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 (Manna 55: What Really Matters)
The Fallen Mighty Man
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The Fallen Mighty Man

Samuel Kuo—Dallas, Texas, USA

Mostly forgotten, and if not forgotten, mostly anonymous, the mighty men of David are typically vague impressions in the believer’s mind.

Nevertheless, these were the war heroes of burgeoning Israel, thirty-seven in all (but often referred to as “the thirty”), whose stories of courage and strength still cause us to marvel. It was one such man, with only a spear in hand, who killed 800 foes at one time (2 Sam 23:8). It was one of the thirty-seven who staunchly “stationed himself” even though his companions fled, turning an otherwise disaster into a great victory (2 Sam 23:9).

Uriah, Bathsheba’s first husband, who was named among the mighty men, died in utmost fidelity (2 Sam 11:15). On one occasion, when King David longed to drink from the well of his hometown Bethlehem, it was again three mighty men who broke through the camp of the Philistines to deliver the prized water (2 Sam 23:16).

They killed lions (2 Sam 23:20). They slew giants (2 Sam 21:15-19). They were victors. And they were, without a doubt, talented. They were the mighty men of David.

Yet, how gravely did one fall!


His name was Asahel, meaning “made by God,” and God endued him with speed. While silent on the specific talents of the other mighty men, the Bible exclusively records that “Asahel was as fleet of foot as a wild gazelle” (2 Sam 2:18). According to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, Asahel could even outrun a horse.

So it is without wonder that Asahel would eventually climb the ranks of David’s army, overseeing 24,000 men (1 Chr 27:7). He was the complete warrior, having speed, might, and valor.

His family certainly did not hurt his success either. Not only did God weave Asahel’s innate warrior constitution, but his brothers were Joab and Abishai—also numbered among the thirty. God reared him among heroes (cf. 2 Sam 2:18).

Recall how Joab was the first to answer David’s call to attack the Jebusites when Jerusalem had yet to become the glorious City of David (1 Chr 11:6). He was an initiator, a catalyst. Abishai was no coward either, for he volunteered to venture into King Saul’s slumbering camp, returning with Saul’s spear and jug (1 Sam 26:7). He was a daredevil, a maverick. I like to think that both of them shaped their little brother’s personhood, too.

By the grace of God, Asahel was the complete package, and was surrounded by the complete package. He was a mighty man through and through.

Though mighty and gifted, Asahel died tragically, giving today’s holy workers forewarning.

Let us read his account in 2 Samuel 2:19-23:

            So Asahel pursued Abner, and in going he did not turn to the right hand or to the left from following Abner. Then Abner looked behind him and said, “Are you Asahel?” He answered, “I am.” And Abner said to him, “Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and lay hold on one of the young men and take his armor for yourself.” But Asahel would not turn aside from following him. So Abner said again to Asahel, “Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I face your brother Joab?” However, he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the blunt end of the spear, so that the spear came out of his back; and he fell down there and died on the spot. So it was that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died, stood still.


Prior to these events, a power struggle had ensued over the kingdom of Israel after King Saul’s death. Abner took Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, and crowned him king.

Meanwhile, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel—followers of David—thought otherwise. They challenged Abner and his men, eventually triggering a fierce battle. In defeat, Abner retreated. It was at this moment that Asahel sought to seal the matter once for all by pursuing Abner’s life. After all, why not quell the insurgence at its source?

Upon first glance, his persistence and ambition can be deemed admirable. “He did not turn to the right hand or to the left from following Abner” actually sounds a lot like how God encouraged Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous…do not turn from [the law] to the right hand or to the left” (Jos 1:7).

But in reality there were many fatal errors in his approach. In fact, Asahel’s downfall illustrates typical flaws we may see in our own servitude.

Gifted, but Only Trusted in Himself 

Throughout the episode, we notice that Asahel relied solely on his own gifts. He stubbornly pursued Abner, neither turning to the right nor to the left, running full speed ahead. Without armor. Hubris. He trusted only in his gift, his speed. His self-confidence led to his tragic death. Had he stopped for a moment and sought God's counsel, as David had done in many of his battles (cf. 1 Sam 30:7), or humbly recognized his vulnerability and armed himself before battle, he could have saved his own life.

Sometimes in sacred work, we do the same, charging ahead with tasks that we are talented in, while forgetting that anything we desire to accomplish for God’s kingdom requires His blessing and grace.

To be more precise, we must execute what God desires for us to do and not flip the table by asking God to endorse what we deem as advantageous work. Servitude, by definition, is master-centered, not self-centered. Asahel forgot this principle, trusting entirely in his innate abilities to pursue Abner.

Gifts should be thought of as mere tools to accomplish holy work rather than claims to authority that would only cause us to stumble in servitude and faith. God leads His church, not man.

Many biblical characters wound up misusing their God-given talents and either died or fell because of them. Think Samson. Think Judas. If God has used us mightily in the past, thank God! But those gifts or experiences shouldn’t amass into arrogance in our heart.

On one occasion I asked a full-time minister about his rich experiences as an African missionary. I had heard that African members even named their children after him. Out of curiosity, I asked him how he handled that—I know if it were me, I certainly would feel some pride.

He shared with me what he had learned vicariously through a co-worker who had fallen years earlier. Indeed, this co-worker had been used by God—many converts were won with his preaching, many miracles were performed through his hands. However, his  downfall began as he slowly accumulated those experiences in his heart, eventually thinking that he was the cause.

Little by little, he built a pedestal for himself. It began with the mentality, “If God used me so greatly in the past, why wouldn’t He in the future?” Then, it swelled into a sense of entitlement—that people ought to listen to him because God used him. That surely was the beginning of the end.

Collecting his thoughts, this full-time minister shared with me words I will never forget. Whenever we work for God, no matter what the result, but especially in success, “Let it be.” Forget it, and go on (cf. Php 3:13).

How can we tell if we are too confident in our own gifts? A basic test is to examine if we wholeheartedly pray before we serve God. Do we continually seek God’s guidance? Or have we neglected that fundamental aspect of servitude because of past successes?

Another way to tell is to consider if we truly listen to advice. Abner, quite the skilled warrior, admonished Asahel to wear some armor. Abner knew he could easily beat an unprotected Asahel.

But Asahel trusted in his own gifts and did not listen to any advice. Do we often reject others’ opinions and suggestions? Human nature often causes us to be stubborn against a differing view, refusing to change our ways or even admitting that we were originally wrong.

“He who heeds counsel is wise” (Prov 12:15, 21:2). Therefore, a good worker of the Lord is humble—teachable and moldable—always seeking wisdom from God and other experienced workers to better employ his gifts. He soberly examines himself against advice, when given (Rom 12:3).

Pursued Alone

We can assume Asahel pursued Abner alone, for Abner conversed with him only when they were within speaking distance. Unfortunately, Asahel had no companion in close vicinity during his pursuit of Abner, or they could have worked together to a better end.

While spiritual cultivation is often something that we must seek alone, church work is usually something that we should pursue with others. Jesus often retreated to isolated places to pray by Himself, but His ministry was always in the company of His disciples.

The Bible also asserts the principle that “Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up his companion” (Eccl 4:9-12). This principle is echoed through metaphors and symbols throughout Scripture: many branches of one vine (Jn 15:1-10); many parts of one body (1 Cor 12:12-30); many living stones of one spiritual temple (Eph 2:19-21; 1 Pet 2:5); and seventy sent out, two by two (Lk 10:1, 17).

It is true that sometimes God may move a person to single-handedly carry out His work. Sometimes David’s mighty men acted alone (2 Sam 23:9). Philip preached to the eunuch unaccompanied (Acts 8:26-39). But that is not ideal. Even when Jonathan valiantly charged against the Philistines, he went with his armor-bearer (1 Sam 14). “Two are better than one” (Eccl 4:9, emphasis added).

True, we might contend that one is better than none. However, if possible, we should serve with other co-workers in Christ, for our own sake. This is true especially if we do not have explicit instructions from God.

“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov 11:14). This is why church councils comprise many workers, not one. This is why missionary and visitation teams are usually sent out in pairs or more, or church treasurers have auditors, or Manna writers go through a review process, etc.

Companions help us to think clearly and biblically in our servitude, and not otherwise do something for vainglory, out of human will, or even to sin against God. Accountability and counsel is the goal.

Therefore, we must also be extra careful when we do church work alone. Is it at all possible to invite another with the same mind to participate (cf. Phil 2:19, 20)?

Are we an isolated worker of the Lord? Are we the sole person championing a certain cause? We may already be on the lonely downward path. In rarer cases, we may not necessarily be in the wrong, for truth is sometimes unpopular; it may just be improper timing. Regardless, wisdom calls for us to be extra cautious when we find ourselves serving alone. Let us not be deceived (cf. 1 Cor 10:12).

Good Intentions, Wrong Method

Asahel’s intention to end the power struggle in Israel by pursuing Abner was good in principle. Nonetheless, as we have seen, his method of serving King David was quite objectionable.

Abner was even able to point out at least one flaw. What we notice in the account is that Abner did not advise against Asahel’s pursuit of him. What he did advise against was the method by which Asahael went about it. Namely, “Grab some armor, please!”

Likewise, matters of truth and doctrine cannot be compromised—especially the truths that have been revealed concerning salvation. But in matters of method, often we can be more open and receptive to others’ opinions. We should be willing to listen and esteem others as better than ourselves and be willing to consider the interest of others before our own (Phil 2:3, 4).

More importantly, method sometimes violates truth, though we may not realize it at first. It is true the vast majority of those who serve God do so with good intentions—I do not know a single person who does not. God changed their lives, and they are compelled to serve (2 Cor 5:7). Their conscience is clear, their passion pure. They desire to channel their God-given talents and capabilities into a more honorable purpose.

But for those who fail in their service, what often occurs is that clarity and purity stray and are grounded on wrong standards or misguided concepts. What may have started as a well-intended offering, rooted in the word of God, slowly transforms into one based on personal reasoning, ambition, or pride. In fact, these may grow to be so impregnable that they become blind spots to the individual in service.

Even the great King David—a man after the heart of God—failed in this manner. His desire to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem demonstrated beautiful intentions and a willingness to serve. However, he used the wrong method from God’s perspective, since it violated God’s truths.

David’s genuine passion to serve God is evident, as he especially used a new cart to carry the ark. His love for God is also undeniable. But he should have known the ark of the covenant was made to be carried and not transported on a cart (cf. 1 Chr 15:15; Num 4:5-15, 7:9; 2 Sam 6:1-11). This resulted in some unfortunate events, particularly the death of Uzzah, for God was not pleased.

Fortunately, David recognized his improper methods and corrected his mistake, carrying the ark into Jerusalem three months later (2 Sam 6:13).

Examples like this abound in the Bible (cf. 1 Sam 13:1-14, 15; 2 Sam 6:6, 7; 1 Kgs 13; Acts 5:1-11, 9:1-4). If even King David can fall in this manner, how about us? No wonder we must always be vigilant, not only in our motivation but also our method of serving God. Let us soberly examine them before Him. Psalm 2:11 declares, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Let us serve not just with soul but in Spirit and Truth.

Rather than rely on our passions and emotions, we need to cultivate a heart to seek God’s will always. Seek not that God is on our side but that we are on His. Seek not that our wishes be done but that His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Indeed, if we pray with faith, if God wills, and so long as we do not quench Him, the Holy Spirit will continually help us and lead us. If we seek Him, His opinion will be revealed even in complicated or initially ambiguous matters (cf. Acts 15). He will guide and counsel us in the proper way, sending us in the way we should go (cf. Acts 13:2).


At the end of the battle, Abner retreated and David’s men were victorious. Yet, what a loss they suffered. Scripture specifically singles out Asahel’s death. “And when he had gathered all the people together, there were missing of David’s servants nineteen men and Asahel” (2 Sam 2:30). Rather than record “twenty men were lost,” Asahel is uniquely mentioned to emphasize his epic and unexpected fall.

Present-day workers of God can relate intimately to Asahel’s make-up. Many have been baptized since infancy, reared with God’s blessings, and thrive both in society and in the church.

Highly educated, highly versatile, and highly zealous can describe many such servants, young and old. They are known by their good names, their talents, their biblical knowledge. And if not that, they are known for their fruitful service. They are often selected as teachers, church council members, or ordained as deacons and preachers.

By the grace of God, their reputation precedes them. By God’s hand, their spiritual authority is established. The church is able to use them in many ministries, and God often works mightily through them. They are mighty men.

But one too many is the sad day when we hear that one of them has fallen. Many stood still where Asahel fell and died. The butt-end of a spear through the stomach! Surely our hearts pause, too, when we hear of a great worker’s fall.

Asahel’s downfall resulted from servitude out of self rather than servitude for the sake of God. Let us learn from Asahel’s mistakes.

Let us not be buried in our gifts. Let us not die alone. Let us not fall from foolish methods.

But let us seek the Lord’s ways. Let us be His mighty men of valor to the very end.



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Author: Samuel Kuo