DAVID AND THE SONS OF ZERUIAH
By F. M. Perry, 3/21/99
We must remember that God was using David to be a part of the lineage of Jesus, a part in God's plan to bring a member of the Godhead to earth to live in flesh. This does not mean that David did not suffer for his sins during his lifetime. David's life teaches us that sin has consequences during fleshly life that cannot be avoided. So we learn from Old Testament study about the consequences of sin in David's life. But we learn also that God brought ultimate spiritual good from the life of sinners like David if they remained faithful to God through acknowledgement and repentance of their sins.
A1though God, through His prophet Samuel anointed young (possib1y only a teenager) David to be king of Israel, David could not actually start serving as king until after the death of King Saul some years later. During the latter part of King Saul's life he branded David as an interloper, pursued him, and sought to kill him. David became a fugitive fleeing with a few followers into the wilderness and even at times into foreign countries to escape capture or death at the hands of Saul's soldiers.
The charismatic personality of David was illustrated by the fact that followers were attracted to him, followers who were willing to fight and die for him even in the dire straits of his banishment from Saul's kingdom. One of David's refuges as he hid from King Saul was a remote cave known as the Cave of Adullam. David's brothers and his father's household learned that David was hiding in the Cave and went down to him. In addition, "everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered by him; and he became captain over them" until there were about four hundred men with him. (1st Samuel 22:1,2.) A short time later David's band had grown to six hundred men. (1st Samuel 23:13.) Later David and his band were granted refuge in the Philistine city of Ziklag. There David offered his services and that of his band to the Philistine king, Achish. King Achish said of David: "As the Lord lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the army are pleasing in my sight; for I have not found evil in you from the day of your coming to me to this day."(1st Samuel 29:6.)
David not only attracted followers from among his own countrymen, he won the heart of the Philistine king. Later when David was ruling as king of all Israel, he had a palace guard composed of Cherethites and Pelethites. The Cherethites and
Pelethites were ethnic groups within the Philistine nation. Apparently, during David's sojourn in the Philistine city of Zik1ag, he attracted to his service a number of men from these gentile ethnic groups. They became the most faithful of David's followers, providing the closest personal security to King David as his palace guard.
David had a sister, Zeruiah, who had three sons. These sons of Zeruiah, nephews of David, were Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Apparently these three men were part of David's band who hid with him in the Cave of Adullam. They were to distinguish themselves as brave men, but were personally ambitious for appointment to powerful jobs in David's future kingdom. Their personal ambition and nature, which proved to be revengeful and evil, was so distasteful to David that he at one time said of them, "These men the sons of Zeruiah are too difficult for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil." (2nd Samuel 3:39.) David apparently felt that his kingdom was made weak because of the evil in it. Nevertheless, David retained his three nephews in his band and eventually gave them leadership positions.
It seems unusual that Joab, Abishai, and Asahel were know and referred to as"sons of Zeruiah" since Zeruiah was their mother. Usually Old Testament men were known as sons of their father, as David was known as the "son of Jesse," his father. As far as this writer knows, the father of these three sons of Zeruiah is not mentioned in Scripture. Zeruiah was a daughter of Jesse and the sister of David. Jesse was well known in Israel. When God through Samuel chose David to be King, and as David finally began to serve as King, it is likely that Jesse's family, as well as David's own family, came to be regarded as the royal family. Thus, Jesse's daughter as well as his sons, in the eyes of the people, were members of the royal family, the family from which the king of Israel was chosen. Perhaps these three men, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, were known as sons of their mother, Zeruiah, rather than sons of their father, because this connected them with David and the royal family. However, this is by no means a conclusive argument concerning the appellation "sons of Zeruiah". The Holy Bible, inspired by God, simply refers to the three men as "sons of Zeruiah".
As we study the life of David, we see that David eventually collaborated in evil doing with Joab, one of the sons of Zeruiah. Thus, this closeness which David maintained with the sons of Zeruiah eventually brought great distress on David personally as well as on the entire kingdom of Israel.
The differences between David's thinking and the thinking of the Sons of Zeruiah (Joab, Abishai, and Asahel) is evident in the incidents of David's life when he was closely associated with them. On one occasion during the ordeal of David's flight, King Saul received intelligence that David and his band were hiding in the wilderness of Ziph. King Saul gathered a force of three thousand chosen men and sought to engage and kill David in the wilderness. But David had sent out spies and he knew that Saul's army was coming. David was able to secretly observe the encampment of Saul's army. At nightfall, from David's secret vantage point, he saw the place within the encampment where King Saul was sleeping surrounded by his army. Near Saul the commander of Saul's army, Abner the son of Ner, was also sleeping.
Both Saul and Abner were men whom David admired despite the fact that they were seeking to kill him. Saul was admired by David because he was the man God had chosen to be the first king of Israel. Abner was admired by David because of his integrity and his military skill. Nevertheless, there was no question about the fact that Saul and Abner at that time were out to eliminate David from becoming king of Israel.
As David secretly observed Saul's army in the valley below, he asked of the men in his band, "Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?" Abishai, one of the three sons of Zeruiah, spoke up immediately and said, "I will go down with you." There is no doubt that David and his nephew Abishai demonstrated unusual bravery in their daring resolve to walk into the camp of the enemy.
What prompted David and Abishai to undertake this daring thing? There is no doubt that David had complete faith that God's will would be carried out. He believed that it was God's will for him to become king in place of Saul. But he left the carrying out of his enthronement to God and refused to take part personally in taking the life of Saul. So it is clear that David felt the complete protection of God for him personally as he undertook to walk into Saul's camp.
What prompted David's nephew Abishai to accompany David in an action which most military men would think to be foolhardy? Perhaps Abishai was, in a sense, foolhardy! Perhaps he was willing to take the great risk because it might ingratiate him with David and win for him a higher rank in the army of one who might become king. Although Abishai eventually realized that their intrusion into the camp of the enemy was under God's protection, it does not appear that his faith in God prompted his decision to go into the camp with David. Abishai escaped harm in this case because his personally determined decision was to go with David, a man after God's heart.
The scriptural record tells the story of what happened next and illustrates the difference between David's thinking and the thinking of Abishai. The scripture says, "So David and Abishai came to the people (army of King Saul) by night, and behold, Saul lay sleeping inside the circle of the camp, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and his people were lying around him. Then Abishai said to David, 'Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time'. But David said to Abishai, 'Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord's anointed and be without guilt?' David also said, 'As the Lord lives, surely the Lord will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord's anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.' So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul's head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the Lord had fallen on them." (1st Samue1 26:6-12)
This passage shows clearly the difference in the thinking between David and Abishai, one of the sons of Zeruiah. David ever retained and acted upon the knowledge that God was real and near. David's life illustrated his faith and obedience to his God. Abishai thought and acted as the secular military man who took every opportunity to further his military goal. Abishai took no thought that God had any part in the day's activities but that it was up to him to take action in accordance with his own natural inclinations.
The next day after Saul, Abner, and their army had awakened, David called to them from his nearby hiding place. He called first to Abner, acknowledging that there was no one in Israel with more integrity. But he accused Abner of being a poor general because he did not have an effective guard around Saul during the night. Saul and Abner had certainly noticed that Saul's spear and his drinking water were gone. David let it be known that he had taken these items and had departed from the camp without being detected. Saul called back, when he recognized David's voice, and claimed to repent from his resolve to kill David. He said, "I have sinned. Return, my son David, and I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold I have played the fool and have committed a serious error". David never lost his admiration of Abner and would have later, after Saul's demise, made him his own commander of the army of Israel had it not been for an evil action by one of the sons of Zeruiah.
However, Saul's campaign against David and his band of men did not cease after this incident and David decided that he would have to flee into the foreign country of Philistia in order to escape Saul's forces. So David and his band of six hundred men crossed into the Philistine city of Gath and appealed to King Achish for assistance. David's popularity with almost all men (except Saul) with whom he came in contact, even the king of one of Israel's greatest enemy nations, is illustrated in the assistance King Achish gave to David. He gave David a Philistine city, Ziglag, in which to dwell. And the city of Ziklag from that time on belonged to the Kings of Judah. (1st Samuel 27:6)
Interestingly, a study of this period of David's life seems to indicate that a group of Philistine men were attracted to join David's band while David was in Ziklag. Those who were attracted to David were from ethnic groups called the Cherethites and Pelethites. It seems reasonable that these Philistines became proselytes of the Mosaic religion. Their faithful service to David was such that David later formed them into his palace guard, that is, military type guards, who lived even closer to King David than his own army of Israelites. Indeed, it seems that David eventually came to trust his Cherethite and Pelethite guards more than the forces of his army to protect his life. (2nd Samuel 8:18; 15:18; 20:7, 23.)
Another incident which illustrated the character of David occurred when David and his men pursued a band of Amalekites. These Amalekites had raided Ziklag and kidnapped the wives of David and his men while David with his men were in the field. David returned from the field when he heard of the disaster at Ziklag and immediately went in pursuit of the Amalekite raiding party. However 200 of the 600 men in David's band were unable to continue the pursuit because of intense fatigue. David left these 200 men to guard the baggage while he led the 400 remaining men to catch and destroy the band of Amalekites. David and the 400 men rescued their wives, destroyed the Amalekites and captured the sheep and cattle which had belonged to the Amalekites. After the battle many of the 400 soldiers did not want to share the spoil of the sheep and cattle with the 200 men who had been left behind to guard the baggage. However, David demanded that all 600 of the men should share alike in the spoils of war, reminding his men that it was God who had delivered the Amalekites into their hands and had brought about their victory. In fact, David made it a statute and an ordinance for all Israel that all men of the army should always share alike in the division of spoils. (1st Samuel 30:21-25.) In addition, David sent a portion of the spoils "to the elders of Judah, to his friends, ...and to all the places (in Israel) where David and his men were accustomed to go." (1st Samuel 30:26-31)
While David and his men were still living in Ziklag, a decisive battle occurred between the Philistine army and Saul's army. The Philistines won the battle and, in so doing, killed Saul and three of his sons. David mourned the death of Saul and especially the death of Saul's son Jonathan who had been his personal friend. Earlier David had prophesied, "As the Lord lives, surely the Lord will strike him (Saul), or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish." (1st Samuel 26:9,10.) David's policy of fleeing from Saul rather than fighting him was fully vindicated.
During the period of David's flight from Saul the three sons of Zeruiah, Asahel, Abishai, and Joab, joined the men who served David. These three managed to achieve leadership positions in David's small army. Indeed, Asahel was spoken of as one of the distinguished "mighty men" of Israel. (1st Chronicles 11:26f.). Abishai, his brother, was also spoken of as "chief of the thirty." Abishai was said to have "swung his spear against 300 and killed them". Of Abishai' s rank it was said, "Of the three in the second rank he was the most honored, and became their commander; however he did not attain to the first three". (1st Chronicles 11:20f.). Joab, the third of these brothers, by questionable actions eventually achieved generalship of David's entire army of all Israel.
Shortly after the death of Saul, while Abner remained the commander of Saul's army, there was a shameful encounter involving Abner and Joab which took the lives of 24 young Israelite men. All during the time of flight of David from Saul, David had been committed to fleeing from Saul's army rather than fighting it. However, at the time of this incident Saul was dead and Saul's son Ishbosheth was a contender for Saul's throne. It happened that Abner went to Gibeon with some servants of Ishbosheth. Then the scripture says, simply, that "Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them (Abner and his men) by the pool of Gibeon". There is no indication in scripture that Joab had authority from David to meet or strive with Abner. Nevertheless, two forces inimical to each other, one force under the leadership of Abner, and one force under the leadership of Joab, came belligerently face to face in Gibeon. Joab knew that David's strategy, which he should have carried out, had been to refrain from engaging the forces of Saul. David's army had taken no part in the defeat and death of Saul. It appears that Joab, taking with him some of the servants of David, purposely went out to engage Abner, knowing full well that it was against David's policy. Apparently Joab's initiative in going out to meet Abner was motivated by his thoughts as a military man seeking to complete the overthrow of Saul's forces. The military value of Joab's actions might not be faulted by those concerned only with worldly military victory and glory. But David's concern went beyond thoughts of worldly glory, putting spiritual values related to his spiritual God ahead of strictly worldly matters. To David, God was the commander-in-chief of his army.
In Gibeon, Abner with his men and Joab with his men sat down on either side of the pool of Gibeon. Apparently Abner spoke up first, saying to Joab, "Now let the young men arise and hold a contest before us". And Joab said, "Let them arise." So twelve young men arose from Abner's side and twelve young men from Joab's side. "And each one seized his opponent by the head, and thrust his sword in his opponent's side; so they fell down together." Twenty four young Israelites died in that shameful encounter that day. The incident, which could have been avoided had Joab followed David's policy, caused a severe battle between David's army and Abner's army. Abner's army was defeated by David's army, and Abner and his army fled from the field of battle. (2nd Samuel 2:8-17.)
During this battle, the three sons of Zeruiah are introduced: Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. The three were in pursuit of Abner himself. Asahel, being the fleetest runner of the three, personally overtook the retreating Abner showing his full intention of killing him. As they ran, Abner, the more experienced fighter, warned Asahel that he should pursue someone else if he wanted spoil. Abner said to Asahel, "Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?" But Asahel continued to try to catch Abner. Abner simply thrust the blunt end of his spear at the running Asahel. The spear went through him and came out his back. Thus Asahel died. (2nd Samuel 2:18- 23)
Joab and Abishai with "David's servants" continued to pursue Abner and his forces. Finally at the end of the day Joab and "David's servants" came upon Abner's army rallied and waiting for them on top of "the hill of Ammah". Abner called for a cease-fire. He said, "How long will you refrain from telling the people to turn back from following their brothers?" Apparently Abner was reminding Joab that the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah were brothers as descendants of the sons of Jacob. (2nd Samuel 2:24-29)
After this incident, Abner ostensibly was faithful still to Ishbosheth and his claim to the throne of Saul. But Ishbosheth began to express animosity toward Abner. Ishbosheth accused Abner of sleeping with one of Saul's concubines. Abner denied the accusation and threatened to go over to David's side. He indicated at that time that he believed David to be the rightful God-anointed king of Israel. Abner then negotiated a peace between his army and David's army and promised to deliver all Israel into David's kingdom. David gave a feast in honor of Abner during which an agreement between David and Abner was made. Abner was to return to the tribes who had been loyal to Saul and persuade them to accept David as their king.
Joab, who at first did not know about the peace-making agreement between David and Abner, came to David and learned of it. Joab then severely denounced the agreement and David's release of Abner to go in peace. Joab expressed his belief that Abner was deceiving David and would soon return with his army to make war again. However much Joab disagreed with the peace-making deal David had arranged, it was clear to Joab that David, his commander-in-chief, had arranged it and intended to keep it. But Joab did not want to accept it. Also it appears likely that Joab feared that he would lose his opportunity to become the full commander of David's army should Abner be welcomed into David's army. Very likely Joab knew that David admired Abner and might give the general-ship of the Army to him. And finally Joab felt vengeful against Abner who had killed his brother Asahel.
So Joab took matters into his own hands and summoned Abner to return to Hebron to meet with him, ostensibly to discuss the reuniting of Israel. David was not advised of Joab's summons to Abner. When Abner returned to Hebron, Joab went out to meet him in the road, feigned an embrace, and stabbed him to death with a hidden dagger. Not only was Joab guilty of murder, he had also violated the peace initiative arranged by his commander-in-chief.
Of course, David disavowed any complicity in the murder of Abner. But did David bring Joab immediately to justice for his act of murder? No. David merely spoke words of condemnation against Joab saying, "May it (the murder) fall on the head of Joab and on all his father's house; and may there not fail from the house of Joab one who has a discharge, or who is a leper, or who takes hold of a distaff, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks bread". The implication of David's words seemed to leave to God the bringing of Joab to justice. The scripture then says, "So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle of Gibeon". During the funeral of Abner, David spoke, "Do you not know that a prince .and a great man has fallen this day in Israel. And I am weak today, though anointed king, and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too difficult for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil". (2nd Samuel 3.)
In the days which followed Ishbosheth was murdered in his house by some of his own countrymen. David had the culprits killed for their murder of Ishbosheth. And finally all the tribes of Israel sent representatives to David at Hebron acknowledging that the Lord had spoken to David, "You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel". The tribes were then willing to be united under King David. The scripture says, "David was 30 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years". (2nd Samuel 4 and 5)
Up until this time David had not entered to live in the city of Jerusalem. It still was occupied by Jebusites, original inhabitants, who had not been expelled by Joshua's invasion of Canaan. Joshua had entered the city (then called Jebus) more than 400 years earlier and some Israelites had resided there. But the Jebusites had not been driven out and they had retaken the city for themselves. David, as king of Israel, decided to capture Jebus (now referred to as Jerusalem). When David and his army approached the city the Jebusites sent out a message to David, saying, "You shall not come in here, but the blind and the lame shall turn you away." Apparently Jerusalem was well fortified by a city wall. However, there was a "water tunnel" which went under the wall and entered the city at its lowest level. The tunnel, being narrow and constricted, could easily be defended by a few men thought the Jebusites, even men who were blind or lame. It was through this "water tunnel" that David decided to enter and take the city. David sent out a challenge to his men, "Whoever strikes down a Jebusite first shall be chief and commander. ...Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief." David moved into the citadel stronghold part of the city, lived and made his headquarters there. That portion of Jerusalem became known as the city of David. (2nd Samuel 5:6-10; 1st Chronicles 11:4f) The scripture also says, "So David reigned over all Israel; and he administered justice and righteousness for all his people. And Joab son of Zeruiah was over the army". (1st Chronicles 18:14f)
Why did David appoint Joab, whom he thought to be an evil man, to be head over the army of Israel? There is no indication that Joab had repented of his evil doing. Was Joab appointed commander simply because David had promised the position to the one who captured Jerusalem? Did the fact that Joab was David's nephew, the son of David's sister, make Joab a more desirable candidate? Was it possible that David thought Joab's appointment was by the will of God? Was it possible that David, although thought to be always faithful to God, had doubts at times and appointed Joab because he was the commander most adept at worldly warfare? These questions may not be answerable, but they pose an historical dilemma which makes us wonder about the relationship between David and the sons of Zeruiah, especial1y between David and Joab. David had become king of a nation among a wor1d of nations, and there was a wealth of worldly knowledge, having grown up over thousands of years, about the worldly art of ruling and defending nations. Joab was a man who seemed to be high1y susceptible to such worldly concepts. That a king of Israel, might be enticed by such worldly wisdom, was a risk entailed when Israel demanded that they have a king like the other nations of the world. What effect would the appointment of Joab to the general-ship have upon David and the Kingdom of Israel?
That David did not fully trust Joab and the army to defend himself and his household is seen in David's appointment of a special palace guard which was not a part of the army. Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was appointed to be head of this palace guard. These personal body guards consisted of Philistine men from the ethnic groups of Cherethites and Pelethites who had probab1y joined up with David when he resided at Ziklag. They most likely had been converted to the Jewish religion. To guard his household David trusted more a Judaized company of Philistines than he trusted the Israelite army under Joab. (2nd Samuel 8:18)
During David's reign the Arameans and Ammonites combined forces and rose up against David with thirty three thousand men. David sent Joab and all the army out to meet them. Joab took part of the army and set it against the Arameans in front of him. He gave the rest of the army to Abishai, his brother, to fight against the Ammonites behind him. First the Arameans fled before Joab' s army. Then the Ammonites f1ed before Abishai' s army.
After the battle Joab and Abishai went back to Jerusalem. But soon the Arameans again began to make threats against Israel, believing that their defeat in combination with the Ammonites was not a true measure of their strength. They thought they wou1d be able to defeat Israel if they did it alone without the Ammonites. This time David led the army against the Arameans and defeated them at Helem across the Jordan to the east. During the battle seven hundred Aramean charioteers, forty thousand Aramean horsemen, and the commander of the Aramean army were killed. Joab was not mentioned in this battle. Apparently the victory was attributed to David himself. (2nd Samuel 19)
The Ammonites also continued to harass Israel. David sent out Joab with the army of Israel against the Ammonites whi1e he stayed behind at Jerusalem. Joab laid siege to Rabbah, one of the Ammonite cities. This was, apparently, a long term campaign.
It was at this time that David saw Bathsheba and committed adultery with her. As a result Bathsheba became pregnant. David decided to try to conceal the fact that he was the father of Bathsheba's child. He told Joab to send Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, from the battlefield to Jerusalem. David's plan was to make everyone think that Uriah was the father of Bathsheba's child rather than himself. However, Uriah, referred to as a "mighty man" of Israel, refused to go home to Bathsheba, stating that he had no right to go to a home of comfort while his army comrades were in the field. During his visit from the battlefield to Jerusalem he slept each night near the door of David's palace. On one occasion David caused Uriah to become drunk thinking he might then go home to his wife, Bathsheba. But Uriah refused to go home and soon he prepared to go back to the battlefield.
David decided that he must get rid of Uriah so he could take Bathsheba to wife. He wrote a note to Joab enclosing it in an official message pouch. And he sent the pouch to Joab on the battlefield by the hand of Uriah when Uriah departed back to the battlefield. The note said, "Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down". Uriah died in the battle which Joab then put him.
Joab was, apparently, a commander very tough on his men, making them have more casualties than was necessary. Joab knew that David normally valued the lives of the men more than he did. So when he reported the war with the Ammonites to David he expected David to sharply criticize him for allowing so many casualties. So he added at the end of his casualty report, "Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also." Quite likely Joab intended the statement as a sort of blackmail against David. But David replied, "Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another; make your battle against the city stronger and overthrow it." Thus David tried to trivialize the conspiracy and murder. David knew perfectly well that he had initiated a conspiracy with Joab to bring about the death of Uriah. Undoubtedly David also knew that Joab could be held responsible as a conspirator for the death of Uriah. So it appears that David's reply to Joab was worded to assure him that the deed would not be found out. The scripture says, "But the thing David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord." (2nd Samuel 11)
But, of course, the deed was known to God and God sent his prophet Nathan to confront David. Nathan quoted to David the words of the God of Israel. "It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and the house of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these. Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. ...Behold I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your companion, and he shall be with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed, you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun." David then repented and acknowledged to Nathan that he had sinned. Nathan then told David that "the Lord has taken away your sin, you shall not die." David was saved eternally from his sins but the earthly, fleshly consequences of his sin had to be borne while he lived on earth. The things which God revealed would happen to David did indeed happen to him during the reminder of his life. (2nd Samuel 12)
Joab continued to lead the Israelite army against the Ammonites and eventually achieved victory. At the knell of the final battle of the war with the Ammonites, Joab sent a message to David in Jerusalem saying, "I have fought against Rabbah (possibly the city beneath the walls of which Uriah was killed by the enemy), I have even captured the city of waters. Now therefore, gather the rest of the people together and camp against the city and capture it, lest I capture the city myself and it be named after me." Then David indeed did go to Rabbah, fight against it, and capture it. David took the golden crown set with precious stones from the king of Ammon and placed it on his own head. He enslaved the people of Ammon and brought back spoil of the city in great amounts. (2nd Samuel 12)
Soon the fulfillment of the disasters which Nathan had prophesied would come to David and his family began to happen. One of David's sons Absolom killed his brother Amnon because Amnon had raped his sister Tamar. These were all David's children. After the murder, Absolom fled to the king of Geshur for safe haven. Apparently he went there because he was considered to be a prince in Geshur through his mother who was the daughter of the king of Geshur.
The scripture says that "Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king's heart (that is, David's heart) was inclined toward Absolom." Yet David let Absolom reside in Geshur for three years without communicating with him. Joab was concerned about this. Joab apparently recognized that Absolom was a prince in two countries and potentially he might one day become powerful enough to lead an uprising against David. Joab was indeed wise in the politics of the world and later events proved that his worldly thinking about Absolom was correct. Joab wanted Absolom back and on good terms with David.
Joab took measures calculated to influence David to bring Absolom back to Jerusalem. He attempted a subterfuge by sending a woman of Tekoa to David with a concocted story about her two sons. She told David that one of the sons had killed the other and the family was now demanding the death of the living son who was the only heir left in the family. David assured the woman that he would not let the son be killed. But the woman asked to say more. She told David that the situation was much like his own situation with Absolom, who had killed his own brother, and that David had not called Absolom back from Geshur. At this point David recognized that Joab most likely had sent the woman to him to influence him to invite Absolom back to Jerusalem. David asked the woman, "Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?" The woman admitted that Joab had put the words of her story in her mouth. Here we see a sample of the devious ways of Joab and his attempts to influence David.
David apparently saw some wisdom in Joab's wishes concerning Absolom. David commissioned Joab to go to Geshur to bring his son Absolom back to Jerusalem. Joab said to David, after having fallen on his face to the ground, having prostrated himself, and blessed the king, "Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, 0 my Lord the king, in that the king has performed the request of his servant." Joab then brought Absolom back to Jerusalem. But when Absolom arrived in Jerusalem David refused to see him face to face. David assigned a house in Jerusalem to him. Absolom lived two years in Jerusalem without ever seeing David's face. Absolom wanted very much to see and be close to king David. So Absolom asked Joab to again intercede with David for him. Joab twice refused to help Absolom. Then Absolom took measures to try to force Joab to do his bidding. He had Joab's field of barley set on fire! When Joab came to Absolom for an explanation, Absolom told him that he wanted David to acknowledge him. Otherwise, Absolom said, he might as well have stayed in Geshur. Joab went to David and persuaded him to see his son Absolom. When they met, David kissed Absolom. (2nd Samuel 13)
After that however, Absolom started a propaganda war against David. The scripture says, "Absolom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel." Shortly after that Absolom staged a coup and tried to have himself declared king. David decided that it would be expedient for him, his household, and the palace guard of Cherethites and Pe1ethites to flee the city of Jerusalem. Very likely David did not stand and fight Absolom because he thought it might be God's will that Absolom have the throne. David and his party fled by way of the Mount of Olives to the edge of the wilderness. Then he sent Hushai, his friend, to go and offer his services to Absolom but, in fact, to serve as a spy for him. (2nd Samuel 15).
Abishai, one of the sons of Zeruiah, was with David and the palace household when they fled over the Mount of Olives. Abishai asked David to let him kill Shimei because Shimei had come alongside David's party and had yelled insults at David and had thrown stones at him. Shimei was one who had been a part of Saul's regime. When Abishai spoke to David asking to kill Shimei, David replied to him, "What have I to do with you, 0 sons (plural) of Zeruiah? If he curses and the Lord has told him, 'Curse David,' then who shall say, why have you done so?" David continued, "Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite (Shimei)? Let him alone, let him curse, for the Lord has told him. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day." (2nd Samuel 16)
Absolom, during his brief rebellion, named Amasa as head of the army in place of Joab. David and his party had by now fled across the Jordan to the city of Mahianaim. Absolom with his army had pursued David to Mahianaim. However, at Mahianaim, many volunteers from Israel had come to help David. So David again had an army to command. David set out one third of his army under Joab, one third under Abishai, and one third under Itai the Gittite. David himself was persuaded to stay with the people in the city of Mahianaim. David charged his three commanders, Joab, Abishai, and Itai, "Deal gently with the young man Absolom." All the people heard this charge as well. David's army defeated Absolom's army that day with twenty thousand men killed.
Absolom, riding on a mule as he fled from David's men, rode under an oak tree and his hair got caught in the branches of the tree. Absolom hung helplessly there. No one attacked Absolom in his predicament at that time for everyone knew and wished to obey the charge given by David to spare Absolom. However, a certain man saw Absolom hanging there and went and told Joab. Joab asked the man why he had not killed Absolom. Joab said he would have given the man ten pieces of silver and a belt had he done so. The man replied that he had heard the king's command to protect Absolom and therefore he would not kill Absolom even for a thousand pieces of silver. During this conversation the man reminded Joab that he had been commanded to protect Absolom. Joab uttered his disdain for the words of the man, then went and killed Absolom as he hung alive in the tree. He thrust three spears into his heart. And Joab's armor bearers, ten men, also struck killing blows on Absolom. (2nd Samuel 16)
When runners went from the battlefield to report the victory to David, David quickly asked, "Is it well with the young man Absolom?" The runner told David that his son Absolom was killed. David went to the room over the gate of the city and wept, "0 my son Absolom, my son, my son Absolom! Would that I had died instead of you, 0 Absolom, my son, my son!" (2nd Samuel 18)
Joab was filled with revulsion at the news of David's public mourning for Absolom. The scripture says that "the victory that day was turned to mourning for all the people, for the people heard it said that day, 'The king is grieved for his son."' But Joab came to the king's house and renounced David "for loving those who hate you, and hating those who love you. For you have shown today that the princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absolom was alive and all of us were dead ~ today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go out, surely not a man will pass the night with you, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now." Very likely David did not agree with all Joab said, but he recognized that the people deserved to be commended for their victorious stand against the enemy. So David arose and sat publicly in the gate of the city and all the people came before the king. (2nd Samuel 19)
Rebellion against David did not end with Absolom's rebellion. The scripture speaks of a "worthless fellow" named Sheba, son of Bichri, a Benjamite, who for awhile rallied Israel against Judah. Sheba called out to the men of Israel, ' we have no portion in David, nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, 0 Israel". The scripture then says, "So all the men of Israel withdrew from following David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri; but the men of Judah remained steadfast to their king, from the Jordan even to Jerusalem." David sought to put a quick end to Sheba's rebellion. In doing so he gave authority to Amasa who had been Absolom's commander-in-chief. Apparently David had forgiven Amasa for his rebellion and sought to utilize him in the army, perhaps even to have him replace Joab. So, upon the rebellion of Sheba, he commissioned Amasa to call out the fighting men of Judah putting a time limit of three days on getting the men mobilized and ready for battle.
Amasa set out to mobilize the men but he delayed beyond the three days that David had specified. David was afraid that Sheba's rebellion might do even more harm to the nation than Absolom's rebellion had done. David desired to quickly quell Sheba's rebellion. Since Amasa was failing him, David commissioned Abishai to take whatever fighters he could muster immediately to pursue and subdue Sheba. Abishai took the men who were close at hand, Joab and some of his men, the palace guard of Cherethites and Pelethites, certain of the "mighty men", and immediately went out to pursue Sheba.
When the pursuing party reached the city of Gibeon, Amasa came out to meet them. Joab left the party ostensibly to give Amasa a friendly greeting. He grasped Amasa's beard as though he was going to kiss him. At the same time he thrust his sword into Amasa's belly and killed him. Again Joab murdered a man whom he considered his rival for generalship of the army. And he did it while feigning to kiss him!
The pursuing party grew larger as men of Judah joined it. They learned that Sheba and his men were hiding themselves behind the wall of the city of Abel Bethmaacah. Abishai and Joab began to lay siege to the city. A certain wise woman of the city, dismayed by the plans being laid to invade her city, spoke to Joab and offered to send out to him the head of Sheba if the army would go away. Joab consented. The woman then stirred up the people of the city to cut off the head of Sheba and throw it over the wall to Joab. Joab, Abishai, and the men of Judah then returned to their homes. (2nd Samuel 20)
After several years King David was again in the field fighting the incessant wars against the Philistines. During an engagement with the enemy David became weary. While David was in this weary physical condition a certain Philistine giant, Ishbi-benob by name, decided to personally attack David and kill him. Perhaps, the giant, Ishbi-benob, thought it an opportunity to avenge the death of his giant kinsman, Goliath, by the boy David many years earlier. When Ishbi-benob confronted David, Abishai, one of the sons of Zeruiah, came to David's aid. Abishai struck the giant and killed him. Then the men of David exhorted David not to go out to battle anymore, intimating that he was worth more to Israel as a live king than as a dead hero. Again, the closeness of David's life to that of one of the sons of Zeruiah, Abishai, was illustrated. Although David had said that the sons of Zeruiah were too difficult for him, there were times when his life depended on and was saved by them. (2nd Samuel 21:15-17)
In David's later years his kingdom stretched from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south. David, thinking only as a worldly military conqueror, decided that he ought to take a census of the people of his expanded nation in order to know how big an army he could call out to battle. The scripture says that David's decision was inspired by Satan. David chose not to obey his conscience. It reminded him that it was the Lord who had always called for census taking and military mobilization against an enemy in the past. David also could have remembered that the Lord had often given victory to Israel without regard to the size of Israel's army. David, nevertheless, said to his field commander, Joab, "Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people." Joab objected to David's command, saying, "May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why does my lord seek these things? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?" It appears that Joab was very adept, or at least thought he was, in reading David's motivations. In this case it appears that Joab's objection to the taking of a census was wise for the scripture says that God did not approve of the action and called it a grievous sin. It seems paradoxical that in this case the spiritual minded David let worldly desires rule his volition while the worldly minded Joab was aware of the spiritual pitfall in David's thinking.
However, David, as Joab's commander in Chief, insisted that Joab and the other military leaders go forth to take the census. Joab started the taking of the census. However, the scripture says that the taking of the census was abhorrent to Joab. He stopped short of completing the entire census, leaving out the tribes of Levi and Benjamin. However he reported the partial count to David, apparently as a complete count of all Israel.
As Joab had seemed to intimate, God was not pleased that the census had been taken. The prophet, Gad, let David know that he had sinned and that all Israel was in danger of the immediate wrath of God. David's heart troubled him and he cried out to God, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, 0 Lord, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have acted very foolishly." However, the prophet Gad informed David that God had already determined to strike Israel. God was willing to let David chose from three possible punishments, which He might impose. David had to choose from: (1) seven years of famine to the entire land, (2) three months flight by David from his foes while they pursued him,' or (3) three days of pestilence in the land. David chose the latter, with the statement to God, "I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hands of man." The pestilence which fell upon Israel resulted in the deaths of seventy thousand men from Dan to Beersheba.
The scriptural record seems to indicate that God, at first, had intended to destroy far more people of Israel than the seventy thousand men who died. God sent His destroying angel to Jerusalem to kill the people there as well. David saw the angel of God standing beside the threshing floor of Araunah on the top of the mountain later to be known as Mount Zion. The angel had drawn his sword and was looking down on the city of Jerusalem. Then David spoke to the Lord and said, "Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who has done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Thy hand be against me and against my father's house." God said to the angel who destroyed the people, "It is enough! Now relax your hand!" God answered David's plea through the prophet Gad, who relayed God's message for David to go up to the threshing floor of Araunah and there erect an altar to the Lord. David immediately bought the mountain top which contained the threshing floor from a Jebusite, Araunah, and built an altar there. David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings to God there. Thus the Lord was moved by entreaty for the land, and the plague was held back from the people of Jerusalem. (2nd Samuel 24; 1st Chronicles 21)
It is of interest that many people of the Islamic faith today believe that the top of Mount Zion on which David built an altar to God was the very spot on which Abraham, at the command of God, had offered his son in sacrifice many years before. A close reading of Genesis 22 places the place of Abraham's sacrifice at Mount Moriah which was in the vicinity of the place where the city of Jebus was later built. There seems to be a possibility that the spot on which David built an altar to God was the actual spot on which Abraham had offered his son Isaac. And without a doubt, it is the spot on which Solomon later built the Temple of God.
King David as an old man was still plagued by uprising and rebellion against him. His fourth son, Adonijah, believing David to have become feeble, began to aspire to be king in his place. The scripture says, "And he (Adonijah) had conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and following Adonijah they helped him." Again Joab seemed to be taking steps to assure his future as commander of the army, this time by deserting and rebelling against David in the feebleness of his old age.
King David was alerted of the rebellion by his wife Bathsheba, and by Nathan the prophet. David had earlier promised his wife Bathsheba, that her son Solomon would follow him on the throne. But apparently, David had not yet announced his choice of Solomon to the people. Nathan advised David to immediately anoint Solomon as his successor in a public ceremony so that there would be no doubt among the people that Solomon, not Adonijah, was the choice of David to follow him on the throne. This was done.
Then Adonijah and his followers became terrified. Adonijah himself, fearing he would be killed, fled to the altar and took hold of the horns of the altar, begging that Solomon spare his life. Solomon sent word to Adonijah that he would die only if wickedness were found in him. Adonijah was then sent to his own house. (1st Kings 1)
As David's time to die drew near, he called Solomon the new king, to him. Among other things he said, "Now you also know that Joab, the son of Zeruiah, did to me, what he did to the two commanders of the armies of Israel, to Abner the son of Ner, and to Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed; he also shed the blood of war in peace. And he put the blood of war on his belt about his waist, and on his sandals on his feet. So act according to your wisdom, and do not let his gray hair go down to Sheol in peace." The scripture says, "Now the news came to Joab, for Joab had followed Adonijah, although he had not followed Absolom. And Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar." King Solomon then sent Benaiah the son of Jehoida to put Joab to death. Benaiah went to the tent of the Lord and called to Joab to come out. Joab replied that he would not come out but would die where he was. Benaiah checked back again with King Solomon and was instructed to kill him even as he clung to the horns of the altar. Then King Solomon appointed Benaiah the son of Jehoida over the army in the place of Joab. Thus Joab was finally brought to justice. (1st Kings 2)
As we study the life of David we notice the contrast between the young David's relationship with God and the older David's relationship with God. As a young man before his actual ascension to the throne of Israel David apparently had constant thoughts of God and his place in God's spiritual realm (as witnessed by the psalms that he wrote). He lived as though his life on earth were only a part of his spiritual existence with his God. The older David, having served a number of years as king, made many decisions based solely on worldly principles without thought of the precepts of God. He committed an adulterous affair with Bathsheba, murdered Bathsheba's husband, and conspired with evil people whom he knew to be evil. During these actions the spiritual realm and his spiritual God were far from his thoughts. Consequently, he was punished by God even while he lived in the flesh. However, in the chasisements by God in his later life, David actually was blesesed. God influenced him to remember the blessings of his earlier relationship with God. David repented. He died and entered the wholly spiritual realm with assurance that he would live with God.
What happened to cause such a contrast in motivation (spiritual verus fleshly) between David's early and later life? Perhaps we should consider the fact that after David's ascension to the throne he received worldly responsibility far beyond that of his younger years. And, as king, David had constantly to deal with ungodly worldly men in the administration of his nation. We are reminded of the plea for a king made by the Israelites to their judge and prophet, Samuel, only a few years earlier. God warned the Israelites through Samuel that the complexities of fleshly life would be greatly increased should they be ruled by a king. In asking for a king the people actually were rejecting God as their king and were increasing the worldly influences that would be brought to bear on their lives. David became king of a nation in a world of such nations. Although David was able to overcome worldly influences before he became king, perhaps he was not able to withstand them in the long run as king. This indicates to us one of the reasons God advised the Israelites not to enthrone a king over their nation. God's wisdom was brought to light in the deleterious effects that kingship had on the life of David.
Perhaps the greater influence toward evil actions by David came from certain worldly minded people whom he gathered around him to administer his kingdom, especially his nephews, the three sons of Zeruiah. In the eyes of these three, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, David's spirituality was seen as a weakness. Somehow David was influenced to let them act on their own in many cases. When they violated spiritual precepts clear to David, he did not dismiss them, but kept them in positions of leadership. After some years of close association with men like these, David began to be influenced to think like them.
Consider first the transgression of Asahel. It is almost inconceivable that the sons of Zeruiah did not know David's policy concerning warfare with King Saul's forces. David' policy to avoid conflict was spiritually based allowing God to punish as necessary and deliver the throne of Israel to David. Most likely the sons of Zeruiah knew that David admired Abner and had no personal animosity toward him. Yet they pursued Abner, trying to kill him. Why? Their worldly minds seemed unable to grasp the spiritual virtue of forgiveness. To them Abner was an enemy and they felt they had to take every opportunity to kill him. The final encounter with Abner fell to Asahel because he was the fleetest runner of the three and reached Abner first. Because Asahel's challenge was in the open without treachery, Abner was able to defend himself and Asahel was the one killed.
Abishai showed his type of thinking when he and David walked into the camp of King Saul and Abner in the wilderness of Ziph. God had caused a deep sleep to fall upon Saul and Abner and everyone of their army. Abishai saw this only as an opportunity to turn the tables and kill Saul and Abner who had come there to kill them. In David's spiritual thinking, there was still opportunity to settle difficulties with brethren under the spiritual kingship of God. David's wise thinking governed the situation in this case. Perhaps Abishai learned something from David for there is no other reference to a specific clash of wills between David and Abishai.
Joab is the one of the three who was most closely associated with David throughout David's entire 40 year reign. Joab was always a military man ambitious to increase his rank and influence in Israel. He began to serve with David's small band of men who were fleeing from King Saul. Henceforth he seemed to consider King Saul's military leaders as his life time enemies. David never held grudges against his kinsmen under King Saul and, as commander-in-chief of his band, he chose to flee rather than fight Saul's forces. He stated to his men that his policy was to leave the problem with King Saul to be settled by God, not by himself. Joab was the most glaring offender of David's policy.
While David waited patiently for God's guidance, Joab went forth to engage Saul's forces and solve the problem himself. After Saul's removal from the picture by death, David worked for reconcilation with Israel without further bloodshed. But Joab took matters into his own hands and started additional warfare against Abner and the remainder of King Saul's forces. Thus occurred the catastrophe when twelve men from one camp engaged twelve men from the other camp resulting in the death of all twenty four men. Shortly after that incident Abner seemed to come to his senses, asking for a cease-fire. Soon Abner was involved in attempting to reunite all Israel under King David.
But Joab could not accept Abner's part which seemed to be leading to Abner's allegiance to David. So he treacherously killed Abner. David did not bring Joab immediately to justice for his deed but unexplainably allowed Joab to continue as a military leader in Israel. David did make statements indicating that he was leaving to God the bringing of Joab to justice. However, according to practices of the world at that time, Joab had done nothing more than eliminate the leader of an opposing force who had only recently been out to eliminate him. The scripture points out also that Joab wanted revenge for Abner's slaying of his brother Asahel. We can understand that according to rules of warfare even today, it would be difficult to convict a military man for murdering one of the enemy. It may have been similarly difficult for David to contemplate the conviction of Joab.
Although Joab was one of the military leaders from the beginning of David's reign, he was not appointed to be commander of the entire army until he took up David's challenge to take the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. It appears that David might have issued the challenge in order to develop new military men. David had promised to put the successful conqueror of Jerusalem in charge of the army. The thought that Joab might fulfill the challenge may not have occurred to David. After Joab's victory over the Jebusites, it became important to David to keep his word. However, it is hard to believe that David really wanted Joab to be the commander.
Eventually David began to draw apart from the spiritual closeness with God which he had formerly maintained. He began to think in worldly terms rather than terms of giving glory to the Lord. It was then that he lusted for the woman, Bathsheba, and committed adultery with her. He was unable to manuever Uriah into a position that might hide his sin. So he turned to Joab, one whose integrity was already in question. It seems that David must have thought that Joab was the only one he could trust in evil doing. So he conspired with Joab to get Uriah killed. That David had spiritually deteriorated to the same low level as Joab is seen in the message he sent to Joab after the death of Uriah. He said, "Do not let this thing (the death of Uriah) displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another." In this statement David seemed to be instructing worldly Joab in worldly thought rather than in triumphant living with the spiritual Lord.
Later when Joab finally drew near to victory over the Ammonite city of Rabbah, he called upon David to come down to Rabbah and lead the final assault, suggesting that David claim the victory instead of himself. It was expected that a field commander would call upon his King to get the glory for a victory. At one time in David's life David would have rejected any thought of human glory and would have insisted that all glory belonged to the Lord. However, in David's state of mind at that time, he went to Rabbah and accepted the glory of the victory, even putting the crown of the deposed king of Rabbah upon his own head.
In the case of David's son Absolom who had killeed his brother, David seemed not to know what to do with Absolom. Perhaps, prior to the murder David had looked upon Absolom as a most possible choice to succeed him as king of Israel. Justice under the Law of Moses demanded that such a murderer be put to death. Certainly Absolom expected to be called to account before the king. This expectation was illustrated by Absolom's flight to Geshur, the kingdom of his grandfather. Undoubtedly David's heart was inclined towards mercy for Absolom. But David could not bring himself to call out to Absolom either to bring him to justice or to forgive him for what he had done. Joab again entered upon the scene and advised David that the outlook for the country would be better if he would bring Absolom back to Jerusalem where he could again become a faithful subject of Israel. There is indication that Joab's advise to David concerning his son Absolom was based on Joab's worldly political and military savvy of revolts having been led by sons of kings. David seemed to understand the worldly wisdom of bringing Absolom back to Jerusalem, but he still could not bring himself to forgive Absolom and bring him back into the palace with him. There is a possibility that David, after his encounter with God through the prophet Nathan, was no longer certain of what God willed with respect to his relationship with Absolom. David was truly humbled before God after his encounter with Nathan and, with God's sentence of troublesome times that would befall his family, he no longer knew how to read God's will. David gave freedom to every adversary in his kingdom to oppose him until it finally became clear to him how the adversary related to God's will.
When Absolom actually started a rebellion to take over the kingship from David, David did not know but that it might be God's will that Absolom become king. So he personally refused to condemn Absolom and called upon his own forces to be merciful to the young man Absolom in putting down the rebellion. Of course, Joab considered David's sympathy for Absolom to be a weakness unbecoming of military men. It seems likely that Joab considered seriously the possibility of joining Absolom in the rebellion. But, apparently, he judged that Absolom's rebellion was doomed to defeat and he would be better off to stick with David.
During Absolom's rebellion, Absolom appointed Amasa as head of his army. Upon Absolom's demise, Amasa came over to serve David. Obviously Joab considered Amasa to be another competitor for his job as army commander since David accepted Amasa and began to put him to work. Joab met Amasa and feigning to give him a friendly greeting, he stabbed him with his sword and killed him. Could he claim this time that he had merely killed an enemy who was a leader of a rebellion? Evidently David judged him again to be an evil murderer worthy of death. But David personally took no steps to bring Joab to justice. He continued to leave the execution of justice in Joab's case to God.
In the matter of old King David taking a census of Israel to determine his military strength in manpower, Joab seemed to understand the will of God while David did not. Joab opposed the census as something that would make Israel guilty in the eyes of the Lord. Perhaps during the years that Joab's worldly philosophy was having its influence upon David, David's regard for God was being considered by Joab. Joab's opposition to the census was perfectly in line with God's opposition to it. Inspired scripture says that David was influenced to take the census by the power of Satan.
Again David had slipped and had taken a worldly action instead of following God's admonitions. This time, not only did David suffer but the entire nation suffered. Again David was brought to his knees before God begging for mercy for his people and forgiveness for himself, but willing if necessary to accept God's wrath upon himself. David was a human being who, after becoming aware of his sins, was always diligent to repent and seek forgiveness from his Lord. Because of this David remained a man who could call upon God with petitions in regard to the welfare of God's people. God removed the avenging angel from the city of Jerusalem upon David's request. On the other hand, Joab, except in the case of the illegal census, always seemed to be motivated by worldly ambition rather than by God's precepts.
The revolt against David by his son, Adonijah, was seen by Joab as one which had a good chance of succeeding. David was on his death bed at the time and Joab charcteristically looked to a course that would assure him his job as commander of the army. He became the commander of Adonijah's rebellious army. But King David, although old and infirmed, came forth from his illness before the people as in his younger years and placed the crown upon the head of his son Solomon. God gave back David's old magnetic personality and the people rejected the rebellion of Adonijah and accepted the kingship of Solomon simply upon the recommendation of David. The rebellion was put down by God through his servant David. The strength of Joab's fierce army was useless in rebellion against God's will.
Joab was a guilty man and he knew the penalty for unlawful revolt against the king. David had been a man whom Joab could influence. But Solomon, not David, was then on the throne. When Solomon summoned Joab, he knew his time for justice under the Law of God was at hand. He fled to the tent of the Lord (possibly the old Tabernacle of the wilderness wanderings) and grabbed hold of the horns of the altar. Had Joab been influenced by David's life before God? He had often referred to God as being only David's God. In the end of Joab's life on earth he fled to the only place where he felt he could contact David's God. He must have known that only God could redeem him from his sins.
What lessons do we learn today from a consideration of the Biblical story of David and the sons of Zeruiah? Paul's New Testament proverb, "Bad company corrupts good morals" (1st Corinthians 15:33), was just as true in David's time as it was in Paul's time. It was inevitable that King David be surrounded by men of worldly character. There were few men of as high moral character as David. But it appears that David erred in letting worldly men have the influence of close association with him, especially the sons of Zeruiah. Early in their association David recognized them to be motivated by evil. Yet David kept them in leadership positions and let them give worldly advice to him. The result was that eventually David conspired with one of them in evil doing.
David himself once wrote, "Deliver my soul from the wicked, ... from men of the world, whose portion is in this life, and whose belly Thou dost fill with thy treasure, ...As for me, I shall behold Thy face in brightness, I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake." (Psalm 17:14, 15). David knew the danger of close association with wicked men and wanted to be delivered from them. Yet, almost without realizing it, he was sucked into the maelstrom of evil present in his world. If this could happen to David, referred to in Biblical history as a man after God's heart, could it not, and does it not, happen to us today?
Jesus spoke of various human conditions in His parable of the sower. David's problem can be seen, perhaps, in Jesus' statement, "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches chokes the word and it becomes unfruitful." (Matthew 13:22) David's wicked associates were thorns in his otherwise fruitful life. And David was rich. God once told David, "I also gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!" (2nd Samuel 12:8). In the riches of the world which God allowed David to have, there was a certain amount of deceitfulness. David's responsibilities as king gave him worry. No doubt the question of what to do about Joab bothered him immensely. It appears at times that David allowed worldly political aspirations to choke out God's truths from his consideration. At times his soul smothered his spirit and prevented spiritual communication to and from his God. (Hebrews 4:12) How similar were the spiritual problems of David to problems in our lives today.
© 2002, F. M. Perry