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Leading Question: When you have a relative working for you and the relative gets you into trouble by his bad behavior, what do you do with the relative?

Key Passages:

  • 2 Samuel 2-3, Blood feud, Joab kills Abner for killing his brother Asahel
  • 2 Samuel 11, Complicity in the death of Uriah the Hittite
  • 2 Samuel 14, Joab intervenes to bring the murderer Absalom back home
  • 2 Samuel 18-19, Joab kills Absalom, the king’s son, then stanches the king’s tears
  • 2 Samuel 17:25, 2 Sam 19:13, 2 Sam 20:4-12, Joab takes down another rival, Amasa
  • 2 Samuel 24:1-9, David’s fateful census reveals that Joab still had a conscience
  • 1 Kings 1-2, On David’s command, Solomon brings Joab’s blood on his own head


  1. What does a believer do with a relative who gets you in trouble? During David’s life, he clearly struggled with the question of how to handle Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, the warrior sons of his sister Zeruiah. Is his inability to handle them simply a symptom of David’s own flawed character? Or do these examples suggest to us a more general caution about the dangers of hiring one’s relatives?One notable example of conflict between David and his sister’s sons came before he was king. In 1 Samuel 26 the key player is Abishai, not Joab, though he is identified as Joab’s brother. Abishai volunteered to go with David in a daring nighttime raid into Saul’s camp. When they found Saul fast asleep, Abishai wanted to kill him immediately. David refused to allow it: “Do not destroy him; for who can raise his hand against the LORD’s anointed, and be guiltless?” (1 Sam 26:9).In three additional instances while David was king, he simply wrings his hands and utters a hopeless cry when his nephews get him into trouble. With Joab, the infractions were serious enough to cost Joab his life. But David left that aspect of “justice” to Solomon. He himself, for whatever reason, chose not to call to account the most famous of the sons of Zeruiah. Here are the three passages in which he expresses his passion about his sister’s dangerous sons:
    1. Joab’s murder of Abner. “Today I am powerless, even though anointed king; these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too violent for me” (2 Sam 3:39).
    2. Abishai’s eagerness to kill Shimei, the cursing Benjaminite, Act 1. In 2 Samuel 16:9-10, at the time of Absalom’s rebellion, Abishai wanted to kill Shimei for cursing David. David refused to grant permission: “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’”
    3. Abishai’s eagerness to kill Shimei, Act 2. After Absalom’s fall, as David was returning to Jerusalem to once again assume the reins of government, Shimei realized that he had placed his money on the wrong horse and came rushing to meet David, confessing his guilt and asking for forgiveness. Again Abishai was eager to kill Shimei “for cursing the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam 19:21). David again refused permission: “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should today become an adversary [Hebrew: a satan!] to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” (2 Sam 19:22)
  2. Joab the politician. The blend of submissiveness to royal authority with dogged independence is vividly illustrated by key incidents in Joab’s life:
    1. Death of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:14-25): Doing what he is told. When David was desperately trying to find a way out of the Bathsheba debacle, he commanded Joab to put Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, on the very front line so that he would be killed in battle. Joab seems to have complied without question or hesitation. To what extent should we be “obedient” to an erring authority as Joab was? In that connection, Ellen White states a lofty ideal:

      The younger worker must not become so wrapped up in the ideas and opinions of the one in whose charge he is placed, that he will forfeit his individuality. He must not lose his identity in the one who is instructing him, so that he dare not exercise his own judgment, but does what he is told irrespective of his own understanding of what is right and wrong. It is his privilege to learn for himself of the great Teacher. If the one with whom he is working pursues a course which is not in harmony with a “Thus saith the Lord,” let him not go to some outside party, but let him go to his superior in office, and lay the matter before him, freely expressing his mind. Thus the learner may be a blessing to the teacher. He must faithfully discharge his duty. God will not hold him guiltless if he connives at a wrong course of action, however great may be the influence or responsibility of the one taking the wrong course. (Gospel Workers, 102-103).

      Pressing the point further for the church in our day, Ellen White argues for limiting the authority of presidents while increasing the responsibilities of church members. Here is a striking testimony for both presidents and members:

      To the Workers in Southern California
      Testimonies for the Church 9:277-278
      This morning I cannot rest. My mind is troubled over the situation in Southern California. God has given to every man his work, but there are some who are not prayerfully considering their individual responsibility. {9T 277.1}

      When a worker is selected for an office, that office of itself does not bring to him power of capability that he did not have before. A high position does not give to the character Christian virtues. The man who supposes that his individual mind is capable of planning and devising for all branches of the work reveals a great lack of wisdom. No one human mind is capable of carrying the many and varied responsibilities of a conference embracing thousands of people and many branches of work. {9T 277.2}

      But a greater danger than this has been revealed to me in the feeling that has been growing among our workers that ministers and other laborers in the cause should depend upon the mind of certain leading workers to define their duties. One man”s mind and judgment are not to be considered capable of controlling and molding a conference. The individual and the church have responsibilities of their own. God has given to every man some talent or talents to use and improve. In using these talents he increases his capability to serve. God has given to each individual judgment, and this gift He wants His workers to use and improve. The president of a conference must not consider that his individual judgment is to control the judgment of all. {9T 277.3}

      [278] In no conference should propositions be rushed through without time being taken by the brethren to weigh carefully all sides of the question. Because the president of a conference suggested certain plans, it has sometimes been considered unnecessary to consult the Lord about them. Thus propositions have been accepted that were not for the spiritual benefit of the believers and that involved far more than was apparent at the first casual consideration. Such movements are not in the order of God. Many, very many matters have been taken up and carried by vote, that have involved far more than was anticipated and far more than those who voted would have been willing to assent to had they taken time to consider the question from all sides. {9T 278.1}

    2. Rise and Fall of Absalom (2 Samuel 13-19): Doing what he thinks best. If Joab simply obeyed without questioning in arranging for the death of Uriah, his role was much more complex and independent in the sordid tale of Absalom’s rise and fall.Absalom, son of Maacah, daughter of the king of Geshur, was David’s third son (2 Sam 3:3). His story begins in earnest when he avenges the rape of Tamar, his beautiful sister, by murdering his half-brother Amnon, son of Ahinoam of Jezreel and David’s firstborn.Seeking to avoid David’s wrath, Absalom fled for refuge to his grandfather, Talmai, king of Geshur (2 Sam 13). Some three years later, Joab engaged a wise woman of Tekoa to trick David into bringing Absalom home; two years after that he effected reconciliation between father and son (2 Sam 14).But Absalom set out to wrest the kingdom from his father. When the rebellion resulted in David’s flight from Jerusalem, a full-pitched battle followed between the forces of David and those of his son Absalom. David’s army defeated Absalom and Joab killed Absalom against the explicit command of David. Scripture records the following: “The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, ‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.’ And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.” (2 Sam 18:5).

      David was so distraught at the death of Absalom that his grief seemed to have threatened the entire kingdom. Joab confronted the king with brutal honesty. His passionate appeal to the king is worth nothing in full:

      “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. So go out at once and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the LORD, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now” (2 Sam 19:5-7)

      In short, when dealing with Absalom affair, Joab was a pure pragmatist, choosing to disregard the king’s commands and even confronting the king with brutal honesty. In contrast with the Uriah affair where Joab was simply obedient, in the Absalom affair he was his own man and did what he thought best regardless of the king’s express wishes. Had he learned to be independent by watching the horrific results of king’s flaws?

    3. The murders of Abner (2 Sam 3:20-30) and Amasa (2 Sam 20:4-13). Driven by a vengeful body chemistry. When Solomon brought Joab to justice, the indictment was clear:

      “The LORD will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel and Amasa son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever; but to David, and to his descendants, and to his house, and to his throne, there shall be peace from the LORD forevermore” (1 Kings 2:32-33).

      Obviously, Joab was a talented and passionate man, driven by forces which were almost impossible to harness. David gave up on the task and left it to Solomon.

  3. Joab’s conscience. Both narratives of David’s ill-fated census (2 Sam 24//1 Chronicles 21) record Joab’s objection to David’s plan to number Israel. David ignored the protest and went ahead, with deadly results. Neither account directly states why it was wrong to number Israel. One can surmise that the sin lay in David’s pride of numbers and power. The Chronicler actually states that Joab did not complete the task “for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab” (1 Chronicles 21:6). How is it that a crusty general like Joab would have a more sensitive conscience that King David? Are all of us selective in which sins might dominate our lives?
  4. Final fate (1 Kings 2:28-34). An interesting project would be to tabulate the strengths and weaknesses that Joab revealed throughout his tumultuous life. The rationale for his execution reflects a sense of justice that is in agreement with modern concerns at some points, but in sharp contrast in others. How would you sort out the good, the bad, and the indifferent with reference Joab’s life and death? How does the OT view of “justice” compare with ours in this instance?

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