Asahel in the Bible is better known for his swiftness on foot. However, there is more to this young military hero. He was considered an elite warrior and a leader of men. His bull-headed persistence cost him his life early in his military career, but he is named among some of King David’s mightiest men. And for this reason alone, he is a warrior worth knowing.
A Brother Among Warriors
Asahel was King David’s nephew and the younger brother of Joab and Abishai (elite warriors in their own right). David’s sister Zeruiah was the mother of this elite trio. Asahel was very much loved and regarded by his brothers. So much so that his death would lead both Joab and Abishai to murder his killer.
Abner Kills Asahel
Abner was commander of the northern kingdom of Israel under Ish-bosheth during the time that David was the King of Judah. Saul was dead and Abner propped up Saul’s son Ish-bosheth to take his place as king. This, of course, would put him in direct conflict with King David.
At one point, Abner and his men found themselves at the Gibeon pool opposite Joab’s men. Joab was Asahel’s brother but at the time, also the de-facto leader of David’s military (He won the formal title during the capture of Jerusalem). Among Joab’s men were his brothers Abishai and Asahel. By this time, all three brothers were proven to be experienced warriors.
At the pool, Abner challenges Joab to a duel. Twelve of his men against twelve of Joab’s (II Samuel 2:12-32). After a stalemate, a full-out battle ensues. In the chaos and clear defeat, Abner retreats but Asahel pursues after him. The Bible calls Asahel “swift of foot as a wild gazelle” (II Samuel 2:18). He was the Usain Bolt of biblical times and there was no doubt he could catch up to Abner. Abner probably knew that as well.
In the exchange between the two men, Abner was reluctant to engage Asahel out of respect or fear of Joab. There was probably an element of respect for Asahel as well. By this point, Asahel was a well-known warrior and a leader within David’s military. Unfortunately, Asahel does not heed Abner’s advice to withdraw and is subsequently killed by Abner in self-defense by striking him in the stomach with the blunt end of his spear.
One of David’s Mighty Men
Asahel had the distinction of being named one of The Thirty aka David’s mighty men. The Thirty were an elite group of warriors who were the nucleus of David’s military. Based on the descriptions of these men, only the most elite and trusted warriors got such a distinction. Asahel was one of them along with his brother Abishai (Joab does not make the cut) (see II Samuel 2:24 and I Chronicles 11:26).
It is probably for this reason that his death was shocking. The Bible says,
And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.II Samuel 2:23
The loss of any warrior is tragic, especially to those who stood on his left and right. However, the death of an elite fighter can reverberate across an entire army. So at the place where Asahel fell, men stood to honor their fallen brother.
Asahel Was a Leader of the Militia
What is not well known about Asahel, is that he is listed as one of the leaders of the militia. He was the division commander of the 4th month –that is of 24,000 men (see I Chronicles 27:7). The militia was not part of the regular army that Joab commanded, but a separate group likely called up during times of prolonged war. In addition to being a skilled fighter, Asahel was seen as a capable leader. (For more information on the militia, see “The Organization of David’s Military.”
Asahel, Bloodthirsty Like His Brothers
All three of Zeruiah’s sons were fierce not only in their skill but in character. They were not men easily frightened but all three had trouble controlling their passions. While Joab was the more notorious of the three, Asahel shared in his brother’s lack of self-control.
The words of David, after Abner’s death at the hands of Joab and Abishai, reflect this sentiment.
And I was gentle today, though anointed king. These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The LORD repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!”II Samuel 3:39 (ESV)
The sons of Zeruiah, including Asahel, had trouble controlling their bloodthirst. It was that uncontrolled passion that blinded him from reason in his pursuit of Abner. He was unable to see the wisdom in Abner’s words and paid the price with his life.
A Hero Nonetheless
In spite of his character flaws, Asahel was still a hero and a key figure in helping David establish his kingdom. All of The Thirty were given that distinction (See I Chronicles 11:10). They were in the will of God in their loyal support of David and using their skills as warriors for that purpose. Asahel may have died in recklessness, but he still lives on as a biblical hero.
Learn more about Zeruiah’s other two sons: