One of my favorite passages in the Bible is one short sentence that paints a powerful image:
He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day. – 2 Samuel 23:20 (NASB)
Take a brief pause after each phrase as you read it to get the full picture: “He also went down…and killed a lion…in the middle of a pit…on a snowy day.”
With each phrase, the seemingly impossible gets even more impossible. This man deliberately jumped down into a pit with a lion that had accidentally fallen in. To slay a lion in hand-to-paw combat is a remote rarity in itself. But to slay a lion in a pit, where there is no retreat, no place to hide and no escape, it was hand to paw to the death for either man or beast. And to top things off it was a damp, snowy day. It was cold outside and it was hard for the man to get good footing in that pit, unlike the lion that had claws it could use. The lion had every advantage, but it lost.
These are some of King David’s last written words, and he was not speaking of himself. He was speaking of one of his 37 mighty men, Benaiah. This young warrior was a brute force to be reckoned with for sure, and David chose this single-sentence story to describe what a force Benaiah really was.
As we study the Scriptures, we find other things out about this man Benaiah and some of his accomplishments. For instance, we first run into Benaiah in 2 Samuel 8:18: “Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites…” (NASB). The Cherethites and Pelethites were from the warrior clans of the fierce Philistines.
Long before being made king, David had attracted these warriors from his days of fleeing and living in Philistia. These were not part of his mighty men, his band of brothers. They were a force unto themselves and served as David’s bodyguards, the ones closest to him in battle. Sometimes they were sent on secret missions to deal with an enemy. As we see their function throughout David’s life, they were very similar to the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six. And David put this young warrior, Benaiah, over them. Benaiah was the captain of this elite-fighting cadre.
Benaiah, son of Jehoida, served with King David until David died. Notice who King David calls when, at the end of his life, one of his sons, who is not the chosen son, threatens to take over his kingdom: “Then King David said, ‘Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.’ And they came into the king’s presence” (1 Kings 1:32, NASB). In fact, Benaiah is key all throughout the beginning of King Solomon’s inauguration, establishment as king in the face of much opposition and in his early years as king.
But why did Benaiah do all this? As I have studied his life in Scripture, it is obvious that he could do mighty feats in battle. But beyond the fact that he could do these mighty deeds, he chose to do them out of principle, integrity, loyalty and commitment.
He believed David, and later Solomon, David’s son, had been chosen by God to function as king over God’s nation, Israel. He went into battle for God and God’s chosen ones, to defend and protect God’s chosen nation of Israel. And he never wavered. He used what God had given him: power and raw strength to serve God, His chosen kings and His chosen nation. He never used his power for himself, but always for God and His chosen ones. He was a mighty man, captain of his “SEAL Team Six” and later captain over all the army of Solomon.
It is Benaiah who King Solomon personally sends to deal with those who would threaten his kingdom from within Israel. Benaiah even goes and deals with King David’s long time general, Joab, another of his mighty men, who had gone rogue:
Now the news came to Joab, for Joab had followed Adonijah, although he had not followed Absalom. And Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar. It was told King Solomon that Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar. Then Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, ‘Go, fall upon him….’ Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up and fell upon him and put him to death, and he was buried at his own house in the wilderness. The king appointed Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army in his place, and the king appointed Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar. – 1 Kings 2:28-29, 34-35 (NASB)
Joab was the most feared man in Israel for many decades. But his pride and immoral actions caught up with him in the moral and upright Benaiah. When faced with the prospect of having to face Benaiah alone, he cowered and hid in the temple. He knew he didn’t have a chance when going face to face with Benaiah. No more than a lion would, in the middle of a pit, on a snowy day.