LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear.
O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.
There is a phrase oft repeated in conversation amongst Christians, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”
I’ve heard it attributed to George Bernard Shaw; God’s word presents a more refined way of saying it, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” This verse is an apt summary of the tragic legacy of Israel’s greatest warrior: Joab.
Why was Joab’s life a tragedy? The man was obsessed with killing. As much as we may associate Joab with David, and as much as he fought with success, he does not earn the commendation of God’s word. In fact, King David was so conscious of the blood-lust of Joab that one of his last wishes was for Solomon to kill him,
“Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.” (1 Kings 2:6)
Odd, isn’t it? A man earned a death warrant from the same king who used him to lead his army into battle. If only the Bible offered a clear explanation of this curious paradox! Why did David keep him as an official if he had such a huge ax to grind with him? Was David merely using Joab because he wanted to win battles? Did David leave him in his position of power to prevent Joab from inciting a coup d’état? Or perhaps David simply tolerated Joab until David realized that God wouldn’t allow him to build the temple due to the blood on David’s hands? Maybe David wanted to save Solomon from a similar indictment from God?
One thing we know: David and Joab did not agree on war policy.
Think back to the time King Saul, realizing David was going to be the future king, hunts David with 3000 of his men in the wilderness of Engedi. As Saul “takes a break”, he manages to pick the cave David and his men are hiding in order to “do his business” (1 Sam 24:3-7). David is moments from killing the man who wishes to murder him, and he holds himself back. It gets better though:
Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself. David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men, saying, ‘Behold, David seeks to harm you’? Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’S anointed.’ Now, my father, see! Indeed, see the edge of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the edge of your robe and did not kill you, know and perceive that there is no evil or rebellion in my hands, and I have not sinned against you, though you are lying in wait for my life to take it. May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea? The LORD therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”
This act of mercy amidst wartime is not unusual for David – it was habitual. If you read the last post about these guys, you’ll see him do the exact same thing again. Say what you want about the one summer David lazily avoided war with the Philistines, let Joab go out and do the dirty work, and shacked up with Bathsheba…he did go down in history as guilty of adultery; but Scripture is clear to recognize that David was ultimately a man after God’s own heart (1 King 11:4, Acts 13:22). Why? Because he knew and practiced grace.
Why did Joab turn out so differently from David when it came to grace?
Perhaps the most significant difference between Joab and David is that Joab was a professional officer, whereas David was a professional shepherd. During David’s six-and-a-half year reign in the region of Judah (in the city of Hebron), both Joab (2 Sam 2:13) and his brother Abishai (1 Sam 26:6) establish themselves as primary military leaders for David. Throughout his reign as King of Israel, both men stay with David through good times (2 Sam 10:14) and bad (2 Sam 18:2). There is no point at which we see Joab as anything more or less than a military leader. It is significant to note this, because there are many instances throughout David’s reign when he sees a situation from a pastoral perspective, whereas Joab sees the same situation from a defensive, or militaristic perspective. David seeks to mitigate bloodshed at times when Joab finds it crucial. In essence, Joab put the principle of defense first, rather than choosing to be obedient to his king, or reflective of the nature of his God.
How can I prove this? I give three examples:
Joab’s murder of Abner, the son of King Saul.
2 Samuel 3:22-39
Abner said to David, “Let me arise and go and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may be king over all that your soul desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace. (2 Sam 3:21)
Then Joab came to the king and said, “What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you; why then have you sent him away and he is already gone? You know Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive you and to learn of your going out and coming in and to find out all that you are doing.”
When Joab came out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah; but David did not know it. So when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the middle of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the belly so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel his brother. ( 2 Sam 3:24-27)
Need more examples of this?
Joab’s murder of Amasa, tardy military commander under David.
2 Samuel 19:11-13, 20:4-10; 1 Kings 2:5
Joab’s murder of Absalom, the son of King David.
2 Samuel 18:1-15
Ultimately, I believe Joab suffered from an exclusively self-centered, or Israel-centered view of his job, rather than a God-centered perspective. All his decisions may have had a beneficial element to them. If you investigate each of those instances of murder, you’ll find plenty of potential for rationalizing each one. However, those killings either defied the command of the king, or they were too hasty. The reason David condemned him for them is that David placed his faith in God to secure his personal safety and political power; Joab placed his faith in himself.
What’s the point? I think there are four.
Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but
(1) to fear the LORD your God,
(2) to walk in all His ways and love Him,
(3) and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
(4) and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?
1. Fearing the LORD your God: Under no circumstance do we ever see Joab exercise the fear of the LORD his God. He certainly fought for the God, but he did it out of his own desire for defense, battle, or bloodshed.
2. Walk in all His ways and love Him: Joab only walked in some of God’s ways, as were convenient for him. It strikes me that if Joab loved God, he would have had a deeper sense of love for God’s people: Israel, which would have led him to seek to unite them, as David did.
3. Serve the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul: Again, he certainly obeyed with all his heart and soul at times, but those times when a command went against his opinions about battle, Joab served his own desires.
4. Keep the Lord’s commandments: Exodus 20:13 “You shall not murder.”
As I write of Joab, I think of Jesus. Jesus met a man one day who was a lot like Joab. He could obey commandments…except the ones that conflicted with just one thing he desperately clung to; in this case, it wasn’t murder, it was riches.
And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”
And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
Then he said to Him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
So what are you holding on to?
Who are you holding on to?