Skipping straight from Saul’s death in the last chapter to David’s ascension as king, the Chronicler leaps right over the succession conflicts of 2 Samuel 2-4. In this narrative, David’s rise was effortless and conflict-less.
Right from the start, we see all of Israel congregating in Hebron to declare David as their new king. Repeating their speech almost verbatim from 2 Sam. 5:1-3, they reinforce David’s claim by saying that he had truly been the one leading them from the start, even while Saul was king in name. They make a covenant with David, and Samuel anoints him.
With all of Israel on his side, David turned toward Jerusalem. The Jebusites taunt David, saying that he will never enter his city. But then, wooops, he conquers it anyway. Parts of the story are copied word-for-word from 2 Sam. 5:6-10, except that all references to David’s hatred for people with physical disabilities are replaced by his vow to promote the first person to kill Jebusites (or perhaps to rush forward at the Jebusites) to the rank of chief and commander. This seems like a fairly awful way to pick leaders, given that leadership skills aren’t terribly correlated with “rush into battle and kill stuff” skills. I get that the point is to reward bravery, but this seems like the Peter Principle in action. The point is only more clearly made when we find out that it is Joab who goes first, earning his place as chief. And we all know how well that turned out (1 Kgs. 2:5-6).
My New Bible Commentary notes that Joab’s promotion here would seem to conflict with 2 Samuel, where Joab is already functioning as commander prior to the taking of Jerusalem. Yet, “the commander-in-chief of the king of Judah would not automatically have become commander-in-chief of the king of all Israel” (p.375). In other words, it’s possible that Joab was already commander, but had to re-earn his position in the new national government. Assuming historicity for a moment, this doesn’t seem unreasonable.
James Pate notes a problematic difference between this chapter and 2 Sam. 5:6-10: Whereas in 2 Samuel, David seems to have chosen Jerusalem as his capitol because it was centrally located and because it did not belong to any particular tribe (therefore avoiding the argument of favouritism), the Chronicler gives David complete support from all Israel before he turns to Jerusalem, and in fact shows a pan-tribal attacking army. So why, then, would David have needed to take Jerusalem? Pate discusses the issue in his post.
Once David took Jerusalem, it began to be known as the city of David. He and Joab then set to work repairing the city (and presumably building it up), and thus did David become ever greater.
The Mighty Men
The rest of the chapter lists the men of David’s elite army. It is nearly identical to the list found in 2 Sam. 23:8-39, though with additional names added to the end. One theory is that the 2 Samuel version ended with Uriah to rhetorically underscore the evil that David had done to him in 2 Sam. 11, whereas the Chronicler may have been working with a more complete list.
We begin with the elite of the elite, known as the Three. The group’s leader was Jachobeam, a Hachmonite, who once killed 300 enemies with his spear at one time (the number is 800 in 2 Sam. 23:8, but the difference could be caused by confusion with another warrior, Abishai, who killed 300 in 2 Sam. 23:18 and 1 Chron. 11:20).
The other two members of the Three are mashed together here, apparently due to a scribal error. In 2 Sam. 23:9-12, we learn of two members of the group: Eleazar son of Dodo the Ahohite and Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. In the 2 Samuel version, Eleazar was with David when they defied the Philistines. The Israelite army was routed, but Eleazar kept fighting until his arm grew weary – long enough to win the battle. When the Israelites returned, it was only to strip the dead. As for Shammah, the Israelite army was again routed, but Shammah stood in a plot of lentils, defending it until the Philistines were defeated.
The Chronicler’s version, however, tells us only of Eleazar, and how he was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines gathered against them. Even though the Israelites were routed, he stood his ground in a field of barley and defeated the Philistines. It’s rather easy to see how a scribe’s eye might skip in two such similar stories.
Before getting into the Thirty, we learn of three men from the band of Thirty (there’s no indication that they are the Three) who came to David while he was in hiding in the cave of Adullam (his stay is narrated in 1 Sam. 22:1-5) while the Philistines occupied Bethlehem.
David seems to have been feeling rather sorry for himself, and said (with much sighing, I imagine) that he wished he could have some water to drink from one of the wells of Bethlehem. These three members of the Thirty heard him (or perhaps overheard him, depending on the interpretation) and took it upon themselves to go fetch that water for David. So they snuck through the Philistine guards, into Bethlehem, and drew the water.
When they returned, however, David refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it onto the ground, saying: “Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men?” (1 Chron. 11:19). How David looks in this story depends entirely on the reader’s interpretation. If he had asked his men who fetch him the water, then his actions are just awful. But if he was just moping about, feeling sorry for himself, and they happened to overhear him and did something foolish that he hadn’t wanted them to do, then he is some degree of less awful. At least no Beckets were killed this time.
The chief of the Thirty was Abishai, Joab’s brother. Like Jachobeam, he too killed 300 enemies at one go with a spear. The other member of the Thirty whose deeds are worth mentioning is Benaiah son of Jehoiada, of Kabzeel, the captain of David’s bodyguards. He killed two whole ariels of Moab, which I’m sure is very impressive whatever an ariel is. He also killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen, the significant of which is lost on me, but I’m sure that too is very impressive. He also duelled a very large Egyptian who wielded a spear like a weaver’s beam. Benaiah lunged in with his staff and, snatching the oversized spear from the Egyptian’s hands, killed him with his own weapon.
The rest of the Thirty are given as a simple list:
- Asahel brother of Joab
- Elhanan son of Dodo of Bethlehem
- Shammoth of Harod
- Helez the Pelonite
- Ira son of Ikkesh of Tekoa
- Abiezer of Anathoth
- Sibbecai the Hushathite
- Ilai the Ahohite
- Maharai of Netophah
- Heled son of Baanah of Netophah
- Ithai son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites
- Benaiah of Pirathon
- Hurai of the brooks of Gaash
- Abiel the Arbathite
- Azmaveth of Baharum
- Eliahba of Shaalbon
- Hashem the Gizonite
- Jonathan son of Shagee the Hararite
- Ahiam son of Sachar the Hararite
- Eliphal son of Ur
- Hepher the Mecherathite
- Ahijah the Pelonite
- Hezro of Carmel
- Naarai the son of Ezbai
- Joel the brother of Nathan
- Mibhar son of Hagri
- Zelek the Ammonite
- Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab and son of Zeruiah
- Ira the Ithrite
- Gareb the Ithrite
- Uriah the Hittite
- Zabad son of Ahlai
- Adina son of Shiza, the Reubenite, who was a leader among the Reubenites and was accompanied by 30 of his brethren
- Hanan son of Maacah
- Joshaphat the Mithnite
- Uzzia the Ashterathite
- Shama son of Hotham the Aroerite
- Jeiel, Shama’s brother
- Jediael son of Shimri
- Joha, brother of Jediael, a Tizite
- Eliel the Mahavite
- Jeribai son of Elnaam
- Joshaviah, also a son of Elnaam
- Ithmah the Moabite
- Jaasiel the Mezobaite
These are, of course, way more than thirty men. It seems that the name of David’s elite company was chosen for its neat roundedness (or perhaps its accuracy at some earlier date).