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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

2 Samuel 23

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 10. A Final Summary (21:1-24:25).

This final summary of the Book of Samuel presents a fitting conclusion to the whole book and what it has been all about. Central to the summary, and at its core, is a vivid portrayal of the invisible power of the living God at work, presented in poetic form, which is assumed to have been active during all the incidents described in the book (2 Samuel 22:7-20). Together with this there is a description of His great faithfulness shown towards David in establishing the everlasting kingly rule of his house (2 Samuel 22:1 to 2 Samuel 23:6). Then, on either side of this glorious depiction of YHWH’s heavenly power at work, standing like earthly sentinels appointed to fulfil God’s purposes (the earthly equivalent of the Cherubim) are David’s mighty men, the men who were empowered by YHWH to watch over the purposes of God in David. They were the human instruments by which God’s purposes for David had been brought through to the end, the instruments who had always been there to aid him whenever the going got tough.

Acting as an outer layer to the sandwich are depictions of the failure of both the kings about whom the narratives have been speaking, depictions which bring out the reason for the failure and destiny of each, and which demonstrate what the consequences of such failures were. Saul is seen to have regularly failed because he never took sacred things seriously enough, imagining that he could shape them to suit his purpose or ignore them for his own convenience, and because he knew little of repentance, the consequence was the almost complete destruction of his house. David, in contrast, regularly failed after he had become king because of arrogance and apathy, but in he deepest heart he was concerned to please God, and he always deeply repented when he became aware of his sin. The end result was that he was always delivered from the final consequences of his sins, firstly because of the mercy and purposes of God, secondly as a result of temporary chastisement, and thirdly in consequence of the offering of a substitutionary and atoning offering. In the case cited here it resulted in the plague being stayed, and the consequence of their sin being removed from God’s people

The section also presents us with a brief overall summary of different aspects of David’s reign from its commencement, and it is no accident that the initial incident takes us back to the time of Saul. It thus begins with a description which summarises the sad legacy left by Saul, a legacy for which punishment had to come on Israel, in this case in the form of famine, together with a portrayal of the awful cost to Saul’s family of rectifying that error, something which almost leads to the destruction of his house (2 Samuel 21:1-14; compare 1 Samuel 9:1 to 2 Samuel 1:27). It continues on with a description of how once David was in power David’s mighty men had humiliated the pride of the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22; compare 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1), and then describes in song YHWH’s continuing faithfulness towards David and towards Israel, which includes a celebration of the fact of His great promises to David (2 Samuel 22:1-51; compare 2 Samuel 7:1-29), calling to mind in the last words of David YHWH’s everlasting covenant with him (2 Samuel 23:1-7; compare 2 Samuel 7:8-17). This is then followed by a listing in detail of the particulars of David’s mighty men, who were from then on continually the backbone of his kingdom (2 Samuel 23:8-19; compare 2 Samuel 2:3 and often), guaranteeing his successes and dealing with any contingencies that arose, and it ends on a sombre note with a reminder that David by his sinfulness could similarly bring judgment on an Israel who had also sinned, here in the form of pestilence, although in his case YHWH would demonstrate His mercy by chastening but stopping short of total judgment. That was the difference between David’s rule and Saul’s. And the result in this case was David’s offering of thanksgiving for YHWH’s mercy, made at YHWH’s command, as a result of the cessation of the plague (2 Samuel 24:1-25; compare 2 Samuel 11:1 to 2 Samuel 20:26).

As will be observed all this follows the usual chiastic form:

Analysis of 21:1-24:25.

a YHWH judges Israel with famine because of the sin of Saul, a judgment which is only removed at the cost of the blood of the house of Saul (2 Samuel 21:1-14).

b David’s mighty men humiliate the pride of the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22).

c The song of David (2 Samuel 22:1-15).

c The last words of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7)

b The list of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:8-19).

a YHWH judges Israel with pestilence because of the sin of David, a judgment which is only removed in his case by the cost of the blood of a substitute (2 Samuel 24:1-25).


Verses 1-7

The Final Oracle Of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7).

We are told that these are ‘the last words of David’ (i.e. his last official words in the light of approaching death). The last words of a man were seen as having special importance, compare Genesis 49:1; Genesis 49:33; Deuteronomy 33:1, and were seen as prophetic of the future.

The pattern of the opening words here is partially based on two oracles of Balaam in Numbers 24:3-4; Numbers 24:15-17, demonstrating David’s close awareness of the ancient tradition. It is worth making a direct comparison with Numbers 24:15-17 a.

Numbers 24:15-17 a

David’s Last Words

And he took up his utterance and said

And these are the last words of David’

“Oracle of Balaam, the son of Beor,

“Oracle of David, the son of Jesse,

And oracle of the man whose eye was closed

And oracle of the man who was raised on high

He says who hears the word of God

The anointed one of the God of Jacob

And knows the knowledge of the Most High

The delightful one in Israel’s songs of praise

Who sees the vision of the Almighty

The Spirit of YHWH spoke by me

Falling down and having his eyes open

And his word was on my tongue

I see him, but not now

The God of Israel said to me

I behold him, but not near,

The Rock of Israel spoke

There will come forth a star out of Jacob

A Ruler over men, a righteous one

And a sceptre shall rise out of Israel

A Ruler in the fear of God

It will be noted that while the words are in the main considerably different, the ideas and pattern behind them are remarkably similar, given that one was speaking as a pagan prophet in a trance, and the other as a prophet of YHWH under inspiration. Thus the one sought to foster mysteriousness, while the other could speak with the confident certainty of one who knew God. But both lead up to the idea of the Coming King (the Messiah). And we should note that it is this declaration that the whole book of Samuel has been leading up to, as is made clear in the original oracular utterance in 2:10, where we read, ‘YHWH will judge (rule over) the ends of the earth, and He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His Anointed’. It is the book of preparation for the Messiah.

David then goes on to describe the Coming King in terms of the rain and sun producing fruitfulness, an idea taken up by Solomon in Psalms 72:6; Psalms 72:17 concerning the righteous king. Fruitfulness from rain and sun were regularly indicative of the coming new age of righteousness (Isaiah 32:15-17; Isaiah 44:3-4; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 55:10-13; Isaiah 59:19; Isaiah 60:1-3; compare Matthew 5:45; Matthew 13:43; Matthew 17:2).

Analysis.

a David is the one raised on high, the anointed one, the delightful singer of Israel’s praise (2 Samuel 23:1).

b YHWH has spoken of a coming king who will rule righteously in the fear of God (2 Samuel 23:2-3).

c His coming will be like the glorious rising of the sun after rain producing fruitfulness and blessing (2 Samuel 23:4).

b YHWH has made with David a sure and certain everlasting covenant which fulfils all his desire and brings salvation (2 Samuel 23:5).

a This is all in contrast with what will happen to the unworthy who will be like thorns which cannot be taken in the hand and can only be touched with a long spear, and will finally be burned with fire (2 Samuel 23:6-7).

Note that in ‘a’ David is exalted to Heaven, the chosen of God, the inspired one, while in the parallel the unworthy are like thorns and thistles, and doomed to the fire. In ‘b’ the coming of the everlasting king is described, and in the parallel the emphasis is on the sure and certain everlasting covenant which will bring salvation and blessing. Centrally in ‘c’ His coming is announced in glorious terms.

2 Samuel 23:1

Now these are the last words of David.

“Oracle of David the son of Jesse,

And oracle of the man who was raised on high,

The anointed one of the God of Jacob,

And the delightful singer of Israel’ praise.”.

What a contrast there is between David in ecstasy in the presence of the living God and Balaam involved in the spirit world. ‘Raised on high -- anointed -- delightful singer of Israel’s praise’ contrasts with ‘the man whose eye was closed -- falling down and having his eyes open -- seeing Him, but not now, beholding Him but not near’ (Numbers 24:15; Numbers 24:17). The first is the glorious reality, the second is but the shadow.

“These are the last words of David.” The last words of a prophetic man were seen as of telling importance and as predictive of the future. What he said would come about. And here David was undoubtedly claiming special inspiration by God’s Spirit. The word ‘oracle’ (neum) is itself indicative of ‘the inspiration of God as He speaks to men’, and the idea is repeated twice so as to guarantee that it is a sound witness. And while it is the oracle of the mere son of Jesse, it is the oracle of the one whom God has raised up and exalted, the one whom God has anointed and set apart for Himself, the one whom God has chosen as the instrument of the praise of the whole of Israel.

2 Samuel 23:2-3

The Spirit of YHWH spoke by me,

“And his word was on my tongue.

The God of Israel said to me,

The Rock of Israel spoke,

‘One who rules over men, a righteous one,

Who rules in the fear of God’.”

And David’s emphasis is on the wonderful message that he has to proclaim. What he has to speak of arises because the Spirit of YHWH is speaking through him, and His word is on his tongue. For his words are the words of the God and Rock of Israel (the firm and sure foundation on which the certainty of the everlasting covenant is based). And what is the Spirit declaring? He is declaring the coming of a Ruler Who will rule righteously as the Righteous One, a Ruler Who will rule in the fear of God (compare Isaiah 11:1-4).

In one sense this was partly to be fulfilled in the first part of Solomon’s reign. David’s hope and the people’s hope may well have been that Solomon would be the one (we have the same ambivalence between Solomon and the Coming King in 7:8-17). But Solomon deteriorated, as did all who came after him, even Hezekiah and Josiah, and all therefore failed to be its true fulfilment, something anticipated in 2 Samuel 7:14-15 with the assurance that it would not annul the coming of the everlasting kingdom. Thus would the promise be carried into the future as Israel began to look for the coming of the Messiah, The One Who would truly be righteous and rule righteously and Who would rule everlastingly in the fear of God (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Ezekiel 37:22-28). And finally Jesus Christ did come as the Righteous One (Acts 7:52), and He established God’s Kingly Rule on earth for all who follow Him, the Kingly Rule of light as opposed to the tyranny of darkness (Colossians 1:13), which is like a colony of Heaven on earth (Philippians 3:20), a Kingly Rule (basileia) which will lead to a final culmination in His Kingly Rule above (Matthew 13:43). Note how this parallels the words of Balaam concerning the star that would arise out of Jacob, and the sceptre which would arise out of Israel who would establish his people (Numbers 24:17).

2 Samuel 23:4

“As the light of the morning when the sun rises,

A morning without clouds,

The tender grass from the earth,

Through clear shining after rain.

And this Coming One will arise like the brilliance of the rising sun as it bathes the earth with light. He will introduce a glorious morning beneath a cloudless sky, with no clouds present to dull its glory. It will be like the arrival of new shoots springing into life as a result, first of the activity of the rain and then of the shining sun, as the sun’s clear brilliance draws life out of the earth following the rain (Isaiah 32:15-17; Isaiah 44:3-4; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 55:10-13; Isaiah 59:19; Isaiah 60:1-3; compare Matthew 5:45; Matthew 13:43; Matthew 17:2).

The word for ‘clear shining’ is an interesting one, for it is always reserved in Scripture in order to describe ‘heavenly’ things. It is only ever used either of the sun and the moon themselves, shining in the heavens, or alternatively of the shining brilliance of the coming activity of God. For examples of the latter see 2 Samuel 22:30; Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 60:3; Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 1:27-28; Ezekiel 10:4; and contrast Amos 5:20. Note also Matthew 13:43; Matthew 17:2.

2 Samuel 23:5

Truly my house is not so with God,

(or ‘Is not my house truly so with God?’)

Yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant,

Ordered in all things, and sure,

For it is all my salvation, and all desire,

Although he does not make it to grow.

(Or ‘Does he not surely make it to grow?’)

But David is aware that his own house is not like this with God, something that he has cause to know as he looks back on his own behaviour, and the behaviour of Amnon and Absalom. ‘Truly,’ he says, ‘my house is not so with God’. And that is why his house appears to be diminishing rather than growing, ‘although He does not make it to grow’, as one son dies after the other. Nevertheless he recognises that in all his undeserving, and the undeserving of his house, God has made with him an everlasting covenant, an ordered and sure covenant, which will ensure the bringing about of the salvation that he desires, the salvation that is to result from his house, and will fulfil the strong desires of both his heart and of God’s heart (2 Samuel 7:8-17).

Alternatively some see the statements in respect to his house as being a question (there were no punctuation marks in Hebrew). In this case he is exalting in what God is aiming to do through his house.

2 Samuel 23:6-7

“But the ungodly will be all of them as thorns to be thrust away,

Because they cannot be taken with the hand,

But the man who touches them must be armed with iron and the staff of a spear,

And they will be utterly burned with fire at their dwelling.”

David closes his last words with a reference to ‘the worthless’ (belial = ‘worthlessness’, they are worthlessness personified), typifying the ungodly. In contrast with the glory of the Coming One they are like thorns which should be thrust away as they are rooted up by the use of implements, lest they cause the hands to bleed. Like thorns they cannot be taken in the hand, but can only be touched by a man fully equipped to deal with them. For the man who would touch them must do it with tools of iron or the staff of a spear, or else he will come away bearing the marks of the thorns. So the worthless will be rooted up, and their final destiny, instead of enjoying the glory of the everlasting kingdom (Matthew 13:43), is to be burned with fire (compare Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; John 15:6; Hebrews 6:8) in the place where they have revealed their worthlessness.


Verses 8-39

The Mighty Men Of David (2 Samuel 23:8-39).

Prior to the song and last words of David we were given a taster about David’s mighty men who had disposed of the ‘giants’ of the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22). Now we are introduced to them in their full glory. It is a reminder that while God’s purpose is wonderful, sure and everlasting, the greatest wonder of it is that it is carried forward through human beings. Thus in one sense we have learned that David had triumphed through the almighty power of YHWH, but in another sense we now learn that he had done so because God had provided him with mighty men who were his faithful servants, although even here it is stressed that their victories were of YHWH (2 Samuel 23:10; 2 Samuel 23:12).

Initially we will look at the exegesis of the text without looking at the underlying problems, which will mainly be dealt with by way of note, for our aim is to interpret the passage in its context. And what the text appears to indicate is that the mighty men were made up of an initial Three consisting of especially outstanding warriors (who almost formed an army in themselves), a second Three consisting of warriors almost, but not quite, as outstanding, and then the noble Thirty, although in the last case the number must not be taken too literally, for it was more of a title for the group than a number to be taken literally, and would alter up and down as men were slain and others were incorporated. These were David’s elite force, and would also probably each act as captains of their own military units (compare 1 Chronicles 27) when a battle was in prospect.

Analysis.

a These are the names of the mighty men whom David had (2 Samuel 23:8 a).

b The Three Mighty Men (2 Samuel 23:8-12).

c The exploit at the well at Bethlehem illustrative of the mighty men (2 Samuel 23:13-17).

b The Second Three (2 Samuel 23:18-23).

a The names of the mighty men (2 Samuel 23:24-34).

The Names Of David’s Mighty Men.

2 Samuel 23:8 a

‘These are the names of the mighty men whom David had.’

As can be seen the passage commences with a description of what it is all about. Its aim is to provide a roll of honour of the names of David’s mighty men, his principle champions and officers who, throughout his career, were the bulwark humanly speaking of his success. These were the men who bore the brunt of bringing in the ‘kingdom of YHWH’ under David, and they are worthy of all honour. They are a reminder that God does not forget the names of those who are faithful in His service.

The First Three.

The first Three are Adino the Ezrite, Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite (his father being earlier well known as an officer of David - 1 Chronicles 27:4), and Shammah, the son of Agee, a Hararite. Adino appears to have been given the technical title ‘the Tachcemonite (‘wise commander’) indicating his superior rank, a title which previously belonged to Jashoboam, who was entitled ‘the Chacmonite’, an abbreviation of the previously mentioned title.

2 Samuel 23:8 b

“The one who sat in the seat, (or Josheb-basshebeth) the Tachcemonite,

Chief of the captains,

The same was Adino the Eznite,

Against eight hundred slain at one time.”

As we consider the first Three we are immediately faced with a problem of translation in respect of the first of the Three. For if we follow most translations the first warrior would appear to have had two names, Josheb-basshebeth and Adino, which was of course a possibility, with the former possibly being a name given to him when he took up his senior military post. Alternatively some would translate as, ‘The one who sat (yosheb) in the place of honour (ba-shebeth), the shrewd one (one made wise - tachcemoni), chief of the captains, he was Adino the Eznite.’ Next to Joab the commander-in-chief he would be leader of the war council. His most famous feat was to stand up to and slay eight units of the enemy on one particular day. He may, of course, have had the assistance of his armourbearers and a number of warriors

Jashoboam the Chacmoni mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:11; 1 Chronicles 27:2 previously held the same position prior to Adino, also being entitled ‘the shrewd (chacmoni)’. ‘Tachcemoni’ was, in fact, probably the ancient technical title, preserved by the writer in Samuel, describing the military leader who was second to the commander-in-chief, with ‘Chacmoni’ being the post-exilic ‘modernisation’.

2 Samuel 23:9-10

“And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the son of an Ahohite,

One of the three mighty men with David,

When they defied the Philistines who were there gathered together to battle,

And the men of Israel were gone away.

He arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary,

And his hand clave to the sword,

And YHWH wrought a great victory that day,

And the people returned after him only to take spoil.”

The second member of the first Three was Eleazar, the son of Dodai, the son of an Ahohite. In 1 Chronicles 27:4 Dodai (Dodo) the Ahohite was captain of the second month’s division of on duty warriors, and was seemingly Eleazar’s father. This would appear to indicate that in contrast with 1 Chronicles 27:4 these statistics in Samuel must mainly be seen as referring to a later period in David’s reign, although as we shall see the names of ‘the Thirty’ do include warriors whose deaths have previously been recorded which may be an explanation of why more than thirty are named. The dead heroes may, however, have deliberately been kept on the roll (note that they come first and last). This late date for the names of ‘The Three’ would also help to explain why Jashobeam the Chacmonite has been replaced by Adino the Eznite, the present ‘Tachcemoni’.

Eleazar’s outstanding feat was that along with David and two other mighty men he had defied the Philistines after the main Israelite forces had withdrawn, and had fought until he was very weary and his hand adhered to his sword as he slew Philistine after Philistine. But even so the credit for the victory was to be given to YHWH. It was in the last analysis He Who had wrought a great victory that day. Then once the battle was over, the remainder of the people returned in order to collect spoil, as they will.

The fact of ‘the hand adhering to the sword’ due to unusually heavy fighting. resulting in the swordsman being unable to release his grip on the sword, (either as a result of congealed blood or cramp, or both) is testified to elsewhere. Thus a highland sergeant at Waterloo in 1815, who suffered from the same problem, had to have his hand released by a blacksmith after the battle, while Sheikh Ali Amad experienced a similar phenomenon after his exhaustive massacre of numerous Christians at Mount Lebanon in 1860.

2 Samuel 23:11-12

And after him was Shammah the son of Agee a Hararite.

And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop,

Where was a plot of ground full of lentils,

And the people fled from the Philistines.

But he stood in the midst of the plot,

And defended it, and slew the Philistines,

And YHWH wrought a great victory.’

The third member of the first Three was Shammah the son of Agee a Hararite. When a troop of Philistines entered Israel seeking spoil and advanced on a plot of ground in Israel containing growing lentils, he stood and defended it even though all the local people had fled, and he ‘slaughtered the Philistines’, with the result that YHWH was seen as having wrought a great victory. These three mighty men were thus ample evidence that YHWH was with David and had made provision for his success. They had been chosen to play their part in seeking to establish and secure the kingdom of God in Israel, and ensure the containment of the Philistines. It was such men who were seen as responsible under YHWH for David’s continuing success. They were God’s host.


Verses 13-17

An Incident Involving Three Of The Thirty Chief Men (2 Samuel 23:13-17).

An incident is now described which especially brings out David’s loyalty to, and concern for, his men, combined with an indication of their love for him. It is deliberately anonymous and exemplifies the attitude of all the mighty men. When three of his mighty men bring him water from the well at Bethlehem, David recognises what a sacrificial risk the three have taken on his behalf, simply in order to satisfy a whimsical wish. He had expressed his desire for water from the well at Bethlehem, (his home town where he had grown up and now occupied by the Philistines), but he had never dreamed that three of his loyal followers would try to grant his wish whatever the risk to themselves. On his part he had simply been dreaming nostalgically about the past, and remembering happy days when as a thirsty young boy he had regularly satisfied his thirst at the local spring on hot summer days, and was thinking how satisfying the cool, fresh water had tasted, almost like the nectar of the gods. But these men had wanted to please him, and that is why they had done what they did. And his love for them was such that in return he did not feel that he could drink something which had involved such loving sacrifice. He felt that only YHWH was worthy of such sacrifice, and so he had offered the water to YHWH. By his act he was offering his mighty men themselves to YHWH, for the water represented their blood.

2 Samuel 23:13-14

And three of the thirty chief men went down, and came to David in the harvest time to the cave of Adullam, and the troop of the Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim. And David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Beth-lehem.’

The incident had taken place at the time when David had been sheltering in the stronghold of the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1), and the Philistines had been encamped in large numbers in the valley of Rephaim and had had a garrison in Bethlehem. The three men had come to join up with David in his stronghold around harvest time, in the midst of the hot summer. The fact that they were ‘three of the thirty’ suggests that they were not The Three mentioned above.

2 Samuel 23:15-16

And David longed, and said, “Oh that one would give me water to drink of the well of Beth-lehem, which is by the gate!” And the three mighty men broke through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Beth-lehem, which was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David, but he would not drink of it, but poured it out to YHWH.’

No doubt feeling hot and thirsty in the summer heat, David had nostalgically remembered his hometown spring, near the gate in Bethlehem (but not necessarily within the town itself), and had expressed his longing for water from it. The result was that the three men had made their way through the Philistine defences at the risk of their lives, and had drawn water from the well so that they could bring it to David, in order to demonstrate to him their love and loyalty. David had been so full of emotion when he considered what his men had risked for his sake that he had felt that only YHWH could possibly be worthy of such sacrifice. And so he had poured the water out as a sacrificial offering to YHWH because he saw it as so precious.

2 Samuel 23:17

And he said, “Be it far from me, O YHWH, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.’

And as he had made the offering he had disclaimed any suggestion that he was worthy of their sacrifice, emphasising that he could not, as it were, drink of the blood of these men who had obtained the water at the risk of their lives. Drinking the water would have been as though he was drinking their blood, and benefiting by their having faced imminent death, and that was inconceivable to him. So he offered the lives of his men to YHWH by pouring out the water before Him. But the incident demonstrates that such was the quality of his mighty men and also that such was the quality of his concern for them. In the eyes of the writer both their attitude and his attitude had been truly worthy of servants of YHWH.

The Second Three.

Although the writer introduces the fact of the second Three, for some reason he gives only two of their names. The first is Abishai, Joab’s brother, who regularly acted as commander alongside Joab (2 Samuel 18:2; 2 Samuel 20:6; 2 Samuel 20:10), and the second is Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, who became captain of David’s bodyguard (2 Samuel 20:23). Perhaps that was because all knew that the third member of the Three was Joab, with his name being blotted out from the roll of honour because he had later been executed as a traitor (1 Kings 2:30-34). Compare the omission of Simeon from Moses’ last words (Deuteronomy 33) because of the behaviour of the Simeonite prince in Numbers 25:14. What counts against this suggestion is that Abishai was chief of the second Three, and he was unlikely to have been chief over Joab. On the other hand if the gradings were based simply on fighting capability (the leading warrior of the Three on the basis of his personal feats) and did not indicate rank, it is quite possible that Joab would be graded below Abishai for fighting capability. An alternative is that it was Asahel, the first to be mentioned of the Thirty, who had been of the Three.

2 Samuel 23:18-19

And Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the three. And he lifted up his spear against three hundred and slew them, and had a name among the three. Was he not most honourable of the three? Therefore he was made their captain. However that might be he did not attain to the first three.’

The chief, or man of greatest prominence, among the second Three was Abishai, Joab’s brother. He was remembered for having ‘lifted up his spear against three military units’ and having slain them, although it is not said that it was on the same day (as it had been with Adino). He may have been involved with them at different times and then have had them listed on his roll of scalps. Thus he had a name among the three. The spear was in fact usually used as a stabbing weapon rather than a throwing one, even though it could certainly also be used for throwing (1 Samuel 18:11).

2 Samuel 23:20-21

And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done mighty deeds, he slew the two of Ariel of Moab. He went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow. And he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man, and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand. But he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.’

The next of the Three was Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada. He was the son of a valiant soldier from Kabzeel (see Joshua 15:21), and had himself done mighty deeds. Thus it was he who had slain the two Ariel (lions of God) of Moab, who were clearly renowned fighters. He had also found himself in a pit or cystern during a period of snow (the latter description possibly explaining why he had fallen down it), and had found himself face to face with a lion, which he had slain, probably without weapons. Alternately the lion may have taken shelter in the cystern because of the snow, thereby frightening all the local people, until Benaiah had come forward and dealt with the menace, meeting the lion in single combat. Furthermore he had also slain a notable Egyptian warrior (according to 1 Chronicles 11:23 an Egyptian equivalent to Goliath) who had come at him with a spear in his hand when he himself had only had a staff. He had disarmed him with his staff and had then used the man’s own spear to kill him.

2 Samuel 23:22-23

These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and had a name among the three mighty men. He was more honourable than the thirty, but he attained not to the first three. And David set him over his guard.’

These were some of the things which Benaiah had accomplished, with the result that his name was listed among the second Three of the mighty men. Thus he stood out from the Thirty, but did not attain the level of the first Three. And David set him over his bodyguard. He was in fact also captain over the third course of David’s warriors (1 Chronicles 27:5). The fact that he was ‘more honourable than the Thirty’ suggests that the Three were not included within the Thirty.

The Names Of The Thirty Chief Officers

The thirty chief officers are now listed, (in our list below the parallel names in 1 Chronicles 11 follow in brackets where they differ. 1 Chronicles also has a number of additional names). Where only the reference in 1 Chronicles is given both names are identical, otherwise variations are shown. In most cases the variations may well simply be different ways of presenting the same name, with the designation presented being dependent on the geographical viewpoint of the writer (e.g. Charorite and Charodite may be possible alternative renderings dependent on the dialect or geographical viewpoint of the writers, although it is true that the consonants ‘r’ and ‘d’ are almost identical in Hebrew and could have been mistaken in copying (all too easy an excuse). The same may be true of Paltite and Pelonite, Barchumite and Bacharumite which may again be differing descriptions used by people in different regions). Occasionally a warrior may have had two distinct names (e.g. Mebunnai and Sibbecai, Zalmon and Ilai), although we must always take into account the possibility that the different names actually represent two distinct persons, the one having replaced the other as officer over a unit coming from the same area. But there is always in some of the instances of almost parallel names the possibility of a miscopying due to the complications associated with names when they are included in a long string of letters as they were in the original Hebrew text.

The names of ‘The Thirty’ are:

2 Samuel 23:24-32 a

‘Asahel the brother of Joab among (was one of) the thirty’ (compare 2:23; 1 Chronicles 11:26). He was captain of the fourth course of David’s warriors, followed by his son Zebadiah (1 Chronicles 27:7).

‘Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem’ (compare possibly 2:19; 1 Chronicles 11:26),

‘Shammah the Charodite’ (1 Chronicles 11:27 - Shammoth the Charorite),

‘Elika the Charodite,’

‘Helets the Paltite’ (1 Chronicles 11:27 - Helets the Pelonite. He was captain of the seventh course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27:10),

‘Ira the son of Ikkesh the Tekoite’ (1 Corinthians 11:28; he was captain of the sixth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27:9),

‘Abiezer the Anathothite’ (1 Corinthians 11:28; he was the captain of the ninth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27:12),

‘Mebunnai the Hushathite’ (compare 22:18; 1 Chronicles 11:29 - Sibbecai the Hushathite. Sibbecai may have been his other name, or may have been the name of his father in whose footsteps he had followed. He was the captain of the eighth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27:11),

‘Zalmon the Achochite’ (1 Chronicles 11:29 - Ilai the Achochite),

‘Maharai the Netophathite’ (1 Chronicles 11:30; he was the captain of the tenth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27:13),

‘Cheleb the son of Baanah the Netophathite’ (1 Chronicles 11:30; he was possibly the same as Cheldai the Netophathite of Othniel who was the captain of the twelfth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27:15),

‘Ittai the son of Ribai from Gibeah of the children of Benjamin’ (1 Chronicles 11:31),

‘Benaiah a Pirathonite’ (1 Chronicles 11:31; he was captain of the eleventh course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27:14),

‘Chiddai from the brooks of Gaash,’ (1 Chronicles 11:32 - Churai from the brooks of Gaash),

‘Abi-albon the Arbathite,’ (1 Chronicles 11:32 - Abieli the Arbathite,

‘Azmaveth the Barchumite,’ (1 Chronicles 11:33 - Azmaveth the Bacharumite),

‘Eliachba the Shaalbonite’ (1 Chronicles 11:33)

‘The sons of Jashen,’ (1 Chronicles 11:34 - the sons of Chashem the Gizonite),

‘Jonathan,’ (1 Chronicles 11:34 - Jonathan the son of Shageh the Hararite),

‘Shammah the Chararite,’

‘Achiam the son of Sharar the Ararite,’ (1 Chronicles 11:35 - Achiam the son of Sacar the Chararite),

‘Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maacathite,’ (1 Chronicles 11:35 - Eliphel the son of Ur),

‘Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,’

‘Chezro the Carmelite’ (1 Chronicles 11:37)

‘Paarai the Arbite,’ (1 Chronicles 11:37 - Naarai the son of Ezbai),

‘Yigal the son of Nathan from Zobah,’

‘Bani the Gadite,’

‘Zelek the Ammonite’ (1 Chronicles 11:39),

‘Naharai the Beerothite, one of the armourbearers to Joab the son of Zeruiah’ (1 Chronicles 11:39),

‘Ira the Yithrite’ (1 Chronicles 11:39),

‘Gareb the Yithrite’ (1 Chronicles 11:39),

‘Uriah the Hittite’ (1 Chronicles 11:40),

Thirty and seven in all.’

It will be noted that (ignoring ‘the sons of Jashen’, a phrase which may refer back to the previous two or three names) there are thirty one names which together with the two Threes make up the thirty seven. However, ‘The Thirty’ probably did not always comprise a specific number of officers, being simply a standard description incorporating all of David’s officers and valiant men however many there were, so that dogmatism is ruled out. (Alternatively if we bring in the sons of Jashen as one name then we have thirty seven names in all, the Three, Abishai and Benaiah, and the thirty two names in the list).

Jonathan may well have had no other designation because he was so well known that it was felt to be unnecessary (more details are given in 1 Chronicles 11:34) The sons of Jashen may have regularly been associated together, being inseparable (compare the sons of Zebedee in the New Testament) or the term ‘sons’ may have a wider significance and refer back to previous names. Uriah the Hittite may well have been mentioned last in order to bring in a sombre note, and as reminder of David’s past failure, now thankfully over with. Note that the first and last names in the list were of those who were dead, being a reminder of the past narrative of Samuel, and of the fact that they were still remembered by God. The list as a whole is a reminder that God does not forget those who contribute towards bringing in His kingdom. He remembers them all by name. None are unimportant.

Brief Note On The Differences in Names Between 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11.

The relationship between the information given here and that in 1 Chronicles 11:10-47 is difficult to determine, as we have already partially seen. It is too simplistic to say that they are simply copies of the same source. Both certainly had access to similar information, and probably to common sources, but they did not just copy from them, and comparison of the two brings out that they have used that information in such different ways that they cannot be seen as simply copying a single original record. They are on the whole distinctive enough to prevent us from thinking that we can compare them verse by verse and then build up an original from them. There is in fact a clear restructuring of the material in both cases, even if we do consider much of it to have come from consideration of the same source, (the Chronicler may also have had the book of Samuel to consult), and we must also quite probably take into account the fact that both supplemented what they wrote from other material, for we need not doubt that each had other sources of information. Furthermore each may well be considered to have taken descriptions found in the original sources and used them in different contexts, for battles and skirmishes with the Philistines were numerous, and they would regularly, for example, take place in fields where crops were growing. The wording of material found in a source might therefore have been seen as applicable to a number of situations. That being so we must beware of being too simplistic when making a comparison, or of assuming too easily a wholesale ‘corruption of the text’ when it may simply be an example of a free use of wording in a source.

We must further remember that the names in the lists of the mighty men would vary over time, as some were slain and replaced by others. Thus the list of David’s captains in 1 Chronicles 27 does not contain names that we might have expected to find had the writer been restricted to this list in Samuel, and vice versa. Especially noticeable is the fact that 1 Chronicles 27:4 mentions Eleazar’s father Dodai (Dodo) as one of David’s captains. That clearly makes the list in 1 Chronicles 27 indicate a time quite a number of years earlier than the list in Samuel, where it is Eleazar his son who is the prominent warrior. Similarly the list in 1 Chronicles 11:10-47 is linked in Chronicles with the initial capture of Jerusalem, something that also makes it earlier than the list in Samuel. That being so some of the names in Samuel may be seen as from a different generation to those in 1 Chronicles. For example Eleazar who appears in 1 Samuel 23 was the son of the Dodai (Dodo) who appears in the list of officers in 1 Chronicles 27. There is a clear generation gap. That same list in 1 Chronicles 27 also contains reference to Jashobeam the Chacmonite (wise commander), who slew three units, who might well therefore have been replaced as an officer by Josheb-basshebeth the Tachcemonite (Chacmonite with a preceding Ta), who later slew eight units. The latter may thus well have been the successor of Jashobeam the Chacmonite, who slew the three hundred. The same applies if we translate as ‘the Tahchemonite who sat in the place/seat’ and see his name as Adino the Eznite. The list in 1 Chronicles 27 also includes at least one name not known elsewhere, Shamhuth the Izrahite, who may well have died early on in David’s reign. While these considerations may not solve all the problems, they certainly solve a good number, and do have to be borne carefully in mind in an area where it would be foolish to be dogmatic. They warn us against dogmatism when we are dealing with a long reign in which captains would be constantly slain in battle and replaced by others. Some scholars can be too prone to assume that other people apart from themselves are careless. Before accusing people of that we should always first seek to discover if there is another solution.

(End of note.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 23:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-23.html. 2013.

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