Absalom set Amasa over the army in place of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man whose name was Ithra the Israelite, who went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab’s mother. (2 Samuel 17:25 NASB)
Have you ever listened to some guy’s story about somebody he knows, and after getting lost in the details realize he has no idea who this guy is either? The basic issue here is that Abigail’s and Zeruiah’s father wasn’t Nahash but Jesse (or was supposed to be). That made Joab David’s nephew, which may be the only reason David let him live.
I can just see Zeruiah, David’s older sister, making him promise to keep her ‘little babies’ safe as they go off to follow him in the wilderness. They are wildly successful as soldiers, and from various texts you get the impression they really enjoy killing people. Amasa may have gotten the job based on the assumption that he’s ‘cut from the same cloth’ as Joab. But this verse has two problems I want to look at, and Amasa’s pedigree is just one of them.
‘Replacing’ Someone Who Was Never There
First off, how, if Joab left with David, could Amasa lead the Army in his place? On the other hand, we hear from Abishai, Joab’s brother on the trek to the Jordan, but not Joab. It seems a strange wording to use, almost as strange as the sentence construction in Hebrew. This sentence has the unique construction of the direct object first, followed by the verb and subject. Usually it’s verb, subject, object, followed by various supporting phrases and clauses.
If it was done to emphasize Amasa (which is probable), then that raises the importance of the given lineage as well. But even emphasizing Amasa doesn’t adequately explain how he could ‘replace’ Joab in Absalom’s service. I have a few possible theories though. It could be that this is from the perspective of the people he led, the men of Israel. It could also or rather be from the perspective of the reader or author; Joab stood in that position at the beginning of this account, and now doesn’t.
I think it’s more likely from the perspective of the reader. I think the author is setting up the murder of Amasa by trying to provide adequate motive for Joab. And I think that motive is contained in both the ‘replacement’ and in Amasa’s lineage. Which brings me to my second problem in this verse.
The Problem of Pedigree
The problem with Amasa’s lineage is at least two-fold, if not more. First off, his father is an Israelite (which is a very uncommon term); but he could have been an Ishmaelite (see 1 Chronicles 2:17). This Ithra, wherever he’s from, ‘goes in to’ Abigail which is Hebrew idiom, but usually in reference to a ‘wife’ or ‘his woman’, which is missing here. So, was Amasa the result of an “Ishmaelite Raid” and not from the normal marital relations of the time? The phrasing leaves that possibility open.
The second issue I have with Amasa’s lineage is his grandfather. If Abigail is Zeruiah’s sister, and Zeruiah is David’s sister, shouldn’t Abigail’s father be Jesse, David’s father? Who is this ‘Nahash’? Well, there are several Nahash’s in Scripture, and they are mostly of the sons of Ammon.
The Easton Bible Dictionary says that Jesse’s wife was first the wife of Nahash, then of Jesse, and mother to his seven sons. That’s possible, but something that important would, I think be included somewhere, especially considering how important lineages are to the ‘Chronicler’. Such a reference is missing everywhere.
In almost every reference to Nahash he is the ‘king of the sons of Ammon’. For instance, it is the king of the Ammonites who attacks Jabesh Gilead in 1 Samuel 11, and his defeat solidifies Saul’s control over the tribes of Israel. Second, David want’s to show kindness to Nahash’s son, Hanun in 2 Samuel 10. Then you have two references in this chapter, one here in the lineage of Amasa, and once as the reference to Shobi. In relation to Shobi, Nahash is again referred to as the king of the sons of Ammon in Rammah. Perhaps the clue that they’re not the same guy is that Amasa’s grandfather is not said to be the king of the sons of Ammon.
I think or suspect that these problems are ‘literary’ and support the events that follow. This doesn’t, and isn’t supposed to make sense right now, but illuminates the meaning behind events in chapter 19. They’re here as ‘foreshadowing’ or simply to flesh out a character who’s only purpose in the story is to serve as character development for others (David versus Joab).
If that’s so, how does such a view help me better understand my relationship with my Master and His qualities? Well, in two ways. One, I see that my Master doesn’t always need to explain everything He does. He inspired this inclusion, and felt no need to explain it. He preserved it for thousands of years, and felt no need to explain its importance.
Second, I see that my Master relates to me regardless of my ability to demonstrate my ‘pedigree’. And this is how He relates to others as well. So, if He’s not all that concerned about pedigree, why should I be? If my Master accepts someone, then I should. If He loves them, then I should. If He has died for their salvation, then how can I hold anything back?
I suspect these lessons are also illuminated by David’s treatment of Amasa as well. But that’s a lesson for another day. What’s your view through the knothole?