David is a great warrior(no doubt), at a very young age, He killed Goliath, killed a bear and he he generally considered fearless. But, while going through the Bible, I discovered David feared Joab greatly (see 2 Sam 3:39, "these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me") and I wondered why he had so much fear for him. An example, Joab killed Abner and Amasa and David did nothing about it and He also gave instructions that Absalom's life should be speared but Joab went against the order by killing Absalom and it also took Joab alone to get David to address the people when Absalom died.

Did he feared him because of Joab is mightier and powerful than him or because Joab had more troop than him or why did he feared him so much that Joab became lawless at times

  • Your question is not associated with any text / passage. please indicate the passage that contains the background to your question. questions not related to a specific text or generally speaking off topic. But it's a great question and possibly related to my question about why Peter et al feared James.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 17:11
  • Do Peter and the rest of the apostles fear James? I don't think so. Although, I won't mind to have a link to that your question
    – jaquar pow
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 8:39
  • Do Peter and the rest of the apostles fear James? I don't think so. Although, I won't mind to have a link to that your question
    – jaquar pow
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 8:41
  • Sure; here you go: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/32684/…
    – Ruminator
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 11:03
  • The Bible does not say that David fear Joab.
    – user35953
    Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 1:34

5 Answers 5


David commanded Joab to place Uriah at the front of the battle lines of Israel in order to have him die in the battle so as to hide David's sin with Uriah's wife, after he had tried to trick him into having relations with Bathsheba so others would think the child conceived from the illicit union was Uriah's, thus hiding his own sin. David feared Joab might reveal his adultery if David treated him to harshly.

  • 1
    But David was afraid of Joab even before his relations with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 3:39)
    – b a
    Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 11:34
  • 1
    The fear is already there before the Bathsheba incident.
    – jaquar pow
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 8:37

2 Samuel 3:39 New International Version

And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!"

It was a moment of feeling weakness, David lamented his current situation of being weak. There is no mention of fear. In fact, just a bit earlier, David ordered Joab:

31 Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.”

Joab killed Abner and David ordered Joab to mourn for Abner.

Then David started his mourning/lamentation:

33 The king sang this lament for Abner:
“Should Abner have died as the lawless die? ...
38Then the king said to his men, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? 39 And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!”

Verse 39 should be read as part of the lamentation/catharsis process and not as David's showing fear before Joab.


David does not fear the sons of Zeruiah. The word used is קָשֶׁה ("qasheh") which implies difficulty or harshness; David is saying they are too fierce, and that he is neither complicit in nor condoning of their violent acts.

Recall that in 2 Samuel 3 David is dealing with a tense political development. Abner, who installed Ish-Bosheth as King of Israel (2 Sam 2:8-9), had been killed by Joab after David made a covenant with him for Israel's throne (2 Sam 3:12-30). The public reception of David, who seemed to have allowed his subordinate to kill a political opponent after assuring him of peace, is consequently at that moment placed in a fragile position.

David decides to demonstrate to the people in Hebron that he did not order or approve the death of Abner; David specifically uses the occasion of Abner's mourning to declare that not only has "a great prince fallen" but that the LORD will repay the evil done to Abner:

38 Then the king said to his servants, “Do you not realize that a great prince has fallen today in Israel? 39 And I am weak this day [through fasting: see 2 Sam 3:35], though anointed as king, and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too fierce for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil!”

(2 Sam 3:38-39, BSB)

The passage you quoted is rhetorical, meant to emphasize the responsibility of Joab and secure David's moral legitimacy. David upholds and honors his covenants.

Furthermore, all of the sons of Zeruiah are David's nephews:

Jesse was the father of Eliab his firstborn; the second son was Abinadab, the third Shimea, the fourth Nethanel, the fifth Raddai, the sixth Ozem and the seventh David. Their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah’s three sons were Abishai, Joab and Asahel.

(1 Chron 2:13-16, NIV)

David does not immediately kill Joab for his transgressions not simply because he is a mighty man but because he is family.

However, at the end of his life, David instructs Solomon thusly:

5 “Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. 6 Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.

(1 Kings 2:5-6, NIV)

Note that this is a completion of the foreshadowing in David's lamentation: Joab was repaid.

  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 19:01

Did David fear Joab? No he didn't. He just did not have the right to kill Joab, even though he was king, he could not abuse his power. Before he was king, he had two opportunities to kill Saul and seized his throne but he didn't do it, for he fear God. God said;

Deuteronomy 32:35

"It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”

When we read David life carefully, we should see he was a great warrior to fight the gentile but often escaped when his own people were against him, such as Saul, and the worse, his son Absalom. David never wanted to have war amongst their own tribes.

Joab was his army commander and did nothing wrong to David, David didn't had a reason to punish him. But when David died, Joab sided with Adonijah to seize the throne, that gave Solomon the reason to have him killed. Would it be possible God intervened and cause Joab sided with the wrong person?

2 Samuel 14 brought an interesting story, that Joab knew David heart longed for Absalom, and developed a plan to please his king. The story told Joab was a person pay attention to his king (certainly for his own good). Why did he make a bad choice and eventually led to his death? This had something to think about.


"Severe" is a better translation

The key to understanding the threat to David from Joab lay less in Joab's strength than his tendency to use violence without authorization. The Hebrew adjective translated here as "strong" is קָשֶׁה (qāšê). According to Strong's its usual meaning is "hard" or "severe." This makes better sense in this context. Other translations include:

  • KJ21 the sons of Zeruiah, are too hard for me.

  • NRSVA the sons of Zeruiah, are too violent for me.

  • ESV the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I.

  • GW These men, Zeruiah’s sons, are too cruel for me.

Joab was David's nephew and a capable commander so it was important for David to trust him. But Joab was not, in fact, trustworthy. The incident here is Joab's unauthorized killing of Abner, who would have been a key ally for David in his mission to unite the northern and southern tribes. As mentioned in the OP, this would not be the only time Joab took matters into his own hands with violence. In the end Joab even backed the treason of Adonijah to take the throne while David still lived. See this summary of Joab's history for a sense of this fatal flaw in Joab's otherwise noble character.

Conclusion: David feared Joab because of Joab's tendency to use violence outside of the chain of David's command. The translation of ה (qāšê) should be "severe" or "violent" rather than "strong".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.