When a person gains an important military position, the spiritual powers of evil concentrate against them to establish control over them.  They will usually know where they are vulnerable.  The spiritual powers of evil also take advantage of the fear and anger of battle to gains access and control.

David had problems with his own family.  His sons rebelled against him and fought with each other.  He also had problems with fighting between his military leaders, who were mostly his nephews, sons of his sisters.

Joab and his brothers were good men loyal to David.  Their history shows how military power corrupts good people.

Joab, Abishai and Asahel were brothers.  Their mother Zeruiah was a sister of David (1 Chron 2:16).  They had served David faithfully right from when he was being persecuted by Saul, before he became king.  When Saul died, the brothers helped David defeat the remnant of Saul’s army. 

Joab was the commander of David’s armies (2 Sam 8:16; 21:23).


Abner, who had commanded Saul’s army, had installed Ishbosheth as king of Israel (2 Sam 2:10-11) while David was king in Judah.

When war broke out between David and Ishbosheth, Abner killed Asahel when he pursued Abner after Ishbosheth’s army had been defeated (2 Sam 2:23).  Joab and Abishai chased Abner seeking revenge, but Joab stopped the bloodshed when Abner asked for mercy.

Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?”

Joab answered, “As surely as God lives, if you had not spoken, the men would have continued pursuing them until morning.”

So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the troops came to a halt; they no longer pursued Israel, nor did they fight anymore (2 Sam 2:26-28).

Joab called off the chase, but the war continued.

The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time.  David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker (2 Sam 3:1).

Abner fell out with Ishbosheth and tried to gain a place of influence in David’s kingdom (2 Sam 3:19-21).  Joab did not trust Abner and killed him in revenge for his brother’s death (2 Sam 3:27).

Although it was foolish dealing with Abner without telling Joab, David claimed to be innocent of Abner’s death.

Later, when David heard about this, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the Lord concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner.  May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family!  May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food” (2 Sam 3:28-29).

David was being devious.   Joab was ruthless, but David had relied on him for protection against Saul, and for defeating the opposition to his kingship.  He could not have it both ways. He could not rely on Joab’s military prowess, and then disavow it when it suited him.

David put a curse on Joab and his family.  This was extremely foolish, given that Joab would continue to be the commander of his armies.  David was giving the spiritual powers of evil permission to manipulate and control his military commander.  He was giving them authority to introduce violence and sickness into his own house.

David attended Abner’s funeral procession, which really impressed the people.

All the people took note, and it pleased them, since whatever the king did pleased all the people (2 Sam 3:36).

This is what happens with a king.  The people become infatuated with his power, and trust everything he does.

For all the people came to understood that day that the king had no part in the murder of Abner (2 Sam 3:37).

I am not sure that the people’s understanding was quite right.  David had got Abner involved without telling Joab.  While Abner was commanding Saul’s army, he had tried to kill David.  David would never be able to trust him, so he would probably have to kill him, as all kings dealt with those who opposed them.  David benefited the most from Abner’s death.

David spoke to his army.

Today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me  (2 Sam 2:39).

This was a fairly feeble excuse.  David was king, so he had responsibility for his soldiers.  He had used Zeruiah’s sons to gain power. He had given them authority in his army.  David was in this difficult situation, because he had relied on military force to establish his kingship, rather than waiting on God.  David prayed that God would deal with Joab.

May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds (2 Sam 2:39).

However, David did not trust God to answer his prayer.  Before he died, he instructed Solomon to kill Joab (1 Kings 2:6).

When Ishbosheth was killed by a couple of his commanders, David killed them.  He took the moral high ground, but he benefited from Ishbosheth’s death, because it cleared the way for him to be made king of the northern Kingdom.

Joab’s Wisdom

Joab was a wise man.  On several occasions, Joab’s wisdom prevented David from making serious mistakes.

Unfortunately, Joab’s wisdom was corrupted by the brutal and violent spirit that that got hold of him.  This is what happens to those who gain military power.  The hatred and fear of war opens the way for bad spirits to enter.  They make a home for violence and force.

Ruthless Power

The problem was that David relied on military force to remain on the throne.  This is the nature of kingship.  Here are some of the tasks that Joab did for him.

A king is a permanent military leader.  All kings rule by force.  A king has to be the most powerful force in the land to maintain his position.  He has removed all potential threats to his power.  David tried to stand apart from these struggles, but he would not have survived as king, if Joab had not removed all the opposition.


David had problems in his family right from the beginning.  I presume his disloyalty to his wives released a spirit of division.  A son called Ammon’s raped his half-sister Tamar.

When King David heard all this, he was furious (2 Sam 13:21).

However, David did nothing about it, although he knew what had happened was wrong.  Maybe his own adultery prevented him from dealing with his son’s sin.

Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar (2 Sam 13:21-22).

Absalom eventually killed Ammon and fled into exile.  Again, David did nothing, I presume, because he felt that rough justice had been done.

David later criticised Joab for taking revenge on the person who had killed his brother, but David allowed his own son to do the same thing.

Absalom wanted to reconcile with his father, but he was forced to remain in exile.  He was left in a situation of being forgiven, but not accepted (2 Sam 13:38).  He lived with a hostile king, so naturally started working against David.

David never dealt with Absalom’s attitude, so he eventually rebelled against him and pushed David out of the kingdom.  Being betrayed by a favourite son was the worst thing that could happen to a king.  Joab and Abishai went into exile with David, when Absolam seized the throne (2 Sam 16:9).

Absalom appointed Amasa as commander of the army (2 Sam 17:25).  Amasa was the son of David’s other sister Abigail and Joab’s cousin (1 Chron 2:17).  By joining with the rebellion, Amasa was betraying his Uncle David.

Joab led the troops of Judah who remained loyal to David into battle against the armies of Absalom.  When Absalom was captured, Joab killed him.  This death was justified, because Absalom was a murderer (2 Sam 13:28-29).

Absalom’s death allowed David to get back his throne over Israel (2 Sam 18:14-15).  This was necessary, because a king could no allow a rival to remain and threaten his kingship.  David wept for Absalom, but Joab knew what had to be done to save the kingdom.

Joab was ruthless, but he understood the reality of political power.  Those who hold political power have to be ruthless when it is threatened, or they can quickly lose their place.  Like David, many political leaders pretend to dislike military force, but the reality is that is the basis for their power.  If their power is threatened by rebellion, they have to deal with it ruthlessly, or they could be defeated.  The foundation for political power is military force.  It can remain hidden for much of the time, but it must be brought out when political power needs it.

When Absalom was dead, Joab sounded a trumpet to end the battle and prevent any more unnecessary bloodshed (2 Sam 18:16-17).  Absalom’s soldiers were followers, not rebels, so they did not need to die.  Although Joab could be ruthless when necessary, he prevented unnecessary death whenever possible.  He knew that the leaders were the problem, not the people who followed them.

Joab understood loyalty.  He understood that it is not unlimited, so he challenged David about his disrespect for the men who had supported him.

Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines.  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... Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall (2 Sam 19:5-7).

Joab challenged David to thank the men who had risked their lives for David when he was in trouble.  By being disloyal to his men, David was putting their loyalty at risk.  Joab understood loyalty.  He knew that if David did not acknowledge their loyalty, he could face another rebellion.


David abused Joab’s loyalty responded by appointing Amasa to be commander of his army in Joab’s place (2 Sam 19:13).  This was a strange thing to do, as Amasa had already betrayed David once, so he probably could not be trusted not to do it again.  By rewarding those who rebelled against him David, was giving the wrong message to those who opposed him.   The outcome was another revolt and further violence.

A dispute broke out between the armies of Israel and the armies of Judah.  I presume that the armies of Israel were annoyed that Joab had become commander over them.

The people of Judah spoke more harshly than the people of Israel. (2 Sam 19:43).

Inevitably, a troublemaker called Sheba son of Bicri started a rebellion against David (2 Sam 20:1-2).  David instructed Amasa to gather the armies of Israel to put down the rebellion, but Amasa was too slow.  Maybe he was already looking for another opportunity to undermine David.

David responded to Amasa’s failure by sending Abishai, Joab’s brother, to raise the army.  He was loyal to his brother, so he took Joab with him ((2 Sam 18:14-15).  When they came across Amasa, Joab killed him because he considered him to be a traitor to David (2 Sam 20:9-10). 

Joab pursued Sheba and trapped him in a town of Ephraim.  He persuaded the people of the town to kill him.  This saved many unnecessary lives (2 Sam 20:22).

Once Joab has restored the security of David’s throne, David had no option to establish him as commander of his army (2 Sam 20:23).

David played power games between Joab and Amasa, but his machinations failed.  In the end, he needed the brutality of Joab to keep his kingdom safe.  Joab could be relied on to do what needed to be done when things went wrong.

David seemed to be scared of his military commanders.  The risk was real because one of them could seize his throne.  David tried to play one off against the other, but it did not work.  Joab was too tough and saw off all opposition to his power.  He understood the realities of kingship and military power.  Fortunately for David, Joab remained loyal to him, until nearly the end of his life, despite often being treated badly by him.


Succession is important for the security of the kingdom, but David seemed to be reluctant to deal with the issue.  He should have appointed one of his sons in his place to keep the kingdom. 

The time of uncertainty when David was weak and dying was a dangerous time for his kingdom.  An enemy kingdom could take advantage of the opportunity and attack.  With David unable to get out of bed, organising the defence of the kingdom would be difficult.  Joab was loyal to the kingdom, so he tried to resolve the problem by acting to have one of David’s sons recognised as king.

Joab also knew that David had a dozen sons who would all like to become king.  If these men spent several years jockeying for power, the kingdom would be vulnerable.  If a successor was not established, the kingdom could be divided, as happened after Solomon died.

David had not clarified his intentions, so Adonijah put himself forward.

Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. (His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom (1 Kings 1:5-6).

David gave no indication that he did not support Adonijah as his successor, and Joab knew that the first person to make a claim to the throne would probably be successful.  He and Abiathar the High Priest gave him their support (1 Kings 1:5-6), because they knew that the kingdom needed a successor in place to be safe.

Unfortunately for Joab, Bethsheba pushed forward her own son and gained David’s support.  Nathan the prophet probably knew who God wanted to be David’s successor, whereas Joab a man of war did not (1 Kings 1:11-27).  Solomon was appointed as king and the security of the kingdom was established.  So Joab got what he wanted for the kingdom, even though it cost him his life.

Joab’s Death

David gave his backing to Solomon, because he was Bathsheba’s son.  Joab knew that David had murdered Solomon’s father, so I presume he did not expect him to become King. However, Nathan and Bathsheba manipulated David to ensure that Solomon gained the throne (1 Kings 1:1-40).

David told Solomon to kill Joab.

Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet.  Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his grey head go down to the grave in peace (1 Kings 2:5-6).

This was a bit ungrateful.  David had benefitted hugely from Joab’s violence and brutality.   He relied on Joab’s violence when it suited him, but claimed to be upset by it.  This was a bit hypocritical.  David had killed Uriah at a time when he was not engaged in war.  Abner and Amasa both died as a consequence of their actions during wartime, so David was a bit mischievous to claim that they were killed during peacetime.

David frequently killed people who were not at war.  When he had defeated the Moabites, he took a ruthless action.

David also defeated the Moabites.  He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live.  So the Moabites became subject to David (2 Sam 8:2).

The Moabites were already defeated, so this was not an act of war.  It was a brutal act of intimidation to keep the Moabites down.  In contrast, Joab had often ended a war quickly to prevent unnecessary bloodshed (2 Sam 2:28; 8:16; 20:20; 21:3).  David had one standard for himself and a different standard for Joab.

David had cursed Joab and prayed that he would die (2 Sam 3:28-29).  However, God had not answered his prayer and Joab lived on.  Because God had not done what he wanted, David instructed Solomon to take matters into his own hand and kill him.

Maybe David wanted to protect Solomon from Joab’s violence, but he then encouraged Solomon to use violence against him. Using violence to deal with violence, creates more violence.  Solomon began his kingship with violence, so it affected his entire reign and his successors.

Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada, who was one of David’s mighty men to kill Joab while he was holding the altar in the temple.  It was supposed to be a place of sanctuary for people in trouble.  This would have been a distasteful task for a man whom he had served with Joab for many years, but political power is a ruthless business.

Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck down Joab and killed him, and he was buried at his home out in the country.  The king put Benaiah son of Jehoiada over the army in Joab’s position (1 Kings 2:34-35).

There is huge irony here.  David disliked Joab because he used the sword during peacetime (1 Kings 2:5-6).  Yet the first act of his successor was to kill a man without trial during peacetime.  Solomon was unwittingly releasing the violent spirit that he feared into his own administration.

David and Power

David was a very good man.  He was chosen by God as a boy because he had a good heart.  He had an amazing love for God and expressed this in the beautiful Psalms that he wrote.

As a boy and during his early battles and flight from King Saul he trusted in God, and refused to engage in unnecessary violence.   He was able to say, “my hands are free from violence” (1 Chron 12:17).  As his kingdom advanced, he seemed to rely on military force more and more.  To be successful in war, he needed a ruthless military commander.  He disliked his nephew Joab, because he felt he was too violent, but he called on him again and again when he needed some violent work done.

I presume the tide turned when David committed adultery and used Joab to kill the husband that David had betrayed.  This violence released violence within his family, and one of his sons raped a sister, another son killed his brother, and a third son used violence to push David off his throne.  To deal with the situation, David relied on military force and trusted Joab to deliver it.  His kingship was distorted by military power and none of his successors escaped from it.

Joab had real wisdom, but he seemed to be corrupted by violence after his younger brother was killed unnecessarily during a war.  Joab tended to minimise unnecessary deaths of civilians and soldiers, but he was ruthless in dealing with political and military leaders who threatened the power of his King.

All kings rule by force.  A king has to be the most powerful force in the land to maintain his position.  David’s throne was kept safe, because Joab delivered the ruthless military force needed to protect it.  Joab was ruthless, but he understood the reality of political power.

The foundation for all political power is military force.  It can remain hidden for much of the time, but it must be brought out whenever political power is threatened.  Those who hold political power have to be ruthless when their power is threatened.  Like David, many political leaders pretend to dislike military force, but the reality is that force is the foundation for their power.  If their power is threatened by rebellion, they have to deal with ruthlessly, or they will be defeated.

Too Good for a Political Kingdom

David was an extremely good man.  He prefigured Jesus in the way he tried to forgive and restore those who rebelled against him.  The problem is that forgives of enemies does not work in a kingdom, because it just encourages other usurpers to rebel and attempt to seize part of the kingdom.

In a way, Joab understood the nature of political power based on military force better than David.  Joab acted to prevent unnecessary bloodshed, but he was absolutely ruthless in dealing with those who tried to usurp the king's power.

Although he was skilled in maintaining a kings power, he is not a person anyone would want their sons to emulate.  That is the irony of political power based on military force.  It needs ugly people to make it successful.  That is why God’s perfect system of government does not need political power and military force.

God had already given a perfect system of government through Moses that does not rely on political power and military force.  It does not need permanent military commanders with all the problems that they bring.

David loved the law, but I don’t know if understood what Moses had provided.  However, he could not operate in it anyway, because the people of Israel has chosen to copy the surrounding nations and have a king.  David was stuck with being a king, which was a sub-optimal form of government that does not work.

Because he had to be a king, he needed military force to maintain his position of top-down power.  He needed a ruthless commander to establish his throne and to ensure his victories over all opposition.  He needed military power, but it gave the spiritual powers of evil a hold on his kingdom.  Human kingship and imposed authority never escape the disruptive violence of military force.

Jesus is the perfect king, because he sent the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of his followers.  They obey the Spirit, because they love Jesus, so there is no need for military force to protect his kingdom. 

Jesus kingdom is a totally different kingdom.  It expands and grows without any need for political or military power.  I describe it more fully in Government of God.