II Samuel 23

The Word Made Fresh

1The last words of David:
“The oracle of David, the youngest of Jesse,
the man who was lifted by God the most High;
chosen as king by the God who led Jacob,
whose rule was the favor of Israel’s Strong One.
2The Lord’s Spirit speaks through a word on my tongue.
3The voice of the God of Israel spoke,
the strong Rock of Israel called out to me:
as one who has ruled with firm-handed justice,
guided by reverence for Israel’s God;
4like morning, like rising sun in cloudless sky,
like sparkling of moisture from rain on the grass.
5My family is favored, that is the LORDs ruling;
a never-ending promise, an order, secure.
The LORD grants success to things done in God’s name.
6The godless? Like briars the bare hand cannot grasp
7must be handled with iron or wooden spear shaft.
Then they are piled and burned up where they lie.”

8Here are David’s hand-picked soldiers, strong and mighty leaders:

Josheb-Basshebeth the Tahchemonite, who was the leader of the Three. With his spear he killed eight hundred enemies in one battle.

9With him was Eleazar son of Dodo son of Ahohi. He was with David as they assembled to battle the Philistines who came to fight against them. The Israelite troops retreated, 10but he stood his ground and killed Philistines until he could hardly lift his sword; and the LORD gave Israel a great victory that day. Then the other men returned to the battle, but there was nothing left for them to do but rob the dead.

11Next to Eleazar was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines attacked at Lehi where there was a field of lentils, and the army retreated. 12But Shammah stood his ground in the middle of the field and killed Philistines until the LORD brought about a great victory.

13Near harvest time these Three of the thirty top leaders joined David at the cave of Adullam while a Philistine garrison was camping in the valley of Rephaim. 14David was in the hideout while the Philistines were at Bethlehem, 15and David said, “What I wouldn’t give for someone to get me a drink of water from the well by the Bethlehem gate.” 16The Three slipped through the Philistine camp, drew water from the well and brought it to David. But David refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out on the ground, 17saying, “The LORD forbid that I should drink this; it would be like drinking the blood of the men who risked their lives to bring it to me.” But that’s the kind of thing the Three did.

18Abishai son of Zeruiah and brother of Joab was the leader of the thirty. He fought three hundred enemy soldiers with just his spear and killed them all and won for himself a reputation along with the Three. 19He was the most famous of the thirty and became their commander, but he was not as famous as the Three.

20Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a brave soldier from Kabzeel and did great deeds. He defeated two of the best soldiers of Ariel of Moab. He is also remembered for slaying a lion in a pit one day when there was snow on the ground, 21and he killed an Egyptian, an intimidating man who was armed with a spear. Benaiah attacked him with his staff, took the spear out of his hand and killed him with it. 22That was the sort of thing Benaiah son of Jehoiada did, and 23he also was famous among the Thirty, but not quite as renowned as the Three. David put Benaiah in charge of his personal bodyguard.

24These were the men numbered among the Thirty:

Asahel brother of Joab; Elhanan son of Dodo of Bethlehem; 25Shammah of Harod; Elika of Harod; 26Helez the Paltite; Ira son of Ikkesh of Tekoa; 27Abiezer of Anathoth; Mebunnai the Hushathite; 28Zalmon the Ahohite; Maharai of Netophah; 29Heleb son of Baanah of Netophah; Ittai son of Ribai of Gibeah of the Benjaminites; 30Behaiah of Pirathon; Hiddai from the rushing streams of Gaash; 31Abi-Albon the Arbathite; Azmaveth of Bahurim; 32Eliahba of Shaalbon; the sons of Jashen — Jonathan 33son of Shammah the Hararite, and Ahiam son of Sharar the Hararite; 34Eliphelet son of Ahasbai of Maacah; Eliam son of Ahithophel the Gilonite; 35Hezro of Carmel; Paarai the Arbite; 36Igal son of Nathan of Zobah; Bani the Gadite; 37Zelek the Ammonite; Naharai of Beeroth who was the armor-bearer for Joab son of Zeruiah; 38Ira the Ithrite; Gareb the Ithrite; 39and Uriah the Hittite — thirty-seven in all.


1-4: This chapter forms a collection of details about David’s reign and the organization of his administration. It begins with another of David’s poems, this one in the form of an oracle. It is reminiscent of the oracle of Balaam of Beor (Numbers 24:3), and is an example of a form of Oriental pronouncements from this period. It is presented as “David’s last words,” but David’s reign isn’t over quite yet.

5-7: Because of God’s aid, David’s exploits have been successful, unlike those of his enemies.

8: The remainder of the chapter extols the exploits of David’s men whose deeds became legendary in old Israel. Josheb is not mentioned elsewhere, and we know nothing of the Three aside from these verses. They likely had no formal standing as “The Three,” but that became a title by which they were remembered.

9-10: The second of the Three is Eleazar son of Dodo, another hero over the Philistines who is not mentioned elsewhere.

11-12: The third of the trio is Shammah, a fairly common name, but this individual is unknown but for these verses. He, too, killed a bunch of Philistines.

13-17: Another story of the Three, though they are unnamed here. The story also illustrates why David’s soldiers were so loyal to him.

18-19: Another group known as the Thirty achieved legendary status after David’s time. Abishai we’ve met before, of course, as one of the three generals of David’s army and brother to Joab.

20-23: Benaiah has been mentioned before as well, as the commander of David’s mercenary forces (8:18, 20:23). Here the story is told of his victory over an Egyptian, by taking the man’s own spear and killing him with it. Too bad: the NRSV version says the Egyptian was a handsome man!

24-39: “The Thirty” are named including Abishai, who was the brother of Joab and Asahel whom Abner killed at the very beginning of David’s reign (3:27). A surprise entry is in the last verse: Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba, one of David’s own elite soldiers whom he had killed to hide his adultery with Uriah’s wife.


There may have been thirty-seven soldiers known as members of “the Thirty,” an unofficial designation of a group of exceptional men, but only thirty of them are named here. We can add “the Three” to their number, and Abishai and Benaiah, which still leaves two unnamed. Their exploits date back to the time when David was hiding from Saul, and their exploits probably were embellished considerably through retelling over the years. Nevertheless, they stand as an example of the kind of service inspired by David’s charismatic leadership.