Summary: Chase the Lion is a 3 part series from Mark Batterson, pastor at National Community Church in Washington, D.C. The sermon is based off of the book, Chase the Lion. You can download a sermon kit at ChaseTheLion.com/churches
On September 11, 2001, four airplanes were hijacked by terrorists bent on evil. Two of the planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City. One of them crashed in a field in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania. And one plane crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, not far from where my church meets. The natural instinct for those inside those buildings was to get out, but on that day there were heroes who didn’t run out. They ran into those burning buildings to help those in need.
One of them was Lt. Col. Ted Anderson, who attends services at our Capitol Hill campus. One account captures his story this way: “Anderson acted like a man possessed.” It said, “As others ran for their lives, he sprinted from his office toward the point of impact. Spreading his jacket over shards of glass on a windowsill, Anderson had a noncommissioned officer named Chris Braman boost him into the collapsing building. Together, they carried out two women, one of them unconscious and the other badly burned.”
Over the next hour, as the rest of world looked on in shock and horror, Ted Anderson returned to the blaze over and over again. At one point, he and Braman were low-crawling through the inferno, screaming to be heard above the roar. Arlington County firefighters finally restrained Lt. Col. Anderson, not allowing him to reenter the Pentagon. They probably saved his life, because it collapsed a few minutes later.
Ted Anderson stayed there all day, in part because his keys were still on his desk inside the Pentagon. That night, the building superintendent let him go in and get his keys. He drove home, listened to 52 messages on his answering machine, took a shower, cried for 30 minutes, and tried to get some sleep.
His phone rang at one a.m. It was his boss, who said, “I can’t sleep. Let’s go to work. Put your battle uniform on.” So in the middle of the night, they were headed back to the Pentagon—because they knew we were at war!
That’s what soldiers do. That’s who soldiers are.
If you want to understand David’s mighty men in 2 Samuel 23, you need to understand what drives a man like Lt. Col. Ted Anderson to run back into the Pentagon, to run toward danger, to run to the roar. In Ted’s words, “We had people inside, and it’s the nature of a military guy that we never leave anyone behind.”
David’s mighty men weren’t the kind of men who would run away from what they were afraid of. These were boot-camp-trained, battled-tested bravehearts. And their stories are some of the most epic, most heroic stories in the entire Bible. Josheb faced 800-to-1 odds, but he stood his ground. Eleazar fought until his hand froze to his sword. And when the rest of the army retreated, Shammah took his stand in a field of lentils.
And then there was Benaiah. That’s where we pick up the story.
There was also Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant warrior from Kabzeel. He did many heroic deeds, which included killing two champions of Moab. Another time, on a snowy day, he chased a lion down into a pit and killed it. Once, armed only with a club, he killed a great Egyptian warrior who was armed with a spear. Benaiah wrenched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with it. Deeds like these made Benaiah as famous as the Three mightiest warriors. He was more honored than the other members of the Thirty, though he was not one of the Three. And David made him captain of his bodyguard. (2 Samuel 23:20-23, NLT)
One of the great challenges we face in reading a story like this is that we know how it ends. And because we know the ending, we assume it was inevitable. Psychologists call this hindsight bias. And it’s one of the greatest challenges we face in reading Scripture. We’re Monday morning quarterbacks. We know how every story ends. For example, before we read about the crucifixion, we know about the resurrection.
Because we’re reading these stories thousands of years after the fact, and because we know how every story ends, we lose the element of surprise, the element of danger, the element of risk. That’s how it is with this story in 2 Samuel 23:20. We know that Benaiah is the one who walks out of the pit. And if we aren’t careful, we assume it had to have been like that. But this has to rank as one of the craziest acts of courage in all of Scripture!
Here’s what I know for sure. When the image of a man-eating beast travels through the optic nerve and into the visual cortex, the brain sends one message to the body: run! But lion chasers aren’t wired that way. They don’t run away from what they’re afraid of. They run to the roar.