Spring carries with it certain connotations. I won’t go into details; however, a quick survey of 2 Samuel 11 and 12 should clarify what I’m getting at. During Old Testament times, spring was also the time when kings went to war (2 Sam. 11:1). Why? Because between late March and September it never rains in Israel. Never. My Nebraska-worthy farmer’s tan is proof of this meteorological reality.
While rain is a blessing for ripening crops, it made ancient war impossible. Following God’s fire-dropping rebuke of Baal in 1 Kings 18, Elijah announces to a humbled Ahab, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea…Prepare your chariot and go down [from Mount Carmel] lest the rain stop you.” (v. 44-45). Rain made chariot warfare dangerous and threatened to wipe out entire platoons of soldiers who dared winter excursions along wadi bottoms. Thus, war happened after the rains had ceased, but before temperatures rose into the triple digits. Thus,
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1).
Most of us know the rest of the story.
From his palace perch, David spots Bathsheba bathing on her roof…
Eventually word is sent to David’s commander, Joab, who (in light of David’s mysterious absence) is leading the siege at Rabbah, “Set Uriah [Bathsheba's husband] in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die” (2 Sam. 11:15).
David’s grave series of sins take center stage during the next chapter and a half of the biblical narrative. But the battle in Rammah (modern day Amman, Jordan) wages on.
Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and took the royal city. And Joab sent messengers to David and said, ‘I have fought against Rabbah; moreover, I have taken the city of waters. Now then, gather the rest of the people together and encamp against the city and take it, lest I take the city and it be called by my name. (2 Sam. 12:26-28).
David’s lack of character is juxtaposed by Joab’s humility. Fighting on the far edges of the Israelite kingdom, enduring oppressive heat and near starvation (in an ancient siege situation, the besiegers were almost always at a disadvantage), Joab likely loathed the king’s absence. When victory could finally be tasted and Rabbah was on the verge annihilation, Joab could have easily stirred his beleaguered troops into a fury of restistance against the king who, instead joining them in battle, chose to spend his spring in the comfort of his posh palace messing around with another man’s wife.
Instead Joab warns David, “Now then gather the rest of the people together and encamp against eh city and take it, lest I take the city and it be called by my name.” (2 Sam. 11:28).
There’s a mayor who orders a massive building project to begin. Workers are contracted, sweat is poured like concrete to fill foundations, a structure’s skeleton is framed, and months skip by. When the building is on the verge of completion the foreman calls the mayor, “Sir, your project is completed. Everything is ready. All you need to do is cut the scarlet ribbon that blocks the public from the building’s entrance.”
Does the mayor deserve the glory? His florescent white smite ought to be pasted over media publications by a carpenter’s cracked hands.
Joab gave David the opportunity to claim what wasn’t his. His summer was already stained by similar situations (the first of which costing a righteous man [Uriah] his life).
Our lives often echo Joab’s. We strain and toil for things that ought to cause heads to turn and hands to clap in our direction. When others receive the glory and we are left with little more than a byline, a crossroads greets us. Here, John’s commentary on the glory-obsessed relgious authorities of Jesus’ time is meant to pierce our hearts,
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God (John 12:42-43).
The question is not whether we want our lives to be great. A longing for greatness is woven in to the fabric of every soul. We mistake the nature of the weaver, are deaf to the ancient echos of his loom. The final assessment of our lives will come not from the multitudes, but from the Maker. Wrapped ’round by sin, David failed to grasp this truth, saddled his donkey and set out to claim the glory he didn’t deserve. Joab perhaps smiled on the inside, knowing that in the end all that really matters is whether the fleeting moments of our lives and the clumsy toiling of our hands are approved God.