The introduction to today’s passage is back at the beginning of chapter 28. Right at the beginning of chapter 28 we were told that in those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. And Achish, the Philistine king of Gath, was expecting David and his men to go with him to fight with the Philistines against the Israelites. Achish was under the impression that David was on his side. And do you remember? David’s response to Achish was a bit ambiguous. When Achish said David must go with him, David replied:
Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.
Achish interpreted what he said to mean that he would see how much David would do for him. But another way of interpreting what David said is that Achish would see how much David would do against him. Achish thought David was on his side; but from everything we know about David, it seems far more likely that Achish was completely wrong about David.
That’s the introduction to today’s passage. The rest of chapter 28, which we studied last week, told the story of how Saul was afraid because of the Philistines; and so he went to visit a medium to see if Samuel could be brought up from the dead to advise Saul on what to do. And Samuel’s message was a message of condemnation, because he announced to Saul that the Lord was against Saul; and he would hand over Saul and the Israelites to the Philistines; and Saul and his sons would die.
Now, that took place on the night before the battle between the Philistines and the Israelites. Chapter 29 takes us back in time to the time when the Philistines were gathering for battle. And verse 2 tells us that as the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the rear with Achish. So, the kings of the Philistines were coming along with all of their men; and Achish was there with David and his men. But, according to verse 3, the Philistine commanders asked Achish about the Hebrews, or the Israelites, he had brought with him. You can imagine them taking a double look at David and his men and asking Achish: ‘What are they doing here?’ And Achish explains that this is David, and he has been with him for over a year and he has no doubts about David’s loyalty to him. But the commanders are less trusting than Achish and they think that David has a cunning plan to get back into Saul’s good books by turning on the Philistines once the battle starts. They don’t trust David and his men. After all, didn’t the people use to sing about David:
Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.
And that’s tens of thousands of Philistines! So, send David and his men back home.
Achish breaks the news to David. And he’s very apologetic, isn’t he? He’s saying: I think you’re reliable. I’d be pleased to have you in my army. I’ve found no fault in you. But what can I do? The others don’t want you here. So, go home.
David protests. And once again, his words are ambiguous, aren’t they? When he says in verse 8, ‘Why can’t I go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?’, he could be referring to the enemies of Achish. And the enemies of Achish are the Israelites. So, why can’t I go and fight against the Israelites? However, from everything we know about David, it’s more likely that by the words ‘my lord the king’ he’s referring to Saul. And the enemies of Saul are the Philistines. And in that case, the Philistine commanders were absolutely correct about David; and Achish was absolutely wrong about him. From everything we know about David — about his faithfulness to the Lord and his loyalty to Saul — it’s much more likely that he was planning all along to turn on the Philistines once the battle started and to fight for Saul, who was still the king of God’s people.
But, because of the Philistine commanders, there was nothing David could do, but go home. And so, early in the morning, David and his men got up and headed home.
Now, we believe — don’t we? — that nothing happens by chance. Nothing happens by chance, but everything happens because of the Lord who made all things and who sustains all things and who directs all things. He upholds and governs all things; and he directs everything that happens according to his eternal plan, by which he has determined everything from the rise and fall of nations to the fall of a sparrow to the ground. As David himself said in Psalm 139:
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
God planned out all the details of our lives even before we were born. And so, although the Lord is not mentioned in these verses, we believe that he was directing what happened, because that’s what he does. And he was directing what happened in order to keep David from the battlefield. And so, he ensured that the Philistine commanders saw David and his men before they went into battle. And he ensured that the Philistine commanders would send David home.
And why would the Lord want to keep David from the battlefield? Well, remember what we read last week? Last week we read that God was determined to hand over Saul and the Israelites to the Philistines so that the Philistines would beat the Israelites and kill Saul and his sons. It was God’s will for the Israelites to lose the battle. So, in order to keep David from danger, in order to keep David from being caught up in Israel’s defeat, let’s keep him away from the battlefield. God was preserving the life of his anointed king.
And, of course, David didn’t know it yet, but David had to get home as quickly as possible, because of what the Amalekites were doing. What were the Amalekites doing? Well, that’s what chapter 30 is about.
We’re told that David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. And that’s when they discovered that the Amalekites had been on a raid; and they had burned Ziklag to the ground; and they had taken captive the women and all who were in the city, both young and old.
Now, none of them had been killed. Once more we see God’s providential hand, because although he allowed the Amalekites to attack the city, he made sure that none of the people were killed. But they had been carried away; and presumably it was the intention of the Amalekites to sell them into slavery.
According to verse 3, when David and his men arrived home, they found the city destroyed by fire and their families have been taken captive. They had come home, expecting to see their loved ones and to rest in the bed after a long, three-day march. But everything had been destroyed or taken away. And David and his men are distraught: they wept aloud until they had no more strength to weep. And look at verse 6: the men were beginning to turn on David. Presumably they were blaming him for what had happened to their families. And David was greatly distressed: greatly distressed because of what had happened; greatly distressed because his own wives and family were taken; greatly distressed because his men were blaming him.
But look at verse 6: ‘But David found strength in the Lord his God.’ He was able to turn to the Lord and he found the strength he needed and the encouragement he needed to keep going. One of the commentators suggest that what we read in verses 7 and 8 explains for us how David found strength in the Lord. So, how did David find strength in the Lord? Well, he found strength in the Lord by seeking reassurance from the Lord. He asked Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod. He’s referring to the priest’s ephod which contained the Urim and the Thummim, those stones which were used in those days to discover the will of the Lord. In our day, of course, we go to God’s word, the Bible, for guidance, because it contains God’s revealed will. But in Old Testament days, the Lord’s people discovered God’s will in other ways. And the point of this is that David looked to the Lord for guidance. And he asked the Lord whether he should pursue this raiding party. And will I overtake them? You should pursue them, the Lord replied. And you will overtake them and you will succeed in rescuing your people.
Now, if you were David, wouldn’t that word from the Lord give you the strength you needed and the encouragement you needed to keep going? Yes, the city around him was in ruins. Yes, all of their wives and families had been taken captive. Yes, his men were turning against him. Yes, his life seemed to be in a mess. Nevertheless the Lord has said to him that he’ll be able to rescue everyone who was taken away.
Well, as I said a moment ago, God doesn’t speak to us now by means of the Urim and Thummim. He speaks to us now through his written word, the Bible. And that means, whenever you’re downcast and worried, or when you’re weeping until you can weep no more, or when you’re anxious because everything seems to have gone wrong, and the people around you are against you, then you can pick up your Bible which is God’s word to you and which is filled with all kinds of promises to reassure you of God’s faithfulness and goodness and his willingness to help you. Just as David asked for a word from the Lord, so you can ask the Lord to speak to you through his word.
And fortified by that word from the Lord, David and his men set off. It was a long journey: the commentators reckon they had travelled about 80 miles in the last few days. And so, when they reached this ravine, some of them were too tired to go on. But the rest continued on their journey.
And on the way, they happened to discover this Egyptian in a field. He must have been in a bad way, because before they could question him, they had to revive him with food and water. And they discovered that this man, whom they had just stumbled on in the wilderness, had been a slave of the Amalekites who had attacked Ziklag, but had been abandoned by them when he took ill, and he was able to guide David and his men right to the Amalekite camp. Again, nothing happens by chance, but by the hand of our Heavenly Father who ensured that this one man was in the right place at the right time in order to help David on his way.
And so, according to verse 16, he led David down to where the Amalekites were. And there they were, scattered over the countryside, eating and drinking and celebrating because of their success. And look how the narrator ascribes everything that happens next to David alone. He says in verse 17 that David fought them from dusk to the evening of the next day. And David recovered everything that had been taken, so that nothing was missing. And David brought everything back. And David took all the flocks and herds which presumably refers to flocks and herds which belonged to the Amalekites and his men drove them ahead of the other livestock which presumably refers to their own recovered livestock. And the men said: ‘This is David’s plunder.’ The narrator is putting all the emphasis on David.
And in the verses which follow, we see David’s kindness and generosity. When some of his men who fought against the Amalekites were reluctant to share the plunder with those who had been left behind, David insists that everyone should get a share. And right at the end of the chapter, we read how David gave away some of his own share to the elders of Judah. So, instead of keeping it all to himself, he was prepared to be kind and generous.
But notice as well how David puts all the emphasis on the Lord. Look at verse 23: he refers to the plunder as that which the Lord had given them. And he went on to say that the Lord protected them and the Lord handed the Amalekites over to them. He knew that the Lord was his refuge and strength and his ever-present help in trouble. He knew that his times were in God’s hands; and the Lord was with him to help him. And the Lord was able to help him, because the Lord is the Mighty King who rules over all.
And that’s one of the lessons from this chapter. This chapter reminds us that the Lord our God is the Mighty King who sustains and directs all things. He ensured that David was kept well away from the battlefield in chapter 29 by ensuring that the Philistine commanders would object and send him home. And he kept David away from the battlefield because he had already decided that Israel would lose the battle and Saul would die. He ensured that, when the Amalekites attacked Ziklag, they would not kill any of the women and children who had been left behind. He ensured that David and his men would find the Egyptian who was able to lead them to the Amalekites. He ensured that David and his men would overcome the Amalekites and recover all of their people and possessions. And he was going to ensure that, when the time was right, David would be installed as king over God’s people. One of the lessons we learn from this chapter is that the Lord our God reigns.
Back in chapter 8, the Israelites asked for a king like the other nations had. This displeased Samuel and the Lord, because, of course, they already had a king. They already had a king, because the Lord was their king. And even though the Lord gave them, first, Saul and then David to rule over them, the fact is that the Lord was still their king, because the Lord rules over all things and he arranges all things and he determines what will be.
And he’s still the king over all. And so, when we look around at the world, and everything that is happening right now, and when we think about the circumstances of our own lives, we need to remember that nothing happens by chance, but by the hand of the Lord God Almighty. This is how one of the catechisms puts it:
he upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
People think things happen by chance, by accident, for no reason or purpose. Or people think they themselves make things happen: they are masters of their own destiny and by the things they do and decide, they determine what will happen. But no, the one who rules over all things is the Lord God Almighty.
Now, you should be very disturbed by that message if you’re not yet a believer who has trusted in Jesus Christ, who died to make peace between God and sinners. You should be very disturbed by that message, because the one who rules over all things — including your life and what happens to you — is against you. He’s your enemy, because you’re still rebelling against him. And one day he will make you appear before his throne to face his judgment and his condemnation. So, you should be very disturbed by this message.
But here’s the thing: the reason the Lord Jesus died on the cross was to pay for our sins with his life and to make peace between God and sinners forever. And so, if you will even now go to God in prayer and confess your sins and ask him to forgive you for the sake of Christ the Saviour, then God will forgive you and there will be peace between you forever. And instead of being your judge who is waiting to condemn you, God becomes your loving Heavenly Father. And as our loving Heavenly Father he promises to work all things together for the good of his people. And that is good news for believers, because if you’re a believer, then God your Father is working through all the circumstances of your life for your good. And so, you don’t need to be anxious about anything, because your loving Heavenly Father has everything arranged for you.
So, that’s one of the lessons from this passage. But the other lesson we learn from this passage is about Christ our Saviour. David was a pattern for Christ who was to come into the world. And just as David won a great victory and rescued his people, so Christ our Saviour won a great victory for his people, because he defeated sin by giving up his life to pay for our sins; and he defeated death by being raised from the dead. And through faith in Christ, we’re set free from sin’s condemnation and we receive the free gift of eternal life so that though we die, yet we shall live for ever.
And though the Devil once held us captive, as the Amalekites held the women and children captive, the Lord Jesus Christ sets his people free from Satan’s captivity and he brings us into his own kingdom of grace, where there is freedom and life and peace.
And just as David was prepared to share the plunder with his people, so Christ our Saviour shares all the benefits of his life and death and resurrection with us, because he gives us one spiritual blessing after another, including justification so that we’re pardoned by God for our sins and accepted by God for ever; and adoption so that we become part of God’s family and can call him ‘Father’; and sanctification so that we become more and more willing and able to do what is good and not what is evil. And he gives us assurance of God’s love and peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit and progress in holiness and perseverance to enable us to keep trusting in him. He gives us one spiritual blessing after another throughout our lives. And then he gives us the resurrection of our bodies from the dead and everlasting life in the new and better world to come.
We don’t deserve any of these good things, because we’re sinners who cannot contribute anything to our salvation. But he is gracious and kind and he shares all these wonderful things with his people; and we receive all these wonderful things from him simply by trusting in him.