A loose cannon on the side of the law?

Seventh in the Solomon Series

What did David have against Joab? After all, Joab was his nephew who had a rightful claim as his army captain because he led the fight against the Jebusites, squarely attaining the position (1 Ch 11:6) He and his brothers, Abishai and Asahel, were loyal, valiant soldiers as David was pursued by King Saul. However, problems began when Asahel died young in a showdown between Saul's and David's troops, killed by Abner, Saul's general.

A few years after that, Abner wanted to defect from Israel to Judah --that is, from Ishbosheth, Saul's son and successor, to David's kingdom-- and David sought to appoint him head of his army as a way of consolidating the tribes. Instead, Joab killed Abner to take vengeance for his brother's death. Perhaps, too, Joab wanted to remain David's captain.

David understood that Joab had "shed the blood of war in peace" (1 Ki 2:5b), and the murder complicated the unification that David was striving to achieve. He said, Let it rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father's house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread. (2Sa 3:29)

This brings up two interesting points: 1. If the man who is second in command has a personal agenda, chaos results. 2. Wars should never be for the sake of devastation and evil loss of life, but for just causes. David was keenly sensitive about the rules of killing. He knew it was not in God's plan to fuel more division by continuing assassinations and strife between Saul's men and his. Abner had killed Asahel in the course of war, but Joab killed Abner for vengeance.

Though a loose cannon, Joab did not see himself as a commandment breaker. When he killed, he had good reasons! For example, when he pursued Sheba, a son of Belial (2 Sa 20:1), who revolted against King David, he refrained himself and the troops from tearing a city apart to find and kill Sheba. A woman of the city advised him that the city's people would toss Sheba's head over the wall, and this was sufficient for Joab. Her challenge to Joab was: ...thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD? His response was: Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy. (2 Sa 20:19, 20)

On the other hand, his mission to pursue Sheba had not been approved by King David. Instead, the King had told Abishai, Joab's brother, to take up that pursuit when Amasa had not rallied the troops in a timely way.

Amasa had been promoted to army general, replacing Joab after Joab had killed Absalom who had tried to overthrow King David. Rather than being grateful to Joab for his loyalty, he mourned for his son Absalom, and determined to pull the kingdom back together by appointing the traitorous Amasa as his army general. Joab appointed himself to the mission to kill Sheba, and murdered Amasa along the way.

In these stories, we see David as the ultimate bipartisan ruler, and Joab as the maverick who followed orders when they were good orders, and at times invented his own orders.

An interesting insight to Joab is in 2 Samuel 24 when King David tells him and his commanders to take a census of Israel and Judah. Joab's response is, May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord's subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel? (1 Ch 21:3)

David paid no attention to Joab's warning, so Joab took the census, leaving out Levi and Benjamin "because the king's command was repulsive to him." (1 Ch 21:4-6) The Levites were the religious leaders, and the Benjamites were Saul's kinsmen, whom he spared from the ungodly numbering, presumably.

This numbering of Israel was for the purpose of measuring strength, but God was Israel's strength. Joab understood. And God did punish David for taking the census.

In the end, Joab turned against David and Solomon, supporting Adonijah's attempt to seize power, a brush fire that was quickly smothered. Adonijah saved his own life by grasping the horns of the altar and begging for mercy, which Solomon granted, stipulating that he would need to "show himself a worthy man." (1Ki 1:52) As we saw in our last post, he did not do that, and was killed by Benaiah. The priest who had supported his sedition (Abiathar) was "run out of town," and when Joab heard about it, he fled to the tabernacle and caught hold on the horns of the altar. (1 Ki 2:28) He understood that he was guilty.

Benaiah told King Solomon where Joab was, but this time, the horns did not deliver. Joab chose to die at the altar. One cannot help but feel sad at this turn in the story.

Solomon did not view the altar, where sacrifices were made in obedience to God's commands, in a superstitious way. Even though it was a holy fixture, it could not protect a traitor. Joab's case was clear to him and there would be swift justice. If he was to reign in peace and build the temple, he could not endure rivals.

Only Shimei was left to deal with.