David, on his return to Ziklag, was joined by seven more chiefs of Manasseh. They are called “captains of thousands;” and as they must have come over from the camp of Saul, they doubtless brought some of their men with them. This accession of force proved to be most opportune; for, on arriving at Ziklag, it was found that the place had been burned with fire, and that, together with all the portable substance, the women and the children had been carried away captive. It seemed that the Amalekites had taken advantage of David’s absence to retaliate his ravages of their country by in attack upon Ziklag. There was none to resist them, and they had shed no blood—not, we apprehend, from any humane consideration, but simply because David’s supposed detention in the camp permitted them to remove the women and the children alive, and when that was the case they were valuable property, to be retained or sold as slaves. David’s two wives, for he now had two, were among the captives.
The men were outrageous when they beheld what had taken place, and were not sparing of reproaches against their general, for having left the place without defenders. There were even sinister murmurs about stoning him. Probably the presence of the Manassites, who had joined him in the field and on the road, served him in good stead. They had lost nothing, and naturally would side with David against the murmurers. It seems to have been they who suggested the wisdom of a pursuit after the marauders, for it was clear that, being under no apprehension of David’s return, they would make a leisurely retreat, especially when encumbered with so many women and children; and it appeared by the heat of the still smoldering ruins, and by the freshness of their camel-tracks, that the attack had been very recent, and they could not yet have got to any great distance. David himself had lost more than any; but his faith in God was not shaken, and his self-possession and decision under this calamity, and the present outbreak of his own men, is worthy of high commendation, and tended rapidly to restore confidence. “He encouraged himself in Jehovah his God,” and calling for Abiathar, desired him to consult the Lord by the sacred Urim, whether he should pursue the enemy or not. The answer was favorable, and he set out with extreme rapidity, coming upon them when they were encamped, encumbered with spoil, and enjoying themselves at their ease, supposing David, whom alone they had any reason to fear, afar off with the Philistine host. Thus surprised, they offered little resistance; but some of them betook themselves to their camels and escaped. Not only was every thing and person taken from Ziklag recovered safe, but all the rich spoil which the band had collected in a wide marauding excursion fell into the hands of David and his men. This incident was likely to have created another misunderstanding, which was averted by the discretion of their leader. Many of the men having been from weariness unable to pursue the march, had been left on the way by the brook Besor, and it was suggested that these had no right to any of this spoil, but only to have their own property and families restored to them. But David decided that they should all share alike; and this thenceforth became established as a law in the Hebrew army, and has been adopted into the practice of modern warfare. The policy of this regulation is obvious; for, were every man at liberty to retain what he could take, or were the spoil to be appropriated only by the actual combatants, there must be at leas great discontent among those detained by garrison or other duties from the immediate scene of action.
A considerable portion of the spoil fell to the share of the commander; and this he, with his usual open-handed liberality, employed in sending presents to the elders of various towns and villages in Judah, and to all the places where he had received encouragement and support during his wanderings. This came to them with the message—“Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.” The natural effect of his success, of his discreet liberality, and of the admiration in which he was held, was, that men came over to him in great numbers. “From that time,” says the writer of Chronicles (1Ch_12:22), “day by day there came to David to help him, until it was a great host, like the host of God.”
It seems to have been while at Ziklag that David, in the lack of means of affording more substantial marks of his regard and admiration for valiant deeds, and marks of attachment to his person, devised something that looks exceedingly like an order of knighthood, or, on a small scale, a legion of honor, which has scarcely received all the attention it deserves. Out of the general body of his followers, he organized a band of worthies or knights, answering very much, we suspect, to the three degrees in the Order of the Bath, in which we have Grand-Crosses, Knight-Companions, and Companions. In David’s band there were three chief heroes, three second in prowess, and thirty inferior to these—thirty-six in all. It is also very likely that they were distinguished from the general band, and the different degrees from each other, by insignia of honor. It is a great mistake to suppose the use of such insignia a modern invention. The modern decorations, crosses, medals, and stars, are in principle but the revival of an ancient practice. It is known to have existed among the Romans, who had phialœ and phalerœ of honor—terms which have been supposed to signify bracelets and medals; but all opinion on the subject was only conjectural, previously to the discovery on the borders of the Rhine of a monumental bas-relief, raised by the freedmen of Marcus Caelius Lembo, tribune of the (XIIX) 18th Legion, who fell in the disastrous overthrow of Varus. This effigy is of three-quarter length, in a fall suit of armor, with a laurel crown on the head, a Gallic twisted torque around the neck, and from the lion-headed shoulder-clasps of the cuirass hang two embossed bracelets, having beneath them a locket with three points, from which are suspended five medals of honor; one large, on the pit of the stomach, representing a head of Medusa; and two on each side, one beneath the other, and all, as far as can be seen, charged with lion’s faces and lion’s heads in profile. This monument is now in the University of Bonn. Note: Col. C. Hamilton Smith, Art. Arms, Armor, in Cyclop. of Biblical Literature.
The exploits which won for some of David’s illustrious band their high distinction are recorded; but some of them seem to have been performed after David became king, showing that he kept up this body during his reign, probably by supplying vacancies as they occurred; this also accounts for our finding in the list such names as that of Benaiah, who, seeing that he was it seems in the prime of life at the end of David’s reign, could hardly have been one of the worthies before its commencement. The three chiefs who formed the first class, were Jashobeam the Hachmonite, Eleazer son of Dodo, and Shammah son of Agee. The first, according to one account, Note: 2Sa_23:8. lifted up his spear against 800 men, whom he slew at one time—but another account makes the number three hundred, Note: 1Ch_11:11. a difference which some reconcile by supposing that he slew 800 men in one action and 300 men in another. However interpreted, this exploit well entitled the valiant Jashobeam to his place as “chief among the captains.” Eleazer was one of those three who, with David, maintained the ground against a Philistine force, when their people had retreated, and at length routed them, so that when the men returned for very shame, there was nothing for them but to divide the spoil of their enemies. On that occasion Eleazer “smote the Philistines till his hand clove unto his sword.” Note: Thus reminds one of the case of the Highland sergeant at Waterloo, whose basket-hilted sword had, after the battle, to be released from his hand by a blacksmith (Simpson’s Visit to Flanders in July, 1815); and of the incident in the life of the celebrated Colonel Gardiner, who, when lying severely wounded on the field of battle, to secure his gold from being plundered, placed it in his hand, which he smeared with his blood to prevent his grasp relaxing in the event of his fainting from weakness. In the same way the hand of Eleazer may have been in a manner glued to his sword by his own blood. This seems to have occurred during the period when David acted as Saul’s general against the Philistines, So, seemingly, does the exploit of Shammah, who defended a field of barley against a troop of Philistines, and compelled them to retreat. These were the three men who formed the first class of David’s worthies. The three next, who formed the second class, were renowned for a deed of truly chivalrous devotement to David—so that opposing hosts could not prevent them from fulfilling his slightest wish. When be was in the cave of Adullam, the Philistines had a garrison in Bethlehem; and he was unmindful of this circumstance when, suffering from thirst, and remembering the pleasantness of the water from the well of his native town, he expressed a longing for a draught thereof. The words had no sooner passed his lips than these three men took their departure, and going boldly through the Philistine host, drew water from the well, and brought it to their chief. Touched by this proof of hardihood and strong attachment, he refused to drink the draught so hardly won: “he poured it out before the Lord,” declaring that he would not drink the blood of his men. Alexander did something like this, only not so striking, at Gerodosia. Note: Curtius, Hist. lib. vii. cap. 5. A vessel of water was offered him when under extreme thirst, but be refused to take it, because he could not bear to drink it alone, and the small quantity could not be divided among all those who were about him.
The chief of this second class of three was Abishai, nephew of David and brother of Joab. He was also celebrated for putting to rout three hundred adversaries, and this two-fold distinction gave him the first place in this second rank of heroes. To this rank, but probably at a later period, was Benaiah, whose exploits were very remarkable. It is said that he “had done many acts,” and three of them are mentioned as examples of their quality—in fact there is more recorded of this man than of any others. First, “he slew two lion-like men of Moab”—next, “he went down and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow.” Why the snow is mentioned is not clear, though it had no doubt some connection with the exploit—perhaps its lying on the ground had caused the lion to fall into the pit. Josephus understands that the lion having fallen into a pit where there was much snow, got covered with it, and there making a hideous roaring, Benaiah went down and slew him. So read, it seems no great exploit. It has been very much outdone of late by Mr. Cumming-though, to be sure, Benaiah had no gun. Altogether, the exploit would have been more signal apparently had the lion not been in the pit—although there may be something not altogether agreeable in such close quarters with a lion. Upon the whole, it is likely Bochart may be in the right in his notion that Benaiah went into a cave for shelter from a snow-storm, and was there attacked by a lion, which had also sought shelter there, and which he overcame and slew.
The third recorded exploit of this valiant man is in some respects comparable to David’s combat with Goliath. The opponent was an Egyptian giant about eight feet high, and armed with a spear. But Benaiah went down against him with no weapon but his staff, and plucking the spear out of his hand, slew him with his own spear. The man distinguished by these romantic feats eventually became captain of David’s guard—a post which he retained under Solomon.
Of the thirty who formed the third class, we possess only the names. Few of them are historically known; but we find in it, with a feeling of painful surprise, the name of Uriah the Hittite. That this man had been deemed worthy of this high honor, given only to the brave and the devoted, gives a still deeper dye to the crimson of David’s sin against his life and honor.
In this list also occurs the name of Joab’s armor-bearer, Naharai by name; and yet the name of Joab himself does not occur in either class. This is difficult to account for, but by supposing that his position was too eminent, as commander-in-chief, to need the distinction which the belonging to this order conferred on other men. Or, as this high place was of later acquirement, it may be that Joab was the unnamed third of the second trio of worthies.