A Warrior's Death
1 Kings 2:30-34
And Benaiah came to the tabernacle of the LORD, and said to him, Thus said the king, Come forth. And he said, No; but I will die here…

The circumstances in which Joab uttered the words, "Nay; but I will die here," were the outcome of a conspiracy which had been formed during the latter days of David to prevent Solomon, his son, reigning in his stead.

I. JOAB'S CHARACTER. Joab as a man was somewhat like Esau, belligerent from his youth. As one of the sons of Zeruiah, of whom David complained that they "were too hard for him," he readily acquired the character of a reckless soldier, and a most unscrupulous disposition. However brave or successful as a warrior, he was never known to forget an insult or to forgive an injury. He always waited for his enemies, real or supposed, as a bear robbed of her whelps, and would punish them without mercy. In some respects he was more cruel and vindictive than Nero, or any of the Roman Caesars. It was in cold blood that he assassinated Abner, and slew Absalom with his own hand. These and similar acts of cruelty, instead of checking his career, or making him more thoughtful, only paved his way for the commission of still greater crimes. He cared as little for the king's curse, on account of Abner's assassination, as he cared for the king's grief over Absalom's death. For years he had been guilty of shedding the blood of innocents, and the king seems to have been powerless in checking him or punishing him for his enormous crimes. But on his death-bed he charged Solomon to deal with him, so that the "innocent blood which he had shed might be purged from him and from his father's house" (ver. 31). This was the character of Joab, the man who fled in terror to the tabernacle of the Lord, and laid hold upon the horns of the altar.

II. JOAB'S REFUGE. Why did Joab, in his extremity, run to the tabernacle? As a drowning man is said to catch at a straw, Joab ran to the tabernacle as his only hope of safety. It was the hour of his desperation; the pressure of destiny was upon his heart, the Nemesis of retribution had laid hold upon him; and rather than die like Judas, he would lay hold upon the horns of the altar as his only means of salvation. But he had no right to do so. He was one of those expressly forbidden by the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 19:12) to enter the tabernacle, or to lay hold upon the horns of the altar. As a murderer — as a murderer "with guile," as a murderer with deliberate purpose — he had no right to take refuge in God's sanctuary, or to lay hold upon the altar with his defiled hands. Solomon knew the law, and honoured it when he commanded Benaiah to drag him forth from the altar and have him slain (Exodus 21:14). But what cares a sinner, who has lived all his days to outrage all law and order, when pressed by the shadows or pangs of despair, whether he enters in by the door or climbs up some other way? When he becomes, like Samson, a helpless creature — his eyes out, and sport for the Philistines — he will dare the most terrible things, if only he can be saved.

III. JOAB'S RESOLUTION. There he would die, and nowhere else. It has been said that soldiers, as a class, are not greatly concerned for religion. It was alleged by Dean Swift that "no class of men had so little sense of religion as English soldiers." It is said that Pope tried hard at one time to assure the Emperor that it was not a thing impossible to discover devout soldiers in the army. Gibbon, the historian, records the ease of a Roman general who as early as the year spent most of his time in praying and fasting, and singing Psalms. But he has evidently more satisfaction in telling us of the soldier who, before some terrible battle, prayed thus, "Oh God — if there be a God — save my soul — if I have a soul." Perhaps we ought to regard such men as Colonel Gardiner, Sir Henry Havelock, Captain Hedley Vicars, General Lee, General Gordon, and Gustavus Adolphus, as exceptions to what is common in military circles. But there is nothing necessarily antagonistic to a religious life in the army. It is not necessary that a soldier should be brutal in his character or a murderer in heart and action. But Joab was so. He was utterly regardless of human life, and lived far from God and righteousness. We may regard Joab's resolution as the outcome of nature, not of fear. "It is the fashion of our foolish presumption," says Bishop Hall, "to look for protection, under the pressure of necessity, when we have not cared to yield obedience. Even a Joab clings to God's altar in the hour of his extremity, which in his prosperity ha regarded not. Necessity will drive the most profane and lawless men to God." When the Angel of Death comes to men in no unmistakable way, when, by ago or by accident, lingering sickness or the sorrows of bereavement, they seem to hear it said, "Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live!" or when, in some significant way, their doom is forecast, as Belshazzar's doom was written upon his palace wall, they will waken up and cry out for a refuge in despair. But as there is a mirage in the spiritual as well as in the natural world, they may find that the harvest is past and the summer ended; they may find that prayers then extorted are in vain — the hour of mercy pearl Those who are saved at God's altar are drawn to it, never driven.

(J. K. Campbell, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Benaiah came to the tabernacle of the LORD, and said unto him, Thus saith the king, Come forth. And he said, Nay; but I will die here. And Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.

WEB: Benaiah came to the Tent of Yahweh, and said to him, "Thus says the king, 'Come forth!'" He said, "No; but I will die here." Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, "Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me."

The Vitality of Sin
Top of Page
Top of Page