Imagine a situation where a dedicated high-ranking military officer is loyal to his commander in chief, but disobeys his orders, or he obeys orders, but is nevertheless disloyal. It may be hard to imagine, but it can happen – and such was the career of King David’s leading general, Joab (2 Samuel 8:16, 20:23; 1 Chronicles 11:6, 18:15, 27:34).
Joab served David well, following every order much of the time and showing loyalty to David much of the time – as when his son Absalom rebelled (2 Samuel 18:1-33). But Joab also repeatedly disobeyed David in killing his rivals, Abner (2 Samuel 2:13-32, 3:27) and Amasa (2 Samuel 20:8-13, 1 Kings 2:5), and was also disloyal in following David’s rebellious younger son Adonijah (1 Kings 1:1-27).
The strange truth is that Joab was both loyal and obedient, just not always at the same time. I call this the “Joab Factor,” but it doesn’t just apply to that ancient soldier – it can apply to all of us. We too can be loyal but not obedient or the other way around. For example, at the most basic level, we can be loyal in faithfully going to church, but not obedient in keeping God's commandments. Or on the other hand we can be outwardly keeping His commandments, but not really being loyal in putting God first in our lives. There are many more subtle ways in which we can exhibit the Joab Factor, but we must look to our own lives to determine where that might be.
The main thing is to understand that it really is possible to be loyal but not obedient, or obedient and not loyal – and to keep in mind what God shows us: that from His perspective, if we are only one or the other – loyal or obedient – like Joab, we really aren’t either.
We may not think about it this way, but God exhibits both these traits toward us if we exhibit them both toward Him. He not only commands us to be lovingly loyal to Him and to faithfully keep His covenant, but He also honors these principles Himself: “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His loving kindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9). Those Old Testament words seem to foreshadow the final instructions of the resurrected Christ to his disciples: “ ... obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
God loves us and keeps His covenant with us, and we are to love Him and keep our covenant with Him. If Joab had followed that same principle in his service to David, he would have been not only a skilled general, but also a perfect servant.