This post forms part of my series of posts on “Epicness in the Bible“.
“David’s Mighty Men” is the title used in some bibles, and it is the title I have grown used to. The story of David’s mighty men is definitely among my favorite parts of the bible… it’s so darn EPIC! If the story could be retold using modern media, then it would have made for some awesome Anime, a great blockbuster or TV series or even (maybe especially) a video game. The characters are colorful, intricate, powerful, fallible. The enemies are daunting, dangerous and evil. The battles are of epic proportions. Yeah, I can nerd out about this for hours… honestly I don’t even know where to begin to write up a summary of the mighty men in the bible… but here goes.
As always, it begins with a backstory. The backdrop on which our epic tale is told starts with David. He killed Goliath the giant (Nephilim) and became the champion-hero of Israel. He is soon leading the forces of Israel against the Philistines, he marries the king’s daughter, and everything is looking up. Everything, that is, but the fact that his father-in-law is demon possessed and tries to kill him a few times. King Saul tries to pin David with his spear when he is under the influence of an evil spirit, but David is too epic to be caught off-guard and he dodges the spears.
Finally David has to flee from Saul in order to stay alive. After doing some time as a mercenary for the Philistine king at Gath (yes, that happened), David becomes an outcast and lives in the desert in a cave (Adullam) where he sets up a kind of bandit-hideout. David’s fame is quite wide-spread by now though and word gets around in the less than savory circles of Israel that there is a new bandit hideout at Adullam. A bunch of outcasts, complainers and people in debt decide to run away and join the new outlaw gang at Adullam, soon about 400 dodgy men have assembled with David and he becomes their leader – apparently without ever asking for it.
It is important to note at this point that the lot that assembled around him was pretty rotten. So much so that they all even wanted to kill David at some point when they went out on a raid and came back to find their wives and children captured. How’s that? They follow David without him asking for it, and then they want to kill him when typical outlaw stuff happens to them.
It is with this backdrop that our story now starts taking an interesting turn. Through his leadership, guidance and dedication to God, David slowly starts gaining the trust of the men who follow him. The connection between them grows stronger as he leads them in victory after victory, and in the end there are many who basically swears unwavering fealty to David and commit to fight and die for him.
With a bunch of hardcore outlaws who are now willing to lay down their lives for a greater cause, David’s leadership and military prowess starts producing some amazing heroes in his camp. The heroes starts gaining renown for themselves and are soon given legendary titles – titles that became part of history.
As David’s group of misfits-turned-heroes became a proper army after a while, it is only logical that within this army a kind of ranking/honor system developed. From the heroes there came an elite group who made a name for themselves (literally, all the names are writted down). David’s elite army had the following structure and honorary titles:
- The Three
“The Three” was a legendary title given to the three warriors who broke through the Philistine ranks only to fetch David some water. David’s men were camped in by their enemy, and David mused aloud that he wished he could but have a drink of water from the well at Bethlehem. On hearing this, three of his warriors decided that his wish was their command. They did a solo mission, broke through the enemy ranks, pulled some water from the pit at Bethlehem whilst still fighting off the enemy, and broke back through to David to give him his drink of water. Apart from this act of valor The Three had astonishing individual achievements as well, but it appears like this one act gave them the title.
The Three were: Jashobeam, Eleazar and Shammah
- Chief of the three
The best way to understand this title is to think of it as a sergeant. The Chief of The Three was one of them and went with them on missions. It was The Three’s “leader in the field”.
Chief of the three was: Jashobeam. This office was later occupied by Adino the Eznite
- Commander of the three
There was one who was so bad-ass that he was held in more renown than the three. He never became one of the three though, instead he became their commander. This rank can be seen more as an officer in this case. He is not included in The Three’s shared exploits, but apparently he could command them.
The commander of the three was: Abishai
- The thirty
After the three, there was the next tier of super bad-ass warriors called “The Thirty”. “The Three” were in fact part of “The Thirty” as a group, but were at the top.
- Chief of the bodyguard / Chief of The Thirty
It is uncertain whether the chief of the bodyguard was in fact the chief of The Thirty. From my understanding I’d say this was the same office. We do know that this chief was held in greater honor than The Thirty, but was not part of The Three
The chief of the bodyguard was: Benaiah
- Commander of the army
Apart from the elite warriors, there was a whole army that grew over time. It started with 400 men but became a whole nation-army in the end. The commander of the army was the leading general of war for the entire military/nation.
The commander/general of the army was: Joab. Joab was later killed and replaced by Benaiah during Solomon’s rule.
- The Benjamites
When David was at Ziklag in exile, some of king Saul’s kinsman left Saul and joined with David, acknowledging him as the true anointed one. Some of them became members of The Thirty or had other leadership roles. Thus the Benjamites were not a military unit in itself, but rather a “clan” of warriors who joined him.
These guys were seriously bad-ass. We read that they were “ranged” warriors who fought with bows – but more to this, they were so skilled with throwing slingshot that it was taken down in history that they could throw stones with a slingshot using both their left hand and their right. So “The Benjamites” made up a specialized unit of ambidextrous ranged fighters.
- The Gadites
When David was in the wilderness (we are not told exactly where or when), then another clan joined him. This time they were from the tribe of Gad. It is told that they were ready for battle and their weapons of choice was the shield and spear. There were only eleven of them, but they were such an elite fighting unit that we are told the least of them was a match for a hundred, and the greatest a match for a thousand.
One of the feats this elite unit was known for was that they crossed the river Jordan in the first month when it was overflowing all its banks. In doing so they caught their enemy by surprise and caused havoc in the enemy’s camps, putting to flight everyone living in the valleys, to the east and to the west.
Another note about them, which might just be one of my favorite verses in the Bible, is that “Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains”. Oh yes, their faces were the faces of lions! I can just see these men in my mind’s eye – they had massive beards, their eyes shone with fire, their mouths grinned from the enjoyment of battle, and if you looked them in the eye it was like staring at the king of the jungle… the faces of lions :)
- Jashobeam the Hakmonite/Tahkemonite (also called Josheb-Basshebeth and Ishbaal)
[Member of The Three. Also chief of The Three]
Jashobeam gained fame through killing 800 men with his spear in one encounter. (Some recordings took down that he killed 300 in one encounter – this could have been a separate battle).
- Eleazar son of Dodo
[Member of The Three]
At a place called Pas Dammim David’s forces came up against a Philistine army. The battle began, but as we just read, at this point, the lot who were with David were pretty rotten, so they all fled. When everyone fled though, there was this one man called Eleazar who decided he will not flee from the Philistines. So Eleazar made a stand in a field of barley and started cutting down the Philistines as they came at him. He kept cutting them down until there was none left to fight him. At this point the other Israelites came back, but the only thing left for them to do was to strip the dead. When they found Eleazar, his hand and arm was so over-exerted from the battle that his hand was frozen to his sword and they could not pry it loose for some time.
- Shammah son of Agee
[Member of The Three]
Very similar to Eleazar’s tale is that of Shammah. He found himself in a similar situation where his comrades in arms were fleeing the enemy and he decided to make a stand. His stand was in a Lentil field according to the tale. It is possible that this was the same battle, with Eleazar making a stand and then Shammah joining him to wrap up everything. It is also possible that they both made a stand at the same battle, but in different places.
This last stand battle story makes me think of this awesome scene of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings:
- Abishai the son of Zeruia (also, David’s Nephew)
[Commander of The Three]
Abishai’s fame came in part from killing 800 men with his spear in one battle.
More to this, Abishai killed one of Goliath’s brothers or cousins. We read of four Philistine giants (Nephilim) that were slain by David’s mighty men. Four of these giants are called by name in the Bible and all of them were descendants of Rapha in Gath (so if not brothers, then at least relatives, as one of them is called “Goliath’s brother”). Now do you remember that David picked up five stones before his battle with Goliath? It is very possible that he never planned on missing, but rather he knew that Goliath had for giant brothers, and he wanted to be ready for them as well.
But back to Abishai again… so in a battle in later years, David became worn out and tired, and then the giant Ishbi-Benob, a descendants of Rapha, tried to take the opportunity kill king David in a weakened state. He might have succeeded according to the tale if it wasn’t for Abishai who stepped in and killed the giant. The original text even describes the giant’s weapon as something unknown to the people at the time – some mystical weapon of which the source and power might have been known only by the remaining human-demon-giant descendants of that time. Ishbi-Benob probably took that knowledge to the grave with him when Abishai struck him down.
- Benaiah son of Jehoiada
[Chief of the bodyguard/Thirty. Later commander of the entire army]
Benaiah has some fairly interesting exploits attributed to him:
– On a snowy day there was a lion stuck in a pit. The tale doesn’t specify why the lion was there, but someone had to get it out. Benaiah then jumped into that pit and killed the lion.
– Benaiah fought and killed the two mightiest warriors of Moab. This was probably in one of those “you pick your strongest warrior and we’ll pick ours and let them fight” scenarios (David and Goliath vibes). Only Benaiah killed both and not just one.
– He fought and killed an Egyptian warrior who was 5 cubits (2.28 meters / 7.5 feet) tall. The Egyptian had a spear which shaft was as thick as a weaver’s rod but Benaiah had only a club. From the weapons specified we can deduct that Benaiah was caught off-guard and clearly not battle-ready as he had no spear or sword. Despite the clear disadvantage though, Benaiah somehow snatched the giant’s spear and ended up killing him with his own spear.
- Joab the son of Zeruia (Brother to Abishai. David’s Nephew)
[Commander of the army, but not part of the three or thirty]
Jerusalem was not an Israelite city in the time of king Saul, it belonged to the Jebosites. Now David laid siege to this Jebusite city called Zion (Jerusalem) – but they could not take the fortified city. David then said that whoever can take the city will become the general of his army. Joab took on the challenge and successfully took the city.
- Sibbekai the Hushathite
Killed Saph, one of the descendants of Rapha (giants).
- Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite
Killed the brother of Goliath, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.
- Jonathan son of Shimeah (David’s brother)
At Gath, another giant, descendant of Rapha taunted the Israelites. It seems like the supernatural power/curse of the Nephilim was strong in him as he had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Nevertheless, evil power or not, this giant was slain by David’s brother, Jonathan.
The names of all the Thirty as well as the names of the Benjamites and Gadites are mentioned in the bible but I only put those here whom there is specific things to talk about. I wrote this post by pulling what information I could from the bible and other reference material but if you dig deeper you will be able to find even more about these characters. I can’t list all of it in one blog post so I am just going to halt here for now.
I love this epic part of the bible. I thoroughly enjoyed putting together this article about David’s mighty men and I hope you enjoy the stories as much as I do. Hopefully I will get around to some more blog posts about epicness in the bible soon :)