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Benaiah ben Jehoiada

by Tim O'Hearn

It has often been said that there is no accounting for taste. Most Janeites (fans of Jane Austen’s novels) consider Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice to be the epitome of manhood, Edwardian or otherwise. Some consider Mr. Darcy to be haughty, rude, and generally unlikable. (Heresy if there ever was one.) Instead, Mr. Knightley in Emma is one to be emulated. Many critics consider Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) to be a cipher, a nothing, while a few of us like Miss Price because her rectitude shows the actions of those around her to be ridiculous and even blameworthy. One man’s hero is another man’s villain. Sometimes there are characters in the Bible that stand out to some people, but nobody can explain why. One such character is Benaiah ben Jehoiada.

Benaiah was “the son of a valiant man, of Kabzeel.” (2 Sam 23:20) Kabzeel was the southernmost city in Israel, even south of Beersheba. It was on the border with Edom. Benaiah would generally be considered a “hick.” If the apostle Nathanael could say of Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), the people of David’s day might say the same about Kabzeel. Benaiah had this strike against him to begin with.

Nevertheless, David saw something in him. He placed him over his personal bodyguard, the Cherethites (Assassins) and Pelethites (Messengers). (2 Sam 20:23) He held that position throughout David’s reign and was promoted to the head of the whole army under Solomon. (1 Kings 2:35)

What was it that caught the attention of the kings? The chroniclers of David’s reign mention two specific incidents. “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.” (2 Sam 23:20; 1 Chron 11:22) Now, it is possible that these men of Moab were sons of a man named Ariel, but the usual translation is “lion-like.” It was obviously a great deed that he did. And then he went down into a snowy pit to face a lion one-on-one, in close quarters. This alone might have recommended him to David, who had slain a lion himself. He also faced an Egyptian who was armed with a spear while he was unarmed except with a staff. He took the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with it.

Because of such deeds, Benaiah was considered just below David’s “Three Mighty Men,” but above the Thirty. The Thirty were thirty-seven heroes in David’s army. Benaiah was thus the elite among the elite.

Benaiah was so much “David’s man” that when David’s son Adonijah tried to take his father’s throne, he specifically excluded Benaiah from his conspiracy. (1 Kings 1:8-10) When Adonijah was told about Solomon’s coronation, it was specifically mentioned that Benaiah was one of those who set him on the throne.

After Solomon’s accession, Benaiah lived up to his reputation as the head of the “Assassins.” When Adonijah proved himself a traitor, it was Benaiah who killed him. (1 Kings 2:25) When Joab was captured for his part in Adonijah’s conspiracy, Benaiah was his executioner. (1 Kings 2:34) When Shimei, who had cursed David, broke the terms of his parole, Benaiah was sent to kill him. (1 Kings 2:46)

Benaiah may not be the best-known character in the Bible. He may not be particularly important. But what’s not to love about a man who “slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow”?