27. From Tragedy to Triumph (1 Samuel 30:1-31)
I am reminded of a story in a fascinating book entitled Shantung Compound, written by Langdon Gilkey. The book is about how confinement affected the lives of those interned in Shantung Compound, an old church encampment hardly suited for the task, when the Japanese overran China during the Second World War and all western foreigners residing in China were interned there. Businessmen, diplomats, teachers, missionaries, and others were confined all together in substandard quarters. Not quite a P.O.W. camp, it was probably the equivalent of a minimum security prison. Conditions were such that Shantung Compound brought out the worse, and the best, of those interned there. The author was one of those interned at this facility.
When Christmas approached, a Red Cross vehicle arrived loaded with care packages for those confined at Shantung Compound. One would think the distribution of care packages would be an easy task, as they could simply divide the number of packages by the number of residents. If there were 600 residents and 1200 care packages, each resident would receive 2 packages. But this very simple “no-brainer” task proved to be quite a problem. You see, some of the American residents pointed out that these packages were from the American Red Cross, and reasoned the packages were specifically designated for American residents. They argued that the packages should be evenly divided among the American residents. If anyone wished to share some of their gifts with others, that was their prerogative.
Something very similar happens in the 1 Samuel in our text in chapter 30. David and his men pursue a band of Amalekite raiders, who have plundered and destroyed Ziklag and taken away their wives, children, and possessions. They are guided to the base camp of these raiders, where they utterly defeat them, recovering everything they lost. In addition, the spoils of this victory include all they had taken from the Israelite and Philistine towns and cities they had raided and plundered in addition to Ziklag. Some among David’s soldiers were unwilling to share any of these spoils with the 200 men who stayed behind with the luggage.
The lessons from our text are many. What seems at first glance to be an account of the “long ago and the far away” is of direct relevance and application to our own lives today. Since this message is being delivered on Easter Sunday, you surely must wonder why I am not teaching an Easter message. My response would be that our text is an Easter message. In fact, I dare say our text contains more than one Easter theme. Some may be skeptical, so I ask that you keep an open mind to what the Spirit of God is teaching us in this text.
1 Then it happened when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negev and on Ziklag, and had overthrown Ziklag and burned it with fire; 2 and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone, and carried them off and went their way. 3 And when David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters had been taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. 5 Now David's two wives had been taken captive, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. 6 Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters.
It doesn’t take long for word to get out that the Philistines are headed north to wage a major attack against Israel. The Amalekites, who seemed to make their living (not unlike David) by raiding Philistine and Israelite towns and cities in the south, could not have received better news. Since the men of fighting age had gone to war, few or none were left behind to defend the Israelite160 and Philistine towns, including Ziklag. While David and his men are passing in review with the Philistine army (29:2), the Amalekites were plundering Ziklag. These raiders take all the cattle and possessions, kidnap all the women and children, and burn the city to the ground.
When David and his men approach the city of Ziklag, they are horrified to see that the city has been destroyed and their families taken captive. No one has been killed, but every living soul has been taken. It is little comfort that their families are still alive. Each man imagines what is happening (or would soon happen) to his wife and children. At best, they will become slaves, to be worked hard and cruelly treated. At worst . . . no one even wanted to consider this. David’s two wives also are taken.
These 600 fighting men are greatly distressed by what has happened to their city and their families. They weep until they have no sobs left. Then they began to think about how this came to pass. It had been David’s plan to bring them to the land of the Philistines (27:1-4); it was David’s request that they live in this remote city of Ziklag (27:5-6), and it was David who led them off to fight with the Philistines, leaving their families vulnerable to just such and attack. Some are so angry there is talk of stoning David.
Hot Pursuit; Cold Trail
But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.161 7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Please bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 And David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?” And He said to him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them, and you shall surely rescue all.” 9 So David went, he and the six hundred men who were with him, and came to the brook Besor, where those left behind remained. 10 But David pursued, he and four hundred men, for two hundred who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor, remained behind.
As Davis points out, not since chapter 23 has David sought God’s will by means of the ephod, and not since chapter 26 has he mentioned the name of the Lord.162 As is often the case, tragedy turns David’s heart toward the Lord. This chapter is another one 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. David asks the Lord to reveal whether he should pursue those who have taken their loved ones. Will he overtake them if he does pursue them? The answer to these questions is “Yes!” God assures David he will not only overtake this band, but he will also completely rescue all that has been taken.
We must remember the physical and mental condition of these men. They have just traveled nearly 60 miles from Aphek back to Ziklag, no doubt pressing hard to get home as soon as possible. They can rest up at Ziklag, once they arrive, or so they think. Then, finding their loved ones kidnapped, their cattle stolen, and their city destroyed by fire, they weary themselves weeping (verse 4). Now they are off in hot pursuit of the enemy. The enemy raiding party has a substantial lead, and the trail is getting cold. They can 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.
I imagine David and his men are marching double time. As time passes and the heat of the sun works on David and his men, they grow weary. When they come to the brook Besor, a third of the men simply cannot go on. They have plenty of motivation – their families are in danger, and they want to be there to rescue them – but they simply do not have the strength to continue on. Two hundred men collapse there by the brook, unable to press on. Even if they do go on, they will only slow the rest down. David and the other 400 men press on, leaving much of their gear behind with the 200 so that they can move faster and expend less energy.
A Man Left For Dead
Gives New Life To David’s Pursuit
11 Now they found an Egyptian in the field and brought him to David, and gave him bread and he ate, and they provided him water to drink. 12 And they gave him a piece of fig cake and two clusters of raisins, and he ate; then his spirit revived. For he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” And he said, “I am a young man of Egypt, a servant of an Amalekite; and my master left me behind when I fell sick three days ago. 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.”
The trail is indeed cold. It seems that David and his men do not even know who the raiders are. (We are told in verse 1, but David and his men seem to learn this information in verses 13-14.) David and his men must being to wonder what direction their pursuit should take. At this critical moment, 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 this is a “waste of time” for David and his men to stop and render aid to this man. Whether this is out of pure compassion (making David a kind of good Samaritan), their efforts are well rewarded. It takes bread and water, then a piece of fig cake and raisins to bring this man back to life, since he has gone three days and nights without either food or water.
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. He then tells David he is 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. Normally, I am sure he would not consider such a thing. But since his master and the others left him behind to die, he is willing to cooperate, 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 their captives.
16 And when he had brought him down, behold, they were spread over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing because of all the great spoil that they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. 17 And David slaughtered them from the twilight until the evening of the next day; and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men who rode on camels and fled. 18 So David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives. 19 But nothing of theirs was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that they had taken for themselves; David brought it all back. 20 So David had captured all the sheep and the cattle which the people drove ahead of the other livestock, and they said, “This is David's spoil.”
There was no longer any need to try to track this raiding party. Thanks to the Egyptian slave whom they revived, they would now be guided to the Amalekite camp. David and his men arrive at the raiders’ camp to find the Amalekites totally vulnerable. After all, the Philistines (along with David and his men, they suppose), and the Israelites are far away to the north at war. Who would come after them? They enjoy a successful mission, and now they are home where they can indulge themselves with the fruits of their victories. The Amalekites are “spread over all the land” (verse 16), implying that they are not tightly assembled, which would be the best defensive posture. (In the western movies, a wagon train always circled the wagons when under attack, placing the women and children inside the circle.) If the expression “divide and conquer” is true, these folks had already divided themselves by spreading out. On top of this, the Amalekites are eating and drinking and dancing. In short, they are too drunk to stand up straight, much less fight.
If this is the Amalekite base camp, then there be more people here than just the raiding party.163 David and his men are thus greatly outnumbered. But given the drunken state of the Amalekites, they are easy prey. David and his men attack, a slaughter that lasts for many hours.164 Not a single person escapes, except the 400 men who flee on camels.165 Everything and everyone the Amalekites had taken from Ziklag is recovered. David and his men suffer no losses at all (except for what had been burned at Ziklag). David’s two wives are among the hostages rescued. The author is very specific. Nothing is missing. David brings it all back. Just as God indicated, they have overtaken their enemy and prevailed. This could not have been a more successful mission.
Dividing Over the Spoils
A Victory Is Almost Spoiled
21 When David came to the two hundred men who were too exhausted to follow David, who had also been left at the brook Besor, and they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him, then David approached the people and greeted them. 22 Then all the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David answered and said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away and depart.” 23 Then David said, “You must not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us, who has kept us and delivered into our hand the band that came against us. 24 “And who will listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.” 25 And so it has been from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day. 26 Now when David came to Ziklag, he sent some of the spoil to the elders of Judah, to his friends, saying, “Behold, a gift for you from the spoil of the enemies of the LORD: 27 to those who were in Bethel, and to those who were in Ramoth of the Negev, and to those who were in Jattir, 28 and to those who were in Aroer, and to those who were in Siphmoth, and to those who were in Eshtemoa, 29 and to those who were in Racal, and to those who were in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, and to those who were in the cities of the Kenites, 30 and to those who were in Hormah, and to those who were in Bor-ashan, and to those who were in Athach, 31 and to those who were in Hebron, and to all the places where David himself and his men were accustomed to go.”
The victory is now won, and everything that was lost has been recovered. In fact, not only have David and his men recovered everything they lost, they gained a whole lot more. They gained the spoils the Amalekites obtained through their raids on the Philistine and Israelite towns. These spoils now present David with a major problem. Some of the 400 men who have defeated the Amalekites are refusing to share any of these spoils with the 200 men who stayed behind.
Only a segment of the 400 men who fought with the Amalekites are “wicked and worthless men.”166 Not all of the 400 are this way, just some of them. But these wicked, worthless men seem to be taking charge. Their reasoning goes like this: only 400 men did the actual fighting; the other 200 had no part in the battle or the victory that was won. The 200 should be given back what they lost. But they should not be given a portion of the extra spoils of war, the spoils the Amalekites took from the Israelites and Philistines. These extra spoils should be divided only among the 400 warriors.167 The refusal of these men to share any of their spoils with the 200 seems to be based upon these faulty assumptions:
(1) 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.
(2) They assume that the 200 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.168
(3) They assume that the victory was indeed their victory, something for which they could take credit, a victory for which they should expect a reward.
(4) 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, they are usurping it, or at least attempting to do so.
David does not let these wicked men prevail. He takes the initiative in dealing with their demands and handles them very well.169 He refuses to allow these men to have their way, while showing them why they are wrong in what they demand. Consider David’s reasoning.
(1) They have not earned these spoils, as they suppose. The victory and the spoils are a gracious (and thus unmerited) gift from God. God gave these spoils, as He gave the victory. How then can these men claim the spoils, as though they earned them?
(2) The victory is a team victory, and the team is greater than 400 in number. When David employs the word us, it seems clear he includes all 600. “God gave the victory to us,” David argues, “to the whole 600 men, and not just to the 400.”
(3) David’s 600 men are all brothers (verse 23). This is not just a collection of individuals; it is a brotherhood. These 600 men are a family. When the Amalekite raiders return to their camp, everyone in the camp celebrates in the victory; everyone shares in the spoils. Should David’s men do any less?
(4) The battle is 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 (as I understand it, the baggage of the 600 men), 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.
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. In verses 26-31, we see that David makes very good use of some of the spoils by sharing them with some of the Israelite towns he and his men frequented.
These towns may have been attacked by the Amalekites and suffered loss. If this is the case, some of the spoils may be their own property.
(1) These towns are towns David and his men frequented.
(2) These are some of the very towns David led Achish to believe he raided and plundered himself.
(3) Some of the men in these towns are elders; they are men of considerable influence.
(4) Some of the men in these towns are David’s friends.
(5) These towns are Israelite towns; indeed they are in the territory of Judah. Thus, they are David’s kinsmen.
(6) Very soon, these recipients of David’s generosity will be among the first to embrace him as their king.
David’s decision is far reaching, more so than he realizes at the moment. Many decisions are far reaching. He never imagined, for example, what the outcome would be for deciding to flee to the Philistines for safety. He never imagined the consequences of standing up to Goliath and killing him. In the heat of the moment, David had a decision to make. Should he give in to a few wicked and worthless men, letting them divide the spoils only among the 400? Or should he stand up for what is right? David chooses to stand for what is right, and in the process, he establishes a principle which outlives him. The good, or the evil, which we choose to do, sets a precedent for the future.
Lesson one: The Providence of God. How amazing is the providence of God! We see it so often and so clearly in 1 Samuel, and now in our text. The providence of God is His “unseen” hand in the events of life, assuring and achieving His purposes and promises. David had been chosen and anointed as Israel’s next king. God protected David and provided for him and his men in amazing ways, ways we would not necessarily recognize as such at the time they are happening. We read that David is ready and willing to accompany Achish and the our Philistine commanders into battle. He appears to be greatly disappointed at being rejected by the other four commanders and sent back to Ziklag. Yet we can now see this is what made it possible for David and his men to attack the Amalekites and regain all they lost to these plunderers.
God provided guidance for David and his small army by means of the priest and the ephod, directing them that they should pursue the raiders, assuring them they would overcome them and rescue everything lost to them. But in addition to this guidance, God providentially arranged for an Egyptian slave of an Amalekite master to become so ill he would be left behind to die. In so doing, this man would be found and revived by David and his men. This man would then serve as a guide to direct them to the Amalekite campsite.
But wait; there’s more! In the providence of God, the Amalekite raiders had seemingly attacked Ziklag last. They 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. Ziklag was burned to the ground, the only unrecoverable loss. Yet this “loss” was instrumental in causing David to return very quickly to the land of Judah, where he was made King of Judah. 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).
Lesson 2: The Principle of Grace. This is a most important principle, one that forces us to rethink and revolutionize our ministries as members of the body of Christ. The victory David and his men won over the Amalekites was really God’s victory. Men played a part in it, of course, but it was God’s victory in the final analysis. Men dare not claim the credit (or the rewards) for what God has done. This is no minor point. Do you remember what happened to Herod when he allowed men to praise him as though he were a god? He was smitten of God and died, because he did not give God the glory (see Acts 12:20-23). Jesus taught, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). We ought not take credit for those things which are of God, but give Him the glory. Paul clearly taught this principle as it applies to the spiritual gifts and ministries God gives to individual members of the body of Christ:
For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Grace means that we do not have to work for God’s forgiveness, salvation, or blessings. All we have to do is receive what God, in grace, has provided for us. But grace also means that when we receive what we have not earned, we dare not take credit for it as though we earned it. The principle of grace means that men do not take credit for what God has done.
Lesson 3: The Principle of Plurality (or teamwork). While God has given the victory, David and his men are very much a part of the battle. They are all a part of the battle. The 200 men who stay behind guard the baggage. Had the 200 men come along, they would have slowed down the 400, because they were weary. Had the 200 men not guarded the baggage, the 400 men would have been laden down. The 200 staying behind served the best interest of the 600. But every single one of the 600 made a contribution to the cause. It was a team effort.
In the church at Corinth, there were many divisions. Some divisions seem to be based on the fact that the Corinthians possessed different spiritual gifts. Some of these gifts were valued more highly than others. Those who possessed gifts thought to be more important became proud, looking down on those with allegedly lesser gifts. And those with supposedly lesser gifts began to think they were not really needed, perhaps not even a part of the body (1 Corinthians 12). Paul points out that all the gifts are gifts of grace, so no one can boast in what they are given. He also emphasizes that every gift plays an important role, and that all are necessary. The church is the body of Christ, and every individual member has a gift or gifts that facilitate a vital function in the body. Every member of the body is dependent upon the rest of the members of the body. No one is unimportant. Everyone is a part of a team. The work of our Lord – the work of the body of Christ, the church – can only be carried on as a part of a body, as the member of a team. Those who think individualistically think wrong.
Lesson 4: Lessons about Easter. Earlier I mentioned that this passage contains at least one Easter message. It is now time to make good on this claim. How can our text possibly relate to Easter? It is because the Bible, Old Testament or New, is about faith, and biblical faith is resurrection faith.
For the New Testament saint, faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is a vital, inseparable part of the gospel message we must believe:
8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”-- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (Romans 10:8-10; see 1 Corinthians 15:1ff.).
It is a faith that believes we, like Christ, will be raised from the dead:
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
These things we know, and we celebrate them every Easter. The Christian’s faith is a resurrection faith. We know this is true for the New Testament saint. I remind you that the Old Testament saint’s faith was also a resurrection faith. We know this was true for Abraham:
16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” 19 And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore also IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:16-25).
As the writer to the Hebrews points out to us, it was also true of every Old Testament saint as well. Old Testament saints were saved by faith, and not by works -- this faith was a resurrection faith:
13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type. 20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. 21 By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:13-22, emphasis mine).
From the very beginning of human history, God has been demonstrating that He is a life-giving God, a God who raises men from the dead:
(1) In the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis, we read of God creating life.
(2) We have already seen that so far as having children was concerned, Abram and Sarai were “dead,” and yet God gave them a son (Romans 4:16-25). When God called on Abraham to offer up this son as a sacrifice, Abraham was willing to obey, trusting that God would raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).
(3) Joseph’s brothers hated him and put him in a pit, planning to kill him. He was as good as “dead,” but God providentially brought a group of Midianite traders along who bought him as a slave. It looked hopeless for Joseph as a slave, and then as a condemned man in prison, but God gave this dead man life, so to speak, by raising him to the second highest position in Egypt (see Genesis 37ff.).
(4) The Israelites became Egyptian slaves and were cruelly treated and abused. The Pharaoh issued an order that all male Hebrew babies be cast into the Nile to die. Moses was as good as dead. And yet God arranged for the Pharaoh’s daughter to take Moses out of the river, thus nullifying Pharaoh’s order to kill the Hebrew boy babies. Through this rescued infant, God delivered the entire nation from Egypt, and the very powers that threatened the Israelites were drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 1-15).
(5) Over and over again, neighboring enemies overran Israel, and their existence (life) was threatened; yet God raised up the judges (see the Book of Judges).
(6) Hannah is childless and barren, though she desperately wants a child: “She’s dead” so far as bearing a child, and yet God gives her Samuel, and then other sons and daughters (1 Samuel 1& 2)
(7) The Israelites are at war with the Philistines. They take the ark with them. Israel is defeated, Eli’s two sons are killed, Eli dies, and so does his daughter in law: I can just hear an Israelite murmur, “We’re dead.” But God gave the nation new life. He so afflicted the Philistines that they not only sent the ark of God back, they sent it back with “interest” (i.e. the gold; see 1 Samuel 4-6).
(8) The Israelites gather at Mizpah to renew their covenant with God; the Philistines are told of this large gathering of Israelites and wrongly assume it is some form of military action. They send a large army, which surrounds the Israelites. The Philistines have iron chariots and spears. The Israelites were surely thinking: “We’re dead!” But God sends an electrical storm, and the Philistines are defeated (1 Samuel 7).
(9) The Philistines occupy Israel, and Jonathan provokes them by attacking a Philistine garrison. A very large armed force comes to teach Israel a lesson. Saul has but 600 men left with him, because the rest deserted him. Many of the rest are thinking of how they can escape, too. Saul must be saying to himself, “I’m dead.” God uses the courage and faith of Jonathan to stage an attack on the Philistines, and then He sends an earthquake, which results in an Israelite victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 13 and 14).
(10) The Philistines have come again to wage war with Israel. Goliath insults the Israelites and their God. Saul and his men are scared to death, and no one will stand up to Goliath. The Israelites, once again, are thinking, “We’re dead!” God sends them a young shepherd, who trusts in God and is not afraid to stand up to Goliath; through David God gives Israel new life (1 Samuel 17).
(11) David and his men are trapped by Saul on a mountain in the wilderness of Maon. Saul and his men are ready to spring the trap. As we read the account we cannot help but think, “They’re dead.” Suddenly, a messenger arrives to inform Saul that the Philistines have attacked, and he must leave. David and his men have new life (1 Samuel 23).
(12) Here in our text, David and his men have fled to Achish in Philistine territory to seek sanctuary from King Saul. David nearly has to go to war against Israel and for the Philistines; either that or he must turn against Achish. It seems there is no way out, and then, when David and his men are sent back home to Ziklag, we breathe a sigh of relief, only to learn that Ziklag has been raided by the Amalekites, and they have disappeared with all their families and possessions. “They’re dead,” we say to ourselves, “They’re history.” But God gives David faith, courage and guidance, and puts a half-dead slave in their path. By the end of this seemingly hopeless chapter, God has turned death into life.
(13) While Elijah hid from Ahab, King of Israel, he was cared for by a widow, who lived with her son. This son became sick and died, but through Elijah, God brought the child back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24). A very similar resurrection happened by the hand of Elisha, as described in 2 Kings 4.
(14) The prophet Jonah does not want to obey God and preach the gospel to the Ninevites, so he flees from Israel and boards a ship headed in the opposite direction of Nineveh. A violent storm threatens the ship Jonah is on, along with all its cargo and crew. Jonah tells them why the storm has come upon them and convinces the crew to throw him overboard. Jonah sinks below the waves for the last time and we, along with Jonah, say, “He’s dead.” But suddenly a great fish appears, swallows Jonah, and then later vomits him onto dry land. It is, as our Lord Himself noted, a prototype of His own resurrection (see Jonah; Matthew 12:38-40).
(15) Daniel and his three friends are Hebrew captives living in Babylon. They determine they will serve God, even if it means disobeying the most powerful king of their time. The king puts Daniel’s three friends in a fiery furnace and casts Daniel into a den of lions: “They’re dead,” we say to ourselves. But God gives the three men a companion in that furnace and keeps them from being harmed by the flames and the heat. He shuts the mouths of the lions, who normally would have devoured Daniel. God loves to give life to those who are as good as dead. From the Old Testament, we see that He has been doing it since the beginning of man’s history.
It is the same in the New Testament. God is constantly bringing life out of death:
(1) Elizabeth and her husband are elderly and cannot have children. God gives them a son, whom Zecharias names John. God brings life out of death.
(2) A young virgin named Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph, but is not yet married to him. She has never had sexual relations with a man. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God makes her pregnant with the promised Messiah. God brings life out of virtual death.
(3) A widow from the city of Nain has but one son, who dies and is being carried out to be buried. He is dead, literally. For those standing by, there is no hope. It’s over for this fellow. And yet Jesus stops the funeral procession and commands the young man to arise, which he most certainly does. Jesus gives life to the dead (Luke 7:11-15).
(4) Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha, all of whom are friends with Jesus. Lazarus becomes gravely ill, and Jesus deliberately delays. By the time Jesus and His disciples arrive, Lazarus is not only dead, he has been in the grave for three days. He is really dead. But Jesus calls Lazarus out of that tomb, and he comes to life (John 11).
All of these and many more “death to life” experiences depicted in the Old and New Testaments are but a prelude to the “big one,” the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth comes and claims to be the Son of God. He lives a perfect life and interprets the Old Testament Scriptures as God meant them to be understood and practiced. The Jewish religious leaders, along with the help of the Roman officials, conspire against Jesus and crucify Him on the cross of Calvary. He is pronounced dead and buried in a tomb. “Jesus is dead,” the disciples sadly admit. It is all over. And then on the third day, they find that the tomb is empty, and they see the Lord Jesus risen from the dead. They are never again be the same. God raises Jesus from the dead.
Finding the resurrection theme (God brings life out of death) in the Bible is about as hard as finding Christ in Paul’s Epistles. The resurrection is a part of the fabric of faith and of the Scriptures. The important question is this: “Have you personally experienced the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Have you been brought from death unto life, by trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and for the gift of eternal life? The Bible tells us that we are “dead in our transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) apart from faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot ever please God by keeping His commandments. We must acknowledge our sin and the fact that we deserve God’s eternal wrath as the just punishment for our sins. By simply accepting the gift of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, we are born again, we experience the resurrection of Jesus Christ personally. From that point on, we live; we have eternal life. Have you received this gift of life? That is what Easter is all about. God has been in the business of making dead men live for centuries, and He can certainly do so for you.
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
It is vitally important that you and I, at one time in our lives, come to faith in Jesus Christ, dying to sin and being raised to newness of life, in Christ. But this is not the end. The resurrection is more than a once in a lifetime experience. It is not enough to commemorate the resurrection of our Lord once a year. It is to be celebrated as a church every week (see 1 Corinthians 11:26; Luke 22:19; Acts 20:7). But even more than this, the resurrection is a way of life. The resurrection is to be lived and experienced daily by the Christian:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:1-11).
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:9-11).
There is yet one more Easter theme we should not overlook in our text. It should become clear in the light of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:7-16).
Paul is speaking here about spiritual gifts, which God gives to each and every believer in Jesus Christ. He is saying that these spiritual gifts – which are a divine enablement for ministry in and to the body of Christ, the church – are the result and expression of Christ’s victory over Satan and sin, through His death and especially His resurrection from the dead. When Jesus defeated Satan and sin, He gave gifts to His own, as a manifestation of His victory.
Paul draws our attention to the practice of military commanders as a result of their victory over their foes. He likens our Lord’s giving of spiritual gifts to His church to a military commander giving gifts to his men, because of their victory. I ask you, where in all the Bible is this more clearly done than right here in our own text? As David distributes the spoils of his victory over the Amalekites, he is foreshadowing the King of Kings, who gave “spiritual gifts” to His church as an indication of the magnitude of his victory.
Our God is a saving God, He is a life-giving God. And He gives life to those who are dead. No wonder He saves when we are yet “dead in our transgressions and sins.” No wonder we are to reckon ourselves dead, so that His life may be manifested in and through us. To God be the glory. He alone gives life to the dead.
“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes (John 5:21).
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; 9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).
160 I am assuming here that Israelites from the south were summoned to come fight with Saul against the Philistines, thus leaving the Israelite towns (especially those in the south) vulnerable to an Amalekite attack.
163 I am assume that this Amalekite camp is much like Ziklag. Not only do the soldiers live here, but also their wives and families and cattle (and servants, like the one who led David and the rest back here).
164 There is some scholarly discussion about just what expressions of time are used here, but all in all the author is telling us that the slaughter went on for many hours. Many of the enemy are killed.
166 I think if we had been there, we would often have seen the same wicked men involved in certain activities. Were these the ones who wanted to see Saul killed? Were these the ones who just a few days earlier talked about stoning David? I would not be surprised.
167 I should point out here that these wicked and worthless men may have also been challenging David, their leader. It seems that the same spoils in question here (whether they should be divided among 400 or 600) are the spoils which verse 20 calls “David’s spoil.”
168 I find it most 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 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? Most certainly!
169 I really like Davis’ observations here: “David stifles their scheme with an astute blend of warmth (‘You’re not going to act that way, my brothers, v. 23a), argument (‘. . . with what Yahweh has given us; now he has kept us and given this band that came against us into our hand,’ v. 23b), incredulity (‘Who will listen to you about this matter?,’ v. 24a), 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,’ v. 24b).” Davis, vol. 2, pp. 175-176.