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A Job For Joab

Based on 2 Samuel 5:6-8; 1 Chronicles 11:4-6

Just how did David capture Jerusalem from the Jebusites and make it his capital city? The Bible says very little about what happened except that David offered to make whoever led the attack the commander of his armies and that a man called Joab went first. This story imagines what might have happened.

Copyright Gavin Owen 2008

David took off his helmet and sighed. It had not been a good day. He sat down with his back against a rock and closed his eyes. Ten years; it had been ten years since David had fought the giant Goliath – and beaten him! It had been the best ten years of his life ... and the worst. The best because God had promised to make David the next king of Israel; the worst because Saul, who was the king of Israel, had become so jealous of David that he tried to kill him. So David had spent those ten years on the run. Then at last, Saul and all his sons who might have been kings after him were killed in battle. Finally David was King of Israel and he thought all his problems were behind him, but he was wrong.

David had a crown, he had fine robes to wear, he had a sword, he had a mighty army and a people to rule over. But he had nowhere to rule from – no capital city, no palace, no throne. So David prayed and asked God to tell him where in the land of Israel he should make his head-quarters. “The city of Jerusalem” was God's answer. He was right; Jerusalem was the perfect place for David to live. The land of Israel was divided up between twelve tribes of people. Jerusalem was in the middle of the country, about the same distance from both the tribes in the north and the tribes in the south. And it lay on the border between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin – no-one would be able to accuse David of having a favourite tribe. But best of all Jerusalem was built on top of a steep hill which made it easy to defend and difficult to attack. But that turned out to be David's next problem.

You see, even though the city of Jerusalem was in the middle of the land of Israel, it didn't actually belong to the Israelites. It had been built hundreds of years ago by some people called the Jebusites who'd taken part of the land that God had promised to his people. Since then no-one had ever been able to capture the city. But if God said Jerusalem was the place to be then David was determined not to let anyone or anything get in his way.

So David gathered together his army and attacked the city head-on. It was a disaster. The Jebusites just shut the gates, barred the windows and threw down rocks from the top of the city walls, forcing David and his men to retreat before they were even half way up the hill.

“I need help,” David thought to himself, and so he began to pray. “Lord, I've tried getting into this city by myself and I just can't do it. I need you to show me the way.”

At once David heard a voice – “Your majesty!” He opened his eyes, it was Joab, one of his officers. “Yes Joab,” said David wearily, “what can I do for you?”

“Sir, I think I know how we can get into the city. It came to me just now. I think God's given me the answer.”

David sat up eagerly, “Let's hear it then.”

“Well sir,” Joab began, “Our scouts report that the only place round here to get water is from a pool that springs up inside a cave at the foot of the hill, and since we've arrived no-one's left Jerusalem to fetch water from the spring.”

“You're right,” David agreed, “and they can't have stored up enough to last this long.”

“Exactly,” said Joab, “So they must have a well inside the city.”

“What of it?”

“Sir, the city's built on solid rock. There's only one way water could get through to the well.”

“Of course,” David exclaimed, “there must be an underground stream running from the spring to the bottom of the well. But even so, someone would have to go through the water and then climb up the well to get into the city. If any man is brave enough to do that I'll make him commander of my whole army!”

“I am that man, your majesty!” said Joab with a salute, “Leave it to me!”

Joab set to work at once. He selected several squads of the king's finest troops and as the sun began to set he led them into the cave at the foot of the hill. The cave was filled with water, water that was flowing in the direction of Jerusalem. “Sorry lads,” Joab told the men, “but we're going to get our feet wet.”

It wasn't long before they realised they were going to get more than just their feet wet. As they waded down the stream the water got deeper and deeper and the roof of the cave came lower and lower. Soon the water reached their waists, then their chests, then their necks, until finally, ahead of them, they saw the roof of the cave dipping below the surface.

“What do we do now, sir?” asked one of the soldiers, “It looks like we can't go any further.”

“Nonsense”, said Joab, “we're not beaten yet. I'm going to see if I can swim through to the other end of the cave. Pass me some rope. I'll tie it round my waist and you feed it through behind me. If the rope goes slack you'll know I'm in trouble and you can pull me back. If I make it to the other end I'll pull on the rope three times to let you know it's safe to follow. Then the rest of you can pull yourselves along the rope under the water.”

Joab took off his amour and when he'd tied the rope around his waist he took a breath and plunged his head under the water. Even with his eyes open wide he couldn't see a thing – he was going to have to do this blind. He popped his head above the surface, took another, bigger breath and then dived back down. He reached out his hands and felt the rough surface of the cave. He began to pull himself along, grabbing hold of one rock after another. His knees bashed against the rough stone and he could feel blood running from the grazes. He still couldn't see anything and he knew he had to make a decision. He had enough air left inside him to make it back to the beginning if he turned round now and he had no idea how much further he would have to go to get to the end. Ignoring the danger, Joab carried on, dragging himself through the darkness. Then just ahead of him he saw it, a circle of light shining on the surface of the water. The end was in sight. Joab kicked out with both his legs to push himself towards the light ... but nothing happened. His foot was stuck. Joab tried to wrench himself free but he couldn't do it. He started to panic. He had no breath left and his lungs were beginning to burn with pain. Then he realised, he was still wearing his sandals. He bent over double in the water and clawed at the buckle with his fingertips, ripping it open. His foot slipped out and a moment later Joab burst through the surface of the water, bobbing like a cork.

He took in a huge breath and then clamped his hand over his mouth when he heard the sound echoing around him. He saw at once where he was. Immediately above him was a tunnel leading straight up through solid rock. He was at the bottom of the well, he was inside the walls of Jerusalem. Joab took hold of the rope that was still tied around him and tugged it three times. A moment later the rope went tight and Joab knew someone was pulling themselves along it. Within seconds a head popped up out of the water. Joab pressed his finger to his lips. The man looked around, realised where they were and nodded. Then he too tugged on the rope and one-by-one Joab's team pulled themselves through the water and surfaced at the bottom of the well. By now there was hardly any light shining down the tunnel above them, night had fallen. The well was narrow and Joab and his men had no difficulty finding places to grip with their hands and dig-in with their feet as they climbed up to the top. When they clambered out they found themselves in a courtyard in the middle of the city. There wasn't a guard in sight; they were all standing on the city walls, looking out for an attack.

As the sun rose in the morning, the Jebusites got out of their beds to find that Joab and his men had taken care of the guards and opened the gates to let in King David and the rest of his army. After all these years, Jerusalem had finally been captured.

David kept his word, he rewarded Joab for his bravery by making him commander of the whole army. Then he set about turning Jerusalem into his capital city. “At last,” he thought, “I can get on with being king. No more problems.”

If only he'd known how wrong he was!