Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Whenever I read the story of David, I’ve always been interested in Joab. Joab was David’s nephew, a son of one of David’s sisters. This is documented in their family tree in 1 Chronicles 2:13-17:
Jesse was the father of
Eliab his firstborn; the second son was Abinadab, the third Shimea, the fourth Nethanel, the fifth Raddai, the sixth Ozem and the seventh David. Their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah’s three sons were Abishai, Joab, and Asahel. Abigail was the mother of Amasa, whose father was Jether the Ishmaelite.
You don’t have to keep notes, but just remember Amasa, he comes back later. Joab was close to David and he was given special authority after helping him. 1 Chronicles 11:6 records, “David had said, ‘Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief.’ Joab son of Zeruiah went up first, and so he received the command.” However, there was a problem. Joab was a bloodthirsty murderer; quite different from king David. In fact, due to his many unnecessary killings, David actually ordered his son king Solomon to solve the Joab problem after becoming king. David commanded,
Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me- what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace (1 Kings 2:5-6).
David doesn’t come right out and say it, but he puts it to Solomon like this: “Hey, you make the decision about what to do with Joab…but he better not die a natural death, that’s all I’m saying.” If Joab was so bad though, why didn’t David get him out of power or kill or at least imprison him during his days and what can that mean for us? The Holy Spirit helped me to understand that we, like David, usually have Joabs in our lives, and they’re pretty hard to shake- just like the real deal.
Joab was related to David by blood. That means that he’d always been with David in some respect. In a similar manner, even though through salvation we become a new being in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”), we’re still in the same body; bound with what has come with it. Paul uses the term “flesh” when describing our sinful nature. This is quite fitting, as it’s pretty hard to change your skin- just as it is hard to escape the desires of the flesh. Paul explains, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17). If you’re Bible says “sinful nature” instead of “flesh,” don’t be freaked out, so does mine, but the alternate translation (and probably more direct translation) for this verse is “flesh.” Paul also notes, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). In the same way we know that David hated how Joab acted, and yet he didn’t seem to fire, kill, or imprison him. Paul experienced a similar ordeal in his life as he tried to serve God. The Bible records,
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the members of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members (Romans 7:21-23).
So if you find yourself struggling with sin, keep in mind that you’re in very good company.
David was a man after God’s own heart. Even the Lord acknowledged this: “After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do’” (Acts 13:22). If you’ve ever read Psalm 51, you can see that when David sinned, he felt terrible and would beg the Lord for forgiveness because he honestly didn’t want to sin against his Lord. When he sinned, David asked the Lord, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Not only that, but whenever trouble came, David asked God his opinion before acting. Like when David saved Keilah:
When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”
The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.”
But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!”
Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand” (1 Samuel 23:1-4).
I actually have five more occasions written down but I’ll save space and not write them out fully; but by all means, check out 1 Samuel 30:7-8 and 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:18-19, 22-23; 21:1. There are more times that David asks God first, but those are the most overt examples. David loved the Lord. He loved God so much that even as king he made an absolute fool of himself joyfully dancing when they brought the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem; “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets” (2 Samuel 6:14-15). To be sure, David was totally smitten with the Lord his God; as I’m sure all who have been saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross are. But then there’s Joab, who’s always beside David. Joab represents to us sin that we’ve carried since before our salvation. Things like anger, pride, immorality, bitterness, unforgiveness and the like; or maybe some addiction the Lord didn’t deliver us from. It had become such a part of you before you were saved that even after becoming new in Christ it sticks to you like glue.
Of course, such things always seem benign in the beginning. Joab was David’s nephew and had been around him probably a large portion of his life. Lingering habits always seem to be there for you. After all, when most of the kingdom turned against him, who helped David fight off his son Absalom? Oh yeah, Joab. History records,
David sent the troops out- a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, “I myself will surely march out with you” (2 Samuel 18:2).
To which David’s crew replied, “No, no, we’ve got this, you stay safe.” In fact, those old habits might not even seem that bad in the eyes of the world. I’ve seen a lot of habits that the Bible frowns upon getting praise from the secular world. Such was the same with Joab: he was actually a good general. When David decided not to go with his army to take land (something that the king was supposed to do), Joab went in his place and not only did a great job, but he also roused his king to come and make the final claim (because Joab was also loyal). We read,
Meanwhile Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel. Joab then sent messengers to David, saying, “I have fought against Rabbah and taken its water supply. 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” (2 Samuel 12:26-28).
I’m not gonna lie; if we only focus on this aspect of Joab, then he seems pretty cool and badass. If I had an army, I’d probably want to hire Joab as my general, he was like an ancient action star. Then again, if all my sins solved all my problems, then there wouldn’t be a reason for me to stop sinning now would there?
And therein lays the problem. I’ve heard drinkers refer to alcohol as “the cause of and the solution to” all of their problems. Such are the lingering sins that follow us into our Christian lives. Joab may have been the best general on the block, but he also caused a fair share of problems for David’s kingdom. Joab, like your sin to you, caused David to miss out on opportunities. One such time is recorded in 2 Samuel 3. David had been made king and Saul’s extraordinarily experienced general Abner fled in fear. But, upon learning that David was a good king, he tried to return to the kingdom, and David welcomed Abner with open arms. History records,
When Abner, who had twenty men with him, came to David at Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. Then Abner said to David, “Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my lord the king, so that they may make a compact with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace (2 Samuel 3:20-21).
David was having trouble solidifying his kingship (as many saw him as a usurper to the royal line), and Abner was read to give all of Israel over to David. This would have been awesome. But then Joab showed up,
Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the gateway, as though to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died (2 Samuel 3:27).
“Now hold on a minute, Joab was totally in the right!” No, no he wasn’t. When Abner killed Asahel it was during a battle, and during that battle Abner repeatedly told Asahel to back off because he didn’t want to kill him (really, check out 2 Samuel 2:18-23). Joab’s revenge was during peace time with a new ally and it was because of his unforgiveness that David had to wait a bit longer to solidify his reign over Israel. Paul writes, “’Everything is permissible’- but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). As Christians, we don’t have to answer to every time we mess up because Jesus is perfect in our place- but that doesn’t mean that we should do whatever we want. If you eat ice cream all day long, you’ll probably become unhealthy. If you hold onto your anger or refuse to forgive people you’ll probably lose opportunities. “But the ice cream is so tasty!” you cry. Or probably more realistically, “You don’t know what I’ve experienced! I can’t let it go!” Well, neither could David. After the murder of Abner he cried out in 2 Samuel 3:39, “And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!” David was the king, but he couldn’t overpower his nephews, just like you might not feel strong enough to overpower your flesh. And what made it worse was that every time David let Joab get away with it, he lost a little more power to his nephew. The same goes for when you give in to sin; for it is written,
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey- whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness (Romans 6:16).
It’s a bad cycle that can be hard to overcome.
I don’t know what is for you; drinking, sexual immorality, anger, food, smoking, pride or whatever is holding you back, that’s for the Holy Spirit to tell you. What I do know is that such things will eventually, if not stopped, mess up your relationships. Joab did this as well. After regaining the kingdom from his son, David ordered his men who were tasked to find Absalom not to kill him (as David was a man of forgiveness and loved his son). This didn’t fly with Joab. And so we read as they find Absalom caught in a tree and unable to move,
But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.’ And if I had put my life in jeopardy- and nothing is hidden from the king- you would have kept your distance from me.”
Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree (2 Samuel 18:12-14).
Joab was ordered and warned by multiple people (including the king) not to kill Absalom, but in the end he didn’t care. The bottle, porn, rage or whatever doesn’t care either. They’ll just as soon plunge the sword into anyone, friend, foe, or relative. That’s part of the devil’s game.
But it gets worse. Not only can you lose opportunities and relationships, but the fleshiness that follows you can lead you into compliancy about sinning even more in other ways. Heck, it might even be the gateway to other sins. This is most well illustrated as David was committing adultery. Not only did Joab not say anything, but he even helped David cover it up by killing a good and loyal soldier (Uriah, the husband of David’s romantic interest). History records,
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died (2 Samuel 11:14-17).
Even though he was a good general, and usually went against the king’s orders, Joab had no problems letting Uriah die. Not only that, but afterwards, he uses the death of Uriah to soften the blow of some other bad news; “Lots of people died because we made a tactical error, but hey, Uriah is dead.”
It’s hard to shake our personal Joabs. We try to get on the wagon only to fall off. We swear off immorality only to stumble into it again. We try to overcome anger only to blow up in a time of weakness. It is very, very hard. David tried to stop Joab’s bloody reign too. After the death of Absalom, David recruited his general to take over. This would keep Joab from continually messing things up for David as commander of the army and curry more favor among the people (because they liked Absalom). David instructed his messenger, “And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my own flesh and blood? May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if from now on you are not the commander of my army in place of Joab” (2 Samuel 19:13). Sound familiar? David was swearing off his bad habit and trying to replace it with something better. “I will never _______ again, I swear to God, never again.” I’m pretty sure you can fill in the blank with your own problems, because we’ve all done it before. It should also sound familiar because I already told you to memorize Amasa’s name. He was also David’s nephew and Joab’s cousin. Yeah, well, things didn’t go so well for David and Amasa:
Joab said to Amasa, “How are you, my brother?” Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. 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 Bicri (2 Samuel 20:9-10).
And so Joab was back to being the commander of the army. Jesus taught,
When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26).
It’s hard to kick a bad habit or crippling emotional issue; just like it was nigh impossible for David to kick Joab (because he kept murdering anyone in his way). Now, I know that most of what Joab did can be justified- in fact; there are a lot of people out on the internet who write justifications for Joab’s actions. And, unsurprisingly, there are numerous websites of well-meaning people trying to justify their sins. But Joab just stabbed his cousin in the stomach during a peace time without provocation- and your sin is still sin.
Alright, now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you and called you out on whatever you mentally wrote in the blank above, hopefully you’re asking the same thing Paul found himself asking in Romans 7:24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Obviously, if you’re already saved you know the answer is Jesus. Without Christ in your life you’re totally screwed- your sin will catch up for you and even if you conquer your habits in life you’ll still find punishment in eternal, painful, death. If you have found salvation through Jesus Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit working inside you. Paul wrote to believers, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). For the believer, every day is a new day, a new creation, and a new chance at victory. And as we try our best, Paul’s advice is this: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of your sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16). If we do our best to follow godly things, we’re less likely to slip up. Will you slip up though? It’s very likely. The process of sanctification (becoming like Christ) is long and hard. Even as of the posting of this article, I’m still fighting my demons daily, and I may have won yesterday through the power of God, but that’s no guarantee I’ll hold the line today or tomorrow. But don’t lose heart when you lose ground, even Paul had troubles with getting better. To the struggling Christian he writes,
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which god has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
So then, Christian, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12). It’s a fight though. Paul wrote on his own experience, “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27). I don’t think he’s advocating self-abuse, but rather self-control. Don’t let your flesh control you, rather (in the name of the Lord) you control your flesh (after all, you are the master of your domain, aren’t you?). It’s a lifelong battle and the outcome while you live is uncertain (though the end is heaven for those who trust in Christ). Joab ended up outliving David. However, the sins of the father did not stay with the son- well, not Joab anyway; Solomon put that down right away:
So Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck down Joab and killed him, and he was buried on his own land in the desert. The king put Benaiah son of Jehoiada over the army in Joab’s position and replaced Abiathar with Zadok the priest (1 Kings 2:34-35).
Fight the good fight, my friend. You can overcome, and through the Lord you very well may overcome. And when you get to heaven, you can high-five the Lord for helping to put Joab in his place.