The wisdom of man, as seen in Joab

1 Corinthians 1:18-26 discusses the wisdom of God as contrasted with that of man. This is a fascinating section that forces one to ponder the differences between God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom. In order to better understand I believe a character study of Joab is useful.  Joab was the commander of King David’s armies, David’s nephew, and powerful man in his own right.  Throughout his life he demonstrated the wisdom of man. Contrasted with David, a man after God’s own heart, 1 Sam 13:14, we can see a good juxtaposition of God’s and man’s wisdom. What follows is a walk through the life of Joab, please crack open your Bibles and follow along. 1 Chron 2: 13-17 | David’s nephew, brother of Abishai and Asahel, cousin of Amasa

1 Chron 11: 10-47 | List of the mighty men of David, Asahel one of the 30, Abishai chief of the three, but not included in the three, Uriah the Hittite (Bathsheba’s husband) also one of the thirty, Joab not placed ahead of the three, in the three, between the three and the thirty or in the thirty. Joab’s absence from this list is very odd, and perhaps very telling. Whether he was never considered as one of the mightly men or whether was later removed is unknown.

2 Sam 2:8-32 |  Best and worst of Joab, good with strategy, hot headed, physically fit, able to think of the good of his men even when angry.

2 Sam 3: 22-30 |  Murdered Abner, motives: revenge, Abner too powerful, possible spy. David’s inclination here was to unite the country, stop the fighting, reunite with an old comrade.

2 Sam 5: 6-8, 1 Chron 11: 4-9 |  Joab wins his own job, Commander in Chief. This marks the first attempt, or possibly second attempt if you think David was planning to replace Joab with Abner, of David to replace Joab as Commander in Chief. David at this point knows that Joab is a murderer but is unwilling to deal with him directly.

2 Sam 10: 1-14 |  Joab entrusted with entire army, used strategy, oddly skewed trust in God (v. 12) Joab trusts in himself and his army, but also acknowledges that God will play a role. He doesn’t seem to grasp that he could ask God for assistance.

2 Sam 11: 1-27 |  Conspired with David to kill Uriah (one of the thirty.) When David needed a dirty deed done he knew he could turn to Joab. Joab acted without question to carry out the will of his King.

2 Sam 12: 26-28 |   Captured royal citadel of the Ammonites, sent for David to take possession so the glory would go to David. Joab could have claimed the glory for himself, but demonstrated his loyalty to David.

2 Sam 13 – 20 |  Full story of Absalom, Joab conspires for Absalom’s return (ch. 14), stays with David through the rebellion, kills Absalom (18: 9-17), counsels David after Absalom’s death (19:1-8), Amasa    (commander of Absalom’s army, Joab’s cousin) sent to take command of the troops rather than Joab (2 Sam 20:4), and then Abishai is given command of Joab’s troops and told to find Amasa (20:7).  Joab kills    Amasa (20:10).  Abishai was apparently content to give control of army back to Joab. From an earthly perspective all of Joab’s actions make sense. The son who attempted a coup couldn’t be allowed to go free, the traitor nephew shouldn’t have command of the armies. But the wisdom of God sees opportunities for mercy, and certainly not habitual murder.

2 Sam 24: 3-4 |  Counseled against counting the fighting men, but followed David’s order anyway. Even Joab knew directly violating God’s instructions was a bad plan, but he once more demonstrated his loyalty to David.

1 Kings 1:7 |  Sides with Adonijah, most likely saw Adonijah (who as David’s fourth born son (2 Sam 3: 2-5) was most likely the eldest living son of David) as a better choice for king than Solomon (most ikely David’s second youngest son, and certainly one of the youngest.) I see this as not a betrayal of David but a continuation of his habit of doing what he thought was best for David and the kingdom, not necessarily what David thought was best.

1 Kings 2: 5-6 |  Joab denounced by David. David was never able to bring Joab to justice. I suspect a combination of affection for his nephew, a perceived need for Joab’s skillset, and potentially a bit of cowardice was to blame.

1 Kings 2: 28-35 |  Joab killed by order of Solomon. Justice finally finds Joab.

Lessons to be learned

Joab was wise in the eyes of men (1 Cor. 1:17, 20-21.) He had a good grasp of strategy, politics, and was very loyal to David, but Joab used his own wisdom to conduct himself, not David’s and not God’s. His loyalty was on his own terms. If he disagreed with David’s decisions, such as with Abner and Amasa, he ignored them.  Although at times he followed David against his better judgement, such as when David wanted to count the troops. Even though Joab produced military victories on countless occasions David did not trust him. But when David needed aid in deceit and murder he turned to Joab (murder of Uriah, for the cover of David’s adultery.)

From Joab’s life, especially when contrasted with David’s, we see the folly of the wisdom of man.  Every step of Joab’s life can be justified by the world. But when seen as a whole the picture is appalling. The truth of Proverbs 4: 5-8, that God’s wisdom is supreme, is beautifully born out.


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