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 five;
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…
And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.
It was perhaps, at about the same time that Saul was making his way toward the Witch of Endor, David was returning toward his home at Ziklag. Both men had been following their own willful way in opposition to the command of God, and each was being visited with the fruits of his own sin. Only there was a difference; and the difference was that between punishment and chastisement. Saul had followed his own way in opposition to God, and there had now been brought against him an overwhelmingly large force of Philistines. It was the just desert of Saul’s sins; but there was no softening of grace in the heart of Saul that would enable him to acknowledge this in repentance. Rather, it only turned him deeper into sin as he frantically began to look for some hope of salvation and redemption even from the sorcery and incantations which he had always despised and hated. But with David it was different. Coming back to Ziklag, he found that the results of his sins had been visited upon him, his city was destroyed, his possessions had all been stolen, and the families of all his men had been taken captive. In his heart, however, grace was working, and the very extensiveness of his sorrow turned him again to his God where he should have turned long before.
The whole situation came upon David suddenly and unexpectedly. The return of David and his men from Aphek to Ziklag had not been a pleasant journey. There were those among David’s men who were no doubt relieved to know that they would not have to fight against their own brethren. But there were also those among them that would have welcomed the opportunity to help toward the overthrow of Saul whom they had come to hate with a passion. And all felt, of course, the shame of the manner in which they had been dismissed by the Philistine lords. It is not at all unlikely that David felt all three of these feelings wrestling for dominance in his own breast until he was quite miserable. When, therefore, they finally turned the last corner to where their homes and city had stood, only to gaze upon a smoldering heap of ruins, it was as though the final judgment and the curse had descended upon them.
One can just about imagine that stunned moment of silence as the men stood there looking, hardly believing what their eyes clearly told them, and the hurried yet hesitant rush down to the ruins to see if they could determine to any real degree what had happened. But the message was clear and not hard to learn. The whole situation was familiar enough to them as men of war. The destruction was just as thorough as that which they had so often left in their wake. Every possession of value had been taken and what could not be taken left in smoldering ruin. The only thing different from what they had so often left was that there were no bodies, every living creature had been carried away captive. Even this, though, was a doubtful consolation, for the treatment which might be expected for their dear ones was hardly to be preferred to death itself. All that it left was the faint hope of restitution; but at the moment even that seemed dim.
The look of anguished unbelief on the faces of the men was pitiful to behold. True, they had often done the same, but through it all they had somehow always firmly believed that their God would never let it happen in return to them. But it had, and now who was there left in whom to trust. Finally, as though needing someone upon whom to vent the anguish of their despair, they turned even on David himself. They needed someone to blame, and as the responsible leader, he seemed the logical one to blame.
Neither was it easy for David to answer the complaint of the men. After all, he was the responsible leader; and as a seasoned man of war he should have known better than to leave a city as rich as his had become completely unprotected. It was just that he wanted to present as large a force as he could muster to the lords of the Philistines so that they might not receive a bad impression of him; and he too had somehow always believed that God would never let this happen to him.
It was just that as he thought upon it, he began to realize how little he had actually relied upon the guidance of God in recent days. Surely no one was to be blamed for what had happened but himself. It was at this very point, though, that the true excellency of David came through. Seeing his guilt, he was not afraid to acknowledge it and turn from it. If he had neglected the guidance of His God, he would do so no longer. Calling Abiathar to him, he commanded him to bring the ephod. Then, he laid his next question before God, “Shall I pursue after this troop?” And immediately the answer came back, “Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all.” As surely as he had remembered his God, His God had not forgotten him: and by the message his men were encouraged also.
It was with eagerness and determination that the whole company set out as swiftly as they could push themselves. After all, what could possibly matter to them than the retrieving of their possessions and families. Still, for all of their determination, there was the limit beyond which they could not push the whole company. The time came when some simply could not keep up the pace set by the stronger ones. The march back to Ziklag had been strenuous enough, and to go on from there without rest or refreshment into a forced march over rugged terrain was more than they were capable of doing. But David was never a cruel or unreasonable leader. He recognized natural limitations and kindly commanded a full two hundred of his men to remain at the brook Besor with some of their heavier equipment.
It was at about the same vicinity that David’s men happened upon a young man lying almost dead in a field. It was as much a matter of general kindness as discretion that they gave the man food and drink until his strength returned and he was able to talk with them. It was then for the first time that David learned with certainty who it was that had ruined his city, for he asked the young man, “To whom belongest thou? and whence art thou?” to which he replied, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite; and my master left me, because three days agone I fell sick, We made an invasion upon the south of the Cherethites, and upon the coast which belongeth to Judah, and upon the south of Caleb; and we burned Ziklag with Fire.”
Here was a find of the most valuable kind. Thisman belonged to their enemy and knew where they would be going. This was valuable because the Amalekites were following a wandering and rugged path to make it difficult for any pursuers. To be able to head directly toward their ultimate destination could save much time and many miles. Thus David asked the young man, “Canst thou bring me down to this company?” But the man was hesitant, for the Amalekites were cruel and he feared lest he fall again into the hands of his master. So he answered, “Swear unto me by God, that thou wilt neither kill me, nor deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will bring thee down to this company.” But David made the promise and soon they were on their way again.
The time at which David and his men finally came upon the Amalekites was most fortunate. For many days now, they had been marching as forced as their tender captives had been able to bear, while all of the time they had watched carefully for a swifter company which might come to pursue them; but there had been no sign of pursuers at all that they were able to detect. Thus at last, they had come to the conclusion that they could rest a while and celebrate their great victory. And a great victory it was for them indeed. From their captives it had not been difficult to discover that they belonged to the very men who had for so long been mysteriously raiding and destroying so many of their own countrymen. Now with the loot that they had taken, they could celebrate what had happened.
It was a wild orgy that followed as only the heathen could practice them. In wild abandon the men ate and drank and danced until they fell to the ground in utter exhaustion. It was at that point that David and his men came upon the scene. There was no need to wait until morning. The capacity for the Amalekites to fight back was gone, and in the darkness of night the captives would be much safer than in the light of morning. David’s men fell upon the camp and took it without a struggle except for four hundred of the Amalekites who managed to make it to their camels.
The joy of the reunion that followed we can only imagine. If the men of David’s company were happy, surely much more so were the women and children. What they had undoubtedly suffered already at the hands of the Amalekites was bad enough to think nothing of the fear and anticipation of what might yet have followed. The way back was much slower but marked with joy and profound gratitude to their God.
Still, as always, there were problems. Not all of David’s men were of the same gracious and kind nature as he was, and selfishness was not absent from among them. There were those of his men who were only too willing to enrich themselves at the expense of others; and when at last they came back to the brook Besor where those who had been left behind were waiting, thus the suggestion was brought to David, “Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart.”
But David would have none of it. Quickly he remonstrated, “Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the LORD hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand. For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff, they shall part alike.” It was a principle of fairness from which David would not depart.
Even more than this, however, David became once more determined that his future was no longer among the Philistines. It was not the life appointed to him by God, and he would follow it no longer. Ziklag was now in ruins and held nothing for them any longer. It was perhaps as much a discreet means of preparing for his return into Judah and it was a sheer expression of joy that he took of the spoil of the Amalekites and sent it to many cities of Judah with the message, “Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the LORD.” It was surely an opportune gesture, for the backing of these cities was soon to be sorely needed.