King David, while he was avoiding Saul's wrath, attracted a motley crew of malcontents and dissatisfied men (1Samuel 22:2, 1Chronicles 12). Some of them, however, would mature into courageous fighters and perform astonishing acts of bravery.
There were thirty-seven elite warriors, divided into three groups, collectively known as the "mighty men" (1Chronicles 11:11). They were the king's most prized fighters who had distinguished themselves on the battlefield (1Chronicles 11, 2Samuel 23). The first and greatest of the three groups, composed of Jashobeam, Eleazar, and Shammah, were labeled "the three mighties" (1Chronicles 11:12, KJV).
The second group, composed of Abishai (1Chronicles 11:20 - 21, 2Samuel 23:18 - 19) and Benaiah (1Chronicles 11:22 - 25, 2Samuel 23:20 - 23), also carried out heroic deeds but were not considered by David to be one of the three mightiest.
The third group of men consisted of thirty-two others, the last of which was Uriah the Hittite (2Samuel 23:39). Uriah is the man David had killed in battle in order to cover up his sin of adultery with his wife Bathsheba (2Samuel 11:3 - 5).
The mighty three
Jashobeam (Josheb-Basshebeth in 2Samuel 23:8) was considered the greatest of the three mighty men. He was the "chief of the captains" (1Chronicles 11:11) and led a division of 24,000 soldiers (1Chronicles 27:2). He gained a reputation for his prowess in battle by withstanding and killing three hundred at one time.
Eleazar gained recognition by fighting with David at Pas Dammim. The Philistines, Israel's fiercest enemy, had attacked God's people and caused many of them to flee. Eleazar, however, stood firm in the middle of a field and defended it. He courageously fought for such a long period that his hand grew weary and cramped tightly around his sword. With God's help, he turned the tide of battle and won a great victory (2Samuel 23:9 - 10, 1Chronicles 11:12 - 14)!
Shammah became of the three mighty men when, during a particular battle with the Philistines, he stood his ground as the Israelites fled. During his brave fight in the middle of a lentil field, he slaughtered the enemy and won the day (2Samuel 23:11 - 12)!
The most famous act
The most well known heroic act accomplished by any of the king's special forces was the daring retrieval of water from a Bethlehem well.
The Philistines, after hearing David was made king of a united Israel (2Samuel 5:17, 1Chronicles 14:8), begin to seek him out to battle. Wary of an attack, he travels to a secure area referred to as the cave of Adullam (2Samuel 23:13) to plan his response.
Three of David's mighty men (commentaries disagree on which of the thirty-seven they were) visit him during harvest time. They overhear the king, who was born in Bethlehem, lament that he longed for a drink from one of its wells. The problem was that the Philistines not only had troops nearby they also had a military garrison in the city (2Samuel 23:14)!
The three men, unbeknownst to the king, immediately set out on a quest to retrieve water from his hometown. After they break through a Philistine camp in the valley of Rephaim (valley of the giants) they arrive at Bethlehem. They then quietly gather some of its water and bring it back to King David. Profoundly moved by the mighty act of bravery, he refuses to drink the water and instead pours it out as an offering to God (2Samuel 23:16 - 17).