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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A case for Joab

Biblical scholars or other amateurs (as I am), welcome.
On Tuesday mornings, I have been attending a Beth Moore bible study at our church. It is the study on the life of David. I have enjoyed it very much.
I would have to say that I am a Beth Moore fan. In fact, during this past week's study, she asks the question "who are your heroes?" And I have decided that she is in my list of peeps.
However, for the first time while doing a study of hers (and I have done several--six to be exact), I took something and went a completely different direction than she did in my head. I have occasionally thought "hmmmm. Not sure I agree w/this..." But this time, I thought I can't go there w/her. It's nothing inflammatory or political. I'll get right to it.
We arrived at the point in David's life when Absalom was pursuing David and had already slept with David's concubines and so basically had usurped the throne.
Many of you will have read the famous battle when Joab thrusts three javelins into Absalom's heart. Absalom was hanging in a tree by his hair. Yes, it's true that David had commanded all three of his generals to be gentle with Absalom (which we assume must mean "please don't kill him") II Sam 18:5. So yes, Joab disobeyed orders. Sometimes I picture Joab as the "You can't handle the truth" guy. You know, the one you want as commander of your army, but when justice catches up with him, well, it doesn't look too good on paper. I mean, come on. It was a lose lose situation. If David had left Absalom alive, what would it have been like? We are not privy to this knowledge obviously. But considering Absalom's track record, and David's track record in acknowledging his sons' track records: it's hard to imagine a real pretty picture. Although maybe David was hoping to finally restore the relationship fully. Who knows?

I'm getting ahead of myself. We come to the place in the story when the report of Absalom's death reaches David. And the famous "Oh Absalom, my son, my son" words are still bone chilling, if not agonizingly painful to read with any imagination at all. "If only I had died instead of you..." we also read (II Samuel 18:33). The king had tremendous remorse over Absalom's death. Well, verses 2 and 3 of II Samuel 19 greet us with an almost Vietnam war soldier type of image. The soldiers learn of the king's grief, and basically put their tails between their legs. Read it for yourself! Their shame hit me like a ton of bricks this time: "the victory... was turned into mourning... The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle."
Enters Joab with a kick in the pants speech for the king. II Samuel 19:5-7. Really, you should go back and read it. "You love those who hate you, and hate those who love you." He tells David that it's clear to him now that David would have preferred for Absalom to live and for all of the soldiers to have died. He also tells him that if he doesn't come out to his men now, then they will have all deserted him by morning.
Unfair, you say? Unmerciful? Perhaps... I don't deny it. But can a case be made for the fact that it was needed? The men needed to hear from David that he appreciated them fighting his enemies, and saving his life! They fought to the death for their king, but felt ashamed. And this, my friends, should not be.

In Beth's commentary, she expresses the following sentiment: "The next time I suffer a painful loss, remind me not to call someone like Joab for a sympathetic ear." She then goes on to compare Joab's speech with the speech that Job's friends gave him, leaving him feeling miserable, alone, and perhaps even guilty (I can imagine) Job 8:4, Job11:16. Wow. Can we not say that we are dealing with two COMPLETELY different situations here? Job had NO guilt that we know of, NO history leading up to the testing that he had to undergo (or if he did, the bible doesn't reveal it to us). David was being pursued by Absalom, who though he was his son by blood, was clearly his enemy in this segment of the story, and by the way, wanted to take the king's life, something which even David himself clearly understood! (II Samuel 16:11). David even talks about being pursued by his enemies in a psalm he writes during this time, Psalm 3! And unfortunately, David is reaping what he had sown... whether it was because of his actions with Bathsheba and Uriah, or because he neglected to console Absalom after the Amnon/Tamar incident.

Let me back up even further. The bible tells us that after Tamar is raped by Amnon, after Absalom takes her in, that the king longs to go to Absalom because he is consoled about Amnon's death. Why doesn't he do anything? This remains a mystery. But would you like to guess who devises a way into David's heart to pluck at his emotions, and help him see that he must invite Absalom back home? Joab. He uses the same story like method that Nathan had used to convict David of his sin of adultery and murder several years prior. The method that Joab uses worked. Now, for some reason, my NIV commentary says that there must have been a political reason for Joab doing this. I don't know. I like to believe that Joab, though power hungry at times, was also one of the people who knew David better than perhaps David would like to admit.
Think about how much Joab and David had been through together. First of all, he was David's nephew: one of three sons born to Zeruiah, David's sister. Now, um, I can relate to Zeruiah. I have three sons, with a wild heart or two or three, and I also have a brother named David--of whom anyone acquainted with him would have to say has a heart after God, much like king David of old. But I digress. Joab, David's nephew, had been army commander for David from the beginning of David's kingship. David seems to have gotten very comfortable with Joab heading out and making war for him against many peoples and nations. There is even an instance when Joab says to David "you need to come claim this city yourself, because if you don't, it will be named after me."
One of the stories that gets to my heart the most is the incident with Bathsheba. David involves Joab in the death of Uriah, and in the process, innocent men die (besides Uriah, who of course, was innocent). Joab instructs his servant that if the anger of the king flares up, the servant is to also tell David that Uriah is dead. Do any of you remember David's response to the news? "Say this to Joab: 'Don't let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another... Say this to encourage Joab." Wow. Maybe I'm reading way too much into this. I'm sure I am. But Joab saw first hand how evil the king's heart was in that moment. He was one of the few who saw David at his very worst. In fact, when we look at the other "huge sin" that the bible mentions that David committed at the end of II Samuel--the one where he takes the census--Joab is in the middle of this too!! David sends Joab out to count the troops . But this time, Joab tries to refuse. He tries to talk David out of it II Samuel 24: 3. "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 sudch a thing?" In I Chronicles 21: 6, we learn that Joab decides on his own to not count all of the troups, because David's request "was repulsive to him." Now let me add my own commentary at this point. If Joab were all bad, is it not true that he would have loved to carry out a wicked command such as this one?
In this strange exploring that I have been doing, perhaps I have romanticized Joab for some odd reason. Maybe it's because I like to play devil's advocate sometimes (although I hate that phrase!) But my heart went out to Joab this time. I found myself wanting him to be a good guy so much! But the end of the story... well, as David's life is approaching its end (much to my chagrin), we learn that another of his sons (Adonijah), gets Joab and two other prominent people on his side, and claims the throne. OK, up to this point, I don't think that there is any reason to believe that Joab is going against David. I think maybe he is just being practical (like, David's going to die soon, this is his son, sure, sounds like a plan to me!). Another reason I don't think that Joab is necessarily going against David is because after Nathan and Bathsheeba talk to David, and after Solomon is safely anointed king, the message is brought to Adonijah and his companions, and the bible says that they are "alarmed." True, the alarm could have been caused by just the practicality of the threat of a different claim to the throne. But is there any reason to believe that Joab was going against David?

On David's death bed, he instructs Solomon to pay back Joab for shedding the innocent blood of Abner, son of Ner, and of Amasa (who I think was Joab's cousin).
This is definitely the point at which I run out excuses for Joab. But because I saw a potential shred of good in him at other points of the story, I explored a little further.
First: Abner. There was a strange incident in II Samuel chapter 2 in which Abner (the former commander of now deceased king Saul, now commander of temporary Israelite king Ish-Bosheth) and Joab (David's army commander) meet up at a certain pool of Gibeon with some of their men. Abner suggests that they let some of their men fight. Joab says OK. Many of their men kill each other. "The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the men of Israel were defeated by David's men." --vs. 17. In the next few verses, Asahel (one of Joab's brothers) chases Abner, and essentially forces Abner to kill him out of self-defense. Joab and Abishai (the two brothers still alive), then chase Abner, but Abner talks them into stopping the violence--which I might argue, Abner started.
If I were defending Joab in court at the trial for him killing Abner (which he does in the following chapter), I would say that 1)Abner started the fight and 2) Joab was avenging his brother Asahel. At one point, the NIV note in my bible says that this is not a valid argument, though, since technically they were not at war I think? But you have to consider that all the Israelites had to go by up to that point was the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" type of law handed down to them by Moses. Joab didn't trust Abner as David did in chapter three. He saw Abner as a threat. Was this authentic? Were his motives wrong or right? Only God knows.

For the Amasa section, fast forward back to where we started, with the death of Absalom. Joab gives David a kick in the pants, and David begins acting like a king again. One of his first actions is to replace Joab with Amasa, which makes me a little sad for Joab. If David was being purely political (trying to win over the Israelites), that one political move sure stinks for Joab! Just like that, he was fired. Could David have been angry with Joab for killing his son, Absalom? Could he have been irritated at the speech Joab gave him concerning his men? Was David justified in this? Or was he simply acting out of annoyance or practicality. In II Samuel 20:4, David tells Amasa to summon the men of Judah b/c his kindgom is being threatened by a traitor named Sheba. For some reason, vs. 5: "...when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him." And there is no more explanation than that. As a result, Abishai and Joab's men are sent out under the command of Abishai (Joab's brother). Amasa comes to meet them (vs. 6) and then Joab kills him... Definitely a crime. I wish he hadn't done that.

I'll say this for David. That he is tremendous hero of mine. How many people do you know are very good looking, a super star writer and singer, a braveheart warrior, and yet dedicate every last bit of that talent to God!? God owned him. He had moments of straying away, but his heart remained unadulterated because of his passion and dedication and love for the Father.
Now, for those of you who know extremely talented people, or artsy people, etc... well, such talents don't come from the scientific or mathematical or logical side of the brain, you know what I'm sayin?. Just think about what the results would have been if David had taken a personality test. I imagine that he was outgoing, but perhaps just a little dramatic and impulsive too. The story of David's mighty men risking their lives to get him a drink of water cracks me up --well, kinda. In II Samuel 23: 15, David says "Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water...!" And then, when he has the drink, he won't drink it b/c he recognizes that they risked their lives. OK, now, if I were one of those men, I picture myself in slow motion as he pours the water out (vs. 16) on the ground going "noooooooooooooooooooooooo!" God knows David's heart, and it was probably a really noble kingly thing to do, but my practical side says "dude, drink the water." All this to say, that David was a bit of a drama queen, don't you think? In a good way, of course. ;)
So, back to Joab. He was kinda the Jacopo from Count of Monte Cristo, the Jessep from A Few Good Men (Jack Nicholson): rough around the edges, but I think there was some good in there somewhere. He tended to be there one to do David' dirty work, when it needed to be done. And frankly, that's how I tend to see Absalom's death. But perhaps God doesn't see it that way. I want to be careful with my feelings and thoughts, because I am so incredibly human, and He is so incredibly God.
Unfortunately, things didn't end up so well for Joab at his death. Solomon had him killed. Interestingly, Joab chose to die in the tent of the Lord. Lord, have mercy on his soul. God knows best, thank goodness. Better than Solomon, David, and especially me!

One of my favorite Joab quotes:
"Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him." II Samuel 14: 14. Technically, a woman spoke these words, but look hahhhdahhh (to quote the rafiki from the lion king). Verse 19 last sentence reveals that these were the words of Joab.
I believe that there is truth in that quote. Only God decides a person's ultimate fate. God knew both David and Joab's hearts. He saw everything visible and invisible that went on inside of them.
A strange intrigue about Joab. It was kinda fun digging around in centuries old writings to see the pages come alive. Let me know if you have any such experiences. I'd like to share them with you.


  1. I have often thought that David's death bed instructions were eerily similar to the Godfather movie. Obviously David was a complex person and remember that the culture of the time is not something we can relate to. Good posting. Mike

  2. Wow ... you go, girl! I read every word with a grin across my lips. And that whole thing about Joab giving David a kick in the pants, I agree. That's one place I differed from Beth's teaching, too. I think he needed it.

    Love you so much, you little Berean. :-)

  3. Whoa, Anna! I really enjoyed reading this. Now I want to go back and read the stories again. Fascinating!

  4. This was such an interesting post. I think you could be the next Beth Moore:) I love reading old testament stories and putting the pieces all together like you have done here. But sometimes it is so frustrating the detail that's left out at the same time. You can definitely tell the Bible was writing by men. Then again, if it was written by women we wouldn't have any pocket-sized versions:)

  5. Definitely some food for thought! I have on occasion given the "kick in the pants", and it's not a popular position to be in, but it is often necessary. I think the Joabs in our lives are there for a definite reason! Thanks for your thoughts.



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