The early days of the kingdom of Israel were turbulent times. Saul, Israel’s first king, drifted away from following God. His rebellion meant that God rejected him as king and instead looked for a man after God’s heart. Upon Saul’s death the kingship passed to God’s chosen man, David son of Jesse.
However, as on many occasions throughout history, the transition of power was far from smooth. Even though it was clear that David was chosen by God and had been anointed as king, a civil war ensued. ‘Now there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; and David grew steadily stronger, but the house of Saul grew weaker continually’ (2 Samuel 3:1).
It is into this political turmoil of civil war that some powerful warriors emerge. What was needed at this time was a group of people loyal to David who were utterly convinced that he was the man God had chosen as king of His kingdom. It needed mighty men, full of valour, strength and faith who were prepared to risk everything in order to establish a kingdom which would reflect the priorities of God and point people to Him.
There gathered around David a group of mighty warriors, his ‘mighty men’, who displayed conviction about God’s plan and an undying loyalty to Him. Three key men amongst this group were Abishai, Joab and Asahel, the sons of Zeruiah.
Many people in the Old Testament are introduced in the form ‘David, son of Jesse’ and they, in turn, are introduced as ‘Jesse, son of Obed’ and so on. Thus usually a son is introduced with reference to his father. What is notable about the mighty warriors Abishai, Joab and Asahel is that they are always introduced as ‘son (or sons) of Zeruiah’ (see for example 2 Samuel 2:18, 8:16, 23:18). What I find amazing is that when we read David’s genealogy in 1 Chronicles 2:9-17 we see that Zeruiah was David’s sister (v15) and that she was the mother of Abishai, Joab and Asahel.
So who were these three sons of Zeruiah?
Joab was chief of the army (2 Samuel 8:16). He became chief because in the fight to conquer Jerusalem, the strategic city of Judah, David announced that the first person to kill a defender of the city would become chief and commander. Joab bravely went up first and so became commander (1 Chronicles 11:6). He became the most famous of the three sons of Zeruiah as he led out the army on military campaigns.
As mentioned above, David had a group of about thirty warriors known as his ‘mighty men’. Abishai was chief of these thirty mighty men. His signature story was that he ‘swung with his spear against three hundred and killed them’ – an incredible feat – and became the most honoured of the second rank of mighty men and their commander (1 Chronicles 11:20,21).
Asahel was also one of David’s mighty men (1 Chronicles 11:26) who unfortunately died early on in the struggle between the houses of Saul and David. Described as ‘swift-footed as one of the gazelles which is in the field’ he lost his life while bravely pursuing Abner, the leader of Saul’s house, and refusing to turn aside from the chase, even though this would have preserved his life (see 2 Samuel 2:18-23).
At a time of big names and long dynasties in a male-dominated society, this royal princess Zeruiah cemented her name in history, not by dint of her birth but on account of her motherhood. She raised three sons who bravely fought for God’s king over many years. They constantly risked, and ultimately lost, their own lives in the struggle. Their goal was to defend their king and establish his kingdom so that God’s people could influence the world.
Today, the kingdom of God still needs to advance and to do this it needs men and women who are prepared to risk everything in order to take ground. Are you raising children who will fight the good fight for the kingdom? Men and women of principle who loyally serve their king? Young people who will contend for truth and righteousness?
Abishai, Joab and Asahel were far from perfect but they were kingdom warriors.
And they were known as ‘the sons of Zeruiah’, a mother of warriors.