His Mighty Men

2 Samuel 23

The last thirty-two verses of 2 Samuel 23 have received comparatively scant attention from those who are accustomed to read the Scriptures, and even most of the commentators are nearly silent upon them. Probably the average Christian finds it somewhat difficult to glean much from them which he feels is really profitable to his soul. A number of men are enumerated—some of them mentioned in earlier chapters, but the great majority otherwise quite unknown to us—and one or two of their deeds are described; and then the second half of our chapter is taken up with a long list of names, over which most people are inclined to skip. Nevertheless, these very verses are included in that divine declaration, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4); and it is therefore to the dishonor of God and to our own real loss if we ignore this passage.

There is nothing meaningless in any section of Holy Writ: every part thereof is "profitable" for us (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Let us therefore settle it at the outset that this passage contains valuable instruction for us today, important lessons which we do well to take to heart. Let us, then, humbly bow before God and beg Him to open our eyes, that we may behold "wondrous things" in this part of His Law. Let us gird up the loins of our minds, and seek to reverently ponder and spiritually meditate upon its contents. Let us bear in mind the law of the context, and endeavor to ascertain the relation of this passage to the verses immediately preceding. Let us duly take note of how these "mighty men of David" are classified, and try to discover what is suggested thereby. Let us look beyond the historical and trace out what is typical, at the same time setting bounds to our imagination and being regulated by the analogy of faith.

Before entering into detail, let us point out some of the general lessons inculcated—suggested, in part by the brief notes of Matthew Henry. First, the catalogue which is here given us of the names, devotion and valor of the king’s soldiers is recorded for the honor of David himself, who trained them in their military arts and exercises, and who set before them an example of piety and courage. It enhances the reputation of, as well as being an advantage, when a prince is attended and served by such men as are here described. So it will be in the Day to come. When the books are opened before an assembled universe and the fidelity and courage of God’s ministers is proclaimed, it will be principally for the glory of their Captain, whom they served and whose fame they sought to spread, and by whose Spirit they were energized and enabled. Whatever crowns His servants and saints receive from God, they will be laid at the feet of the Lamb, who alone is worthy.

Second, this inspired record is made for the honor of those worthies themselves. They were instrumental in bringing David to the crown, of settling and protecting him in the throne, and of enlarging his conquests; and therefore the Spirit has not overlooked them. In like manner, the faithful ministers of God are instrumental in establishing, safeguarding and extending the kingdom of Christ in the world, and therefore are they to be esteemed highly for their works’ sake, as the Word of God expressly enjoins. Not that they desire the praise of men, but "honor to whom honor is due" is a precept which God requires His people to ever observe. Not only are the valorous soldiers of Christ to be venerated by those of their own day and generation, but posterity is to hold them in high regard: "The memory of the just is blessed." In the Day to come each of them shall "have praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5).

Third, to excite those who come after them to a generous emulation. That which was praiseworthy in the sires should be practiced by their children. If God is pleased hereby to express His approbation of the loyalty and love shown unto David by his officers, we may be sure that He is pleased now with those who strengthen the hands of His ministers, be they in the civil or the ecclesiastical realm. Those alive today should be inspired and encouraged by the noble deeds of heroes of the past. But to raise the thought to a higher level: if those men held David in such great esteem that they hesitated not to hazard their lives for his sake, how infinitely more worthy is the antitypical David of the most self-denying sacrifices and devotion from His servants and followers! Alas, how sadly they put most of us to shame.

Fourth, to show how much genuine religion contributes to the inspiring men with true courage. David, both by his Psalms, and by his offerings for the service of the temple, greatly promoted piety among the grandees of the kingdom (see 1 Chron. 29:6), and when they became famous for piety, they became famous for bravery. Yes, there is an inseparable connection between the two things, as Acts 4:13 so strikingly exemplifies: even the enemies of the apostles "took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus" when they "saw their boldness." He who truly fears God, fears not man. It is written, "The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion" (Prov. 28:1). History, both sacred and secular, abounds in examples of how pious leaders imbued their men with courage: Abraham, Joshua, Cromwell, being cases in point. From the record of their exploits courage should be inspired in us.

Let us now inquire, What is the connection between our present portion and the one preceding it? This is a principle which should never be neglected, for the ascertaining of the relation of one passage to another often throws light upon its typical scope, as well as supplies a valuable key to its interpretation. Such is the case here. The first seven verses of 2 Samuel 23 are concerned with "the last words of David," and what follows is virtually an honor role of those who achieved fame in his service. What a blessed foreshadowment of that which will occur when the earthly kingdom of the antitypical David comes to an end. Then shall His servants receive their rewards, for the righteous Judge will then distribute the crowns of "life" (Rev. 2:10), of "righteousness" (2 Tim. 4:8), and of "glory" (1 Peter 5:4). Then shall He pronounce His "well done thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Let therefore those now engaged in fighting the Lord’s battles be faithful, diligent and valorous, assured that in due course they will be richly compensated.

"These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: The Tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains; the same was Adino the Eznite: he lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time." (2 Sam. 23:8). When God calls a man to perform some special service in the interests of His kingdom and people, He also graciously raises up for him those who support his cause and strengthen his hands by using their influence on his behalf. Some of those helpers obtain the eye of the public, while others of them are far more in the background; but at the end each shall receive due recognition and proportionate honor. It was so here. David could never have won the victories he did, unless a kind Providence had supplied him with loyal and courageous officers. Nor had men like Luther and Cromwell performed such exploits unless supported by less conspicuous souls. Thus it has ever been, and still is. Even such a trivial work as the ministry of this magazine is only made possible by the cooperation of its readers.

The first one mentioned of David’s mighty men is Adino the Eznite. He is described as "The Tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains," by which we understand that he presided over the counsels of war, being the king’s chief military adviser. In addition to his wisdom, he was also endowed with extraordinary strength and valor, for it is here stated that he "lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time." His case seems to have been one similar to that of Samson’s—a man endued with supernatural strength. Typically, he reminds us of Paul, the chief of the apostles, who was not only enriched with unusual spiritual wisdom, but was mightier than any other in the pulling down of the strongholds of Satan; but whereas the one was famous for the taking of life, the other was instrumental in the communicating of life.

"And after him was 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 (v. 9). Here is the second of David’s worthies, one who acquitted himself courageously in an hour of urgent need. Nothing is said of him elsewhere, save in what some term "the parallel passage" of 1 Chronicles 11. This son of Dodo was one of the heroic triumvirate that enabled their royal master successfully to defy the assembled Philistines, and that at a time when, for some reason or other, the king’s army was "gone away." Eleazar refused to flee before the massed forces of the enemy, and he not only nobly stood his ground, but took the offensive, and with his confidence in the living God fell upon and slew hundreds of them.

The Spirit has placed special emphasis upon the noteworthiness of Eleazar’s prowess by informing us it was exercised on an occasion when "the men of Israel had gone back." That is the time for true courage to be manifested. When through unbelief, lack of zeal, or the fear of man, the rank and file of professing Christians are giving way before the forces of evil, then is the opportunity for those who know and trust the Lord to be strong and do exploits. It does not require so much courage to engage the enemy when all our fellow-soldiers are enthusiastically advancing against them, but it takes considerable grit and boldness to attack an organized and powerful foe when almost all of our companions have lost heart and turned tail.

God esteems fidelity and holy zeal far more highly in a season of declension and apostasy than He does in a time of revival. A crisis not only tests, but reveals a man, as a heavy storm will make evident the trustworthiness or weaknesses of a ship. What is here recorded to the lasting honor of Eleazar makes us think of the beloved Paul. Again and again he stood almost alone, yet he never made the defection of others an excuse for the abating of his own efforts. On one occasion he had to lament, "This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Tim. 1:15). Later, in the same epistle he wrote, "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me" (4:16, 17). Let the servants of God today take heart from these blessed examples.

"He arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword" (v. 10). Let it be duly noted that Eleazar did not stop when his work was half done, but went on prosecuting the same as long as he had any strength remaining. "Thus, in the service of God, we should keep up the willingness and resolution of the spirit, notwithstanding the weakness and weariness of the flesh; faint, yet pursuing (Judges 8:4); the hand weary, yet not quitting the sword" (Matthew Henry). Alas, in this age of ease and flabbiness, how readily we become discouraged and how quickly we give in to difficulties! O to heed that emphatic call "Be not weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Col. 6:9). Such incidents as these are recorded not only for our information but also for our inspiration, that we should emulate their noble examples; otherwise they will put us to shame in the Day to come.

"And the Lord wrought a great victory that day." It is the daring of faith which He ever delights to honor, as He had so signally evidenced a few years previously, when David as a stripling had challenged and overcome the mighty Goliath. It is the perseverance of faith which the Lord always rewards, as was strikingly demonstrated after Israel had marched around the walls of Jericho thirteen times. No doubt God struck this army of the Philistines with a terror as great as the courage with which He had endowed this hero. It is ever God’s way to work at both ends of the line: if He raises up a sower He also prepares the soil; if He inspires a servant with courage He puts fear into the hearts of those who oppose him. Observe how the glory of the victory is again ascribed to the Lord, and carefully compare Acts 14:27 and 21:19. "And the people returned after him only to spoil" (v. 10). How like human nature was this: they returned when there was "spoil" to be had!

"And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentiles: and the people fled from the Philistines" (v. 11). This incident concerned an armed force of Israel’s enemies who were out foraging, and who struck such terror into the hearts of the countryside that the peaceful locals fled. But there was one who refused to yield unto the marauders, determined to defend the food supply of his people, and under God, he completely routed them. Here is another courageous man of whom we know nothing save for this brief reference: what a hint it furnishes that in the Day to come many a one will then have honor from God who received scant notice among his fellows. No matter how obscure the individual, or how inconspicuous his sphere of labor, nothing that is done in faith, no service performed for the good of His people, is forgotten by God. Surely this is one of the lessons written plain across this simple but striking narrative.

"But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the Lord wrought a great victory" (v. 12). How this reminds us of what is recorded in Acts 14:3: "Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the Word of His grace and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands." Then let us heed that divine injunction, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:10, 11). Let us duly observe how, once more, the victory is ascribed to the Lord. No matter how great the ability and courage of the instruments, all praise for the achievement must be rendered alone unto God. "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches" (Jer. 9:23), for what has he that he did not first receive from above! How needful is this exhortation in such a day as ours, when pride is so much in the saddle and men’s persons are "had in admiration." God is jealous of His glory and will not share it with the creature, and His Spirit is quenched if we do so.