LIFE LESSONS FROM 5 CHARACTER TRAITS OF JOAB
When asked what we remember of Joab in the Bible, we’ll probably mention that he accomplished numerous military exploits and died tragically via execution on the orders of King Solomon. But Joab was much more than that. He had a multifaceted personality from which we can learn much.
As Israel’s second army commander, he served under King David and was a veritable man’s man: tough, courageous and resourceful. However, he was the exact opposite of David, who though imbued with these same qualities was emotional and depended on divine guidance while Joab was practical and rational.
Joab was David’s nephew, the son of his sister Zeruiah (1 Chronicles 2:13-16). He and his brothers, Abishai and Asahel, were career soldiers. Their family must have fled with David when King Saul was pursuing him because of Saul’s vengeful pattern of wiping out entire families and even villages of his perceived enemies (1 Samuel 22:17-19). We see that Abishai accompanied David into the cave where Saul was sleeping and urged him to kill the king on one occasion during Saul’s prolonged hunt for David (1 Samuel 26: 5-12).
But it was Joab who became the army chief after winning the challenge to defeat the Jebusite city of Jerusalem at the inception of David’s kingship, a feat he accomplished by burrowing into the heavily fortified city through a water shaft (2 Samuel 5:8, 1 Chronicles 11:4-6).
Joab had many admirable qualities but, like every human, he also had his weaknesses. As noted in the study about Rachel, Jacob’s wife, “the strengths and weaknesses … were (sometimes) intertwined. In other words, what started out as a strength turned into a weakness when not moderated.”
In this post, we shall examine five of Joab’s character traits to see how they manifested as strengths and weaknesses. My prayer is that the lessons we learn through this study will help us to reflect Christ better and serve God more. Do let me know how you were touched by the post and share it widely on social media to benefit others.
(Related: 5 Lessons From The Life Of Rachel)
5 CHARACTER TRAITS OF JOAB AND LESSONS THEREFROM
1. Joab was exceptionally brave: Joab was a fierce warrior. As Israel’s army commander, he helped to subdue most of their neighbours, like the Edomites (1 Kings 11:15-16) and the Ammonites (2 Samuel 11:1, 2 Samuel 12:26). In fact, you cannot talk of David’s military accomplishments without giving lots of credit to Joab, his No. 1 general (2 Samuel 8:1-16).
He was a great strategist and never shrunk from battle, no matter the dangers. An example is the battle against the Ammonites, who humiliated the messengers David sent to condole with their king on his father’s death and hired 33,000 mercenaries to boost their ranks against the inevitable Israeli attack that would follow.
2 Samuel 10:6 – 12
“6. When the Ammonites saw that they had become a stench to David, the Ammonites sent and hired the Syrians of Beth-rehob, and the Syrians of Zobah, 20,000 foot soldiers, and the king of Maacah with 1,000 men, and the men of Tob, 12,000 men.
“7. And when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the host of the mighty men.
“8. And the Ammonites came out and drew up in battle array at the entrance of the gate, and the Syrians of Zobah and of Rehob and the men of Tob and Maacah were by themselves in the open country.
“9. When Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear, he chose some of the best men of Israel and arrayed them against the Syrians.
“10. The rest of his men he put in the charge of Abishai his brother, and he arrayed them against the Ammonites.
“11. And he said, ‘If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you.
“12. ‘Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.'” (ESV)
The strategy worked and once the Syrian mercenaries fled before Joab, the Ammonites lost heart and Israel won the battle (verses 13 & 14). Although Joab got excellent results, I think they were more a result of King David’s spiritual consultations than the army chief’s calculations for David usually sought God’s leading before his wars (1 Samuel 23:1-5, 2 Samuel 5:17-25).Our bravery should not preclude seeking God's help and guidance in fighting our battles. Click To Tweet
Joab’s bravery won him the army leadership as shown in the Intro, but he was still supposed to obey the king, David, and this he didn’t always do. In the battle against Absalom who rose up against David, he killed the former against the king’s express instruction to be gentle with him and broke David’s heart (2 Samuel 18). It is good to be valiant and exercise authority but it’s also important to not overstep one’s bounds.
Besides, he and his brothers were always quick to resort to force, hence David’s lament that they were too hard for him (2 Samuel 3:39). As David explained to them, sometimes you should leave matters in God’s hands as he did with King Saul, who unjustly pursued him to kill him, rather than depend on your physical might to settle every issue (1 Samuel 26: 5-11, 2 Samuel 16:5-12).
2. He was bold and blunt: Joab was bold enough to speak his mind even when King David felt differently about the matter. When David wanted to massage his ego and ordered a census of Israel’s soldiers, Joab objected, and he was right because that census, unauthorised by God as it was, brought a plague on Israel (1 Chronicles 21:1-14). We should never be afraid to speak the truth, even to our superiors.
At one time, Joab summoned David to come and take a city or else ….
2 Samuel 12:27-29
“27. And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters.
“28. Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it: lest I take the city, and it be called after my name.
“29. And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it.”
The threat in the message above is not quite as dire as the one Joab made to David when he was weeping about Absalom’s death.
2 Samuel 19:2-7
“2. And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son.
“3. And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle.
“4. But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!
“5. And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines;
“6. In that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well.
“7. Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the Lord, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now.”
David knew that Joab was not one to make idle threats and quickly composed and presented himself publicly to his soldiers.
Understand that Joab was talking as the army commander while David was distraught as a bereaved father. David seemed to have forgotten that Absalom had just led a rebellion which uprooted him from his palace and made he and his followers fugitives. His father heart was hoping that Absalom would be saved but Joab, whose duty it was to restore David to the throne and secure the country under him, chose not to spare the rebel. Besides, his previous experience with Absalom must have made Joab to conclude he was ungrateful, entitled and dangerous even before his plot to unseat his father, as we shall see in the next number.
(Related: Watch Those Fiends-The Lesson of Saul)
Joab showed pragmatism in this instance but his words and actions lacked the sensitivity needed to soothe a heart like David’s. David could have endured banishment or imprisonment for his son, not death.
When we feel we are in the right, we should be kind enough to consider the feelings of those who think differently and not treat them brusquely, especially if we are their subordinates.Express your convictions with sensitivity. Do not crush those who think differently. Click To Tweet
Joab, however, was not always hardhearted on the matter of David’s relationship with Absalom as the next point will show.
3. He was thoughtful sometimes: When Absalom had been in exile for several years after killing his half-brother, Amnon (who raped his sister, Tamar), Joab noticed that David was longing for Absalom. To facilitate the prince’s return, Joab arranged for a wise woman from Tekoa to come to the king disguised as a widow seeking royal intervention to spare her son who had killed his brother. David saw through the ruse and sent Joab to bring back Absalom. It must have been a tender scene, Joab thanking his king and uncle for the personal favour he’d granted him to forgive and recall his cousin, Prince Absalom (2 Samuel 13:37-39, 2 Samuel 14:1-23).
Unfortunately, Absalom was not satisfied with the terms of his recall- stay in your house, no access to the king. He sent for Joab to complain but Joab kept his distance. Absalom asked his servants to burn Joab’s farm in order to force his hand. Long story short, Joab did take him to see and reconcile with the king but must have felt angry enough to kill him then and wouldn’t pass up the opportunity when the prince caused an upheaval in Israel with his revolt (2 Samuel 14:23-24, 28-33).
Everyday, we encounter people like Absalom who are self-centred and pay back evil for good. We should not allow ourselves to harbour hatred for them in our hearts or we may displease God in our dealings with them.
“21. If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
“22. For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.”
“43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
“44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
“45. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Joab was also reasonable. One demonstration of this was when his troops were besieging Abel of Beth-maachah because another rebel against David, Sheba son of Bichri, had camped there with his followers. When a woman from the city reasoned with him, Joab accepted that if the man’s head be thrown over the wall, he will withdraw his troops and spare the city (2 Samuel 20:1-4, 7, 14-22). Some soldiers may not have been so understanding and could have razed the city down on the charge of harbouring an insurrectionist.
How well do we listen to others or do we disregard all, including rational suggestions, and do exactly what we like?
4. Joab was deeply loyal: He stood by David throughout his trials and gave full support to his kingship. He even helped David arrange for Uriah’s murder by Ammonite archers after David committed adultery with his wife, Bathsheba, and she became pregnant (2 Samuel 11:14-21).Loyalty is commendable but it shouldn't translate to aiding and abetting crime. Click To Tweet
Perhaps, because of all he had done and suffered for David, Joab felt immensely outraged when David began to consort with those who had allied with his enemies, Saul/Ishbosheth and Absalom, namely Abner and Amasa (2 Samuel 2:8, 17:25). Joab may have also felt he had paid enough dues to David and Israel to secure the army chief position for life. You can imagine his anger when David swore to replace him with Amasa, who was his nephew too, born to his sister Abigail (1 Chronicles 2:13-17, 2 Samuel 19:13). David seemed bent on rewarding treachery and punishing allegiance, but Joab would not allow it, so he killed the competition (2 Samuel 20:7-10).
No matter the position we occupy, we should put in our best but expect our reward from God. Our human bosses may be unfair but God does not owe any man. In struggling to retain what he thought was rightfully his, Joab ended up widening the rift between him and David.
Killing came easily to Joab but, as David rightly pointed out, you don’t unilaterally take life in peacetime to settle matters of war. Calculated killing in peacetime is murder and is punishable by the execution of the killer, the sentence that was eventually served on Joab (1 Kings 2:5, 29, 34).
(Related: 7 Lessons In How Not To Live- The Story of Abner I)
5. Joab was traditionally-minded: Traditions show customary ways of doing things handed down from one’s forebears. The trick is to discern where we should apply them knowing that situations vary and the world is dynamic. Israel had a rule for avenging blood which allowed relatives to retaliate against someone who kills their own. However, this rule did not cover killings done in war. Abner killed Asahel, Joab’s younger brother, at the battle of Gibeon. Joab insisted on avenging his blood by killing Abner when he came to help David regain the whole kingdom of Israel, part of which he had placed under the control of Ishbosheth, Saul’s son (2 Samuel 2:12, 17-23; 3:23, 26-30). He not only sinned by doing this, he dealt a blow to David’s yearning to ascend the throne he had been anointed to over 13 years earlier.
And when David was old, Joab’s traditional-mindedness got him into his last trouble. He assumed that succession to David’s throne will be by his sons’ seniority as is customary even in this age. With the death of Absalom, Adonijah seemed to be the heir apparent, having been born next to Absalom. Joab gave him his support without clearing with David or making any spiritual consultation only to hear that David had installed Solomon. The son of the woman he had married after committing adultery with her! In the eyes of man that was abominable but it wasn’t just David who chose Solomon. When he was born, God called him Jedidiah because He loved him and declared that he would succeed his father (2 Samuel 12:24 & 25, 1 Chronicles 22:7-10).
Don’t magnify your traditions unconditionally or be unduly bound by them.The word of God takes precedence over all traditions of men. Click To Tweet
Joab was a great man by worldly accounts. He had a distinguished military career but his lack of a close personal relationship with God made him to underestimate the grievous consequences of some of his missteps. No matter how powerful, gifted or accomplished we are, we still need to cling to God for His grace and guidance. He alone can empower us to overcome the temptations that attempt to destroy us and only He can make our lives fulfilled and truly glorious.
Clinging to God starts by surrendering one’s life to Jesus. And you can do that now by simply confessing your sins and asking Him to be your Lord and Saviour. May God bless you richly as you do so in Jesus’ name.
The scriptures used in this post are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible except where otherwise stated.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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