Summary: Joab was a sinner/saint just like we are. We learn to deal with such people in patience. We also learn that we are not to base our plans on our own sinful cunning, but on trust in the Lord.
Over the past couple of months we’ve been looking at the people God used in the life of King David and today will be our last sermon in this Agents of Grace series. Of all the people we learned about, which one do you most identify with? Are you a Samuel, a mentor to younger believers? Are you a Jonathan, a good friend who doesn’t mind being the Robin to someone else’s Batman? Are you an Abigail, quick to head off trouble with well thought out words and actions? Are you a Nathan, not afraid to point out sin so that you can also point people to their Savior? I hope that you’re not a Goliath, a King Saul, or an Absalom—unbelievers, whom, nevertheless, God used to refine David’s faith.
Perhaps you don’t identify with any of the people we’ve studied so far because they either seem too righteous or too evil! Well the person we’re going to learn about today falls somewhere in the middle of the two groups. This individual was a life-long companion of David, and was in fact related to him. He was a believer, but his trust in God’s ability to rule the world well was not nearly as strong as David’s. On a number of occasions David wished he could rid himself of this individual’s influence, but at the same time he realized that this individual was a valuable ally. Who was this complex person? It was Joab, the general of David’s army. He’s also a man that we sinner/saints can identify with. Let’s find out what Joab can teach us about ourselves, and about the sinner/saints around us.
Joab was David’s nephew—one of three sons born to David’s sister Zeruiah. Joab’s brothers were Asahel and Abishai. That’s worth knowing because Abishai and Joab were often co-commanders of David’s armies, and it seems that all three brothers had been with David from the time he was pursued by King Saul. In other words, they had been through a lot with David. Abishai had been the one who wanted to thrust a spear through Saul when he and David crept up on the sleeping king. David, demonstrating his trust in the Lord to deal with Saul, stayed Abishai’s hand.
This ruthlessness that Abishai voiced was also present in his brothers, along with the characteristics of impetuousness and cunning. Joab demonstrated ruthless cunning when he murdered the generals Abner and Amasa. Abner had been general for King Saul, while Amasa had been the general for Absalom, so you might think it was good that Joab killed them, after all they had been David’s enemies. But Joab killed these men after they had come over to David’s side. While David thought that Abner and Amasa would be useful in helping him unite the nation and could be trusted to do so, Joab was angry that they would be taking his spot as top commander. Besides, how could David be so naïve to think that these men could be trusted? That’s just not how things worked in the “real” world. So while David trusted that the Lord would not let these men take advantage of him, Joab trusted in his cunning to stay one step ahead of them. With both men Joab acted like he was going to greet his rivals warmly, but this was only so he could draw close enough to thrust a dagger into their bellies. After Abner’s murder David lamented: “…though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah [Joab and Abishai, Asahel had been killed by Abner] are too strong for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!” (2 Samuel 3:39)
David saw Joab for what he was and yet he felt there wasn’t much he could do about the situation at the moment. Perhaps David felt this way because Joab was family and was loyal. He also had proven himself to be an effective military commander. What David did do was make Joab tear his clothes and walk in front of Abner’s funeral procession. Then years later David commanded Solomon that after he became king, he was to punish Joab for his sins of murder.
Another reason David didn’t just depose Joab was because the general could, from time to time, prove to be a humble servant who trusted in the Lord. For example when the Israelites were fighting the Ammonites, Joab could have finished the job and would have been given credit for the victory. Instead he called in David to make the final push so that the king would get the glory (2 Samuel 12:26-28). Another time when Joab and Abishai were fighting the Ammonites and Arameans and were greatly outnumbered, Joab encouraged his brother with these faith-filled words: “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. 12 Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The LORD will do what is good in his sight.” (2 Samuel 10:11, 12). There was even a time when Joab acted more righteously than David. This happened when David ordered Joab to count how many men were available to serve as soldiers. While this seems to be an innocent request, Joab saw that David was motivated by pride. Like a rich man who counts his money every day to revel in his riches, David was reveling in the fact that he had a big army rather than rejoicing that he had a big God who had made David’s armies successful no matter what their size! Even Joab saw the sinfulness of David’s request and tried to talk him out of it (2 Samuel 24).