Anyone who would go into a pit and kill a lion has my high regard, which is why—hunter that I am—Benaiah has long held a special place for me. There are several Old Testament men named Benaiah, and all are more or less obscure. Our focus is on the one who served as captain over King David’s bodyguard. Consider some lessons from the account of him in 2 Samuel 23:20-23.
“And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen” (v. 20, ESV).
Since his father, Jehoiada, was a priest, that makes Benaiah a Levite warrior, and he had 24,000 men under his command (cf. 1 Chron. 27:5). It is unclear what “ariels” are, but, if the Septuagint is correct, it appears Ariel was Moab’s king and that Benaiah killed his two sons. How there came to be a lion in a pit goes unstated. Suggestions include that the pit was dug as a trap (cf. Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible, p. 73), or that it was a cistern for drinking water into which the lion had fallen (cf. Bergen, New American Commentary, p. 471), or that the lion had been driven by the cold weather to make the dry tank his lair (cf. Smith, Pulpit Commentary, p. 571). Whatever the case, Benaiah—on a cold day, when fingers might be numb—descended into a confined area with a fearsome, deadly animal and slew it (without any high-powered rifle). He was “a doer of great deeds.” Are we? Great deeds in God’s sight do not have to be dangerous, or even big; they just have to be good (cf. Mark 9:41).
“And he struck down an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear” (v. 21).
Another account puts this Egyptian’s height at five cubits (1 Chron. 11:23), which, given an 18-inch cubit, would make him 7.5 feet tall! But a giant with a giant spear was not enough to intimidate Benaiah, who wrested it from the Egyptian and struck him therewith. What audacity! He did not even call for backup. What of us? Are we intimidated by the devil? Faithful Christians recognize that the One who is in us is stronger than the devil who wants us (cf. 1 John 4:4).
“These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and won a name beside the three mighty men” (v. 22).
David had a highly select group of about thirty men known for boundless courage and awesome accomplishment. The three highest are named earlier in the chapter (vv. 8, 9, 11). Benaiah, though not one of the three mightiest, did things that could not escape their notice. Think of that. Today, the greatest, mightiest folk in the world are the Lord’s saints. The world may pay us little attention, but, we ought to be living lives so spiritually courageous that other Christians cannot but take notice. Notoriety is never the goal; it is simply the inevitable outcome if we go where the world will not go, and do what the world will not do, all to God’s glory.
“He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard” (v. 23).
Great as he was, that still could have been a problem had Benaiah been prideful, selfishly ambitious, power-hungry, narcissistic. But, instead of bemoaning that “he did not attain to the three,” Benaiah seems to have been content with what he was, and where that put him. What about us? Are we happy to do for God the work that we can in the place where we are? Or, is there dissatisfaction that we lack another’s talent, or that someone else seems to have the spotlight? There will always be others who are ahead of us in ability, and none of us should be seeking for renown. Thankfully, the kingdom of Christ is not a competition, and we need not suffer by comparing ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12; Phil. 4:11). What a man Benaiah was: neither lion, nor giant, nor enemy soldier could stop him, and his betters could not fail to be impressed. No wonder he was among David’s mighty men. Though few today have ever heard his name, the Lord’s church needs people like Benaiah.