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.
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.
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. – 2 Samuel 23:8-23 ESV
When reading the life of David, it is easy to picture him as this lonely, isolated figure who was always having to do everything by himself. The early years of his life, after his anointing by Samuel, were spent in seeming isolation, running and hiding from Saul. He had to leave behind his wife, Michal, his best friend Jonathan, and his spiritual mentor, Samuel. Even during his reign, David appears to have suffered the curse of loneliness that comes with leadership. He was the sole individual responsible for the care of his kingdom and the well-being of his people. God had anointed him king and given him the task of shepherding the people of Israel. But we see in this chapter, that God had also given David companions and compatriots to walk beside him and assist him all along the way. Here in chapter three, we are introduced to thirty of them, a group of individuals referred to as David’s mighty men. David was not alone. Not only was God with him, he had the benefit of being surrounded by those who loved him and would give their lives in support of him.
It has always been my strong belief that the mighty men listed in 2 Samuel 23 are the very same men who showed up at the cave of Adullam, when David had been forced to flee for his life from the wrath of King Saul. We are told about these individuals in 1 Samuel 22.
David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there. Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men. – 1 Samuel 22:1-2 NLT
Notice how it describes these men. They were in trouble, in debt and discontented. And there were nearly 400 of them who they showed up at David’s doorstep. Not exactly what most of us would consider a great core group with which to form an army. But that’s what David had to work with. And yet, over time, some of these men would become the mighty men of David. How? What was it that transformed them from troublemakers, debtors and malcontents? It was God. But it was also the trials and tribulations they were forced to endure as they walked alongside David all those years. They had lived in the caves beside David. They had fought the enemies of Israel alongside David. They had endured hardships and the loneliness of living on the run with David. And when David had finally become the king of Israel just as God had promised he would be, these same men were by David’s side to serve alongside him. And they were there when David was forced to evacuate Jerusalem when his son, Absalom, turned the people of Israel against him and took his throne.
But these men stood beside David. The performed mighty deeds on behalf of David. But over and over again, we see that their strength came from God. Sprinkled throughout this chronicle of their mighty deeds, we are given clear indications that their accomplishments were due to God.
And the Lord brought about a great victory that day… – 2 Samuel 23:10 ESV
…and the Lord worked a great victory. – 2 Samuel 23:12 ESV
The list of their exploits is impressive. Their accomplishments are not to be ignored. But we have to ask ourselves, why are they here? What was the author’s purpose for placing this list of mighty men and their mighty deeds at the very end of his letter? If you recall, these closing chapters of 2 Samuel form a kind of appendix to the book. They are a wrap-up to all of David’s life. The content of these chapters are not in chronological order. They are a glimpse back into David’s long life, providing us with insights into some important details regarding his life. This list of mighty men lets us know that David had help all along the way. He was never alone. God had given him companions – faithful men who would serve him with distinction, displaying the characteristics of bravery, self-sacrifice, dedication and unwavering loyalty. Rather than being impressed with their deeds, we should be blown away by their faithfulness to David. Virtually every one of their accomplishments were done on behalf of David, not for their own glory. Of the 30 men mentioned, only a handful have the distinction of having their names listed. There are Josheb-basshebeth, Eleazar, and Shammah, the three men who seemed to serve as commanders over the 30. It would seem that it was these three who risked their lives in order to fulfill David’s wish to drink water from the well at Bethlehem, his home town. And when they had risked life and limb to bring David water from that well, he poured it out as a sacrifice to God, unwilling to enjoy the refreshment it would have brought, because they had risked their lives for him.
The text says that Josheb-Basshebeth killed 800 men with his spear in one battle. Eleazar “struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword” (2 Samuel 23:10 ESV). Shammah “took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines” (2 Samuel 23:12 ESV). Impressive? No doubt about it. But it was God who gave these men their victories. They served David, but in the end, they were instruments of God. He is the one who had placed them in David’s life and equipped them for service to the king. Great leaders will always find themselves surrounded by great men and women who come alongside them and serve them selflessly and faithfully. The exploits of these men are not listed so that we might be impressed, but so that we might be reminded that God is always at work in and around our lives, using others to accomplish His will for our lives. David had his mighty men. But we each have our faithful friends. Those individuals who will stand beside us and fight alongside us during the difficult days of our lives. How will we know who they are? They will show up in the darkest moments of our lives. They will be the ones who cry with us, rejoice with us, rescue us, pray for us, and refuse to abandon us, even when things get tough.
But before you start trying to determine who the mighty men or women in your life are, why not spend time asking whether you are performing the very same role in someone else’s life. Are you a faithful, dedicated, loyal friend whom God is using in the life of another? Are you present when tragedy strikes someone else’s life? Are you willing to risk life and limb for the sake of another? Will you wield the spiritual sword on behalf of someone else, until your strength is gone? What we all need are more mighty men and women, willing to give their all on behalf of someone other than themselves.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.