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JOAB (Heb. יוֹאָב; "YHWH is father"), David's commander in chief; son of Zeruiah, one of David's sisters (I Chron. 2:16). Although Joab's kinship with David no doubt helped him to attain the high post of Israelite commander in chief, his bravery on the battlefield, his powers of leadership in war, and his loyalty to David all proved him fully worthy of occupying a position of eminence in the apparatus of state government established by David. Joab first appears in David's service in the armed encounter at the pool of Gibeon between the servants of David and the followers of *Abner son of Ner. At that time Joab was already the leader of David's armed force and was empowered to muster all the men of Judah for war (II Sam. 2:28). However, from the mention of Joab's brothers, Asahel and Abishai, in the list of David's captains (which is most probably from the early days of David's reign in Hebron), it would appear that Joab occupied a leading position in David's band of warriors even before David was proclaimed king in Hebron. In the stories about the period of David's reign in Hebron, Joab appears as the leader of David's force; but in the account of the capture of Jerusalem given in I Chronicles 11:6, one finds: "And David said, 'Whoever shall smite the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.' And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief." According to this verse, Joab was appointed commander in chief only after the capture of Jerusalem, i.e., at the end of David's reign in Hebron.

Joab's successes in the wars against the supporters of Ish-Bosheth, son of the slain Saul, and the heroism that he displayed in the conquest of Jerusalem, confirmed David's confidence in his fitness to be the commander of the whole Israelite army, both in peace and in war. David demonstrated his trust in Joab in the wars in which the latter commanded the army in the field, while David himself remained in Jerusalem. When Hanun son of Nahash, the Ammonite, deliberately provoked David, the Israelite king sent Joab to wage war against the Ammonites and their allies (II Sam. 10; I Chron. 19). In this battle Joab showed his military resourcefulness and his ability to inspire his soldiers with enthusiasm and confidence (II Sam. 10:9–12). He also played a leading role in the defeat of the Edomites (II Sam. 8:13–14; I Kings 11:16; Ps. 60:2).

Despite his personal desire for honor and power, Joab displayed extraordinary loyalty to David, never attempting to diminish the respect due to his royal master. When Joab was about to reduce the besieged city of Rabbath-Ammon, he did not hurry to claim the credit of the victory for himself, but called on David to come and complete the conquest, "lest I take the city, and it be called by my name" (II Sam. 12:28). As the king's confidant and right-hand man, Joab performed various important functions in the consolidation of David's kingdom (II Sam. 24; I Chron. 11:8) and took the lead in the suppression of the revolts which threatened it from within, such as the revolts of Sheba son of Bichri (II Sam. 20:7–23) and that of Absalom (II Sam. 15–18). Joab's handling of the affair of Absalom shows his deep understanding of his royal master's nature. Knowing the king's yearning for his son, he found a way to make the king decide to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem (II Sam. 14:1–23). At the same time, Joab's concern for his own position and for the stability of David's kingdom led to his acting, in many matters, on his own initiative. Thus, he murdered Abner, after the latter had made a covenant with David and promised to bring the supporters of the house of Saul over to him. Joab's ostensible reason for killing Abner was that he was a spy (II Sam. 3:25); but, at the same time, the murder enabled Joab to take revenge for Abner's slaying of his brother, Asahel (II Sam. 2:23; 3:26–27), and also to remove from his path an obvious rival for the post of commander in chief.

Although David cursed Joab for the murder, he was too well aware of the power wielded by the sons of Zeruiah to dare to dismiss him (II Sam. 3:39). Again, Joab ordered Absalom to be killed, even though the king had urgently commanded that his son's life be spared. In this case Joab's decision was probably wise, if unsentimental. Similarly, Joab displayed political acumen by rebuking David for mourning his son, urging him instead to express gratitude to his supporters who had enabled him to defeat Absalom (II Sam. 19:6–8). Some acts performed by Joab aroused the king's anger against his commander in chief and eventually led to his tiring of him. When David promised to appoint Amasa in Joab's place (II Sam. 19:14) as the price of his leading Judah to welcome him back from his flight to Transjordan, Joab took the first opportunity to murder Amasa (ibid., 20:9–11). Though expressing his disgust at Joab's murders (I Kings 2:5), David never penalized Joab even when his reign was well established. Toward the end of David's life, Joab tried to maintain his position of power in the royal court by taking an active part in the intrigues that developed in connection with the succession to the throne, giving his support to Adonijah (I Kings 1:7). In so doing, Joab sealed his own fate, since by supporting Adonijah he was outmaneuvered by the pro-Solomon party, which moved quickly to eliminate him. According to I Kings 2:5–6, David ordered Solomon to take vengeance on Joab for the murders he had committed, and "not let his head go down to Sheol (the netherworld) in peace." When Joab realized that his life was in danger, he fled to the Tent of the Lord and seized hold of the horns of the altar. Nevertheless, Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Jehoiada to strike Joab down, justifying the action on the grounds that he was determined to carry out his father's dying injunction to remove "from me and from my father's house the guilt for the blood which Joab shed without cause" (I Kings 2:31).


Bright, Hist., 176–93, passim; de Vaux, Anc Isr, index; Yadin, in: JPOS, 21 (1943), 110–6; idem, in: Biblica, 36 (1955), 332 ff. (Eng.); idem, in: Y. Liver (ed.), Historyah Ẓeva'it shel Ereẓ Yisrael… (1964), 351–5; Maisler (Mazar), in: BJPES, 15 (1950), 85. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D.Schley, in: ABD, 3:853–54; M. Cogan, II Kings (AB; 2000), 173.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.