His Mighty Men
2 Samuel 23
2 Samuel 23 supplies a vivid illustration of the great variety of spiritual gifts and graces which God bestows upon His people in general and on His ministries in particular. All are not called upon to engage in the same specific form of service, and therefore all are not alike qualified. We see this principle exemplified in the natural sphere. Some have a sceptical aptitude for certain avocations, while others are fitted for entirely different ones: those who find it easy to work a typewriter or keep books, would be quite out of their element it they attempted to do the work of a farmer or carpenter. So it is in the spiritual realm: one is called to some particular sphere and is endowed accordingly, while another is appointed to a different junction and is suitably equipped for it; and naught but confusion would follow if the latter attempted to discharge the duties of the former.
"Every man hath his proper gift of God: one after this manner, and another after that" (1 Cor. 7:7), but whether our talents be more or fewer it is our duty to use and improve the same for the good of our generation. "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will" (1 Cor. 12:11), and therefore we must be content with the gifts and position which God has allotted us, neither despising those below nor envying those above us. There are various degrees of usefulness and eminence among Christians, just as there were different grades of honor among those worthies of David. Of one of them we read, "Therefore he was their captain, howbeit he attained not unto the first three" (v. 19), and later in the chapter we are given a list of another thirty who occupied a yet lower rank. First in eminence were the apostles; next to them were the Reformers; and below them are those who have followed during the last four centuries.
Throughout the long and checkered career of David there were two things to cheer and comfort him: the unchanging faithfulness of God and the loving devotedness of his servants. Another has pointed out that at the close of Paul’s career he had the same spring of solace to draw from. "In his second epistle to Timothy he glances at the condition of things around him: he sees the ‘great house,’ which assuredly was not so with God as He required it; he sees all that were in Asia turned away from him; he sees Hymenaeus and Philetus teaching false doctrine, and overthrowing the faith of some; he sees Alexander the coppersmith doing much mischief; he sees many with itching ears, heaping to themselves teachers, and turning away from the truth to fables; he sees the perilous times setting in with fearful rapidity; in a word, he sees the whole fabric, humanly speaking, going to pieces; but he, like David, resting in the assurance that the foundation of God standeth sure, and he was also cheered by the individual devotedness of some mighty man or other, who, by the grace of God, was standing faithful amid the wreck. He remembered the faith of a Timothy, the love of an Onesiphorus; and moreover, he was cheered by the fact there would be a company of faithful men in the darkest times who would call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
In the preceding chapter we called attention to the logical connection of 2 Samuel 23 with the previous chapter, where "the last words of David" (his final inspired and official message) are recorded. We may also notice that our present passage comes immediately after David’s reference to the "Everlasting Covenant" which Jehovah had made with him (v. 5). How significant is this, and what blessed instruction it conveys to us. The two things are intimately, yea inseparably connected: the eternal counsels of God’s grace and His providing us with all needed assistance while we are in a time state. In other words, that "Everlasting Covenant" which God made, with His elect in the person of their Head guarantees the supply of their every need in this world, the interposition of the Lord on their behalf wherever required, and the raising up of faithful friends to help in each hour of emergency. Thus David found it, as the verses before us amply demonstrate.
If the Spirit of God has been pleased to chronicle some of the bravest exploits of David himself, He has not been altogether silent upon the heroic achievements of those who stood loyally by him when he was menaced by his numerous foes. This too adumbrated something yet more blessed in connection with the antitypical David and His officers. Some of their deeds of devotion may not be known among men, or at most little valued by them, but they are recognized and recorded by God, and will yet be publicly proclaimed from His throne. We should have known nothing of these deeds of David’s worthies had not the Spirit here described them. So, many a heart which now throbs with affection for Christ of which the world is not cognizant, and many a hand which is stretched forth in service to Him which is unnoticed by the churches, will not pass unheeded in the Day to come.
In our last chapter we dwelt upon the exploits of the first triumvirate of David’s mighty men—Adino, Eleazar and Shammah (vv. 8-12): our present passage opens with a most touching incident which records (we believe) another heroic enterprise in which the same three men acted together. We are told "And three of the thirty chiefs went down, and came to David in the harvest time unto the cave of Adullam: and the troop of the Philistines pitched in the valley of Rephaim" (v. 13). This most probably takes us back to what is narrated in 1 Samuel 22, when the uncrowned son of Jesse was a fugitive from the murderous designs of King Saul. It was not, then, in the hour of his popularity and power that these three officers betook themselves unto David, but in the time of his humiliation and weakness, while taking refuge in a cave, that they espoused his cause. No fair weather friends were these, but unselfish supporters.
"And David was then in a hold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem" (v. 14). How strangely varied is the lot of those who are beloved of God! What ups and downs in their experience and circumstances! Bethlehem was the place where David was born—presaging the incarnation of his Son and Lord; but now it was occupied by the enemies of God and His people: how many a dwelling-place which once gave shelter to an eminent servant of God is now the abode of worldlings. From the fertility and peacefulness of Bethlehem David was forced to flee and seek refuge in a cave: then let us not be cast down if a lowly and uncongenial habitation be our portion. But David was not forgotten by the Lord, and He graciously moved the hearts of others to seek him out and proffer their loving service. Take heart, then, lonesome believer: if God does not raise up earthly friends for thee, He will doubly endear Himself to thine heart.
"And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!" (v. 15). Some of the Puritans believed that David was not here expressing his desire for literal water, but rather for the Messiah Himself, who was to be born at Bethlehem. Though this does not appear to be borne out by what follows, yet it is surely significant that such excellent and desirable water was to be found there. Bethlehem means "the house of bread," and as the Lord Jesus declared, He is in His own blessed person both the Bread of Life and the Water of Life—the sustainer and refresher of the new man. Personally, we agree with Matthew Henry that what is recorded in this verse "seems to have been an instance of his weakness," when he was dissatisfied with what divine providence had supplied, giving way to inordinate affection and yielding to the desires of mere nature.
It was summer time, when the weather was hot and trying, and David was thirsty. Perhaps good water was scarce at Adullam, and therefore David earnestly cried, "Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem" True, it is natural to hanker after those things which Providence withholds, and such hankering is often yielded to even by godly men in an unguarded hour, which leads to various snares and evils. "David strangely indulged a humour which he could give no reason for. It is folly to entertain such fancies, and greater folly to insist upon the gratification of them. "We ought to check our affections when they go out inordinately toward those things which are more pleasant and grateful than others" (Matthew Henry). The best way, and perhaps the only one, of doing this is by heeding that injunction "giving thanks always for all things unto God" (Eph. 5:20), thereby evidencing we are content with such things as we have—instead of lusting after those we have not.
"And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David" (v. 16). What proof this gave of how highly these brave men valued their leader, and how ready they were to face the greatest of dangers in his service. It must be remembered that at this time David was uncrowned, a fugitive from Saul, and in no position to reward their valorous efforts on his behalf. Moreover, no command had been issued, no one in particular was commissioned to obtain the water from Bethlehem: it was enough for them that their beloved master desired it. How little they feared the Philistines: so absorbed were they in seeking to please David, that terror of the enemy had no place in their hearts! Do they not put all of us to shame? Flow feeble in comparison is our devotedness to the antitypical David! How trifling the obstacles which confront us from the peril which menaced them.
"Nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord" (v. 16). Blessed is this, and a lovely sequel to what has just been before us. Those three men had spontaneously responded to the known wish of their leader, and, not counting their lives dear unto themselves, they had—whether by use of the sword or by strategy we are not told, but most likely the former—obtained and brought back to David the longed-for refreshment. Such devotion to his person and such daring on their part was not lost upon David, and being recovered from his carnal lapse and seeing things now with spiritual discernment, he deemed that water a sacrifice too costly for any but Jehovah Himself, and hence he would not suffer the sweet odor of it to be intercepted in its ascent to the throne of God.
"And he said, Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men" (v. 17). This is ever one of the marks of a gracious man. When he is conscious of making a mistake or of committing folly, he does not feign ignorance or innocence, but acknowledges and seeks to correct the same. The outstanding characteristic of regeneration is that where this miracle of grace is wrought an honest heart is ever the evidence of the same. It is those who are under the full sway of Satan who are crafty, deceitful and serpentine in their ways. Those whom Christ saves He conforms unto His image, and He was without guile. David was now ashamed of his inordinate desire and rash wish, and regretted exposing his brave officers to such a peril on his behalf. This is another mark of the genuine child of God: he is not wholly wrapped up in himself.
Sin and self are synonymous terms, for as someone has quaintly pointed out the center of Sin is "I," that is why when the Church confesses "all we like sheep have gone astray," she defines it by saying "we have turned every one to his own way." If sin and selfishness are synonymous, grace and unselfishness are inseparable, for when the love of God is shed abroad in the heart there is awakened a genuine concern for the good of our fellows, and therefore will the Christian seek to refrain from what would injure them. "Upon reflection and experience, a wise man will be ashamed of his folly, and will abstain not only from unlawful indulgences, but from those also which are inexpedient and might expose his brethren to temptation and danger" (Thomas Scott).
"And Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief among three. And he lifted up his spear against three hundred, and slew them, and had the name among three" (v. 18). We are not here informed when or where this extraordinary feat was accomplished, but from the analogy supplied by the other examples in this chapter, we know it was performed by divine enablement, for the public good, and in the service of David. It is solemn to note that Abishai’s more famous, and yet infamous brother, has no place in his role of honor, illustrating the solemn truth that if "the memory of the just is blessed" yet "the name of the wicked shall rot." "Was he not most honourable of three? therefore he was their captain: howbeit he attained not unto the first three" (v. 19). These degrees of eminence and esteem exemplify the fact that men are not designed to all occupy a common level: the theory of "socialism" receives no countenance from Scripture.
"And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man, of Kabzeel, who had done many acts, he slew two lionlike men of Moab" (v. 20). It is good to see the sons walking in the steps of their sires when a noble example has been set before them: God takes notice of the one as much as the other. Those men of Moab might be fierce and powerful, but nothing daunted, Benaiah went forth and slew them. This too is recorded for our encouragement: no matter how strong and furious be our lusts, in the strength of the Lord we must attack and mortify them. "He went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow" (v. 20). Amid the frosts of winter our zeal is not to be relaxed. Nor must the soldiers of Christ expect to always have plain sailing: even when engaged in the best cause of all, formidable obstacles will be encountered, and the soldiers of Christ must learn to endure hardness and acquit themselves like men.
"And he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear" (v. 21). If his slaying of the lion is a figure of the servant of Christ successfully resisting the devil (1 Peter 5:8), his vanquishing of this Egyptian (spoken of in 1 Chron. 11:23 as a "man of great stature") may well be regarded as a type of the minister of God overcoming the world, for in Scripture "Egypt" is ever a symbol of that system which is hostile to God and His people. And how is victory over the world obtained? We need go no farther than this verse to learn the secret: by maintaining our pilgrim character, for the "staff" is the emblem of the pilgrim. If the heart be fixed upon that fair Land to which we are journeying, then the shows of this "vanity fair" will possess no attraction for it. The world is overcome by "faith" (1 John 5:4): a faith which grasps the good of God’s promises enables us to reject the evils of this world.
"These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and had the name among three mighty men. He was more honourable than the thirty, but he attained not to the first three. And David set him over his guard" (vv. 22, 23). Once again we are reminded that there is a gradation among the creatures and servants of God: there is no such thing as equality even among the angels. How wrong it is, then, for any of us to be dissatisfied with the status and position which the sovereign will of God has assigned to us: let us rather seek grace from Him to faithfully discharge our duties, however exalted or lowly be our station in life. Our chapter ends with a list of thirty men who were in the third grade: the first being Asahel (v. 24) and the last Uriah (v. 39), the former being murdered by Joab and the latter being sent to his death by David—deliverance from one danger is no guarantee that we shall escape from another.