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This guy is the son of David's sister, Zeruiah, which makes him the king's nephew. He also happens to be the commander Israel's entire army. Um, nepotism anyone?
Not quite. According to 1 Chronicles, Joab earned his post when David led his army into Jerusalem to kick out the Jebusites:
David had said, "Whoever attacks the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander." And Joab son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief. (11:6)
The Chronicler mentions Joab several times when he's recounting all David's mighty deeds. Joab trusted in God during the battle against the Arameans and won (19:10-14). He also led the charge against the Ammonites and kicked some butt there, too (20:1).
But Joab's big moment to shine comes when David orders a census be taken in Israel:
Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, "Go, number Israel, from Beer-sheba to Dan, and bring me a report, so that I may know their number." But Joab said, "May the Lord increase the number of his people a hundredfold! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord's servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?" But the king's word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came back to Jerusalem. Joab gave the total count of the people to David. In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and in Judah four hundred seventy thousand who drew the sword. But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. (21:1-6)
Joab obviously knows something David doesn't know about God and censuses because he tries to stop the king. David, for the first time in the story, doesn't listen to one of his closest and most trusted advisors and the whole country gets punished for it. We're guessing that, when God was raining down those plagues, Joab had to bite his tongue to resist the urge say to David, "I told you so!"
Joab's a major player in other parts of the Bible, too. In the books of Samuel and Kings, Joab takes revenge for the death of his brother during battle, which makes the king really mad. He's also among the group of guys who kill David's son Absalom when he tries to usurp David's throne. Eventually he sides against David and refuses to recognize Solomon as king. According to those stories, it's David's dying wish for Solomon to have Joab killed.
But here, in Chronicles, Joab's portrayed as a loyal friend and trusted advisor (who's sometimes even wiser than the king himself). You get the feeling he and David had a lot of late-night talks and bonding sessions.