“Joab: David’s Weak Strongman”
Joab, whose name means “Jehovah is father,” was the son of David’s sister, Zeruiah. Joab’s parents named him in the hope that he would be like the name. They desired him to be a child of God by faith. In his early days Joab may have had a conversion experience. Later on he talked about God, but his actions show that he had no saving connection with God. Strong in military might, Joab became weak in moral power. A lesson we learn from his life is that evil pursues unrepentant sinners and will overtake them at the last.
After becoming king, David set out to conquer Jebus, a city of the Jebusites, and to make it his capital. David captured the city by defying a curse and by overcoming a seemingly impassable natural barrier. Before the battle David declared, “Whoever attacks the Jebusites first shall be chief and captain [of the army]. And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, and became chief ” (1 Chronicles 11:6). Thus Joab became second in command in David’s administration.
2 Samuel 10 records another “impossible” predicament. Joab’s men were between two enemy armies. He and his brother, Abishai, vowed to support each other, leaving the results in the hands of God. To Abishai Joab said, “If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth him good” (2 Samuel 10:9, 11–12).
Over time, Joab became a cold blooded murderer. There is no record that Joab ever felt remorse or repentance for his willing participation in David’s premeditated murder of Uriah the Hittite or any other of his murders. When Joab’s jealousy conflicted with the orders of the king, Joab plotted his own course, committing murder for personal revenge as in the case of Abner.
In a time of peace, Joab used deceit to kill Abner, the king’s guest, in revenge for the death of his brother Asahel whom Abner had killed during the war. Joab, like all false-hearted men, assumed that Abner and all other men were as false as he was. David understood this and distanced himself from Joab. He mourned over Abner’s death, and pronounced a wide-ranging curse upon Joab and his descendants (2 Samuel 3:28-31). Later when Absalom rebelled against David, Joab disobeyed the king’s direct command to spare Absalom’s life. This final indignity finally led David to depose Joab as commander-in-chief of the army.
Infuriated and jealous, Joab determined to kill his rival, Amasa. Joab concealed his hatred and greeted Amasa with a kiss. Amasa trusted Joab’s gesture of reconciliation, and Joab used the opportunity to eliminate his rival (2 Samuel 20:7-10). David again spared Joab from punishment. He continued as commander-in-chief. Whatever his faults, he was the most able man for the position, and David still assumed mistakenly that Joab would be loyal to him. It was not until David turned the kingdom over to Solomon that Joab was appropriately punished.
Adonijah attempted a coup, claiming the rights of eldest surviving son of the king. Joab, deliberately going against David’s wishes, joined with Abiathar, the high priest in this traitorous act. The prophet Nathan and another priest, Zadok, foiled Adonijah’s attempt on the throne. Solomon was made king according to the word of the Lord. Thus Joab’s final act of treason insured that he would reap what he had sown.
Though Joab was a mighty man of valor, his allegiance to the king was always contingent upon his own personal agreement with David’s decisions. Therefore, he did not actually serve at all. He essentially held the king hostage because of the unstable political and military situation and hiss own personal influence over the army. Joab’s treasonous acts were many, but in the end, David’s only recorded charge against him was regarding the assassination of Abner and Amasa. David told Solomon to not let Joab die a natural death for he knew that Joab was not repentant. He knew that Joab would do even more damage to the kingdom under Solomon’s reign.
Seeing his danger, Joab ran to the tabernacle and grasped the horns of the altar, claiming God’s protection (1 Kings 2:28). In this action, Joab showed his ultimate disrespect, not merely for David as king, but for God. The sacred act of taking hold of the horns of the altar as a claim for protection was for those only who had taken a life accidentally (see Exodus 21:12-14). According to the command of David, and in harmony with the Word of God, Solomon sent Benaiah, commander of his armed forces to take Joab from the altar, and to bring him to the judgment seat where he could make his defense. Joab, knowing that he had nothing to say, refused leave the altar, but insisted on dying there (see 1 Kings 2:28-34).
Had Joab been truly repentant, his life might have been spared. At the least, God in His mercy would have given Joab eternal life. But he had persisted in self-will and determined rebellion until he was so corrupted that his conscience was seared beyond repair.
David’s patience and longsuffering towards Joab seems almost unbelievable. Yet it only faintly mirrors Christ’s love. God is unwilling that any should be left to perish (2 Peter 3:9). No matter how monstrously a person has betrayed the Lord, he may flee to the Christ whom his sins have wounded. Jesus is both altar and sacrifice. If we take hold of the horns of the altar in true contrition – willing to be changed into submissive and obedient children of God, He will give back to us the joy of salvation and favor with God.
And yet, the infinite justice of God which includes in its scope the full depth of mercy, puts a limit to the forbearance, even of God. Those who claim His protection while refusing to render Him service will eventually reap all that they have sown. The servants of the King of Kings may do many “good” things in Christ’s name, thinking to further His Kingdom. But if they operate outside His direction, they despise His mercy.
Men who exalt themselves against God are still left to themselves until they are corrected with a scourge not of their own choosing, but of their own making. An example of this is seen in the late 1800’s when God sent to His church a most precious message of righteousness by faith. Those who rejected that message and mistreated the messengers exalted themselves and crucified Christ afresh. Seen in the light of eternity, the results of this rejection of truth will be recognized as treason against God. Those who remain unrepentant will reap all that they have sown, as surely as did Joab (see the chapter entitled “Rejecting the Light” in volume 14 of Manuscript Releases beginning on page 126).
I pray that the people of God today will set aside personal preferences and unite fully with the King of Kings so that the work of God may be finished quickly in the earth.