Expositor's Bible Commentary
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;CHAPTER XXXV.
DAVID AT ZIKLAG.
1 Samuel 30:1-31.
AFTER David had received from King Achish the appointment of captain of his body guard, he had with his troops accompanied the Philistine army, passing along the maritime plain to the very end of their journey - to the spot selected for battle, close to "the fountain which is in Jezreel." It seems to have been only after the whole Philistine host were ranged in battle array that the presence of David and his men, who remained in the rear to protect the king, arrested the attention of the lords of the Philistines, and on their remonstrance they were sent away. It is probable that David's return to Ziklag, and the expedition in which he had to engage to recover his wives and his property, took place at or about the very time when Saul made his journey to Endor, and when the fatal battle of Gilboa was raging. We have seen that though David never, like Saul, threw off the authority of God, he had been following ways of his own, ways of deceit and unfaithfulness. He too had been exposing himself to the displeasure of God, and on him, as on Saul, some retribution behooved to fall. But in the two cases we see the difference between judgment and chastisement. In the case of Saul it was judgment that came down; his life and his career were terminated avowedly as the punishment of his offence. In the case of David the rod was lifted to correct, not to destroy; to bring him back, not to drive him forever away; to fit him for service, not to cut him asunder, or appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There is every reason to believe that the awful disaster that befell David on his return to Ziklag was the means of restoring him to a trustful and truthful frame.
It appears from the chapter now before us that, in the absence of David and his troop, severe reprisals had been taken by the Amalekites for the defeat and utter destruction which they had lately inflicted on a portion of their tribe. We must remember that the Amalekites were a widely dispersed people, consisting of many tribes, each living separately from the rest, but so related that in any emergency they would readily come to one another's help. News of the extermination of the tribes whom David had attacked, and whom he had utterly destroyed lest any of them should bring word to Achish of his real employment, had been brought to their neighbours; and these neighbours determined to take revenge for the slaughter of their kinsmen. The opportunity of David's absence was taken for invading Ziklag, for which purpose a large and well-equipped expedition had been got together; and as they met with no opposition, they carried everything before them. Happily, however, as they found no enemies they did not draw the sword; they counted it better policy to carry off all that could be transported, so as to make use of the goods, and sell the women and children into slavery, and as they had a great multitude of beasts of burden with them (1 Samuel 30:17) there could be no difficulty in carrying out this plan. It seems very strange that David should have left Ziklag apparently without the protection of a single soldier; but what seems to us folly had all the effect of con- summate wisdom in the end; the passions of the Amalekites were not excited by opposition or by blood-shed; their destructive propensities were satisfied with destroying the town of Ziklag, and every person and thing that could be removed was carried away unhurt. But for days to come David could not know that their expedition had been conducted in this unusually peaceful way; his imagination and his fears would picture far darker scenes.
It must have been an awful moment to David - hardly less so than to Saul when he saw the host of the Philistines near Jezreel - to reach what had been recently so peaceful a home and find it a mass of smoking ruins. If he had been disposed to congratulate himself on the success of the policy which had dictated his escape from the land of Judah, and his settling at Ziklag under protection of King Achish, how in one moment must the rottenness of the whole plan have flashed upon him, and how awed must he have been at the proof now so clearly afforded that the whole arrangement had been frowned on by the God of heaven! What an agony of suspense and distress he must have been in till more definite news could be obtained; and what a burst of despair must have been heard through the camp when it became known to his followers that the worst that could be conceived had happened - that their houses were all destroyed, their property seized, and their wives and children carried off, to be disgraced, or sold, or butchered, as might suit the fancy of their masters! And then, that remorse- less massacre that they had lately inflicted on the kinsmen of their invaders, how likely it would be to exasperate their passions against them! What mercy would they show whose neighbours had received no mercy? What a dreadful fate would these helpless women and children be now experiencing!
It was probably one of the bitterest of the many bitter hours that David ever spent. First there was the natural feeling of disappointment, after a long and weary march, when the comforts of home had been so eagerly looked forward to, and each man seemed already in the embrace of his family, to find home utterly obliterated, and its place marked by blackened ruins. Then there was the far more intense pang to every affectionate heart, caused by the carrying off of the members of their families; this, it appears, was the predominant feeling of the camp: "the soul of the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters." And somehow David was the person blamed, partly perhaps through that hasty but unjust feeling that blames the leader of an expedition for all the mishaps attending it, and partly also, it may be, because Ziklag had been left utterly undefended. "What business had he to march us all at the heels of these uncircumcised Philistines, as if we ought to make common cause with them only to march us back again just as we came, to gain nothing there and to lose everything here!" To all this was added a further element of excitement: it was not merely calamities known and seen that worked in the minds of the people; the gloom of dreaded but uncertain horrors helped to excite them still more. Imagination would quickly supply the place of evidence in picturing the situation of their wives and children. The feelings of the troops were so fearfully excited against David that they spoke of stoning him. The very men that had lately approached him with the beautiful salutation, "Peace, peace be to thee, and peace be to thine helpers, for thy God helpeth thee," now spoke of stoning him. How like the spirit and the conduct of their descendants a thousand years later, shouting at one time, "Hosanna to the Son of David," and but a few days after, "Crucify Him, crucify Him." The state of David's feelings must have been all the more terrible for the uneasy conscience he had in the matter, for he had too much cause to feel that the dissembling policy which he had been pursuing had caused another massacre, more frightful than that of the priests after his visit to Nob.
It is probable that at this awful moment the mind of David was visited by a blessed influence from above. The wail of woe that spread through his camp, and the dismal ruins that covered the site of his recent home, seem to have spoken to him in that tone of rebuke which the words of the prophet afterwards conveyed, "Thou art the man!" Under great excitement the mind works with great rapidity, and passes almost with the speed of lightning from one mood to another. It is quite possible that under the same electric shock, as we may call it, that brought David to a sense of his sin he was guided back to his former confidence in the mercy and grace of his covenant God. In one instant, we may believe, the miserable hollowness of all those carnal devices in which he had been trusting would flash upon his mind, and God - his own loving Father and covenant God - would appear waiting to be gracious and longing for his return. And now the prodigal son is in his Father's arms, weeping, sobbing, confessing, but at the same time feeling the luxury of forgiveness, rejoicing, trusting and delighting in His protection and blessing.
It may indeed be objected that we are proceeding too much on mere imagination in supposing that David's return to a condition of holy trust in God was effected in this rapid way. The view may be wrong, and we do not insist on it. What we found on is the very short interval between his last act of dissimulation in professing to desire to accompany Achish to battle, and his manifest restoration to the spirit of trust, evinced in the words, applied to him when the people spoke of stoning him, "But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God" (1 Samuel 30:6). These words show that he has got back to the true track at last, and from that moment prosperity returns. What a blessed thing it was for him that in that hour of utmost need he was able to derive strength from the thought of God, - able to think of the Most High as watching him with interest, and still ready to deliver him I
It was a somewhat similar incident, though not preceded by any such previous backsliding - a similar manifestation of the magical power of trust - that took place in the life of a more modern David, one who in serving God and doing good to man had to encounter a life of wandering, privation, and danger seldom surpassed - the African missionary and explorer, David Livingstone. In the course of his great journey from St. Paul de Loanda on the west coast of Africa to Quilimane on the east, he had to encounter many an angry and greedy tribe, whom he was too poor to be able to pacify by the ordinary method of valuable presents. On one occasion, in the fork at the confluence of the river Loangwa and the river Zambesi, he found one of those hostile tribes. It was necessary for him to have canoes to cross - they would lend him only one. In other respects they showed an attitude of hostility, and the appearances all pointed to a furious attack the following day. Livingstone was troubled at the prospect, - not that he was afraid to die, but because it seemed as if all his discoveries in Africa would be lost, and his sanguine hopes for planting commerce and Christianity among its benighted and teeming tribes knocked on the head. But he remembered the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, "Go ye therefore into all the world, and preach the gospel unto every creature, and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." On this promise he rested, and steadied his fluttering heart. "It is the word of a gentleman," he said, "the word of one of the most perfect honour. I will not try, as I once thought, to escape by night, but I will wait till to-morrow, and leave before them all. Should such a man as I be afraid? I will take my observations for longitude tonight, though it should be my last. My mind is now quite at rest, thank God." He waited as he had said, and next morning, though the arrangements of the natives still betokened battle, he and his men were allowed to cross the river in successive detachments, without molestation, he himself waiting to the last, and not a hair of their heads being hurt. It was a fine instance of a believing Christian strengthening himself in his God. When faith is genuine, and the habit of exercising it is active, it can remove mountains.
The first result of the restored feeling of trust in David was his giving honour to God's appointed ordinance by asking counsel of Him, through Abiathar the priest, as to the course he should follow. It is the first time we read of him doing so since he left his own country. At first one wonders how he could have discontinued so precious a means of ascertaining the will of God and the path of duty. But the truth is, when a man is left to himself he cares for no advice or direction but his own inclination. He is not desirous to be led; he wishes only to go comfortably. Indifference to God's guidance explains much neglect of prayer.
David has now made his application, and he has got a clear and decided answer. He can feel now that he is treading on solid ground. How much happier he must have been than when driving hither and thither, scheming and dissembling, and floundering from one device of carnal wisdom to another! As for his people, he can think of them now with far more tranquility; have they not been all along in God's keeping, and is it not true that He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps?
We need not dwell at great length on the incidents that immediately followed. No events could have fallen out more favourably. One-third of his troops was indeed so exhausted that they had to be left at the brook Besor. With the other four hundred he set out in search of the foe. The special providence of God, so clearly and frequently displayed on this occasion, provided a guide for David in the person of an Egyptian slave, who, having fallen sick, had been abandoned by his master, and had been three days and nights without meat or drink. Careful treatment having resuscitated this young man, and a solemn assurance having been given him that he would neither be killed nor given back to his master (the latter alternative seems to have been as terrible as the other), he conducts them without loss of time to the camp of the Amalekites. Each day's journey brought them nearer and nearer to the great wilderness where, some five or six hundred years before, their fathers had encountered Amalek at Rephidim, and had gained a great victory over them, after not a few fluctuations, through the uplifted arms of Moses, the token of reliance on the strength of God. Through the same good hand on David, the Amalekites, surprised in the midst of a time of careless and uproarious festivity, were completely routed, and all but destroyed. Every article they had stolen, and every woman and child they had carried off, were recovered unhurt. Such a deliverance was beyond expectation. When the Lord turned again the captivity of Ziklag, they were like men that dream.
The happy change of circumstances was signalized by David by two memorable acts, the one an act of justice, the other an act of generosity. The act of justice was his interfering to repress the selfishness of the part of his troops who were engaged in the fight with Amalek, some of whom wished to exclude the disabled portion, who had to remain at the brook Besor, from sharing the spoil. The objectors are called "the wicked men and the men of Belial." It is a significant circumstance that David had been unable to inspire all his followers with his own spirit - that even at the end of his residence in Ziklag there were wicked men and men of Belial among them. No doubt these were the very men that had been loudest in their complaints against David, and had spoken of stoning him when they came to know of the calamity at Ziklag. Complaining men are generally selfish men. They objected to David's proposal to share the spoil with the whole body of his followers. Their proposal was especially displeasing to David at a time when God had given them such tokens of undeserved goodness. It was of the same sort as the act of the unforgiving servant in the parable, who, though forgiven his ten thousand talents, came down with unmitigated ferocity on the fellow-servant that owed him an hundred pence.
The act of generosity was his distribution over the cities in the neighbourhood of the spoil which he had taken from the Amalekites. If he had been of a selfish nature he might have kept it all for himself and his people. But it was "the spoil of the enemies of the Lord." It was David's desire to recognize God in connection with this spoil, both to show that he had not made his onslaught on the Amalekites for personal ends, and to acknowledge, in royal style, the goodness which God had shown him. That it was an act of policy as well as recognition of God may be readily acknowledged. Undoubtedly David was desirous to gain the favourable regard of his neighbours, as a help toward his recognition when the throne of Israel should become empty. But we may surely admit this, and yet recognize in his actions on this occasion the generosity as well as the godliness of his nature. He was one of those men to whom it is more blessed to give than to receive, and who are never so happy themselves as when they are making others happy. The Bethel mentioned in 1 Samuel 30:27 as first among the places benefited can hardly be the place ordinarily known by that name, which was far distant from Ziklag, but some other Bethel much nearer the southern border of the land. The most northerly of the places specified of whose situation we are assured was Hebron, itself well to the south of Judah, and soon to become the capital where David reigned. The large number of places that shared his bounty was a proof of the royal liberality with which it was spread abroad.
And in this bounty, this royal profusion of gifts, we may surely recognize a fit type of "great David's greater Son." How clearly it appeared from the very first that the spirit of Jesus Christ exemplified His own maxim which we have just quoted, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Once only, and that in His infancy, when the wise men laid at His feet their myrrh, frankincense, and gold, do we read of anything like a lavish contribution of the gifts of earth being given to Him. But follow Him through the whole course of His earthly life and ministry, and see how just was the image of Malachi that compared Him to the sun - "the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings." What a gloriously diffusive nature He had, dropping gifts of fabulous price in every direction without money and without price! "Jesus went about in all Galilee" (it was now the turn of the north to enjoy the benefit), "teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of diseases and all manner of sickness among the people." Listen to the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount; what a dropping of honey as from the honeycomb we have in those beatitudes, which so wonderfully commend the precious virtues to which they are attached! Follow Jesus through any part of His earthly career, and you find the same spirit of royal liberality. Stand by Him even in the last hour of His mortal life, and count His deeds of kindness. See how He heals the ear of Malchus, though He healed no wounds of His own. Listen to Him deprecating the tears of the weeping women, and turning their attention to evils among themselves that had more need to be wept for. Hear the tender tones of His prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Observe the gracious look He casts on the thief beside Him in answer to his prayer - "Verily I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." Mark how affectionately He provides for His mother. See Him after His resurrection saying to the weeping Mary, Woman, why weepest thou? Count that multitude of fishes which He has brought to the nets of His disciples, in token of the riches of spiritual success with which they are to be blessed. And mark, on the day of Pentecost, how richly from His throne in glory He sheds down the Holy Spirit, and quickens thousands together with the breath of spiritual life. "Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive. Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them."
It is a most blessed and salutary thing for you all to cherish the thought of the royal munificence of Christ. Think of the kindest and most lavish giver you ever knew, and think how Christ surpasses him in this very grace as far as the heavens are above the earth. What encouragement does this give you to trust in Him! What a sin it shows you to commit when you turn away from Him! But remember, too, that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. Remember that He came to reveal the Father. Perhaps we are more disposed to doubt the royal munificence of the Father than that of the Son. But how unreasonable is this! Was not Jesus Christ Himself, with all the glorious fullness contained in him, the gift of God - His unspeakable gift? And in every act of generosity done by Christ have we not just an exhibition of the Father's heart? Sometimes we think hardly of God's generosity in connection with His decree of election. Leave that alone; it is one of the deep things of God; remember that every soul brought to Christ is the fruit of God's unmerited love and infinite grace; and remember too what a vast company the redeemed are, when in the Apocalyptic vision, an early section of them - those that came out of "the great tribulation" - formed a great multitude that no man could number. Sometimes we think that God is not generous when He takes away very precious comforts, and even the most cherished treasures of our hearts and our homes. But that is love in disguise; "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." And sometimes we think that He is not generous when He is slow to answer our prayers. But He designs only to encourage us to perseverance, and to increase and finally all the more reward our faith. Yes, truly, whatever anomalies Providence may present, and they are many; whatever seeming contradictions we may encounter to the doctrine of the exceeding riches of the grace of God, let us ascribe all that to our imperfect vision and our imperfect understanding. Let us correct all such narrow impressions at the cross of Christ. Let us reason, like the Apostle: "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" And let us feel assured that when at last God's ways and dealings even with this wayward world are made plain, the one conclusion which they will go to establish for evermore is - that GOD IS LOVE.