CURSE OF JOAB
When David's general, Joab, murders Abner, David angrily curses him and
his descendants. Among those curses is (2 Sam. 3:29), "My the house of Joab never be
without one who has a discharge (the period), who is leprous, or who holds a spindle..." Holding a
spindle indicates a feminine occupation. Thus, David's curse on
Joab's descendants is that there be someone in it in every generation who is effeminate,
this quality being associated in the curse with physical impurities such as having venereal
disease or leprosy. The charge of effeminacy that was probably considered more shameful
than the homosexual act itself, would be implied in any charge of homosexual behavior.
In the JPS 1985 translation of the MT Abner says to Ishbaal, "yet this day you
reproach me over a woman," which would seem to indicate that Abner's anger is not that
he was accused falsely, but that he felt he had the right as the real power in the north to
do as he pleased in the matter. Abner immediately sends to David and offers to deliver
the northern kingdom to him. David agrees on condition that Michal, Saul's daughter,
be returned to him. David makes the same demand to Ishbaal, who readily complies.
David's insistence on the return of Saul's daughter is akin to Abner's having lain with Rizpah
in that it is a brazen demand that Ishbaal acknowledge David's claim to the kingship
of the north. It would seem at this point that David has indeed gained the kingdom. But
just as Abner departs from David to bring the leaders of the north to him, Joab assassinates
him. This is partly out of vengeance for the death of Asahel, Joab's brother, and
partly, one suspects, because Joab fears mat Abner will be made David's general in his
place. David curses Joab and all his descendants for Abner's murder, but he cannot afford
to dismiss him from his post.
Another division of labor evident in both lists is that, while Joab is in charge
of the army, Benaiah is in charge of the Cherethites and Pelethites. These terms
seem to refer to Cretans and Philistines, particularly since the Egyptian word for
the Philistines is Peleset and the Hebrew word is Peleshti.
Acting on David's behalf, his friend Hushai feigns loyalty to Absalom and counsels
him not to attack David until he can muster all of his troops. This is against the counsel
of Ahithophel who is genuinely working for Absalom. He has counseled Absalom to
pursue David at once and to kill the king while David's forces are weak, disorganized
and weary from their precipitous flight. When Hushai's counsel is taken and Ahitophel's
is rejected, the latter sees that Absalom's cause will fail. He therefore goes home and
hangs himself. When the battle does take place David's seasoned professionals rout
Absalom's volunteers. Absalom is caught by his long luxuriant hair, when it becomes
entangled in a tree branch as he is fleeing on mule-back. Joab, acting against David's
express orders to spare the young prince, kills him. The curious nature of Absalom's
death could represent an ironic, fictionalized commentary on his sexual potency. A full
head of hair in a man was seen as a sign of vigor, including sexual vigor. This would fit
Absalom's ability to copulate with all of David's concubines in full sight of the people.
That Absalom is caught by his luxuriant hair, which he only cuts once a year (see 2 Sam.
14:26), i. e. by the very symbol of his robust virility, becomes a fitting punishment for
his signature act of rebellion.
THE MURDER OF AMASA
However, Sheba's rebellion is more of an incipient affair that ends ignominiously.
Sheba is rapidly shut up in a single town, which when it is besieged by Joab capitulates
by killing Sheba and tossing his head out over the wall. Perhaps the most
notable aspect of the affair is that Joab is momentarily ousted as David's general,
probably because of having killed Absalom. His job is given to Absalom's general,
Amasa, who proves to be somewhat incompetent. This might also be David's way of
extending the olive branch to those who had followed his son into rebellion. Joab
remedies this situation in his usual way by murdering Amasa. The way in which he
does it, greeting Amasa with a brotherly kiss even as he stabs him, is a virtual replay
of Joab's murder of Abner, and as such would seem to be as much a literary convention
as Sheba's exhortation to the northern tribes to rebel.
JOAB CHARACTER STUDY
Joab is a man without compunction when
it comes to getting what he wants, as can be seen in his murders of Abner and Amasa.
Never allowing soft emotions to get in the way of the business at hand, he puts Absalom
to death against David's orders and then tells the king to stop mourning and review his
victorious troops if he wants to retain the loyalty of his army. There is never any question
as to what Joab's motives are, and he too seems like a real person.
JOAB ISCARIOT: THE KISS OF DEATH PARALLELS
The actual arrest involves the famous scene in which Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus with a kiss
as a way to identify him to the arresting soldiers.3
In Jn. 18:1-11 the arrest does not
involve the kiss of betrayal. Judas merely leads the soldiers to the garden of Gethsemane.
It almost seems as if the author of the fourth gospel felt the whole betrayal-by-kiss motif
was a bit contrived. This is especially true since in the synoptics Jesus upbraids the
soldiers for coming after him as if he were a robber/petty thief, when he has been preaching in the
Temple every day, and they could have taken him any time. The kiss, like so many
aspects of the Passion story, is set up to reflect Jewish scriptures, and it recalls Joab's
treacherous murder of his rival Amasa in 2 Sam. 20:9,10:
And Joab said to Amasa, "Is it well with you, my brother?" And Joab took Amasa by the
beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword which was
in Joab's hand; so Joab struck him with it in the body, and shed his bowels to the
ground without striking a second blow; and he died.
This is Joab's second murder of a rival, and, like the first against Abner, it violates his
king's agreement to give authority to the general of a former enemy in order to reconcile
that enemy's followers. By kissing Jesus as he leads the soldiers to him, Judas Iscariot shows himself
to be as treacherous as Joab. In me version of his death related by Peter in Acts 1:15-
20 we also see echoes of the material from 2 Samuel. Peter says that Judas bought a field
with the money he had been paid for his betrayal and fell into it, bursting open in the
middle so that his bowels gushed out, just like Amasa's. The word in Greek in both the
LXX 2 Sam 20:10 and Acts 1:18 is exchuthe, meaning to "pour out" or "spill."
David and his men flee into the Wilderness of Ziph, a rocky area south of Hebron.
While he is there, the local people tell Saul of David's whereabouts, and the king comes
after him. Chapters 24 and 26 are rival accounts of how David found Saul asleep in his
camp and spared his life because Saul was Yahweh's anointed king. In Chapter 26 David
sneaks into Saul's camp and takes Saul's spear and a water jar resting near his head. In
Chapter 24, he finds Saul asleep in a cave and cuts off the skirt of his robe. In both cases
David later confronts Saul with the fact that he could have killed him, in one version calling
to him from a ridge across a valley between them. In both cases David protests his
innocence, and in both cases Saul, upon hearing David asks, "Is this your voice, my son
David?" (1 Sam 24:16,26:17). In both cases Saul also apologizes, in one version telling
David to return to him, that he will do him no further harm and predicting that David
will go on to do many great things. For all that, David and Saul part company and go
their separate ways. The rival version puts even grander words in Saul's mouth, having
him predict that David will be king and asking him to swear not to kill off his descendants
(1 Sam. 24:20,21), to which David agrees.
The main story
of this chapter relates to how David acquired Abigail, the wife of a rich man named
Nabal who has 3000 sheep. Hearing that Nabal is shearing his sheep in the region of
Carmel, David sends ten of his young men there with the following message (1 Sam.
...And thus you shall salute him: "Peace be to you and peace be to your house, and
peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers; now your shepherds have
been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they
were in Carmel. Ask your young men and they will tell you. Therefore let my young
men find favor in your eyes; for we come on a feast day. Pray give whatever you have
at hand to your servants and to your son David."
Nabal responds to this message in a decidedly uncivil manner, saying (1 Sam. 25:1 Ob, 11):
Who is David? There are many servants nowadays who are
breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that
I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men who come from I do not know where?
It can be seen from these two passages that David and his band of 600 men have been living by extortion. This fact is softened in David's favor by the courtly quality of his
request and the fact that the reader is set up to think ill of Nabal even before this exchange
in verse 3, where he is described as "churlish and ill-behaved" (RSV) or "a hard man and
an evildoer" (JPS 1985), while his wife, Abigail, is described as beautiful and intelligent.
However, consider the reason David gives for why Nabal should supply him and his men
with food (1 Sam. 7b): "[Njowyour shepherds have been with us, and we did them no
harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel." In other words, David
expects Nabal to provision him because he refrained from harming or robbing Nabal's
shepherds. Put simply, this is extortion. Nabal's response of "Who is David?" does not
mean that he does not know who he is. Rather it means, "Who is David that I should give
in to his threats?" This can be seen from his next remark that, "There are many servants
nowadays who are breaking away from their masters." This would seem to be a pointed
reference to David's outlaw status as a fugitive from King Saul. That David takes the point
and is enraged by the words—and by the fact that Nabal has refused to pay up—is seen
in his response. He tells 400 of his men to gird on their swords and swears that he will,
kill every male among Nabal's servants. He does this in the less expurgated versions of
the text by referring to these males as "them that pisseth against a wall." Defining the men
by the manner in which they urinate is part of the language of threat. So, despite the gracious
wording of his "request," in which he refers to himself as Nabal's servant and as his
son, Nabal's refusal provokes a murderous response.
The potential massacre is averted by Abigail, who meets me approaching band with
200 loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already butchered, five measures of
parched grain, 100 clusters of raisins and 200 fig cakes. She also bows, face to the ground,
before David and begs him not to regard the words of Nabal, who, she says, is true to his
name. In Hebrew nabal (naval) means "fool." Since it is doubtful that Nabal's parents would have
given him such a name, it seems more probable either that his name had a similar sound
or that his original name was expunged from the narrative, in each case being changed
to "fool" to put him in a still worse light, thus making David's extortion that much more
acceptable. David happily accepts Abigail's intervention. When she later tells Nabal diat
they were nearly attacked by David, he is so struck with fear that he falls ill and is dead
ten days later. David swiftly appropriates the dead man's wife and property.
A reflection of this is seen in Sisera's mother looking through her latticed window in
vain for Sisera's triumphal approach (i.e. the kingly procession). It is also reflected in the
death of Jezebel at the hands of Jehu (2 Kgs. 9:30,31):
When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes and adorned
her head, and looked out the window. And as Jehu entered the gate, she said, "Is it
peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master?"
This scene is full of irony. Jezebel paints her eyes as though she is about to meet a lover
and her ironic use of the question "Is it peace?" the question her son Jehoram had asked
Jehu just before the latter assassinated him, is followed by a stinging insult in that Zimri,
famous only for assassinating Elah, Baasha's son, ruled only a few days before he was
himself overthrown by Omri, whose line Jehu is exterminating. Jehu does not bother to
answer her just accusation, but merely orders her eunuchs to throw her out the window
to her death.
David's kindly treatment of Jonathan's
crippled son Merrib-baal (Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel), and while there was some genuine
compassion for the young man for Jonathan's sake, it is quite likely that Merrib-baal's
being lame is at least one major factor in maintaining his status at David's court. For in
such a condition he is not a serious threat to David's position.
(JONATHAN BEGAT MERIB-BAAL AND MERIB-BAAL BEGAT MICAH)