This past week, I spent some time in 2 Samuel 23 to prepare to preach. I spent most of the sermon on the first part of that chapter, looking at David’s last words to the people of Israel. The rest of the chapter is the recounting of David’s Mighty Men.
These men have drawn a decent amount of attention in recent years, as I have seen books about their various exploits and situations. It is not my intention to spend time on each and every one of them here. Instead, I think there’s something instructive about the list in general.
I. It is right and fitting that we honor the mighty men that have secured the kingdom and brought about God’s blessings.
Really. Why? Because if our doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is correct, then these names are not recorded here simply by David. Or by whomever you take as the final author/editor of 2 Samuel. Our view is that God is the ultimate author of this passage. If this is the case, then the Lord God Almighty determined that we know the names of the men used to secure Israel as a nation.
Some of these men are not men of Israel. In fact, only twice are the deeds of any of them ascribed to the LORD bringing a great victory. The rest of the time, the text speaks only of their bravery. They are remembered along with their nationalities, and many are not Israelites. In a time when nationality was often equal with religion, it is likely that many of these were not at the outset followers of the God of Israel, and there is nothing in the text to tell us that they all came to the LORD.
If the inspired text of Scripture reminds us of those who fought for the Davidic Kingdom, the great days of Israel, then I think it is instructive that we can remember, as Christians in America, those who have fought for the peace and freedom that we have here. No, there is not a direct line-up between Old Testament Israel and modern-day America. (I’d argue there’s not a line-up between Old Testament Israel and current, modern Israel, but that’s another day.)
It may not be appropriate for the total focus of our church gatherings, but if God deemed remembering the warriors a necessary part of Scripture, is it not appropriate for at least a portion of our lives? The very presence of this list is instructive that we ought to remember those who fight, those whose hands raised to secure the blessings of peace and security. Whether we remember all of the names or simply the vast numbers, if it was important enough to go into Scripture, it ought to be important enough to go into our lives.
II. The mightiest will recognize that their strength comes from God.
This is not to take away from the heroic actions of others, but the two times in the mighty men list that the LORD is credited as bringing a great victory, it is in the early part. That is the “Three Mightiest” in the list. Each name is mentioned because of their stature in battle, but there were three who were the greatest–and two of those three won great victories and attributed those to the LORD. One can be mighty and not recognize the strength of God, but recognizing that source of strength is a great asset.
I think of a gentleman in my church who fought in World War II. He was in the Pacific and became part of the occupation force in Japan. He dealt with the aftermath of both the Japanese Imperial Army, which was bad, and the bombing of Japan as part of the war effort, which was also a terrible thing to deal with. Through all of it, he recounts that he learned quickly that he could only rely on the strength of Christ amidst the chaos. His war remembrances are dark and haunting, but as he is drawing near to seeing Jesus, he remembers succeeding in danger because of Christ’s strength in those times. He is one of the “mighty men” in this church.
III. Even the mightiest fall and must be replaced
We come to the final point. Have you ever really looked at 2 Samuel 23:39? We tend to focus on the naming of Uriah the Hittite in this verse, but look at the second phrase. The names of the Thirty? The Scripture records that there were thirty-seven of them all. Now, David may have been bad at math, but even so, where are these extra seven?
Likely they fell in battle. Now, we know that Uriah fell in battle due to injustice, but what of the others? Likely, they fell in battle. At least some of them did. Others perhaps aged out and could not go out in battle anymore.
Yet we see that Israel was not secured solely by the power of God, but instead that the kingdom came through the blood and sacrifice of those who would fight for Him. His power worked through the mighty men and the rest of the army, but it was not without cost.
So God has not secured our liberty here without cost. There has long been a price paid in blood, sweat, and tears for our liberty and security.
Going forward, the question becomes this: as the mighty fall, whether directly to battle or by age and time, who will rise up to take their place? Who will stand to defend the liberty that was so hard-bought in the first place?
We remember the fallen, and we must ask ourselves: will we give away what they fell to provide?