I Samuel 30:1-15
30 David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, 2 and had taken captive the women and everyone else in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way. 3 When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. 5 David’s two wives had been captured—Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God. 7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, 8 and David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” 9 David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Valley, where some stayed behind. 10 Two hundred of them were too exhausted to cross the valley, but David and the other four hundred continued the pursuit. 11 They found an Egyptian in a field and brought him to David. They gave him water to drink and food to eat— 12 part of a cake of pressed figs and two cakes of raisins. He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights. 13 David asked him, “Who do you belong to? Where do you come from?” He said, “I am an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago. 14 We raided the Negev of the Kerethites, some territory belonging to Judah and the Negev of Caleb. And we burned Ziklag.” 15 David asked him, “Can you lead me down to this raiding party?” He answered, “Swear to me before God that you will not kill me or hand me over to my master, and I will take you down to them.”
1. David and His Men Return to Ziklag 1-6
While David was gone to Gath in preparation to proceed with the Philistines against Israel, the Amalekites had invaded the Negev (wilderness) and Ziklag. In David’s absence from Ziklag they wrecked havoc. They surprised the unguarded city, plundered and burned it, and carried away all the women and children as captives. They probably intended this to take revenge because of the destruction David had recently done to their villages and countryside. He had made many enemies in his successful battles against the Amalekites and probably should not to have left his city and its residents so defenseless.
The problem with the Amalekites can be laid at Saul’s feet. Saul pitied and spared the Amalekites when he had been commanded by God through Samuel to destroy them. I Samuel 15:1-3 says, “Samuel said to Saul, ‘I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
Earlier, in Gen 14:7 the Amalekites are mentioned as part of the people who lived near Sodom. In Exodus 17 Joshua fought against them as Moses prayed on the mountain top. In Numbers the Amalekites were a problem to Israel. In Judges the Amalekites were a problem to Israel. Earlier in Saul’s reign, (I Samuel 13) at the beginning, Saul impatiently could not wait for Samuel and burnt sacrifice in disobedience. This was Saul’s first disobedience. Later he succeeded against the Amalekites (I Samuel 14:48). But then in I Samuel 15, he failed a test to completely destroy the Amalekites and Samuel rebuked Saul. The Amalekites were a long-term problem and many of the difficulties in David’s day were due to Saul’s failure. And Ziklag suffered.
In the Ziklag incident, David was corrected for being so eager to go with the Philistines against Israel. God showed him that he had better have stayed at home and looked after his own business. When we go abroad in the way of our duty we may comfortably hope that God will take care of our families in our absence, but if it is not in the way of duty, we put our homes in a dangerous position.
Yet, even in this tragedy we see God’s goodness. God spared the lives of the women and children. How wonderfully God moved on the hearts of these Amalekites to carry the women and children away as captives and not to kill them. When David invaded them, he put all to the sword, and no reason can be given why the Amalekites did not retaliate in kind, but that God restrained them. God has all hearts in his hands, and says to the fury of the most cruel men, this far you may come, and no further. We do not know if they spared them to lead them through the streets of their cities as trophies of triumph, or to sell them, or to use them for slaves, but at any rate, God’s hand must be recognized. God used the Amalekites for the correction David needed, not for the destruction they might have done.
When I am returning home from a time abroad, I have great expectation of a warm welcome waiting for me at home. David and his men were in complete confusion and consternation when they found their houses in ashes and their wives and children gone into captivity. They marched for three days from the camp of the Philistines to Ziklag, and now they came home weary hoping to find rest in their houses and joy in their families. Oh! What a black and dismal scene was presented to them, which made them all, including David, weep. Though they were men of war they wept until they had no more power to weep. The mention of David’s wives, Ahinoam and Abigail being carried captive suggests that this circumstance went nearer his heart than any thing else.
It is no disparagement to the boldest and bravest spirits to lament the calamities of relations and friends. This trouble came upon them when they were absent. It was the ancient policy of Amalek to take Israel at an advantage. This calamity met them at their return, and, they had no advance notice; their own eyes gave it to them first. When we go abroad or out of our offices to perform some task, we cannot foresee what evil tidings may meet us either there or when we come home again. The going out may be very cheerful, and yet the coming in be very sad. Remember Jephthah (Judges 10-12). A wise leader will remember James 4:13-16 which says, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” And Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” Let us learn not to assume any desired outcome nor allow those who follow us to set themselves up for a disappointment by allowing them to do it either. We hope for a good result and if there is a good outcome, let the Lord be praised for it.
“David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him.” The talk of the men and the distress of David are both understandable under these circumstances. The men looked on him as the reason of their calamities, by his giving the Amalekites an opportunity to attack Ziklag with no defense against it. Was that fair? Should they have attacked David? That will happen to you too, Christian leader. When we are in trouble, men will fly into a rage against any of us who are in any way the cause, or the perceived cause, of their trouble. They overlook the divine plan and do not know the purpose God has in mind. If they did, it would silence their complaints and make them patient. David’s men had hoped to be princes, noble officers, men of importance, reputation and rank and now they faced poverty, as fatherless widowers. Their expectations were dashed. So they lash out against the one whom, under God, they had had the greatest hope and dependence. Was that fair? Fair to David? No, but it happened. And it will happen to you too.
This was a sore trial to the man after God’s own heart, and could not but go to his very core. Saul had driven him from his country, the Philistines had driven him from their camp, the Amalekites had plundered his city, his wives were taken prisoners, and now, to complete his woes, his own familiar friends, in whom he trusted, whom he had fed, led and protected, instead of sympathizing with him and offering him any comfort, lifted up their heels against him and threatened to stone him. David was reduced to this extremity just before his accession to the throne. Things are sometimes at their worst in the church, her people and her leaders just before they begin to mend.
David’s righteous, prayerful and reverent dependence on God brought him through. David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. His men fretted at their losses. The soul of the men was harsh and sour. Their own discontent and impatience added bitterness and gall to their affliction and misery. But David was a true leader. David bore it better. Though he had more reason than any of them to bemoan, regret or bewail his condition; though they gave liberty to their passions, yet he set his graces on the task before them, and by encouraging himself in God, while they discouraged each other, he kept his spirit calm, cool and focused.
Notice the threatening words his men gave out against him. They spoke of stoning him; but he, neither offering to avenge the affront, nor terrified by their menaces, encouraged himself in the Lord his God, believed and considered regarding his present case, the power and providence of God, His justice and goodness, the method God commonly uses to bring low and then raise up, His care of His people that serve Him and trust in Him, and the particular promises He had made to him of bringing him safely to the throne. With these considerations he supported himself, not doubting that the present trouble would end well. Those that have taken the Lord for their God may take encouragement from him in the worst of times. It is a mark of a good Christian leader that when people fail us, whatever happens, they can encourage themselves in God as their Lord and their God, assuring themselves that He can and will bring light out of darkness, peace out of trouble, and good out of evil. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It was David’s practice, and comfort from it, that what time I am afraid I will trust in you. When he was at his wits’ end he was not at his faith’s end.
2. After Consulting with the Lord David and his men begin the Pursuit. 7-10
Solomon observes that the righteous is delivered out of trouble and the wicked comes in his stead, that the just fall seven times a-day and rise again and again. So it was with David. Many were his troubles, but the Lord delivered him out of them all, and particularly out of this one.
David enquired of the Lord both concerning his duty—Shall I pursue after this troop? and concerning the event—Shall I overtake them? It was a great advantage to David that he had the high priest with him and the breast-plate of judgment, which, as a public person, he might consult in all his affairs. (See Numbers 27:21) David apparently had not left Abiathar and the ephod at Ziklag, for then he and it would have been carried away by the Amalekites. So, if we conclude that David had his priest and ephod with him in the camp of the Philistines, we have to ask why did he not use them in Philistia? If he was ashamed to own his religion among the uncircumcised, shame on him. But we may nevertheless rejoice that now he began to see that this trouble is brought upon him to correct him for that oversight, and so the first thing he does is to call for the ephod. It is well if we learn through our afflictions, are reminded by them that if we have neglected our duties, we should be motivated by those same afflictions to enquire of the Lord. Do you remember what happened the first time David tried to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem? I Chron. 5:13 says, “ It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.”
David had no room to doubt but that his war against these Amalekites was just, and he had a predisposition and propensity strong enough to set upon them when it was for the recovery of that which was dearest to him in this world. And yet he did not go want to go about it without asking counsel from God, thereby confessing his dependence on and submission to him. If we in all our ways, submit to God, may expect that He will direct our steps, as He did David’s here, answering him that even above what he asked for with assurance that he would recover all.
David went himself in person, and took with him all the force he had, in pursuit of the Amalekites. Notice how quickly, easily and effectually David calmed the mutiny among the soldiers by his patience, faith and leadership. People will follow such a man. They did. They do. They will. When they spoke of stoning him, he did not speak of hanging them, nor had ordered that the ringleaders of the faction should immediately have their heads struck off. There are leaders who do such things, but David, our example of a good leader, was not like that. If David and his followers were fighting among themselves, throwing charges and counter-charges, surely the Amalekites would have clearly completely carried off their spoil. But when he, as a deaf man, did not hear their accusations, smothered his resentments, and encouraged himself in the Lord his God, the tumult of the people was stilled by his gentleness and the power of God on their hearts; and, being kindly treated, they are now as ready to follow his foot as they were but a little before to fly in his face. Meekness is the security of any government. All his men were willing to go along with him in pursuit of the Amalekites and he needed them all.
But he was forced to drop a third part of them by the way; 200 out of 600 were so fatigued with their long march, and so sunk under the load of their grief, that they could not pass the brook Besor, but stayed behind there. There is a lesson in this too. This loss of 200 men could have disappointed and discouraged David in his expectations from second causes. God is the First Cause and the men through whom He works are the second cause. This enabled David to go on with cheerfulness, trusting in God, that is to say giving glory to God, by believing against hope, in hope.
This is a great instance of David’s tenderness to his men, that he would by no means urge them beyond their strength, though the case itself was so very urgent. May Christian leaders today take notice of this. For the Son of David also considers the frame of his followers, who are not all alike strong and vigorous in their spiritual pursuits and conflicts; but, where and when we are weak, there He is not just kind, but kind and strong. Years later Paul said, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (II Cor. 12:9).
3. David and his Men begin to see God’s Providential Involvement 11-15
God threw a miracle in their way that gave them information of the enemy’s motions, and guided theirs; a poor Egyptian lad, scarcely alive, is made an instrument of a great deal of good to David. God chooses the foolish things of the world, with them to confound the wise. His master had been cruel to him. He had got out of him all the service he could, and when the lad fell sick, probably being over-toiled with his work, he mercilessly left him to perish in the field. He was not in such a hurry that he could not have put him on a cart and brought him home, or, at least, have left him something to eat. That master has the spirit of an Amalekite, not of an Israelite, that can misuse a servant this way. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. That Amalekite slave-owner thought he should now have servants enough from among the Israelite-captives, and therefore cared not what became of this Egyptian slave. He would willingly let him die in a ditch for want of necessaries, while he himself was eating and drinking. And quite possibly God used this very mistreatment of the servant to make the servant willing to serve David.
David had compassion on him. Though he had reason to think he was one of those that had helped to destroy Ziklag, yet, finding him in distress, he generously relieved him, not only with bread and water, but with figs and raisins. Though the Israelites were in haste, and did not have great plenty for themselves, yet they helped this servant of their enemy. Proverbs 24:11-12 says, “rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?”
Notice that David and his men fed the man and gave him water before they learned that he could be a help to them. As it turned out he was capable of doing them a great service. The information David received from this poor Egyptian was very valuable. He learned what the Amalakites had done and where they had gone. They gained all this information and help after they had first helped the Egyptian slave.
He promised to show David where the Amalakites were if David would spare his life and protect him. And what assurance did the Egyptian servant request? The Egyptian slave requested that David would swear by God, not by the gods of Egypt or Amalek, but by the one supreme God, the God of Israel. This servant joins Rahab who seemed to respect God even though she was a prostitute in Jericho. This lesson happily concludes with a foreigner expressing faith in the God of Israel. Thats a nice touch on an otherwise sad passage. God knows how to add a cheery note to our tragedies. God was taking care of David and His men and was also mindful of the needs of an Egyptian slave.