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!
A TALENTED INDIVIDUAL
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
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.
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
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
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
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
“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).
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
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,
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
Good Intentions, Wrong Method
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.
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
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
WHAT A DEATH
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.
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.