his sin, but Joab got off the hook again.
David was supposed to put all of his trust in God, but he sought confidence in knowing the numbers of his men and troupes to gauge his military potential, so he attempted to order a census of the people of Israel, rather than putting all of his trust in God, and this was considered to be a sin. Joab advised the king not to take such a step, but when David gave the order, Joab carried it out. Again, God became irritated with David and punished him, and once again, helpful Joab got off unpunished. Through the prophet Gad, God offered David the choice of a three year famine, three months of military fight from Israel’s enemies, or 3 day’s pestilence. David chose the three day’s pestilence, figuring it was better to fall by God’s hand than an enemy’s, however 70,000 people died due to the pestilence.
Joab enters the picture again, when King David had to contend with his troublesome son Absalom who avenged the rape of his sister Tamar by her half-brother Amnon by murdering her attacker his half-brother and David’s son which was done against the king’s will. Joab was no big fan of Absalom or Tamar, and he was not concerned with the rape, or the revenge murder, but he was smart enough to see that David did not want to punish his favored son in spite of his guilt, so he arranged for a pardon to please the king. Joab felt that if Absalom became King after David, that he would have a grateful new leader. Absalom returned but he was not permitted to enter David’s presence, as he had to live in a house of his own. He had no contact with his father for two years, and then finally, once again by way of Joab’s intercession, the two men get back together, and there is a small measure of reconciliation, but no long lasting peace.
Absalom began to undermine David’s rule and he set himself up as judge in Jerusalem and gave out promises of what he would do if he were to become the next king. The conspiracy gained strength and Absalom’s followers grew in numbers, so much that David began to fear for his own life, so he gathered his servants and fled Jerusalem. When Absalom revolted against David, Joab led the king’s army against Absalom, and defeated him in battle. When the other officers refused to kill the king’s beloved rebel son, Joab had no such scruples. He fired three javelins into Absalom’s heart and buried his corpse in a pit, not a royal grave. Joab did what was in the best interests of the king, and therefore himself. King David promptly went into mourning for his wayward son, and the troops who had secured the victory glumly wandered back in to Jerusalem, sorrowing with the king. But Joab had the political sense to tell the king to declare it a victory, to hide his feelings, and to reassert his power. David followed Joab’s grim advice.
David got tired of his hatchet man, the one who had polished off his beloved son, so David demoted Joab and appointed Amasa the son of Abigail, who was a sister of King David as the new commander of the army. Joab takes care of this matter, in a military encounter, by asking to speak privately with his new commander. Joab pretended to give General Amasa the kiss of peace, and while puckering up, Joab grabbed Amasa’s beard and stabbed him in the bowels with a concealed sword which caused his intestines to spill out on the ground. This murder of Amasa was treacherous and while Amasa was bleeding to death in the street, Joab rallied the men on the expedition which David had sent Amasa on. Joab won the day and he got his old job back.
Joab only made one serious political mistake and this happened when David was on his deathbed, as Adonijah the fourth son of King David attempted to make himself king in his father’s place. So Adonijah wisely consulted Joab, and got his support, but David favored his son Solomon from his wife Bathsheba, and Adonijah was soon discredited, thus the cunning Joab kept his head low enough to keep it connected to his neck. But when David’s actual death drew near, he summoned Solomon to his side and reminded him of every single thing Joab had ever done. David advised Solomon on dealing with his evil but useful nephew Joab, saying, “Now therefore hold him not guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.” When the discredited Adonijah stupidly asked his brother Solomon to wed his father’s beautiful but still virginal handmaid, Solomon had Adonijah put to death on the same day that he made the request. Sleeping with the old king’s wife might have been seen as a claim to David’s throne, and this was something that the new King Solomon would not tolerate.
When Joab heard about Adonijah’s death, he fled to the tent of the Lord and grabbed onto the horns of the altar, pleading for sanctuary. The scripture clearly stated that, ‘if a man wilfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar that he may die.’ Solomon was not impressed with Joab’s pleading and he ordered Banaiah who was from Kabzeel, a town in southern Judah and who was the son of Jehoiada to hack Joab to bits at the altar, which he gladly did. Banaiah was made commander of the army and then spent the rest of his days murdering Solomon’s opponents, as Joab had done for David before him.