David’s Mighty Men

1 Samuel 22:2 - All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around David, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.

2 Samuel 23:8 - These are the names of David's mighty men: Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahchemonite, chief of the captains. He was called Adino the Eznite. He killed eight hundred men in one encounter

Read 2 Samuel 23:8-39.

Reading through a list of names in a scriptural passage can be somewhat boring. Did you ever get a “devotional high” from reading a biblical genealogy? Why did God include such seemingly dry and barren name lists in the Bible anyway? Although several historical, doctrinal and practical reasons could be given, we probably would still fall short of the full answer to this question. In any case, we can be sure that every catalog of names in Scripture is there for a purpose. The Holy Spirit did not waste words. He did not inspire the biblical writers to include “filler” to beef up the Bible!

In 2 Samuel 23 we have a roster of David's mighty men. This list of names is also included in 1 Chronicles 11. These are the men who joined David before he came to the throne as king over Israel. After David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel, there was a period of time before he was crowned king. During this period there were times when he had to hide in the wilderness to escape the anger of King Saul. Saul was fiercely jealous because David had become an overnight celebrity and favorite son in Israel after he had killed the Philistine giant, Goliath. Although Saul had already been set aside by God as the rightful king of Israel, he had not yet been removed from the throne. During this time when David was in disfavor with the establishment, many people joined him in the wilderness and became his army of loyal supporters. We read in 1 Samuel 22:2 that “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around David, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.” Some of these loyal followers of David accomplished great things on David's behalf, and they are registered as David's “mighty men” in 2 Samuel 23.

Again we ask: “Why did the Holy Spirit record these names for us?” Romans 15:4 says that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” What teaching and encouragement can we gain from this list of David's mighty men?

One reason that the roster of David's soldiers is recorded is that it authenticates the historicity of the Bible account. Destructive critics of the Bible seem to delight in saying that the Old Testament stories are merely exaggerated legends of Jewish folk heroes. But lists of names associated with Old Testament characters like Abraham and Moses and David make it harder for the skeptic to classify these individuals as part of Jewish folklore. The name lists authenticate the Old Testament characters as real people who actually lived in history. We should thank the Lord for boring lists of names because they limit the destructive criticism of the Bible!

The fact that God keeps a detailed record of the names and exploits of David's fighting men is also significant. It indicates to us that God records our personal service, too. If God kept track and applauded David's valiant soldiers by name, how much more does he keep track and reward the faithful servants of David's greater Son. Other Christians may not be aware of your behind-the-scenes service for Christ, but God sees and knows you as an individual soldier, and will reward every act of faithfulness.

Spiritual lessons can be found in the various acts of service of David's mighty men, and this is another reason for a listing of their names. As already intimated, in many ways King David portrays the coming Son of David, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in his time of rejection that David particularly pictures Christ. As David was the anointed and rightful king but was unrecognized and rejected by the establishment, so Christ right now is the rightful king over mankind but He is unrecognized and rejected by this world. Those who recognized David as king had to be willing to join him in the wilderness, and share in his unpopularity and rejection. In the same way, we who have recognized the Lord Jesus as King have joined Him “outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). Certainly we can identify in a spiritual way with those people who came to David in the wilderness—people in distress, people in need and people who were dissatisfied with the established system. Out of that motley bunch of people the mighty men of David emerged and some of their heroic deeds are recorded in 2 Samuel 23. Their feats portray the activities of believers who have made Christ their King. Although we should not be dogmatic when it comes to “seeing” spiritual pictures in this text, it appears that there are some solid lessons here that can help us in our growth as Christians.

With this in mind, then, it is very easy to see that the actions of David's mighty men on the battlefield contain lessons for us about spiritual warfare. Josheb-Basshebeth (v8) and Abishai (vs18-19) overcame great odds. So can we! Eleazar (vs9-10) stood and fought the enemy even though his fellow soldiers had retreated. Even though he was at the point of exhaustion he would not rest until the Lord brought victory—great victory. Spiritual warfare is very draining at times. Even though others may throw in the towel, great victory comes to Christians who hang tough and don't give up. Shammah (vs11-12) defended the position and provision of the Lord's people. The Lord is looking for the Shammahs of today who will defend the faith and be willing to go to “battle for the Bible.” In Jude 3 we are exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith.”

A beautiful picture of worship is brought before us in the actions of the three mighty men of verses 15-17. David longed for a refreshing drink from the well of his hometown, Bethlehem. The mighty three overcame the enemy and brought the water to David at great personal cost and in spite of overwhelming obstacles. They were not commanded to perform this deed. It was not a military duty. They acted out of love for their king. Similarly, our worship of the Lord should not be performed as a duty, but as an act of devotion because we love our King. True worship will involve time and effort and sacrifice, and sometimes the overcoming of great barriers that are thrown in our path by the enemy of our souls. Have you ever noticed how many obstacles and diversions seem to present themselves when you would like to spend some time worshiping the Lord? Sometimes the man-made barriers of tradition and ritual must be overcome. The fact that David poured the water out on the ground makes it seem like the mighty three were involved in a wasteful effort. But David considered their act to be so significant that he honored it and “elevated” it by giving the water as a drink offering to the Lord. Our times of quiet meditation in worship of the Lord may appear to some people as a waste of time and effort. After all, thanking and praising the Lord doesn't feed any hungry people or provide any care for the homeless. But from God's perspective, our quiet worship as well as our active worship has great value and it brings refreshment to the heart of our King.

Benaiah, another of David's mighty men, went on to become the commander-in-chief of all Israeli forces under King Solomon (1 Kings 4:4). Three of Benaiah's heroic achievements are mentioned in verses 20-23. As we consider our spiritual warfare, these three feats may be a portrayal of the believer's struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil.

In 1 Peter 5:8 Satan is pictured as a lion: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Benaiah (v20) “went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day.” Notice this was offensive—the kind we are to wage against the attacks of Satan. Benaiah was not caught off guard, but took the offensive and went down into the pit. He killed the lion in the middle of the pit—not while he was backed into a corner! Are we courageous like Benaiah or are we running scared? Remember that there is no armor for the back of the Christian soldier in Ephesians 6:13-17! We are commanded to “resist the devil” and we are promised that he will “flee from us” (James 4:7).

Benaiah also showed his might by overcoming “two of Moab's best men.” The Moabites were physically related to Israel and yet they were enemies. As closely related, yet an enemy of Israel, they seem to portray “the flesh,” in terms of our spiritual warfare. By “flesh” we mean the sinful fallen human nature that we all possess. (See Romans 7:15-25.) While “the flesh” is closely related to every one of us, it is our deadly enemy and must be overcome if we are to become mighty believers. (See Galatians 5:16-17.) To be even more specific, we could look at the Moabites as representative of the flesh when it is not under control. Do you remember the origin of the Moabites? This nation came from an incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters—the flesh not under control! (See Genesis 19.) Remember also the immensely fat king of Moab, King Eglon, sitting on his throne in his summer palace in Jericho? (See Judges 3.) What a striking picture of the flesh not under control! Jericho, that former stronghold of the enemy, had been conquered by Israel under Joshua but during the times of the judges it had come under enemy control once again—because the Moabites were not held in check. Benaiah showed no mercy to the Moabites. We must show no mercy in overcoming “the flesh.” It must be held in check at all costs.“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

Finally, Benaiah showed his might by killing an impressive Egyptian (v21). Egypt was an enemy of Israel, and in our picture of spiritual warfare Egypt represents the world. As God redeemed His people out of Egypt, so God has redeemed us out of this world. After the Exodus, one of Israel's major problems was that they were still attracted to Egypt. They craved many of the things that they remembered from living in Egypt, and sometimes they even wanted to go back to Egypt! We cannot deny that the world sometimes attracts us, just as thoughts of Egypt attracted the Israeli people in the wilderness. And we must admit that the world at times looks as impressive to us as the Egyptian looked to Benaiah. But we must always keep in mind that the world's value system is opposed to biblical values, and we cannot allow the thought-processes and lifestyles of the world to infiltrate our thinking and actions as Christians. It is interesting to notice, however, that Benaiah used the Egyptian's own spear to defeat him! This may also be part of the spiritual picture. Christians should take every opportunity to use the material things of this world to fight against the world system. For example, the technology and expertise of movies and TV and computers, which have been developed primarily to serve the worldly value system (1 John 2:16), should be grabbed by Christians and used for the glory of God in overcoming the world and promoting the kingdom of Christ. Benaiah did not hesitate to exchange his out-dated and old-fashioned club for a more technologically advanced (and far more effective) spear!

More mighty men are recorded in verses 24-39. Not much is said about them but their names are given. Is your name recorded on God's list of mighty Christians? Every man who joined David in the wilderness entered into his kingdom, but only a few made the list of mighty men. Every Christian is in the kingdom of Christ, but only those Christians who are willing to serve our King with courage and loyal devotion, in spite of difficulty and rejection, will stand out as His “mighty ones.”
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