Bible Review 19:4, August 2003

David and Joab

United by ambition

By Robin Gallaher Branch

Embedded in the biblical account of David’s rise to power as king of Israel is a parallel succession story—that of Joab. As the youthful David struggles against Saul, Israel’s first king, Joab fights beside him. When David secures the throne and becomes king, Joab is made commander-in-chief of the army, a job he keeps for 40 years (1 Chronicles 11:6). But as David lies on his deathbed, he advises his son Solomon not to let Joab’s “gray head go down to the grave in peace” (1 Kings 2:5–6).

Throughout their adult lives, David and Joab, the two most powerful men in Israel, rely on each other for success but publicly distance themselves from each other’s more questionable (even sinful) deeds. Theirs is a difficult working relationship that combines great loyalty with distrust and tremendous hostility. The phenomenal careers of these two biblical giants—entwined by ambition, blood, mutual need and shared circumstance—provide a glimpse of Iron Age realpolitik.

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