Sword and Trowel Articles

The Sword & Trowel was started in 1865 by C. H. Spurgeon. It enjoys an extensive readership throughout the world, particularly among ministers and church leaders. It has by far the largest circulation of any magazine (world-wide) adhering to reformed and Baptist distinctive. The Sword & Trowel is now edited by Dr Peter Masters.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

David's Mighty Men

From Sword & Trowel 2002, No. 3

The record of David's mighty men (in 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11) yields many powerful spiritual encouragements and lessons for today. It is a roll honouring those to whom amazing instrumentality was given to sustain and support the rise and reign of David, who was the living symbol and type of Christ the Lord.

Our plan here is to range over a number of these mighty men, to show the special significance and message of their exploits for today. The first and chief of David's honoured lieutenants was Adino the Eznite ('the Tachmonite'), also named Jashobeam.1

We begin with a feat accomplished by Adino, together with Eleazar and Shammah, at Pasdammim, but in this particular battle Eleazar was the most prominent. It was Eleazar whose hand 'clave unto the sword', a phenomenon magnificently opened up by C H Spurgeon in a truly memorable sermon.2 Here, we shall comment on other aspects of Eleazar's heroic action.

The scriptural account at 2 Samuel 23.9-10 singles out – 'Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David, when they defied the Philistines that were there gathered together to battle, and the men of Israel were gone away: he arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword: and the Lord wrought a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to spoil [to take the spoil].'

It is said that Eleazar, with others, defied the Philistines, this Hebrew word literally meaning that he stripped away a covering. The word certainly conveys the idea of confronting and resisting, but also implies intimidation, such as the taunting and ridiculing of Israel by Goliath. Goliath stripped away from the armies of Israel their dignity and reputation, causing them to appear frightened and weak.

Stripped of invincibility

Did Eleazar and his colleagues hope to reveal physical weakness in this large company of Philistines? Hardly, for the Philistines were great warriors, and they vastly outnumbered the three men of Israel. Eleazar aimed to expose them, not as weaklings, but as those who had no divine blessing with them, and no power to stand against God. They were 'defied' in the sense that they were stripped of their invincibility, and revealed as no match for those who had the power of God with them to protect them.

This was exactly what Eleazar intended. He set out to defy them. He did not defend his land in a grim, rearguard manner, nor did he go on the offensive solely to get the victory. He fought for victory, but most of all to demonstrate to his fellow Israelites the power of God, the reliability of His promises, and the impotence of an unbelieving enemy. These objectives were uppermost in Eleazar's mind, for he sought a victory for faith.

He set out to prove to the Israelites who had fled and to the whole nation that if they took the promises of God seriously, then He would be with them, and they would prevail. His, therefore, was a spiritual conflict.

He is particularly approved, not for his undoubted success as a soldier, but because he exhibited firm faith in the commands and promises of God. He believed, he was resolute and he persisted, despite exhaustion.

Why did every other Israelite apart from the three flee? Obviously, the appearance of the Philistines terrified them and swept out of their minds the oft-repeated promise of God that He would defend them. They saw thousands of Philistine warriors and thought nothing could be done. They abandoned a region of countryside to them, desperately hoping that appeasement would satisfy them. So they combined faithlessness with the expediency of tactical withdrawal, hoping that their remaining land would be left alone.

This is all so very up-to-date, because it is often like this in our spiritual battles today. There is the massive infiltration into the churches of worldliness and compromise. We have not seen so many evils for generations. Yet many Christians, including pastors and leaders who have been blessed by God in the past, now act like the Israelites who fled from the scene. They say –

'You can't beat the new worship and the tide of entertainment-style music. You can't beat this invading worldliness. Therefore we must give some ground, and let its advocates have some of what they want. By this policy we will contain it and preserve some of the old ways. If we simply say, 'This is wrong!' people will regard us as utterly negative. Many friends will be outraged at our stand. The cost of a battle will be too great, and we shall only lose. So, let the hostile tide come in just a little, and there it will rest.'

How greatly we need pastors like Adino, Eleazar and Shammah today! For them, God's name, honour and dignity had to be upheld, and no ground was to be lost, for this is what God had commanded.

Because they kept their commission when most had abandoned the scene, God was with them, and their exploits were inscribed in this roll of honour.

Eleazar 'arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword.' In other words, he had no strength left in him. How could he possibly go on against the odds that he faced? It was the Lord Who sustained him, and the record says that – 'the Lord wrought a great victory that day.'

'Pastor Eleazar'

Today, a 'Pastor Eleazar' would have unshakeable faith in the power of the Spirit to conquer souls through the proclamation of the Gospel, without the aid of 'Philistine' culture and music. He would hold the line despite its unpopularity, regardless of criticism and ridicule.

The great commentators of the past wrote angrily about the Israelites who fled, and with good reason. But the success of Eleazar and his colleagues brought the people back, giving them new heart and renewed faith. This can happen today where pastors and leaders stand and prove the Lord. Many who have surrendered to worldly trends may be moved to return to the old standards.

Thirty years ago we had a lady at the Tabernacle, then over 90 years old, who spoke of an occasion when she was a girl, and a visiting preacher told a very large youth Bible class that the ravens did not really feed Elijah. This, he said, was just a figure of speech or a pious embellishment. The preacher had evidently been infected with ideas from theological liberalism.

The girl's father, a deacon, heard of it, and politely confronted the visiting speaker. However, he was so well-known, and so able, and his address had been so enjoyable, that others did not want to remember having heard any doubtful remarks. The concerned deacon, they felt, was making an unnecessary fuss. It had been such a wonderful evening and everyone had been so blessed.

But the deacon insisted on action, and in due course a statement was made before the church on behalf of the officers that elements of the address were not only contrary to the Scripture, but destructive of their inerrancy, and that this very prominent minister would not be invited to take a study again.

The deacon's daughter never forgot that believers must be graciously vigilant, even when error comes as an angel of light and resistance is resented by good people. The Truth must always be defended. Tragically, we do not see this very often today. Pastors and people will seldom stand if it makes them unpopular to do so. David's mighty men stood when others fled, and proved the power of God.

The third member of David's top rank of mighty men was Shammah, who also stood his ground when all the others fled. Some commentators think this was at the same battle that Eleazar's hand clave to his sword, but most feel it was a different occasion. Eleazar had stood in a field of barley (1 Chronicles 11), while Shammah made his great stand in a field of lentils.

Shammah's purpose

A Philistine troop had taken up position by the fields where Shammah stood either alone, or with very few helpers, barring the way to those crops, and God gave him a phenomenal victory over them.

But why does the record of Scripture go to the trouble of supplying us with that detail, that the battle took place in a field of lentils? Would it not be more conventional to tell us the name of that place? (We assume it was not the same battle as Eleazar's.) If the Holy Spirit prefers a field of lentils before a place-name, then we may assume there is good reason.

The significance is that a principle is at stake. The representatives of the Lord must not allow any of Israel's precious land and crops to be taken. The Philistines were about to trample down growing crops ready for harvest. Or it could have been the case that behind the Philistine militia a band of men waited to seize the crop for Philistine use.

However, it was not only the land that lay under the promised protection of God, but the 'milk and honey' that flowed from it. This was Israel's food, and Israel's toil, over which their enemy would charge in wilful destruction and contempt, or to forage for themselves. Shammah knew that the Lord's promise of protection would apply in that place, and God gave him inspired courage.

Fields were not good ground for fighting. Here was soft, tilled earth that would quickly be churned up, making it slippery and almost impossible to move about in. There was no cover such as bushes or undergrowth to hide in, or shield oneself in. Shammah might fear that the enemy could easily surround him, or rush him. But he was ready to demonstrate the invincibility of God's promised care in the very worst conditions, and by this to administer both rebuke and encouragement to his fellow Israelites.

Shammah did not exercise faith with one part of his mind, and look for trees or rocks to cover himself with the other part. He did not run to find better terrain, thinking that the Lord could help him amid rocks, but not in an open field.

From his act of heroism we learn that God not only gives eternal security to the souls of His children, but He intends their food supply – the Word – to be defended and protected, including the instructions and practices taught in that Word. Paul writes – 'Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle' (2 Thessalonians 2.15).

Withstanding worldliness

Today in many evangelical and even reformed churches the rules of the Word are being churned up and destroyed by the 'Philistines' of worldliness and progressive worship, and many defenders have fled.

Shammah stood alone, and 'the Lord wrought a great victory.' It was, of course, miraculous, like the victory given to Eleazar. It was by divine intervention.

How was it that the Philistines failed to surround Shammah – standing as he was in open farmland? He exercised faith and wielded his weapon, but God gave both protection and offensive power.

In our day there will be no withstanding the tide of worldliness and entertainment-style worship if we fail to do our part. But as we take our stand, then the Lord will protect our churches. As we wield the sword of Scripture, the Lord will make effective our arguments, pleadings and remonstrances.

The next three mighty men of David originally joined him when he was in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22). Later (perhaps 2 Samuel 5) David went into a cave stronghold with his men, as the Philistines spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. A major garrison of Philistines was stationed at Bethlehem.

The Philistines therefore had a vast force between David's stronghold and Bethlehem, and it was likely they would soon make Bethlehem their own. David's heart was no doubt heavy, longing to rescue Bethlehem, but this was not God's time.

The biblical record tells us that 'David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!' Some commentators think that David was indulging a strange and even selfish whim in wanting to taste this particular water. But David meant that he longed to be free to go and deliver Bethlehem. Then he would be able to drink of the water of Bethlehem!

However, three unnamed heroes decided to take David literally. Why did they risk their lives on such a hazardous mission? They surely realised David was not primarily pining for that water! These were highly intelligent upper-ranking officers. They must have known what he meant.

Of course they did. Their action was a remarkable act of identification with him, done to encourage him. They said, in effect, that they believed he would deliver Bethlehem one day, and they mounted a demonstration of how readily it could be accomplished when the Lord moved.

These men 'brake through the host of the Philistines'. The Hebrew word means to cleave, or to chop something in two. It may well be used figuratively referring to a clandestine piercing of the Philistine lines, but it is more likely that we are meant to think of a decisive cutting through. Perhaps there was a fierce skirmish, or several, and so they burst through the valley of Rephaim, and moved behind enemy lines.

Why did they do it?

We can only imagine the risks they took, and, of course, having secured the water they would have to get out again. They proceeded to Bethlehem, where there was another line of Philistines around the city.

We ask again – why did they do it? Because they wanted to identify totally with David's mission. They loved the man. They were for him, and they wished to make the dramatic affirmation that God would see the nation through. This was their pledge of loyalty. It was, if you like, a statement of faith.

Certainly it was not due to a mad craving on David's part, giving rise to a rash and pointless act. In 1 Chronicles 11.10 we are told, 'These also are the chief of the mighty men whom David had, who strengthened themselves with him in his kingdom.' The marginal reading is: 'Who held strongly with him'. The bringing of water from Bethlehem was a valiant act of loyalty.

This is our calling today, to stand with our Saviour as they stood with the type. We know Him, we love Him, we have proved Him, we know His ways, we love His Word, and although it is an unpopular time to stand with the Lord and the old ways, we will do it. The three mighty men went far beyond any call of duty, and were ready to risk their lives for David. Surely we also are ready to risk all for Christ. We will not cling to ambitions for earthly success, or longings for perfect homes and fine possessions. We will not covet leisure and pleasure, ease and tranquillity. If to be a committed and serving believer challenges these comforts, and it always will, then we will turn away from them gladly.

When the water of Bethlehem was at last brought to David he would not drink it, 'but poured it out unto the Lord'. Surely this proves that his desire for this water had not been a foolish and self-indulgent whim, but an expression of longing for victory and peace, and the ultimate deliverance of Bethlehem. David was no doubt deeply moved by the exploits of the three, even startled at their readiness to act, but as soon as he received that water, he turned it into an offering to the Lord. It was not his offering, but a symbol of their freely offered blood.

Risking and forfeiting

We may be sure that our Lord is moved by our freely offered energies, and especially by our risking and forfeiting comforts, liberties, opportunities and pleasures for Him. Salvation is altogether by grace, and we are always unworthy of Christ's love, and yet He deigns to be pleased with our every act of service and our every exercise of faith. Self-denial, determination, boldness and labour are all part of our worship and love.

This writer is sent a number of church magazines, and these are usually very interesting and edifying. But in one or two – appreciated as they are – many congratulations are handed out. Hearty commendation goes to one young person then another, for passing this or that examination and securing this or that celebrated and wonderful university place or appointment.

It may seem a very small point, and in a way it is, but it seems a shame to hand out these laurels in a church publication. At a personal level, let us express our delight that young people are blessed with beneficial earthly successes, but the agencies of the church are surely for the King's business, and for encouraging (and giving thanks to God for) works of witness and faith, and the defence of the faith. These are the things that matter. We are very happy if young people pass exams, and get on well, but we are here for spiritual advance.

The taking of the water of Bethlehem was a sacrificial act of faith, performed in solidarity with the aims and purposes of the captain of the godly, the type of Christ. This is the spirit we want to encourage in our young people, by our own example and by kindly exhortation.

The three who went to Bethlehem are not named, although some commentators suppose that two of them were Abishai and Benaiah, mentioned next in the record.

Joab fails to find a place

Abishai was the brother of Joab. Does it seem strange that Joab, who we would rank as the most important of them all, fails to find a place in this list? He is mentioned only to identify first Abishai, and then his own armour bearer. For all Joab's exploits, position and greatness, he functioned chiefly for himself, and so falls short of the ranks of the wholly dedicated, unselfish men of courage.

Abishai is often mentioned in the history of David. One night he accompanied David to Saul's camp. Later he secured a victory against the Edomites. He was also prominent in victory over the Ammonites. Against Absalom he commanded a third of David's army. He once saved David's life, slaying the giant Ishbibenob. But the feat selected for the hall of fame of mighty men is an occasion when 'he lifted up his spear against three hundred, and slew them.' This was such a tremendous act of courage that it appears to have placed him in a high place on a list of 37 worthies.

Abishai's feat links him with the first three of David's mighty men in that it involved single-handed combat with an enemy host. God usually uses human instruments working in fellowship, but if there is only one person available to accomplish an emergency task, however large, the Lord will make that one sufficient for the task.

After Abishai, the roll of mighty men suddenly seems to lower the level of qualifying accomplishment, because the next worthy, Benaiah, is not noted for single-handed combat with hundreds or thousands, but only ones and twos. We read that –

'Benaiah . . . slew two lionlike men of Moab: he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow: and he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian's hand, and slew him with his own spear.'

What was so special about the two lion-like men of Moab? They were seemingly invincible opponents, feared by all other Israelites. Perhaps they were champions put up (like Goliath for the Philistines) at the time that David subdued Moab, and they were engaged by Benaiah.

More likely they were agents, assassins, seeking King David, and intercepted and confronted by Benaiah. (Moabite policy historically employed infiltration.)

We are told that David set Benaiah over his guard. As chief of royal security and commander of the elite company protecting the king, it fell to Benaiah to detect infiltrators and to check ambassadors.

The two Moabites were 'lion-god-like' (in the Hebrew) which no doubt means they were armed, immensely powerful, and above all possessed heroic courage and tenacity. Benaiah by the help of God overpowered them. Whether they were champions or assassins, their exceptional power and ferocity brings the event into focus.

For today, we note that attacks on the Truth, and the standards required by the Lord for His churches, may come in the form of a general malaise, or they may occur as isolated acts of 'infiltration'. Churches are attacked both ways.

The Lion in the Snow

Benaiah was also renowned for going down into a pit and killing a lion in time of snow. What is so special about this? Snow is not uncommon in the highlands of the region, such as snow-capped Mount Hermon, but a freak cold snap in lower areas is not impossible. (Such a spell occurred only recently.) This would not have troubled a mountain lion, but an Israelite warrior would have been greatly disadvantaged.

Perhaps this lion had attacked and killed people, terrifying a community. It is unlikely that the pit was an animal trap, for then Benaiah would have been able to destroy the beast from above, and would not be credited with an act of amazing valour. It is more likely that this was a shallow grain storage pit, or system of pits, in which the lion was hiding, and it had to be hunted and found, so that deaths could be avoided. It may have been during a military campaign in the mountains that a marauding lion threw encamped troops into confusion. Benaiah would then have been the commander who saved the day. His courage was immense, and he was never found wanting.

Then there was the incident when Benaiah, unarmed at the time, engaged a powerful Egyptian warrior. The Hebrew calls the Egyptian a man of great stature. His encounter with unarmed people was clearly hostile and unexpected. Benaiah, head of security, is seen here as a man ever vigilant and ready to act, even at great risk to himself, and in such a situation God used him. He advanced on the assailant with only a staff, as onlookers gasped, wrenched the weapon out of his grip, and turned it on him. He took the battle to the wrongdoer, and secured the safety, perhaps of the king, certainly of other key people.

Infiltrating the Royal Circle

The example for today is plain. Destructive errors must be faced whether by pastors and church officers, or by individual believers. Benaiah would not have allowed infiltrators or assailants to enter the royal circle unchallenged.

Today, worldly practices will ruin the lives of believers and the health of churches if there are no Benaiahs, because leaders have become cowardly or unconcerned. None of us can hope to be 'mighty men', but we must strive to emulate them.

After Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, we are given 31 additional names of mighty men in the 2 Samuel list. They seem to come from all parts, some from notable places, others from obscure areas. Believers today may be counted faithful and zealous servants of Jesus Christ no matter what their background.

One of the worthies on this list was Asahel, who had died at the hand of Abner at the beginning of David's reign. Yet he is still remembered and listed. Man so often forgets loyal deeds long after the death of the person, but David did not forget, and nor does the Lord. The shortest 'career' of loyal service is cherished by Him.

Some on the list of mighty men are Gentiles – an amazing example of prophecy by type. Uriah the Hittite is on this list, but again we note, great Joab is not. His brother is here, and even his subordinate, his armour bearer, but not Joab. It is as if the Lord has said of Joab, 'Step down Joab, you are off the record of nobility and honour!'

But why? Joab was both brilliant and valiant, and he had served so long. He was the key person in the defence and building up of David. So, why was he excluded? Surely it was because he did it for himself. He would even murder to maintain his position. That position was the most important matter to him. When it suited him, he virtually switched sides, and backed a conspiracy.

Certainly Joab was even emotionally for David, but that was while David was good for him. He could be loyal and self-sacrificing, but it was a faithfulness akin to that of an actor who must project himself into the part, and feel as his adopted character would feel. Joab was genuinely ardent and yet phoney at the same time, a terrible trap of delusion to fall into. He dedicated his spoils to the house of God, yet murdered with equal readiness.

Prepared to be Inconspicuous

Is it possible that we do things in the service of the Lord, yet for ourselves? Do we only do those things that we enjoy, or that will redound to our credit? This was Joab's great sin and downfall.

But his subordinates, indeed all on this list (most of whom we read nothing more of in the record), were prepared to be subordinates. They were willing to be inconspicuous and to do their remarkable deeds out of their love and loyalty for David, and for the cause. These are the mighty men who were given vision, faith, determination, and strength in extraordinary abundance by the Lord.

David, the representative of God, and His anointed one, was everything to these men, and they would pledge themselves to him. And that is how it should be with us, in our total commitment of energy, gifts and emotions to Christ.

These are days when every Christian, young and old, must stand for the Truth, and for spiritual things, and against worldly encroachments. We all need to have our eyes open, ready to defend the Lord, and the faith, no matter how great the popularity and power of the infraction. This will not be because we are belligerent in disposition, but because we realise that this is part of the calling of the people of Christ.