Saturday, March 8, 2008

Benaiah, The Warrior Priest

And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man, of Kabzeel, who had done many acts,
  • he slew two lionlike men of Moab:
  • he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow:
  • And he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian's hand, and slew him with his own spear.
These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and had the name among three mighty men. He was more honourable than the thirty, but he attained not to the first three. And David set him over his guard. (II Samuel 23:20-23)

Benaiah is my favorite Old Testament character. He's not a central figure like Abraham, Moses or David, and you won't find as much written about him. But the Word reveals more about him than most people realize.

The passage above comes from the the roll of David's Mighty Men. To put it into neopagan terms that our society can understand, these men were Olympians among warriors. And, although Benaiah was an "Olympian" warrior, he was not a medalist.

Adino, Eleazar and Shammah, respectively, took the gold, silver and bronze. Benaiah did not even place among the top three. That's not to say, though, that he wasn't a skilled and fearsome warrior.

He was the son of Jehoiada, a mighty man of Kabzeel. I Chronicles 12:27 tells us that Jehoiada, priest and descendant of Aaron, led 3600 armed Levites in support of David's claim to the throne. Benaiah followed his father's example as a warrior priest.

In addition, by the nature of the work, a priest had to be good with a knife. Killing, skinning and butchering animals for sacrifice all went into a day's work for a priest serving at the Tabernacle. Wielding a blade no doubt became second nature to Benaiah from childhood.

Perhaps it was this training that fitted him for killing the lion in the pit -- a rare and memorable event linked in the scribe's mind to another Middle East rarity, a snowy day. I picture David's men standing about the pit they dug on a deer trail. They had hoped to trap a buck for meat, but inadvertently captured a lion.

Suddenly, the young priest no longer stands among them; he has dropped into the pit, and in the flicker of an eye, the beast lies limp and lifeless, and Benaiah's knife drips with its blood. As his comrades haul him out of the hole, they ask him what in the world he was thinking. He jokes that he "slipped on the snow at the edge of the pit."

Only a man who, from his earliest days, had learned both how to use his blade and how to keep it razor sharp would be able to slay a lion in a confined space before it could shred him with its claws.

With such a heritage, Benaiah did not shrink from ferocious beasts or beastly warriors. Did he find himself with only a staff in his hands? No matter; he could snatch the spear from his enemy's hands and dispatch him with it. But, skilled as he was, he never made it to the medal stand.

Even so, he stands out. In spite of the fact that other warriors possessed more skill or more dramatic accomplishments, Benaiah "was more honourable than the thirty." He was most respected of all the Mighty Men -- respected by his peers, and by King David.

While leadership of the army went to Joab, David's cousin, the king appointed Benaiah to head his personal guard, the Cherethites. For this responsibility, David needed a man of unquestioned loyalty and incorruptible character. These he found in Benaiah.

The warrior priest served faithfully throughout the reign of his liege, and after the shepherd king of Israel lay in his grave, his son Solomon called upon the aging sheepdog for yet another great act of service. He must execute the murderous and treacherous Joab to safeguard the integrity of the new king's reign. (see I Kings, chapter 2)

Joab had fled to the Tabernacle and laid hold of the horns of the altar, claiming the right of sanctuary. This was a practice to protect those wrongfully accused from vengeance and premature execution until the authorities could investigate the matter. But Joab was guilty.

Who would enter God's house to slay a man -- even a guilty one? Who, but a priest? It is a major function of the priest to guard the Temple from the profane. So Benaiah, priest, guard and warrior "went up, and fell upon him, and slew him." (I Kings 2:34)

Solomon then appointed Benaiah as leader of the host of Israel. The priest, whose name means son of Yahweh (Jehovah), remained a warrior and sheepdog to the Lord's anointed even into his old age. For good cause did Scripture name him as the most respected of all the Mighty Men.

May God multiply the sons of Benaiah among us.
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