It's a very crisp winter morning, with frost lying thick on the ground. I've just come back in from walking to the school at 7am with my daughter - unusually early because of a school coach trip. Because the school is just down the road and around a corner from the manse, I really did not expect anything unusual to happen. What would have happened, however, if I had come across a lion stuck in one of the ditches that criss-cross the wetlands in this part of Somerset? I guess I would have left well alone, and put as much distance between it and me as possible.
Benaiah was a different sort of character. One of David's mighty men, he either heard about, or came across, a lion in a pit on a snowy day. Rather than pass on by, content it could do no harm, he jumped right in with it and killed it. Why? Was he some kind of nutter or show-0ff? Was it a silly dare? We are told that Benaiah was put in charge of David's bodyguard, and so I think we can safely assume that he was not mad, and that he was not a foolish risk taker or unthinking show-off. So why did he do it?
I guess we will never know for sure, but the context of the verses do permit what is probably accurate speculation. A lion in a snow-bound pit would be unable to get out, held in by the slippery sides. If the lion had survived to get out once the snow had melted, it would be very hungry! It would have been a real danger. Rather than leave the danger, he risked his own life to save the lives of others - precisely the action you would expect of a good bodyguard!
Why is this little incident (and that of his slaying of the 2.3 meter high champion of the Egyptians) included here? Is it for us merely to admire the strength of David's mighty men? Clearly not, since "all scripture is given by inspiration ... so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped" (2 Tim 3v16). The big point is that when David was on the run, in danger of his life, God's appointment for him to be king seemingly so unlikely to happen, God was working to bring His will to pass. He brought to David men who became known as 'mighty', and not merely called 'mighty' by David but acknowledged as 'mighty' by all. They were not just mighty in their deeds but also in their hearts, as we see in Benaiah's actions on that snowy day. God was training up a 'crack squad' with David who He would use to bring His word to pass. And, God was doing this without any recruitment posters, planned training campaign, or head-hunting scheme ... David was clearly an organised man, a great planner and military strategist, but it was God who brought these men, gave them their military experience, trained them up, and prepared them so that David had this life-long support from the mighty men.
Sometimes we are called on to accomplish things which seem unusual and of no relevance to God's work. Benaiah certainly did not expect to have to deal with a lion in a pit on that snowy day, I'm sure. But, in God's great providence, He is equipping His people for His work so that His church can continue to march in His triumphal procession until the day of His return. The church may look weak from time to time, may be 'on the run', may even have to be 'in hiding', but He always provides, always cares and continues to use people committed to Him to work out His great plans.