Lessons From the Life of Joab-

These are the things that you should do: speak the truth to one another~ Zechariah 8:16a 

 recently spent some quality time in 1st and 2nd Samuel. The two books are some of my all-time favorites, mostly because the writer divulges in vivid and sometimes even scandalous detail the good, the bad and the ugly pieces and parts of David’s life. I cherish the reminder that a person does not have to be perfect in every way 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 nothing more than a bit player in the story of David’s life. However, Joab quickly emerges in 2nd Samuel as a military mastermind, the go-to-guy for all things ethically dubious and David’s right-hand man. If there was a morally questionable deed that needed doing, Joab was the man to call. No one ever had to worry about him questioning the morality of a proposed action, or attempting to set anyone on a more virtuous path (2nd Samuel 11:14-24).

Joab just wasn’t that guy.

  Joab did possess some incredibly noble qualities. He was a good friend who was unquestionably loyal to David, a courageous warrior, and a brilliant military strategist. That being said, he was also power-hungry and egocentric. He appears to have been driven by a need to control and manipulate the people and circumstances around him. I don’t know if he had a personal axiom but if he did it was probably: “the end always 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, that is a much needed trait in our wishy-washy, never say anything the way it really is, never offend anyone world.

 Joab spoke truth. Fearlessly.

  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 would have been avoided and Absalom (David’s awful son) might have turned out to be a better man.


 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 his child that he failed to show gratitude to the men who risked their lives to save David and his Kingdom.

 Joab boldly informed David that there were bigger issues at stake 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 it was time to grow up, set his grief aside for a moment 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 less-than-perfect people to communicate critical truths. Our culture tends 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 or even life saving truths. David’s willingness to hear out a less-than-perfect messenger reminds me that wise people prayerfully evaluate EVERYTHING others say to them. No matter who they are and what they have done. 

 All that being said, the real moral of this story is that Christians ought strive to be the kind of truth-tellers people can automatically respond to in a positive way. Joab’s story reminds us our actions and attitudes should never be a stumbling block to others or get in the way of God’s truth (Romans 14:13, 1st Corinthians 8:9). 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.










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