Unsung Heroes: David’s Mighty Men

Tom Groelsema, Speaker

2 Samuel 23:13-17 | July 10, 2022 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
July 10, 2022
Unsung Heroes: David’s Mighty Men | 2 Samuel 23:13-17
Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Father, as we now turn to Your Word and wait at Your feet for You to instruct us, to teach us, we pray, Lord, that what we just sang would be true in our hearts and in our lives, that Jesus, we have taken up our cross to follow You. We do this because You bore the cross for us. So Lord, in response we give our all to You. Lord, if it demands courage, we pray that we would have the courage to follow You. We pray that we would have an abiding devotion to follow You. If it involves risk, then we pray, Lord, if it is for the sake of Christ, we’d be willing to be risky for the cause of Christ. And in all of it, Lord, that our faith would be planted upon Jesus. So Lord, minister to our hearts now. We wait upon You, Lord. Your servants are listening. We pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.

Let’s turn in our Bibles today to 2 Samuel 23. Our text is verses 13 to 17, but we’re going to begin reading at verse 8 and then read through verse 17. 2 Samuel 23. We’re continuing our series this morning on Unsung Heroes. We’re taking a look at some of David’s mighty men.

2 Samuel 23. Again, let’s begin reading at verse 8. Our text verses 13 to 17. Hear God’s Word.

“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 now our text, these next few verses: “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.”

Well, dear people of God, as I mentioned, we are in the middle of this series called Unsung Heroes, looking at various people from the Bible who are not that well-known, but who provide an example, a model, for us of faith, trust, courage, perseverance, conviction, and on and on we could go. People that we can learn from.

Often our heroes, our greatest heroes, are military heroes. They’re war heroes. Even in our own culture, right? Many of the people that we look up to, that we count as heroes, are people who have fought in battle on behalf of us.

We could think, for example, about someone from the second World War, like General Dwight Eisenhower, Ike, US military commander in World War II who became our 34th president. When D-Day was about to occur, he penned a note to the men who were going into battle, to give them courage, to inspire them to bravery, to go ahead and fight the battle on the shores of France.

But he penned a second letter, a second letter in case of failure, in case the invasion did not succeed. This is what he said in that short letter. He said our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do.” Here’s why I think he’s a hero: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

We might think about other heroes, someone like Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I ace fighter pilot, 26 aerial victories, more than anyone else.

Or how about these men, Harlon Block, Harold Keller, Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz, Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank. You ever heard of these men? These are the six Marines who raised the flag in the battle of Iwo Jima. We hardly know their names, but heroes nonetheless. Three of them, in fact, were killed even before the battle of Iwo Jima was over.

Probably my favorite war hero is my father. My dad served in World War II, he was not in combat, served in the Air Force in England, an airplane mechanic. But I loved it when my dad would tell me, not, there weren’t many stories, but he’d tell me a few stories here and there about his time in the war. He told me about D-Day. He said, “We didn’t know what was going on, there on that airbase in England. Had no idea what was occurring.” But he said, “The sky was just full of planes. Then one plane after another would take off from our airbase and they would begin to circle in the air, circling up and up and up and up until they joined the formation of planes and then off they went. Whatever was going on, off they went to fight the battle.”

Well, our text this morning has some military heroes in it, doesn’t it? David’s mighty men. There’s a long list in this chapter, 37 men in all, divided into two different groups. We read about the first group, three particular mighty men who stand out, all of them winning great victories for the Lord. Then there’s a list of 30. You say 30 plus 3, that’s 33, not 37. Well, there’s 37 listed here. What we think probably happened is some of the mighty men died and others replaced them, four, so that we move from 33 to 37, but the second list, 30 might men.

Some notables. Men like Benaiah, who struck down two ariels of Moab and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when the snow had fallen. With his bare hands took a lion out.

Or in the last verse of this chapter, men like Uriah the Hittite. You remember it was David who stole his wife Bathsheba. Put Uriah on the front lines. Isn’t it interesting that in the list of David’s mighty men, David’s heroes, here’s Uriah, the man whom David had killed, one of David’s mighty men.

Well, today we’re thinking about this group of three in verses 13 to 17, unsung heroes. We don’t have any names for these men. Their names are never going to be on a plaque on a memorial, some war kind of trophy somewhere. Don’t know who they are, at least by name. Yet they are heroes. Two times in the Bible their story is recorded, both here and in 1 Chronicles 11.

What were these men known for? Let me suggest four things this morning that we’re going to look at. They were known for abiding devotion, cheerful service, undaunted courage, and a focused faith. Abiding devotion, cheerful service, undaunted courage, and a focused faith.

Let’s go through those one by one this morning.

First of all, an abiding devotion. It was an abiding devotion to the king, to King David. The setting of their story occurs here early in David’s reign.

Verse 13: Three of the 30 chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was camped in the Valley of Rephaim.

There’s two possible events that 2 Samuel 23 is talking about. The first possible event was before David actually took the throne. He had been set apart as king, he had been anointed, and yet Saul was still on the throne. David was still moving toward the throne and Saul was after his life. One of the places where David fled from Saul was to the cave of Adullam, about 400 men gathered with David there. That might be one episode, or one event that our text is referring to.

The other event occurs in 2 Samuel 5. It’s very early in David’s reign. He’s king, he’s on the throne, and the Philistines, who were a constant menace to Israel, they come out and attack him and they come out and attack Israel, so early in David’s reign that they’re thinking, “If we can defeat Israel, maybe David won’t get established as king. We will be able to overpower them, overcome them.” And David ran to the stronghold once again at this cave of Adullam, a popular place for David to go when he was fleeing.

I would suggest to you this morning that it’s that latter event early in David’s reign that is being talked about here, these three of the 30 chief men who went down to David in the cave.

So David is king, early in his reign. There were few followers, there were many enemies. His kingdom was fragile. His followers a ragtag collection of loyalists. Those who followed him were family members, those who were in distress, those who were in debt, those who were bitter in soul, kind of a ragtag bunch of followers.

Kind of reminded me a bit of the movie Braveheart. William Wallace, right? He’s going to battle, and who is his army? A bunch of misfits, right? Kind of a citizen army, a people’s army, outcasts, those who are on the fringe of society and those who went out into the highways and the byways and the meadows and found Wallace out there, these are the same kind of men who joined up with David.

So his followers were few and his enemies were many. There were enemies inside the kingdom. There were many enemies outside the kingdom, like the Philistines. They came against David and David had no organized army to defend himself. His fortress was a cave. It’s called here a stronghold, it’s in fact called that many different places in the Bible, this cave of Adullam, 12 miles from Bethlehem where the Philistines had gathered. The Philistines were camping at the gate of David’s hometown while David is in exile and a refuge inside of this cave and these three men came to visit David.

Notice their devotion to him. The king didn’t come to them, but they came to him. They didn’t come to David after he was established, living in Jerusalem, on the throne, receiving the honor of all the people, but they came searching for David while he was a refuge. They came to him in a cave, in a hideout, and they were loyal. They had an abiding loyalty to David, a constant loyalty, something that was consistent, didn’t waver, didn’t go up and down. They were committed to David as their king and they followed him.

Last Sunday morning, as Kevin was preaching about Onesiphorus, remember he talked about his loyalty to Paul even when so many others had deserted him. And David found himself in a very similar place. So many had deserted him. The enemies were coming against him but here were men who were loyal to David and their loyalty was carried to the pitch of devotion.

Those are slightly different things, people of God. Loyalty and devotion. Devotion is loyalty with affection. Add affection to loyalty and you get devotion, and that’s what these men had for David.

Why did they follow him so consistently? Why did they go out to him when he’s running away, on the run? They went out to him because they knew who he was. This isn’t just David. This man was the anointed of the Lord. David had been appointed by God. David had been set apart and anointed by God. He is king. Even if many others were not following him, they were going to be loyal to him, they would go to David, even if only a handful would join with him, they would be counted among them.

People of God, how deep is our devotion to King Jesus? How deep is your devotion to Him? How consistently are you willing to follow Him, be loyal to Him, be devoted to Him, to go with Him? It’s very easy to follow Christ when many others are following Him, isn’t it? But what about our commitment to follow Christ when we are one of a few? When most others are not following him? Most others may go another way. When things are on the line and a choice is to be made, are we going to go with Christ or not go with Christ, and many others might go the other direction, are we willing to follow the Lord Jesus? Are we willing to stand alone and be in a radical minority when it comes to giving allegiance to Christ?

Devotion is not an easy thing these days. Never has been, I suppose. But these days, in a cancel culture where it’s so easy to cancel someone, to write them off due to a commitment or opinion or to be canceled yourself, than to be faced, “Am I doing to follow Christ to the end? Am I going to be devoted to Him?” is a difficult thing. To be canceled, in fact, is probably what we can expect to have happen if we are committed to Christ.

Here were these men. Where’s David? We’re going with him. Even if many others don’t, we’re loyal to the king. They followed him.

Secondly, they’re a model of cheerful service. It’s here where we see their affection. We see their devotion, but here we see their affection to David. They were not bound to him by a stoic obligation, but rather they gladly followed and served him.

So they came to visit him about harvest time, the text says, at this cave of Adullam. David was there in the stronghold. Verse 15, while they were there, David expressed a desire. The text says, “David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!”” David said, “If only I could have some Bethlehem water. I remember that water. If only someone would run and grab me some of that. I’d love it.”

This cave where David was and the men were no doubt had a spring of its own. People would not hide out in a place unless it had a spring. You need water, right? So this strong no doubt had a water source of its own. But here David is longing for Bethlehem water. What was it about that water of Bethlehem that David wanted so much that he longed for? Was there something special to it? A special taste? Special properties to it?

I don’t think it’s probably the water of Bethlehem was somehow different than other water. It kind of reminds me of a family trip that we took years ago, we were traveling through South Dakota. If any of you have been through there, you’re immediately going to know what I’m talking about. All the signs for Wall Drug. Right? I looked online – 300 signs, in Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, depending which direction you’re going in, but mile after mile, Wall Drug, Wall Drug, only 50 miles to Wall Drug, only 35 miles to Wall Drug. On the signs, “Free refreshing water.” That’s what made Wall Drug so famous. People traveling across the plains could stop at Wall Drug and get water. So they still try to get you that way, right? Free refreshing water, stop at Wall Drug. And you see so many signs for Wall Drug that you think this water has to be unique. There has to be something amazing about this water. And then you get there and it’s incredibly underwhelming. Little plastic cup, here’s some water to drink, and it tastes like water from anywhere else. There’s nothing special about Wall Drug. Hopefully none of you have stock in Wall Drug.

There’s nothing special about it. I don’t think there was probably anything special in terms of taste, in terms of property, in terms of the water itself that came from Bethlehem. Why was it that David longed for water from Bethlehem? Why? Because it was his home.

He thought back, no doubt, about the waters of Bethlehem. Maybe when he was out tending sheep, I remember how good the water tasted when I was out in the hot desert sun taking care of sheep. I remember carrying a jug of water with me when I went to fight Goliath and how good that water was in the middle of battle.

People of God, he just thought back to where he had come from and his home, now occupied by the enemy, by the Philistine enemy, even though he was king. There was a desire, of course, for water, but a longing to have Bethlehem to be in the hands of God’s people again.

What did these three might men do as they heard the desire and the wish of the king? Boom! They were off to get water. When you read the text, look at verses 15 and 16 again. It’s important just to notice this, I think. You read the text and there’s no break, there’s no gap between these two verses, 15 and 16 – David says 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.” There’s nothing in between those two verses.

It’s like just bam! They went. We gotta go. And they left. This is cheerful action and service to the king.

Notice David’s command, or David’s longing was not a command. In other words, he didn’t say, “Men, I’m asking you to go. I’m commanding you to go.” He didn’t do that. This is not even a request. He doesn’t even say, “Men, would you go for me?” He simply expressed a desire from his heart. This is like a passing comment that they heard from the king. And they said to themselves, “If that’s what the king wants, that’s what we’ll do. We will go and fetch him water.” Gladly, cheerfully, they sprang into action, the king’s wish became their command.

Edmund Clowney writes about the text. He says, kind of imagining what it was like, “They exchanged looks, they belted on their swords, they picked up a pitcher, and set across the wilderness for Bethlehem.” Put on the belt, grab the pitcher, go. This is what the king wants, this is what we’ll do.

Dale Ralph Davis says they were overcome with an awe that should overcome us. Overcome with awe for the king.

This is what it was like for the prophet Isaiah. I was thinking about his glad response to God. He has a view of God in Isaiah chapter 6, and of course the overwhelming glory of God. The angels covering their faces and singing holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, and Isaiah as he sees this, of course, he is undone. He understands who he is in light of who God is – “I am a man of unclean lips for my eyes have seen the King,” and then the angel comes and atones for his sin and touches his lips. What’s his response? “Here am I, send me.” I’ll go, I’ll go. God, I’ll go.

And here are these men. They hear the desire of the king and what do they say? We’ll go. Let’s go. We’ve gotta get him water. He is the king.

Cheerful service to King David.

So friends, how deep is our devotion to the King and how ready is our response to the King and to His commands and to His desires to follow Him?

Third, we see undaunted courage. So the men went, verse 16, “The three mighty men, they broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and they carried and brought it to David.”

So often in Old Testament narratives we don’t have that many details, but don’t you wonder how this all went down as the men took their jug of water, their pitcher of water, whatever it was, and made their way to Bethlehem? What was it like when they crept up on the garrison that was outside of Bethlehem? They began to prowl their way toward the city? When did they first meet opposition? Did they fight their way up the hill to the city gate? Surely they had to fight their way inside the city to the well as the Philistines became aware that the enemy was here. Did one soldier draw water as the others were standing alongside of him, fighting off the enemy?

And then, of course, what was it like to make their way all the way back to the cave were David was?

We don’t know any of these details, but what we do know is that it took undaunted courage to get water for the king.

Did you see how David reflects on this, what they have done? In verse 17, he says, “Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” They risked it all. They held the honor of the king as higher than their own lives or their own livelihood. They risked everything to honor the king. They went. It might cost them everything, cost them their lives, but they were willing to take the risk for the sake of King David.

I don’t know if any of you have read the book by John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life. It’s one of my favorite books by Piper. I’ve read the book two, three times, kind of come back to parts of it over and over again, but there’s a chapter in that book that Piper calls, “When Risk is Right.” Piper says this in the book, he says: “If our single all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death, and if the life that magnifies Him most is the life of costly love, then life is risk and risk is right.”

If our all-consuming passion is to serve Christ, then there are times where taking risk is right for the sake of serving and honoring Christ.

Just two weeks ago here at the church we hosted the Radius Conference, a missions conference and the call of Radius is to train people to go to unreached language groups throughout the world. They ask the question, “Why are these groups unreached? Why are these different language groups unreached?” Well, they’re unreached because it’s difficult to get to them. And the risk to going to these unreached people groups is high. So many haven’t gone, right? And their call is to raise people up, to train them up to go, to take the risk to go to these hard places.

Very few of us will ever be called to go to an unreached language group, so I want to get that off the table right away this morning. That’s not what I want to call anybody to, very few of us will ever have to do that.

But friends, there are other kinds of risks that we may be called to as followers of Christ. Are we willing to risk for our Redeemer? For Christ Jesus? To take risks on His behalf? It might be the risk of physical harm. Again, probably not true for most of us. It might be the risk of job or financial loss, the risk of social isolation and scorn. It may be the risk of family rejection. It may be the risk simply of leaving what is familiar to you, what is secure in your life, and going out and risking that for the sake of answering the call of Christ to go somewhere else, to do something else, to serve Him in another way.

The risk, of course, is not the same for all of us. Risk may be higher for some of us and lower for others of us.

But, people of God, risk is part of the vocabulary and call of the Christian life. Risk is one of those words that we ought to use, we ought to associate with when it comes to walking and following Jesus. We ought not to be risk-averse, leaning away from anything that might make us lose something.

Far too often, isn’t it true, that when we think about following Christ, we begin to sort of count up our chips, right? We say, “Okay, this is what Jesus is calling me to. This is what obedience looks like. Now I kind of want to take all the pros and all the cons and compare them and what is it going to cost me here and what might it cost me there.” And we start sort of counting it all up and put it on the scales and if the balance of security is a little heavier than the balance of risk, well, okay, that’s good. But what about if the balance of risk is greater than the balance of security? Are we willing to do what Jesus asks us to do?

You see, that’s the model of these heroes. They heard the desire of the king, “Oh, I’d love some water from Bethlehem. If I could just have some of that water again.” And they went. They didn’t stop first and sort of collaborate. I mean, they could have come up with a hundred reasons not to go to Bethlehem. “King, there’s good water here. Why go to Bethlehem? We have all the water that we want right here in the cave.” Or, “Let’s wait til the Philistines leave the city. How about if we just wait a couple of weeks and the Philistines, they’ll go away from Bethlehem and then we can go to Bethlehem and get you some water.” But they didn’t do that.

The very last page of Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life, he talks about asking a question once a year as he ministered at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and the question was this. He said it came about every time there was a missions conference, an annual missions conference. He said, “I would ask myself this question.” He said, “God, is this where you can use me most for Your glory?” Every single year, “God, is this the place, Bethlehem Baptist Church, is this the place where you can use me most for Your glory?” He said, “When I can no longer answer that question yes, then it’ll be time to go on somewhere else where the Lord leads me.”

Friends, I think that’s a wonderful question to ask of ourselves. God, is this the place, what I’m doing right now, the calling that You’ve given me, the place where I live, the things that I’m involved with, are these the things where You can use me most for Your glory?

But friends, what happens when you can’t answer that question “yes” anymore? And you just start saying, “Well, okay, I might have to move here then.” Will you do it? I might to change occupations, and God is calling me here, and then you start thinking about the risk of all that. Will you do it?

How deep is our devotion to Christ? How ready is our response to the Lord? How clear is our courage to follow Christ?

Finally, how focused is our faith?

David’s response when the men came back with the water is, of course, the most puzzling and surprising part of this text. The men returned with their water and rather than taking a big glassful and drinking it down, David would not drink of it. Instead he poured it out to the Lord. In verse 17, he 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.”

When you picture the scene, do you get slightly angry, frustrated. Like, David, don’t you know what these men just went through to get you water? This was your desire. This was your longing. They come back, they did it.

I won’t do it up here, but [sound effect], pour it out. What are you doing? What a waste. Don’t you take seriously the lives of your men?

And of course the answer is, it’s just the opposite of all of that. David didn’t see this water as trash, he saw it as a treasure. Because he understood the peril that these men had been through, that they had risked their lives to get him water, and the water that they brought back represented their blood. They risked their own blood. They risked life and limb. How could he drink it? This was water that needed to be given to the Lord.

As he poured it out to the Lord, what this became, what this water became was a drink offering to God. There’s all kinds of offerings in the Bible in the Old Testament, right? Guilt offerings, burnt offerings, sin offerings, grain offerings. And then there’s this drink offering, and this drink offering was a bit unique because a drink offering was never to be offered except in the land of promise. In other words, Israel offered no drink offerings to God on their way to the Promised Land, in the 40 years of the wilderness or in Egypt. They did not offer a drink offering to God, they only offered a drink offering to God after they entered the Promised Land and took possession of it. It was reserved as a celebration of the rest that God had given to His people.

So normally they would offer some fine wine to God. Here it was Bethlehem water. This offering, you see, both recognized the sacrifice that these men had made to David and even more importantly to God. But it also anticipated the rest that was still coming. Yes, David and his men and Israel, they were in the Promised Land, but all of the land was not yet their possession. In fact, that special town, David’s town, his hometown, belonged to the enemy, it was the Philistines’. And as David poured this water out to God, what he’s saying to these men is, “Not only am I thankful for what you’ve done for me, but this is an emblem of faith that that town, where the Philistines reside, that town will be our town. It will be the Lord’s, not our enemy’s.”

David’s offering then, you see, was meant to spur these men on to a focused faith in God and His promises. But the land would be theirs. Men, it will be ours by the grace of God. And he was reminding them that their gift may have been for David, but their service, it was to the Lord Himself.

Friends, it’s a reminder to us of where our rest comes from. Where do we find our rest? And of course the answer is we find it in Christ. We find it in Jesus alone. In David’s Son, this Son of David who was born in the city of Bethlehem, this place where the men went to get the water. He is of the house and line of David and that is the very place where our Lord and our Savior broke through the enemy lines, isn’t it? As He entered into our world, a broken world, a sinful world. There borne of a woman, born under law to redeem those who are under the law so that we might be adopted as sons. He didn’t come just at the risk of His life, but He came at the very cost of His life. He didn’t just risk it all, He gave it all, He gave His life as a ransom for many.

It’s not our devotion to Him which is at center stage, of course, but it’s His devotion and steadfast love to us, that is at the heart of the Gospel. What does He give us to drink? He gives us a cup of His own blood, which is the water of life, isn’t it? If we drink of the water of life He gives, He promises us that we will never ever thirst again.

This is what needs to be the spring of our devotion to Jesus, to our abiding devotion, to our cheerful service, to our costly undaunted courage and risk, we give it all for Christ because He gave it all for us.

Friends, I wonder if these three mighty men were living in the New Testament, if on their way to Bethlehem to get water for the king and on their way back to bring it to him they might have been singing to themselves or humming to themselves a hymn like this: “When I survey the wondrous cross, love so amazing, so divine, what does it demand?” You know. What does it demand? My soul, my life, my all. We’ll give it all for the King, because He gave it all for us.

Or maybe this hymn as we’re going to sing it in a moment: All for Jesus, all for Jesus, all my beings ransomed powered, all my thoughts and words and doings, all my days and all my hours, let my hands perform His bidding. Like these men, let my feet run in His ways, let my eyes see Jesus only, let my lips speak forth His praise. Since my eyes were fixed on Jesus, I’ve lost sight of all beside. So enchained my spirit’s vision, focused, looking at the crucified.

Let’s pray together. So we do pray, God, that like these mighty men it might be all for the King, all for Jesus, all for Jesus, since Jesus, You gave it all for us. We pray, Father, that we would be people of courage, people of an abiding devotion, willing to give cheerful service to the King, with undaunted courage and a focused faith. Holy Spirit, may You work these things in us. We pray them in Christ’s name. Amen.