“Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.”
David, just saved from a dangerous predicament, was now only to walk into the teeth of trial. And my how emotions must have swung. We left off chapter 29 with David and his men saved from being sent to war by the Philistines against his own people. David and his men had to have been relieved to some degree as they started out on their three-day, 100-mile journey southward back to Ziklag. This chapter opens with that journey reaching it end, but as David and his men got close, they saw smoke rising on the horizon. The shock they were about to encounter would lead to a deep test of David’s leadership. His response to the challenge would illustrate faith, godly character, and godly ethics.
A Test of Leadership
God had worked providentially to let David escape without revealing his true colors to Achish. Now, their approach to the smoke-filled horizon confirmed their fears: their homes were raided, families kidnapped, and property carried off, everything burned.
The immediate reaction was grief. They wept until they had no more strength to weep (30:4). But before long the grief gave way to anger and unrest as the men began to question the situation. Why had this happened after all? It was David’s lame idea to trot off to war with his new pagan friends. It was David’s rashness that led him to give up on Israel to begin with and move out to this godless realm. Now we are reaping the fruits of his bad decision. We were stupid to have trusted him this far. And whatever other excuses and rationalizations entered their heads. But it was no more than that, for the text says their unrest with David was because they were bitter (30:6). Nevertheless, it was not to be dismissed, because the men were bent out of shape enough they were ready to stone David to death.
David himself could have played the blame-game, too, and with even more justification. The attack came from the Amalekites—the very people Saul was supposed to have wiped out entirely back in chapter 15. But Saul disobeyed, and did not destroy them utterly. Now that failure has expanded into this attack upon David. David was certainly in a position to be bitter himself, had he known at that moment that it was the Amalekites who had attacked. Even then, he could have been bitter with God anyway. It was one thing to be put in trial in many ways personally, but why would God allow such an attack that destroyed the whole group’s homes, families, etc.? David knew judgment was about to fall upon Israel, but it seems to have fallen in the wrong place: upon the righteous remnant instead. Had they not been faithful to the utmost?
But it is clear that God designed this as a sort of “next level” test for David’s faithfulness. Yes, he had been tested many times at the personal level, but now God was preparing him to be tested at the larger political level. It was one thing to have an enemy in Saul, but what when your own constituents turn against you? This setback was a test of David’s leadership. The body of soldiers had had to learn to follow David before when they merely questioned his plans for the near future; but now, David had to lead them when it looked like he had disastrously failed them and cost them everything, what little they had. This was about building trust that could last through the most difficult times.
So how did David react? In the same way he had always done—and it was the right answer. For the first act in personal crisis should also be the first act in all crises, including social and political crises like this one. And that is, seeking God in Word and prayer. David called for the priestly ephod—the means of inquiring of the Lord.
It is instructive here to contrast the reactions of the men versus David’s. The reaction of the men was entirely conditioned by the circumstances assessed by their own human wisdom. It is lamentable that this group of men—schooled on more than one occasion by the patience and example of their leader—should not even stop to consider beyond their own senses. But David refused to be determined by his peers, his environment, or his own brain. He strengthened himself in the Lord (30:6). And then he called the priest.
David had two questions: Shall I pursue after this band? And, Shall I overtake them? (30:7). These were not self-serving prayers about David being saved from the mass of men now angered at him. These were prayers directed at bringing justice in the land, and channeling the anger of those men into a righteous cause. In short, these were prayers of leadership: how shall I bring justice, and how shall I lead these men? God responded positively to both questions.
The entire band left on a rescue expedition with David. They had balked under questionable conditions before (23:3), but had apparently learned from that episode that the Word of God to David was sure. Nevertheless, these men had already been pushed to the max: they just had a 100-mile trek north only to be sent home immediately and thus make a 100-mile trek back home in three days. They were exhausted to begin with, only to pour out what was left of themselves when they arrived at the terror of Ziklag. Now David called them to purse a band of raiders and fight. They did not question, but after about another 20 miles, they reached the brook Besor and 200 of the 600 men were too exhausted to continue. David would have to confront his attackers with diminished forces—minus a third of his troops. But those who could marched on in faith.
Providence and Gentiles
As they go along, David and his men come across an Egyptian man left alone. After a brief interrogation they learn he is a slave of an Amalekite. After falling sick three days ago, he was left for dead in the wilderness. Apparently, it was assumed he would be too much baggage to care for, and besides, these Amalekites had just taken a whole lot of new captives. A sick slave had become expendable.
The Amalekite master’s loss was David’s gain, and the whole encounter with all of its background illustrates God’s providence in this test. Why had the man fallen sick three days prior? Why had the master chosen to leave him behind? And why leave him behind in that area—precisely where David and his men would cross three days later. The Lord had orchestrated the entire event. The servant would gain his freedom and David would find and defeat the Amalekites and rescue the families and property.
But this was not mere providence in the sense of a confluence of events. It was part of God’s test of David’s leadership that David had to react in proper humility and wisdom in relation to this lowly person—someone who could have been judged (as the Amalekite master himself had done) to have been a drag and a further setback to David. But David’s men took the time to feed him and nurse him back to strength. Then David wisely spoke to the man. In treating him so humanely, David found this man to be the key to his expedition. Without him, David likely would not have succeeded. Even though the man was despised as a burden and as a gentile, David had the calmness and presence of mind that turned such an apparently fruitless situation into a profitable one.
The young man agrees to lead David to the Amalekite hoard as long as David will promise not to deliver the servant back to his master. David readily obliged, likely preferring to kill the master anyway.
The agreement led to success. David was led to the band. They were found at night making merry with all of the spoil they had received. The darkness and the distraction of partying gave David the element of surprise. He then led his men in slaughtering the Amalekites until only 400 men escaped, and then only because they had mounted camels. Not only had David won, but he rescued every single person and piece of property that had been taken. Nothing was missing (30:19). And beyond this, even, it seems that David also captured all of the flocks and herds that the Amalekites had besides his. It was the spoils of war.
It was a great victory and success, and with it came the problems that attend success and windfall. David would now have to deal with partisanship and greed.
The next test in this spiritual gauntlet for David was that of rising greed and partisanship among his men. Once the spoil was all won, the 400 men who had pursued and fought lobbied David to exclude from the booty the 200 who had stayed behind at Besor: “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart” (30:22). After all, why should they? They did not lift a finger in the actual fighting. They can have their families back, but that is the end of our charity work. The property and spoil belongs to David (30:20) (by which they assumed to include themselves, of course, too), so they had said.
Of course, their lobbying seemed to contradict their own refrain that the spoil was under David’s charge. And he reminded them that as the army of the Lord (not as the state), they were a covenant body in which private property was private property, yes, but that which was received into the body as a whole, corporately, would be distributed among all the members. The text goes on to say that he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day (30:25). But while David was confirming this Law for the present and future of Israel, we should not think from this that it had originated with him. He was merely applying what was learned earlier under Moses after defeating the Midianites:
The LORD said to Moses, “Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation, and divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation (Num. 31:25–27).
As he had done so often in the past, David remembered that Law upon which he had meditated day and night (Ps. 119:97), and he applied the appropriate principle faithfully when the requisite situation arose.
And what is that principle? It is the inheritance of the saints. That David had a broad view of this concept appears in the rest of our narrative. He did not only distribute the spoils among the 400 and the 200 of his soldiers, he sent gifts to all of his friends: those in Judah, Bethel, Ramoth, Jattir, Aroer, Siphmoth, Eshtemoa, Racal, the cities of the Jerahmeelites, the cities of the Kenites, Hormah, Bor-ashan, Athach, Hebron, and all the places where David and his men had roamed (30:28–31). Now this is important not only as a principle, but for building future allegiances. When the day comes that Saul is dead and the throne should go to David, the first place to open doors to him is Judah, and the place he first plants roots is right there in Hebron (2 Sam. 2:1–4).
1. The fruits of biblical leadership
Back in chapter 23, we stressed the important role of prayer and God’s Word for the purposes of leadership. There we saw David’s men questioning his decision to go fight on behalf of Keilah and thereby discover their position to Saul. David submitted the matter to the Lord a second time in order to assure them. Thus, we noted, prayer and the Word of God should be made the foundations of leadership.
But the lesson here goes beyond a reiteration of those foundations. Here we see the fruits of David’s earlier leadership. At first, this may not seem accurate. After all, upon seeing their homes destroyed, David’s men immediately fell into dissention and considered stoning him to death. This sounds like regress rather than progress. But we see the progress in what followed. David went to prayer and returned with God’s direction to go, pursue, and fight. The men, without hesitation or discussion, changed their attitude from wanting to execute David to obeying him. Now that is a dramatic swing. And it is owing, I believe, to their prior successful, if trying, experience of being led by the Word of God and prayer. They had been led by David into humble submission and total faith in God, and from that learned to trust even more in future applications of the same. Seen in this light, the deep resentment they felt towards David becomes a key piece of evidence in assessing their sanctification. God had led them from one test (small) to another (large), and yet they were able to remain faithful though the depths of it.
We should also note, therefore, that despite the changes in both the magnitude and the nature of the trials God sent, the basic starting point of leadership did not change. David did as he always had done: seek the Lord, and lead the men according to God’s Word. We will see him exercise this “leadership technique” once again when an even bigger test faces him: uniting a largely hostile nation of Israel under his throne after Saul’s death (2 Sam. 2:1–4).
Finally, for now, we see David exercise the exact same principle in regard to the written Law of God. When returning with spoil from defeating the Amalekites, the spirit of division gripped David’s men and they determined not to share the spoil with those who did not actively fight. But David, as we noted, reiterated the principled decreed under Moses that soldiers and the non-combatant congregation should share alike in the spoils of war. In short, David corrected his men and led them aright according to the written Word of God.
Now we today have to abide by these same principles in order to remain faithful. All levels and all types of leadership ought to find their foundations in the Word of God, and should proceed only according to that Law and in prayer. This is as true for a head of household as it is a pulpit; as true for a civil ruler as for a minister. This principle should rule every board meeting and business seminar. If God is indeed our leader, then let us act like it. Let us put His rules and His directions at the forefront of our own agendas, and then not diverge from Him. Else, who is really doing the leading? Whose will determines direction? Whose “vision” is being followed, and to where?
And in doing this we should expect to experience what we have seen here with David: we should expect that over time, leadership grows stronger and more capable of leading men through greater trials to even greater heights. Biblical leadership does not only lead from point A to point B; it develops character and leads to maturity as well. In short, leadership ought to help drive sanctification. But it in itself must be sanctified. Thus it must be in close submission and relationship with the Sanctifier Himself. This is the means of true progress. Any progress experienced outside of this method is either incidental or false. But this fact once again draws us right back to the point. The Bible and prayer must be the constant touchstones of Christian leadership. We have never arrived nor come so far that we no longer need to recheck and possibly realign our agenda with God’s.
2. A Model of prayer
There is also a lesson here about how to pray, especially in regards to leadership, but also generally. First, David prayed specifically. These were not vague prayers about world peace and chicken soup. These were prayers specific to his situation, his crisis, and his immediate future.
Second, David prayed practically. These were prayers about specific action steps David could take. He was in a crisis. He had men to lead. He wanted to know what to do. He had a plan. He inquired of God in regard to that plan and the execution of it.
Christians too often neglect these principles. We pray about general things with spiritual-sounding words. Perhaps we think God is too high and lofty to get involved in the mundane aspects of our personal concerns. We will pray for some things like sicknesses, but forget that God is concerned about all of life. We should not feel too shy to bring our every concern to Him just as if we were speaking to—as He put it—our friend. Of course He is much more, but He also gives us this privilege to speak to Him as a friend and lay our concerns at his feet in that way. If we feel too embarrassed to speak to our Lord Friend about the details of our lives and our life plans, then perhaps our relationship with Him is not where it should be. That, in itself, is something to pray about.
3. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God
As with so many of the passages in 1 Samuel, this one contains rich biblical theology pervaded by Gospel themes. As we near the end of the book, all we have left to cover is the defeat of Israel and the death of Saul. That lesson will be filled with judgment and quite negative. But here, surprisingly, is one of the most complete set of Gospel themes in the book. It is a welcome place for it.
First, David and his men traveled for three days. And on the third day, they discovered the entire remnant burnt with fire and carried away captive. Now, on the surface of it, we usually associate “the third day” with the resurrection from death. But note that here we are only beginning the story. Just as Jesus lay in the grave, like Jonah, for three days and three nights (counted nights-first in Hebrew thought), and then at some point on that third day overcame death, we have to understand that death remained into that third day. Then Christ overcame it. This is what we see in this story. We pick up the death motif at that turning point on the third day.
But death was not to reign into eternity. David enquired of the Lord, and Lord told him to pursue the enemy and that he would overtake them. David did, and within that same 24-hour period, defeated the enemy and brought the entire remnant, all their property, and more back from the captivity. This is the resurrection, and it is led by the anointed King of Israel.
In this process, God providentially brings a gentile into the fold. He was sick and required nursing back to health—healing. In the process of joining David, he is set free from his captivity. He is now included as part of the remnant. This is the inclusion of the gentiles in the Lord’s salvation and free society.
David then proclaims against some jealous men in his fold that all members of the body shall share in the spoil. This is the equal sharing of members in the inheritance of Christ: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17; Cp. Gal. 4:7; Heb. 1:2).
Perhaps my favorite part, however, is the picture of the ascension. David not only shared the spoil equally among the remnant, he gave gift after gift abundantly to all who were connected to him throughout Judah. This is Christ inheriting all things (Heb. 1:2), and then ascending on high, giving gifts to men. The parallel type in David here is remarkable, as Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18: “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men’” (Eph. 4:8). David here leads a host of captives—brides and children, in fact—into their freedom and gave gifts to everyone.
So in the end, this narrative illustrates for us the death and resurrection of Christ, the defeat of the enemy, the freeing of the captives, and the ascension of the Christ along with the distribution of the inheritance of the saints. There are few portrayals of Gospel imagery in Scripture as complete as this one.
4. What, McDurmon? Nothing political here?
The most important themes here admittedly do not pertain so overtly to the civil realm as so many in this book do, but those ideas are not entirely absent (I would not want to disappoint!). It would be helpful to note the perseverance of David—in leadership and prayer, etc.—here was specifically in a political-social context. David was not only rescuing family and property, but administering justice. But this came about in a very trying and stressful setting, and required strenuous action to bring about.
We should, therefore, not be afraid to apply God’s Word to social and political situations, including justice, indeed, including war. God’s Law applies to every area of life, and sometimes requires the use of force and even the taking of life. But even more, then, we should not be afraid to put out the effort—within our own callings, jobs, and capacities, of course—to get the job done. God gives us clear directions in very practical areas of life, but many times it requires blood, sweat, and tears. As Thomas Edison is sometimes quotes as saying (I paraphrase): people usually miss opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work. The kingdom of God is the same way. Sometimes God’s Word gives such clear direction that we clearly see it—and we flee from it, because it requires stress, sweat, sacrifice, or something uncomfortable. Instead, we should be like David. Although he and his men were already exhausted when he called them to march all night and go fight another war, they did without hesitation—even to the point that some of them physically gave out. We should be quick to remember that even these 200 helpless souls gave everything they could give before they gave out; and then, God rewarded them in their lack of work, by His grace, purely for their faith in obeying Him to go.
Finally, in that ascension-and-giving-gifts motif, we see not only biblical theology but obvious political networking occurring on David’s part. As we noted, it is this region that will first welcome David to the throne, well in advance of the rest of Israel, in 2 Samuel 2. The first open door here was David’s marriage to Abigail and inheritance of Nabal’s wealth in this region. Here we see him expanding upon the good will he already has among some in that region. I say “some” because the Ziphites were there, too. But David is here not keeping everything to himself in order to make himself wealthier and more important, he is investing in future political favor in the kingdom. When the time comes for him to unite a bitter, defeated, hostile, and divide nation, this good will is going to prove useful.
Likewise, we should build relationships and networks throughout society, not just among those Christians closest to us and within our own circles. You have no idea when such relationships can turn to your favor—and this is not mere selfishness. Christ taught His disciples specifically to make friends among the “unrighteous mammon” (Luke 16:9). Many commentators are baffled here. This really has to do with surviving AD 70, but it has larger implications. We should take that lesson to heart. Build relationships and make friends in whatever situation you are in, for God is always orchestrating something providential of which you have no idea and for which you could never plan yourself. One of these days, your own Philistine lords will complain enough to deliver you from a predicament; an Egyptian servant will appear out of nowhere and lead you to a victory over an enemy you would never even have found on your own; or perhaps some people to whom you reach out—who may have hated you previously—will turn later to support you in a crisis. This is every reason to live according to God’s Law and treat every neighbor with love and self-sacrifice. Then, as God rules all things, you will be surprised how He orchestrates blessing for you even through the most impossible of channels.