by Wayne Blank
Joab had two brothers, Abishai and Asahel. During an Israelite civil war battle (see The Civil War) between the forces of David (the tribe of Judah), under the command of Joab, and those of Saul's son Ish-bosheth (most of the rest of Israel, see also Jews At War With Israel) under the command of Abner, Asahel was reluctantly killed by the more experienced warrior Abner, who, although in retreat, was more than a match for the inexperienced, too eager to be a hero, Asahel.
"And Abner said again to Asahel, "Turn aside from following me; why should I smite you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?" But he refused to turn aside; therefore Abner smote him in the belly with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back; and he fell there, and died where he was" (2 Samuel 2:22-23 RSV)
Later, when Abner sought to make peace with David and to bring all of Israel under David's rule, Joab killed Abner in revenge for Asahel, an act of murder (Asahel was lawfully killed in battle, in plain self-defense by Abner, while Abner was deviously killed for personal revenge at the town gate of Hebron while, in effect, waving a white flag):
"And Abner said to David, "I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires." So David sent Abner away; and he went in peace ... And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he smote him in the belly, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother." (2 Samuel 3:21,27 RSV)
Joab's killing of Abner was immediately denounced by David. It was an act of political treachery that threatened the reunion of Israel and the re-igniting of the civil war:
"Afterward, when David heard of it, he said, "I and my kingdom are for ever guiltless before The Lord for the blood of Abner the son of Ner. May it fall upon the head of Joab, and upon all his father's house; and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who is slain by the sword, or who lacks bread!" (2 Samuel 3:28-29 RSV)
David's public denouncing of Joab turned out to be more political than anything; David rebuked Joab, but after he secured his kingship over all of Israel he promoted Joab to commander over the entire army:
"So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and equity to all his people. And Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army" (2 Samuel 8:15-16 RSV)
Joab served David well in various battles, including a major confrontation between Israel and a Syria-Ammonite coalition in which the fearsome Joab put a mustered enemy force of over 30,000 troops to flight without a fight:
"the Ammonites sent and hired the Syrians of Bethrehob, and the Syrians of Zobah, twenty thousand foot soldiers, and the king of Maacah with a thousand men, and the men of Tob, twelve thousand men. And when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the host of the mighty men ... So Joab and the people who were with him drew near to battle against the Syrians; and they fled before him. And when the Ammonites saw that the Syrians fled, they likewise fled before Abishai" (2 Samuel 10:6-7,13-14 RSV)
Joab was involved with one of the darkest events of King David's life, the battlefield murder of Uriah the Hittite to cover up David's adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba (who later, after she was widowed by David's act of murder, married David and became the mother of King Solomon)
"In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die." And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was slain also." (2 Samuel 11:14-17 RSV)
When David's son Absalom attempted to overthrow David as king, it was Joab who was instrumental in defeating the coup, and it was Joab who personally killed Absalom, another of his royal cousins:
"Joab said, "I will not waste time like this with you." And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak." (2 Samuel 18:14 RSV)
When David grieved for his rebellious son Absalom at the expense of those who had been loyal to the king, it was Joab who rebuked his uncle. Joab was one of only a very few who had both the hutzpah (considering that it was Joab himself who killed the son that David was grieving for), and the clout, to speak to and influence David in that way:
"Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, "You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you; for today I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by The Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now." (2 Samuel 19:5-7 RSV)
When the time came to choose a royal successor of David, Joab favored Adonijah (who was the logical choice, since he was the older brother of Solomon) - an act that Solomon did not overlook when he, not Adonijah, became king:
"When the news came to Joab - for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom - Joab fled to the tent of The Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar. And when it was told King Solomon, "Joab has fled to the tent of The Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar," Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, "Go, strike him down."
Fact Finder: How many royal dynasties were there in Judah? How many were there in Israel?