The Life and Reign of Joab: King David’s Right Hand Man.

It is next to impossible to tell the story of Israel’s iconic king – David and not mention Joab.  As a matter of fact, the lives of these 2 were so intertwined that I dare to say  David would not be as popularly known as he is today if Joab was not a part of his life story. That is how much of an impact Joab had on David’s life and on his 40-year reign as king of Israel.

Joab was commander-in-chief alongside his master for 40 years. His reign as Israel’s Army General was a long and controversial one. He led Israel’s army into several battles and never lost one during his 40-year reign.

Below I share 6 interesting Facts and qualities about Joab. Some are good and some are bad. The good and the bad made Joab who he was, just like our strengths and challenges make us who we are.

Here are 6 interesting Facts about Joab, King David’s Army General. Consider this an expose on his life.

Joab is David’s nephew.

1 – He his introduced to us in the bible as David’s nephew. One of the 3 sons of Zeruiah – David’s sister. Joab and his brothers were highly skilled warriors. His brother Asahel was killed in battle. I talk more about how Asahel was killed later on. All 3 brothers were among Israel’s finest soldiers and were leaders in David’s army.

1 Chronicles 2:13 NIRV

13 Jesse’s first son was

Eliab. His second son was Abinadab.

The third was Shimea. 

14 The fourth was Nethanel.

The fifth was Raddai. 

15 The sixth was Ozem.

And the seventh was David.

16 Their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail.

Zeruiah’s three sons were Abishai, Joab and Asahel.

2. He was fiercely loyal to his master and king.

This is one of the qualities I truly admire about Joab. He knew his master like no other. That’s one of the reasons they were able to serve side by side for so long. He carried out all of his master’s bidding flawlessly.

Every leader longs for team member like Joab. He reminds me of the story of Joseph and Potiphar in Genesis 39

Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.

Joab was David’s right hand man. A position he earned because of his unmatched fighting skills and deep loyalty and respect for his master. He served his master well. Let’s look at a few examples below:

David, Uriah and Joab

Do you remember the story of Uriah?  husband to Bathsheba – the woman David committed adultery with, impregnated and then he tried to cover up misdeed?

Well, in the process of trying to cover his tracks after he got Bathsheba pregnant, David pulled Uriah from the battle front and tried to get him to go home and sleep with his wife Bathsheba (who by the way was already pregnant for David at this point). David tried severally and failed at getting Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife.

Uriah – a man of honor and discipline, respectfully told the king that he could not go home and have sexual pleasures with his wife while the country was in the middle of a war and especially not when his other companions in the army were risking their lives on the battle front.

King David had a plan B – get Uriah killed on the battle front and make it look like it was an accident. David sent Uriah back to Joab with the letter containing his death sentence.

 In the message (letter), he wrote: “Assign Uriah to the most difficult fighting at the battle front, and then withdraw from him so that he will be struck down and killed.” 2 Sam. 15

Joab dutifully carried out his master’s dirty request, no questions asked.

Uriah was placed in a position where the fighting was fiercest on the battle field. Joab had the rest of the fighting men pull back and poor Uriah left with no cover was shot at and killed by enemy arrows.

David, Absalom and Joab

It was the same Joab who was responsible for reconciling Absalom and his father – King David when Absalom fled to a neighboring town after he murdered Amnon- his brother in retaliation for raping their sister Tamar.

He knew his master missed his son dearly and longed to see his “rebel prince”. David did not have to say anything to Joab. He had been with him long enough to know how deeply David loved his sons even with all of their flaws. He knew his master longed to see and be with his son but could not because of what Absalom had done.

Joab took matters into his own hands. Here is the story of how he did it.

Absalom did eventually return to Jerusalem from the town of refuge. However he was banned from ever appearing before the king or seeing his face. In other words, he was stripped of his title as prince and all the benefits that came with that title

Well after a few years, Absalom became discontent with the current arrangements. Truth be told, he wanted to be restored to his former position as prince of Israel along with all the benefits that came with that position.

Who do you think he reached out to in order to make this happen?  not his mother or any of the other king’s wives. He reached out to one of the most trusted advisers of the king. Someone he knew had the king’s ear – Joab.

He sent for Joab several times. Joab refused to come. At this point, Joab was not as fond of this rebellious prince who now had “brother murderer” added to his resume and title. Absalom resorted to burning down Joab’s barley field which was next to his. This unscrupulous act got Joab’s attention right away and Absalom’s ends were accomplished.

Joab stepped in as mediator, Absalom got his wishes fulfilled and here is what happened next:

Then the king summoned Absalom, and he came in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom. 2 Sam 14:33

2 – He was an Incredibly skilled and gifted warrior.  

I mentioned previously that Joab was incredibly skilled. Add bravery to one of his many strong traits. Here is the story of how he became army general of the strongest army of his time. He earned that title. it wasn’t just bestowed on him because he was nephew to the king .

Joab and his 2 other highly skilled brothers – Abishai and Asahel became a part of David’s guerilla army when he was on the run from Saul. This was way before David became the king of all of Israel.

 He was made the commander of David’s army after he led the attack against Jebus (later remained Jerusalem). Jerusalem at the time was a highly fortified city. Once the city was on lock down against enemy attack, no one could get in. Access into Jebus was via the town’s water shaft. An almost impossible and very dangerous feat.

David had said, “Anyone who leads the attack against the Jebusites will become the commander of Israel’s army.” Joab went up first. So he became the commander of the army. He was the son of Zeruiah. Chronicles 11:6

Joab wanted the role of Army General. He undertook the dangerous task of climbing up the water shaft to gain access into the Jebus.

 The Israeli army defeated the Jebusites, Joab was made commander-in-chief and Jebus was renamed Jerusalem which then became David’s place of resident and the capital of his kingdom.

Joab was a valiant warrior. His master King David was so confident in his skillset that on occasion he would send him to war without being present. An example of one of such occasions is given below:

It was spring. It was the time when kings go off to war. So David sent Joab out with the king’s special troops and the whole army of Israel. They destroyed the Ammonites. They marched to the city of Rabbah. They surrounded it and got ready to attack it. But David remained in Jerusalem. 2 Sam 11: 1 NIRV

 He led the army against AramAmmonMoab 2 Samuel 10:6-14 4. and Edom 1 Kings 11:15  and won each time.  Let’s keep in mind that these were all major territories and winning the battles against these territories with equally powerful armies was instrumental to the continued existence of Israel at the time.

I admire Joab for his talent and gift as an outstanding soldier and lets not forget his bravery.

3. Joab was a master military strategist

Shortly after the death of Uriah (see number 1 above), I suspect those closest to Joab knew about what had just transpired on the battlefield. They knew what the king had done. Let’s also not forget a few other elite soldiers died with Uriah on the battlefield that fateful day, all thanks to David.

2 Sam 12:26-29 tells what happened next:

“Meanwhile Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel. 27 Joab then sent messengers to David, saying, “I have fought against Rabbah and taken its water supply. 28 Now muster the rest of the troops and besiege the city and capture it. Otherwise I will take the city, and it will be named after me.”

29 So David mustered the entire army and went to Rabbah and attacked and captured it. 30 David took the crown from their king’s[d] head, and it was placed on his own head. It weighed a talent[e] of gold, and it was set with precious stones”.

If you read this passage carefully, He deferred the honor of victory to his master and king. I strongly believe he did this to help the king “Save Face”. David had just murdered Uriah and a few other top military personnel to cover his own misdeed. Joab being the outstanding military strategist that he is, had to step in and do damage control. Asking David to come and minister the coup-de-grace before Rammah fell was his way of implementing damage control.

The victory truly belonged to Joab but this master strategist and loyal servant of David had to do what he had to do. Joab understood the game of politics and he played at that game well.

4 – Joab was ruthless in his dealings when he perceived a threat.

Joab knew the importance of his role as Army Commander of the most powerful army at the time. He wasted no time in taking out anyone who was a direct or indirect threat to him and his position.

Joab was not to be messed with. If you crossed his path or was perceived to be a threat to his position, he took you out without giving 2 thoughts to his actions. He operated with a mafia boss kind of mentality.

He murdered Abner – yes as revenge for killing his brother -Asahel in battle. But if you read the passage closely, Abner was a direct threat to his position. Well Joab was not going to stand by and let that happen, so he murdered him in cold blood. The details surrounding the murder of Abner are given below:

Joab murders Abner

Abner was the cousin of King Saul and the commander-in-chief of his army. Joab murdered Abner in cold blood as revenge for killing his brother Asahel in battle. The sad part of this incident is that it was not Abner’s intention to kill Asahel. Asahel was killed by Abner in act of self defense during war, making Asahel was a casualty of war.

As a matter of fact, when Abner ( Army general of the House of Saul) realized who it was that was pursuing him during the war between David’s army and the army of the House of deceased) Saul, he begged him to desist from pursuing so he would not be forced to defend himself.  But Asahel would not listen. It was never Abner’s intention to kill Asahel. In retaliation, Joab murdered Abner with help from his brother Abishai.

27 When Abner arrived in Hebron, Joab took him aside at the gate, as though he wanted to speak privately with him, and there he stabbed him in the stomach. And so Abner was murdered because he had killed Joab’s brother Asahel.  2 Sam 3:27

30 Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner. They did it because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon. 2 Sam 3:30

Before Abner died, he was in the process of helping David gain rulership over every territory in Israel. David at this point was king over the territory of Hebron only.  Ishboseth ( son of Saul) was the sitting king over the other territories.

After Abner had a major fall out with his master – Ishboseth, he decided to help David become king over the other territories of the kingdom.

David never informed or consulted with Joab on any of this. A slap in the face of Joab – one of his most loyal servants and a very senior member of his cabinet. It could also be that David knew what Joab was capable of and thought it best not to inform him as a way of protecting Abner.

 David probably would have made Abner Army Commander in place of Joab if he had been able to help him gain kingship over the remaining territories. As a reward.

Joab did what he knew to do best as soon as he found out was going on. Eliminate the threat.

It seemed at times that Joab could not separate dealing with issues on the war front from dealing with issues with everyday life. In battle you eliminate the enemy but in everyday life, there are other diplomatic ways of handling matters.

Joab Kills Absalom

kills Absalom

Rebel prince charming – Absalom, after regaining his position as Prince ( see #2 above) and all the favors that came with that position, eventually proceeded to oust his father as king of Israel under coup like circumstances. David and all those closest to him were forced to flee town to avoid being killed by Absalom.  David’s loyal servant – Joab was right by his master’s side throughout this entire ordeal.

Well the only way Absalom could rightfully be king without any future threats to his position would be to eliminate his father and his powerful army. Absalom and his men pursued David and his army. War ensued, Joab led the exploit against camp of Absalom.

Right before Joab and his men departed for war, David explicitly told his soldiers including Joab not to kill his son. Capture him as a prisoner of war if you must, but spare his life. This was the directive given by the King.

In the heat of the battle, Absalom was rendered helpless when his long flowy hair got caught in tree branches while riding on his horse. He was then left dangling from the tree. All the soldiers saw him but did not lay hands on him because of the king’s directive.

When Joab was informed about Absalom’s helpless state, he did not waste time. He went explicitly against his master’s directive and killed Absalom by stabbing him in the heart three times. The account of what transpired is given below:

2nd Samuel 18 9-17

Absalom happened to run into David’s soldiers. While Absalom was trying to get away on his mule, it ran under the thick branches of a giant oak tree, and Absalom’s head got caught in the tree! As his mule ran out from under him, Absalom was left hanging above the ground. 10 When one of the soldiers saw what had happened, he told Joab, “I saw Absalom stuck in an oak tree!”

11 Joab asked the man who was reporting to him, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you kill him right then and there? I would’ve given you ten pieces[a] of silver and a warrior’s sash!”[b]

12 But the soldier replied to Joab, “I wouldn’t have touched the king’s son even if you dropped 1,000 pieces[c] of silver right into my hands, because we heard the king command you, Abishai, and Ittai, ‘Watch how you treat the young man Absalom!’ 13 If I had taken his life,[d] the king would have uncovered everything about it, and you would never have protected me!”

14 “There’s no reason to wait for you!” Joab retorted. Then he took three spears[e] in his hand and stabbed Absalom in the heart while he was still alive, dangling from the branches of[f] the oak tree. 15 Ten young men who served as Joab’s personal assistants then surrounded Absalom, striking him repeatedly and killing him. 16 At this, Joab sounded his battle trumpet and his troops stopped pursuing the other[g] Israelis. 17 Meanwhile, Joab’s army grabbed Absalom’s body, tossed it into a large pit in the forest, and filled it up with a huge pile of rocks. Then the Israelis ran away back to their homes.

I strongly believe Joab was infuriated with Absalom hence why he killed him the way he did. But then again, the only way Joab knew to deal with a threat was elimination by death.

Let’s also not forget that Absalom was in pursuit of David, Joab and their soldiers to eliminate them too. It was Joab who helped Absalom regain his title as Prince and to think this is how he pays him back? Joab had every right to be enraged.

Joab had had enough of this rebel prince. He decided to put an end to all of this drama once and for all. He killed Absalom when he got the chance. Absalom would have done the same if he got the chance first.

Murder of Amasa

Amasa and Joab were cousins. His mother Abigail was a sister to Joab’s mother Zeruiah. Amasa was also a nephew to David. Here is how Amasa was murdered: I like how it is explained in this Spectrum Magazine Article

Absalom’s army commander was Amasa. Now, as if to add insult to injury, David made Amasa his commander in place of Joab (19:13)! Was this to punish Joab for killing Absalom? At any event, it turned out to be a bad move. When David commanded Amasa to call up the men of Judah to put down another rebellion, Amasa failed to act with the kind of promptness and energy that one could expect of Joab (20:4-6). David could not quite swallow his pride and invite Joab to take command again, so he appointed his brother Abishai to the task, knowing that Joab would go with him, leading the elite corps and foreign mercenaries. While pursuing the rebel leader they came upon Amasa. Joab treacherously murdered him, using the same stratagem that he had used with Abner.

2 Sam 20:9  Joab said to Amasa, “How are you, my brother?” Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. 10 Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly, and his intestines spilled out on the ground. Without being stabbed again, Amasa died. Then Joab and his brother Abishai pursued Sheba son of Bikri.

I truly believe David made Amasa Army Commander in place of Joab as punishment for going against his direct wishes regarding killing his son Absalom. Also at this point, David had had enough of his overbearing commander – Joab.

5. Joab was indispensable to his master – David an equally wise and brave warrior, knew how much of an asset Joab was to him and his Kingdom. When Joab murdered Abner in cold blood, I expected swift punishment from the king. But he only placed a curse on Joab his descendants. Also at this point, Joab had solidified his position as a very capable elite member of David’s army. David knew how powerful his army general was, and I’m guessing he did not want to rock the boat too much. Also Joab and his highly skilled brother Abishai were a formidable force to deal with. David had to play it safe. David may have been scared of his own nephew too.

C.H Spurgeon in one of his sermon describes it this way:

David was afraid of him (Joab); the man had all the army at his back—and instead of being, as in his youthful days, fearless of man, David became for a while a time-server and permitted the guilty to escape. He prepared a glorious funeral for Abner, and made Joab walk as mourner in the train, accompanied by his king, who sang a poetic and mournful dirge over the bleeding corpse. Then David said to his courtiers and friends, “I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too hard for me. The men who have been my bravest comrades and stood by me in the darkest hour, have been too hard for me. They have compelled me to submit to an action which my soul detests; they are criminals whom I cannot punish. The sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me.”

Also after Joab murdered Amasa, we read no where in the bible where David punished him. As a matter of fact, after the murder of Amasa, Joab regained his position as Army General.

6.No sign of a relationship with God – Joab’s name means Jehovah is a good father. Ironically there are no hints of Joab having a true living relationship with the God he was named after. This is the stark difference between Joab and David his master.

David like Joab had many flaws. However, David loved God with all of his heart. You don’t have to read too far in the book of Psalms to see that. He lived to please and serve Jehovah. Even in those instances when he missed the mark big time. He would always come back to God to ask for forgiveness and mercy. He knew that his success as king was totally dependent on God.

Not once do we read of Joab showing that kind of remorse for his actions nor do we read about him having living relationship with the God of his king and master.

On the battlefield Joab was unstoppable. A truly magnificent highly skilled warrior. Off the battlefield we see an overbearing ruthless man with a propensity to use unworthy means to achieve his own end. His heart maybe hardened from the many years spent on the battlefield made him appear to show no remorse or think twice before acting the way he did at times.

I would love to say it all ended well for Joab, but sadly it did not. His king and master who was unable to properly reprimand his army general for his wrong doings, passed that task over to Solomon who became king after him.

Here is the account of how it all ended for Joab.

1 kings 2: 1As David’s time to die approached, he addressed his son Solomon with these words:

“Furthermore, you’re aware of what Zeruiah’s son Joab did to me and to those two commanders of the armies of Israel, Ner’s son Abner and Jether’s son Amasa, whom he killed, and how he shed the blood of wartime during times of peace, staining the very belt he wears around his waist and the sandals he wears on his feet. So act consistently with your wisdom, and don’t let him die as a peaceful old man.”

The master political strategist – Joab made a wrong final move towards the end of his life by giving his allegiance and support to Adonijah – a son of David who wanted to be king after his father. However, David had already named Solomon as his successor.

Well when Solomon took the throne as king after his father died, he proceeded to secure his throne by eliminating all of those that had being in opposition to him being king or were a threat to reign as king. Joab’s support of Adonijah, had him marked for elimination.

Joab died by being hacked to death at the altar of the God who he had no true relationship with throughout his life and reign.  But it is this same God that he runs to for refuge when the rug was pulled from underneath his feet. Sadly, it was too late at this point:

34 So Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck and killed Joab, and he was buried at his own house in the wilderness. 1 Kings 2:34

Joab did not die as a peaceful old man. He was brutally murdered just as he murdered innocent men ( Abner and Amasa) during times of peace. If you choose to live by the sword, you also die by the sword. In life we always reap what we sow. That’s a biblical and universal principle.