David’s Mighty Men (2 Samuel 23; 2 Samuel 11)

Now, I don’t know your taste in action heroes. You may like Bruce Willis’s everyman in Die Hard. You may be awed by the sheer physical presence of Schwartzenegger. You may like the kung fu comedy of Jackie Chan; you may appreciate the near cartoonish antics of Jason Statham. There are many styles of badassery, but few can be said to be biblical. This entry is about the most epic, the most heroic, the most testosterone-fuelled passge in the Bible. It’s a passage that doesn’t get preached on much, and I’m not sure I’m bringing any real insight to it, but it’s getting an entry anyway, because it’s awesome.

2 Samuel 23 is a list of King David’s biggest baddest warriors. Such as:

  • Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed 800 men in one battle. With a spear.
  • Eleazar, who taunted Philistines into battle, and even when the rest of his men had retreated, he kept on fighting until his hand froze to his sword. And he won.
  • Shammah, who fought off a Philistine invasion on his own. Bizarrely, this was in a field of lentils.
  • Abishai, who killed 300 bad guys. Again with a spear.
  • And finally my favourite, Benaiah. David’s bodyguard, he took out two of the best Moabite soldiers. He went up against a huge Egyptian (another giant?) armed only with a club, then wrestled the Egyptian’s spear from him and killed him with it. And he killed a lion. In a pit. In the snow. Benaiah is awesome.

These are epic tales, the sort of stories people tell around the campfire and sing songs about. There are 37 names listed in all (there’s a similar list in 1 Chronicles 11) and, from the way the passage is written, they’re all heroes.

But something jumped out at me.

This is a list of David’s fiercest and best warriors? Fine.

Look at the last name on the list – Uriah the Hittite, right?

Okay, now read 2 Samuel 11:1-27.

Being last on the list draws attention not just to Uriah, but also to David’s greatest sin. Long story short – David had an affair with Uriah’s wife, who became pregnant as a result. David hopes Uriah will sleep with her and think he’s the father, but no, Uriah is too loyal to leave his post during wartime. The only way to cover up the affair is for David to have Uriah deployed to the thickest fighting of the next battle, and inevitably he is killed. It’s a cynical, cowardly act of murder; needless to say, God isn’t happy and David pays for it.

And so maybe, at the end of this list of heroic badassery, this is something we need to remember – our heroes have feet of clay. David was both a man after God’s own heart and a murdering adulterer. The message? The real hero of the Bible isn’t David, isn’t Moses, isn’t Benaiah the lion-killer. It’s God, the only one who doesn’t fail, doesn’t fall, doesn’t have feet of clay.

Today is traditionally a day on which we remember Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness; the time when, tempted by infinite power, infinite resources and the insidious whispers of an easy life, he took the difficult, agonising path to the cross – a hero’s journey.

He’s the one who rides to our rescue.

He’s the one who sacrifices himself.

He’s the hero.

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2 thoughts on “David’s Mighty Men (2 Samuel 23; 2 Samuel 11)

  1. I was just reading through 1 Chronicles 11 where it mentions Uriah the Hititte as well. It’s interesting to note while some of the other “Mighty Men” had huge battle awards and honors, Uriah held his ground with personal honor and dignity by refusing to rest with his wife while his comrades were off fighting. Too bad Uriah never is honored for this though.

  2. Pingback: Obscure Biblical Action Hero of the Day: Shamgar (Judges 3:31) | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

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