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What's So Great About Lentils?

As the Biblical record of David’s life draws to a close (2 Sam 23.1ff), the inspired author features the exploits of three of the king’s “mighty men.” These were soldiers of faith who fought valiantly for God (2 Sam 23.8-12).

First, there was Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed eight hundred men in a single battle (2 Sam 23.8).

Next, there was Eleazar, who single-handedly defeated the Philistine army so fiercely “his hand stuck to his sword.” Only after this momentous victory did the rest of the Israelite army return to the battlefield to collect the spoils (2 Sam 23.9-10).

Then, there was Shammah. The Philistines had set up camp in a field “full of lentils,” because of which the Israelites fled the area (2 Sam 23.11). Shammah, however, “stationed himself in the middle of the field, defended it, and killed the Philistines.” The author describes this as a “great victory” (2 Sam 23.12).

At first glance, a field of lentils seems a small thing to defend. But the man was fighting for something worth more than a “hill of beans.”

The Real “Great”ness

There was nothing significant about these battlefields. These men had not defended the tabernacle of Moses, or the fortress of Zion (the king’s residence in Jerusalem), or the ark of the covenant, or any other object or location of notable spiritual or monetary value to the ancient Israelites.

Nor were these areas of any strategic importance. In fact, there is no name ascribed to this field. It is just “a piece of ground” (2 Sam 23.11).

For that matter, Shammah was just one man up against a “troop” (chay—“a community…of allied families”, Brown, et al., 312). Ordinarily, this would be a foolish waste of one man’s life.

By all earthly measures, neither the field nor the circumstances made this battle worthwhile. But this was no ordinary man; nor were these ordinary conditions.

Shammah was not fighting for lentils. He was fighting for God. Thus, the author explains that it was “the Lord” who “brought about a great victory” (v. 12). Shammah was one of the many individuals in the Old Testament who “through faith…turned to flight the armies of the foreigners” (Heb 11.33-34).

In short, Shammah’s greatness did not come from physical “strength” (Ps 33.16b), his “arm of flesh” (2 Chron 32.8), his “sword and spear” (1 Sam 17.47; Ps 44.6), or from his own clever military “council” (Isa 30.1f). Rather, like David, Shammah had come against the evil Philistines “in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Sam 17.45).

In truth, the Philistines were hopelessly outmatched (cf. Rom 8.31)!

Our Field Of Lentils

Today, Christians assemble all across the globe on pieces of ground that may very well be worth less than a hill of beans.

Sometimes, however, Christians feel disposed to fight over all the wrong things — pews, songbooks, the church-building itself (cf. Ja 4.1ff), etc. These things matter not!

Let us not forget that we are still involved in a “great” battle against injustice and evil. Like Shammah, we must “station ourselves” amid our respective fields, not to fight for stuff, but, “through faith,” to defend the will of God.

And though our particular battleground may seem small and insignificant, we are fighting for something vastly more valuable than lentils or buildings or songbooks or pews.

Our Weapons Of Faith

Unlike Shammah, however, Christians do not “wrestle [pale—struggle, fight] against flesh and blood” but against “spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Eph 6.12). Our weapons of faith against the forces of evil are “not of this world” (Jn 18.36; cf. 2 Cor 10.3-4).

But this does not mean we have withdrawn from the struggle! Rather, God has sent us to wage “the good warfare” (1 Tim 1.18-19; cf. 2 Tim 4.7) with a fierce array of spiritual weaponry (Eph 6.11-18).

Not only do we have enemies on the outside, against whom we must take a spiritual “stand” (Eph 6.11; cf. Eph 4:27; 6:11-13; 1 Pet 5:8-9), but we struggle with internal adversaries as well (Rom 7.23-25; 1 Pet 2.11).

To stave off the forces of sin, God has given us weapons like:

(1) The word of God (Eph 6.17), which is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4.12).

(2) Benevolent works (Mt 5.16), which have the power to “overcome evil” by turning the wicked into ransomed souls (Rom 12.20-21; cf. 1 Pet 2.12, 15).

(3) A holy example (Phil 2.15), against which no man can fight without bringing themselves to shame and defeat (Titus 2.7-8).

(4) Prayer and Providence (Mt 5.44ff), which “avails much” in its quest to rid our world of “trespasses” (Ja 5.16).

Unfortunately, the world wants to convince us that these weapons are impotent; that the Christian fight against evil is a lost cause. Christianity, as such, is not enough to overcome evil in our world.

It is indeed sad that while so many crave justice in our time — and are intensely set against injustices in our societies — at the same time, they have rejected the very remedy that can make our world a better place. Like madmen, our contemporaries rebel against the Christian faith; then, they wonder why evil is so rampant in the land.

Certainly, the physical sword has a degree of power in its blade, provided the providence of God gives it strength (cf. Prov 21.31; Jn 3.27; 19.11; etc.). Indeed, God himself often uses “the sword” of Caesar (and others like him) as a “terror” to inflict “vengeance” and “wrath” on those who do evil. And this weapon is surely effective as a deterrent against further evil activity (Rom 13.3-4).

But remember Shammah! His power to vanquish a “host of wickedness” was not in his king or his sword, but in his trust in God.

And the word of God reminds us that the same God, whom Shammah trusted, has given Christians even fiercer weapons in our fight against evil. Believe in them. Trust in the one who forged them for us. And if we wield them properly, we shall march “valiantly” “through faith” in the Almighty against all those who sow injustice in our communities (Ps 60.12)!


Shammah’s victory was indeed “great.” But the Christian’s battle is more significant.

The death of one wicked individual means one less wicked soul is corrupting the world. But the salvation of a wicked individual — the objective of every Christian soldier — means not only that one less wicked soul is corrupting the world, but one more righteous soul is influencing many others for good. Hence, the salvation of one soul is more consequential in the fight against evil than ten thousand Philistines slaughtered (cf. Mt 16.26)!

So let the Lord use your faith in him to bring about a “great victory” against the forces of evil — not through fist, or sword, or spear, or club; but through the “mighty” power of the knowledge and love of God (2 Cor. 10.4-5).

Though we, like a field of lentils, are small in number, insignificant in material value, and unknown in reputation, we can become “more than conquerors” when we fight for Christ (Rom 8.37).

May every Christian join up in this “good” fight!

Brown, F., S. Driver, & C. Briggs.  The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon.  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001.



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