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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Joab: What a tangled web we weave… (Part 2)

Bitterness, Treachery and Revenge!

Before David became ruler over all 12 Israelite territories, hostility existed between the house of Judah, which he led, and the house of Israel, ruled by Ishbosheth, son of Saul.

One day, Abner, commander of Ishbosheth’s troops, led a small army of soldiers to Gibeon. There, they accidentally crossed paths with Joab, who was also leading a small army of soldiers. Joab’s brothers Abishai and Asahel were with him. Tension mounted as every warrior stared across from opposite sides of a watering pool.

Abner offered a proposal: Rather than fighting an all-out battle, he and Joab should settle hostilities through a contest of champions. Joab agreed. Twelve of the best warriors from each army got up to fight, tugging and pulling each other by the hair, and stabbing one another in the side with small swords. All 24 soldiers died on the spot.

Abner and Joab’s contest of champions had settled nothing. It only served to fuel even more hatred, causing every soldier to wield his weapon and fight. After a fierce and bloody battle, Joab’s troops gained the upper hand and defeated their opponents. The survivors fled, with the soldiers of Judah in hot pursuit.

Asahel chased after Abner, determined to kill him and take his armor as a trophy. Wanting to stay out of harm’s way, Abner tried to outrun him—but Asahel would not let up. So Abner tried to warn him away, telling him to choose another soldier to hunt down. But Asahel refused.

Finally, Abner said, “Turn back now, or else I’ll have to kill you!” Abner did not want to do this, for he knew that Joab would seek revenge for his brother’s death. Apparently, Joab had a reputation for taking matters into his own hands.

Yet when Asahel still refused to give up the chase, Abner concluded he had to defend himself. So he plunged the back end of his spear into Asahel’s stomach—and Asahel fell dead.

Joab witnessed the death of his brother, and let out a cry of rage. Then he and Abishai pursued after Abner, who managed to escape unharmed.

As professional soldiers, Abner, Joab and Asahel knew and understood the deadly risks of their bloody profession. And Abner did try to keep himself from harming Asahel.

But when it came to the death of his brother, these facts meant nothing to Joab. He allowed his emotions to stew in bitterness and resentment, which simmered into murderous thoughts and attitudes. Joab wanted revenge.

His opportunity would come some time later, when Abner and Ishbosheth had a falling out. Feeling betrayed, Abner sent messengers to King David, proposing to enter a peace agreement with him, promising to use his power and influence to persuade everyone in Israel to accept David as their ruler. The king gladly accepted.

Abner did as he said he would, and convinced the elders of Israel to accept David as their ruler. After having similar success with the elders of Benjamin, Abner, escorted by a company of soldiers, went to Hebron to tell David the good news. The king honored his former enemy with a great feast. At last, peace between Judah and Israel was finally within reach.

But, when Joab and some of his soldiers returned to Hebron from a military mission, he learned about Abner’s recent visit. Asahel’s death still haunted Joab; just as Asahel had refused to let go of pursuing after Abner, Joab refused to let go of seeking Abner’s death.

After being told that Abner had already left Hebron, Joab angrily confronted King David: “What have you done? Why did you let Abner come in here, and then let him go? Abner is a deceiver—he came to trick you! All he wanted was to find out how strong your army is and to know everything you’re doing.”

The king tried to calm down his nephew, but Joab would not listen to reason. Instead, he devised a plan to get Abner, once and for all. Unbeknownst to David, Joab sent some messengers to catch up with Abner and tell him that the king urgently needed his counsel on a matter. Abner agreed to return to Hebron with the messengers.

When they came to a well at Sirah, about two and a half miles outside of Hebron, Abner was surprised to see that Joab and Abishai were waiting for him.

Before Abner could suspect anything, Joab pretended that he needed to discuss an important matter with him in private. Abner let down his guard, certain that Joab would not use King David’s name as a guise for exacting revenge—yet that is exactly what Joab did. In a sudden change from friendliness to violent fury, he pulled out a small sword and thrust it into Abner’s belly.

Joab had allowed his thirst for revenge to run unchecked in his thoughts and attitudes. In his mind, he was justified in deceitfully using David’s good name to conspire against Abner—who came in peace—and lure him into a deadly trap.

Though God says, “Vengeance is Mine” (Rom. 12:19), Joab decided to exact revenge himself.

Playing It Safe

God called David “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). Yet, like all human servants of God, David had flaws and weaknesses, which he needed to battle and overcome.

The lowest spiritual point in David’s life came when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his most loyal soldiers. When Bathsheba became pregnant with David’s child, the king knew that this great sin and act of betrayal would be exposed for all to see. But instead of repenting and seeking God’s forgiveness, David relied upon himself. He recalled Uriah from the frontlines of Israel’s war against Ammon, and tried to get him to sleep with Bathsheba so that Uriah would be deceived into believing that the unborn child was his own. But the king’s plan backfired.

[more tomorrow...]

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