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Co-Conspirator Indicted In Ancient Homicide Print E-mail
Written by Ray Fairman   
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Attorneys for the defendant indicate that they will use a version of the affirmative defense more recently termed the "Nuremberg Defense". Their client, they say, was only following orders.

Have you ever considered using that defense when you have come to an ethical crossroads and taken the less than honorable route?

To find out more about this conspiracy click on Read More.

In ancient biblical times, there was a great leader and a warrior king who we know today as "a man after God's own heart." Yes, I am talking about King David a man who rose from humble beginnings to become a very successful leader in Israel with God's blessing, presence and help. David, during his rise always kept God first in his life. When we climb the ladder of success, do we always measure our intentions and decisions by Our Lord's yardstick? Do you remember that your fingers once occupied the rung beneath your feet? Is every day a "Son-day" or do we allow the "Sunday" that starts our current week to suffice for our spiritual renewal. Do we act with the same moral piety and reverence all week long? Is our compassion for others the same every day of the week? When we rise to the top, do we "think we have arrived?" These questions, and the correct answers, should never be far from the mind of an ethical leader.

I think if you look closely you will see that David began to change when he hit the pinnacle of his prominence and some of these changes brought on by his repeated success affected his judgment and subsequently his life with a great impact. Have you ever wondered why everything is not "smooth sailing" once you reach the next plateau or eventually the top? As you read on I hope you meditate a bit on some of the reasons many of us undertake this ambitious and seemingly endless journey. Contemplating what choices David made might provide you the some of the answers to the questions David might ask you if he were your Deputy Chief, Chief Deputy of Undersheriff. Learning from the mistakes of others is what we all wish the majority of our clientele would take advantage of, don't we? Shouldn't we do the same?

David during his rise and reign surrounded himself primarily with wise counselors and successful commanders. But we always need to be concerned with the character of those on whom we depend. Poor decisions in this realm can prove devastating and in this area of his administration David was not as cautious as he should have been. He made couple of faulty decisions when dealing with the character of some of his subordinates, the results of which David was doomed to experience.

You see the "Indicted Co-Conspirator" I am referring to is Joab, King David's co-conspirator in the murder of Uriah the Hittite.

Like all good investigators lets do a quick background on Joab and pull his "criminal history" before we go any farther, shall we?

Joab was a nephew of King David, the son of David's sister Zeruiah. He was, on the surface, a very loyal and successful battle commander for David, although some biblical scholars feel David seems to have merely tolerated Joab because of his military usefulness. You see Joab was impetuous, ambitious, vengeful, devious and had very little political or diplomatic skill. He was just very good at winning wars and "elections" were won back then not by the person who got the most votes, but by the person who had the deadliest army.

Joab's dedication and loyalty to David however, was not of primary concern during his service. If you examine it closely you will find he had his own agendas and he did not always adhere to "department policy and the wishes of his superior". His loyalty did not extend to his cousin Solomon, David's choice as his successor, and Joab, who favored David's other son, Adonijah, to succeed David made a flawed, but understandable choice "to back the wrong horse," that subsequently cost Joab not only his high position in the kingdom, but eventually his life.

Criminal History (Joab)


Joab had two brothers, Abishai and Asahel. During an Israelite civil war battle between the forces of David (the tribe of Judah), under the command of Joab, and those of King Saul's son Ish-bosheth (most of the rest of Israel) under the command of Abner, Joab's brother Asahel was reluctantly killed by the more experienced warrior Abner, who, although in retreat, was more than a match for the inexperienced and all too eager to be a hero, Asahel. An old adage in combat says that a person who seeks to be a hero is often found among the casualties. As indicated by scripture Abner tried to get Asahel to discontinue the attack, knowing he would be killed. Asahel refused and continued the futile attack and was defeated in combat (Self-Defense not Murder)

"And Abner said again to Asahel, "Turn aside from following me; why should I smite you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?" But he refused to turn aside; therefore Abner smote him in the belly with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back; and he fell there, and died where he was" (2 Samuel 2:22-23 RSV)

Later, when Abner sought to make peace with David and to bring all of Israel under David's rule, Joab murdered Abner in revenge for Asahel. You tell me how an act of revenge avenges a combat death. This act was absolutely an act of murder, a criminal act committed by a subordinate that largely went unpunished, except by a "letter of Censure" so to speak. Now what kind of a message did that send across the nation? (I believe that Vengeance is God's purview not ours). Asahel was lawfully killed in battle, in plain self-defense by Abner, while Abner was premeditatedly killed for personal revenge at the town gate of Hebron.

"And Abner said to David, "I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires." So David sent Abner away; and he went in peace ... And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he smote him in the belly, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother." (2 Samuel 3:21,27 RSV)

David immediately denounced Joab's killing of Abner. David saw it was an act of political treachery that threatened the reunion of Israel and the re-igniting of the civil war and it was completely against his wishes. David knew that a man should choose his friends and enemies with equal caution, yet he tolerated Joab who was a headstrong commander that espoused the “kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out” philosophy. To him anyone that wronged him or stood in his way or the way of the individual he served was expendable.

"Afterward, when David heard of it, he said, "I and my kingdom are for ever guiltless before The Lord for the blood of Abner the son of Ner. May it fall upon the head of Joab, and upon all his father's house; and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who is slain by the sword, or who lacks bread!" (2 Samuel 3:28-29 RSV)

David's public censure of Joab turned out to be more political "lip service" (a publicity stunt or media hype) than anything substantial. David had seen a glimpse of Joab's real character and had chosen to overlook his lapse of integrity; his lack of foresight and David’s tirade was mere window dressing. But a wise leader would have taken action, no matter how difficult the task.

So David rebuked Joab, but right after he secured his kingship over all of Israel he promoted Joab to Commander over the entire Israeli Army ignoring the apparent criminal history and character of one of his foremost commanders. Be careful where you bestow power. I say this because of the difficulties this empowering of Joab produced later in David's life.

The Case Continues:


"So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and equity to all his people. And Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army" (2 Samuel 8:15-16 RSV)

Joab served David well in various battles, including a major confrontation between Israel and a Syria-Ammonite coalition in which the fearsome Joab put a mustered enemy force of over 30,000 troops to flight without a fight:

"the Ammonites sent and hired the Syrians of Bethrehob, and the Syrians of Zobah, twenty thousand foot soldiers, and the king of Maacah with a thousand men, and the men of Tob, twelve thousand men. And when David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the host of the mighty men ... So Joab and the people who were with him drew near to battle against the Syrians; and they fled before him. And when the Ammonites saw that the Syrians fled, they likewise fled before Abishai" (2 Samuel 10:6-7,13-14 RSV)

Later Joab was directly involved with one of the darkest events in King David's life, the battlefield murder of Uriah the Hittite. This homicide was concocted solely to cover up David's adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba, who later, after she was widowed by David's conspiratorial act of murder, married David and became the mother of King Solomon. This conspiracy to commit murder would have never have been considered if the “Warrior King” had himself been in battle with his men as he was once prone to be. However, now that he had risen to the pinnacle of success, David was losing touch with the rank and file of his army and enjoying the fruits of his success. (How connected are you with your men and women who work the streets and highways? I once worked for a Sheriff who could call every deputy by his or her first name when ever he encountered them, and we had over 600 employees at that time.) If David had been on the battlefield with his men, he would never have been tempted by Bathsheba. (Sidebar: you can only be tempted by those things that you truly want, brussel sprouts rarely tempt many people)

The conspiracy (for which this current indictment is issued) was documented in a communication from David to Joab. (David must have either considered his power as being God like or subconsciously relied on the previously displayed character of Joab)

"In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die." And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was slain also." (2 Samuel 11:14-17 RSV)

Joab had to compromise his own technical and tactical proficiency in order to accomplish his mission. His battlefield failure which was required to accomplish his covert objective, was so obvious that he tried to cover his anatomy with the 'Nuremberg Defense" even back then. The disaster he orchestrated on the battlefield not only cost the life of Uriah the Hittite, but also cost the lives of many other soldiers, this constitutes another charge of "Depraved Indifference." His "I was only following orders" defense is found in the following return message.

Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; and he instructed the messenger, "When you have finished telling all the news about the fighting to the king, then, if the king's anger rises, and if he says to you, 'Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who killed Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone upon him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?' then you shall say, 'Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.'" So the messenger went, and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. The messenger said to David, "The men gained an advantage over us, and came out against us in the field; but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall; some of the king's servants are dead; and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also." David said to the messenger, "Thus shall you say to Joab, 'Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; strengthen your attack upon the city, and overthrow it.' And encourage him." (2 Samuel 11:18-25 RSV)

It appears that David was more concerned about his own reputation than he was his own integrity. Or is that old adage about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely coming into play here.

Now if you want to follow the story to its end, you will find that Joab continued his career of deception to its ultimate end and David had a “hard row to hoe” during the remaining years of his life. He did get things right with God and sought reconciliation and repented, but, while God always forgives those who repent and ask, he must since he is both a Merciful God and a Just God, allow the consequences of our inappropriate actions to befall us, so we can learn from our mistakes, as we should allow others to make mistakes and learn from them if they must.

When David's son Absalom attempted to overthrow David as king, it was Joab who was instrumental in defeating the coup, and it was Joab who personally killed Absalom, the son of David and another of his royal cousins again against the wishes of David. Just how many times will you let a person get away with subjecting you to the results of their poor judgment?

"Joab said, "I will not waste time like this with you." And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak." (2 Samuel 18:14 RSV)

When David grieved as a father, for his rebellious son Absalom at the expense of those who had been loyal to the king, it was Joab who rebuked his uncle the king. Joab felt that he was one of only a very few who had both the "chutzpah" (since it was Joab himself who killed the son that David was grieving for), and the clout, to speak to and influence David in this way: (see below)

"Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, "You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you; for today I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by The Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now." (2 Samuel 19:5-7 RSV)

Yet when the time came to choose a royal successor of David, Joab campaigned not for David's choice Solomon, but for Adonijah who was the logical choice, since he was the older brother of Solomon. As one might expect after an election, this opposition was an act that Solomon did not overlook when he, not Adonijah, became king:

"When the news came to Joab - for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom - Joab fled to the tent of The Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar. And when it was told King Solomon, "Joab has fled to the tent of The Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar," Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, "Go, strike him down."

"So Benaiah came to the tent of The Lord, and said to him, "The king commands, 'Come forth.'"

"But he said, "No, I will die here."

"Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, "Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me."

"The king replied to him, "Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father's house the guilt for the blood which Joab shed without cause. The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds upon his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and slew with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back upon the head of Joab and upon the head of his descendants for ever; but to David, and to his descendants, and to his house, and to his throne, there shall be peace from The Lord for evermore."

"Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up, and struck him down and killed him; and he was buried in his own house in the wilderness." (1 Kings 2:28-34 RSV)


Which brought the life of Joab to a close. Some folks might say he was a mighty good street cop, but a poor man to entrust with the gift of leadership. The compassion, judgment, integrity, loyalty (he had a loyalty only to himself) and honor that are such necessary traits to a man of valor are found only in a flawed manner in this commander who had such potential.

What kind of leader are you? Are you a man or woman who will tolerate the actions of a Joab in your subordinates? Do you surround yourself with "yes men" in order to reinforce your "omnipotent decisions" or do you truly seek wise counsel and serve your community, peers and subordinates alike with integrity, selflessness, honor and compassion? The traits of a leader are not self-promoting but are exhibited in how well we motivate others to accomplish beneficial things on behalf of those we are responsible to protect and serve. Our agencies are a reflection of the kind of leadership we exemplify. If our deputies or officers are hard, unforgiving callus and authoritarian, then what kind of leadership are we displaying?

One of the best short prayers I ever heard goes like this: "God please make me the kind of man my dog thinks I am."

I pray that God will make each of you the kind of leader He wanted you to be. I think that Godly leaders will be the only leaders to pass on the true meaning of leadership to the next generation. A leadership focused on others not on personal gain, political gain, prominence, popularity, and power none of which will follow you to heaven.

Until next time, May the thoughts of our minds, the actions of our hands and the attitudes of our hearts be pleasing in the sight of our God, Lord and Savior.

Chaplain (Col) Ray Fairman




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