These are the names of David’s mighty warriors:
Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite, was chief of the Three; he raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter.
Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.
Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory.
During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it.
Such were the exploits of the three mighty warriors.
Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah was chief of the Three. He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed, and so he became as famous as the Three. Was he not held in greater honor than the Three? He became their commander, even though he was not included among them.
– 2 Samuel 23:8-19
“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy to extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. …”
“I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions, and it is not only not a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organization should quite coincide with its actual workings.”
– C. S. Lewis, ‘The Inner Ring’ in The Weight of Glory
This was another case of reading two things on the same day that overlapped. My daily morning Bible Reading took me to 2 Samuel 23 and my afternoon pleasure reading led to the completion of C. S. Lewis’ compilation of essays, The Weight of Glory. I try write my thoughts when I get these connections.
I included just a portion of 2 Samuel 23. Note that Abishai was the commander of the Three, but he was not numbered among them. Also note that the Three were among 30 chief warriors.
Lewis starts this essay speaking of going to boarding school. For self-esteem and self-preservation, you strived to get into the Inner Ring. But once there, you discovered another inner ring within that ring. It is the organizational structure of an onion. The core is protected by a ring, with that ring protected by another, then another.
Think of the school bully in Middle School. He is usually the big-for-his-age boy or the boy who has been held back to repeat a grade here or there. He reigns supreme in the playground at recess (or he did when I was growing up). Yet, he is not alone. To get to the bully, you had to work your way through the hangers-on. These guys did nothing wrong, or nothing bad wrong. They willingly become the outer ring of the onion. They provided a buffer for the leaders in exchange for not being the target of the bully’s abuse. Their motivation is fear alone.
But let’s say that you didn’t mind punching a kid in the nose (of course, a child that is smaller than you). That was the next layer of the onion, the thugs. They were not brave folks. They beat up on the smaller fellows. They followed orders. Without a boss over them, they would scatter. Their motivation was to impress the Inner Ring.
To get close to the bully as part of his innermost ring, you had to give sound advice. You had to demonstrate leadership skills, but not too much, or the bully would distrust you. If you were too smart, or too well skilled, the bully might fear you taking over. The advisors’ motivation is that they have the bully’s ear. They got added favors.
I lived in a very small town. There were no official gangs, but what I have described existed for a short time when I was growing up. Us good kids did everything we could during recess to hide. We always had escape routes planned if a member of the Inner Ring approached.
As Lewis said, Inner Rings are certainly unavoidable. It is simple human nature to surround yourself with loyal companions that have your back. Those rings can be used for good or evil.
David did this with 30 chief warriors and within them Three. These companions, the Three, are mentioned in this one chapter of 2 Samuel. Of course, David is going to honor their loyalty and bravery when they get him water from the well in Bethlehem, obtained across enemy lines. There is a special bond between people when there is life and death concerns associated with their companionship.
I did not serve in the Army during wartime. Yet, many of the people that I served with had been in Vietnam. They had a bond amongst each other, but the families in the family housing had a bond as well. I was in Germany during the Cold War. If World War III had ever gotten started during those years, neighbor would have to rely upon neighbor. Possibly nowhere else in military family housing during those years did such a bond exist among military, civilians working for the military, and their families. We still have one family that we keep in contact with nearly forty years later.
Lewis, in his essay, describes Inner Rings, and does not speak lightly of them. He talks about the classic motivations for evil (sex, money, power) may not fully describe the motivations for being in the Inner Ring or the coveting of membership in the Inner Ring. Then, there is the anxiety of not being worthy of the Inner Ring. He, then, must excuse himself to state that Inner Rings are not necessarily bad. The onion’s center is most assuredly well protected.
Yet, he gives an example of a family with a rich aunt who has no children of her own. It is one thing to make plans for what you want to buy with your share of the estate. It is another to make plans on how to hasten receiving your portion. As I mentioned before with the bully scenario, if the bully does not play his cards right, one of his Inner Ring of advisors could take over. Only the most astute of a judge of character can survive in such an organization, and as such, the organization tends to rot and decay. There becomes only brawn and no brain at its core.
In David’s case, he need not fear the Three killing him and then fighting each other to become the One.
David was God’s anointed. The list of warriors, and the exploits of a few, is contained in 2 Samuel 23 to illustrate that David did not strengthen the kingdom of Israel on his own, even from a worldly sense. David repeatedly prayed to determine whether he should go here or there, to fight this group or not. God guided David and had His protective hand upon him. But David had an Inner Ring that David knew would die for him if necessary.
I think that this is part of the reason for a focus on small group Bible Studies. If you can have two or three people that you know are reliable, dependable, and loyal to one another, you have strength in numbers.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.