King David had faithful servants. In fact, the Bibles records some stories of “David’s mighty men” in 2 Samuel 23 and then repeats those stories 1 Chronicles 11. The Bible tells us these men:
Gave [David] strong support in his kingdom, together with all Israel, to make him king, according to the word of the Lord concerning Israel. (1 Chronicles 11:10)
In other words, these men were David’s servants, and they were faithful to him. And their story can teach us about the root of faithful service and the reward it brings.
An Act of Love
Among these stories of “David’s mighty men” is a somewhat perplexing story, appearing both in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. David is at the Cave of Abdullam and “the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem” (1 Chronicles 11:16). In short, things simply were not right about the current situation.
David expressed this when he then said: “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” (11:17). Although he did not say this to anyone directly, three of David’s mighty men heard this remark and decided to fulfill David’s wish.
We are told they “broke through the camp of the Philistines” (11:18), got the water, and brought it back to David. Don’t be mistaken—this was far from an easy task. This is true faithful service! They risked their lives to do this for their king. Pastor Colin said about this passage:
This was not a stealth operation. They did not get in and out without being noticed. They fought their way in and they fought their way out. These men would do anything for David.
Imagine the great joy it would bring to the servant to surprise your King with the drink of water he thought he’d never get! They defied the odds and showed David how loyal they were. More so, they showed they genuinely loved their king—risking everything to fulfill even the wishes they had not been commanded to fulfill.
An Apparent Problem
It happens in storytelling, both biblical and otherwise, where the author will withhold the name of an important character to create a sense of anticipation. Their name will only be revealed after a turn of events, or at a crucial moment, as a testament to their significance.
I assumed this technique was in play here in this story. All the stories surrounding this one both in 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11 introduce a name almost immediately. This one, however, just starts with: “three of the thirty chief men” (1 Chronicles 11:15; 2 Samuel 23:13). Then when they heroically fought to get the water, again the Bible mentions no names (1 Chronicles 11:18; 2 Samuel 23:16).
Reading into this, I expected David, upon receiving the water from these three men, to recognize their faithful service: “Thank you Abishai, Jashobeam, and Eleazar!” (see 1 Chronicles 11:11, 12, 20). Or, “Thank you Josheb-basshebeth, Eleazar, and Shammah!” (see 2 Samuel 23:8, 9, 11).
This does not happen, however, as David mentioned no one’s name, but just poured out the water. The Bible says, “David would not drink it. He poured it out to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 11:18). Then David says, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it” (1 Chronicles 11:19).
When I first read this, I thought David’s choice was offensive, to the say the least. The mighty men risked everything for him and he didn’t even reward them by taking the drink he said he wanted. How would they respond? Would they quit from faithful service?
The Bible doesn’t tell us. It ends the story with: “These things the three mighty men did” (1 Chronicles 11:19; 2 Samuel 23:17).
The Root of Faithful Service
I have a guess for how they responded. Let me go back to the first verse mentioned in this article—1 Chronicles 11:10. Note the reason why these mighty men were faithful to David as their king.
1 Chronicles does not say that their support was “according to David’s request” or “according to David’s impressive military victories.” The verse reads their support was “according to the word of the Lord concerning Israel.” Don’t get me wrong, these men loved David. Their actions prove that. But they were always primarily faithful to God.
The root of these men’s faithfulness is their love for God and His Word. They remember what God has done for them throughout the years, how He has always been faithful, and they cling to His Word. They revere His holiness and they find rest in serving Him.
God’s Holiness fuels their faithful service. And what’s really at stake here is not their own reputation—what David thinks of them, or they glory they could receive from their heroics—but the glory of the Lord.
The Reward of Faithful Service
This is why, I think, the Bible doesn’t show us their response because they likely did not feel slighted. Consider what Pastor Colin says about this story:
The key words here are… “poured it out to the Lord.” This was an act of worship. Other kings, lesser kings, would have drunk the water. But to drink the water would be to say, “You exist to satisfy my thirsts. My comfort matters more than your lives.” And David was not that kind of king.
David took this moment to remind his servants that he too served the Lord. Though he was the current king of Israel, there was an everlasting King above him.
The three men went to fetch the water, at the root, out of a love for God and His Glory, and they were rewarded by David as he worshipped the Lord. This is the true reward of faithful service—bringing glory to the everlasting King.
It seems fitting to me know that the story never mentions the names of the three men. For in their anonymity they bring more glory to the name of the Lord.
The Faithful Servant
The whole Old Testament points to Jesus Christ. While we may suspect that David is a symbol for Christ, we should see how these three might men point to Him as well.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient to the Father out of a love for the Father. He gave up his life according the will of the Father. And similar to how David poured out the “lifeblood” of the men, so Jesus poured out his own blood to save us.
So may it be said of us, because of what Christ did, that we always serve our Lord to honor His reign and point to His glory according to His will.