Joab’s Plea to King Solomon after David’s Death
Now you and I both know what David said
about me when he died—he wished me dead.
Yet no servant ever was more loyal.
Not once did I let a man’s blood soil
your father’s royal hands. Through war and strife
from childhood side by side we stood. My life
was pledged to him to keep his kingdom whole.
I lied for him, I spied for him, I stole
for him, I killed for him; I made my name
to be despised forever. Now the same
is pledged to you his heir. So stay your hand
before you carry out his last command.
Relax! Your throne calls me not. I’m a man
of action, not words. David was a man
of action too once—I remember when
he slew the giant—none of the hard men
of Israel dared to do it, but he did.
My mother—his sister—and he, they slid
across the ground to see the foe close up,
spent a long time talking; then he sprang up
and loosed his famous slingshot. Even now
I see her smile at that blow. That was how
they always were together, she and he.
Always whispering and plotting, any
act of boldness undertaken clear-eyed.
He really went to pieces when she died—
never recovered. Lost that keen sharp sight
he had had. Left everything to me
until the time your mother came to us.
We’d never seen him making so much fuss
over anyone. After that he went
soft, lost his stomach for the fight. He spent
his time praying, writing speeches, talking
all Israel and Judah into walking
in the ways of the Lord. And they bowed to
the beauty of his music and vowed to
dance with him.
Only not everyone did.
A few – his own flesh and blood—made their bid
for his throne, thinking themselves too much loved
to be resisted. But the Lord’s iron-gloved
hand reached out in wrath, and each one perished.
David mourned these traitors he had cherished
to the point of madness. Blinded with grief,
he bemoaned their fate. This is how our chief
came to misjudge me. Yet that’s how it goes:
the Lord struck down each one of David’s foes.
Each one slain was a heavy deed: the weight
of brothers’ blood—killed gently, not from hate
but love of our king—tears cannot atone.
This dance of death I danced to save your throne.
Our clansmen speak of these events with dread.
But I say all the blood I spilled, was shed
so well, no more blood flowed. And safe and sound
our children and our women slept, all wound
up in their little lives.
Long may they live
as free from fear as they were then, and give
homage to you, great king Solomon, wise
as no man, lord of all beneath the skies.