Monday, December 5, 2011

Generally Speaking

Today's passage:  II Samuel 18: 1-17
     There is no easy explanation for Joab.  He is a warrior with a military mindset.  Often he goes into a situation with a "kill or be killed" attitude.  And why shouldn't he since he has practically led every battle since David has been king? He is King David's nephew and has been his trusted friend and go-to guy.  He doesn't always carry out David's orders as precisely as he should.  Since he was family, he sometimes disregarded David's commands if he thought the ends would justify the means.  Since David was his uncle, he sometimes disobeyed David's orders because it was bad strategy.  As the general, he was in the midst of the conflict and he could see what would be best for the kingdom.  And being related to the king, meant that the king would more than likely show leniency with him as long as the battle turned out in their favor.  Joab hasn't always gone along with the program, but I have no doubts that his motives were pure, that his intentions were sincere.  His ambition was to serve his king, and if that meant defying him sometimes to keep him protected, than he had no qualms about doing that.  He respects David, but he doesn't fear him.  He knows that David values loyalty.  And like his methods or not, Joab is loyal.
     Absalom has decided to take Hushai's advice and go after his father himself.  This leaves David with no other option than to have his men try to subdue him.  This breaks David's heart.  We can see how anguished he is when in verse 5 he says, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom."  Doesn't sound like a lot of wiggle room in that statement.  It is not a wanted-dead-or-alive command by any means.  So I know Joab does not misinterpret this, he just chooses to forget he heard it.  From Joab's perspective, his cousin Absalom has caused nothing but grief for David for a few years now.  Joab may feel partially responsible for this, since it was at his own bidding that Absalom was invited back to the palace.  Joab thought David and Absalom could mend their relationship, but instead it had become more strained.  And then Absalom decides to rebel against his father in the most despicable way.  I'm sure Joab was not only infuriated by Absalom's actions, but humiliated.  Joab was probably muttering to himself, if he had just stayed out of this family affair, if he had only kept his thoughts to himself, if he had never encouraged David to reach out to Absalom then they would not be in this mess.  Had his heart not been touched by his cousin's despair at being isolated from his father, he might not have to contend with this family war.
Absalom is caught in a tree--Taken from The Boys of the Bible
By Hartwell James
Henry Altemus Company, 1905, 1916
     There is no disputing what David said as Joab departs to fight this battle.  Every one of the soldiers understood this clear order to spare Absalom if it could at all be helped.  When Absalom's abundance of hair (maybe he should have had it cut before riding into the woods) gets caught in some tree branches, donkey surging on ahead without him, he is a pitiful sight.  He must have been really stuck, because I'm sure he must have been flailing about trying to free himself to no avail.  He can not harm any one in this vulnerable position.  Even if he had bow and arrow on him, he is not likely to get off a good shot.  One of David's soldiers reports this situation to Joab.  Joab rebukes the soldier for sparing him.  The soldier is not apologetic for following the king's orders.  He even argues that had he decided upon this action, Joab would have not backed him, but would have left him out to dry.  This soldier does not have the advantage of a familial relationship with the king.  He reminds Joab clearly of David's plea to not kill Absalom.  Joab really has no excuse here, and feels he doesn't need one.  This cousin of his, had more than aggravated his father, he had aggravated him.  This was an embarrassing situation-- to be fighting in the woods trying to regain the throne from the one he had tried to help.  Joab felt that if they were to spare Absalom, this would be a sign of weakness to any other usurper.  If, however, the king's own son were duly punished for his treasonous act, wouldn't it cause future rebels to tread more cautiously?  Joab does not spare Absalom.  And it is not pretty.  He shoots three arrows directly into him, and has ten armorbearers finish him off.  Then they dig a hole and bury the body in the woods, covering it with stones.
     I'm not sure how Joab is going to explain this disobedience because I chose not to finish reading the chapter at this point, but I know there are enough witnesses to make Joab look really bad.  Joab doesn't seem too concerned.  He did what he felt needed to be done.  He knows what the king said, but just as he has done in the past, he also knows that he is trying to keep his king on the throne as long as possible, and he will take any action necessary to achieve that.  Is Joab happy about this deed?  I doubt it.  He just killed his cousin.  That can't be a euphoric feeling, but Joab keeps his feelings on the sidelines when it comes to battle.  He has an almost robotic response when he has a military decision to make.  Disregard feelings, disregard orders, disregard relationships.  What is going to achieve the objective?  Joab was a man of action.  He was decisive.  This is why David keeps him as one of his generals.
     I'm not saying Joab was right or wrong here.  If he allowed Absalom to live, Joab knew David would have forgiven him and he knew Absalom would have probably attempted this same thing again, and possibly succeed the next time.  Do I think Joab should have disregarded David's orders?  Not really.  But I also know, that God was meting out judgement on Absalom and it is unfortunate that this is how it came to pass.  Absalom wasn't exactly merciful towards his brother (not saying he should have been).  And his lack of mercy on Amnon brought about a lack of mercy from Joab.  But I won't be surprised if Joab's lack of mercy is revisited upon himself.

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