Benjamin Craig Rochester

May 13 2010


There are many wonderful formal and dynamic equivalents to this text. There is no need to duplicate the work done by such scholars. However, part of the stated task of many translations is to leave ambiguity for the sake of interpretation. This is not that goal of this paper. The goal here is to be as interpretative as possible. Therefore, the following translation will make exegetical decisions on word and syntax usage meaning. The words which are translated as part of the text itself will be in normal text, implied meanings (such as antecedents and postcedents, etc) will be placed in italics, and implied theological ideas will be placed in [brackets].  

2 Samuel 3:20-39 Translation:

20-21 Abner Visits David

20 And Abner came to David at Hebron with twenty men in order to make him king,[1] and David made a feast for Abner and the twenty men who were with him.[2] 21 And Abner said to David let me arise, go, and gather all Israel to my Lord the King, David[3] in order that they may cut a covenant with you, that you may rule all your soul desires [according to the promise referred to in verse 18]. And David sent Abner away, and he left peacefully.

22-25 Joab Chides David

22 And behold, David’s servants and Joab came from a raid and they caused to bring in much spoil. But, Abner was not with David at Hebron for he sent him away and he went peacefully. 23 So Joab and all the host who were with him entered and made it known to Joab saying,[4] “Abner, Son of Ner, came to the king but he has made him go, and he went in peace.” 24 So Joab came to the king and said, “What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you. Why is it the case that you let him get away?[5] You understand Abner, Son of Ner, came in order to deceive you, to know your going out, and coming in, and all that you do.”  

26-27 Joab Murders Abner

26 So Joab left from the being with David, and he sent messengers after Abner and they caused him to return to him from the Cistern of Sirah, but David did not know. 27 And Abner returned to Hebron and Joab diverted him into the midst of the gate to speak with him in private. And he struck him in the belly there so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel, his brother.

28-29 David Mourns for Abner

David heard after these thus had happened. He said, “I and my kingdom are innocent  before The Lord until eternity from the blood of Abner, the Son of Ner. May guilt fall[6] upon the head of Joab, and to all his father’s house. And in Joab’s house may[7] there never cease to be one who has a discharge, or leper, or holder of a spindle, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks food.”

30 The Reason, Vengeance

So Joab and Abishai, his brother, murdered Abner because he killed Asahel, their brother, at Gibeon

31-32 David and the People Weep

31 So David said to Joab and all the people who were with him [with David], “Rend your clothes and put on sackcloth and weep for Abner.” And the King walked behind the bier. 32 And they buried Abner at Hebron. And the king lifted up his voice and wept over the grave of Abner, so all the people wept.

33-34 David Sings, the People Weep

33 And the King composed a lament for Abner, and he said, “As a foolish man [possibly criminal as per the following context] dies, should Abner die? 34 Your hands were not bound, and your feet were not bound with chains. Rather, as one falls before the wicked, so you have fallen.” And all the people added to their weeping  over him.

35-37 David Fasts, the People Approve

35 Then all the people came to David to feed him bread during that day, but David swore an oath, saying, “Thus God shall do to me, and thus he shall add too it, if I taste bread, or anything else, before the sun goes down.” 36 And all the people understood and approved of it, in the way all that the king did was good in the sight of all the people. 37 And so all the people, and all Israel, understood that day. For the command to slay Abner son of Ner, was not from the king.

38-39 David Imprecates Zeruiah’s Sons

So the King said to his servants, “Do you not know that a ruler and a great one has fallen in Israel this day? I am today weak and today anointed king, so these men, the sons of Zuriah, are harder than me.[8]” May the Lord repay the evil one in proportion to his evil.

But I Tell You, Love Your Enemies

From where did Jesus’ words “love you enemy and pray for those who persecute you” come (Matt 5:44)? Historically, the notion of loving ones enemy was not taught until the Sermon on the Mount was preached (Matt 5-7).[9] However, to say that love for enemies was never taught prior to Jesus because it never verbatim appeared confuses the words “love you enemy” with the concept itself which was implicit in, and practiced during the Old Covenant. This paper will provide three pieces of evidence for this thesis.

  • David’s Consistent Character
  • David’s Typological Analogy to Jesus Christ
  • The Contrast between Joab and David

These three factors will be explored in detail in the body of the work. 2 Samuel 3:20-39 profoundly portrayed love for enemies in the acts of David in contrast to Joab. Therefore the concept was not foreign, thought the words were not expressed as such. First, however, the dilemma must be explained. Therefore this paper now turns to a historical view at the concept of love for enemies.

History of the Love for Enemies

It has been argued that Jesus was the first to ever command “love you enemy.” One author demonstrated from multitude of primary texts that the ancient near east dictum was rather “love your neighbor, hate your enemy.”[10] This was to do harm to those who were deemed enemies for the sake of helping those close to his self, the neighbor. He demonstrated from Greek and Hebrew sources especially that the concept was to hate one’s enemy, to the effect of helping one’s neighbor.[11] The Greek ethic was a means to an end kind of ethic which would defraud one’s neighbor in order to help one’s friend. He argued that this same ethic was at play in the Old Testament (2 Chron 19:2, 2 Sam 19:6).

The Second Temple tradition preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls includes this sort of “love for neighbor hate for enemy” tradition even in Judaism. Morton H Smith levied this evidence from one passage, “…And to love all the children of light, each man according to his lot, in the counsel of God,, and to hate all the children of darkness, each man according to his guilt, in the vengeance of God.” He concluded from the Dead Sea Scroll corpus that the view taught by that group was in line with the pagan world around concerning love for neighbor and hate for enemy. Thus he concludes that, “[he] will ever hate the unjust and ever fight the battle of the just.”[12]  Therefore, it seems that the teaching of Second Temple Judaism was familiar with the terms, as they were proliferate throughout the ancient world, but did not teach the concept which Matthew recorded of Christ.

That there was no “love your enemy” command present, from the standpoint of the pagan nations, and the Second Temple tradition, is the case. The thesis does not hold true with regards to the Old Testament. The Dictum was popular with the some part the audience in Jesus’ day (Matt 5:43), but it was not the teaching of the Old Testament.[13] This view assumed that because the formula was not used, therefore the concept “love your enemy” was foreign to the Old Testament. Though Leviticus 19:18 says “Love your neighbor as yourself” it does not imply love for one’s enemy. Therefore the dictum remain even for the saints of the Old Testament, as Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’” (Matt 5:43).

Hate of enemies is never endorsed in the Old Testament in actual acts of the private person. The state must hate because it performs God’s just judgment (Gen 9:6, Exo 20:13, Lev 24:21). War is hate, but it still must be just (Gen 15:16, Deut 20). However all true judgment is left out of the hands of the individual sphere. There is no legal way to take vengeance this side of glory (Duet 32:35, Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30). Therefore, individual does not have the jurisdiction to take vengeance. The state has the right to work out some judgment (Rom 13), but this does not satisfy the infinite guilt one has before the infinitely holy Father.

 John Frame, helpfully argued that the dual nature of love for enemies and imprecatory prayer revolve around the larger issue, “‘vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord.” The justice of God will be meted out in the final judgment. He supports this by pointing out that God is glorified by destroying the wicked, and the being merciful to the elect by postponing judgment until the full number of the elect come into the kingdom. Jesus had this principle in mind when rebuking His disciples over taking vengeance by calling down fire (Luke 9:54), yet had earlier promised that these same cities would be judged by God at the last day (Matt 11:20-24). So, he concluded that the principle is to not seek personal vengeance but to seek for God’s justice at the final day.[14] Therefore, vengeance is God’s ultimately, vengeance is the state’s provisionally, and vengeance is the individuals never.

Though the words “love your enemy” were not expressed in such a way until Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the concept was taught in the life of David and the Psalms. This paper sets out to prove that love for one’s enemy was at least understood as a subsidiary notion to the primary command in Leviticus 19:18. It is clear from the acts of David, the typical analogy which one must draw from David to Christ, and the contrast between the acts of Joab and David in this passage that the concept of love for enemy was an intended message of 2 Samuel 3.

It is clear that in fact Joab and David, as characters in the story, personify these two competing points of view from the ancient near east. Joab personified the love/hate ethic of the ancient pagan world. David personified love for enemies view of the Mosaic code and the New Testament revelation of Christ’s words and works. In fact, because David, both here and through his life, personified this as anointed king, he typologically points forward to the legal justification of the people of God by the death of Jesus, who was the ultimate reality of the love for enemies (I Jon 4:9-10).

David’s Consistent Character

Though the words were not expressed in such a formulaic way until Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the concept was taught in the life of David and the Psalms. Though he is not a scholarly source, Alan Redpath showed the consistent character of David, as one who loved his enemies.[15] His commentary on the issue centers around David’s mercy on Saul in 1 Samuel 24:1-22. Redpath said,

“…See the principle which David has learned. Though Saul was rejected by the Lord, yet the man was still the Lord’s anointed. Others insisted you have to love your friends and hate your enemies, but somehow David had learned what the Lord Jesus came to teach us, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.’ (Matthew 5:44).”[16]  

He concludes, from the several consistent accounts, that David loved his enemies.

His analysis of this merciful ethic in David used several accounts from the life of David. This section will therefore be relatively diachronic, rather than synchronic, but will be limited to David’s life beyond the episode in 2 Samuel 3 which is at issue. This will set the context for David’s act, and Joab’s rebuke. This objective is that the context of David’s consistent character will demonstrate claim that the ethic of love for enemies is undergirded and illumined by its context. Though the words are not uttered, the concept “love your enemies” is indeed taught in the narrative.

The first episode that showed this moral in motion was 1 Samuel 24. Here Saul sought to kill David, and David spared Saul’s life in the cave (1 Sam 24), and then the camp (1 Sam 26). He also cited the coupe of Absalom in 2 Samuel 16. The most important statement in this series is David’s response to Saul, “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Sam 24:12). This is David’s rationale. Because God would avenge this personal vendetta, David did not have to. This must be distinguished from the regal duties that a soldier would have. Righteous killing is necessary for the state and war (see above). David was therefore dealing on a personal level with Saul.

David was a man of letters. Not only did he write many of the Psalms, but he also quoted to Saul an ancient proverb, “As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Sam 24:13). The meaning of this is that the source determines the fruit or result of the person’s character. This is David pleading his case before Saul by implying that his act demonstrates peace between him and Saul. This notion is also present in Psalm 1, and the sermon on the Mount (Matt 716-18, 12:33-34, 15:19). These are not conclusive of the connection between the Sermon on the Mount and the ethical teaching in these narratives, but it does demonstrate the possibility of the connection.  

To this list we add the event with Abigail’s assuaging David’s anger as further evidence to the thesis. In 1 Samuel 25:32-33 David was tempted to kill Nabal, Abigail’s husband, because he had mistreated David. Abigail calmed the king, to which he responded, “and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand” (1 Sam 25:33). His shows again, that David wanted to avoid vengeance for himself. There may be a notion that the individual and corporate duties of the king were at play here. He made it clear that he would not be avenging Israel, but a personal vendetta when he said, “avenging myself.”   

Notice also the way David responded to his enemies in the Psalms. Peter, writing about Christ, may have synthesized David’s ethic best, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). This is clear especially from Psalm 3, during which David was being pursued by Absalom. He trusted himself “to Him who judges justly.” Psalm 3:7 says, “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.” David first deferred to the Lord as the one who would save, he entrusted himself to him. The reason is that he understood that God would “Arise and save.” The imprecatory Psalms are full of this dynamic, trust in God as ultimate judge and deferment of revenge in exchange for God’s ultimate justice (Psa 5, 10-11, 6:10, 7:8, 18:47, 52:5, 54:4, 57:1-2, 59:5).

David’s life recorded in narrative, and his Psalms, demonstrate that the ethic of mercy and love for neighbor flow from his knowledge of the gracious love with which his Covenant Lord loved him. Psalm 59:16 says, “But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your loving-kindness in the morning, For You have been my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress.” The notion is that because God first loved him, therefore he could defer judgment, and because God would judge he could pray for the ultimate judge to bring calamity upon his enemies. David’s ethic did not drop out of thin air, but most assuredly came from his understanding of the Covenantal grace which the Lord had shown to him.

This context sets the tone for David’s response to Abner’s death. David, true to form, did not take vengeance, but deferred and prayed to God. He deferred judgment to God in 2 Samuel 3:28-29. He then commented in verse 34 that Abner was not a criminal (he was not shackled, which would be per synecdoche of criminal being executed), but rather was killed out of vendetta for Joab’s brother (see below).  This fits the consistent character of David in the Psalms and the narratives of the early monarchy. David practiced the “love you enemy” ethic consistently.

Typology of the Christ in the Life of David

The type/antitype relationship refers to the analogous signification between an Old Testament institution, event, or office, which shows foreshadowed Christ and His Church in union with Him.[17] David is the King who signifies the coming Christ as a ruler of His people as a typological office. This is made especially clear from 2 Samuel 7 where God made a Covenant with David. The events in his life also shed typological light on the coming Messiah. 2 Samuel 3 demonstrated clearly the principle of mercy upon one’s neighbor. This analogy corresponds to the reason that God would take on flesh, and die for the sake of those who were his enemies (Phil 2:7-9, I Jon 4:9-10).

Some of the components of David’s life are not typological, but create a tension between him and the coming Christ. For example, David had multiple wives (2 Sam 3:2-5), whom he attempted to honor (2 Sam 3:13), but did not understand the notion of monogamy as norm versus polygamy as a concession to avoid mass divorces due to the apparent prevalence in the first generation out of Egypt (Matt 19:1-5). Other events in the life of David could be cited (2 Sam 11, 24, I Chro 21) but it is sufficient here to remark about the distinction between the sign and thing signified. David and Jesus are analogous to one another, but that analogy breaks down, at times, when David’s sin and finitude come through.

It may be that Abner was accusing the tribe of Judah of some lustful practice in verse 8. Ish-Bosheth accused Abner of committing adultery with one of Saul’s concubines (2 Sam 3:7). Ish-Bosheth’s words should be taken as an accusation because this is how Abner understood it (2 Sam 3:8). Then he retorted to Ish-Bosheth that he was being treated like a “dog’s head” (3:8). The exact meaning of this is difficult to determine. It may mean a severed head of a dog, which would denote uselessness (1 Sam 24:14). It could mean that Abner was treated as the head of a wolf pack, which would be degrading to his affiliation to Judah, though he was of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam 14:50). There may be a play on the word dog as a euphemism for male prostitute (Deut 23:18). It is certain that the meaning implies that he is a lustful animal who has no control over his desires. Abner regarded this characteristic as somehow belonging to the tribe of Judah, לִיהוּדָה עֲשֶׁר. This may be either that he belongs to Judah, or that the characteristic belongs to Judah. The latter seems to fit the context, as verses 2-5 above gave the indiscriminate wife taking that David practiced, contrast to verse 8 and the defense of Abner’s chastity over “making himself strong” (2 Sam 3:6). Though Ish-Bosheth’s charge was founded, because the way to the throne would be by taking the king’s wives (2 Sam 16:21, 1 Ki 21:21), the characteristic which Abner gave to Judah was as an animal for the same actions.

Nevertheless, the correspondence between David and Christ in his office and many of his acts demonstrate that he signifies the coming Christ. This supports the main thesis because the author gives positive assessment of David’s intent of mercy upon Abner (2 Sam 3:36). The things the king did pleased the people as he was a just ruler, but this is helpful to the typology because David had the jurisdiction to justly condemn Joab. This strange moment of mercy fits with the mercy that the ultimate Davidic King, Jesus, would have upon the people of God. In some sense this looks like an abdication of the kingly duty to justly kill Joab for the murder of Abner. However, latter in life David did send his son Solomon on the mission to punish Joab (1Kin 2:5). So Justice would be served, yet it would be delayed.

A second piece of evidence demonstrates David’s mercy on Joab. David did not seek to take revenge for Abner against Joab but rather took it to the Lord in prayer. David deferred jurisdiction to God as the ultimate judge of Joab for this crime of revenge (2 Sam 3:28-29). The prayer consisted of imprecations upon Joab, but the imprecations called for God’s justice. The difference between calling for justice and enacting that justice in revenge is that God’s justice is more severe in David’s mind (Psa 7:11, 82:8). Jesus too deferred judgment upon his enemies while on the cross (1 Jon 4:9-10, Phil 2:7-9).

The typological relation between David and Jesus is demonstrated in the moral character to not take revenge, but to defer to God’s ultimate justice. Particularly in 2 Sam 3, David deferred punishment to the ultimate judge. This same ethic is true of Jesus who did not take revenge in the phase of humiliation, but will ultimately be vindicated at the final day. First, David responded to Joab’s murder by calling a curse to fall upon Joab and his family (2 Sam 3:28-29). Second, David called for the perfect standard of justice to repay the evil with evil (3:39).  The “love for enemies” social ethic is the standard operating procedure for the individual this side of judgment day. It is not a particularly New Testament ethic, but clearly existed in the drama of the Old Testament narrative of David’s life. The author of Samuel showed that David was an example to the people, and continued to teach that example to Israel by inscripturating the events which portrayed this ethic.

The difficulty with this is that mercy, “love enemies,” and justice, “repay evil for evil,” contradict each other on a surface level. The wisdom that David personifies here is that he deferred the judgment to the Covenant Lord who would ultimately judge Joab’s evil with appropriate “evil” (3:39). It was not that David was unjust, but rather that He counted on justice to be served one day. David’s concern was in the context of the consolidation of power. He remarked about how “I am today weak and today anointed king, so these men, the sons of Zuriah, are harder than me” (2 Sam 3:39). This can be rendered that the sons of Zuriah are “too difficult” for David, but it seems better to take it as a comparison which David is making to demonstrate the case to his confidants, that he is a newly anointed king who lacks the power to punish men like Joab. So, David called himself rac (weak) in comparison. David needed to consolidate his power before he could punish men like this, which is what Solomon would accomplish (1Kin 2:5).

In all of this the tension is built up for another to rise who will right the wrongs, but David had to wait. This was Solomon, but the tension was similar to that which Christ, in the wisdom of God, in the fullness of time would relieve. The justice and mercy of God are in play in this narrative, as they are in the work of Christ. Justice is deferred until a latter time here, as it was when Adam and eve first sinned waiting for the death of Christ for the sake of his people. Therefore, it is not that David is being unjust in lieu of being merciful, but simply wise, as God was wise, to wait for punishment, because it could have unraveled his kingdom by the hand of Joab. Justice and mercy are both ethics which Christians should have, but the clear implication of this text is that vengeance to satisfy a grudge is neither just nor merciful.   

The Contrast between David and Joab

Joab and David, as characters in the story, personify two competing points of view from the ancient near east. Joab personified the love/hate ethic of the ancient pagan world. David personified love for enemies view of the Mosaic code and the New Testament revelation of Christ’s words and works. Joab is David’s foil to show how love for enemies acts as the opposite of revenge.

Joab killed Abner to settle a vendetta for his brother Asahel’s murder. Asahel was killed in battle, and in self defense by Abner.  2 Samuel 2:18-30 introduce the sons of Zeruiah, Joab, Asahel, and Abishai, and then tells how Abner killed Asahel. Abner and the sons of Zeruiah knew each other (2 Sam 2:20). This is a sort of “brother fighting against brother” issue.  Joab first off did not have a just cause to kill Abner as a murderer because the death of Asahel was on the battleground. Second, he did it out of deception. Joab lured Abner to return but without consulting David (2 Sam 3:26). Third, Joab took revenge for his brother’s death, not only for revenge, but to harm his enemy to help his neighbor David. In verses 23-25 Joab scolded David because he considered this an act of espionage rather than genuine peace. Joab chided David for the lost opportunity to kill Abner, which is related by the repetition of the manner by which Abner left. Joab did not simply say, “what have you done?” but adds, “Why have you sent him away peacefully.” (v 24). Hs point is that he expected David to kill Abner for the greater good of his neighbor. Thus is seems that his murder of Abner intended to take revenge by hating his enemy, but the result was that it would be love for neighbor, David.

This kind of ethic could justify all sorts of bad behavior. If the greater good can be reached by any means, then, in line with Joab, it should be done. Joab’s character brings to life this worldly ethic of depriving one’s enemy for the sake of helping one’s neighbor. The insidious nature of this ethic shows forth when the author of Samuel shows the rationale was not truly the good of his neighbor but was the satisfaction of his pride. 2 Samuel 3:30 says, “So Joab and Abishai, his brother, murdered Abner because he killed Asahel, their brother, at Gibeon.” The reason was not so forth right as he made it known to David. He told David that he feared espionage (v 25), but the alterior motive was to take vengeance for the death of Asahel in battle.

David figured this out and displayed these culprits in his Lament. He lamented,

“As a foolish man [possibly criminal as per the following context] dies, should Abner die? Your hands were not bound, and your feet were not bound with chains. Rather, as one falls before the wicked, so you have fallen.” (2Sam 3:33-34).  

The first question rhetorically implies that he died as a ungodly fool would die for a crime, yet he was not bound nor fettered as a criminal would be. So this lament pleads the innocence of Abner and subsequently David’s disapproval of the death. The people perceive not only that it was not his command to kill Abner, but also that Joab acted as “a wicked one” before whom Abner  “fell” (v 34). This is clear from the intensification of their weeping in verse 34 after hearing this. This shows the insidious nature of the ethic that justifies the means by the end achieved. The real end is often, if not always, self satisfaction instead of justice.   

This is especially clear from another murder which Joab committed, when he killed the insurrectionistic Absalom. In 2 Samuel 14:30 Joab’s field was set on fire by Absalom’s men because he would not come to speak with him. This is not the sort of thing that would constitute murder, but rather restitution, nevertheless, Joab seemed to take revenge again. However, simple revenge is to see only one dimension of Joab. In the case of Absalom too, Joab took revenge, but did so for the sake of the kingdom. He did so for his neighbor, not for his enemy. Absalom’s hair was caught in a tree while he rode his horse in battle (2 Sam 18:10). Joab had been sworn to protect Absalom (2 Sam 18:12), but, nevertheless, he took the matter into his own hands and assassinated Absalom (2 Sam 18:14-15). Joab’s act here seems, at first glance, to be an act of defiance to settle his lust for revenge. However, there was a deeper intention to do good for his neighbor David, and the kingdom by way of assassinating Absalom. In 2 Samuel 19:1-3 David’s grief for Absalom put his kingship in jeopardy. Therefore Joab rebuked David with these words,

“Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, ‘Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines. By loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you, you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.  ‘Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the LORD, if you do not go out, surely not a man will pass the night with you, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.’” (2 Sam 19:5-6, NASU, emphasis added)

The point he makes is that the men under David’s charge would soon defect because David loved Absalom so much, even though he sought his life. The offense to Joab was that David had the dictum backwards, he should have loved his neighbor and hated his enemy. Better yet, he should have loved his neighbor by hating his enemy, as Joab taught by example. David did the opposite of what was commonly expected in the ancient near east.

Also, Joab’s rebuke implied to the troops that David cared more for their “enemy” then he did for them. In this context therefore we see the actual formulation of Jesus’ words “love those who hate you.” Joab, the foil for King David’s love for enemies, sees mutual exclusivity here. If David loved those who hate him, then He hated those who loved him.

This contrasts to the greater notion in David’s Psalms, that God almighty is merciful. David had a different outlook from Joab. This is clear from Psalm 3, which was occasioned when Absalom sought to take the kingdom. He sought God for mercy (Psa 3:3), and he sought God to judge the wicked (Psa 3:7). This gives illumination to the meaning of Jesus’ words “love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The prayer in Psalm 3:7 was for justice to come upon the wicked. This is a deferment of judgment from the hand of man to the judgment of God. Therefore, the contrast between Joab and David is that Joab sought to love his neighbor by hating his enemies, but David sought to love his enemies, while praying for vindication and judgment upon them from the almighty. The concept which Jesus spoke was on the ground of Biblical concepts, and clarified the incorrect view of the ancient near east rather than correcting or changing the Old Testament revelation of moral norms.

David is a stark contrast to Joab. The theme of authority runs through this passage. Ishosheth accused Abner of a power grab (2Sam 3:7), Abner went to make David king (vv 17-19), and used deferential language (v 21),[18] Joab was able to chide David in contrast to Abner’s deference (v 24), and David described his dilemma to some confidants during the epilogue (v 39). David’s assessment of his rule was that he was too weak because he was newly anointed to be able to stand up against and punish men like the son’s of Zeruiah (v 39). The dilemma is that Joab is an untouchable. Thus David instead pleads his case before the Lord. Twice in this passage there is a turn to the Lord for help from the enemies. This demonstrates the principle that David prayed for his enemies. The question is, what did he pray for them? David prays that they would be punished justly (vv 28-29, 39). This is not to say that justice in not in David’s purview, as king that is a requisite of the office, but the notion of justice clearly shines forth from David’s tongue. The justice is delayed by the fact that Joab, though corrupt, was to powerful to be punished for his murder.     

Joab, as a character who has this myopic view of justice only in this life, and only for the sake of his neighbor, even chided David for his mercy in contrast (24).[19] Nevertheless, the author, in demonstrating Joab as a foil makes it clear that David loved his enemy, as well as seeking for God to be the ultimate judge. At the same time David was not hating those who loved him, but teaching them mercy by example. Therefore, the thesis that the “love for enemies” did not exist in the Old Testament as part of the Old Testament ethic does not fit the message of the Joab and David’s relationship.


The claim that Jesus was the first to verbally articulate the “love your enemy” ethic, as far as the written evidence shows, is true. However, that it was first articulated by Christ does not mean that it was not understood and acted upon earlier. A better account of the evidence is that the Christ was correcting this tradition of the rabbis who had adopted the ancient near eastern social ethic. David was a clear example of this ethic in the Old Testament. Joab is a foil for this in his vengeful acts. Though Joab would have the enemy killed, David would rather have mercy. It is absurd to argue that because a formulaic statement was not made then the concept does not exist. The entire enterprise of dogmatics is to understand the teaching of scripture in a coherent way. The repetition of this kind of tension between loving one’s enemy, and hating one’s enemy points to the conclusion that the author was intending to teach this.


Arnold, Bill T; Choi, John H; A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, (2003)

Brown, Francis; Driver, S; Briggs, C. Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, (1996)

Frame, John “More of Imprecations”

Johnson, Dennis Him We Proclaim, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007

Kohler, Kaufman, “Brotherly Love” Ed. Cyrus Adler, Trans. Isidore Singer, The Jewish Encyclopedia New York, NY: Funk and Wagnalls, (1901) 397-398

New American Standard Bible, La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1994

Pothress, Vern, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses

Redpath, Alan, The Making of a Man of God, Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1962. 

Reiser, Marius, “Love of Enemies in the Context of Antiquity” New Testament Studies (2001), Vol. 47, pp. 411-427,

Smith, Morton H. Matt 5:43 ‘Hate Thy Enemy’The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Jan., 1952), pp. 71-73

Scott, William R. A Simplified Guide to the BHS: Critical Apparatus, Masora, Accents, Unusual Letters and Other Markings. Richland Hills, TX: D&F Scott Publishing (2007)

[1] Cf vv 17-19

[2] The Seder which separates verse 20 and 21 notes a change from background to dialogue. This is simply a traditional break. The narrative begins in verse 6 with the wayahi.

[3] Deferential language, which one would use to a superior.

[4] The variant adds the l prefix to Joab and the host, but this causes more problems that solves when one considers that they are not being told, but entering, and as they enter “they [the un-named informants] made known to Joab.”

[5] Infinitive Absolute cognate is intensification of the verb, hlk.

[6] The word for fall, ,חוּל , the variant reads, “may he fall,” possibly with reference to God falling upon the head of Joab, but this does not account for the following curse. The reading is more natural the way it stands, by making the curse itself the subject of the verb, thus the punishment is the thing falling upon the head of Joab.   

[7] This is a typical curse formula, cf Joshua 9:23

[8] This can be rendered, that the sons of Zuriah are “too difficult” for David, but it seems batter to take it as a comparison which David is making to demonstrate the case to his confidants, that he is a newly anointed king who lacks the power to punish men like Joab. So, David called himself rac, weak, in comparison. He was earlier chided by Joab, which contrasts to the deference Abner showed. So he told his concerns to these servants.

[9] Smith, Morton H. Matt 5:43 ‘Hate Thy Enemy’HTR, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Jan., 1952), pp. 71-73

[10] Reiser, Marius, “Love for Enemies in the Context of Antiquity,” NTS (2001), Vol. 47, pp. 411-427, Kohler, Kaufman, “Brotherly Love” Ed. Cyrus Adler, Trans. Isidore Singer, The Jewish Encyclopedia, (New York, NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1901) 397-398

[11] Reiser, 411-427

[12] Smith, Matt 5:43 ‘Hate Thy Enemy’ 71

[13] Pothress, Vern, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses He said, “All of the sections of the Sermon on the Mount deal in some way with abuses and misunderstandings of the law that had arisen in Jesus’ day. In particular, Jesus repeatedly stresses the significance of correct motives. His focus on the heart contrasts with the externality and legalism promoted by Pharisaic religion (see Matt. 15:1-20).”

[14] John Frame, “More of Imprecations”

[15] Redpath, Alan, The Making of a Man of God (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1962) 

[16] Ibid, 97

[17] This definition is adapted from Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007)

[18] His use of “My lord” to describe the one to whom he was talking is typical of court language, Genesis 18:3, 12, 24:18, 35, Gen 32:18, etc.

[19] Contrast this to Joab’s use of the second person singular pronoun, and the direct question, “What is this you have done?” This is language of a superior to an inferior, Genesis 3:13 “What is this that you have done?”