Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. 2 Samuel 18:14
In this episode from the tumultuous life of David, Absalom has subverted David’s authority as king and conspired to usurp the throne and reign over Israel. David and those loyal to him have left Jerusalem, but David and his men are fighting to capture Absalom and retake Jerusalem.
As David sends out the army to defeat the army of Absalom, David instructs Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.”
Joab had earlier recognized David’s grieving for the banished Absalom and arranged for an anonymous woman to speak wise counsel to him, which convinced David to bring Absalom back from banishment. He also helped Absalom (after Absalom set Joab’s field on fire!) obtain audience with David to complete the reconciliation between the two of them.
In this episode, Joab finds himself the beneficiary – or victim, depending on perspective – of divine providence. In a scene reminiscent of a spaghetti western or Monty Python movie, Absalom gets stuck fast in the branches of a tree and is dangling there by his head when Joab’s man finds him.
Scripture records that Joab’s man reported to Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” Star Trek’s Mr. Spock could not be more deadpan in reporting such a thing.
Joab, on the other hand, becomes apoplectic, chastising the man for not killing Absalom on the spot. This anonymous man, though, takes Joab to leadership school:
“Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.”
Joab responded, “I will not waste time like this with you.” In other words, “You’re wasting my time, you nameless nobody!”
Not many anonymous foot soldiers in God’s kingdom dare to oppose those in charge, yet this puny peon challenged mighty Joab. The basis of his challenge, however, was not his own pride, nor his will to power, nor a claim to fame, but a steadfast devotion to carrying out the wishes of the king.
He even recognized Joab’s spurious leadership style: had he actually killed Absalom, Joab would have “stood aloof.” In other words, although Joab would have secretly been thrilled over Absalom’s death at the hands of the foot soldier, he would have quickly distanced himself from the soldier and denied any responsibility.
Joab could not be bothered with the impudence of one with so little standing in Israel that Scripture does not even record his name for us. “I will not waste time like this with you.” One can almost hear the disdain Joab had for the man and his advice. Joab also rejected the subject matter: “I will not waste time like this with you.” He thought he knew all he needed with regard to Absalom, David, and apparently, murder. Joab also fell victim to the tyranny of the urgent: “I will not waste time like this with you.” Absalom was not going anywhere. Joab had plenty of time to discuss the matter with the soldier, with other respected men, with David, with God, in order to get it right.
We frequently fail to consider wise counsel. Most often we reject it because it comes from someone who is not like us – someone who is younger, uglier, poorer, less education, not as “important.” We deem the appropriate consideration of that counsel to be “wasting time,” as if we can afford no delay in carrying out schemes that are important to us but are obviously contrary to the will of the king. (Proverbs 1:16 – For their feet run to evil and they hasten to shed blood.)
On the other hand, we frequently fail to take opportunity to speak wise counsel. We do so because we are the younger, uglier, poorer, less education, not as “important.” Or perhaps we fear the rebuke of those to whom we speak, or the breach of “peace” that would ensue, or being accused of not being “loving.”
We do not find ourselves facing decisions of whether to kill the king’s son. Two things, however, remain as true today as in the time of Absalom: boldness in men will speak wise counsel, and wickedness in men takes no time for it.