David Dividing the Spoil

After his final encounter with Saul, David again went to the Philistines to find safety and stability. That the Philistines would provide safe haven shows both the futility of David’s assurances from Saul and the cryptic but certain operation of divine sovereignty. Among the Philistines he gained favor with Achish, king of Gath, before whom he formerly feigned insanity. Achish made a gift of Ziklag to David and his large entourage of men and their families. From there he conducted raids into Philistine towns, eradicating the populations, for he knew that later, as king, each of these would pose great danger to the safety of Israel. He treated those cities as Samuel had instructed Saul to treat the Amalekites. He reported to Achish that he was raiding cities of Israel. Achish believed him and came to think that he had an extraordinary champion in David. Meanwhile, Saul had shown his utter desperation by going to a necromancer to seek counsel from Samuel in light of a fearful menace of a mustering of the Philistines. When Samuel actually appeared, both Saul and the “medium” were terrified; Saul learned that he and his sons had but twenty-four hours to live (1 Samuel 28:19). As David and his men mustered with the Philistines, army commanders challenged David’s right to be there and convinced Achish to send him back, for David might use the occasion to endear himself to Saul through fighting against the Philistines from behind them. Listening to his captains, Achish assured David of his personal confidence in him but nevertheless sent him back to Ziklag. The journey took three days.

I. Discovery of a distressing situation – 30: 1-6

A. While David and all his men were away, mustering with the Philistines, Amalekites had attacked the city, burned it to the ground and taken away all the possessions along with the wives and children of all the men. We learn in verse 14 that this was a part of an extensive marauding action of the Amalekites in which they had pillaged at least four different population centers.

B. The response of the men was deep. They gave vent to emotions that probably were intensified by the extreme trials of three days journey. They returned to the city that had been given them to find no homes, no possessions, and no families. They wept “until they had no more strength to weep.” This particular occasion touched off the tensions and sorrow of what had now been more than two years in flight from enemies, living among enemies, betrayal from those who had been helped by David (23:8-13), and continued intelligence of Saul’s brutal and relentless search for David. David could well say, “They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft” (Psalm 35:12). Welling up from the depths of their fatigue and desperate quest for safety and stability, now apparently swept away in one blow, came a torrent of release of sadness, anger, frustration, and outrage.

C. All of this now quickly pointed to David as the cause of it all (6). They had come to him as an answer to the great difficulties that they themselves faced (22:2), but now their bitterness of soul found outlet by speaking of stoning him.  How often we look for a person or an occasion to blame for a complex set of circumstances, thinking that finding blame will help ease our bitterness of soul or provide a solution to the difficulty.

II. Finding Solace and direction in the Lord (6b – 10)

A. David, though just as distressed and in as great loss as the rest, yet found consolation in the Lord, This was a spiritual habit of David arising from a conviction of the covenant faithfulness of the Lord. David could well say, “Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord!” (Psalm 35:23).

B. David again inquires of the Lord through the ephod that Abiathar the priest had brought in his escape from Doeg the Edomite. He seeks the face of God and asks if pursuit of those who had ravaged the town would succeed. He did not set out on the basis of his own wisdom or in a huff of self-justification, but sought the Lord’s will in the matter.

C. The assurance of God that they would overtake and rescue did not mean that David could remain at rest expecting the stolen goods and kidnapped families automatically to appear. “David set out,” but 200 were so tired that they could not cross the brook Besor. They remained behind to watch over all the supplies while 400 men went with David on the mission of rescue and repossession.

C. Just as David took his 400 men with him to the chase that had a guarantee from the Lord of success, so do we go to our neighbors and the nations with the gospel because in the covenant of redemption he has an elect people. On the basis of the certainty with which God the Father promised his Son a people in eternity, he came to earth and gave himself for their sins, and because Christ has died for them, the Father surely will give all things that pertain to salvation to them. Divine sovereignty lies at the base of faithful human action.

III. A special providence leads to a thorough victory. – (11-20)

A. A servant cast off from the Amalekites, left for dead and without any nourishment for three days, survived and was given life-sustaining food by David and his men. On a promise of sparing his life, he led David and his group to the camp of the celebrating, over-confident marauders.

B. Their spirit of well-being, victory, and success, deceived them into carelessness. Apparently with no watch set, and fully engaged in eating, drinking, and dancing they were taken completely by surprise. While 400 young men were able to escape, all the rest were killed and all the “great spoil they had taken” was lost to them. David and his men took it all back.

C. Now (how fickle are we as we flow with the rising and falling of our emotions!) the people return triumphantly saying, “This is David’s spoil.” Only recently they had murmured that David should be stoned; now they see him as an invincible leader and champion. David, however, has the presence of mind informed by a deep knowledge of God in such spiritual perception that he knows clearly how this victory must be perceived and the spoil distributed.

IV. David overcomes secular selfishness by divine wisdom – (21-31).

A. This text formed the basis of Charles Spurgeon’s final message at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on June 7, 1891. It was entitled “The Statute of David Concerning the Sharing of the Spoil.” He had barely, if at all, recovered from a severe bout with influenza that, combined with his gout and nephritis, laid him low and eventually brought him to death (January 31, 1892). Among the pithy aphorisms prompted by the text, Spurgeon said, “I believe, the Lord will give to the sick and the suffering an equal reward with the active and energetic, if they are equally concerned for his glory.” “I will be bound to say it was a great trial to them not to be allowed to march into the fight. . . . It is hard to brave men to be confined to hospital, and have no drive at the foe.”

B. Upon returning from the battle and David’s greeting to those that had stayed behind, several of the “worthless fellows” that had fought began a chorus of ridicule toward those who had stayed behind and opined that they should receive none of the spoil. Only their wives and children would be restored, but none of their possessions.

C. David, however, reprimanded those that presented such sentiments.

1. David immediately reminded them that the victory had been given by the Lord. The Lord had preserved the fighters and had caused them to regain all that had been lost. This also would have included the spoil that had been taken in the other raids made by the Amalekites. “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength” (Psalm 33:16).

2. He points out that their selfishness is so obvious, their attitude so unjustly punitive toward their peers, and their position so irrational that they will only discredit themselves by maintaining such a position of restrictive privilege. “Who would listen to you in this matter?”

3. Those who performed the function of protecting the supplies from another catastrophe, even though through exhaustion and an inability to go to the fight, would share equally in the victory.

4. This judgment given by David on this occasion became a statute in Israel.

5. An awareness of divine providence in granting safety and provision, a sober knowledge that grace transcends our demerits, and sense of unity with God’s covenant people will discipline the egocentric tendencies of indwelling sin.

D. David also sent portions of the spoil to “his friends” Judah, “where David and his men had roamed” for their sympathy toward him, and perhaps provisions they had given him during his trials in fleeing from Saul. “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).

E. These episodes in the life of Samuel, Saul, and David provide material for reflecting on the differences between the people of God under the national covenant of Israel and those under the new covenant revealed as a result of the death of Christ. We recognize elements of discontinuity between the stipulations within each respective covenant, but just as surely we must recognize the areas of continuity in the invincible operations of the redemptive grace of the triune God.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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