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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 11:15-19 The drink of water

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, November 23, 2023

15 Three of the thirty chiefs went down to David to the rock near the cave of Adullam. The Philistine army was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 16 At that time David was in the stronghold, and a Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem.

The next exploit of David’s mighty men involves three of the Thirty, which suggests that they might not have been the Three (the special elite group), but three others. Either way, they were with David when he was camped against the Philistines, once again near the Valley of Elah, but this time to the south outside the old village of Adullam. This was a place no further south from Jerusalem than Tekoa, but on the other side of the high hills. East of those hills, at Bethlehem, was a Philistine garrison. The main body of the Philistine army was at this time farther north in the Valley of Rephaim, which is west of Jerusalem. So the three groups in this account form the points of a triangle shaped like a capital A. David was down at Adullam on the lower left corner of the A, the main Philistine group was all along the left side of the A up to its peak, Jerusalem (not yet David’s city—this was earlier) was about where the cross-piece of the A touches the right side (or even farther to the right than that), and a small Philistine garrison, a few dozen warriors, perhaps, were at the lower right side of the A.

David was in a good spot. There are various high hills and outcroppings near Adullam, and this one was known as “the fortress,” which in Hebrew is massada. A more famous Massada is east of the Dead Sea; they are not the same place. There was another on the west side of the Dead Sea near En Gedi (2 Samuel 24:1,22). The one in our text is probably the same one David used in 2 Samuel 2:17-21, since the Philistines were also camped (or still camped) in the Valley of Rephaim there.

17 With longing, David said, “If only someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!”

Absently, David sighs on account of the nearness of the village where he grew up. “You know what?” he muses, not really thinking that anyone was paying attention to him, “I can just taste the water from the well outside my village of Bethlehem, just over that rise. I wish somebody would bring me a drink of water from that well….”

Leaders, including ministers, need to be careful about saying things like that. We all can tell stories of people in our churches who get wind of some want that we have, and then there it is on the front stoop, maybe with a note, or maybe with nothing but a ribbon and a bow. They love “not with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

18 So the three broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the LORD.  19 “Far be it for me before God that I should do this!” he said. “Shall I drink the blood of these men who brought this at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it. Such were the exploits of the three mighty men.

Did David even remember wishing for the water that three of his heroes now brought to him in a dripping skin, grinning from ear to ear with mud and blood on their hands and tunics? They hadn’t snuck around, they had cut through the Philistine line, filled the tenth-century BC version of a canteen, and completed the 25-mile round trip for their captain.

David couldn’t bear it. He certainly couldn’t bring himself to drink it. It wasn’t water to him, it was their blood! This was no communion miracle or Red Sea plague, but a true representation. The whole exploit was at the risk of their lives. As Alcibiades asked, “Why do fond men expose themselves to battle?” Whatever had brought them to do it—the craving for action, the desire for glory, the simple fondness for their commander, they went running over the hills and back again, falling on the incredulous garrison, who without a doubt wondered, why press an attack here, of all places? There were no walls to breach, no wealth to plunder, no stores of arms—just one more well like the one at Adullam. Did David want his schoolbooks? A lock of his mother’s hair? Philistine guards lost blood, lost more than pride; some lost their lives over that drink of water. David poured it out, for the water itself had become an act of worship before God. It wasn’t for him. It was a libation, a true drink-offering, which he poured with reverence into the soil of God’s good earth. As Professor Wendland says so clearly: “Life is precious and must not heedlessly be thrown away in any cause” (People’s Bible: 1 Chronicles, p. 139). David’s soldiers were certainly powerful, strong, brave, and loyal. But they could be reckless and rash. They needed his oversight and guidance, the “captain’s captain,” who would later be “anointed, crowned, planted many years, be judged by subject and by inferior breath,” and be their king and their shepherd.

Are we like these mighty men? Are we brave but rash with our work for Christ? Like the captain of a ship, Jesus walks the quarterdeck, pacing and pondering the course of the church, giving orders and keeping everything under his guidance and control. We’re just the crew. Our tasks are simple, clear, and direct. We do them because they are what the Lord would have us do. Today it might be little more than washing the dishes or reading to the children at bed time, but we do it because it is the task God has given us to do. We do it to his glory, not our own. We do it out of love, and if no one on earth sees it or remembers it, he does. He remembers forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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