Gym Bros, Toxic Masculinity, and Being a Man for Your People

2 Samuel 10

So there seems no better way to get into our text today than to spend a moment up front considering the fascinating creature known as gym bros. You’ve surely seen him, perhaps at the gym yourself, or walking by the gym, or scrolling on Facebook. He’s swollen. He’s ripped. He’s skipping leg day. You know this man. 

Now I’m not going to pick on gym bro too much because we all know that he could beat me up. But here is the glaring question that everyone is asking: All those muscles, for what? Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing, and those muscles more than Instagram.

Gym bros are a striking study in our times, our times that are marked by individualism and the loss of telos. They gym bro is alone. (And, by the way, it is not good for man to be alone). And the telos of the gym bro is the gym. In truth, those muscles are there for a people. And those muscles are there for a purpose (the people’s protection and provision).

So, I’m not just aiming at gym bros in this post, of course. We’re all gym bros now you might say. Manhood wants to either die or swell up and terminate on itself in a culture like ours that has lost its sense of purpose and community.

But there is a better way. And that way is to be a man for your people. We see men doing just that in 2 Samuel 10.

The Text – A Summary

The king of the Ammonites died and his son Hanun reigned in his place. Ammon was to the northeast of Israel. And as David had recently shown kindness to Mephibosheth so now he wanted to show kindness to Hanun. Ammonite princes convinced Hanun that David’s envoys were actually spies. So they sought to shame the servants of David by shaving off half of their beards and cutting off half of their garments in the middle (v. 4).

The Ammonites saw that they had stirred things up with Israel so they hired the Syrians to fight with them. Syria was to the north of Israel. David sent out Joab, the commander of his army with his mighty men. The Ammonites were lined up in battle at the gate and the Syrians were arrayed in battle in the country, leaving David’s mighty men hemmed in behind and before (v. 8).

Joab, seeing he was caught between a rock and a hard place, divided his forces. He took some of the men and lead them to face the Syrians. And he put the other half of his forces under the command of his brother Abishai to fight the Ammonites toward the city gate. Joab told Abishai that they would watch each other’s back and then said, “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him” (v. 12). The Syrians fled before Joab. The Ammonites looked across the battle field and saw their hired hands deserting them. So they in turn fled back into their city walls. 

When the Syrians saw that they were defeated, their king Hadadezer assembled them and even more warriors to fight against Israel again at Helam (v. 16). David himself went out this time, gathering all Israel and going East over the Jordan river to Helam. David stuck down the Syrians at Helam, killing the commander of their army, Shobach (v. 18). All the kings who were servants of Hadadezer saw that they were defeated. Verse 19 says they made peace with Israel and became subject to them.

Toxic Masculinity

Joab’s words point the way. Here they are, surrounded on all sides, and Joab says to play the man and be of good courage. Maybe they will die. Maybe they will lose the fight. But they’re going to the fight, even though they’re surrounded. Toxic masculinity at its finest. 

What makes that toxic masculinity reference funny is that we know on its face this Joab moment was not a moment of toxic masculinity. And the reason we know it was not toxic masculinity is because it was masculinity for others. The courage, the fight, the manliness was for something. It was for the people of God.

The point is not merely that men should be strong for other individuals. The point is that Christian men should be strong for the people of God, the one new man that the saints are in Christ. The old hymn says it well, “Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed. By schisms rent asunder by heresy distressed.” That “her” in the hymn refers to the bride of Christ. That’s right the bride of Christ. And that bride is the church of the Living God. And your strength is for her. Christ died for her life. And you are to die for her welfare and growth. 

Jordan Peterson, a man who is not a Christian, recently delivered a message to Christian churches that included the exhortation to welcome men. Jordan is right about that. You men not only can come and welcome to Jesus Christ, you must come and welcome to Jesus Christ. The only way into the church is through the door. And the door is Jesus Christ. He is the true man. And by faith in him, you will receive the forgiveness of your sins. By faith in him, you will learn what your strength is for, you will say with Joab, “”Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God” (2 Samuel 10:12).