There are many confusing secondary characters in the Bible. They are confusing because they do things that we would assume would be ‘right,’ but are subsequently shown to be wrong. Joab is one of these characters. He makes a lot of decisions that seem to be ‘right.’ His reasoning is, unfortunately, reasoning some use today to teach children to be ‘good people.’ Unfortunately we will see that many of his actions are not looked upon as ‘good’ in the end….
Joab was the son of Zeruiah, who had three sons, Abishai, Joab and Asahel. Abishai was the brother who went with David when David snuck into Saul’s camp while everyone was sleeping. Abishai wished to kill Saul, believing God had delivered him into their hands. David counseled him not to kill the Lord’s anointed and stole Saul’s spear and water jog instead. (1 Samuel 26).
We first hear of Joab’s exploits shortly after David is anointed king of Hebron. Joab is the captain of David’s army. Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, is king over the rest of Israel and Abner is the captain of his army. Abner and Joab meet with their men by pool and propose they allow the younger men to engage in a wrestling match- 12 vs 12. It turns bloody, a battle ensues and Abner’s army is defeated. (While it would seem good for the two sides to engage in a ‘fun’ wrestling match, not realizing how much hatred existed in the young mens’ hearts made a fun activity, seemingly meant to build better relationships, into a battle that would lead to even more hatred. Wisdom must be used when reconciling two parties. What works when both sides are slightly miffed, may not work when there is still much animosity present. Not everyone is ready to ‘just be friends.’)
After the battle is over, Abner retreats. Joab’s brother, Asahel, is fast, but young, and follows Abner on foot. Abner warns Asahel to turn away. He is afraid of Joab’s reaction and knows Asahel is not a match for him. Asahel refuses and Abner kills him, worsening the relationship between Abner and Joab. (2 Sam 2) (Joab does not ask the details, but assumes Abner behaved badly. If he had asked, and listened with an open mind, he may have understood that Abner tried to avoid killing Asahel.)
Later, when Abner decides to support David, Joab arranges to meet with him without David’s knowledge and, with the help of his brother Abishai, kills Abner. Joab believes he is doing David a favor, protecting him, as he does not believe Abner to be a man of his word. (2 Sam 3:25) David curses Joab and his family, and mourns Abner. (What Joab saw as ‘protecting’ his friend, David saw as harming an innocent man. Teaching people to ‘have their friend’s backs’ often does not allow for a former non-friend to repent and change his position.)
Abner was said to have died a ‘fool’s death,’ as he trusted someone he should not have. (2 Sam 3:33) (Teaching children to be trusting, even when the situation is clearly treacherous, is teaching them to behave foolishly and sets them up to be hurt. While we cannot avoid all hurts in life, wisdom can be used to be on guard against some situations. To behave like Abner, and assume a man who has previously shown you hatred to be trustworthy, is foolish.)
Joab wins many battles for David. In the midst of one he is commanded to arrange for Uriah the Hittite to be killed in order to cover up David’s affair with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Joab complies, and other men die with Uriah as well. (2 Sam 11) (Obeying unjust commands is not good, and not only did the intended man die, but so did other innocent men. ‘Covering’ for your friends can lead to feeling like you must do bad things.)
Joab then acts as a middle man between David and his son Absalom. (2 Sam 14) Joab has a widow woman try to convince David to reconcile with his son through a story. This has limited results and Absalom is allowed to return to Jerusalem, though David ignores him. Absalom tries to get Joab to speak with David again on his behalf, but has to resort to burning Joab’s field to get his attention. Joab again goes to David. The reunion seems promising in the beginning, but does not last and Absalom schemes to take over the kingdom. (We teach that bringing two sides together to reconcile is good, but family affairs are complicated and full of emotion. While Joab tries, his heart is not in it and his attempts are half-hearted. Not being aware of where both sides are currently at emotionally, and not being there to fully support an obviously volatile situation are recipes for disaster. Too many times we simplify what is needed in a situation and fail to teach our children that hard work and commitment to a situation are needed to gain true results.)
Absalom then takes over the kingdom and David, with Joab, flees. A war ensues, and Absalom is found hanging by his hair from a tree. Absalom had been riding on a mule, indicating that he had come in peace, assumedly to meet with his father, David. Additionally, David had stated that people were to deal gently with Absalom. Joab, likely believing he knows better than David and wishing to protect David, kills Absalom. (Remember, Joab had previously tried to help Absalom in his attempts to reconcile with David. He has not previously shown signs of being Absalom’s enemy before Absalom takes over.) (2 Sam 18) Due to this, and other times Joab kills without David’s consent, David instructs Solomon to make sure Joab does not die in peace. (Thinking you know better than those in authority and delivering ‘justice’ outside of the proper channels is not right.)
David later decides to call a census. Joab wisely counsels him not to, as it goes against God’s will. David insists, and Joab follows his orders. Israel is punished with a plague. (Giving in and doing something that you know is not right is still not right even if the person over you orders you to do so…) (2 Sam 24)
Joab then decides to support Adonijah as a successor to David instead of Solomon. Solomon uses this opportunity to end Joab’s life as he was instructed to by David. (Although Adonijah was the supposed heir through birth order, David had appointed Solomon. Believing man-made rules, or customary ways of doing things should be followed, without praying to seek God’s will is a mistake.) (1 Kings 2)