Backstory: Joab is replacedMost of Israel’s great exploits were done by David and his military commander Joab. Joab had been getting a little too secure in his position and started to do whatever he pleased, ignoring the king. He needlessly killed David’s rebellious son Absalom during the civil war (even though explicit orders were given to capture him alive). In addition to this he murdered several of his rivals in cold blood, pretending peace. King David would have liked to replace him, but Joab was too powerful and David's own popularity was in major decline.
King David began to grow very old and feeble. Him developing impotence was a signal to the people that it was time to put their elderly monarch out to pasture and to look for a new king. Even after David was given the most beautiful young women in the land, Abishag, he was still unable to perform sexually. This was understood to be a sure sign that it was time for the king to retire and have one of his sons take over.
To quote from The Interpreter's Bible:
“the Hebrews... believed that the fertility of the soil and the general prosperity of the people were bound up with the fertility of the king. David by this time was old and decrepit and his sexual vigor is called into question. Attempts are made to remedy the situation. The first cure is to heap clothes upon his bed in order to secure such physical heat as might render him capable. When this fails a search is made for the most beautiful woman in the land. Great emphasis is placed upon her [Abishag's] charms. The LXX supports this by translating in vs. 2, "and let her excite him and lie with him." The fact that the king did not have intercourse with her is decisive in the story. If David was impotent he could no longer be king.”
There was then a scramble for which son would succeed him as king. The firstborn Adonijah thought it was his birthright to have the kingdom. Solomon on the other hand, was the fourth born son, however he was gifted with great wisdom and intelligence which meant he had his father David’s favour as well as a loyal group of supporters. Overall, Solomon’s side won out; Adonijah and Joab were eventually executed. Benaiah was Israel’s new military commander in Joab’s place.
Benaiah's Valiant ActsLets take a look at some of Benaiah’s exploits:
The term lionlike men is an interesting one. The actual Hebrew word used in the original language is ‘Ariels’ of Moab. ‘Ariels’ is a combination of two words ‘Ariah’ meaning a lion and ‘El’ signifying a deity, literally meaning ‘lion-gods.’ This passage definitely carries the connotation of a heroic battle against two Nephilim, the legendary half breeds of human and angel. Besides the Hebrews, many other ancient cultures have stories and myths about warriors battling such creatures, for example the Greeks and their Titans. Perhaps Benaiah wanted to make a name for himself by defeating these heroes of Moab. There two ‘lionlike men’ may have been revered as deities by the Moabites. By punishing this demigod duo he would prove his bravery and have a name for himself. He would also teach the Moabites that the gods they worshiped were only mere mortals and the superiority of YHWH as true God.
This is one of the most curious verses in the bible. The question is, why would Benaiah put his life in jeopardy to kill an innocent lion minding his own business in his den? It’s not like the lion was roaming around in the city streets endangering anyone’s life. He went down onto the lion’s own turf to challenge him.
To understand what Benaiah was thinking, we may turn to the modern phenomenon of ‘trophy hunting.’ Many wealthy and powerful men still are insecure in their masculinity. Recently the CEO of Jimmy John’s, whose net worth is approximately 400 million, has come under fire for a safari in which he killed elephants, leopards, and other large game. There is also the widely publicized death of Cecil the Lion in 2015 by an American trophy hunting tourist. This man paid $50,000 for a guide to help him kill a lion simply so he could have trophy photos and try to make himself feel like a ‘real man.’ Many men like to see how big of antlers on a moose or deer they can hunt for, sometimes caring more about the size of antlers than the actual meat. Recently, there was a case in Kentucky where a hunter killed a large elk and left the carcass behind to rot, sawing off only the large antlers as trophy decorations.
Benaiah was the first ‘trophy hunter.’ After all, what better way is there to prove manhood and bravado than to take on the lion, the 'king' of beasts? In reality, it proves nothing except a person's insecurity. The story of Cecil the Lion’s death is just a modern version of Benaiah’s battle with the lion in his den. This behaviour is a sign of insecurity in one’s masculinity and a type of ‘compensation’ for inner weakness.
At the core, Benaiah’s inner weakness and insecurity had a root in his relationship with his father. His father was “a valiant man who had done many acts.” Benaiah would have been constantly comparing himself with his father. People around him would have always been commenting how he had “big shoes to fill.” Being known as the son of a man who did mighty acts was at the root of Benaiah’s behaviour. He would have grown up struggling with feeling outshadowed by his famous father. Taking on some of the outrageous feats he is recorded as performing was a way he tried to live up to the expectations of those around him.
Benaiah is mentioned as having “not attained.” Despite his mighty acts and outrageous stunts, his record is written as not ‘measuring up.’ Why is this? Overall, Benaiah was an impressive assassin. The book of 1 Kings records his successful list of kills as Solomon sends him out to dispatch political enemies. Benaiah’s kills were only one or two at a time however. Unlike many of the other mighty men who turned back whole armies by their bravery, Benaiah only ever killed one at a time. The distraction of comparison prevented him from reaching his full potential like the first three:
1 Chronicles 11:20, “And Abishai the brother of Joab, he was chief of the three: for lifting up his spear against three hundred, he slew them, and had a name among the three.”
When a person is so focused on trying to prove to others that they are a badass, it simply backfires and exposes their inner weakness. Whether trophy hunting, bodybuilding steroids, or male-enhancement pills, these symptoms of inner weakness all stem from man comparing himself with others rather than internalizing his own self-worth.
As long as we are focused on filling someone else’s shoes, and listening to the expectations around us, we can never be great ourselves. Internalising our own self-worth is at the heart of having confidence. Ignoring the external voices, comments, criticism, and comparison, and doing our own destiny boldly. Having this foundation of confidence internally, we can then manifest greatness externally….
The Lion WithinBenaiah’s battle with the lion needs to be read symbolically. Lions symbolize the demon of pride. In fact, a group of lions is termed a “pride.”
Benaiah first enters the pit to battle the lion. The pit is symbolizing the dark abyss of our subconscious mind, the inner spirit that causes our actions when we act without necessarily thinking about it ahead of time.
The lion in the middle of the abyss is the inner demon of hidden pride. In Benaiah’s case it caused him to need to feel important in front of others, and compare himself with his father and with other’s expectations for him. In King David, his fear over the loss of his manly vigor and potence due to old age, caused him to go to outrageous lengths to try to hold onto his kingship, when he should have instead been transitionng Solomon into that role. In both cases, pride was the root of their insecurity.Winter symbolizes when we are taken out of our comfort zone. Winter is when supplies run low and there is general scarcity. Going anywhere is uncomfortable. Pride is a hard demon to defeat. The only way God can deal with our pride is by making us uncomfortable. Just like Benaiah went “in the time of snow” to battle the lion, we can only truly defeat our pride when we are taken out of our comfort zone, made weak and made dependant on God and on others. As long as we are comfortable and independent, we have no hope of defeating the inner lion of pride.