“God’s anonymous: Three mighty men”
II Samuel 23:15
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Born in October of 1951, John Mellencamp, also known as Johnny Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp, is an American musician, singer and song-writer. After rising to fame back in the 80s, he became known for quite a lot of hits, including songs like Jack and Diane and Hurts So Good.
And while today he’s pretty much a household name, it wasn’t always that way. When he was young, he lived in a town called Seymour, Indiana. That’s where he borrowed his brother’s guitar, then taught himself how to play. And as the years passed, he got pretty good. So he formed a band, wrote some songs, then went on tour.
And one day in 1984, his wife called him down to their basement laundry room, where she had a big box waiting for him on the counter. He said that, since he was the worst speller in the world, she had ordered him a typewriter with a built-in spell-check system.
But as he sat down and tried to make sense of the owner’s manual, he just couldn’t figure it out. Whenever he put a sheet of paper in and started typing, the words still came out misspelled. Completely frustrated, he said to himself, “Well, I guess I’m just a stupid hillbilly. What do I know? I was born in a small town.”
And that gave him an idea for a song, so he started typing: “Well, I was born in a small town/And I live in a small town...But I’ve seen it all in a small town/Had myself a ball in a small town/Married an L.A. doll and brought her to this small town/Now she’s small town just like me.”
Since then, that song, Small Town, has become one of his best-known songs of all time.
Later, he said, “You don’t have to live in New York or Los Angeles to live a full life or enjoy your life. I was never one of those guys that grew up and thought, ‘I need to get out of here.’ I just valued having a family and staying close to friends.”
It seems that it’s often just that way for us. We want to keep things simple. We want to get back to our roots. We like our small town.
So it was for a man named David. Listen to the words of II Samuel chapter 23: “And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, ‘Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!’” (II Samuel 23:13-15).
The book of II Samuel, chapter 23, tells the story of what happened as David came to the end of his life. It even records his last words. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; His word is on my tongue...though worthless men are like thorns that are thrown away...with God, all things are ordered and sure” (II Samuel 23:2, 5-6).
And as the seventy years of David’s life came to an end, the writer took a moment to remember and to record the names of those who meant so much to him in life--men like Josheb who, with his spear, had killed eight hundred men, and Eleazar who struck down the Philistines with his sword, and Shammah through whom God once worked a great victory.
Then out of the blue, the writer also chose to record a story about three of David’s strongest and bravest men--his “green berets,” his “navy seals,” his “special forces”--what the Bible called his “mighty men.” As it says in verse 13: “And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam.”
So what’s going on?
You see, David wasn’t always the king of Israel. That wouldn’t come till much later on. At first, even though he was God’s anointed and had killed Goliath, Saul was still the king and he was still in hiding, a “man on the run.”
But even though he wasn’t quite yet the king, there were many who loved him, respected him and supported him. In fact, the Bible says there were as many as four hundred men who were ready and willing to defend him.
But where could David and his band of four hundred men go? Certainly not Jerusalem, where Saul was king, and not even Bethlehem, David’s hometown.
So they went to about the only place they could go, far to the north of Saul’s kingdom, and to the edge of the Philistine kingdom--to a place called the cave of Adullam.
And as David watched and waited, he took time to think and to remember all that had happened before, like the time when he saved his sheep from the claws of a lion and the paws of a bear, when he killed Goliath with a sling and a stone, and of his deep love for his dear friend--closer than a brother--Saul’s son, Jonathan.
And he thought of the psalms he wrote and the songs he sang like, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1), and “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge” (Psalm 18:2), and “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
And as he lay thinking and dreaming and remembering, he also thought back to his little town called Bethlehem, where his father and mother and brothers once lived. So he said in a rather casual and off-handed way, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!”
Was he thirsty? He could have been. But if that’s all he was, he could have just as easily gotten a drink from a well near the cave of Adullam.
You see, water wasn’t the problem. The problem was that, if only he could, he would turn back the hands of time, to erase everything from his life that had gone wrong. Almost like Dorothy on the Wizard of Oz, he clicked his heels together, and said, “There’s no place like home.”
That’s when three of his “mighty men”--God’s anonymous--had an idea. As it says in verse 16: “Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David” (II Samuel 23:16).
Now if you don’t mind me saying, that was a pretty bold move! I mean, think about it. Can you imagine the logistics in planning and organizing a secret, silent, overnight raid, smack into the middle of enemy, occupied territory, straight through the middle of a Philistine camp, past heavily armed guards, risking life and limb, just for a drink of water?
No matter how “mighty” the men were, think of how easily they could have been captured and tortured and never seen or heard from again.
Did they have to go? Not at all. In fact, even though David had the full right and authority, (he was God’s anointed king, after all!), he never would have risked their lives and commanded them to go.
So why did they do it? Simply because they loved and respected him so much. No matter what danger they faced, no matter how long it took them, no matter what it cost them--even putting their lives at risk--they’d do anything to fulfill their king’s desires.
Does it sound familiar? Think of a woman named Mary who once poured perfume on Jesus’ feet--worth a year’s wages--then wiped His feet with her hair. Judas said, “Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” Jesus answered, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me” (John 12:8).
Think of a man named Onesiphorus, about whom Paul wrote, “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains...may He grant him to find mercy on that Day!”(I Timothy 1:16, 18).
Or think of a man named Epaphroditus, of whom Paul wrote, “He nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” (Philippians 2:30).
No matter what danger they faced, no matter how long it took them, no matter what it cost them--even putting their lives at risk--they’d do anything to fulfill their King’s desires.
Let’s get back to the story, because we’re not quite done.
So there were those three mighty men who snuck into Philistine territory, past enemy lines, and drew water out of the well at Bethlehem. Then as they brought it to David, what did he do? Verse 16: “But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the Lord and said, ‘Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?’ Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did” (II Samuel 23:16-17).
Now wait just one second here! Those three guys went to all that trouble, risking life and limb, to bring David that fresh drink of water, and what did he do? He poured it out on the ground! That doesn’t seem right at all to me!
But let me tell you, that was the greatest and noblest thing he ever could have done.
Think about it like this--if David had simply said, “Really guys, you shouldn’t have, but thanks for going to all that trouble,” then tilted his head back and drank it, he would have shown absolutely no respect for the incredible risk and sacrifice they made. So instead, he made their gift, what came at such a great price, to be an offering to the Lord, for only God was worthy of such a great and noble sacrifice.
You’ve heard of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.? Of course, you have! Often referred to as “T. R.” or simply “Teddy,” he was our nation’s twenty-sixth president, not to mention a remarkable naturalist, conservationist, writer, statesman and historian. He led the “Rough Riders” during the Spanish-American War and began construction of the Panama Canal. Even today, historians rank him as one of the five best presidents our nation has ever known.
Without a doubt, you know Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. But the one you probably don’t know is his father--Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. You see, had it not been for Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. could never have become the man that he did.
You see, when Roosevelt Jr. was young, he was a very sick child. He was constantly plagued by severe asthma, making it incredibly difficult for him to breathe. So doing all that he could to save him, every night, Roosevelt Sr. carried his three-year-old, then four-year-old, then five-year-old son through the house all night long so he could be kept upright and comforted by the warmth and closeness of his father.
Even more, because of his love for Jesus, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. founded an orthopedic hospital and spent thousands caring for the weak and poor of New York City.
Later, when his son, Roosevelt, Jr., wrote of him, he said, “My father was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness.” Even when Teddy became president, he would never make any important decisions without thinking first of what his father would do.
No wonder his family and friends had once nicknamed him, “Great Heart.”
But the only way to be a “great heart” is to know and to love the greatest heart of all--the heart of Jesus--a well of water, as He said in the book of John, that springs up into everlasting life.
It was first dug in the darkness of the night, in a little town called Bethlehem, by the light of a single star--not in a palace, but in a quiet, humble stable. And as shepherds knelt, a chorus of angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So we give thanks to God.
You are our Father, dear Lord, and our mighty defender. Help us to follow in the footsteps of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus, never doubting that You will, at last, bring us to everlasting life, for His sake. Amen