Christian Statesmen: In the House of the Heroes

It was the time of Nehemiah. David had not walked the earth for more than five hundred years and the people of Israel had since endured kings of unspeakable wickedness, seasons of slavery in strange lands, and every kind of judgment from an offended God. But the time of restoration had finally come, and a people newly returned to the land were busy rebuilding their Holy City. As they rebuilt the wall around the city—gate by gate, section by section—the Scriptures tell us that they made repairs as far as a point opposite the tomb of David which they called, in tones of hushed honor, the House of the Heroes.

What was this House of the Heroes? Scholars are unsure. Some say it was a place for the mighty men and great warriors to refresh and re-arm. Others say it was more a place of monuments to the heroes of ages past. Yet, whatever the exact nature of this revered place, the fact that it stood directly across from David’s tomb and that it was restored hundreds of years after it was built, indicates that the people of God had learned to honor both the hero and the heroic in their midst.

The Israelites knew that every nation had its heroes, its great men and women of renown. They certainly knew of the Greeks and how they escalated their mighty men to the level of divinity. As the ancient Greek biographer Plutarch wrote, “We must believe that…their souls are translated out of men into heroes, out of heroes into demigods, out of demigods…elevated into gods admitted thus to the greatest and most blessed perfection.”[1] Yet the Israelites regarded this worship of heroes as the most detestable idolatry. The heroes of Israel were not mighty because they were gods; they were mighty because, though they were men, they refused to remain mere men in the service of the one true God.

No one exemplified this kind of nobility in the history of Israel quite like David and the mighty men who were drawn to him. Early in his life, David was recognized as a mighty man of military conquest. In time, though, men saw more than just the skills of victory in this man. Here was a strength of character that swore to its own hurt, that dealt righteously even with its enemies, and that knew how to walk in covenant with men of valor and integrity. Here was a faith in Jehovah that turned complaints to God into poetry and song, that called upon heaven to establish the throne of Israel, and that pondered curses from lesser men in the possibility that these very curses might be the corrections of God. In these and many other ways, David was a hero, a mighty man—not just of military might and kingly glory—but a mighty man of courage and character and holy passion sufficient to shape a generation.

Because David was such a hero, men of like heart were drawn to him. Names like Josheb-Basshebeth and Eleazar and Shammah and Abishai may not fall readily from modern lips but rare was the man in Israel whose heart was not emboldened at their mention. These were the men who gathered around David. These and thirty others like them did such mighty exploits in the service of their king that the Chronicler says they extended his kingship over the whole land. These were exceptional men, the kind who fought through foreign armies just to draw a drink of water for their king, who stood their ground and won victory in battle when all others ran in fear, and who remained faithful to a king in exile though it cost them everything. They were skilled, they were submitted, they were passionate, and they were fierce; the Scriptures record that “their faces were the faces of lions.”[2] When an aged David passed the reigns of power to his son, these mighty men, these “brave warriors,” spoke their oath of loyalty and pledged their submission to King Solomon. They would serve him to the death as they had his father before him.

Every Israelite knew how important these men were. In every generation, there were these mighty ones who pressed the ends of endurance and rose above the common to extend the dominion of their king. They are mentioned in Scripture over 150 times. So vital were they to the people of God that their removal from the land was regarded as a judgment from God. It was these heroes, these brave ones, who defined the ideals of character and loyalty and skill. It was their accomplishment, their willingness to break the old barriers and set new standards, which gave courage to others who dreamed of more than men had known. It was their greatness which made the greatness of others possible.

This should be the way of Christian statesmen in our own time. They should think of themselves as heroes in the biblical sense—not so much those who are rich, talented, or famous, the way heroes are viewed today. Not even as those who do brave and dramatic deeds, honorable as this is. Instead, they should think of themselves as heroes of the kind the Bible describes—those who break through barriers so that others can arise to their best. True heroes are those who make it possible for others to take hold of their destiny and the destiny of their generation. They do this by their character, by their exceptional skill, and by their fierce devotion to the dominion of their King. They do this by living, if only in their hearts, in the House of the Heroes.

May God give us Christian statesmen such as this in our time.

[1] Plutarch’s Lives, by Plutarch, Translated by John Dryden, edited by Arthur Hugh Clough, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1865, p. 75.

[2] 1 Chronicles 12:8.


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