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JOAB (jō'ăb, Heb. yô’āv, Jehovah is father). 1. The second of the three sons of Zeruiah, the half-sister of David, the two others being Abishai and Asahel (2Sam.8.16; 1Chr.2.16). He first appears in public life in the narrative of David’s war with Ish-Bosheth for the throne left vacant by Saul’s death. He was David’s captain of the army, while Abner led the forces of Ish-Bosheth. When the two armies met, a tournament took place between twelve men from each side, followed by a general engagement in which, after Joab’s men were routed, Asahel was killed in his pursuit of Abner (2Sam.2.12-2Sam.2.32). When Abner transferred his allegiance to David, Joab treacherously killed him, with the connivance of Abishai, for killing Asahel at the battle of Gibeon, though Abner had done so in self-defense. David declared himself innocent of this murder, and after composing a lament for Abner, commanded that there be a period of public mourning for the dead man (2Sam.3.31). David pronounced a curse on Joab and his descendants, but he did not bring him to justice, perhaps because he was politically too weak to do so.

Joab was made the commander of all David’s armies as a reward for being the first to enter the fortress on Mount Zion when that stronghold was assaulted. In the war against the Ammonites, which was declared when David’s ambassadors to the king had been maltreated, Joab achieved a great victory, utterly routing the enemy (2Sam.10.1-2Sam.10.14; 1Chr.19.1-1Chr.19.15). After this war had been resumed he called for David to storm the town of Rabbah, which he himself had successfully besieged, in order that David might get credit for the victory (2Sam.11.1; 2Sam.12.26-2Sam.12.29). It was during this war that David got Joab to put Uriah in the forefront of the battle so that he might be killed and David be free to marry Bathsheba (2Sam.11.6-2Sam.11.27).

Joab attempted to have Absalom restored to royal favor after a three-year banishment because of the murder of his brother Amnon. He arranged for a “wise woman” of Tekoa to bring to David an imaginary complaint about a son of hers who had killed his brother, and whose life was now sought, a story that paralleled David’s own experience with Absalom. David saw in the story a rebuke of his own treatment of Absalom and gave permission to Absalom to return to Jerusalem, though he was to remain in his own house and was not allowed to see his father (2Sam.14.1-2Sam.14.24). Joab resisted Absalom’s attempts to get him to intercede with his father for a complete restoration, until his barley field was set on fire by the prince (2Sam.14.28-2Sam.14.33). Joab then got David to receive his son back into the royal home.

When Absalom rebelled, he made Amasa, another nephew of David, general instead of Joab (2Sam.17.24-2Sam.17.25). Joab remained loyal to David, and when the king fled, pursued by Absalom, he led one of the three divisions of the royal forces and defeated the rebels. Informed that Absalom was caught in a tree by his hair, he first scolded his informer for not having killed him and then himself killed the prince by thrusting three darts through his heart. When David gave vent to extravagant grief at the death of his rebel son, Joab sternly rebuked him (2Sam.19.1-2Sam.19.8).

When David returned to Jerusalem, he replaced Joab as captain of his forces with Amasa. Shortly after this, Sheba, a Benjamite, led a revolt against David; and when Amasa took more time than was thought necessary to prepare to quell it, David asked Abishai to take the field. Joab seems to have gone with him. The two met Amasa at Gibeon, and there Joab, on pretense of kissing his rival, killed him. He then assumed command of Amasa’s men, besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maacah, and arranged with a woman of the city to deliver to him the head of Sheba. Thus ended the revolt (2Sam.20.1-2Sam.20.22).

Joab was opposed to David’s suggestion of a census but eventually carried it out, though he intentionally did the work imperfectly (2Sam.24.1-2Sam.24.9; 1Chr.21.1-1Chr.21.6). He supported Adonijah in his claim to the throne, but deserted him on hearing that Solomon had been proclaimed king (1Kgs.1.7, 1Kgs.1.28-1Kgs.1.49). David on his deathbed made known that Joab should be brought to justice for the murders of Abner and of Amasa (1Kgs.2.5). At the order of Solomon, Joab was killed as he clung to the horns of the altar in the court of the tabernacle. His executioner was Benaiah, chief of the bodyguard, who became his successor as head of the army. He was buried in his own house in the wilderness (1Kgs.2.5-1Kgs.2.6, 1Kgs.2.28-1Kgs.2.34).

2. Son of Seraiah and descendant of Kenaz of the tribe of Judah. He was father of Ge Harashim (1Chr.4.14).

3. Founder of a family of returned exiles (Ezra.2.6; Ezra.8.9; Neh.7.11).

4. A village, apparently in Judah (1Chr.2.54 rv). KJV has the translation “Ataroth, the house of Joab”; and NIV, “Atroth Beth Joab.”——SB

The pool of Gibeon, where Joab was involved in some rather violent activities. Looking into and out of the well.

JOAB jō’ ăb (יוֹאָ֥ב; LXX ̓Ιωὰβ, Yahweh is father).

Commander-in-chief of David’s armies.


The eldest son of Zeruiah, sister of King David, and brother of Abishai and Asahel (2 Sam 2:18f.; 2 Chron 2:16f.), of the tribe of Judah. Joab was, therefore, a nephew of David. Because Zeruiah appears to be one of the older children of Jesse, whereas David was his youngest son, it can be safely construed that Joab and David were near the same age. We are not told who Joab’s father was, but his two brothers were valiant warriors in David’s army. It is interesting to note that Amasa, who replaced Joab as commander of the Israelitish armies on two occasions (2 Sam 17:25; 19:13), was a cousin of Joab and also a nephew of David (1 Chron 2:17).

Early military career.

Joab apparently joined David’s guerrilla band in the wilderness of Zin, but he is first mentioned in the Bible where he was sent by David with an army against Abner and the followers of the house of Saul. Joab and Abner’s armies met at the pool of Gibeon (2 Sam 2:12ff.). After taking each other’s measure, Abner suggested that twelve young warriors from each army should settle the matter by a test of skill. Joab readily agreed. The young warriors arose and took their positions, but the contest was so evenly matched that all twenty-four men fell together with each man’s sword in the heart of his opponent. This precipitated a battle between the two armies, with Joab’s men routing the soldiers of the house of Saul. As Abner and his men fled, Asahel, brother of Joab, fleet of foot and impetuous, sought to overtake Abner and engage that seasoned veteran in combat. Twice Abner pled with the youth to turn aside. Each time Asahel refused, whereupon Abner, with a backward thrust, drove the butt of his spear through the overconfident warrior so that he died (2 Sam 2:23). With the law of blood revenge (Num 35:19) operating in ancient Israel, it was inevitable that Joab would seek to avenge his brother’s death.

Later, Joab found opportunity to take his revenge on Abner. After the death of Israel’s first king, Abner had been the mainstay of the house of Saul. As commander-in-chief of Saul’s armies, he had enabled Ishbosheth to retain the throne of his father (2 Sam 2:8f.). His task was not an easy one, for the house of Saul was growing constantly weaker. The turning point came when the miserable Ishbosheth accused him of illicit relations with one of his dead father’s concubines (3:6f.). Angered deeply, Abner opened negotiations with David for the purpose of uniting all Israel under David’s leadership (3:12f.). David responded favorably. Abner and a diplomatic corps visited David in Hebron where final arrangements were carefully worked out. After sealing the bargain with a feast, Abner and his men left for home. Shortly after their departure, Joab returned from a frontier skirmish and was informed of what had happened (3:22f.). Joab’s anger blazed hot and strong. He saw all too clearly that the man who had slain his brother might well become his commanding officer. He moved quickly. Messengers were sent in the name of David to overtake Abner and bring him back to Hebron (3:26f.). The king was not aware of Joab’s sinister plot. The unsuspecting Abner returned, and foolishly agreed to speak privately with Joab, who drawing him aside, slew him in the gate of the city. When David heard the sad news, his grief was spontaneous and profuse. He immediately declared himself and his kingdom free of the guilt of so dastardly a deed. Furthermore, he pronounced a curse upon the house of Joab, and became the chief mourner at the funeral of Abner (3:28, 31).

Field marshal.

With all his ruthlessness, Joab was a brave and ingenious military leader and was completely loyal to David and the emerging Israelitish kingdom. No better example of his military prowess can be found than the part he played in the capture of the city of Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:6f.; 1 Chron 11:4f.). David wanted this excellently fortified city for his capital, and sought to dislodge the Jebusites who had long occupied the fortress. The Jebusites were so overconfident and insulting in their resistance, that David promised the job of field commander to the man who would lead a successful attack against the city. The redoubtable Joab met the king’s challenge. His clever mind devised a scheme that involved the city’s water supply. His ruse was imminently successful and the city was taken. Joab was made field marshal and remained in that position for many years (2 Sam 5:6ff.; 8:16; 20:23; 1 Chron 11:4ff.; 18:15; 27:34).

The irrepressible strategist.

Joab was a tough realist. His mind was not only quick and incisive, but also calculating and logical. This is evident in his military accomplishments and in his involvement in the problems of the king’s household.

By clever strategy, Joab secured the return of Absalom from the land of Geshur, where the king’s son had fled after slaying Amnon for the rape of his sister Tamar (14:1ff.). He convinced David through the use of the wise woman of Tekoa of the inconsistency of his attitude toward Absalom. As a result David permitted Absalom to return to Jerusalem, but he was not allowed to return to the king’s court. After two years of living in Jerusalem without seeing his father’s face, Absalom decided to do something about the situation (14:28f.). He sent for Joab intending to send him to the king, but Joab, apparently suspecting the purpose of the summons, delayed his response. Absalom sent for Joab a second time, and still he did not come. Finally, Absalom commanded his servants to set fire to Joab’s barley fields, which lay next to his own. This time his efforts proved successful. The matter ended with Joab intervening with David for Absalom. A reconciliation was effected between the king and his son.

In the insurrection of Absalom (15:7), Joab seems to have been caught off guard. Absalom was able to carry a large segment of the king’s standing army with him, but since he did not trust Joab, he made Amasa commander-in-chief in his place (17:25). The next mention of Joab is in David’s camp, but he is not in full command (1 Sam 18:2f.). In deploying his forces against Absalom, David divided them into three groups and placed Joab at the head of only one section, with Abishai and Ittai over the other two. As his men marched away to fight, David gave explicit instruction to his three lieutenants in the hearing of all the people to spare the life of Absalom. In the heat of the battle, however, Joab took over and directed the outcome of the encounter. Although knowing David’s orders, the hardheaded old realist knew that the quickest way to victory was to destroy the treacherous Absalom. The times were harsh, and he did not hesitate to use harsh methods. When the fortunes of war delivered Absalom into his hand, he thrust him through with three darts as he hung by his hair in an oak tree (2 Sam 18:9f.). With Absalom dead, the insurrection ended. Later in the day when David, due to his grief at the death of Absalom, did not so much as thank his splendid fighting men for the victory they had given that day, the unrelenting Joab withstood the king to his face (19:1ff.). Fortunately, the king gave heed to the words of Joab and the situation was saved.

Although Joab brought the insurrection of Absalom to a quick, and perhaps merciful, end, he was not restored to his command. David appointed Amasa as field marshal in his place (19:13). The move was apparently designed to ease political tensions and heal the wounds of a divided nation. It also served to punish Joab for his insubordination in the recent battle. The irrepressible old strategist seemed to accept his demotion without a word, but subsequent events amply indicate that Joab was soon scheming to regain his former position. His opportunity was not long in coming. David was no sooner restored to the throne when a certain Sheba from the tribe of Ephraim raised the cry of revolt against him (20:1ff.). The unity of the kingdom was again threatened. David promptly commanded Amasa to organize and equip an army to pursue Sheba. For some reason Amasa delayed beyond the appointed time. David, knowing that time was of the essence, placed some of his battle-tested warriors under Abishai and sent them on after the rebel leader. Joab was among the soldiers who went with Abishai. At Gibeon, Amasa sought to rejoin his troops. The crafty Joab feigning friendship by taking hold of his beard as though to kiss him, disemboweled the unsuspecting Amasa with one stroke of his sword (20:8f.). Joab then assumed command of the expedition and finally overtook Sheba and destroyed him. Joab thus regained his former position as commander-in-chief of David’s troops (20:23).

At least on one occasion Joab seems to have had a keen sense of what was religiously appropriate. He objected strenuously to David’s plan to take a national census (24:1f.; 1 Chron 21:3). At this point he seems to have had more religious insight than David. In spite of his protests, the king insisted on carrying out his plan, and Joab was commissioned to supervise the project. He spent more than nine months in completing the task. Subsequent events proved him right in his original objections.

Decline and death.

In the end, Joab was fatally caught up in the intrigue that swirled around the household of David. When it became evident to all that the day of David’s death could not be far away, Adonijah, one of his older sons, sought to claim his father’s throne (1 Kings 1:5f.). Convinced that he was worthy of being king, Joab and Abiathar the high priest threw the weight of their influence behind him. With the support of the commander-in-chief of the king’s troops, and the head of the nation’s religious order, the young prince seemed to have excellent prospects for achieving his objective. All their hopes, however, were doomed to failure. At the supposed coronation of Adonijah, the news came that David had already placed Solomon on the throne of Israel (1:38f.), and his kingship had been confirmed by the people. Adonijah’s attempt had failed, and his followers were marked for destruction by the new king. Joab’s subsequent flight to the horns of the altar of the Tent of Meeting was of no avail (2:28f.). Solomon dispatched Benaiah to execute the old warrior whose deeds of violence, according to the law of blood revenge (Num 35:33), must be visited on his own head before the kingdom could have peace.

This period of history was harsh and primitive, and Joab was a product of his age. He was a decisive, fearless, and intrepid fighter, and a brilliant military strategist. He served his king and his country devotedly. He was generous and loyal to his friends, but utterly ruthless and vindictive toward his foes. He was not completely devoid of religious sentiment, but it played no decisive part in his conduct. He died as he had lived—by the sword.

Son of Seraiah.

A descendant of Kenaz (younger brother of Caleb, Judg 1:13) of the tribe of Judah. He is the father (founder) of the Geharashim (1 Chron 4:13, 14; cf. Neh 11:35), i.e. (the inhabitants of) the Valley of Craftsmen (smiths), which may be identified with Wadi Arabah.

The father of a family in Judah.

Some of his descendants returned to Pal. from Babylon with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:6; Neh 7:11) whereas others returned with Ezra (Ezra 8:9).


J. Simons, Jerusalem in the Old Testament (1952), 165ff.; C. H. Gordon, The World of the Old Testament (1958), 173, 176f.; N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (1959), 156.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(yo’-abh, "Yahweh is father"; Ioab):

(1) Son of Zeruiah, David’s sister. He was "captain of the host" (compare 2Sa 19:13) under David.

1. Joab and Abner:

(a) Joab is first introduced in the narrative of the war with Abner, who supported the claims of Ishbosheth to the throne against those of David (2Sa 2:8-3:1). The two armies met, and on Abner’s suggestion a tournament took place between 12 men from each side; a general engagement follows, and in this Joab’s army is victorious. Asahel, Joab’s brother, is killed in his pursuit of Abner, but the latter’s army is sorely pressed, and he appeals to Joab for a cessation of hostilities. Joab calls a halt, but declares that he would not cease had Abner not made his plea.

(b) 2Sa 3:12-29. Abner visits David at Hebron, and makes an alliance with David. He then leaves the town, apparently under royal protection. Joab is absent at the time, but returns immediately after Abner’s departure, and expostulates with David for not avenging Asahel’s death, and at the same time attributes a bad motive to Abner’s visit. He sends a message, no doubt in the form of a royal command, for Abner to return; the chief does so, is taken aside "into the midst of the gate" (or as Septuagint and commentators read, "into the side of the gate," 2Sa 3:27), and slain there by Joab. David proclaims his own innocence in the matter, commands Joab as well as the people to mourn publicly for the dead hero (2Sa 3:31), composes a lament for Abner, and pronounces a curse upon Joab and his descendants (2Sa 3:30 is regarded as an editorial note, and commentators change 2Sa 3:39).

2. The Ammonite War: Death of Uriah:

(a) 2Sa 10:1-14; 1Ch 19:1-15. David sends ambassadors with his good wishes to Hanun on his ascending the throne of the Ammonites; these are ill-treated, and war follows, David’s troops being commanded by Joab. On finding himself placed between the Ammonites on the one hand, and their Syrian allies on the other, he divides his army, and himself leads one division against the Syrians, leaving Abishai, his brother, to fight the Ammonites; the defeat of the Syrians is followed by the rout of the ammonites.

(b) 2Sa 10:15-19; 1Ch 19:16-19 describes a second war between Hadarezer and David. Joab is not mentioned here.

(c) 2Sa 11:1 narrates the resumption of the war against the Ammonites; Joab is in command, and the town of Rabbah is besieged. Here occurs the account of David’s sin with Bathsheba, omitted by Chronicles. David gets Joab to send Uriah, her husband, to Jerusalem, and when he refuses to break the soldier’s vow (11:6-13), Joab is used to procure Uriah’s death in the siege, and the general then sends news of it to David (11:14-27). After capturing the `water-city’ of Rabbah, Joab sends for David to complete the capture and lead the triumph himself (12:26-29).

3. Joab and Absalom:

(a) The next scene depicts Joab attempting and succeeding in his attempt to get Absalom restored to royal favor. He has noticed that "the king’s heart is toward Absalom" (2Sa 14:1), and so arranges for "a wise woman" of Tekoa to bring a supposed complaint of her own before the king, and then rebuke him for his treatment of Absalom. The plan succeeds. David sees Joab’s hand in it, and gives him permission to bring Absalom to Jerusalem. But the rebel has to remain in his own house, and is not allowed to see his father (2Sa 14:1-24).

(b) Absalom attempts to secure Joab’s intercession for a complete restoration to his father’s confidence. Joab turns a deaf ear to the request until his field is put on fire by Absalom’s command. He then sees Absalom, and gets David to receive his prodigal son back into the royal home (2Sa 14:28-33).

(c) Absalom revolts, and makes Amasa, another nephew of David, general instead of Joab (2Sa 17:24 f). David flees to Mahanaim, followed by Absalom. Joab is given a third of the army, the other divisions being led by Abishai and Ittai. He is informed that Absalom has been caught in a tree (or thicket), and expostulates with the informer for not having killed him. Although he is reminded of David’s tender plea that Absalom be kindly dealt with, he dispatches the rebel himself, and afterward calls for a general halt of the army. When David gives vent to his feelings of grief, he is sternly rebuked by Joab, and the rebuke has its effect (2Sa 17-19:8).

4. Joab and Amasa:

2Sa 19:8 b-15. On David’s return to Jerusalem, Amasa is made "captain of the host" instead of Joab (19:13). Then Sheba revolts, Amasa loses time in making preparation for quelling it, and Abishai is bidden by David to take the field (20:6). The Syriac version reads "Joab" for "Abishai" in this verse, and some commentators follow it, but Septuagint supports Massoretic Text. Joab seems to have accompanied Abishai; and when Amasa meets them at Gibeon, Joab, on pretense of kissing his rival, kills him. He then assumes command, is followed by Amasa’s men, and arranges with a woman of Abel beth-maacah to deliver to him Sheba’s head. The revolt is then at an end.

5. Joab’s Death:

6. Joab’s Character:

In summing up Joab’s character, we must remember the stirring times in which he lived. That he was a most able general, there is no doubt. He was, however, very jealous of his position, and this accounts for Amasa’s murder, if not partially for that of Abner too: if he was afraid that Abner would supplant him, that fear may be held to be justified, for Amasa, who had not been too loyal to David did take Joab’s place for a time. But blood revenge for Asahel’s death was perhaps the chief cause. Yet even when judged in the light of those rough times, and in the light of eastern life, the murder of Abner was a foul, treacherous deed (see Trumbull, Studies in Oriental Social Life, 129-31).

Joab opposed the census probably because it was an innovation. His rebuke of David’s great grief over Absalom’s death can only be characterized as just; he is the stern warrior who, after being once merciful and forgiving, will not again spare a deceitful rebel; and yet David shows how a father’s conduct toward a prodigal, rebellious son is not regulated by stern justice. Joab’s unswerving loyalty to David leads one to believe that no disloyalty was meant by his support of Adonijah, who was really the rightful heir to the throne. But their plans were defeated by those of the harem, and Joab had to pay the price with his life.

Taken as a whole, his life, as depicted in the very reliable narrative of 2Sa and 1 Ki, may be said to be as characteristic of the times as that of David himself, with a truly Homeric ring about it. He was a great man, great in military prowess and also in personal revenge, in his loyalty to the king as well as in his stern rebuke of his royal master. He was the greatest of David’s generals, and the latter’s success and glory owed much to this noblest of that noble trio whom Zeruiah bore.

(2) A Judahite, father or founder of Ge-harashim (1Ch 4:14, "valley of craftsmen" the Revised Version margin).

See Ge-harashim.

(3) A family of returned exiles (Ezr 2:6 parallel Ne 7:11; Ezr 8:9; 1Esdras 8:35).

(4) See Atroth-beth-joab.