Joab was one of those frightening individuals who can be intensely loyal and brutally vindictive simultaneously. His relationship with his Uncle David was not the typical harmlessly affectionate relationship between a nephew and his uncle. Some believe that if David had not been anointed king of Israel, the cutthroat ambition of Joab would surely have catapulted him into the throne. Instead Joab maneuvered himself into the powerful position of commander in chief of David’s military. To have Joab as a friend meant that all one’s enemies would eventually be silenced in one way or another. However, for David, this friendship was maintained at an awful price. What may have begun as respect for his tough-minded nephew eventually turned to fear as David glimpsed the frosted lump of steel where Joab’s heart should have been.
Certainly Joab was a shrewd military strategist. He won great battles for his king. But during Joab’s career, he also murdered two fine Israeli leaders because he viewed them as competitors for his military dominance. In each case, Joab pretended to approach the man as a friend and, with a plastic smile, stabbed him to death.
Joab had no loyalties that couldn’t be switched in a moment. At one point he tried to intercede for David’s son, Absalom, when the father and son were estranged. But when Absalom finally revolted against David, Joab himself murdered Absalom against David’s direct orders. Then as David mourned for Absalom, Joab stalked in and angrily berated him, raving that the king should instead be rejoicing that the revolt was quashed.
When David sent orders that a soldier named Uriah should be intentionally placed where he would be killed in battle, it was Joab who carried out the heartless order. And as Joab watched David then take the coveted wife of Uriah for himself, the general’s intimidation of the king took on the added dimension of silent, ugly blackmail. From that day, surely every glance of Joab into David’s eyes reflected a half-amused mockery at the deadly secret they shared.
So violent and intimidating were Joab and his brothers that David declared, “Today I am powerless even though anointed as king. These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too violent for me.” For some reason, King David himself never took revenge against Joab. But shortly before he died, he warned his successor, Solomon, against Joab and urged him to exact justice.
When Solomon was anointed king of Israel in Gihon, Joab was at a party in support of another aspiring king of Israel. When he heard of Solomon’s crowning, Joab knew in an instant that he was in grave trouble. Hurrying to the tabernacle, he grasped hold of the horns of the altar—supposedly a place of protection. Not to be denied, Solomon ordered one of David’s mighty soldiers to drag him away from the altar and kill him. He who had coldly shoved so many over death’s threshold was granted no more mercy than he himself had shown. In the end the innocent blood Joab spilled was finally mingled with his own.
What can we learn from Joab?
Today in sophisticated society our ambition doesn’t usually result in literal murder of our competitors. But our scramble for advantage over others may be no less cold and destructive than Joab’s. When self-serving ambition turns a heart to stone, inhibitions may eventually vanish in the blind quest for superiority. Whether among relatives, business associates or competitors, we must always guard our hearts, for from the heart comes our response to the vital issues of life.
Bible Verses about Joab
1 Sam. 26:6; 2 Sam. 2:12-32, 10, 11:1, 12:26-29, 18:14, 19:5-7, 20:4-22, 1 Kings 11:16, 1 Chron. 11:6-9
What questions does this help to answer?
- Who was Joab in the Bible?
- What is the story of Joab?
- What happened in the battle against the Ammonites?