Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bible Commentary - 1 Samuel 30

In this chapter, Amalekites raid Ziklag but David recovers everything that is stolen.

This is another remarkable chapter, where David clearly demonstrates his personal character.  Having been rejected from the battle that will later be fought at Mount Gilboa, David might think that he's out of trouble.  But when they get home, they find that Ziklag has been raided and burned to the ground by the Amalekites.  Yes, the same Amalekites that harassed Israel when they marched out of Egypt, the same Amalekites that the LORD commanded Saul to crush, but somehow survived.  And now these same Amalekites are warring against Israel again, having raided the towns of Judah and Ziklag.  The Cherethites (or Kerethites) are not well understood.  They are either allies of Israel or some sort of Philistine group.

One small but interesting point to make here is that the Amalekites attacked the Philistines as well, not just the Israelites.  The OT spends a lot of time describing the hostility between Israel and the nations of Canaan, but in this case we see evidence that the nations in Canaan also warred against each other.  Since the bible is written from a Jewish perspective, it is natural that it would focus on Israel's relations to other tribes in the area, but my readers would be deceived if they thought that the nations in Canaan did not fight one another over the years.  Indeed, I believe the broad history of the the Near East shows that this area has been a cauldron of warfare and conflict for as long as human archaeological remains exist.

The more important point is just to reflect on how the Amalekites have continued to be a menace towards Israel even after Saul's erstwhile extermination campaign directed against them.  But even this is only a setup.  This whole story is about David.  You'd think the guy would get a break, but no.  After fleeing to Gath (ironically, the home of Goliath), David has escaped from Saul, but now his new home has been ransacked by the Amalekites.  Everything they possess is stolen and all their wives and children have been kidnapped into a life of slavery.  David's own wives are also kidnapped, and the men start talking about stoning him to death because of what happened to them.  "But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God."  In this nadir, with everything gone, everyone turning against him, hostile to Israel, living in the land of his enemies, David strengthens himself in the LORD.  This is incredible.

Remember what I said earlier about Saul?  When the enemy gathers and the people scatter, then the character of a man is revealed?  David's enemies attacked and destroyed his home, and now his people are "scattering" in the sense that they are discussing killing him, and his character is revealed.  In the darkest situations, David turned to the LORD for strength, to endure the challenges and to prevail.  This verse is the turning point in this chapter.

After this, he turns to the ephod for direction, and David goes with his men, ambushes the Amalekites, and recovers everything that was stolen.  Every woman, child, lamb and possession is recovered.  Not only did they recover everything, but they recovered the possessions stolen from Judah and the other places the Amalekites raided, so they came back with more belongings than what they had lost.

The text is very specific that they recovered everything, both small and great, that nothing was missing, and that David brought it all back.  It's so specific that I am sure the author is trying to make a point, although it's debatable what point that is.  I can't help but feel that this story is an allegory for salvation, even though I'm not sure if I can explain why.  I guess it's because "the enemy" came and stole all these things from David and his men, but through the LORD they were able to recover everything.  I think there are other possible interpretations, but all of them are along similar lines; through God, everything that was thought to be lost is recovered.  In my opinion this is one of David's finest moments, and it happens right in the midst of Saul's disastrous collapse, which comes to its disastrous conclusion in the next chapter.

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