Saturday, August 25, 2012

Oh, Joab!

Mid-August, 2012. Wow. Once September 13th rolls around, I will have been in Wilmington a full year! But, I will save recapping time gone by for later. For the present, I thought it'd be fun to post a cool discovery I had the other while researching a curiosity about the relationships among King David, his politically savvy commander Joab, and his son, Absalom.


Now Joab is a really interesting character, to put the description kindly. Sometimes he's quite noble and loyal to David and at other times he leaves us to assume his only interests are his own. Often his good action will follow a bad, as if he were struggling to justify himself by clinging to a moral compass all his own. Here's some background before we pick up where I was reading in 2 Sam. 14.

The unfortunate man on the left is the noble Abner, commander of Saul's army, who had just committed himself to David's side to end the civil war between the two houses, and David had sent him home in peace and friendship. As you can see, he didn't make it. (2 Sam 3:26-30.) Joab actually killed him by striking him in the stomach, and he had the help of his brother Abishai, but you get the picture. The motivation? Abner had killed their brother Asahel in battle (fair and square.) Personally I prefer the visual characterization of Joab in the picture below:

David mourns Abner, but then things seem to fall out in David's favor. Two miscreants behead Saul's son, King Ish-bosheth, so David is anointed King over Israel, thus uniting the two nations. They defeat the Philistines and bring the Ark back to Jerusalem. Joab surely helped with that. David brings back his first wife, Michal from her second marriage. God makes his promise to David and grants him a string of military successes. Both Joab and David are kept busy...until David chooses not go out to battle one day, and we get the famous affair of chapter 11. 

Bathsheba just so happened to be the daughter of one of his fighting men and the granddaughter of Ahithophel, his adviser. (Thanks Francine Rivers for pointing out that factoid.) Most likely, she grew up traveling with his band of miscreants and was very familiar with his leadership. As if these close ties weren't sufficient enough to complicate the attraction, Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittie, a loyal friend to David and one of his warriors. She gets pregnant, David tries to cover it up, fails, and has Uriah murdered. 
Picture note- I never realized how many movie versions we have made of this crazy love story! I'd like to think the million evidences of grace within it have made it's popularity so enduring...well...indulge me.

Grace Point 1: God is not happy to say the least, but because of his promise to David to bring a king that will reign forever from him house, he forgives the sin and lets him live, though he sternly tells him his house will face the sword. And it does- both literally and metaphorically.

  • 1ST BIG SWORD BLOW- One son down. Bathsheba's baby dies.

David repents, and Solomon is born. Meanwhile, Joab captures Rabah and threatens to take it over himself unless David gets his butt down there to claim it. He does.

Joab capturing Ramah's citadel.
(Don't you just love these lego pictures? Here's the original site, if you're interested.)

After a brief respite from sin's consequences, the sword falls again.
  • 2ND BIG SWORD BLOW- Another son down. David and Ahinoam's son, Amnon, rapes David's daughter Tamar, daughter of Maacah (sister of Absalom). David is furious and mortified, but does nothing to avenge the wrong. Tamar takes refuge in Absalom's house and lives the rest of her days like a widow. Daughter down.
  • 3RD BIG SWORD BLOW- Son in exile. Meanwhile, Absalom, taking the wrong as a personal injury, kills Amnon at a dinner party with all the king's son's in attendance and then escapes to live with his grandpa, King Talmai, of Geshur for three years. "And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom..." (2 Sam. 13).

So, Joab noticed that David’s heart longed for Absalom and came up with a scheme. He hired the "wise woman" of Tekoa to present a crafty story to David in order to secure his order to return Absalom to the kingdom. 
My big question on reading this section was, “WHY would Joab go to such lengths?" So, we surmise….
1. Joab surely was fond of David after so many years- perhaps like a brother- and he admired him, but did not always agree with his judgments. He noticed how David’s heart pined for Absalom. Awwww. But that can’t be all.  2. He knew he was guilty of Abner's wrongful murder and thought perhaps by preventing political disaster with Absalom, he could begin to soften David's treatment toward himself. 3. He could sense the tone of the nation and wanted to avoid any ensuing turmoil for the sake of the nation and the ruling household. 

Joab concocts a story for the Wise woman to tell the king which goes something like this: “I’m a widow and I had two sons to carry on my husband’s name and care for me in my age. But, one of them killed the other! Now, the townspeople want to kill my remaining son in vengeance, but if they do, I will have nothing! Please help.” Then, before relating the story to Absalom, she secures the king’s word in a three-step process, which seems  to foreshadow Peters tri-fold denial and statement of love- (all of which are followed by a personal discovery- Peter’s facing of his guilt after the rooster crows, Peter’s hearing of how he will die, and in this case…well, we’ll get there.) David says, “I will issue a command on your behalf.” She presses further, he says, “If anyone gives you trouble, bring them directly to me.” She demands for him to swear by God’s name and he says, “As the LORD lives, not a hair of your son will fall to the ground.” David then hears from her mouth the parallel to his life. The woman argues that the guilty son in her story is Absalom. The stories don’t really add up- David had others heirs, she did not…. but she has already secured his pardon for the son by the name of God and piqued his emotional interest. She takes Absalom’s absence as a personal wrong against the nation, “For we will certainly die and be like water poured out on the ground, which can’t be recovered…I’ve come to the king to present this matter because the people have made me afraid…” Perhaps David was losing favor already or becoming disconnected with the sentiments of the people.  Perhaps he also hoped to pacify Absalom, whom he most likely knew could not react favorably toward the nation while in exile. 

Pause for a quick character question- Why did the people care so much about Absalom? There is nothing in the chapters beforehand to suggest he had any special connection with them. He makes no notable appeals to the people until he returns and steals their hearts by intercepting their needs at the gate before they could bring them before David. All we know about Absalom’s character is that it was not as noteworthy as his looks. 

He was handsome. 

In fact, he was extraordinarily handsome, as was the rest of his family.  His mother, Maacah was a princess of Geshur, a small nation landlocked by Israelite terrirtory, and was also very beautiful; His sister Tamar was beautiful, and his daughter, whom he names after his sister (perhaps showing his soft spot), was again- very beautiful. His hair was so lush that he had to shave it off every year because it got too heavy for him, and then he had it weighed. 5 pounds. That’s a lot of hair. So, perhaps his debonair looks won him the people’s hearts and made them feel personally wronged at his banishment. Maybe they judged his vengeance against Amnon justified. Maybe they wanted him to be cut some slack because he was just so darn cute. It would not be the first time men had made judgements based more on appearance. Even Samuel on his errand to anoint the king after Saul assumed one of David’s brothers would be God’s choice for their stature and look, and maybe David himself had a softer spot for Absalom because of his physical appearance. 

Whatever the case, the woman’s appeal, “God would not take away a life; He would devise plans so that the one banished from Him does not remain banished.” Has its effect and he gives the order for Joab to bring Absalom home. However, he places Absalom under house arrest- basically- as if to say, you’re home, but I haven’t forgotten what you did. "And Asalom did not see David’s face for two years." 

Grace Point 2- God’s love for the banished. We have all committed acts worthy of death, but God shows mercy, bringing us back from exile. Not because we deserved it. 

Absalom lives in pseudo house-arrest for two years and gets sick of it. I can understand this. He might have thought- “Go ahead and kill me for my wrong or grant me total pardon—this half-business isn’t cutting it. And, most likely he knew David wouldn’t kill him, so he makes his own plans to “make amends” with David. But, he needs Joab to intercede for him. He tries twice to contact Joab, but Joab “was unwilling to come.” (Hm….why?) Absalom’s response, Burn the Barley! A very Samson-like way to get attention…but it worked. 

So Joab acts as intermediary himself, and Absalom receives a kiss of pardon from the king. Joab as Christ prefigure! Who would have thought?

Grace Point 3- Absalom certainly didn’t deserve full pardon, not even the ½ pardon of house arrest. Yet, David granted it. How does Absalom react? He gathers an entourage and schemes to take over the kingdom. He goes to war with his dad. He takes advantage of the grace granted him and then later finds his judgment by the hand of the very one who interceded for him. Again, Joab as Christ figure- sort of.  And David still mourns for him. As little as Absalom deserved pity, David’s heart broke for his son, as God’s heart does for us. 


Joab murders Absalom while he hangs in a tree, his head caught in the branches.

Solomon becomes king, as God had promised. 

And Solomon pays back Joab for his murder of Abner...among other sending Benaniah to strike him down in the temple where he'd attempted to flee for refuge. 


Titus 2:12-14 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

John 8:11 Jesus to the adulterous woman, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now, and leave your life of sin."

Romans 6:1-2 Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Luke 13:1-5 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

David, Absalom and Joab…adultery, murder, backstabbing and after all is said and done...grace. 

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