The real commander of Israel’s army, Part III

Joab didn’t know which part of a raid he loved best: when the enemy realized all was lost, or when he and his men paraded through small villages loaded down with plunder, tossing bits and pieces to people who came out to greet them — to the women who sang his praises and twirled and played their tambourines. The women of Juttah had sung so sweetly that he’d given up several headscarves he’d planned to give his own wife.

Coming in to Hebron was up there, too, because it was home. He’d sent a messenger ahead, so their children would be waiting to be hoisted onto shoulders, their wives would be laughing and crying, and David’s servants would be readying the feast. They’d have started slaughtering the oxen and sheep by now. Tonight, no more dried rations, no more sour water.

They were within sight of the gates when a man sprinted down the road at them. It was his messenger. Probably bringing word from David. Joab’s high dipped a little.

“My lord.” The messenger was panting so hard he could barely speak. “Ab- Abner–”

Joab narrowed his eyes. “What now?”

The messenger gulped. “At the citadel. With twenty men from Benjamin, Dan and –”

That was all Joab needed to hear. He pulled his brother close under the pretense of giving Abishai his pack. “This is it. Take your twelve best men and wait for me outside the gates, by the huge atad tree. Everyone else should go in and celebrate with their families. Wait for my word.”

He barely paused long enough for the gate guards to recognize him, and sprinted all the way to David’s citadel. The royal guards let him right through without making him give up his weapons, which might come in handy, depending on what Abner came here to do.

The courtyard was still set up for the feast, so Joab skidded to a stop, flattened himself against the wall, and peered around the corner. More than twenty men sat in a circle. David, of course, Great-Uncle Jonathan, Benaiah, leaders from Hebron and other self-important looking men. No Abner.

Joab stalked over to David. “You should’ve sent a message.”

David didn’t even give him the courtesy of looking at him. He just pointed at the ground with his finger.

Joab frowned. He didn’t have time to sit. “Where is he?”

David crossed his arms and looked into the distance. He barely moved his mouth while he spoke. “They’re deciding on me. They say yes and you get the whole army.”

Great-Uncle Jonathan stood and walked past him, adding, “Do it right for once.”

Joab almost left. Someone else could tell him where Abner was. He didn’t need David for that. But he did need to stay as close to David’s good side as he could, especially if he was successful, so he gritted his teeth and jerked his head, sharp and no-nonsense, like a soldier. “My lord,” he announced for everyone’s benefit, “the Amalekites will think twice about bothering Beersheba. And they made a generous donation to the military fund.” He grinned, but it felt more like he was baring his teeth.

David stood and put his right hand on Joab’s shoulder. “Elders of Israel, this is my nephew Joab, the commander of my army, the man your fighters will serve under.”

Joab stumbled forward a few steps, thanks to a not-so-gentle shove from David.

“He’s returned from a successful campaign against the Amalekites.”

“Just a small raid.” Joab did what was expected of him and did the teeth-numbing meet-and-greet, boasted about the results of his army, listened politely as they trumpeted their tribe’s fighters and their skills, refrained from mentioning that their men weren’t such great fighters that his army hadn’t already beaten them numerous times in the last six months. Each and every moment, he knew that Abner might be slipping away from him. Again.

“My lord,” Joab said to David the moment the elders’ attention wandered. “May I have a private audience?”

“Of course.” David opened his arms to the group. “My servants should bring in the midday meal soon. Stay and enjoy.”

Once they were two turns of the hallway away from the others, Joab grabbed a fistful of David’s soft linen sleeve. “Where is he?”

“Let go of me.”

“Fine.” Joab let go as if he were throwing the material away, which flung David’s arm back.

The next thing Joab knew, David pinned him against the wall. He could barely breath thanks to the forearm pushed against his neck.

“You even think about going for your dagger and I’m shipping you back to Bethlehem in shame,” David said. “You will not manhandle me, either when we’re in public or when we’re alone. You will treat me at least with the respect due to your uncle. Better if you could at least bring it up to the level of our time in the desert.” He pushed harder against Joab’s windpipe. “Clear?”

Joab nodded, because that was all he could do.

David freed him and shook out his arms. “Abner was here. He’s gone to the northern tribes to secure their support. He’s behind me.”

Joab spat.

“You’re letting your personal feelings get in the way.”

“It’s not my feelings,” Joab said. “It’s Asahel’s blood that’s in the way.”

“It was a battle.”

Joab’s chest heaved with the effort of keeping in all the things he wanted to say and do.

“We’re operating on a different level now. Blood feuds are part of the old—”

Joab sliced his hand through the air between them. “It’s not about that. Abner is too crafty. He started this war and managed to turn it around on me and make it seem like my fault. His visit wasn’t a peace offering. He’ll twist your words and turn you into–”

“I am not a green boy,” David ground out. “I tested Abner myself and I asked the Lord to confirm Abner’s sincerity, which He did. I am satisfied.”

Joab pressed his lips together and shook his head. “I can’t believe you just let him walk away.”

“With my blessing.”

They stared each other down for several long moments. Joab broke eye contact first and left without saying another word.

Abishai and his men were waiting just where he’d told them to. Joab sent two of them to run north and bring Abner back. Abishai and two lieutenants stayed with him under the atad. The rest of his men waited behind some ancient olive trees; nearby, but not close enough to be apparent.

When Joab’s messengers came over the hill with Abner and his four guards, the sun was low, but it wasn’t dusk yet.

Joab and Abishai exchanged a look, but didn’t say anything. They didn’t need to. The plan was set.


The real commander of Israel’s army, Part I

In November, I will post a new fictionalized biblical story every two days. I will. I asked some friends for stories they’d like to hear more of, and there are some great and tough things coming up, but one friend asked for a story I’d already drafted as part of my David and Saul middle school novel series. I felt kinda guilty at the idea of posting it as if it were freshly written, so I’m going to do it as a two-part warm-up over these last days of October.

I still have story slots open, so if there’s something you’d like to see (must be from the Bible), leave the suggestion in the comments or message me. Thanks for reading!

Part I is the buildup to 2 Samuel 2:12-17. It appears nowhere in the biblical record, but it’s how I imagine Abner and Joab wind up with a select group of fighters at the Pool of Gibeon. Joab, Abishai and Asahel are the three sons of David’s sister Zeruiah. In my version, Joab is a couple of years older than David. This story takes place six years after David was made king of Judah, but before he was declared king of a united Israel. Abner is the commander of Israel’s military, and has been since the early days of Saul’s reign (as such, he was the commander when David was in the army). Now he’s based in Mahanaim, across the Jordan, trying to keep the rule of Saul’s son Ishbosheth going.


Joab punched the ground under his head, but he didn’t have to be a seer to know that the rock that jabbed into his jaw when he lay down was not what he was angry at.

It was his uncle.

He punched the roof of his tent this time.

Abishai turned over. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”

“Shove it,” Joab said.

“What is it now?” Asahel mumbled.

It was an insult to his position and a constant thorn in his side, one of those really long seerim thorns, that he had to share a tent with his brothers. He was the commander of the forces of Judah. And not just of Judah.

What Joab really was, was the commander of the army of Israel, no matter what Abner called himself. “I have thousands of men from every single tribe in Israel,” Joab blurted. “Including Benjamin, including relatives of Saul and of Abner, including Manassah, even from all the way north, from Naphtali and Asher. Who does he think he is?”

“Is this rant about Abner or about David?” Asahel asked.

“It sounds like the one about Abner,” Abishai answered.

Joab ignored them both. “We’re just as much the army of Israel as his army is. More so, unless there are thousands of defectors from Judah, which there aren’t.”

“Some day you’ll be the—”

“I don’t want some day.” Joab flipped over onto his back. “I want it now.”

“We’re doing good work,” Abishai said. “Work the king has asked us to do.”

His middle brother’s point was reasonable, but Joab didn’t want to be reasonable, he didn’t want to be measured. “And what work has our uncle the king been doing? I’ll tell you. He and his wives have been parading around in the clothes and the jewelry we earn with our sweat and our swords. Speaking of wives, how many is he up to now?”

Asahel said, “You know it’s six.”

Joab sniffed. “A new wife every year he’s been in Hebron.”

“Not really,” Abishai said. “He brought Ahinoam and Abigail with him.”

“You have to admit, it was a major coup getting the king of Geshur to give David one of his daughters,” Asahel said.

“Are you denying that you loved every moment of leading the delegation to escort King Talmai back to Geshur, right past Mahanaim? The gold-plated shoulder guards alone….,” Abishai trailed off as if he were lost in the memory.

Joab almost smiled. “I even waved at Abner.” His brothers were right, but only about that one instance. “That’s my point. We’ve been living like we’re still in the desert, conducting raids and protecting travelers for a pittance while David lives it up in Hebron, stuffing his coffers, marrying more wives, having more sons. That sounds a whole lot better than this patch of hard ground.”

“He’s got his job and we’ve got—”

“I swear, Abishai.” Joab pushed himself up on his elbows. “If you try to jolly me one more time, the next thing I punch will be you.”

“I just want to get some sleep,” Abishai said.

“I just want my respect,” Joab said. “I want what’s due to me.”

“You’ll get it, brother.” Abishai reached a hand over to make some kind of comforting gesture, but Joab grabbed it in his fist.

They pushed at each other for several long moments before Joab let go and turned over.


The next morning, two messengers came for Joab.

They bowed, but their heads barely dipped past their shoulders.

Joab narrowed his eyes at them, but they didn’t redo the gesture. “No time for warm-up nonsense. Spit it out.”

“We come with an invitation from the commander of the army of Israel,” the taller one said.

This was the wrong morning to use that phrase. Joab growled and Abishai had to step in front of him.

The messengers backed up and put a hand to the hilts of their swords.

“What is it?” Abishai said. “And as a favor to all of us, just use the name of the person who sent you.”

“Abner requests a meeting at the Pools of Gibeon.”

Joab shook off his brother and stood with his arms crossed. He was twice as wide as these skinny little runners. “Why?”

The taller one stammered. “He, he, he just told me to make the request.”

“Bull. Is this a peaceful meeting? Should I bring my whole army? Is he bringing his whole army? Has he sent word to my king?”

The messenger flicked a glance at Abishai.

Joab rolled his eyes and gestured for the man to continue.

This is a private request from my lord,” the messenger said.

“No kings?” Joab asked.

“No kings,” the man said. “What can I tell my master?”

Joab pointed a thick, scarred finger in the middle of the man’s chest. “Tell him I’ll see him there, not with the full army, but he should bring his best unit.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

Joab was already walking away when the messenger spoke again. “May I trouble your hospitality for some bread and water?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Joab said. “You come here saying you’re representing the commander of the armies of Israel, when that’s what everyone here calls me, and you expect me to give up my hard-earned supplies to you? You’re as much an enemy to me as someone from Gath.” He spat. “Feel lucky that I don’t slice your beard off. Get outta here.”

He watched the men walk away, their outrage at this treatment obvious in their exaggerated dignity. Joab smiled. Finally, it was on.