David's mighty men

These were the chiefs of David's mighty men—they, together with all Israel, gave his kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land, as the Lord had promised—this is the list of David's mighty men… (1Ch 11:10–1)

There are two accounts of David's mighty men in the Old Testament: one is found in 2Sa 23:8–39 and the other in 1Ch 11:10–47. If we read both of the accounts we will have a complete picture of the valiant men who fought at David's side.


1Ch 11:10–47 begins by telling us that these mighty men, together with all Israel, gave David's kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land. We, as Christians, also have a king—King Jesus—and we are to give his kingship strong support to extend it throughout the whole world.

God gave Israel a limited territory they were to occupy. Jesus said that we are to make disciples of all nations (Mat 28:18–20).

Spiritual warfare

Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite, was chief of the Three; he raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter. (2Sa 23:8)

Any man who could kill eight hundred men in a single battle was a mighty warrior, but Christians don't wage war as the world does. Christians fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons and Paul tells us that the weapons of our warfare are mighty: they have divine power to demolish (spiritual) strongholds (2Co 10:3–4).

A Christian's most important spiritual weapons are:

Josheb-Basshebeth was a Tahkemonite and was chief of the Three. That means he was their top man; but what made him so powerful? 'Tahkemonite', in Hebrew, means having or showing insight and practical wisdom [1].

If you wage war against an enemy—whether seen or unseen—you need to know what to do and when to do it. Imagine an army fighting a battle without a leader: a few enemy troops might be killed, but it would not be a successful campaign.

Our commander knows everything and sees everything. We need the Spirit of Jesus to lead us in spiritual warfare if we are to be successful.

Brotherhood of believers

Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty men, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the men of Israel retreated, but he 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. (2Sa 23:9–10)

As the enemy advanced, Eleazar stood his ground and struck them down until his hand grew tired and froze to his sword. The Bible tells us that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Eph 6:17).

The Word is one of the most powerful spiritual weapons God has given us. When Satan came to Jesus in the desert he was defeated with the words: 'It is written…' (Luk 4:8). Satan cannot defeat a believer who knows and cleaves to the Word of God.

Eleazar was victorious that day, but what was his secret? 'Eleazar', in Hebrew, means God is a helper [2]. We cannot fight spiritual battles in our own strength or with our own power. Success in spiritual warfare comes only from allowing God to work through us.

The Bible also tells us that he was a son of Dodai (KJV Dodo), who was an Ahohite. The Hebrew word 'Dodo' means loving [3] and 'Ahohite' comes from a word meaning brotherhood [4]. The spiritual picture is of a man who loved his brothers.

As the Philistine army advanced, the Israelites retreated leaving Eleazar by himself. The men of Israel had deserted him; he could have been killed. Nevertheless there was no unforgiveness in his heart; he held no grudge against his brothers.

This man loved the brotherhood of believers and his love was unconditional. In the same way, no matter what our brothers or sisters do to us, we should always love them from our heart (Joh 15:17; Eph 4:32).

The Bible says that the Lord brought about a great victory that day: it was God's victory. The rest of the troops returned, but only to strip the dead.


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. 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. (2Sa 23:11–2)

Sometimes warfare is defensive. Perhaps the field was Shammah's own inheritance from the Lord. The devil is a robber (Joh 10:10); he tries to rob us of our inheritance in Christ. We should always be ready to defend what the Lord our God has given us.

The meanings of the Hebrew names in this passage are interesting. The name 'Shammah' means ruin or desolation [5]; so the spiritual picture is of a man who was powerless in his natural self. However, the word 'Agee' is similar to a word meaning flame [6] and 'Hararite' means mountaineer [7].

Three days after our Lord's crucifixion the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews (Joh 20:19). In their own strength they were far from being an army; they had just seen their leader killed and must have had a paralysing sense of calamity in their hearts.

But when the Spirit of God came upon them in tongues (flames) of fire at Pentecost (Act 2:1–4), they went out and did great exploits under that power. God gets his glory by using weak vessels.

A mountaineer is one who climbs to great heights, and Psa 18:32–5 shows us what we can achieve in God:

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.

He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great [in spiritual warfare].

Shedding our blood

2Sa 23:13–7 tells us that three of David's chief men came to him at the cave of Adullam while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim.

David longed for a drink of water from the well near the gate of his home town of Bethlehem, so the three mighty men broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well and brought it back to David. David, however, refused to drink it because he knew they had gone at the risk of their lives.

The word 'Rephaim', in Hebrew, means giant [8]. Such was the dedication of these mighty men that they were prepared to risk their lives in the Valley of Giants to fulfil a fleshly desire of their master. Are we prepared to risk our lives to fulfil the desires of David's greater Son?

We should ask the Lord for the burden of his heart. 'Lord, what is your desire? What do you want me to do for you?' And if it means shedding our blood for Jesus (Rev 13:5–10) it will not be wasted: the blood of martyrs is precious in the sight of the Lord (Psa 116:15).

Strategic warfare

Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, who performed great exploits. He struck down two of Moab's best men. (2Sa 23:20a)

'Benaiah', in Hebrew, means Yahweh has built [9] and 'Kabzeel' means God has gathered [10]. It comes from a word meaning to gather together, to assemble. This is about church building. Unlike some of the other mighty men, Benaiah didn't kill great numbers of David's enemies, but two of Moab's best men. That was strategic warfare.

We may not be called to preach the gospel and see hundreds saved through our preaching, but the Lord can use us to overcome the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12), through prayer and fasting, as Daniel did (Dan 10:1–14), so that his church can be built. Strategy is very important in spiritual, as well as earthly, battles.

You will note that the meaning of the Hebrew names are in the past tense. That is because God has already planned his church. We bring it into being through spiritual warfare led by his Spirit.

Submit to God

He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. (2Sa 23:20b)

A hungry lion is a ferocious beast. Not only was this one trapped in a pit without food, but it was a cold, snowy day, which would have made it even more hungry. The safest way to have killed it would have been from above, but Benaiah went down into the pit and faced it head-on. What spiritual lesson is being taught here?

1Pe 5:8–9 tells us that our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour; but we are to resist him, standing firm in the faith. The devil is a powerful foe, but the one who is in us (Jesus Christ) is greater and more powerful than he is (1Jo 4:4).

The devil's desire is to turn us from the faith, and he will try to do that through trouble or persecution (Job 1–2; Mat 13:20–1). But no matter what satanic attacks we experience in life, and no matter how ferocious they may be, we are more than conquerors through him who loves us (Rom 8:35–7).

We are told to submit ourselves to God, which means making him Lord of our lives; then we can resist the devil and he will flee from us (Jam 4:7). The devil has no power over someone who is in submission to God. He had no power over Jesus; he had no power over Benaiah; and he will have no power over us. But if we stop submitting to God… beware!

Room for more

When some Christians read the Bible they skim over lists of names and genealogies thinking they are unimportant. But God has included them in his Word for a purpose, and one thing it shows us is that he is interested in individuals. Each individual is important to God.

2Sa 23:24–39 gives a list of David's chief men, which were known as 'the Thirty'. The passage begins by saying: 'Among the Thirty were…', but ends by saying there were thirty-seven in all. How can that be? How can 'the Thirty' consist of thirty-seven?

The answer is that there is always room for more mighty men in God's army. David began with thirty chief men, but seven others joined the ranks. It will take dedication, obedience and hard work on our part, but the door is always open. God is always looking for mighty men to do his bidding; he can never have too many.

Remember Eleazar (2Sa 23:9)? His name in Hebrew means God is a helper. When any Israelite called to that man it would have reminded him who his helper was.

Let us never forget that the Christian life is not about doing things for God, but allowing God to do things through us. Paul said that he worked harder than all the other apostles, and yet it wasn't him, it was God's grace that was working through him (1Co 15:10).

Final word

2Sa 23:37 tells us that among David's chief men was one called Zelek the Ammonite. The Ammonites had been Israel's enemies for generations but this man was now fighting for Israel. And isn't that true of us all? Paul wrote in Rom 5:10:

For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…

Every Christian begins life as an enemy of Jesus Christ (Mat 12:30) but ends up fighting for him. In the same way Paul, who wrote those words, began by persecuting the church but became one of its greatest advocates. There is no other way to explain that except by the grace of God.

None of David's men were conscripts—each one had volunteered to fight for the cause. Neither does Jesus force his way into our lives, or commandeer us for his service. Instead, he waits for our hearts to respond to his call (Rev 3:20).

Jesus said that he would build his church (Mat 16:18), but to do that he needs our help. Paul said that we are God's fellow-workers in this wonderful building project (1Co 3:9), but that will mean effort and dedication on our part.

How important is the kingdom of God to us? Important enough for us to want to extend it throughout the world? We only have a short time to serve Jesus on this earth; let's make every day count.

Michael Graham
September 2002
Revised August 2022

[1–10] Strong, James The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, MacDonald Publishing Company. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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