Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was the nephew of King David and the commander of his army.
The name Joab is derived from Yahweh, the name of the God of Israel, and the Hebrew word meaning ‘father’. It therefore means ‘Yahweh [is] father’. Apart from David’s nephew, the name was given to 2 other individuals in the Bible (see Ezra 2:6, 8:9). It is also a common name in modern Israel.
Joab was the son of Zeruiah, a sister of king David, who made him captain of his army (2Sam. 8:16; 20:23; 1Chron. 11:6; 18:15; 27:34). He had 2 brothers, Abishai & Asahel. Asahel was killed by Abner, for which Joab took revenge by murdering Abner against David’s wishes (2Sam. 2:13-32; 3:27).
After leading the assault on the fortress of Mount Zion, he was promoted to the rank of General (1Chron. 27:34). He led the army against Syria, Ammon, Moab & Edom. He also took part in David’s murder of Uriah (2Sam. 11:14-25).
As commander of David’s army, Joab showed great military skill… defeating an Amalekite coalition in 2 separate encounters and giving David the glory of capturing the enemy capital. At the same time, though, Joab committed several acts that showed a much darker side to his character. He personally avenged the death of his brother by stabbing Abner, a rival commander, to death (2Sam. 3:26), and he used a similar tactic to assassinate another rival military commander named Amasa (see below).
Joab also went along with David’s scheme to have the warrior Uriah placed in a military situation that was intended to result in his death (2Sam. 11).
Joab played a pivotal role as the commander of David’s forces during Absalom’s rebellion. Absalom, one of David’s sons, rallied much of Israel in rebellion against David, who was forced to flee with only his most trusted men. However, David could not bring himself to harm his son, and ordered that none of his men should kill Absalom during the ensuing battle. But, when a man reported that Absalom had been found, alive, caught in a tree, Joab and his men killed him (2Sam. 18:1-33).
Hearing of David’s grief over the reported death of Absalom, Joab confronted and admonished David. The king followed Joab’s advice to make a public appearance to encourage his troops (2Sam. 19:1-8). This seems to have been the point at which Joab lost respect for David… and became disillusioned by him.
David later replaced him as commander of the army with his nephew, Amasa (2Sam. 17:25; 19:13). Joab later killed Amasa (2Sam. 20:8-13; 1Ki. 2:5).
Joab and other commanders began questioning David’s judgment (2Sam. 24:2-4). As David neared the end of his reign, Joab offered his allegiance to David’s eldest son, Adonijah, rather than to the promised king, Solomon (1Ki. 1:1-27).
In the end, Joab met his own violent death as Solomon carried out his father’s deathbed requests. David gave Solomon what seems to have been an Israelite version of a “hit list”… and Joab was first on that list (2Ki. 2).
Joab fled to the Tent of the Tabernacle (where Adonijah has previously sought successful refuge [1Ki. 1:50-53]) and told Benaiah he would die there. Benaiah, as ordered by King Solomon, killed Joab in the House of Yahweh (1Ki. 2:29-34), and then replaced him as commander of the army.
Joab lived by the sword… and died by the sword.
Joab had the stuff of a great leader. He knew what he wanted. He was brilliant at planning and goal-setting. He implemented his plans without a hitch. He possessed boundless energy. He was confident and courageous. He was shrewd.
Yet, despite his military successes, Joab never lived up to his potential. Why? Because, even with his many talents and abilities, Joab lacked a moral compass. A true pragmatist, he concerned himself with what worked rather than with what was right. We see no evidence that Joab ever sought God’s guidance or tried to live according to God’s laws. Instead, the record reveals a man who generally reacted out of angry, resorted to treachery, and did whatever it took to reach his own goals.
Because Joab’s life was ruled by vengeance, it’s not surprising he died a violent death. But, the lesson from Joab’s life is broader than that. Ambition that ignores God’s direction always leads to pain and sorrow.
Are you seeking to do God’s will today – in every area of your life? Or, are you ignoring God’s standards in the ambitious pursuit of your own desires?
* In the end, our success is measured by our obedience.
You can read Joab’s story in 2Samuel 2 – 1Kings 2. He is also mentioned in 1Chronicles 2:16; 11:4-39; 19:8-15; 20:1; 21:2-6; 26:28; and in the title of Psalm 60.