|Joab clings to the horns of the altar: the place of God's forgiveness.|
"But Joab said, 'No, I will die here.'" (1 Kings 2:30)
You may be asking yourself, "Why Joab?", or--if you don't know me or haven't read "What is Joab's Rope?"--"Who is Joab anyway?" Probably followed by the question, "Why him?" This page is here to answer those questions in relative detail.
First of all, Joab is one of the people mentioned in the Bible. I don't like to say "Bible characters" because all the people we see in the Bible were real people who lived and breathed on this earth. In part, the Bible is a history.
Though not developed as extensively as, say David or Peter--and perhaps significantly less well-known than them--Joab has several passages that focus on him throughout 2 Samuel and the beginning of 1 Kings. He's also mentioned in 1 Chronicles. Joab was King David's nephew through his sister Zeruiah, and he was also the Israeli army commander for most of David's reign. He had two brothers named Asahel and Abishai and at least one nephew through Asahel named Zebediah. Among his cousins were Amasa through his Aunt Abigail, and Absalom and Solomon through his Uncle David. ...As well of all of David's other children! He had a huge family, but the ones I've mentioned are the most important to the parts of his story told in the Bible.
Joab has an extremely strong personality. I don't think I've found a more intense rant in the Bible than in 2 Samuel 19:5-7, when Joab chews out David for weeping after a civil war has just ended in victory. Joab seemed to command a lot of respect and even devotion from his soldiers, and he was motivated and quick to take action. He showed surprising moments of radical, intense faith in God, as well as a great deal of commitment to his family and the security of his country. It seems nothing was more important to him than keeping Israel as secure and peaceful as possible. In fact, everything he did was done with intensity, decisiveness, and head-on, no-turning-back commitment.
However, Joab also had his share of faults. If his noble moments were intense and radical, then his evil moments were just as extreme. He murdered two people in cold blood, became an accomplice to a third murder, and went against David's orders, killing a helpless man in battle. He and his brothers were violent and reckless in spirit, to the point that David lamented, "These sons of Zeruiah are too violent for me!" (2 Samuel 3:39). Joab didn't possess a whit of the artistic sentimentality that shepherd boy David had, so they often disagreed sharply. When Joab thought he was right, he really thought he was right, and he would often go ahead with what he thought was the better course of action, even if it meant going behind David's back or directly opposing him. He also greatly coveted his position as army commander, but I think that was mainly because he honestly thought he was the best person for the job and was convinced that anyone else would mess it up. That work was his life, after all, and all his effort went into it.
Yet because of all these flaws, Joab seems to be one of the most reviled people in the Bible commentaries. I have yet to see a commentator who paints him in a good light. At best, he's called a "foil to David" and at worst, a "shady figure"--among other things. I respectfully disagree with these wise commentators. I doubt they've spent hours and hours intensively studying each passage about Joab word-for-word, comparing and contrasting them to each other, and trying to better understand the people around him too. I doubt they've found themselves conflicted between the faithful, "May the LORD do what seems good to Him", and the deceitful, "Is it well with you, my brother?" right before he ran his sword through Amasa. I doubt they've wept over his murders, or seen the Gospel in some of his words and actions. They see his curse, but not his faith. They see his murders, but not his silent plea for redemption (1 Kings 2:30 and context).
But why Joab? Why have I invested so much in him? Honestly, I don't know for certain. The first of the three sons of Zeruiah who caught my attention was actually Asahel, who had a very shocking and heart-wrenching death. In a battle, Asahel (who was said to be as fleet-footed as a gazelle) was pursuing the commander, Abner. Looking back, Abner tried to persuade Asahel to turn aside, at last saying, "Why should I strike you down? How then could I show my face to your brother Joab?" When Asahel still wouldn't give up, Abner stopped suddenly, striking Asahel with the butt of his spear so that it came out his back. Asahel died instantly. His two brothers pursued Abner in vengeance until sunset, When they couldn't kill Abner in battle, he became the first of Joab's murders.
|My drawing of the Burial of Asahel. Joab is on the left and Abishai on the right.|
Shortly after that, I read the passage from which I would eventually get "Joab's Rope". Perhaps it was the seeming conflict between Joab's faith and sin that first intrigued me. Joab was a mystery to be solved, but more than that, I wanted to know that he had truly trusted God in his lifetime. Stated simply, I wanted to know whether he was saved: whether he was one of those faithful Old Testament Christians who had hope in the coming Messiah. Was "May the LORD do what seems good to Him" just a fluke or a formality, or was it part of the pattern of Joab's life? Was it something he kept returning to despite his repeated sins? In the end, I found that it was, and I thank God.
But what it really was about Joab that made me care about him so much, I can't really say. I tend to believe that God sometimes places certain people in our hearts for no particular reason: simply because everyone needs someone to pray for them. So in the end, the real answer to "Why Joab?" is, "Just 'cause."
Absalom burns down Joab's barley field (2 Samuel 19:29-31).