Epic Fail: When Compassion and Fairness Seem Beyond Me

I always use this image to represent Joab. It's a negative bias, I know it.

I always use this image to represent Joab. It’s a negative bias, I know it. Plus the era is wrong…

I am an obvious King David fan – yes, I own it. However, I try and be fair. I spend a lot of my time debunking myths about his life and working to represent him in a balanced, positive manner, but I am aware that too much of that borders on favouritism. After writing about polygamy, my head is stuck solidly in the mode of “favouritism is bad.”

So I did something which has been on my heart to do for months, I wrote about Michal and what led her to become the bitter woman she is depicted as. Then the Lord challenged me. If I wanted to treat everyone as fairly as David, then what about Joab?

Joab – the villain – the heartless murderer – the bad guy – the one even David felt defeated by. [Ref. 2 Samuel 3:6 and especially verse 39] I needed to be fair to him?

OK, if God challenges, He challenges. Game on!

As I said in the article about Michal: “One of the biggest problems we have with understanding people in the Bible, is that we often only receive a quick, isolated snapshot of their lives. We are not presented with a well rounded image of their personality, spiritual views or life experience. Thus it becomes very easy to label people as entirely good or bad, based on what we see and without taking into account, possible reasons why they came to be at the place and attitude they have reached. If one of these snapshots is negative and it’s the first one we see, then that person is branded.”

So I tried to un-brand Joab. I looked at the fact that he had three brothers, all of who had joined David in the wilderness at a young age. They were all excessively aggressive perhaps they had been abused as kids? Maybe their father had died when they were too young to lose him? Somehow, something is obviously wrong there, my social worker instincts are screaming at me that this must be so. I have no Scriptural evidence, but for three kids to be that far off the rails, something has gone wrong.

So there is room for compassion there, right?

This is the point where I admit failure. I have struggled with this for weeks, talked to Christian friends and the take home message is, I just can’t feel sorry for Joab. Michal was kicked around like an old potato sack, and as a woman, I can feel bad for her, but Joab? He didn’t have a mental illness. If David had fired him, he would have created a serious enemy; and to kill him at the wrong time, would have made David an equally unrighteous criminal. It’s a sticky, nasty situation.

Joab was an uncontrollable, but sadly, useful menace. When harsh action had to be taken and fast, he was the right man for the job and Isra’el’s security did benefit from his presence. However, there is no excuse for an adult who committed the inappropriate murders, and acted in the unrighteous manner that he did. Joab’s life path was not beyond his control. He had a choice and at the point of realising that, my compassion began to walk away.

Actually, that is the root of Joab’s whole problem: a need for control. He wasn’t a man of faith, he just played the game. Joab had no respect for David’s position at all and could not comprehend David’s reliance on the Lord.

He would not even smother his dislike of David’s approach by saluting the rank, if not the man. “But just after David had sent Abner away in safety, Joab and some of David’s troops returned from a raid, bringing much plunder with them. When Joab arrived, he was told that Abner had just been there visiting the king and had been sent away in safety. Joab rushed to the king and demanded, “What have you done? What do you mean by letting Abner get away? You know perfectly well that he came to spy on you and find out everything you’re doing!” [2 Samuel 3:22-25]

Joab was a man of action, who leaned on his sword and his wits to get him through. I just can’t find something to feel empathy towards.

So I feel like I failed. I can write up an article about the problems with poor parenting at the developmental stages of a child’s life, but at the end of the day, I am relying on instinct, not the Word of God, so I don’t feel I can do that. I can only write an article on aggression and how it motivated Joab and that doesn’t feel like enough. It hasn’t produced mercy, just judgement and I am supposed to be laying very, very light on the judgement!

All I can do is say, “Lord, sorry, but this is an epic fail on my part.” I know that whatever there is to be compassionate about with Joab, the Lord knows what it is and He would have judged Joab in complete fairness. But I can’t.

This is like understanding BathSheba for me: I don’t know either her or Joab, so I can’t be either objective or righteously subjective. If I could sit down with them to talk, and hear their view and what they feel, I would definitely see them completely differently but this is impossible.

So that is my final word on Joab: I don’t have enough information. I wish I had more, but I don’t. I won’t make up facts when I have no proof and I have to accept that sometimes it’s fine just to say,”I don’t have the answers and it’s OK not to know everything.”Just as long as I don’t harden my heart against the possibility that he was a hurting, misled person, that is the best I can give. It is the best I can give anybody. I hope that one day I find a way to give more.

What would you do, in my place?

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