The Weary of I Samuel 30

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Samuel 30.

David and his men are leaving Achish in Philistia to go to Ziklag, a city in Simeon. Ziklag belongs to the Philistines, who gave it to David and his men. The journey from Achish to Ziklag takes three days.

When they arrive at Ziklag, they find that the Amalekites had burned it to the ground and taken their families captive. David’s men then talk of stoning David, but David finds strength in the LORD his God. He receives guidance from God to go after the Amalekite raiders, and he takes six hundred men with him. When they reach the Wadi Besor, two hundred men remain behind with the luggage because they are too exhausted to go on, while four hundred continue on with David to pursue the Amalekites.

David and his men then find an Egyptian, who was once a slave to an Amalekite master. The master ditched the slave when he (the slave) had become sick. David gives the Egyptian food and water to drink, and his spirit is revived. The Egyptian tells David that the Amalekites had plundered areas in Judah and Philistia, and he leads David to them. David then attacks the Amalekites, gets the Israelite families back, and takes a lot of spoil.

Some of the four hundred who accompanied David do not want the two hundred who stayed behind to get any spoil. The text refers to the stingy ones as ish ra u-be-li-ya-al, or “evil man and Belial.” The Nelson Study Bible states about the word “Belial“: “This word has the basic sense of ‘unworthy’ and ‘wicked.’ It occurs in the Old Testament most frequently in phrases like ‘worthless men’ (30:22; Prov. 6:12) and ‘worthless rogues’ (2 Chr. 13:7). Worthless people are said to dig up evil (Prov. 16:27) and to plot wickedness (Nah. 1:11). This word became a proper name for Satan during the intertestamental period; thus Paul asked, ‘What accord has Christ with Belial?’ (2 Cor. 6:15).” Indeed, the word “Belial” is used for some pretty sordid characters, such as the gang-rapists in Judges 19-20 (Judges 19:22; 20:13) and the sons of Eli (I Samuel 2:12).

David rebukes the evil men for their stinginess, affirming that God is the one who gave them the victory. He divides the plunder between those who went to battle and those who stayed behind with the baggage. He also sent spoil to the elders of Judah. Maybe he was trying to curry their favor as he ascended to the throne. Perhaps he was returning to them what the Amalekites had taken, since the Amalekites had plundered Judah. The problem with the latter suggestion, though, is that David refers to it as a gift to the elders of Judah, which is inconsistent with him returning what was already theirs in the first place.

The main lesson that I got out of this chapter is that God does not devalue those who are tired. God is not like the Amalekite master, who ditched his sick slave and left him to starve. Some of David’s men were tired because they had just journeyed from Achish for three days, only to discover that they needed to gird themselves for battle right away.

I don’t always hear compassion for the tired in a lot of churches. What I hear is: “You need to be on fire for God! If you’re not on fire, then something is wrong! God can’t use you if you are wounded or unenthusiastic. He’ll spew you out of his mouth!” But that was not David’s attitude. For one, David reminded the men who had fought that the victory belonged to God, not them. They had no right to pat themselves on the back for being “on fire.” And, second, even those who stayed behind with the luggage performed a valuable service. They stayed behind with the luggage! Maybe that enabled those who fought to continue onto the battle unencumbered with baggage! A lot of churches act like the weary cannot be used by God, when they obviously were in I Samuel 30.

I think that the text is a little hard on those who fought when it calls them “evil and Belial.” These were men who obviously had problems themselves, even if they were “on fire.” As John MacArthur points out, “From the beginning of David’s flight from Saul, he became captain of those who were in distress, discontent, and in debt (22:2), the least likely to exercise kindness and grace to others.” That may be a lesson to me, someone who is sick and tired of Christians and the church. For one, the church is full of people who love to criticize, since they are the very ones looking for something when they decide to believe in Jesus. And, second, even though I am tired and wounded, I should not totally succumb to a complaining spirit, which is what some of the four hundred men essentially did.

At the same time, although the text calls them a really bad name, David does not write them off. Rather, he gives them another way to look at their situation. He encourages them to give thanks to God for his goodness and to recognize the contribution of those who stayed behind with the baggage. Hopefully, churches can offer food to those who are tired and wounded, as David fed the Egyptian slave when he was sick and hungry. That’s much better than than kicking them when they are down–all in the name of “rebuke” and “correction”!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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