David’s men were very brave but the greatest of bravery was shown by Jesus when he went to the cross for us.
2 Samuel 23:8-39
8 These are the names of David’s mighty warriors:
Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite, was chief of the Three; he raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter.
9 Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, 10 but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.
11 Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. 12 But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory.
13 During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. 15 David longed for water and said, ‘Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ 16 So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. 17 ‘Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!’ he said. ‘Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?’ And David would not drink it.
Such were the exploits of the three mighty warriors.
18 Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah was chief of the Three. He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed, and so he became as famous as the Three. 19 Was he not held in greater honour than the Three? He became their commander, even though he was not included among them.
20 Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. 21 And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. 22 Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty warriors. 23 He was held in greater honour than any of the Thirty, but he was not included among the Three. And David put him in charge of his bodyguard.
24 Among the Thirty were:
Asahel the brother of Joab,
Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem,
25 Shammah the Harodite,
Elika the Harodite,
26 Helez the Paltite,
Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa,
27 Abiezer from Anathoth,
Sibbekai the Hushathite,
28 Zalmon the Ahohite,
Maharai the Netophathite,
29 Heled son of Baanah the Netophathite,
Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah in Benjamin,
30 Benaiah the Pirathonite,
Hiddai from the ravines of Gaash,
31 Abi-Albon the Arbathite,
Azmaveth the Barhumite,
32 Eliahba the Shaalbonite,
the sons of Jashen,
Jonathan 33 son of Shammah the Hararite,
Ahiam son of Sharar the Hararite,
34 Eliphelet son of Ahasbai the Maakathite,
Eliam son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,
35 Hezro the Carmelite,
Paarai the Arbite,
36 Igal son of Nathan from Zobah,
the son of Hagri,
37 Zelek the Ammonite,
Naharai the Beerothite, the armour-bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah,
38 Ira the Ithrite,
Gareb the Ithrite
39 and Uriah the Hittite.
There were thirty-seven in all.
The incredible accounts of the exploits of kind David’s elite warriors are the stuff of legend, but an interesting case can be made for which of their actions crossed the rubicon from bravery to stupidity.
My favourite story is the sacrificial account of 3 (unnamed) chief warriors caught between a cave and a hard place in the heat of battle, alongside king David. Upon hearing that their thirsty king David longed for water from the well behind enemy lines at his hometown Bethlehem below, they literally broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. Now anyone who has been pushed beyond their usual physical limits on a challenging hike with no end in sight, comes to a place where they start dreaming of their favourite food or drink. And so, David came to this point, longingly looked down at his hometown Bethlehem, and expressed his desire for a drink from the local well there, which unfortunately was behind enemy lines. These men probably mistook David’s daydreaming for a command and risked their lives to honour his request! Was this an act of extreme bravery or did it border on blind heroics (stupidity)?
Paul Ham, in his excellent account of the 2nd world war Kokoda Track Campaign in Papua New Guinea between the Australians and the Japanese, describes the heroic actions of Private Bruce Kingsbury (for which he was awarded the first Victoria Cross (VC) on Australian soil).
Although the Australians had the high ground in defending the amphitheatre-shaped mountain at the town of Isurava, the Japanese unexpectedly came up the middle (not the armrests), and had they broken through, would have overrun and destroyed the Australians. Kingsbury rushed forward, firing the Bren gun from his hip through terrific machine-gun fire and succeeded in clearing a path through the enemy, inflicting an extremely high number of casualties before being shot dead by a sniper hiding in the wood. VC’s are not awarded for blind heroics; the action must tangibly improve the unit’s position, which is exactly what Kingsbury did by halting the enemy’s advance, thereby saving the battalion headquarters.
Although David’s mighty men’s actions bordered on blind heroics, David redeemed them when he refused to drink the water, rather pouring it out before the Lord, treating it as a blood sacrifice for the men who risked their lives. Contrast this with the ultimate act of bravery by the mightiest warrior of all, Jesus – who, for the joy set before him endured the cross at the hands of sinful men. He tangibly improved humanity’s position before God, by taking our sin upon himself, paying our penalty, and making us right with God.
Head: Think of a few instances, besides the cross, where Jesus displayed audacious bravery before his enemies, often only escaping, because his time had not yet come.
Heart: Reflect on the sacrificial love of God who while we were yet sinners, sent his son Jesus Christ to die for us.
Hands: Ask God to give you the opportunity this week to be brave by sharing something of your Jesus journey with someone in your circle of influence.
Prayer: Lord I am humbled as I read of the brave exploits of David’s mighty warriors in fighting for their king. But I also know that some of David’s zeal for you rubbed off on them, and they were fighting for the honour of your name too Lord. Help me to be brave in the battlefield of life Lord, remembering that my fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. To the God be the glory! In Jesus name. Amen
A song to listen to: Only A Holy God
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