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1 Chronicles 2:13-17 David’s four nephews

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, September 28, 2023

13 Jesse was the father of Eliab his firstborn, Abinadab second, Shimea third, 14 Nethanel fourth, Raddai fifth, 15 Ozem sixth, David seventh; 16 and their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. The three sons of Zeruiah: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel. 17 Abigail bore Amasa, and the father of Amasa was Jether the Ishmaelite.

Apart from the partial list in 1 Samuel 16, this is the only list of David’s brothers we have. According to that chapter, Jesse had eight sons, but perhaps one of them died young or died without children. There are some minor differences so far as we have things. In Samuel, the third son is Shammah, but here he is Shimea (there is an extra vowel letter here).

David’s sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. It might help readers to think of how we say the end of “Hallelujah” when pronouncing the three syllables of Ze-ru-iah. There was another Abigail who was David’s second wife; she should not be confused here with David’s sister. These two sisters are also said to be the daughters of Nahash rather than Jesse (2 Samuel 17:25), so it would seem that Jesse married their mother, the widow of Nahash, after these girls were born. Abigail’s husband Jether was an Ishmaelite. The Ishmaelites were associated with the nations (Edom and Moab) who lived on the east and south side of the Jordan and Dead Sea.

An examination of the sons of these two women takes us a long way to understanding the confusing sides in the armies of David and Saul.

Abishai (c.1028-c.970) became one of David’s mighty men or heroes; the band of soldiers who stayed with him through every danger and every kind of weather in his early days as a captain in Saul’s army. David had to restrain Abishai from killing Saul once when they found him sleeping (1 Samuel 26:9). Another time while they were fighting the Philistines, Abishai rescued David from a giant when David got tired, and Abishai killed the huge Philistine (2 Samuel 21:16). This was the incident that led David’s soldiers to urge him not to go into battle personally anymore. Perhaps we should remember this when we wonder why David was not with his army when he fell into adultery with Bathsheba—not to excuse the son of Jesse for his sin, but not to accuse him of sinfully being away from his army when they were at war. Abishai was known as the chief of David’s thirty mighty men (2 Samuel 23:18).

Joab (c. 1026-970) was without a doubt a valiant warrior and a charismatic leader, and perhaps someone might also call him “a mean, ornery cuss.” He was a leader of David’s men during David’s early reign in Hebron (2 Samuel 2:1-2). When Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth was rebelling against David as a rival king, Ish-Bosheth and his army commander Abner had a falling out over a woman (2 Samuel 3:7-10), and Abner abandoned Ish-Bosheth, threw in with David, and drew many men over to David’s side. But Joab murdered Abner then because Abner had killed Joab’s brother Asahel at Hebron (see below).

Joab was the leader of the commando raid that crawled through the water tunnels under the Jebusite city to open the city gate and capture Jerusalem for David (1 Chronicles 11:6) and Joab built up the city along with David (1 Chronicles 11:8).

Later, Joab was the commander who complied with David to make sure Uriah the Hittite was killed in battle after David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:16-17). Joab tried to smooth over David’s grief when the king’s son Absalom died in a rebellion, and Joab also protested when David ordered the disastrous census that led to the angel of God bringing death to Israel (2 Samuel 24).

Joab was loyal to David throughout the first three rebellions against the king (Ish-Bosheth, Absalom, and Sheba from Benjamin). However, he supported Adonijah when he rebelled against David his father, and for this, Solomon had Joab executed (1 Kings 2:28-29).

Asahel (c.1024-c.1004) was part of the two opposing groups that met together at Gibeon after the death of King Saul when Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s son, was trying to set himself up as king instead of David (2 Samuel 2). Asahel stood up for his uncle David. There were two parts of the skirmish that day that we know of. First, Joab and the commander of Ish-Bosheth’s soldiers, Abner, decided to have “a little contest” and have a dozen men from each side attack each other in what seems to have been a wrestling match with daggers. It was as bloody as you might imagine, but David’s men sort of won. The contest erupted into a battle, and Asahel, “as fleet footed as a wild gazelle,” chased Abner the losing general. They bantered words during the chase, but Abner finally thrust the blunt end of this spear into Asahel’s belly and killed him. The “twelve against twelve” contest ended with twenty of David’s men dead (including Asahel his nephew) and 360 men from the opposing side. Joab and Abishai buried their brother there in Bethlehem.

Amasa (c.1025-983) was also a warrior. He got caught up on Absalom’s side during Absalom’s rebellion, and was the commander of the army, but when David tried to make peace he recalled Amasa to his side and promoted him over Joab. Joab murdered his cousin Amasa at Gibeon during the dangerous third rebellion against David, the rebellion of Sheba from Benjamin (2 Samuel 20).

I know that this is too much to take in all at once. These genealogies in Chronicles are in no way boring or tedious when we know the stories behind some of these names. Such exploits of strength and courage! Such loyalty to the anointed king of Israel! Such strange devotion, with brute strength, blood, and naked blades—but devotion to God this was, bloody deeds in a bloody time.

Once, after a very hard day of fighting and losing to the Arameans and when Joab his nephew came just in the nick of time to help and save Israel from being thoroughly wiped out (Psalm 60, title), David sat in his tent in the evening in the firelight and composed these words: “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies” (Psalm 60:12). God worked through their lives and despite their many sins, and God works through our lives and our many sins as well. He brings us from failure to success, from defeat to victory, and from death to everlasting life. Praise God for everything he does. David’s greater Son is truly our great God and Lord.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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