What would it have been like to be part of King David’s army? What kind of men were Benaiah, who killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day, and Eleazar, Shammah, and Josheb, the three greatest warriors of David’s men? Author Cliff Graham has brought these characters to life in his “Lion of War” series. I just finished reading Day of War, book one in the series, which my wife gave me as a Father’s Day gift.
When reading of their exploits in Scripture (2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11), these men seem like outlandish heroes. Graham portrays them as real people with strengths, weaknesses, doubts, failures, and temptations. The author brings a degree of reality to these men and what warfare must have been like in 998 B.C. Graham offers a unique perspective as he serves as an officer in the United States Army National Guard, currently serving in the Chaplain Corps.
Book one, Day of War, portrays the events of 1 Samuel 27-31, from David’s defection to Achish in Philistia to the defeat of the Amalekites who attacked David’s stronghold at Ziklag and to the death of Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa. The story is unique because it is told from the perspective of lesser known characters. David, Saul, and Jonathan certainly make an appearance. But the main characters in this novel are Benaiah and Gareb, Jonathan’s armor bearer.
It should be noted that the novel (and I’m assuming the series as well) is not for the faint of heart. In his “Note to the Reader,” the author states,
This book is extremely violent. However, it’s no more violent than Scripture itself—just more violent than many previous novels based on Scripture. It also contains mature themes of sexual temptation and lust that demand that readers be mature enough to understand them. Please exercise caution and discretion when passing this book to more sensitive readers.
David’s war years were both the best and worst of his life. The Lion of War Series, by painting a picture of David and his men at that time, is an attempt to help us understand these men in their proper context as products of a barbaric and troubled era. In what ways, for instance, might the trauma of those war years have contributed to the destructive decisions David made later in life? In modern times, we label the problems warriors face after battle Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Regardless of the name, it is clear that warriors are affected for the rest of their lives by the hellish nature of battlefields, David was no exception.
One element I appreciated in the book was how the author expressed David’s dependence on God during battle. David and his men refer to the “covering.” They ask, “Cover me in the day of war.” When one warrior asks David to explain, he says,
That night was the first time I understood the covering. The covering is the fire. It is the strength, courage, and power Yahweh equips us with. It girds a man’s loins when he needs it and lets a man know that Yahweh forgives him when he fails. It snaps our legs when we need it. It speaks Yahweh’s wise counsel, like the woman in Gath that we saw that night. It comes only from Yahweh, who alone is the shepherd that we need.
Later, the same warrior asks David,
But why the day of war: why do we only ask for it then? Why not when a man is in his field plowing? Why not when he is with his family, or when he has left them and wants them to be safe and protected? Why not every day?
Every day is the day of war.
I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the rest of the series.