And he said, Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men.
All Commentaries on 2 Samuel 23:17 Go To 2 Samuel 23
Ambrose of Milan
Further, what man can we consider finer and stronger than the holy David? He had desired water from the cistern of Bethlehem although it was cut off by a hostile army. That desire he was not able to remove, but he could mitigate it. For we do not find that the others lacked water, and the army was very large. And surely the king’s need for water would have been much less, in view of the other springs nearby. But he suffered a kind of irrational longing and wanted that water which was walled in and surrounded by the enemy, so that it could not have been readily brought without great risk. Thus he said, “Who will get me a drink from the cistern that is in Bethlehem by the gate?” And when three men were found to break down the enemy camp and bring the water which he had desired with a very great desire, he knew that he had obtained that water at the cost of danger to others. He poured it out to the Lord, so that he might not seem to be drinking the blood of those who had brought it.
This incident is evidence that uncontrolled desire indeed comes before reason but that reason resists irrational desire. David suffered what is human—an irrational longing—but it is praiseworthy that he cheated the irrational desire in a rational manner with the remedy that was at hand. I praise the men who were ashamed at the desire of their king and preferred to bring his shameful action to an end even with danger to their own well-being. I praise the more him who was ashamed at the danger to others in his own desire and who compared to blood the water sought at the price of hazardous chance. At once, like a conqueror who had checked his desire, David poured out the water to the Lord, to show that he quenched his lust by the consolation found in his Word.