Benaiah in the Bible

Benaiah: David’s Elite Warrior and Executioner

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You have heard of “David and Goliath” and “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” but have you heard of “Benaiah and the Egyptian” or “Benaiah and the Ariels of Moab”? If you have not, you are not alone. He is not a well-known figure in Christian circles, but he should be. David was a skilled warrior, charismatic leader, and brilliant strategist who ruled Israel during her glory days. But David’s success was highly dependent on the support of other great men. The Bible explicitly tells us so in I Chronicles 11:10. Benaiah was the greatest of those men and this is his story.

The Makings of A Levite Warrior

After Saul died and David arrived in Hebron to take the crown, several mighty men from the tribes of Israel, arrayed in their battle gear, stood ready to help him finally take his place as king (I Chronicles 12:23). Yes, Saul was already dead, but there was no way of knowing if his supporters (or opportunists) would raise opposition (the armed kind). These warriors who supported David provided a show of force and it included several thousand Levites.

If this small detail has you scratching your head, it is probably because of the connection between the Levites and the priesthood. While not all Levites were priests, they were all entrusted with caring for the Tabernacle and later the temple (Numbers 3:5-10). Generally, we don’t like to associate violence with church workers (especially in modern culture), but things in the Old Testament were a bit different. The history of the Levites was actually more violent than one would think (but I’ll save those details for another blog).

What is surprising about the account in Hebron, was that Biblically the Levites were not required to provide military service (Numbers 1) and hence why they were not to be included in a census. However, the law does not seem to forbid them from doing so if they chose to. And Jehoiada, a high priest, chose to (I Chronicles 12:27) and brought 3700 men with him. And who was Jehoiada? He was Benaiah’s father.

Warring Was a Family Affair

Was it in Hebron that Benaiah first saw David? Was Benaiah one of the mighty Levite warriors brought by Jehoida? Or was he just a tween boy in awe of the warrior king? Probably the latter.

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The Bible does not tell us when exactly Benaiah joined David’s ranks, but chronologically he had to be at least 15 to 20 years younger than David (since Benaiah also served under King Solomon). Following that chronology, Benaiah would not have been of fighting age at the time of the coronation in Hebron. There is no doubt, however, that the crowning of King David and the role his father played in that monumental event made a significant impact on Benaiah. Jehoiada passed on that legacy to his son and raised one of the fiercest warriors in Bible history.

But Benaiah’s dad may not have been the only one who influenced him. His grandfather could have played a role as well per II Samuel 23:20 and I Chronicles 11:22. There appears to be a bit of uncertainty on the exact translation of these two verses based on the incongruent translations. However, the KJV and NASB95 translations imply that Benaiah’s grandfather was also a valiant man. It would certainly be consistent with the warring nature of Jehoiada and Benaiah.

Benaiah would continue that tradition and pass it on to the next generation. I Chronicles 27:6 informs us that Benaiah had a son who held a high command within a division under Benaiah’s control. We don’t know much else about Benaiah’s family, but there is a lot more to learn about this fearsome warrior.

Benaiah Was a Warrior’s Warrior

Benaiah was the stuff of legends. He was particularly skilled in hand-to-hand combat with speed and reflexes to subdue the best of the best. II Samuel 23:20-22 and I Chronicles 11:22-23 give us a taste of just how savage he was in the face of his enemies. He is praised for three mighty feats: striking down two Ariels of Moab, killing a lion in a pit, and defeating an Egyptian giant.

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Killing the Ariels of Moab (II Samuel 23:20, I Chronicles 11:22)

While the biblical record tells us Benaiah killed “two ariels of Moab”, scholars are a bit confused about what exactly that means. The true definition of the Hebrew word behind “ariels” is unknown. Because the Hebrew is derived from two root words meaning “lion” and “god,” scholars surmise that it could mean “lion-like men.”

Does that mean these were men who were as fierce as lions? Or a hybrid species of men like the giants that existed back then? We don’t know for sure. What we do know, is that these men were ferocious fighters, or otherwise what is the point of telling the story in a chapter full of stories of men accomplishing great feats? These Ariels were not mere men. They were the kind of fighters that would make a foot soldier shake in his sandals. And Benaiah killed two of them.

Killing the Lion in the Pit (II Samuel 23:20, I Chronicles 11:22)

On a cold snowy day, Benaiah was strolling along and found a lion in a pit. And he thought, “Why not?” and hurled himself in to face off with the trapped creature. Okay, his reason for killing the lion might have been more than just male bravado. The more likely scenario, especially based on Benaiah’s character, was that the lion posed a danger to dwellers nearby. However, the text is scant on the details, but killing a lion is no small achievement, especially if you decide to join him in the pit and limit your options for escape.

Unlike Luke Skywalker who could use the force to assist him in the defeat of the Rancor, Benaiah probably only had a sword and/or a spear. Yet, with no special powers other than his good reflexes and vast experience as a fighter, Benaiah bested that lion. And that “little” incident would certainly further his reputation.

Killing of an Egyptian Giant (II Samuel 23:21, I Chronicles 11:23)

The Bible provides us a little more detail of Benaiah’s final feat and it would make any expert in hand-to-hand combat drool. Benaiah came face to face with a “spectacular” Egyptian (some translations render him handsome although I get the impression Benaiah wouldn’t have cared much for his good looks). But this Egyptian was not like the rest. He was 5 cubits tall. Not quite as tall as Goliath but if a cubit is indeed about 18 inches long that would put the Egyptian at about 7.5 feet.

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Aside from the Egyptian’s height, Benaiah was out-armed. While the Egyptian held a spear, Benaiah was stuck with only a staff (or a club according to some translations). My guess is that the Egyptian grossly underestimated his chances against Benaiah. He was bigger and had a better weapon. But speed was clearly Benaiah’s greatest asset (it had to be if he killed a lion) and you wouldn’t know it until it was upon you. Well, Benaiah, outmaneuvered the Egyptian, wrestled the spear out of his hand, and proceeded to kill him with it. Ouch!

Benaiah was a warrior’s warrior. His reputation as a fighter and as we shall see, a leader, landed him various commands within David’s military apparatus.

Benaiah in the Bible

Benaiah’s Commands During David’s Reign

David’s military was divided into three primary elements. The army (commanded by Joab), the militia (a reserve force), and the royal bodyguard. Benaiah at various points of his career would hold command in all three.

Commander of the Thirty

Within the army, there was an important group called “The Thirty.” It appeared to make up the nucleus of David’s military and it played an essential role in establishing David’s kingdom (For a full analysis, see my article, “Who Were David’s Mighty Men (The Thirty)?” ). All the men who belonged to The Thirty were elite fighters and at one point, Benaiah was the commander of them all (See I Chronicles 27:6).

Inclusion into The Thirty was no small accomplishment and it spoke to Benaiahs prowess as a warrior but also his character. He was highly honored within the group according to II Samuel 23:23. The best of the best thought he was pretty legit. Few men in history have held such an honor.

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Commander of the Militia

Benaiah also was responsible for overseeing the militia during the third month. From I Chronicles 27, we can surmise that the militia was organized into twelve divisions to account for each month of the year. In other words, these reserved units would be called up to serve once a year for a month. Each month had a different commander and Benaiah was responsible for the division assigned to the third month.

As we already briefly discussed, Benaiah’s son also had a command within the division. From the way the text is written, I get the impression that Benaiah had administrative control but his son ran day-to-day operations. That would make sense considering that Banaiah had his hands full as the Commander of David’s Royal Guard.

Commander of David’s Royal Guard

Benaiah’s spent the majority of his military career in this role. This was a unique position as the guard was made up of foreign fighters, the Cherthites and the Pelethites (II Samuel 8:18) (presumably from Philistine origins). Commentators identify them as mercenaries, but were the Cherethites and Pelethites true mercenaries?

I am inclined to think that they were not. Most mercenaries have allegiance to one idol and that is their paycheck. When the money runs out so does their allegiance. However, David had a history of earning loyalty from foreigners (See II Samuel 15:19-22). This group’s paychecks certainly came from the royal purse, but I would venture to say their decision to stay was also fueled by other motives.

Nevertheless, they were still foreigners in the land of Israel. Who could earn the respect of foreign fighters, especially ones from a Philistine background? David chose Benaiah which is a testament to his character, likability, and most important of all, his loyalty.

The men in David’s Royal Guard were more than secret service agents. Yes, they protected the king but they also fought in battles and we get the impression from the text that it was not a small force. While the army and the militia were key players in the expansion of David’s empire, the Royal Guard helped him maintain it. They are distinctly named as key figures during three rebellions:

  1. The Cherethites and Perethites remained at David’s side during Absalom’s coup (II Samuel 15:18)
  2. The Cherethites and Perethites joined the army to pursue Sheba during his rebellion (II Samuel 20:7)
  3. Benaiah is distinctly named as one of the few high-level officials to support David during Adonijah’s coup. Also, the Cherethites and Perethites provided military protection for Solomon’s anointing and coronation presumably under Benaiah’s direction (I Kings 1).

Benaiah Helps Establish a New Kingdom

Benaiah was pivotal in transferring the kingdom from David to Solomon.

Final Coup at the End of David’s Life

As if one coup attempt from one son (Absalom) was not enough, David would endure yet another one towards the end of his life. In I Kings 1:5-10, we learn about how his son Adonijah tried to proclaim himself king taking advantage of his father’s fragile state. Adonijah was able to win support from high-ranking military officials, one of the chief priests, and most of his brothers.

Adonijah Strategically Excludes Benaiah From His Plans

While Adonijah was colluding with these individuals, he intentionally left several people in the dark. Those included David’s mighty men (probably “The Thirty”), Solomon, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah. Benaiah’s unshakeable loyalty to David must have been a well-known fact. While Adonijah had been able to sway both Joab (the commander of David’s army,) and Abiathar the priest, both of whom had remained loyal to David up to that point, (I King 1:1-10), it is evident that he dared not even ask Benaiah for help. And he didn’t think he would need it, but he was gravely mistaken.

Adonijah Garners Support From Three Key Figures

Several conditions had to be met for Adonijah to gain public support and establish himself as king. 1) Military support was imperative to quell any opposition. With Joab’s backing, Adonijah would have control of the army. 2) He would need a priestly covering to give him “divine” legitimacy. With Abiathar at his side, he would be able to make that case for legitimacy. 3) Adonijah would also need to limit opposition from the royal family and he was able to win the support of most of his brothers except for Solomon, the intended heir to the throne.

Benaiah Helps David Thwart Adonijah’s Plans

Adonijah licked his chops. He was sure the throne was his and invited his supporters to a banquet to celebrate his success. However, his father David proved to be the more astute, strategic thinker. Even in his diminished state, David was able to beat Adonijah to the punch by gaining public support for his son Solomon before Adonijah was able to make his final move. Benaiah was a key figure in making that happen.

While Adonijah wined and dined with his supporters, David arranged to have Solomon anointed as king at the Gihon springs by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet (I King 1:34). To successfully do so, Solomon would need military support not only for protection but to provide legitimacy to the anointing. Benaiah provided protection for Solomon via the Cherethites and the Pelethites, who he commanded.

His loyalty would later be rewarded by Solomon. Things would not go so well for Joab who chose to side with Adonijah.

Benaiah Executes Judgment

While Benaiah was a central figure in David’s kingdom, he rose to a more prominent position under Solomon. No doubt, Solomon knew Benaiah was fiercely loyal and could be trusted. He, therefore, charged him with executing key figures who had evaded punishment under David and who also posed a threat to his reign.


Adonijah was originally spared his life despite his coup attempt. However, when he later made an inappropriate request of Solomon via Solomon’s mother Bethsheba, he sealed his fate. It was a dumb move for a guy who had already been granted clemency. Benaiah was ordered to execute him and he did (I Kings 2:25).


While Benaiah appears to be the quiet, loyal military leader who stayed clear of politics, Joab was the exact opposite. Joab was impulsive and ruthless. Benaiah was tempered and gracious. His cool, respectful demeanor shines through in the interaction between him and Joab prior to Joab’s execution.

When David died, Joab knew his days were numbered and he fled to the Tabernacle seeking refuge and took hold of the “horns of the altar.” This is the bronze altar before the Tabernacle where priests would sacrifice to the Lord. Sacrifices were for atonement so when a person took hold of the horns, they were pleading for mercy.

Solomon did indeed order Benaiah to execute him. When Benaiah approached Joab, he ordered him to leave. Joab refused, hoping he would receive clemency because of the sanctity of the location. However, Biblical law did not prevent Benaiah from executing justice right there and then. Instead of barging forward (as Joab would have done in his shoes), Benaiah sought further guidance from the King. When King Solomon told him to proceed nonetheless, Benaiah did not hesitate and followed orders, killing Joab where he stood. (I Kings 2:28-35)

The symbolic nature of this execution cannot be overstated. As a Levite and a descendant of Aaron, Benaiah had the God-given authority to protect the Tabernacle (See Numbers 3:5-10). When he killed Joab, he executed judgment not just as a warrior under the king’s command, but also as a Levite with the authority to do so on God’s behalf.


Shimei was from the house of Saul. He cursed and insulted David when David escaped Jerusalem during Absalom’s coup. It wasn’t like he muttered disgust under his breath. The dude threw stones at David, the king, and his valiant men as they walked by. Abishai, one of “The Thirty” and Joab’s brother, offered to permanently eliminate him, but David stayed his hand, sparing Shimei (II Samuel 16:5-13). Only their loyalty to David restrained his men.

On David’s return to Jerusalem, Shimei begged for his life. David, always merciful, promised to let him live (II Samuel 18: 19-23). Solomon would not be so patient.

Under Solomon, Shimei still had certain privileges but he was instructed to never leave Jerusalem. Apparently, Shimei had a hard time following directions because he saddled a donkey to chase after two runaway servants (I Kings 2:36-46). That was the only thing Solomon needed to avenge his father. Benaiah was once again instructed to execute judgment.

The words in I Kings 2:46 illuminate the significance of this final act.

Then the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died. So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.

I Kings 2:46 (ESV)

Benaiah’s Command During Solomon’s Reign

Benaiah was instrumental in establishing the kingdom on Solomon’s behalf. He was clearly the one individual whom Solomon could trust unconditionally and he rewarded him for it. Solomon, therefore, made him commander of the army instead of Joab. This is the last we hear of Benaiah in the biblical record, but that in itself is probably a testament to Benaiah’s leadership. Solomon’s rule was rather peaceful in comparison to David’s, and I would venture to say that Benaiah’s leadership might have played a role in keeping it that way.

Benaiah, A Type and Shadow of Jesus Christ

On the surface, people would not associate Benaiah as a type or shadow of the Messiah. We like our Jesus with his pristine white robes, long hair, and calm demeanor. Modern culture often portrays Jesus very differently than the Jesus in the Bible. And this is one of those cases where we can easily miss the parallels if we let our ideas of Jesus cloud reality.

The primary theme behind Benaiah’s story is the execution of judgment. I could not help but think of John 5:27 when I came to that realization.

And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.

John 5:27 (ESV)

The day when Jesus executes judgment is not yet upon us, but the imagery is not very pretty. Psalm 110, fittingly a Psalm of David, paints a very gruesome picture.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

Psalm 110:4-7 (ESV)

A few things stand out when I read this Psalm.

  • Jesus will execute Judgement. Benaiah executed judgment.
  • Jesus will shatter kings and chiefs. Benaiah shattered a “king” (Adonijah) and a chief (Joab).
  • Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Benaiah came from a priestly line after the order of Aaron.

And there are a few more similarities.

Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. Although Benaiah was not of the tribe of Judah, he was from Judah by geographical location. Benaiah was from Kabzeel, a town within the outer edges of Judah (II Samuel 23:20).1

Jesus was without reproach. Benaiah was without reproach. Of course, Benaiah was not sinless, but the Bible paints him only in a good light.

By definition types and shadows are not perfect representations, they just point to the true figure. That figure is, of course, Jesus Christ. And while we can all ooh and aah at the mighty Benaiah for his great combat skills, we should all take pause, and maybe shudder a bit at what he represents, judgment. We’d all happily eat the popcorn and gulp down our soda watching a live-action blockbuster about Benaiah, but I have a feeling that is not what we will be doing when the King returns. It is a somber thought. For those of us who have accepted Christ, our end will not be like Joab’s, but we will take no joy in watching those whom we love succumb to that fate.

Other articles that might interest you:

How Jerusalem Became the City of David

Joab: Commander of David’s Army

Who Were David’s Mighty Men?

  1. Levites, by God’s decree, were not given land. Instead, they were scattered among the Tribes of Israel, and given certain towns and areas within the tribes’ territory []
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2 thoughts on “Benaiah: David’s Elite Warrior and Executioner”

  1. A great read, all round, in content and style. It’s both insightful and engaging, with a decidedly contemporary flavour.
    Thank you, Luisa, for your great work!

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