Joab said to his brother Abishai: “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our god, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.” (2 Samuel 10:10-13).
2 Samuel 10 is all about the Israelite battles with the Ammonites and the Syrians (or ‘Arameans’ in some translations). Dale Davis has yet another excellent analysis of the chapter. I did like the way that he highlights how there is very little detail about the battle reports themselves – just the bare bones – but this serves to highlight Joab’s speech.
“The narrator is not eager to provide us with the stuff of a war movie. No details. The Arameans? ‘The fled before him’ (ie Joab; v 13b). That’s all. The Ammonites? They figured what was good for Aram was good for Ammon, so they fled behind walls (v 14).
“The writer may stifle details of battle but gives ample space for Joab’s speech to Abishai…The speech therefore is important to the narrator. The tension of this little section builds up to it; all one can say after it is: they ran.” (Davis, 2 Samuel, p 112).
John Woodhouse comments upon Joab’s speech itself:
“Joab’s words to Abishai stand at the heart of this chapter. He makes the only direct reference to God in the whole chapter, and what he said illuminates the whole episode. The words are a wonderful expression of faith in God. Faith is knowing that the Lord is good and that he does what is good. What is good is decided by God, not us. But with this faith we can face any enemy, any situation, any threat with a strength that comes from this faith. As we walk honestly before God, doing what he approves, he will give us strength that surpasses whatever power confronts us (cf. Romans 8:31-39).” (Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, p 275)
Both Davis and Woodhouse quote from John Calvin’s sermon these lines:
“We see, therefore, that Joab’s uncertainty was not lack of faith, for we can certainly doubt, although we embrace the promises of God and hold them as absolutely certain and infallible. What we doubt are the things which are not clear to us. That is how he wants us to remain in suspense about many things and to leave it all to his secret counsel and his providence.” (John Calvin, Sermons on 2 Samuel, p 465).
And so Davis concludes: “There is a strange chemistry here: taking Joab’s words into our dilemmas may make us both more confident and less certain. But, at some point, will we not see that if Yahweh will do what he thinks good, that will also be what is good for his people? If Joab stirs up our faith, we owe him our thanks.” (Davis, 2 Samuel, p 114).