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The name Joab (יוֹאָב) is derived from Yahweh (יהוה), the name of the God of Israel, and the Hebrew word 'av' (אָב), meaning 'father'. It therefore means 'Yahweh [is] father'. Apart from David's nephew, the name is given to two other individuals in the Bible (see Ezra 2:6, 8:9). It is also a common name in modern Israel.
Joab was the son of Zeruiah, a sister of king David, who made him captain of his army (2 Samuel 8:16; 20:23; 1 Chronicles 11:6; 18:15; 27:34). He had two brothers, Abishai and Asahel. Asahel was killed by Abner, for which Joab took revenge by murdering Abner against David's wishes (2 Samuel 2:13-32; 3:27).
After leading the assault on the fortress of Mount Zion, he was promoted to the rank of General (1 Chronicles 27:34). He led the army against Syria, Ammon, Moab and Edom. He also took part in David's murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:14-25).
Joab played a pivotal role as the commander of David's forces during Absalom's rebellion. Absalom, one of David's sons, rallied much of Israel in rebellion against David, who was forced to flee with only his most trusted men. However, David could not bring himself to harm his son, and ordered that none of his men should kill Absalom during the ensuing battle. However, when a man reported that Absalom had been found, alive, caught in a tree, Joab and his men killed him (2 Samuel 18:1-33).
Hearing of David's grief over the reported death of Absalom, Joab confronted and admonished David. The king followed Joab's advice to make a public appearance to encourage his troops (2 Samuel 19:1-8).
Joab and other commanders began questioning David's judgment (2 Samuel 24:2-4). As David neared the end of his reign, Joab offered his allegiance to David's eldest son, Adonijah rather than to the promised king, Solomon (1 Kings 1:1-27).
On the brink of death, David told Solomon to have Joab killed citing Joab's past betrayals and the blood that he was guilty of, and for this Solomon ordered his death by the hand of Benaiah (1 Kings 2:29-34), who then replaced him as commander of the army. Joab was buried in 'the wilderness' (1 Kings 2:34). It is interesting to note that Joab fled to the Tent of the Tabernacle (where Adonijah has previously sought successful refuge (1 Kings 1:50-53)) and told Benaiah that he will die there. Benaiah, as ordered by King Solomon, kills Joab in the House of Yahweh.
According to Josephus, Joab did not kill Abner out of revenge, because he had forgiven him for the death of his brother, Asahel, the reason being that Abner had slain Asahel honorably in combat after he had twice warned Asahel and had no other choice but to kill him out of self-defense. If this was the case, the reason Joab killed Abner may have been that he became a threat to his rank of general, since Abner had switched to the side of David and granted him control over the tribe of Benjamin. Yet the narrative explicitly states that Joab killed Abner "to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel" (2 Samuel 3:27).