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David's faith in the One True God turns disaster into victory and proves he is worthy to be king of Israel!
We read in I Samuel 30:1 of David's departure from the Philistine army after Achish advised him that the other Philistine leaders did not trust him and would not tolerate his presence in their forces. It was a three day journey back to Ziklag and when they arrived, instead of receiving a warm welcome home from their families, they faced the nightmare of approaching a city which, from a distance, could still be seen to be smoking and burning from a raid by the Amalekites.
If we have learned anything, it is that failure to completely carry out God's word has devastating consequences and Saul's failure in regard to the Amalekites is bringing his reign as king to an end and will cost him his own life and the lives of his sons. We learnt earlier that part of David's covert activities included raiding Amalekite cities (27:8) and now, while he was absent with his army, they had retaliated. The Amalekites have taken advantage of the military moves of the Philistines and attacked virtually defenceless villages and cities. Although the city was destroyed, burned to the ground, they learnt with relief that the women and children had been taken captive, along with the goods, but no one had been killed. Presumably David had left only a nominal defensive force, or just the sick or older men, since the men of fighting age had gone to war, and they would have been easily overcome or surrendered quickly when they saw they were outnumbered. We might consider that the Amalekites seem to have been more merciful than David who killed men, women and children, leaving no one alive, when he raided an Amalekite city, having made the philosophy that dead men tell no tales. However, it may simply be that the Amalekites were more disposed to the capturing of slaves and taking of booty which they found easy to take with limited or zero resistance from the city. So, instead of this sparing of the people of Ziklag being an act of humanitarianism it was probably an economically based decision.7 Just as the majority of Joseph's brothers did not spare his life out of compassion (Genesis 37), but sold him into slavery for the money they would obtain and perhaps for the "pleasure" they would get from knowing their brother would suffer throughout his life as a slave, these tribes and nations recognised that there is no profit in dead bodies - but there is profit in selling slaves
Naturally, David and his men were greatly distressed and wept bitterly, but this was replaced by anger and bitter mutiny which spread through his army as his men threatened to stone him. As the apparent reality began to set in, David's men consider it all his fault. David brought them to Gath and then to Ziklag and had them bring their families along. He ordered raids on peoples like the Amalekites and his "wheeling and dealing" got them inducted into the Philistine army. Because of David's relationship with Achish, they were all far away in Aphek while their own families were terrorized and kidnapped. They have had just about enough of David and his leadership and, in their distress, were ready to vent their anger. The people reacted as they had done throughout Israel's history, blaming God and His servant, instead of following the example of their leader, for we read that: "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God" (v61). The last part of verse 6 is a significant clue, not only to the difference between David and Saul, but to the source of this difference. Saul went to consult a witch; but David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. Here is the difference: Saul never seems to repent, never seems to have a heart for God; David does have a heart for God and does repent. David, like most of us, finds that many of his turning points are during times of suffering and sorrow, in the dark times of his life. Not since chapter 23 have we read that David sought God's will by means of the ephod, and not since chapter 26 has he mentioned the name of the Lord. As is often the case, tragedy turns David's heart toward the Lord. This chapter is another of David's finest hours. David first strengthens himself in the Lord, and then He turns to the Lord for specific guidance concerning their families and those who have kidnapped them. But in this dark day of David's life, when he has no one else to turn to, he turns to God. We read many times in the Psalms of David's distress in times such as this, and of how God was always his refuge and his strength. In this seeming tragedy, he turned to the Lord for wisdom to make the right decision, an event that was a turning point in David's life. Calling on Abiathar the priest, and requesting the ephod which he had rescued during the slaughter at Nob, David inquired of the Lord (30:7-83), "Shall I pursue after this troop? Shall I overtake them? God's reply would have brought instant and resounding comfort to him: "Pursue: for thou shalt surely over-take them, and without fail recover all."
If God is who He is, in terms of His character and attributes, we can be assured that what He promises, He will do and the Apostle Paul was inspired to put it this way:
"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:63).
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12; cf. Jude 1:24-253).
David not only strengthened himself in the Lord, he inquired of the Lord. He seeks after God to know the will of God in this situation, and then he does it. How different David is from Saul in this regard. David's strength seems to come from contemplating who God is, what He has promised, and what He wants us to do. David may have placed himself and others in a precarious situation due to foolish decisions, but he quickly turns back to the God to whom he has entrusted himself. This text reminds us of the faithfulness of God, even when we lack faith:
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
God anointed David as Israel's next king and He was going to see to it that David was Israel's next king and neither Saul, nor unfaithful Israelites, Philistine kings, his own soldiers, and not even David himself could keep David from becoming Israel's king. God's purposes and promises are sure. God is not only faithful, as we see from our text, He is also merciful. David has contrived to get himself into a dreadful mess, but God does allow David to experience the painful consequences of his sins and takes pleasure in showing mercy. This He does by rescuing David, his men, and all their families and possessions.
David led six hundred men in hot pursuit of the Amalekites, until about two hundred of David's men became too faint to go on and were left behind at the brook Besor to watch over the baggage left by David's troops. We must consider the physical and mental condition of these men who have just travelled nearly 60 miles from Aphek back to Ziklag, no doubt pressing hard to get home as soon as possible. They are keen to get back quickly to their loved ones and think they can rest up at Ziklag once they arrive but, instead, find their loved ones kidnapped, their cattle stolen, and their city destroyed by fire, and then, understandably, they weary themselves weeping (verse 4) before setting off in hot pursuit of the enemy who have a substantial lead. They would be very aware that the trail would be getting cold and the enemy could easily disappear into the wilderness. If they are to be overtaken in time to rescue their loved ones, David and his men must move quickly so they are probably marching double-time and the heat of the sun would quickly accelerate their exhaustion so that, when they come to the brook Besor, a third of the men were simply unable to continue. Although they have plenty of motivation they know their families are in danger and desperately want to rescue them, but they simply do not have the strength to continue and so two hundred men collapse there by the brook and are unable to press on. This was almost certainly an expeditious move for, if they try to carry on they will only slow the rest down and so we find David and the other 400 men pressing on, leaving much of their equipment behind with the 200 so that they can move faster and expend less energy.
The trail was probably growing cold and David and his men may not have even known who the raiders were for, although we are told earlier (v1), David and his men seem to learn this information in verses 13-14. Just as David and his men may be wondering what direction their pursuit should take they just "happen" to come across a man who has been left half-dead in a field. The man is so weak he cannot talk. It may seem to some that it is a "waste of time" for David and his men to stop and render aid to this man, or a combined test of their compassion and ability to follow God's leading, but their efforts in giving food and drink to the man are well rewarded. When the man finally has sufficient strength to speak, David begins to question him. The answers to his questions must lift the spirits of David and his men, for the man tells them he is an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. His master left him behind three days before because he was sick and slowing everyone down. His master left him there to die, with no food or water and he gratefully tells David he was with the Amalekite raiding party that plundered Ziklag. David asks the young man if he would be willing to guide them to the Amalekite camp. Since his master and the others left him behind to die, he is willing to co-operate in exchange for David's assurance that he will not be killed or handed back over to his master. This half-dead servant gives new life to David's search for the Amalekite raiders and he obviously held no great affection for his Amalekite master, for he said (I Samuel 30:14-153):
14 "We made a raid on the Negev of the Cherethites, and on that which belongs to Judah, and on the Negev of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire." 15 Then David said to him, "Will you bring me down to this band?" And he said, "Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will bring you down to this band."
David assured the Egyptian of protection and he led them to where the Amalekite army was encamped. The Amalekites were caught off-guard, celebrating the success of their invasion which had included a number of other cities including Ziklag, and David's army launched a surprise attack and overcame them in a fierce battle which led to the success promised by God, for we read (v18-191):
And David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away, and David rescued his two wives. And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor any thing that they had taken to them: David recovered all.
They returned to the brook Besor where they picked up the two hundred exhausted men whom they had left behind. Now some of David's victorious company revealed their evil nature, such that they are described as "wicked men and men of Belial" (v221), for they announced that they would not divide the spoil with those who had not gone to the battle. David rebuked their greed, saying (v231), "Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the Lord hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand." They assume the spoil is theirs to divide as they please, and they make it clear they are refusing to share any of "their" spoils with the 200, assuming that these men have had no part in this battle or this victory, just because they were not with the 400 when they fought and won the battle with the Amalekites. They assume that the victory was indeed their victory, something for which they could take credit and for which they should expect a reward. These men are not asking for a bigger share of the spoils, they are demanding it. They are not asking for David's leadership either but they are usurping it or at least attempting to do so. But David is made of real leadership material and he does not let these wicked men prevail but takes the initiative in dealing with their demands and handles them very well, refusing to allow these men to have their way, while showing them why they are wrong in what they demand.
David's reasoning is clear: they have not earned these spoils, as they suppose, for the victory and the spoils are a gracious, and thus unmerited, gift from God. God gave these spoils, as He gave the victory, so how then can these men claim the spoils as though they earned them? The victory is a team victory, and the team is greater than 400 in number for when David employs the word us, he clearly includes all 600. "God gave the victory to us," David argues, "to the whole 600 men, and not just to the 400." David wisely addresses all 600 men as brothers (verse 23) and, with an astute blend of warmth, argument ('. . . with what Yahweh has given us; now he has kept us and given this band that came against us into our hand,' v23b), incredulity ('Who will listen to you about this matter?,' v24a), and authority ('For the share of the one who goes down to battle and the share of the one who stays by the equipment will be the same--they will share together,' v24b), he emphasizes that this is not just a collection of individuals, but a brotherhood and a family. When the Amalekite raiders returned to their camp, everyone in the camp celebrated in the victory; everyone shared in the spoils. Should David's men do any less? The battle was a team effort with each member playing a different role. Just because 200 stayed behind does not mean they had no part in the victory. They stayed with the baggage of all 600 men which enabled the other 400 men to make better time to carry out their part of the task, and thus they contribute to the victory as well. Their victory is a collective victory, and so every man should have an equal share of the spoils. It is interesting to compare our text with the account of David's intended attack on Nabal and the male members of his household. There, David has the same 600 men with him. He takes 400 with him to fight against Nabal and leaves 200 men behind with the baggage. This strongly suggests that what happens in our text in Chapter 30 is not out of the ordinary at all. Would the 200 men in Chapter 25 not share in the gift Abigail gave to David and his men? We have every reason to believe they would!
David made an important pronouncement that became a statute and ordinance in Israel from that day forward (v241): "As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff; they shall part alike." Thus David continued to develop a tremendous truth and an effective management philosophy out of this incident - and one that applies today in every branch of Christian work, for the office worker who stays behind and handles the finances, and the letters and mailings of missionaries overseas, will share in the same spiritual blessings as the missionary. David was becoming a master politician who had an eye to the future, endearing himself to the hearts of the people who dwelled in the south of Israel. This was the area of the tribe of Judah and he sent generous presents from the spoil he had taken from the Amalekites to the elders of that tribe, his old friends, with the message (v26-31), "Behold a present for you of the spoil of the Lord." He sent particularly large gifts to Bethel, Ramoth, Jattir, to Hebron and a number of other cities, and also gifts to the cities occupied by the Jerahmeelites and the Kenites, "and to all the places where David himself and his men were wont to haunt." David refuses to let these "wicked and worthless men" spoil the victory God has given. He sees to it that the spoils of war are evenly distributed among all 600 men, but the 600 do not get all the spoils of that victory. These towns may have been attacked by the Amalekites and suffered loss and, if this is the case, some of the spoils may be their own property. It is also likely that Israelites from the south were summoned to fight by Saul against the Philistines, thus leaving the Israelite towns (especially those in the south) vulnerable to an Amalekite attack. Instead of remembering David for his absence in this sortie against the Philistines these towns would remember him more for another reason! Like a wise American politician he made sure that the inhabitants of those places would not forget the name of David and, shortly afterwards, this wise political and charitable act would result in a just reward for the giver for these recipients of David's generosity will be among the first to embrace him as their king.
In the divine providence of God many things are worked together for good. The Amalekite raiders had seemingly attacked Ziklag last, but they had not only plundered Ziklag, but also a number of other Philistine and Israelite cities. David and his men not only obtained their own goods back, but also the goods of many others. David shared this spoil with a number of Israelite towns, thus ingratiating him to these kinsmen of David. Although Ziklag was burned to the ground, the only unrecoverable loss, this "loss" was instrumental in causing David to return very quickly to the land of Judah, where he was made King. All things do truly work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
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