“When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. And Joab’s garment that he had put on was girded unto him, and upon it a girdle with a sword fastened upon his loins in the sheath thereof; and as he went forth it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, Art thou in health, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him. But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab’s hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died. So Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab’s men stood by him, and said, He that favoureth Joab, and he that is for David, let him go after Joab. And Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a cloth upon him, when he saw that every one that came by him stood still. When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri” (2 Samuel 20:8-13).
Amasa’s inability to muster an army in time to fight the rebel’s proved to be costly for him. Joab, ever willing to take advantage of situations such as this, found a way to kill off his own rival before he dealt with David’s. This man was not afraid to commit cold-blooded murder, as we saw in the case of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:15-18).
It appears that the different sections of David’s army met at the huge stone in Gibeon before heading out to deal with Sheba’s revolt. Joab’s sword [dagger] was strapped to his thigh with a belt and hidden from sight by his long tunic. Maybe as he approached Amasa to greet him, the dagger slipped to the ground, giving Joab an easy way to kill him. Some commentators suggest that Joab had loosely bound the dagger so that he could pretend to drop it when Amasa arrived, but this does not make much sense since he could not have known if or when he would arrive at the meeting place. If he did know, then he was indeed a master of deception. To Amasa it might have seemed that Joab was going down on one knee to honour him, but in reality he was retrieving his weapon. If this scenario is correct, when Joab pulled Amasa towards him by the beard, he was in fact giving him no possible way to defend himself before he realised what was happening.
Joab reveals his evil nature when he sarcastically asked Amasa if he was healthy. He was probably thinking, “Well you will not be in a moment!” The kiss was the greeting of a traitor and enemy, one which was copied by Judas Iscariot against the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 22:48). Joab called him brother as a further attempt to disguise what he was doing. Amasa would not have noticed the dagger beneath the tunic, especially since Joab was kneeling down, nor would he have expected any danger as Joab raised his right hand to take hold of him. Amasa got a knife in the ribs instead of a friendly kiss. Great force was used in the stabbing because in doing so Amasa’s intestine’s spilled to the ground, or in the words of Adam Clarke, Joab “ripped up his belly.” This murder was calculated and clinical, for Joab knew exactly what to do since he had done the same thing to Abner, “And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother” (2 Samuel 3:27). We can compare this account with that found in Judges 3 when Ehud assassinated Eglon.
We get some understanding of the terrible crime Joab committed because even battle-worn warriors stood dumbstruck at the mess he had made of Amasa. This reveals that he dispatched Amasa like a savage. The word “wallowed” indicates that Amasa was not yet dead. “Though the wound was mortal, and of which he died, that as yet there was life in him, and through the pain he was in, and the pangs of death on him, he rolled himself about in his own blood in the high road, where the act was committed” (John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible). Joab and Abishai were eager to get going against Sheba, but soon found that the sight of Amasa lying in the road had distracted the other men. Joab was forced to remove the body to an adjoining field and cover it with a cloth so no one else could see it. Only then could he get the attention of his men. We can only imagine what they thought of their leader after this act of wickedness for it had sent shivers down their spines.
How did David respond to all of this? Such a gruesome murder must have been recounted to him, but instead of judging Joab he rewards him by placing him over the entire army (2 Samuel 20:23). Maybe David felt he had too much blood on his own hands to condemn Joab. Joab got what he wanted through the foulest means possible, but his career finally ended when Solomon became king (1 Kings 2:28-34). Cain had tried to hide the murder of his brother Abel, but his blood cried out for vengeance from the ground (Genesis 4:10). Wickedness and wicked men do not thrive forever.