If you walked into my office and looked around what would you see? I thought you might say ‘books.’ But while you’re right in one sense you’re wrong in another. As you look around my office you see books yes, but if you look deeper you see a collection of mighty men and women of Church history past who’ve already ran their race with courage and finished well, as well as a collection of mighty men and women of Church history present who are running their race with courage and are longing to finish well. As I study week in and week out for you, the Church I love, I receive great encouragement knowing I’m surrounding by such mighty gospel warriors. Something of this is what we’ll see today as we come the list of mighty men David surrounded himself with in 2 Samuel 23:8-39.
But remember where we are. When we first entered this final section of the Samuels I mentioned these chapters 21-24 are an appendix, a poetic conclusion to the entire 1-2 Samuel story. We’ve spoken of the poetic structure of a chiasm before, often used to highlight a central point, and here we find another one:
A1 – A Three year Famine (21:1-14)
B1 – Valiant Warriors, part 1 (21:15-22)
C – David’s Songs (22:1 – 23:7)
B2 – Valiant Warriors, part 2 (23:8-39)
A2 – A Three day Plague (24)
The centerpiece being highlighted here is David’s praise to the Lord. Which is indeed a stout way to end his story because he is, despite his failures, a man after God’s own heart.
Again, this matters because it’s a map, and as such it tells us about the seas we’re sailing. This map reminds us we’re entered the final section of the storyline that is by its very design is crafted to tell us a great truth: king David was one of the greatest kings Israel ever had. But the greatness of king David had everything to do with David knowing and David loving the greatness of God. That is the theme we’ve seen over and over in this final section of the Samuels. And we’ll see it again today as we come to 23:8-39, Valiant Warriors, part 2.
Back in valiant warriors part 1 at the end of chapter 21 we saw snapshots of David’s warriors slaying Philistine giants, this time in part two while there are a few snapshots of heroic efforts in battle but the passage is mainly concerned to give us a collection of, or a list intended to honor David’s mighty men. This is the first list of mighty men in David’s kingdom we get in Scripture. There is another expanded list later on in 1 Chronicles 11 with sixteen additional names. In both these lists we’re taught that in large measure David’s kingdom was great because these mighty men sacrificed much. But for most of them, this list is the only time they appear in David’s story. Which tells us David’s kingdom was actually greater and more powerful than it might first appear in these history books.
We can take this passage in four divisions.
The Known Three (v8-12)
“These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time. And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdrew. He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And the LORD brought about a great victory that day, and the men returned after him only to strip the slain. And next to him was Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the LORD worked a great victory.”
Right away in v8 we’re told what’s ahead of us, “These are the names of the mighty men whom David had…” which is immediately followed by the courageous efforts of three elite warriors. First is Josheb-basshebeth. In epic fashion he accomplished an almost Samson like feat killing 800 enemies with a spear by himself in one battle. For this he called “the chief of these first three.” Second is Eleazar who stood with David defying the Philistines. In this particular episode he did not retreat, but kept on fighting with such ferocity that his hand stuck to his sword. Which, I found out in studying this, isn’t rare in combat. Many testimonies have been given to warriors of old or modern day soldiers who’s hands have stuck to their weapon because the muscles were so tensely gripping it for so long. Third in this list in Shammah, who stood strong in a field of lentils in the city of Lehi when everyone else retreated, defeating every Philistine that came his way. Historically this location was important. Lehi was the city the Philistines raided back in Judges 15, which resulted in Samson killing 1,000 Philistines by himself. Lehi then, is known for great heroic deeds. These three mighty warriors here top the list of David’s mighty men.
But before moving on did you notice the minor detail given in v10 and v12 that isn’t so minor in importance? Yes indeed the might of these men was great and yes they are honored here, but who was responsible for the victory? It was the Lord who brought about the victory. These are the most important words in the descriptions of these first three warriors. So we must conclude that the strong man should not glory in his strength, or any physical prowess they have, no. Let him that glories glory in the Lord.
We’ve seen the known three, now see…
The Unknown Three (v13-17)
“And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD and said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did.”
This next section describes the courageous efforts of another three elite warriors but we never get their names, were just told they were “of the thirty chief men” in v13. Well at a time long ago when David and his men were in the cave of Adullam, David had a particular desire. He longed for a drink from the well in Bethlehem. Why did he long for this? Perhaps an illustration will help. Some think I’m strange or gross because I enjoy the smell of sulfur and don’t mind the taste of Florida tap water. I like these things because they remind me of my childhood summers spent on the beaches of Sarasota. And sometimes when I’m far away from the beach I’ll start longing for a whiff of sulfury air or a taste of Florida water. I wonder if something similar is happening with David, if he being trapped in this cave and unable to go home himself grows a bit homesick here knowing Philistines have taken Bethlehem. We do know David didn’t intend this to be a command to anyone, he was just expressing a desire. Three of his men, though, heard him say this and took it upon themselves to bring the king what he longed for, and in a valiant effort they did just that. They clearly loved their king so much that for him and for his pleasure they gladly entered into and endured severe trial. We see in this a reflection of how much Jesus loved His Father, obeying Him unto death, even death on a cross. And we also see then from that, how we’re to love Christ the King so much that for Him and for His pleasure we’re too gladly enter into and endure severe trial. Well, these men traveled the 25 miles to Bethlehem, fought the Philistines, drew water from the well, and brought it to David. But when they returned to David and gave him the water he wouldn’t drink it. Why? David says it in v17, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” David viewed the water as the blood of these three mighty men recognizing the risk they took in getting it. This all means David humbly admits that only the Lord is worthy of such sacrifice, so he poured it out on the ground in an act of worship to the Lord. What a king!
We’ve seen the known three and the unknown three, now we come to…
The Two (v18-23)
“Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against three hundred men and killed them and won a name beside the three. He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander, but he did not attain to the three. And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. And he struck down an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and won a name beside the three mighty men. He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard.”
For the first time in this list we come to a mighty man we know, Abishai. He’s had a very active role within David’s kingdom and was so mighty and renowned he was chief of the mighty men. Do you find it interesting that Abishai is mentioned and Joab is not? I do. You’d think Joab might be here in this list but he isn’t. Perhaps it’s because it’s just assumed he is included here because he was commander of David’s armies? Or perhaps he’s not included here because according to David Joab never really fought for him or Israel, but only fought for himself. Well Abishai appears in v18-19, shows himself as mighty but still doesn’t attain to the three (a reference back to the three in v13-17 who brought David the water from Bethlehem). As Abishai disappears in v19 we see the one and only Benaiah. Sure mighty men have come and gone so far in this list but only Benaiah is said to be a “doer of great deeds.” What did he do? Among other things I’m sure, his deeds here are all about him striking down. In v20a he struck down two ariels of Moab. An ariel is either a Moabite hero or a Moabite troop, and either one would’ve required great might to destroy. In v20b he struck down lion on a snowy day. And in v21 he struck down a handsome Egyptian man with his own weapon! And if you move on ahead to 1 Kings 2 it is none other than Benaiah who killed Joab on the order of Solomon. Because of all his valor and might and great deeds, David made Benaiah his bodyguard. But as courageous as Benaiah was, v23 says he also did not attain to the three.
Now lastly, after seeing such mighty men we come to…
The List (v24-39)
I’ve called this section ‘The List’ because that’s what it is, a list. No heroic snapshots are given, just names. A list of names might seem dull to you but that these names are in this list indicates each person in this list means a great deal to David and to Israel. Their might has won them a place in the history books! We should not forget that. Now these names aren’t names you hear very often in Pasco county, most of them are difficult to pronounce, I ask for your attentiveness and patience as I read…
“Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, Shammah of Harod, Elika of Harod, Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, Abiezer of Anathoth, Mebunnai the Hushathite, Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai of Netophah, Heleb the son of Baanah of Netophah, Ittai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the people of Benjamin, Benaiah of Pirathon, Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash, Abi-albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth of Bahurim, Eliahba the Shaalbonite, the sons of Jashen, Jonathan, Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite, Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai of Maacah, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, Hezro of Carmel, Paarai the Arbite, Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all.”
That there is name after name after name after name in this list makes me feel as if we’re reading the cast of muscle bound defenders on the old show American Gladiators, or the list of contenders in the world’s strongest man competition. It’s clear you don’t mess with these guys. David was king sure, but his kingdom was much more than just him as king. We know some of them, but don’t know most. Each name brings to mind untold stories of valor and might and courage…but then we come to the last name on the list and the wind is taken out of us.
“Uriah the Hittite…” Here is a name of one who not only fought bravely for David but the name of one who was betrayed by David. With the mention of this name we’re taken back to the horrific events of 2 Samuel 11 and following. One glance that lingered, to a thought that wasn’t taken captive, to an immoral request, to adultery with Bathsheba, to deception, to the murder of Uriah, to the death of a child, and to fallout upon fallout in Israel. Later in life I would bet that the very mention of Uriah’s name haunted David, and took the wind out of his own sails. But only by the grace of God…the sin of David didn’t harden David, it humbled David. I wonder…is there a ‘Uriah’ episode in your life that haunts you, that saddens you, that weighs down on you, but ultimately brings you to your knees in thankful acknowledgement of God’s mercy and grace that has forgiven you? We all could mention these ‘Uriah moments’ if we’re honest, but praise God. For what? Praise God for the cross, where Jesus willingly absorbed in His body the penalty our sin deserves as our substitute. And praise God for the resurrection, where Jesus publicly defeated and shamed Satan, sin, and death forever. And praise God for salvation, where at the feather touch of faith God clothes us in the righteousness of Christ and declares us to be what we’re not, righteous. Because of these things, any past ‘Uriah’ memory is, no longer paralyzing to us even if they remain painful to us.
Church, the banner over David’s life could be summed up in three words: faithful, flawed, and fruitful. There is only One King who will never fail, and He reigns over a Kingdom that will never end – the Lord Jesus Christ.
So here at the end of a list of mighty men I would remind you that the heroes in the Bible exist to point us to the Hero of the Bible, Jesus Christ. One of the repeating themes of this chapter is that no one single hero in this list “attained to the three.” That is, while these individuals were mighty in their own right, none could compare to the three men who risked all to get David a drink of water from the well of Bethlehem. Bringing this idea all the way forward I think we can only end rightly by saying one thing clearly: David himself and all of his mighty men were truly mighty, none attained to Christ, our mighty Champion!
At this point we could go on to point famous men and women of Church history who’ve proven mighty in the Lord, but I’d like to stick closer to home, because I think Paul would do that. Throughout Paul’s letters we often find him making lists, listen as I read Romans 16:3-16…
…mighty men and women indeed!
In this same vein I’d now ask each of you look around at, or picture in your mind, your fellow church members at SonRise. It is a great encouragement to know we are surrounded by such a great community of mighty men and women who are in truth…
…our fellow workers and fellow soldiers of Christ Jesus
…who spend and are willing to be spent for the gospel advancement
…who are motivated by love for Christ and pattern their lives after Christ.
History might not record any of our names, but we rejoice that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, written from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, look around Church, God has given us quite a village to raise and mature us in Him!
 Nearly every commentator points out the chiasm present in this section, though most differ on the nature of chapter 21-24.
 Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 304.
 John L. Mackay and J. Gary Millar, ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2019), 477.
 Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991) 443.
 Most commentators do the same, dividing v8-39 into these four sections.
 Davis, 2 Samuel, see footnote 3, 304.
 John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 530.
 Woodhouse, 530.
 Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 443.
 Mackay and Millar, ESV Expository Commentary, 478.
 Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 444.
 Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 & 2 Samuel – TOTC () 313.
 I owe this keen insight to our assistant pastor, Andrew Jaenichen.
 Mackay and Millar, ESV Expository Commentary, 479.
 Hertzberg, quoted in Davis, 2 Samuel, 310.
 Davis, 311.