I am weak today, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too difficult for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil. 2 Sam. 3:39.
Joab commanded the Israelite army under King David. He was David’s contemporary but also his nephew, the son of David’s oldest sister, Zeruiah, and the brother of two other renowned warriors from the house of Jesse, Abishai and Asahel. Throughout his career, Joab showed unswerving loyalty to Israelite nationalism, stalwartly defending David’s reign, but occasionally placing David’s interests behind Joab’s personal perception of patriotism. Despite his proximity to David in both lineage and mission, Joab does not wholeheartedly embrace David’s theology. When Joab makes a final break with David over the anointing of a successor to the throne of David, Joab is repaid for the difficulties that his ardent nationalism caused the fledgling empire.
We follow Joab’s career primarily in 2nd Samuel and 1st Chronicles. After the persecution of David by Saul, the Judahites under the command of Joab engage in a civil war against King Ish-bosheth’s Israelites, led by Saul’s uncle, Abner. Notwithstanding that Abner appears to change heart and seeks to make David king over both kingdoms, Joab brutally assassinates Abner, motivated by his suspicions of Abner’s true political agenda (as well as Joab’s personal vendetta over the death of Joab’s brother, Asahel, at the hands of Abner).
Joab leads the conquest of Jerusalem as a capital city for David, and soundly defeats the Aramean mercenaries defending Ammon, then capturing the Ammonite city, Rabbah, as a tribute to David. During the siege of Rabbah, moreover, Joab accomplishes David’s sinister plan for the death of Uriah. Joab undertakes to reconcile David to his son, Absalom, in an effort to strengthen the line of succession of David’s house, but when Absalom later stages a coup against David, Joab does not hesitate to kill the usurping prince, despite David’s standing orders to the contrary. Joab even reproves David for mourning Absalom, urging instead that David not disaffect the loyal army.
After David replaces Joab with Joab’s cousin, Amasa, as commander of the army, Joab next stealthily assassinates Amasa, doubting Amasa’s loyalty to the crown (Amasa had led the rebel forces under Absalom, and delayed taking action against a later revolt). Joab even conducts David’s infamous census of all Israel, although Joab questions the wisdom of David’s actions. Joab never demurs from putting the advance of the national interests of David’s kingdom ahead of all else. Joab champions the reign of God’s anointed king, David, he preserves and protects the realm, but his agenda is always secular in nature: nowhere in these chapters are we given any insight that Joab, like David, is motivated by the advancement of the kingdom of God.
In the final vignettes from the scriptural accounts of Joab’s life, his nationalistic and dynastic fervor drives Joab to remonstrate against the will of the LORD in the coronation of Solomon as David’s successor, as Joab instead supports the reign of David’s oldest son, Adonijah. David had years earlier cursed Joab for making David’s rule too difficult, and David charges Solomon to seek retribution against Joab for his shedding of the blood of war in peace. Although after his many years of nationalistic fervor, Joab finally seeks refuge in the tabernacle of the LORD, his embrace of the altar of God comes far too late, and Joab, the “evildoer”, is repaid according to his evil.
By Doug Rose