As I read these chapters, the word “loyalty” comes to mind, for if there was anyone a paragon of loyalty, it would have to be Joab. Joab knew Abner would be a threat to David, so Joab killed Abner. Joab was distressed with David’s instructions regarding Bathsheba’s husband, but he followed them. When David’s indolence threatened his monarchy, it was Joab who told him the hard truth. Joab knew David’s stubbornness and disappointment with regard to Absalom, and he devised a way to encourage reconciliation between the two. But when Absalom led a revolution to overthrow his father, Joab killed the boy. When David’s grief left him incapacitated, it was Joab who spoke candidly to David: “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters . . . You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men.
When you read, therefore that David, on Absalom’s death, removed Joab as commander and put Amasa, Absalom’s commander in his place, you have to wonder if David has lost his mind.
Joab could have objected, quit or deserted, but he doesn’t. He seems to know he has done wrong, and he will accept his demotion and continue to serve his king. When, however, Amasa proved himself unfaithful to the king, Joab killed him too. The text does not say “David restored” Joab to his place as commander, but everyone knows Joab is in control once more.
When David decides to number his army, Joab is there to advise the King not to do it. Joab knew it wasn’t something God wanted. You can fault Joab’s actions, and you should. David had a better feeling for the heart of God. But you cannot fault Joab’s heart. He only ever wanted what was best for David. Jonathan is often regarded as David’s closest friend, but if the story is any indication, Joab acted closer. It’s too bad David never seemed to realize Joab’s loyalty. May we all be a friend like Joab, and may we recognize and hold close the Joabs in our life.