[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette given at the Portland congregation of the United Church of God on Sabbath, November 2, 2019.]
When I was an undergraduate student minoring in military history, one of the most interesting books I read was the Diary of a Napoloenic Soldier. There were a few qualities of the book that made it particularly fascinating. For one, the soldier was an ordinary soldier, not an officer, much less a general or marshal of Napoleon’s, and yet he was one of less than 10% of the soldiers who had started in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia who survived to return to his home in Western Germany. The second quality about the book that I found particularly fascinating was that the manuscript to this book was found in a farmhouse in Kansas after the veteran had moved to the United States many years after fighting in war. We have recently come back from the Feast of Tabernacle and are only about a week and a half or so from Veteran’s day, so I think it is worthwhile for us to reflect upon what kind of war stories we find in the Bible and how that relates to us.
Are there war stories in the Bible? There are a great many if we look at the Bible, from Genesis 14 to Revelation 20 or so. Yet for our purposes today of looking at war stories that are relevant to us in the Church of God today, the most interesting set of war stories that can be found in a concentrated form in 2 Samuel 23:8-39. Let us turn today to 2 Samuel 23:8-39, which reads: “These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-Basshebeth the Tachmonite, chief among the captains. He was called Adino the Eznite, because he had killed eight hundred men at one time. 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. 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. Then three of the thirty chief men went down at harvest time and came to David at the cave of Adullam. And the troop of Philistines encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord. And he said, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this! Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things were done by the three mighty men. Now Abishai the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of another three. He lifted his spear against three hundred men, killed them, and won a name among these three. Was he not the most honored of three? Therefore he became their captain. However, he did not attain to the first three. Benaiah was the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man from Kabzeel, who had done many deeds. He had killed two lion-like heroes of Moab. He also had gone down and killed a lion in the midst of a pit on a snowy day. And he killed an Egyptian, a spectacular man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand; so he went down to him with a staff, wrested the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and killed him with his own spear. These things Benaiah the son of Jehoiada did, and won a name among three mighty men. He was more honored than the thirty, but he did not attain to the first three. And David appointed him over his guard. Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, Shammah the Harodite, Elika the Harodite, Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh the Tekoite, Abiezer the Anathothite, Mebunnai the Hushathite, Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai the Netophathite, Heleb the son of Baanah (the Netophathite), Ittai the son of Ribai from Gibeah of the children of Benjamin, Benaiah a Pirathonite, Hiddai from the brooks of Gaash, Abi-Albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth the Barhumite, Eliahba the Shaalbonite (of the sons of Jashen), Jonathan, Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite, Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maachathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, Hezrai the Carmelite, Paarai the Arbite, Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai the Beerothite (armorbearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah), Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, and Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all.”
Let us picture the scene. These thirty-seven men were the bravest men in David’s army, some of whom who had fought with him from the time when he was fleeing from Saul’s army in the desert, and about whom some of them have famous stories recorded in the Bible. While most of these names are obscure, some of them are quite famous, such as Benaiah, Ashael, and particularly Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba and son-in-law of Eliam the son of Ahithophel. Imagine what war stories these men told, whether they were sharing their own tales of glory or ribbing each other about some experience in one of the many battles they fought, or whether they were trying to show newcomers what standard to live up to. Can you imagine the conversations these men had in the barracks or around the campfire while on march? Do you think their stories would have been exciting to listen to? It is remarkable that we have some of these stories in the Bible given that many of them are told nowhere else and indicate that David fought even more wars and battles than are recorded in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles in the narrative passages there.
What relevance do these stories have to us, though? Most of us have never been to war or been a part of the armed forces, and many of us have quite hostile attitudes towards participating in military service, a position enshrined as Fundamental Doctrine #14 in our fundamental beliefs, it should be noted. Are we warriors who have war stories to share? Let us turn to a familiar scripture that we will look at in perhaps an unfamiliar way, Ephesians 6:10-13. In Ephesians 6:10-13, we read: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
Here we see a scene not dissimilar from that we saw in 2 Samuel 23, only instead of fighting Philistines and Egyptians and Moabites and so on, we are fighting demons, the spirits of darkness that rule over the world unseen. After all, people of other groups, nations, political affiliations, school loyalties, states, and so on are not the real enemies. Our true enemies are spiritual, and so our warfare is spiritual. And someday, God willing, we too will have war stories to sell about our experiences in fighting spiritual warfare, and we will have appreciative audiences around campfires and over meals, and perhaps our stories will even be recorded for posterity as well in dairies of soldiers in the army of God. Let us think on these things.