These are the things that you should do: speak the truth to one another~ Zechariah 8:16a
Recently, I reread the books of, 1st and 2nd Samuel, they are some of my favorites partly because the writer divulges in vivid and sometimes even scandalous detail the good, bad and ugly pieces of David’s life. It is a much-needed reminder that one does not have to be perfect to be a man or woman after God’s own heart.
Anytime I revisit an old favorite I inevitably see something in the text I never really noticed before. This time it was Joab. In the beginning, he appears to be a bit player in the story of David’s life. However, Joab quickly emerges in 2nd Samuel as a military mastermind and the go-to-guy for all things ethically dubious.
If there was a morally questionable deed that needed doing, Joab was the man to ask. No one ever had to worry about Joab questioning the morality of the proposed action, or attempting to set them on a more virtuous path (2nd Samuel 11:14-24. Joab just wasn’t that guy.
Joab did possess a few noble qualities. He was unquestionably loyal to David, a courageous warrior, and a brilliant military strategist. That being said, he was also power-hungry and egocentric. He was driven to control and manipulate the people and circumstances around him. If he had a personal axiom it was probably: “the end justifies the means”. His very best choices were morally questionable. His worst choices were brutal and wicked.
Joab was not a Bible character Christians ought to model their lives after.
However, Joab did possess one rather commendable quality. It was a much needed trait in our wishy-washy, never say anything the way it really is, never offend anyone world.
Joab spoke the truth no matter the cost.
On at least two occasions Joab was willing to speak truth to power, even when it put his own life in danger. The first time was through the wise woman from Tekoa (2nd Samuel 14:1-13). The woman spoke Joab’s words for him. If David had followed Joab’s counsel and found a way to reconcile with his son while still adequately dealing with his sin, years of war and suffering might have been avoided.
The second time Joab confronted David was after a hard-won battle with Absalom’s army. David was so grief-stricken over the death of Absalom (his awful son) that he failed to show gratitude to the men who risked their lives to save David’s Kingdom.
Joab boldly informed David that there were things at stake bigger than his feelings (2nd Samuel 19:1-8) He advised David to behave like a leader and to start thinking with his head rather than his heart. Joab told David in no uncertain terms to grow up, move past his grief and do what needed to be done. Joab’s truthful but hard words saved the kingdom and perhaps altered the course of Israel’s history.
Joab’s words and David’s response remind me of some truths that I am sometimes inclined to forget. It’s clear from this story that God sometimes uses even sinful people to communicate critical truths. It is easy to get caught-up in demanding moral perfection from others before we are willing to hear to what they have to say. When this happens we inevitably overlook critical and possibly life changing truths. David’s willingness to hear out a less than perfect messenger reminds us that wise people prayerfully evaluate what others say to them. No matter who they are and what they have done.
All that being said, Christians ought strive to be the kind of truth-tellers folks people automatically respond to. Joab’s story reminds me that I should be the kind of person whose actions and attitudes do not get in the way of God’s truth. Joab was a born leader, gifted with incredible insight and the ability to articulate truth in a powerful and life changing way. He was also flaming-hot-mess of a man. Spiritually and morally speaking.
He is a stark reminder that the spiritual impact we have in this world is directly tied to the kind of life we choose to live.