In the last essay we studied 1 Sam., chapters 26-28, in which we found three separate stories. The first was an account of a second occasion when David spared the life of Saul. The second was a story of a second attempt by David to take refuge with the Philistine king Achish. And the third was Saul’s visit to a medium at Endor
In this essay we will finish 1 Samuel. Then in January, we will take up 2 Samuel. The first thing we need to do is get our geographical bearings. You might want to turn to a map of Saul’s kingdom in your Bible; or if your Bible doesn’t have that map, any map of early Palestine will do. The location of the events in chapters 26-27 took place rather deeply in the southern part of Palestine, and we talked about those locations in an earlier essay. But the events of chapter 28, at Mt. Gilboa and Endor, were in the northern part of the country.
Saul never possessed any coastal territory. The Philistines controlled the coastal plain northward all the way up beyond the Plain of Sharon to the area around Mt. Carmel. So to attack the northern part of Israel the Philistines could, and did, march up the coast to the area north of Megiddo.
Try to find Aphek on your map. Aphek is directly west of the Sea of Galilee, almost at the coast of the Mediterranean. It is just south of Acco, which is on the coast. If you see Aphek you see that the Philistines had marched quite far to the north. Notice that a plain extends to the southeast from Aphek past Megiddo. Megiddo was an extremely important city militarily. It overlooked the Plain of Megiddo, which later becomes the Valley of Jezreel. That beautiful valley runs past Mt. Gilboa eastward to the Jordan River. The town of Endor is about ten miles north of Mt. Gilboa, and the city of Beth-shan (which we will be mentioning later) is further east in the Valley of Jezreel not far from the river.
The “spring” or “fountain of Jezreel” mentioned in verse one is located at the foot of Mt. Gilboa. It is now in a public park, and both the fountain and a large pool are still there to be seen today. The war that the Philistines were planning against Israel in chapter 29 was a major war effort, not some sort of minor raiding. The armies of all five Philistine kings were involved. We are told in the chapter that when Achish’s army joined those of the other four Philistine lords or kings, the other commanders protested the presence of David (v. 2). Achish defended David, insisting he was loyal to him. But the other lords would have nothing to do with David, because of his past history as an enemy of Philisita (vv. 3-5).
So Achish, who was only one among five leaders, reluctantly told David that David had to return to Philistia (vv. 6-11). Notice in verse eight that David once again spoke ambiguously to Achish. When he spoke about going to “fight against the enemies of my lord and king,” he could have meant either Achish or Saul. But Achish who seemed to trust David implicitly assumed that David meant to fight against Achish’s enemies. So the next morning, David and his men returned to Philistia (v. 11). Of course this delivered David form a very sticky situation.
In chapter 30:1-6 we see that when David and his men arrived at Ziklag, they discovered that the Amalekites had taken advantage of the Philistine war effort. In David’s absence, they attacked Ziklag, burned it, and took captive the women and children (including David’s wives).
“On the third day” in verse one means the third day after David’s dismissal by Achish. David’s men were so upset at what they found at Ziklag, some of them wanted to stone David. But “David strengthened himself in the Lord,” meaning he found strength and consolation in prayer.
In verses 7-10 David officially “inquired of the Lord,” using the ephod of the priest to determine whether or not to pursue the Amalekites. The answer was affirmative. So he and his men set out. Because of the burning of their town, David’s men could not resupply, which meant they were not only tired from a week’s march, they were hungry. Therefore when they reached the Wadi Besor, 200 of the men did not have the strength to go on. So David continued with the other 400.
As David and his band moved along, they found an Egyptian lying exhausted in the field (v. 11). He had no food or drink for three days and nights. So the Israelites gave him water and fed him (v. 12). Then they interrogated the Egyptian and discovered that he was a slave whom the Amalekites had left behind, because he had become sick. He made a deal with David to take David and his men to the Amalekite camp on the assurance that he would not be killed or turned over to his Amalekite master (vv. 13-15).
When David’s band came to the Amalekite camp, they found the enemy celebrating their good fortune (v. 16). Therefore David was able to surprise them with a night attack. The battle lasted all the next day; but in the end, the Amalekites were slaughtered except for 400 men who escaped on camels (v. 17). Moreover David gained a great deal of booty in addition to rescuing all of the Israelite hostages and goods (vv. 18-20).
Here we see David establishing an important principle. When David and the 400 returned to the Wadi Besor where the 200 had remained, some of the men among the 400 wanted to exclude the 200 from the spoils. But David rejected that idea. He maintained that it was the Lord who had given them the victory. Therefore David decreed that under circumstances like these, all would share equally in the booty, not only that day, but always as a rule in Israel.
In verse 26 we see that David sent presents from the booty to various towns that are named in verses 27-31. None of them are important. They were border towns, some of which may have been looted by the Amalekites at one time or another. But David’s generosity certainly would have made some political capital for David when he later became king of Israel.
There is a parallel to chapter 31 in 1 Chronicles, chapter 10. The differences are not significant. In this chapter the author shifts his attention away from David back to the war between the Philistines and Israel. However it is mostly a summary of the results of the war rather than an account of the ear itself. Saul’s sons died in the battle, and then Saul himself was wounded. Saul asked his armor-bearer to finish him off, so that the Philistines would not be able to make sport with him; but the armor-bearer was too frightened to do it. So Saul killed himself by falling on his own sword. Then the armor-bearer did the same thing. “All his men” in verse six doesn’t mean all of the warriors in the army. It means all of the men of Saul’s household who took part in the battle. The parallel in 1 Chron. 10:6 uses the phrase “all his house” instead of “all his men.”
Turning to application, we could talk about several aspects of the three chapters; but one portion that appeals to me is chapter 30, verses 21-31. The Messiah of God, from his human side, is descended from David. One day the Messiah personally will rule over his kingdom on the earth. Even now we participate in that future kingdom by faith. And I believe we can find here in David’s treatment of his men some principles for our service in the present kingdom of God.
First, all workers in the kingdom are equally the Lord’s servants. David declared that the 200 who had been too weak to continue the pursuit and had stayed with the baggage were worthy of a full share of the spoils. In the first-century AD, the Messiah himself declared in his parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16) that all workers will receive the same wage regardless of their individual contributions.
Second, diversity of roles in the Lord’s kingdom is necessary for the Lord’s purposes. The 200 who guarded the baggage did something needful. And on other occasions they may have been the ones who carried the heavier load. The apostle Paul used the image of the body of Christ and declares every part of the body as important as any other (1 Cor. 12:14-31).
And third, the roles that often are thought of as secondary may actually be primary. Although it would be hard to make that argument in the case of the 200 in our story, in the kingdom widows who give their mites, and people who pray in obscurity, may be rendering greater service than those who on the surface have more prominent roles.
I look forward to sharing from 2 Samuel in January. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!