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This chapter recounts a victory that David has over the Amalekites, a battle that occurs at the same time that Saul is being overcome by the Philistines. David comes into a great victory on the third day, and his persistent adversary Saul dies at the same time. Although this passage tells of David’s victory, a large portion of the text deals with David as the gift-giver, David as a generous-hearted king.
“And it came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the south, and Ziklag, and smitten Ziklag, and burned it with fire; And had taken the women captives, that were therein: they slew not any, either great or small, but carried them away, and went on their way . . .” (1 Sam. 30:1-31).
Summary of the Text
David and his men took three days to get home, and when they got there they found it had been burnt by the Amalekites (v. 1). They had not killed anybody, but took all the women and children captive (v. 2). David and his men came back to devastation (v. 3). They all wept until they had no more ability to weep (v. 4). David’s two wives had been taken as well (v. 5). David was in great trouble; his men were talking about stoning him. But David encouraged himself in the Lord (v. 6). He summoned the ephod that Abiathar had (v. 7). The prophetic word told him to pursue the Amalekites and that they would recover everything (v. 8). And so they took to the chase (v. 9). When they got to the brook Besor, 200 men had to be left there (v. 10). Remember they had all been on the march for three days already.
As they continued their pursuit, they found an Egyptian in the field, and they fed him (v. 11). When they did this, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten for 3 days and 3 nights (v. 12). David found out who he was, and why he was abandoned there (v. 13). He outlined the course the raiding Amalekites had taken (v. 14). David asks if he can lead them to the Amalekites, which he agrees to do upon the condition of being spared (v. 15). When he led them there, they were spread all over the place, celebrating (v. 16). David attacked them immediately, and the fighting lasted into the next day (v. 17). Only 400 of them escaped (the total number that David had with him to begin with). David recovered everything and everyone (vv. 18-19). David was given all the spoil (v. 20).
On the return, they came to the men who couldn’t cross the Besor, and they came out to greet David (v. 21). The men of Belial that David had with him wanted to give them their own wives and children only, and send them off (v. 22). David answers in terms of the Lord’s generosity to them (v. 23). David rules in terms of the law (Num. 31:25-31), but he also legislates in the spirit of it (vv. 24-25). When David returned home, he distributed from the spoil to the elders of Judah, in all the places where David and his men were accustomed to go (v. 26-31).
The Third Day
Paul tells us that Jesus rose on the third day in accordance with the Scripture (1 Cor. 15:4). But how was this in accordance with Scripture? It was not so much a specific prophecy as it was something in agreement with the motifs of Scripture, in harmony with some repeated themes. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days (Matt. 12:40). On the third day the Lord will raise us up (Hos. 6:2). The first sign of life in the creation week was on the third day (Gen. 1:11-12). Isaac “died” and came back to life on the third day of their journey to Moriah (Gen. 22:4). The Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel at Sinai on the third day (Ex. 19:11,15-16). These days are not just counters; they signify.
On the third day, Saul dies. On the third day, David weeps, seeks encouragement from God, and is raised up. And what a resurrection! On the third day, David finds an Egyptian slave who had been without food and water for three days. On the third day, the Amalekites are scattered. On the third day, David takes plunder from the adversary. On the third day, David gives gifts to men. On the third day back in Ziklag, David receives news of the death of Saul.
David had sought encouragement from God, and God had granted it. When confronted with an obstacle, unlike Saul, David did not conclude that God had abandoned him. An obstacle was simply and opportunity to trust. He seeks God’s direction, and when he gets it, he follows it. When he follows it, what does God do for him? The one who honors God, God will honor. David smote them (v. 17), David recovered all (v. 18), David rescued (v. 18), David recovered all (v. 19), David took (v. 20), and so it was all David’s spoil (v. 20).
All of Scripture ties together. Moses was also in the wilderness for a time, and had to deal with the people wanting to stone him (Ex. 17:4). And Moses had to deal with this right before a victory over the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8). God loves to put on the same play over and over again, casting different actors in the same role. And they picked up stones to throw at Jesus (Jn. 8:59).
The Kingly Heart
A despot knows how to work with bribes and influence peddlers (1 Sam. 22:7). This is not the same thing as imitating the generosity of God. The cosmos works according to the laws of reciprocity without being a vending machine. You can trick a vending machine.
When 200 of his men grow faint, David is an understanding leader (vv. 9-10). When they come upon an Egyptian slave, they feed him—before knowing if he can be a help to them or not (v. 12). When they return to the men who had been left with the supplies, David makes a law for Israel—the supply corps shares in the spoil (v. 23). Compare this to the sons of Belial who thought they were being generous (v. 22). And David then gives gifts throughout the region (vv. 26-31).
The key principle is found in v.23, and in the heart of David. Freely we have received; freely let us give (Matt. 10:8).