Warriors of the Kingdom (II Samuel 21:15-22; 23:8-39)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 21:15–21:22
Crying for a King
Warriors of the Kingdom
II Samuel 21:15-22; 23:8-39
(One Mission: I Am Not Ashamed )
May 18th, 2014
I. Reciting the Names
Listen to the following news story from September of 2002:
“Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, chaplain of the New York Fire Department, joined other officials in reciting the names of the more than 2,800 victims. Before he spoke, Potasnik said relatives and friends of the 14 victims on his list had asked him to make sure to pronounce the names correctly. It was, he said, his most important mission of the day. In all, it took two hours and 20 minutes to read all the names. In a high-tech world, where it often seems that people are reduced to bar codes or personal identification numbers, “names mean less now than they once did,” he said. But reading people’s names, and meeting the people who loved them, underscores the importance of remembering each victim, Potasnik said. Especially on Sept. 11, 2002, “we have to be sensitive to what a name really is,” he added “No one can fathom 6 million,” he said, referring to the Jews who died in the Holocaust. “No one can fathom 2,800. But if you focus on one name, it has much more meaning.” (www.jta.org)
In a context like that, we can understand why every name is important. We get what this Rabbi is communicating about each name. But strangely, in spite of that sensitivity, we struggle with passages in the Bible that contain long lists of names. We yawn. We crinkle our brow. We skip ahead. But why? Well, for starters, we can hardly pronounce a lot of the names we find in such passages. But in addition to that, we often know little to nothing about the people listed. But isn't that also true for the victims of the 9-11 terror attacks?
The difference lies in understanding the true significance of the list. What do I mean that? Well, let me explain by directing you to our passages for this morning. Turn over to II Samuel 21:15-22.
II. Structure and Symmetry
As we return to our study of II Samuel, I want us to focus not only on the closing verses of chapter 21, but also on the last three-quarters of chapter 23. Feel free to look over at that section as well: II Samuel 23:8-39. Now, why are we skipping around and talking about these two sections in the study? Well, you may remember that we talked about how chapter 20 marks the end of the main storyline of II Samuel. That being true, we are forced to figure out why there are four more chapters in the book.
Last time, I mentioned that chapters 21 through 24 are really a composite conclusion, constructed from a variety of different kinds of material. Some narrative. Some poetic. Some, as we'll this morning, is more like a military record. But to understand this closing section better, take a look at the design of these final four chapter:
A. God's Judgment and David's Intercession: Famine (21:1-14)
B. David's Mightiest Men (21:15-22)
C. David's Song (22:1-51)
C. David's (Last) Song (23:1-7)
B. David's Mightiest Men (23:8-39)
A. God's Judgment and David's Intercession: Plague (24:1-25)
Can you see how there is a symmetrical, parallel relationship between both halves of the section? And do you see our passages for this morning, marked by the letter “B”? You see, the structure of the whole conclusion puts these sections together. But what do these passages teach us?
III. Establishing the Kingdom
Well, you can see from this breakdown that these sections are both about “David's Mightiest Men”. These sections record both the names, and in some cases, the exploits of David's greatest warriors. The end of II Samuel 21 tells us about four outstanding warriors, and chapter 23 tells us about two groups of elite soldiers: one called the Three, and the other called the Thirty.
Some of these we already know: Abishai, Asahel, Benaiah. But others are mentioned here for the first time: Shammah, Elahanan, Ahiam, Igal. But before you start to yawn, or crinkle your brow, or skip ahead, let me explain the true significance of the list.
Listen to the opening words of a parallel section in I Chronicles 11. We read: Now these are the chiefs of David's mighty men, who gave him strong support in his kingdom... (I Chronicles 11:10) Why does the writer include this kind of material? To remind his readers that God uses mighty warriors when He establishes His kingdom. That's true of the kingdom of David the Messiah, and it's true of the kingdom of Jesus the Messiah. Remember, David's kingdom was a kind of picture of how the kingdom would be blessed under the reign of David's son, Jesus.
So, if God raised up such mighty warriors to establish and defend and advance His kingdom under David, how much more has He and will He do the same under Jesus, the Son of God? I think this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples...
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16)
But this was not just the twelve apostles. Luke 10 tells us about seventy-two others that Jesus appointed and sent out. Listen to how Jesus coaches them in terms of the significance of what they were doing as they ministered...
Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’  But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say,  ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ (Luke 10:9-11)
There it is: warriors of the kingdom! Are you a servant of Jesus? If so, is it your desire to be a warrior of and for the kingdom of God? Here's what I want to do with this collection of thirty-eight verses. We are not going to read every single verse. Instead, I would like highlight a few points about these kingdom warriors, yes, in order to understand what God was doing back then. But also, to understand what God wants to do in and through us.
IV. The Passage: “There Was War Again” (21:15-22; 23:8-39)
So let's look together at II Samuel 21, verse 15. This is what we read...
1. Devoted to God's King (21:15-17; 23:13-17)
There was war again between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary.  And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David.  But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David's men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”
Now, flip over to chapter 23, verse 13. Listen to this account and consider the connection...
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.
Did you see what these passages have in common? Both tell us that warriors of the kingdom are devoted to God's king. In both instances, these men risked their lives in order to either protect or provide for David. Do you feel the same way about your King, about Jesus? Are we willing to set aside personal comfort, are we willing to face risk in our devotion to Him. The deeds of these warriors are only significant in terms of what was accomplished for David and Israel. Therefore, our motivation to act must always be devotion to Christ. Paul expressed this same devotion in I Corinthians 12:10...
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12:10)
Unlike David, Jesus doesn't need our protection and provision. But He wants our devotion. If you want to be a kingdom warrior, you need to know you that every battle, that every sacrifice is for the King.
2. Doers of Great Deeds (21:18-22; 23:20, 21)
Speaking of battles, look back at 21:18. This is what we read...
After this there was again war with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants.  And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.  And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants.  And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David's brother, struck him down.  These four [the four enemies of 21:15-22] were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.
Now keep that in mind and look over at chapter 23, verse 20. The writer tells us...
And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen.  And he struck down an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear.
Now we don't know what “ariels of Moab” are [Animal? Warriors?], but we do know about the ferocity of a lion; and we do know about fighting a man with a spear when you only have a staff; and we do know about the size of giants. As the author put it in regard to Benaiah, these kingdom warriors were clearly “doers of great deeds”.
But is that how you see yourself? Are you a “doer of great deeds” for God's kingdom? Do you remember what Jesus told His disciples on the night before He was crucified. He said...
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
Jesus did some amazing things in His ministry. And yet, those who believe in Him will do “greater works”. Really? What “greater works could Jesus be referring to? Well, there is a clue in the phrase, “because I am going to the Father”. In the context of John 14, as well as the entire book, that phrase reminds us of both the gift of the Holy Spirit and the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
Therefore, as you and I share the Good News about Christ and serve others through the power of God's Spirit, we are doing these “greater works”; works of eternal significance and eternal transformation; works through which God turns rebels into sons, and God haters into God lovers; works that affect whole families, and even whole societies. And that is how the Kingdom of God is established. Not one literal battle, but one spiritual battle at a time.
Don't you want to be a doer of great deeds, as a warrior of the Kingdom, for the glory of God? But remember, it all starts with devotion to the King. No matter the odds, even when we face giants, we can overcome. Why? Well, that leads to our final point.
Just as a quick aside, you may be confused by verse 19 of chapter 21, where it looks as if a guy named Elhanan, not David, struck down Goliath the Gittite. But this is an instance in which most of the copies of the Samuel that have survived preserve a corrupted reading. Most likely, the correct, the original reading is preserved for us in I Chronicles 20:5...
And there was again war with the Philistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.
3. Depending on God to Work (23:10, 12)
But if happen to still be in II Samuel 23, look at what we learn from verses 10 and 12...
He [Eleazar] 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.
But he [Shammah] took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the LORD worked a great victory.
Without minimizing the accomplishments of these amazing soldiers, the writer of Samuel is sure to point us to the true source of every victory. Every great deeds accomplished for the kingdom is a deed empowered by God himself. I love how Paul described both the particular of and the power behind his kingdom work:
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)
Doesn't that encourage you? As you think about living for the Messiah this week, as you think about doing great deeds? As you think about fighting as a warrior of the kingdom in that difficult relationship, in that challenging situation at work, at that all too common crossroads of temptation, with that memory from the past, in that anxiety-inducing fear about the future? Doesn't encourage you to know that the Lord can work “a great victory”? Paul wrote...
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ [Messiah] Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
III. In the End, Grace
Now, I know there are names and accounts we skimmed over this morning, so I encourage you to go back and read through these sections carefully. Like that 9-11 memorial ceremony, read those names aloud; read each one. Consider how God himself has honored these kingdom warriors by preserving their names in this book.
But before we leave these sections, I want you to look at the very last name of chapter 23. Look at the last name we find in this long list detailing the group known as “the Thirty”.
Verse 39: “Uriah the Hittite”. In the midst of so much ink about victory and loyalty, we are reminded, in the closing words, of such a horrible defeat and betrayal. If you aren't sure who Uriah is, or if his identity has slipped your mind, let me direct you to II Samuel chapter 11. There you can read about how David committed adultery with Uriah's wife, and then tried to manipulate Uriah in order to cover up his deeds. And when that didn't work, in the end, David had Uriah put to death in order to supposedly cover his crime.
So why end the list this way? Well, it may be that the writer wants us to remember something about the kingdom. In this world, for now, the kingdom is not all triumph and conquest. It also contains plenty of failure, compromise, and hostility. Amazingly, God uses sinners, sinners who hurt, and sinners who are hurt, in order to accomplish His kingdom purposes. I think Uriah is a sobering reminder of grace, the grace we all need; the grace apart from which no battle is won.
And unlike those ancient warriors, we know the fountain from which that grace flows: Jesus, the Son of David. Have you received and are you receiving the grace, the forgiveness, the mercy, the love that flows from His cross? God offers that to each one who simply believes, who trusts that all we can do is believe Jesus did it all. I want you to go in faith this morning, faith informed by the following verses, verse which are tailor-made for kingdom warriors. Just listen to these words. Savor these words. Be emboldened for battle this week because of these words...
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (II Corinthians 2:14)
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (I John 5:4)
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15:57)