Wiki-Lessons: David’s Mighty Men — David Refuses Water

The scriptures have a number of fascinating stories about David and his 600 warriors during the time they were fleeing the wilderness, but they are not presenting in chronological order. Here is one I always considered intriguing.

(2Sa 23:13-17 ESV) 13 And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. 15 And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!”

16 Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD 17 and said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did.

Cool story, but I’ve never understood David’s motivation. Why pour the water on the ground?I’ve just read dozens of commentaries on this passage. Most of the explanations are a little forced, even a little silly. Sometimes we try too hard, you know. But here’s one from Hamilton Smith that makes a lot of sense to me —

Many would have been ready to risk their lives in carrying out some service for the benefit of the kingdom; but these mighty men were ready to face death in order to do something that was wholly for the gratification of the desire of David. They broke through the host of the Philistines, drew water from the well, and brought it to David. This act of devotion delighted the heart of David, and he sees in it a sacrifice of which the Lord alone is worthy. Hence, refusing to drink the water, he pours it out before the Lord.

David’s men were incredibly loyal. David was God’s anointed, but he was not yet king — and in mortal danger for his life. These men were living off the land, risking their lives for a king in poverty. They had a remarkable faith in David, because they could only see him as king because of what others had said about him and because of his character.

We should be like David’s Mighty Men!

David routinely asked these men to risk life and limb on military campaigns. But each time, the campaign was on behalf of God or else with God’s specific approval. Even when the Amalekites had taken the wives and children of David and his men from Ziklag, David did not launch a rescue without first asking God. He did not risk his men’s lives for his own sake.

Therefore, when the men risked their lives for David, but not for God, David felt he’d received an offering appropriate only for God himself. We fight for God, but not for our king. We fight for God, but not for ourselves.

That’s no easy lesson to live. Indeed, if I were king, I’d have celebrated my men’s sacrifice and dedication and rewarded them by enjoying the drink. That’s what they wanted me to do — how I could refuse such a selfless gesture!

But David saw the bigger picture. He considered himself unworthy of such sacrifice. His action wasn’t ingratitude but humility and, more importantly, a refusal to accept what was not properly his.

Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?

This was not, of course, literally their blood, but the water was purchased at the risk of their lives. David preferred that his men risk their lives for God, not for him.

Moral lesson

We do things and we take risks for lots of people. I’m a parent. I take risks and work hard for my wife and my children. But would I be as sacrificial for God? Do I find more motivation in bringing gifts to my family than to God?

Now, I’m not a pacifist, but I can see that there are times that Christians in the military might fight for our “king” but not for our God. Am I right? What do you do when called on to take an action that’s certainly against God’s will? — while in the military? while a government employee of any kind?

Of course, the same is true of everyone. There are times we make sacrifices for the sake of our nation or our government or our city — that we aren’t willing to make for God. These are not always different things, but sometimes they are. When is my civic duty, my service to country, or my city not service for God? When is it service for God?

How would we live differently if we honored David’s lesson?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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4 Responses to Wiki-Lessons: David’s Mighty Men — David Refuses Water

  1. Comyndoc says:

    I believe David showed his true colors here. while he did love God, as Scripture says, he also loved himself and did not risk to shed the blood of others. He killed 200 men as a bride price for Michal. Here he said, I would love a drink from that well, and these men took it upon themselves to fulfill his request.
    They did as David wished and he poured the water out. What was this some kind of loyalty test to David? I do not buy that he was honoring God here in any way, His opinion of himself here and at other places was almost a self-deification. This is not a Godly example for us to follow.

  2. Terry says:

    We would not gain from the sacrifice of others for our sake. My parents had very little but worked hard and sacrificed to provide for us in all ways. I can honor that sacrifice by doing the same.

    This story is one that amazes me every time I read it. I wonder how his men felt, I think they knew the heart of David and loved him even more for honoring their sacrifice.

  3. Alabama John says:

    I don’t know of any group of men that do not ask Gods blessing on them before going into battle.
    In the belly of an LST before a landing on some hostile shore, you see men all around on their knees talking to God. God answered too as those praying men won every battle.
    Were they like David? I think better.
    I never saw any taking scalps like David did the 200.

  4. we do not know all the details (the bible most times offers ‘just the facts’). we don’t know if his men witnessed the act, or drank for themselves when they were there. maybe they were like “ugh! what an ass, does he know what we had to do to get that!?” regardless, they still continued to serve him. David was a pretty messed up guy at times, violent, irrational but still chosen by God for reasons we as mortals cannot wisely debate. but those days were messed up (or we are today), very murderous, very violent. death was inevitable. people spent their lives preparing for death. honor was something for which to die and serve, knowing that the comforts of this life are not for what we should strive (in that view, if truth, makes the American dream seem more like a distraction/deception). God is not one who is counseled by man. He says all will understand and worship before Him one day. i look at things like eye ball, reproductive systems, DNA and the fearful mind it took to sustain life in a chaotic cosmos, and i do not question if He knows what He is doing. (God is Spirit not just “He” by the by…-no gender neutral pronoun in Hebrew.)

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