David and Joab

David and Joab

Joab was David’s powerful and trusted military general throughout his reign, and was a significant figure, not least in defeating Israel’s enemies and securing the kingdom. Joab was there at the start, who along with two brothers joined David’s band while he was on the run from King Saul, and was close to him right up to David’s death.

Yet the relationship between David and Joab was an awkward one and it says something about David’s flawed character and avoidable dependence on Joab, who had a hold over David, knowing his darkest secrets, e.g. in ordering the murder of Uriah. Joab led Israel’s army throughout David’s kingship, barring two short but significant episodes when Joab was deposed from being general. 

The first thing to say about Joab was that David won every military campaign he was involved in, which led to Israel achieving something it had not achieved prior in its 1000 years existence, complete dominance of the region and secure borders that his successor, Solomon, was to enjoy but after David’s death, which after was never the same again as first Israel and the Judah were opened up to enemy attack and then taken into exile. That was down to God being with David and David having a heart devoted to God, with who all kings of Israel and Judah after him would be compared. While David was faithful to God, the part Joab played, his abilities and effectiveness leading the armies of Israel was vital to his success. While Joab did not have David’s tenderness of heart, he had other qualities along with being a great general, e.g. telling David to pull himself together after the death of Absalom and when David foolishly decided to number Israel’s fighting men, something that was to incur God’s wrath, Joab advised him against doing so.

We can see from the titles of these two (helpful) “Joab” video presentations, “Joab-A Fallen Hero” and “Joab: The Merciless Politician” there was a side of Joab that was far from sweetness and light, for not only was he a fearless fighter but he was a ruthless one too. The two occasions when he was demoted from being leader of David’s army, showed this. Following the death of Saul, and the war between the armies of Judah led by Joab and Israel led by Abner there was a truce called but Joab murdered Abner, who had earlier killed his brother, in revenge even though an amnesty had been given. He regained his position as a reward for his brave and audacious attack on Jerusalem. After the war between David and Absalom, who Joab killed despite being ordered not to, Joab murdered Amasa who David had appointed to be commander of his army (after commanding Absalom’s one) and, having regained authority, subdued the remainder of Israel in opposition to David.

While David can be criticised for persisting with Joab, such was the situation David found himself in, he had no other human option but to continue with the one who, military speaking, showed himself to be a great general and enforcer extraordinaire. While we may argue concerning his character and motives, he served with distinction.  At the end of David’s reign there was another civil war, albeit nipped early in the bud, between Solomon and another of David’s sons, Adonijah, who gained the support of some key people, including it seems Joab (despite David’s wish Solomon be king). As we will see when we consider Solomon, the coup was defeated by a counter coup, with Solomon becoming king as a result. In David’s final instructions to Solomon, he told him to execute Joab because of his murder of Abner and this he did. It is a strange and tragic ending for someone who served David, mostly well, over such a long period.

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