The Lord Forbid

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by Fred Clark

You probably haven’t heard many sermons about Joshebbasshebeth the Tahchemonite. His story is tucked away in 10 verses at the end of 2 Samuel and besides, not many preachers want to pronounce names like Joshebbasshebeth from the pulpit.

But if you were fortunate enough to have once had a teacher like Mr. Baehr—my junior high Bible teacher, whose enthusiasm for obscure Old Testament characters was contagious—then you may remember Josheb as one of King David’s mighty men, a fearless warrior who wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time. The mightiest of the mighty men were the Three Warriors: Josheb, Eleazar (son of Dodo son of Ahohi) and Shammah (son of Agee, the Hararite, defender of lentils).

The Three were among those encamped with David against the Philistines who had occupied Bethlehem, David’s hometown. Homesick and battle-weary, David said longingly, “O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” (2 Sam. 23:15)

So the Three Warriors broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well … and brought it to David. That sweeping Old Testament understatement is what makes these stories so intriguing: three men—one carrying a bucket of water—up against the entire Philistine army. That’s a story in itself, worthy of an epic poem, but the Bible covers it matter-of-factly in a single sentence. The story is more interested in David’s response:

But he would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord, for he said, “The Lord forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives? Therefore he would not drink it” (2 Samuel 16-17).

David longed for water, but when he realized at what cost it had come he could not drink it. “Can I drink the blood of these men? … The Lord forbid.” It didn’t matter to David what the water cost to him—for him it came at no cost, it was free. What mattered was the cost to others, and that cost was too high. David refused to benefit at their expense.

Oscar Wilde wrote that “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” In Wilde’s time people thought price was more important than value, but our situation is worse. Today we tend to think the price of something is its value.

David had a clearer outlook. He saw beyond the superficial appearance of price (what does this cost to me?) to the reality of value (at what cost does this come to me?). What would it mean for us to follow David’s example?

Much of what we purchase comes to us as the result of great labor by people we have never met and will never meet.

From T-shirts to strawberries to sneakers to gasoline, much of what we purchase comes to us as the result of great labor by people we have never met and will never meet. We, the consumers, sit at the end of a long chain that sometimes begins with the exploitation of people and creation. Unlike David, who knew exactly what the Three Warriors had to go through, we are usually not able to know the real costs—the value—of the gifts we receive and the products we buy. All we know about strawberries is that they’re delicious and on sale for $2.99 a pint.

All we know about that new shirt is that it’s comfortable and a real bargain at $14.95. All we know about our new sneakers is that they have good arch support and that a revolving door of amazing athletes wear the same brand. So we buy them, not knowing if doing so might mean—in David’s phrase—drinking the blood of those who sacrifice their lives or livelihood.

The point here is not a guilt trip. Our choice is not so much between innocence and guilt as between responsibility and irresponsibility. Taking responsibility means looking beyond price to value. We must, like David, appreciate the true costs of the things we buy and recognize that sometimes that cost is too high.

(This essay first appeared in the Nov/Dec 1997 issue of PRISM Magazine.)

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