1 Samuel 30

Jimmy Jo1 & 2 Samuel, SermonsLeave a Comment

Read the passage here.

Last week, we looked at the story of Saul consulting the medium in order to get out of a desperate situation.  The main motif that we explored was that Saul sought out the medium because he didn’t get an answer from God, and that this revealed his tendency to view God only as a means to his own ends – so when God didn’t answer, he sought out another source.  Now I’m not going to revisit that theme any further (with the hopes that the point we were exploring made sense in the context of the narrative).  But in the course of last week’s passage, we briefly discussed the idea that this story was part of a larger series of stories. 

In brief, we mentioned the idea that, with these series of stories, we get a comparison between how David and Saul each handle an unwinnable scenario – more specifically, we get a comparison between how David and Saul each look to God in such scenarios. 

Now by way of a quick summary, we found in chapter 27 that David, in evading Saul’s pursuit, goes to the Philistines and seeks refuge with Achish, who takes David into his service (and it’s important to remember that David is only pretending to serve the Philistines).  At the end of that sequence, Achish wants David and his army to join him in attacking Saul and the Israelites.  And the question we’re left with is, what is David going to do? 

In chapter 28, Saul, in light of this precarious situation, seeks advice from the medium. 

In chapter 29, we return the story to David and we find out that Achish’s men, who know who David is, do not trust him to help in the fight against Israel (that is, David’s own people).  Therefore, Achish releases David from his service and sends him on his way. 

And that brings us to our chapter today. 

Now there are a few things I’d like to say about this passage: 

Firstly, I want to say something about the development of the overall story, or (simply) the plot.  And that is that this story, along with the rest of this narrative block – especially chapter 28 – essentially wraps up the rise of David and the downfall of Saul.  Now to be fair, the next chapter (31) concludes Saul’s story with his death (and may rightfully be considered a part of this block).  But essentially, what we’re seeing is the conclusion of this plot point.  And to demonstrate this  little further, note the following: 

One of the things that we see at the end of this narrative is the account of David sharing the plunder of the Amalekites with various towns in Judah.  We can see this as the beginning of David establishing his kingdom – he’s developing (or further developing) support among the people.  However, this should also be seen in light of the next chapter (31) where Saul dies in the battle with the Philistines.  Taken together, we can see that the transition of power is (more or less – at least for narrative purposes) complete. 

Now further to this, we should note that David’s encounter here is with the Amalekites.  And inasmuch as we are understanding this episode as marking the beginning of David’s kingdom being established, we might remember that it is precisely in an encounter with the Amalekites that Saul’s downfall began.  In chapter 15, we remember that it was Saul’s refusal to completely destroy the Amalekites, as he was commanded to do, that led to his being rejected as king over Israel – his being rejected as God’s anointed.  So this passage may serve as the closed parenthesis to Saul’s downfall, Saul’s replacement by David, of which chapter 15 is the opening parenthesis. 

The second thing to note, which connects this passage to our sermon last week, is how David’s response here stands in stark contrast to Saul’s.  Whereas Saul inquires of God and does not get a response, and so immediately goes to a medium, David inquires of God and does get a response.  Now is it important that David inquires of God (short answer, yes)?  Or is it more important that God answers David (probably also, yes)? 

But broadly speaking, I think this passage serves to demonstrate (yet again) the key difference between David and Saul – and that, specifically, regarding the nature of their relationship with God. 

The third thing I want to note is how the theme of grace shows up in this passage.  And there are a couple of instances:  Firstly, David’s grace towards the Egyptian slave, and secondly his grace towards the 200 men who did not go into battle.  Now without saying anything more specific about the two instances, it seems to me that this grace demonstrated is to become an important characteristic of the kingdom that David is called to rule.  If we can speculate a little, this seems to me stand in stark contrast to the kind of kingdom that Saul was building.  We already talked about Saul’s penchant to only consult God when He was useful to Saul.  How God was a thing to be used.  But we also know that Saul wanted to kill David out of jealousy or because he saw David as a threat to his own kingdom.  But the grace demonstrated by David in these two instances seems to me to point to a different kind of kingdom.  The characteristics of David’s rule are already proving to be very different than Saul’s. 

Now I’ve gone over that very quickly.  In fact, today’s passage is one of those which makes me worry that we’re going through everything far too quickly.  Because today’s passage is one of those where we could, for example, spend at least a whole week on each of the above points (and more).  Which is simply to say that there’s a lot more going on in the text than we often notice, and certainly more than we can talk about today. 

However, we went over it quickly because, firstly, I wanted to point it out.  But also because there is one particular thing that struck me as I read this passage that I want to talk about.  That is, I wanted to talk about one particular thing but I didn’t want to skip over the above. 

And the thing that I want to talk about is the response of David’s men when they discover their town ransacked.  Rewinding just a bit, in chapter 29, David and his men are released from Achish’s service and thus the situation where they might be called to fight against their countrymen.  At the beginning of our chapter, they are returning to their hometown at Ziklag and they find that the town had been destroyed and all the people taken captive.  And then we read the following verses: 

When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David’s two wives had been captured—Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.

1 Samuel 30: 3-6

And I want to note especially verse 6: David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters…”

Now I point this out because, on the one hand, David finds himself once again in a terrible situation; and on the other hand, I want to note that the reaction of his soldiers seems to me to be entirely reasonable. 

And to understand that, I want to pull back a bit.  As we noted, over the past many chapters, we have been following the decline of Saul and the rise of David.  The decline of Saul might be relatively obvious, but the rise of David really isn’t.  Because David’s story so far, after his defeat of Goliath, seems to be one terrible situation after another. 

David’s story, we remember, began with his anointing by Samuel.  And then he defeats the Philistine Goliath, whom all other Israelites were terrified of.  And then immediately after, we read that Saul became jealous of David (who had been growing in success and popularity with the people) and wanted to kill him.  David winds up on the run, with an angry and jealous king on his heels.  For the vast majority of the book of 1 Samuel, David is running, hiding, and in danger of being killed.  He hasn’t been able to rest, he hasn’t been able to go home, and he must have wondered what good this anointing was after all. 

Now we also know that shortly into his exile, David begins to gather men around him – his supporters that would become his army.  Inasmuch as David has been running from Saul, these men have been on the run with him.  And as they were following David, the object of Saul’s ire, if they were captured, they would have likely suffered the same fate as David.  In other words, they were taking quite a big risk by joining David. 

Now just a few chapters ago, we know that David twice had the opportunity to kill Saul (ch.s 24 & 26).  And in both cases, his men were definitely pro-kill-Saul.  In chapter 24, we read (when David and his men were hiding in a cave): 

The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

1 Samuel 24: 4

And in chapter 26, we read (when David and one of his men found Saul sleeping in his camp): 

Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.”

1 Samuel 26: 8

And of course, we can understand the soldiers’ motivation.  Again, not only has David been on the run, they have been on the run with him.  They have put their trust in him and given their loyalty to him and have been faced with trouble after trouble.  Here, they have an opportunity to put an end to that trouble, to put an end to their wilderness years, and David refuses to take it. 

Still, they continue to follow David.  And when they finally escape from enemy hands (the situation with Achish and the Philistines), they return to their home and families, only to find that everything is destroyed and their loved ones have been taken. 

Of course they are angry.  Of course they wonder aloud if they have been following David in error.  Every path on which David has led them has seemingly brought nothing but grief.  And this is the final straw.  So they say, let’s cut our losses; let’s leave this man who is bringing us nothing but trouble; let’s stone him. 

How many of us can say that we have never felt the same way?  Wondered the same thing?  You have committed to serving God, to trusting Him, and following Him, and quite frankly things are not getting any better.  You find yourself in predicament after predicament, crisis after crisis, famine after famine.  You feel like you’ve been wandering in the wilderness longer than you can remember and every time you think you have found an oasis, you discover that it is only a mirage. 

And so you ask yourself, is it worth it?  Is this God, this Jesus, the one you should follow?  The One in whom you can place your hope? 

Now David, who has been in this same wilderness, who has gone through everything his men have (and more), who has arrived at the same village, and lost his family along with them, he might have wondered the same thing.  He might have felt that same sense of despair.  He might have been tempted to give up his faith in God.  But what scripture tells us he did is this: 

When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David’s two wives had been captured—Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.

1 Samuel 30: 3-6

Whereas his companions despaired, they got angry and looked for someone to blame, “David found strength in the Lord his God.” 

Now this is an interesting phrase – how did David do this?  Was it a matter of reflecting on scripture?  Did he reflect on a theology of suffering or of the faithfulness of God?  Did he pray?  I don’t doubt that any or all of these things might have been involved.  But the fact is that the text doesn’t tell us how David found strength in the Lord his God. 

As you know, I don’t have the skill necessary to examine and explain the Hebrew here.  But it might be worth noting that whereas the NIV (and other English translations) render this, “David found strength in the Lord his God,” other English versions translate this, “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (NRSV, NASB, NKJV, ESV).  Now it’s not a huge difference.  But “found strength” gives me the picture of someone who discovered something that was previously hidden (or not obvious).  It may suggest that David stumbled upon something. 

But reading “David strengthened himself” tells me that David actively participated in his faith in God.  “Strengthened himself” tells me that David took ownership of his own weakness and sought out the strength found in God.  And it doesn’t say that the strengthening was cause to boast in himself; indeed the corresponding phrase, “in the Lord his God” tells us precisely that God is responsible.  But it does tell me that David chose not to wallow in his sorrow (though he doesn’t ignore or minimize it), David chose not to be paralyzed by this latest crisis, David chose not to be mastered by things that were beyond his control.  Instead, David strengthened himself in the Lord. 

Now it’s also worth noting that David’s seeking counsel from God (the very next verses) are not the cause of David’s strengthening.  Rather, David consults God after he is strengthened.  In short, the word isn’t the cause of David’s strengthening, it is the result.  Of course, there’s more to be said about that, but I’ll leave that with you. 

Do you find yourself in the wilderness?  Do you find yourself wandering, not quite sure where you are supposed to go?  Do you feel like lately life has been crisis after crisis, or disappointment after disappointment?  When you feel like you’re holding the straw that broke the camel’s back, what are you supposed to do?  As David did, we must strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God. 

As we noted, unfortunately, the text doesn’t give us any information on how David did this.  And it certainly doesn’t give us any information on how we’re supposed to do this.  But what I want to suggest is that there isn’t actually any big secret.  There isn’t any mysterious, hidden technique. 

I would argue that being strengthened is likely related to spiritual formation.  Specifically, a significant part of spiritual formation is a growing relationship with the living God.  And that relationship requires (among other things) knowing the God that is revealed.  And in knowing the God that is revealed, we discover that God is trustworthy, loving, mighty, and holy (among other things).  And some of the practices that we’ve discussed over the years that are important here include:  reading scripture (the revelation of God), community (practicing and experiencing the kingdom), missions (sharing the heart of God), and prayer – again, among other things. 

But the one thing that I wanted to introduce today is taken from David himself.  And, just by way of introduction, we should probably include this as a subset of prayer, properly speaking. 

So one of the things that we know about David is that he wrote a significant number of the psalms we have in our canon.  What we may not know is that the majority of those psalms can be classified as Lament Psalms.  These are the psalms where David cries out to God in the midst of his suffering.  David might cry, “How long O Lord,” “Have mercy on me, O Lord,” or “Why do you hide yourself, Lord?”  And given what we know of how often David has faced trouble, it’s perhaps not surprising that so many of his psalms are lament. 

And what I want to suggest is that the lament psalms function in a corresponding way to the imprecatory psalms.  We argued that the imprecatory psalms (psalms of cursing, against one’s enemies) are not about pointing God at one’s enemies like a weapon.  Rather, they are about giving the responsibility for justice to God instead of holding onto it ourselves. 

In the same way, lament psalms are not about doubting God or wallowing in misery.  Rather, they are about crying out, in times of suffering and sorrow, to God as the only salvation.  The prayer of lament, as typified by those psalms of David, allow us to express our pain, our doubt, our worry, and our fears.  Not as an expression of a lack of faith, but as a practice – and practices develop into habits – that in God alone can we find our hope.  And in our lament, through our crying out to God, we discover that He is indeed trustworthy, loving, holy, and mighty. 

Now I don’t know if David lamented at this point in the story.  There’s no particular psalm (though I could be mistaken) attributed to this episode.  But what I do know is that throughout his life, through all of the pain and misery, as well as his triumphs and joys, David continued to look to God.  May we do likewise.  And in doing so, may we know that God will be faithful and just to strengthen us in Him as well. 

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