After David’s last words God shows us that He preserves the memory of his mighty men, companions of His anointed until the final establishment of his reign. He had met still other devoted men such as Ittai and Shobi when he fled from Jerusalem, but those who are mentioned here were his associates from the very beginning. So too the twelve disciples were distinguished because they had companied with the Lord “all the time in which the Lord Jesus came in and went out” among them (Luke 22: 28-29; Acts 1: 21). In like manner those who have followed Him during the time that the world has rejected and disowned Him will be singled out for honor. In number there are thirty-seven men here (cf. 1 Chr. 11-12).
Joab who had held the top position as the head of the army until the end of David’s reign is excluded from his mighty men. Perhaps he had performed more brilliant actions than all the others; much courage and even a certain outward devotedness to the king was found in him, but these qualities in themselves do not give one a place in God’s register; otherwise the Word would list nearly all the great heroes of humanity. Psalm 87: 4 teaches us what God understands by “mighty men”: “I will make mention of Rahab (Egypt) and Babylon among them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia: this man was born there.” The glory of these heroes of the nations was past and did not extend beyond their short lifespans although they had filled the earth with the fame of their names. “ And of Zion it shall be said, This one and that one was born in her; and the Most High Himself shall establish her” (v. 5). Such was the character of David’s mighty men: through their origin they were considered to belong to the city of royal grace. But the Spirit adds: “Jehovah will count, when He inscribeth the peoples, This man was born there” (v. 6). Despite every “ this one” of the past, when the register of the nations shall be opened before the Lord He will find but one, the Man of His right hand, who deserves to have His origin in Zion. The leaders of the nations have had their day, and their glory has vanished in smoke; this Man will rule over all peoples; the start and the center of His kingdom will be at Jerusalem, and “all [the] springs” of those who belong to Him will be found in Himself (v. 7). But His mighty men, “this one and that one,” will be associated with Him in His reign.
What characterized David’s mighty men therefore was the association that grace had given them with the Lord’s anointed. Joab had never had such a relationship; this book has fully demonstrated this. He sought his personal interest in serving David, and his actions never originated in fellowship with his head. His name is passed over in silence.
Among the mighty men the Word first of all cites three who were more honored than all the others. What was the reason for this honor? These men proven that they had persevering energy in procuring the deliverance of God’s people, but in the conflict they did not count upon themselves: the Lord wrought deliverance through them. “Jehovah,” verses 10 and 12 repeat, “ wrought a great deliverance.”
From where did their perseverance come? Had they been alone they certainly would have weakened, but all three were “with David” and under his eyes during the combat. He inspired them with courage and patience in their efforts. They had taken as their model David who could say: “By Thee I have run through a troop”; “He teacheth my hands to war; and mine arms bend a bow of brass”; and again: “I pursued mine enemies, and destroyed them, and I turned not again till they were consumed” (2 Sam. 22: 30, 35, 38).
Who was the enemy against whom these men of valor fought? The Philistines-the enemy within-as we have so often seen in the course of these meditations. No enemy is more dangerous than this one; the Egyptians and the Moabites were less to be feared than these who living within Israel’s borders continually stood in the way of their peacefully possessing the land that God had given them as an inheritance.
These three men had not weakened in this struggle. The first, Joseb-Bassebeth, had brandished his spear against eight hundred men; he had killed them at one time and had not stopped until there were no opponents left. Hence his pre-eminence, for his name translated means: “He who sits in the first place.”
The second, Eleazar the son of Dodo, fought alone in presence of the men of Israel. He expected no help from them, for he did not count on man’s strength. Being with David (v. 9) was enough for him to defy the Philistines. He smote them and did not stop until “his hand was weary” (v. 10). There may be limits in the fight of faith, for God uses imperfect instruments subject to reaching limits of their strength; but Eleazar’s perseverance was such that “his hand clave to the sword” (v. 10), so that it was impossible to separate him from the weapon he was using. May Eleazar’s victory be ours as well! Our weapons are not fleshly; we have the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Let us use it in such a way that we are, so to speak, one with it even after the battle. May the conflict ever result in our valuing the Word more and more so that it will be impossible to separate us from it.
The third of these men was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. Under Eleazar the people had gone up quite indolently, it seems, since they came after Eleazar “only to spoil” (v. 10). Here, the people “had fled before the Philistines” (v. 11). The object they were contesting was “a plot of ground full of lentils,” a very little part of the inheritance that God had given Israel, but one containing food for the people. The enemy was seeking to deprive them of the field and its crop. Shammah15 stood in the middle of the field and preserved it for God’s people. This deed speaks to our consciences. Our inheritance and our “plot of ground” are heavenly, and we must defend them as well as our heavenly food, the Word which God has entrusted to us. God’s people flee in a cowardly manner from the enemy, acknowledging to their shame the rights of unbelief to set the Word of God at nought. May we be like Shammah; may we fearlessly defend it for sake of the saints, for we are with David. Let us count on God who will work “a great deliverance.”
Verses 13 to 17 present a second series of three chiefs. There is reason for their not being named in the deed these verses recount, but they are named subsequently in connection with their acts of valor. Why this remarkable omission of their names in the account of their exploit? It is because here it is no longer a matter of energy and perseverance, but one of the devotion of faith. And this devotion flows naturally from the hearts of servants who know and appreciate their Master. By its very nature devotion is something obscure. What man has the right to boast of devotion? Does or does not our rejected David, unseen by the world, have the right to our devotion because of His character’s all powerful perfection? To know Him is to love Him. These three visitors to the cave of Adullam were immediately attached to him. A simple desire on part of their king sufficed to prompt them to overcome all obstacles without taking their lives into account, just so that they might satisfy that desire. Their affection, much more so than their energy, was thus put to the test. Danger did not frighten them when it was a matter of going to draw a bit of water from the well at Bethlehem, because the one they loved was thirsty at harvest time here. Had they succumbed after this enterprise, such a price would not have been too high for having had the privilege of offering David something for his satisfaction, even if momentarily. God records this devotion in His book; the king appreciated it, but did not wish to take advantage of it: “Is it not the blood of the men that went at the risk of their lives?” (v. 17). If on the one hand he elicits the devotion of his men, on the other hand his character is to devote himself for them. The water offered to him only passes through his hands to be presented as a drink offering “to Jehovah” (v. 16), for all that is done for Christ is done for God and God accepts it, offered up by Christ, as an excellent sacrifice. A simple cup of water given to “one of these little ones” for Christ’s sake passes from His heart to the heart of God Himself.
These three men’s deeds of valor did not attain to those of the first three. First there is Abishai who like Joseb-Bassebeth brandished his spear against three hundred men whom he slew, but he did not have the same perseverance of faith (vv. 18-19).
Next we find Benaiah the son of Jehoiada. He fought the enemies from without, Moab and Egypt. He killed two Moabite heroes.17 Like David he fought a lion all by himself; he killed the Egyptian just as David had struck down Goliath, and just as David had taken the giant’s sword to decapitate him, so Benaiah put the Egyptian to death with his own spear. Benaiah walks faithfully in his master’s steps and his great affection for David leads him to reproduce his model’s traits. Such a walk finds its reward: “David set him in his council” (v. 23), a place of confidence, intimacy, and communion. Benaiah shares his master’s secrets, is informed of his projects, and sees the king’s face at all times. What a blessed portion! If we love the Lord Jesus and follow Him obediently and serve Him, we will be rewarded with a nearness like that enjoyed by John, the beloved disciple whose place was in the bosom of Jesus.
No special mention is made of Asahel. He might have accomplished some act of valor, but his confidence in himself and in his agility deprived him of his career very early through his encounter with Abner (2 Sam. 2: 18-24).
Finally we find the “thirty,” less renowned than the six preceding men, although the Lord forgets none of His own. When David looked over the list of His servants, with what sorrow his eyes must have paused at the name of Uriah the Hittite which ends the list. He was among the mighty men and not the least of those hearts devoted to the king and his people. And David had had him put to death to satisfy his own lust! His name remained there in testimony against the one whom he had served. This single name of Uriah reminded David of all his past of shame and chastening; but condemning himself and exalting the grace that had restored him, he would never have dreamed of erasing his name from the book in which it was recorded.