“And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel had retreated. He arose and attacked the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand stuck to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to plunder. “ (2 Sam 23: 9-10)
2 Samuel 23, “The last words of David,” begins with a description – that looks forward to Jesus – of the man who rules “in the fear of God,” continues with the confession he doesn’t match up to this standard because his house “is not so with God,” goes on with the declaration of faith that God has nevertheless made a covenant with him, “ordered in all things and secure,” that is “all his salvation and desire;” adds that that the “sons of rebellion shall all be as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands,” and concludes with a tribute to David’s 37 “mighty men” whom God used to defeat those sons of rebellion.
If we look at this chapter as a whole, we see a wonderful expression of God’s plan: because we are mortals and Jesus is God, our “house” will never be perfect this side of Heaven. Nevertheless He has made a covenant with us that secures our salvation: He will give us the weapons to “thrust away” the enemy, and even though we are weak and imperfect we can be mighty men and women of God, using the weapons that we are given to see our enemy utterly defeated: “But the man who touches them Must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear, And they shall be utterly burned with fire in their place.” Among the items of the Ephesians 6 armour of God, the sword is the only offensive weapon. If we read this passage on a symbolic level I think we can understand the “iron” in this scripture as the iron of a sword, and in particular the Sword of the Spirit. The spear that we throw can be seen as prayer. It is through prayer and faith in the word of God that the enemy is “thrust away.”
Eleazar fought; he grew weary – but it was the Lord “who brought about a great victory that day.” Sometimes God tells us to “stand still and see the salvation of our God,” and at other times He asks us to fight until we are weary. In the campaigns that were fought in, and over, the Promised Land, the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5: 13-15) directs His troops with a variety of strategies, but it is always His victory, not our own. Whether we have to battle through a situation until we are weary, whether we praise our way to victory or whether we just look over the ramparts and see that our enemy has completely self-destructed, one truth remains constant: “through God we will do valiantly,
For it is He who shall tread down our enemies.” (Psalm 60:12)
A key point in this little story is not so much that Eleazar fought till he was weary, but that his hand stuck to his sword. Are our hands stuck to the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God? However we fight, it must be with our hands glued to the Word of God, because it’s the Word that is living and active; not our dead flesh. “The help of man is useless,” (psalm 60:11) but through God we will do valiantly. Our faith is the victory that has overcome the world (1 John 5:4), and faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). Like the Israelites, we have to fight for our promised land; and the first part of each battle is to know how God wants us to fight. Before we fight with our sword, we have to pick it up. What has God said to us about this battle? If we have heard nothing there can be no faith, and without faith there can be no victory.
The account of the Mighty Men continues:
“And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines had gathered together into a troop where there was a piece of ground full of lentils. So the people fled from the Philistines. But he stationed himself in the middle of the field, defended it, and killed the Philistines. So the LORD brought about a great victory.” (2 Sam 23: 11-12)”
I remember performing in a school play when I was 11 years old, called “The six who pass while the lentils boil.” The pot of lentils was the poor man’s sustenance; uninteresting, unspectacular fare; the stuff of routine; “the daily round, the common task,” from the words of the old hymn that I remember singing – and disliking – at about the same age. Why should I spend time praying about my lentils? But if we have had any experience of brambles we will know that they spread. Every year, long shoots reach out to put down new roots and establish themselves on a fresh area of land. The enemy is constantly prowling round to see whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) He doesn’t care if it’s our lentils he is ruining or our prized possessions: what he is after is us. If he can’t take our souls because they are given to Jesus, he will try devour our time, our energy and our resources in any way he can, so that at least he can stop us giving them to further the Kingdom of God. He will spread his thorns wherever he can, and if our lentil patch is unprotected that is where he will go.
Our calling is to “take the Kingdom of God by force” (Matt 11:12) – to wrestle it back from the enemy who stole from man the dominion that God had planned for him over His creation. If we are enlisted in the army of Jesus Christ, we are sold out to establishing His Kingdom on Earth, and so all our battles are His battles. Every situation either spreads the light or pushes it back. The way human resources are managed in a business is as much a matter of the Kingdom of God as the battle over the rights of unborn babies. Luxury holiday or lentil patch, God is “through all and in all.” Whether the battle is raging between opposing armies, political factions, or husband and wife, He is either glorifies or ignored; and He is glorified when our hands are stuck to the sword.
What has God said? How do I fight this battle? What are His promises? What does He want? If we keep these thoughts in mind as we face the “sons of rebellion” we will succeed in pushing back the thorns even if it means we have to rise early to pray and then work at the problem till midnight. When God brings about a victory not only is His kingdom extended but we, his soldiers, get to benefit as well: “the people returned after him only to plunder.” We may be feeble and imperfect, but if we hold onto the iron of that sword and the spear of prayer we stand in the security of God’s faithfulness, the truth of our salvation and the extension of God’s Kingdom. Without them we will be grasping the invading thorns with our bare hands – and that can only lead to a painful defeat.