II Samuel 23:8-39
8 These are the names of David’s mighty warriors: Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite, was chief of the Three; he raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter. 9 Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, 10 but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead. 11 Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. 12 But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory. 13 During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. 15 David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” 16 So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. 17 “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it. Such were the exploits of the three mighty warriors. 18 Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah was chief of the Three. He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed, and so he became as famous as the Three. 19 Was he not held in greater honor than the Three? He became their commander, even though he was not included among them. 20 Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. 21 And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. 22 Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty warriors. 23 He was held in greater honor than any of the Thirty, but he was not included among the Three. And David put him in charge of his bodyguard. 24 Among the Thirty were: Asahel the brother of Joab, Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem, 25 Shammah the Harodite, Elika the Harodite, 26 Helez the Paltite, Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa, 27 Abiezer from Anathoth, Sibbekai the Hushathite, 28 Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai the Netophathite, 29 Heled son of Baanah the Netophathite, Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah in Benjamin, 30 Benaiah the Pirathonite, Hiddai from the ravines of Gaash, 31 Abi-Albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth the Barhumite, 32 Eliahba the Shaalbonite, the sons of Jashen, Jonathan 33 son of Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam son of Sharar the Hararite, 34 Eliphelet son of Ahasbai the Maakathite, Eliam son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, 35 Hezro the Carmelite, Paarai the Arbite, 36 Igal son of Nathan from Zobah, the son of Hagri, 37 Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai the Beerothite, the armor-bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah, 38 Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite 39 and Uriah the Hittite. There were thirty-seven in all.
David was a great king and a good leader, an example from which we have learned many valuable lessons in this series. But David was not a one-man, know-it-all, do-it-all- singular superstar. The day he killed Goliath, he acted decisively and singularly, but as we read the narrative and see this list of his heroes, we become very aware that David had a team who served him and worked with him. In this lesson we see that the historian honored them which may well be but a reflection of the fact that David honored them. We Christian leaders today should follow David’s example and give honor to our team members.
The historian gave us this list of David’s great soldiers in order to honor them. These were the ones David trained in the arts and exercises of war having given them his example of courage. These men were of great advantage to David having helped to bring him to the throne, defended his crown and enlarged his conquests; they were worthy of the honor the historian gave to them in their generation and, through this record, to subsequent generations. Their examples stimulate us just as David’s example of honoring his soldiers can encourage Christian leaders today to honor our teams too.
In I Chron 29:6 and 9, We find another statement about the excellence of the leaders of David’s time. “Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly . . . . The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly.” They were generous. We do not know how many of the mighty men listed in II Sam 23 would also be mentioned in II Chron 29 had they been named individually, but, assuming some overlap, we could conclude that David’s soldiers were famous in both generosity and bravery.
1. The Three Greatest in Exploits and Reputation 8-12
The first three were Josheb-Basshebeth (8), Eleazar (9-10), and Shammah (11-12). None of their actions are recorded in the history of David, but they here and in I Chron. 11:11-47. They add to a more complete picture of David’s story. Many noteworthy events are passed over in the annals of David’s history, which relate many blemishes and not so many triumphs of David’s reign. Especially after his sin in the matter Uriah, we have noted the presence of the sword in both David’s family and kingdom. Now we are exposed to some of the valor and courage that was omitted in that record. Now we may discover his reign to have been actually more illustrious than it appeared before. What will heaven be like when we recognize openly what God’s unknown heroes are secretly doing now?
Josheb-Basshebeth killed 800 at once with his spear. While details of this accomplishment are lacking, the number speaks for itself. How could one man kill 800 at one time? With the anointing and enablement of God, Sampson killed a thousand men. Judges 15:15 says, “Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.” Josheb-Basshebeth evidently was empowered by the same God as Samson.
Just as Goliath had defied Israel, so the brave Eleazar defied the Philistines of his time, but he fared considerably better. Even when the men of Israel deserted the battlefield, Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead” (10). God worked through the sword and He worked through the hand on the sword. His hand was weary, and yet it froze to his sword; as long as he had any strength remaining, he held his weapon and continued to fight. This was similar to what Gideon and his men also did as recorded in Judges 8:4, “Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.” Now that Eleazar had overpowered the enemy, the men of Israel, who had left the battle (9), returned to the spoils (10). They all enjoyed the victory. What an inspiration to those of us who read this narrative and also determine to be resolute even if we are weary.
Shammah met with a party of the enemy apparently in a field full of lentils. “When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory” (11-12). It is written about this and the preceding incident that, “the Lord brought about a great victory.” However great the bravery of the soldier, the praise of the accomplishment must be given to God. These men fought the battles, but God gave the victory. “All that we have accomplished, you have done for us” (Isaiah 26:12).
2. The Three Who were Also Great 13-23
The next three were apparently greater than the thirty-one whose record follows, but not as mighty as the first three. If, however, it was God who was giving the victory, the size or power of the soldier is not the major factor. All great men are not of the same size. Many stars are bright and beautiful, though they are not the most brilliant and dazzling; many soldiers are great without being the greatest and many pastors, evangelists and missionaries are strong without being in a major league. We all should strive to be as useful and effective as we can be. The first accomplishment is shared by all three men and the names, Abishai and Benaiah, are given to the second and third along with an account of their accomplishments. Here is the narrative of the brave action these three shared. They helped David in his troubles, in the cave of Adullam (13), suffered with him, and were afterwards preferred by him.
When Saul was king, David was driven to hide from Saul’s rage in caves and strong holds. It is no surprise that the Philistines would pitch their tents in the valley of Rephaim and put a garrison in Bethlehem itself. “During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. David longed for water and said, ‘Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’” If David had had his preference as a soldier of Israel, Bethlehem would not have then been in Philistine hands.
Nevertheless, David longed for the water of the well of Bethlehem, his home town. It is possible that David’s intention was to say something like, “I wish we could drive the garrison of the Philistines out of Bethlehem, and make that beloved city our own again!” If that was David’s intent, he should have made his message clearer, for the brave men thought he wanted a drink of cool water. Perhaps it was harvest time, the weather hot, he was thirsty and he thought of the well not too far away from which he had taken water many times during his childhood. It is possible that he had a fancy for water from Bethlehem’s well and if he gave vent to that desire we probably cannot congratulate him on that this time.
Bravely these three mighty men, Abishai, Benaiah, and another, stole through the danger of the camp of the Philistines and brought water from that well, without David knowing about it. David’s reaction to their surprise for him shows us that he really did not expect them to get this water for him. Just because he wished for it does not mean that he wanted men to brave the danger to actually get it. Note his reaction: “So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. ‘Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!’ he said. ‘Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?’ And David would not drink it.”
At any rate, this event illustrates the courage of David’s friends and their love for David. They valued their prince—not yet a king—but a man with a royal destiny, and with what joy they could endure any hardship in his service. David could not reward them and, to show that he would not intentionally put any of his friends at risk or in danger or subject them to peril, poured the water out before the Lord. How different was his behavior at this time compared to his treatment of Uriah the Hittite! We would prefer to think that this was the true David and that that was a sad distortion and strange misrepresentation of the heart of David.
There is a courteous expression that a lover, friend, employee or worker might use to show his or her eagerness to be of service: “Your wish is my command.” Apparently, this is the attitude the three had toward David. We can only wish that we ourselves, and those we influence, would often think it, if not say it, to our Lord Jesus Christ who told us that if we loved Him we should keep his commandments.
This deed also demonstrated how little they feared the Philistines. They may have inwardly even been glad of an occasion to defy their enemy. There were only three of them, so they probably broke through the host quietly and secretly, and with such skill that the Philistines did not discover them.
What do we learn from the fact that David poured it out before the Lord? (1) David showed the kind regard he had for the lives of his soldiers. David wrote in Ps 72:14, “He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” (2) He admits his indiscretion for speaking that foolish word which occasioned those men to put their lives in their hands. Great man or woman of God, be careful what you say. (3) He could prevent the similar folly in any of his men for the future. (4) He would deny himself and demonstrate that he had sober thoughts to correct his rash ones. (5) He would honor God and give glory to Him. The water purchased at this rate he thought too precious for his own drinking and fit only to be poured out to God as a drink-offering. (6) David let it be known that he did not intend or want this water for himself, but the whole well full of it for the people of Israel who were now denied it because of the Philistine occupation.
Notice the brave actions of two of them on other occasions. Abishai slew 300 men at once, “Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah was chief of the Three. He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed, and so he became as famous as the Three. Was he not held in greater honor than the Three? He became their commander, even though he was not included among them.”
Benaiah did many great things too which include killing two lion-like Moabites, bold and strong, fierce and furious. And he killed an Egyptian who was well armed, but Benaiah attacked him with no other weapon than a walking staff, dexterously wrestled his spear out of his hand, and killed him with it: “Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear.” Wouldn’t you, too, like to have a man like that leading your standing forces or as captain of your life-guards? You do, and better than that, because the good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep has declared “no man can take them out of my hand,”—so committed is He to our safety.
3. Davids Thirty-one Mighty Men 24-39
Here are thirty-one mentioned by name. They were not as great as either the first group of three or the second group also of three, but nevertheless are mentioned by name. Asahel, who was killed in battle by Abner just as David, after having been king of Judah for seven years, was about to become king of Israel, did not loose his place on the list just because he was killed early. Elhanan is the next. He is a brother of the Eleazar who was one of the first three. Throughout this list we notice that each soldier’s name is followed by the community from which he came. These were the best, wisest and most valiant of David’s soldiers who came from all parts of the nation.
One of them, Eliam, was the father of Bathsheba (II Sam 11:3) and son of Ahithophel (34) the counselor of David and Absalom whose advice was eventually rejected in favor of Hushai’s. Though the wise Ahithophel was really foolish and killed himself, his son, Eliam, was a mighty warrior in the very army his father had tried to destroy.
Though at the end of this list, it may surprise us to find Uriah the Hittite included, since his name reminds readers of David’s sin. The historian recognized that this man, who earned the honor of being in this list, deserved much better treatment from his king and country than to be murdered by the sword of the Ammonites. His inclusion here may serve to remind us that the heroes on God’s list too may consist of forgotten soldiers no one on earth remembers.
We notice that Joab is not mentioned among any of these three categories. This may be because he was over all of them as general. Or, that because he was so bad he did not deserve to enter this list. Joab was admittedly a great soldier, had the wisdom to tell David to stop grieving for Absalom and greet his troops, and also had the courage to argue with the king regarding the numbering of Israel’s soldiers, which brought God’s anger and punishment on all of Israel. According to I Chron 21:3, “But Joab replied, “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” Yet, because twice he murdered friends of David, Israelite generals, in cold blood, he lost as much honor as ever he got by slaying his enemies.
Jesus Christ, the Son of David, has His list of great men and women, too, who like David’s, are influenced by his example, fight his battles against the spiritual enemies of his kingdom, and in His strength are more than conquerors. Christ’s apostles were his immediate servants, did and suffered great things for him, and at length came to reign with him. They are mentioned with honor in the New Testament, as these in the Old, for we see in Rev. 21:14 that “the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
All good, courageous and faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ have their names better preserved than David’s mighty men, for their names are written in heaven. This great honor is given to all his soldier/saints. Let us today value and follow the examples of both David and Jesus by giving credit to team members God has given us for their noteworthy accomplishments of courage, selfless service and faithfulness.