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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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Jo`ab (God-fathered), one of the three sons of Zeruiah, the sister of David, and 'captain of the host' (generalissimo) of the army during nearly the whole of David's reign.

He first appears associated with his two brothers, Abishai and Asahel, in the command of David's troops against Abner, who had set up the claims of a son of Saul in opposition to those of David, who then reigned in Hebron. The armies having met at the pool of Gibeon, a general action was brought on, in which Abner was worsted. In his flight he had the misfortune to kill Joab's brother, the swift-footed Asahel, by whom he was pursued (). The consequences of this deed have been explained elsewhere [ABNER; ASAHEL]. Joab smothered for a time his resentment against the shedder of his brother's blood; but being whetted by the natural rivalry of position between him and Abner, he afterwards made it the instrument of his policy by treacherously, in the act of friendly communication, slaying Abner, at the very time when the services of the latter to David, to whom he had then turned, had rendered him a most dangerous rival to him in power and influence (). That Abner had at first suspected that Joab would take the position of blood-avenger [BLOOD-REVENGE] is clear, from the apprehension which he expressed (): but that he thought that Joab had, under all the circumstances, abandoned this position, is shown by the unsuspecting readiness with which he went aside with him (); and that Joab placed his murderous act on the footing of vengeance for his brother's blood, is plainly stated in; by which it also appears that the other brother, Abishai, shared in some way in the deed and its responsibilities. At the same time, as Abner was perfectly justified in slaying Asahel to save his own life, it is very doubtful if Joab would ever have asserted his right of blood-revenge if Abner had not appeared likely to endanger his influence with David. The king, much as he reprobated the act, knew that it had a sort of excuse in the old customs of blood-revenge, and he stood habitually too much in awe of his impetuous and able nephew to bring him to punishment, or even to displace him from his command. 'I am this day weak,' he said, 'though anointed king, and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, be too hard for me' (; ).

Desirous probably of making some atonement before David and the public for this atrocity, in a way which at the same time was most likely to prove effectual—namely, by some daring exploit—he was the first to mount to the assault at the storming of the fortress on Mount Sion, which had remained so long in the hands of the Jebusites. By this service he acquired the chief command of the army of all Israel, of which David was by this time king ().

It is not necessary to trace the subsequent acts of Joab, seeing that they are in fact the public acts of the king he served. And he served him faithfully; for although he knew his power over David, and often treated him with little ceremony, there can be no doubt that he was most truly devoted to his interests, and sometimes rendered him good service even against his own will, as in the affair at Mahanaim (). But Joab had no principles apart from what he deemed his duty to the king and the people, and was quite as ready to serve his master's vices as his virtues, so long as they did not interfere with his own interests, or tended to promote them by enabling him to make himself useful to the king. His ready apprehension of the king's meaning in the matter of Uriah, and the facility with which he made himself the instrument of the murder, and of the hypocrisy by which it was covered, are proofs of this, and form as deep a stain upon his character as his own murders (). As Joab was on good terms with Absalom, and had taken pains to bring about a reconciliation between him and his father, we may set the higher value upon his firm adhesion to David when Absalom revolted, and upon his stern sense of duty to the king—from whom he expected no thanks—displayed in putting an end to the war by the slaughter of his favorite son, when all others shrunk from the responsibility of doing the king a service against his own will (). In like manner, when David unhappily resolved to number the people, Joab discerned the evil, and remonstrated against it; and although he did not venture to disobey, he performed the duty tardily and reluctantly, to afford the king an opportunity of reconsidering the matter, and took no pains to conceal how odious the measure was to him (). David was certainly ungrateful for the services of Joab, when, in order to conciliate the powerful party which had supported Absalom, he offered the command of the host to Amasa, who had commanded the army of Absalom (). But the inefficiency of the new commander, in the emergency which the revolt of Bichri's son produced, arising perhaps from the reluctance of the troops to follow their new leader, gave Joab an opportunity of displaying his superior resources, and also of removing his rival by a murder very similar to, and in some respects less excusable and more foul than, that of Abner [AMASA]. Besides, Amasa was his own cousin, being the son of his mother's sister ().

When David lay on his death-bed, and a demonstration was made in favor of the succession of the eldest surviving son, Adonijah, whose interests had been compromised by the preference of the young Solomon, Joab joined the party of the natural heir. It would be unjust to regard this as a defection from David. It was nothing more or less than a demonstration in favor of the natural heir, which, if not then made, could not be made at all. But an act which would have been justifiable, had the preference of Solomon been a mere caprice of the old king, became criminal as an act of contumacy to the Divine king, the real head of the government, who had called the house of David to the throne, and had the sole right of determining which of its members should reign. When the prompt measures taken under the direction of the king rendered this demonstration abortive (), Joab withdrew into private life till some time after the death of David, when the fate of Adonijah, and of Abiathar—whose life was only spared in consequence of his sacerdotal character—warned Joab that he had little mercy to expect from the new king. He fled for refuge to the altar; but when Solomon heard this, he sent Benaiah to put him to death; and, as he refused to come forth, gave orders that he should be slain even at the altar. Thus died one of the most accomplished warriors and unscrupulous men that Israel ever produced. His corpse was removed to his domain in the wilderness of Judah, and buried there, B.C. 1015 (; ).





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Joab'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​j/joab.html.
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