The King Who Gives
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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 30
We are almost done with 1 Samuel, but we are going to save chapter 31 – the death of Saul – until after Advent. Next Sunday, we will begin a four-week Advent series and then we will pick back up in Samuel after that.
This morning, we will study 1 Samuel 30.
1 Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag.
Remember, the Amalekites were the people God told Saul to completely destroy. If Saul had done what he was told to do, this wouldn’t have happened.
They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire 2 and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way.
The fact that they killed no one doesn’t mean they were being nice… it means they intended to sell the women and children as slaves.
3 And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep.
Have you ever wept until you had no more strength to weep? This is intense suffering. They think they’ve lost their entire families and I don’t want to brush over this quickly.
There’s a lot of suffering in the Bible, described in depressing detail. The Bible never puts human suffering in the fine print or in the footnotes. It puts suffering in bold, obvious letters.
As we have studied Judges and now Samuel, I hope you see this. God’s people suffer – often at the hands of wicked men. And the writer tells us what that grief looks like. These men – capable warriors, seasoned veterans – they weep until they have no more strength to weep. Don’t let that pain get lost in the story.
It’s important to see their grief because this is the human experience in a sinful world. The one promise Jesus made to his disciples that no one likes to hear is that we will suffer in this world.
5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters.
Part of grief is the experience of anger and we see it here. We want someone to blame and the men blame David for leaving the women and children defenseless. There’s almost a mutiny over it and that’s not difficult to understand. They escaped the battle but came home to ruin.
But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. 7 And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.”
This is a critical turning point in the story of David. The man has not been perfect. His fear is the reason they are in Ziklag. David has not mentioned God since chapter 26. He has not consulted God since chapter 23! But now, David comes to his senses. He returns to the Word of God.
He “strengthened himself in the Lord his God”. Notice the possessive pronoun. “His God”. In other words, my house is gone, my possessions are gone, my family is gone, but my God is not gone.
In context, it is important to notice that David had good reason in this moment to fear for his own life. That has been a constant theme in Samuel – fear of men… fear of death. And the text tells us that David was greatly distressed. Of course he was! His home is destroyed, his family is missing, and his men want to stone him!
But in the midst of that fear, David’s actions demonstrate faith and repentance. Another way to say that is that David’s fear of the Lord overruled his fear of men.
Fearing God is a major theme in Samuel and in the entire Old Testament. David’s son, Solomon, would later write that the whole duty of man is to “Fear God and keep His commandments.”
This is a difficult concept, because we typically think of fear as a bad thing. We don’t like the feeling. And sometimes fear can be unhealthy because our brains malfunction a little. I’m more afraid of spiders than I should be and sometimes my anxiety gets out of control.
But most of the time, fear is a good thing. It keeps us from doing dangerous or life-threatening things. Fear keeps us from playing in the street as a child. It keeps us from jumping off the roof of our house.
Now, what happens when two fears compete with one another? When I was in college, I had the opportunity to do a high ropes course for the first time. In one of the challenges, I had to climb on top of a telephone pole and stand up, trusting the rope and the people below to keep me safe if I fell. I was terrified, but I did it. Why? Because I didn’t want my friends on the ground to think I was a coward. My fear of what they thought of me outweighed my fear of the pole.
That’s how we are supposed to think of the fear of the Lord. Fearing God is to give Him ultimate weight, more weight than any other fears.
Jesus explains it perfectly in Matthew 10:28 – “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Who’s He talking about? God!
David shows us what it looks like to be more afraid of God than men. So, how do we strengthen ourselves in the face of our fears or in our times of need? We go to our priest, and we have a better high priest than David had! But let’s save that thought for now.
9 So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those who were left behind stayed. 10 But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.
After this, they find an Egyptian man alone in the wilderness. He was a slave of the Amalekites and was left behind to die because he was sick. But God used this man to show David where the Amalekites were camped. They launch a surprise attack on the Amalekites during a festival and easily defeat the army.
18 David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all. 20 David also captured all the flocks and herds, and the people drove the livestock before him, and said, “This is David’s spoil.”
Pause here for just a moment. Notice the emphasis on David. The writer wants us to start thinking of David like a king. Remember Samuel’s warning about kings? They will take, take, take. And the people seem to recognize this as David’s victory and David’s spoil. This is the moment of truth for David. What kind of king will he be?
21 Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them.
22 Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.”
23 But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. 24 Who would listen to you in this matter?
For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” 25 And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.
This is critical information, because it shows us David was not just a good warrior. He was a wise and just king. More importantly, he was a law keeper. God had given rules about how spoil should be divided. David knew God’s law and he kept God’s law, even though a majority of the soldiers felt entitled to a larger share.
He spread the wealth. He didn’t keep it for himself and he made sure everyone got an equal share, even though some men did more of the work. This was probably very popular with the men who stayed with the baggage and not a popular decision with the men who fought the battle.
It reminds me of the parable of the generous landowner in Matthew 20. Jesus tells a story about a man who hires workers throughout the day, promising them all a day’s wage. At the end of the day, the men who worked all day were frustrated that they were paid the same as men who worked for an hour.
But the man replies, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
In other words, this isn’t about your work. It’s about my grace. And that’s what the kingdom of God is like. Some fight in the battles and others stay with the baggage, but God rewards them all because He is the King and the King can do what the King wants to do. And really we don’t deserve anything.
What had the people just said before they started complaining? “This is David’s spoil.” They had no claim to it. And David understood that really it belonged to the Lord.
When we met David in chapter 13, he was described as a man after God’s own heart. This is an important example because David is dispensing both justice and grace. He’s doing, in this case, what God would have done. He’s being a good king.
And so, 1 Samuel 30 is a story about a good priest and a good king, but really it’s about a better God. It’s about suffering on the path to victory. It’s about trusting in God more than in men. It’s about getting much more than we deserve, because we were all standing with the baggage – too tired to cross the river – while Jesus, our High Priest and our great King won the battle by Himself.
And the King says to us, the tired and afraid, even to the ones who would have stoned Him in mutiny –
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
He’s not the King who takes. He’s the King who gives. He suffered, so that through Him, we can draw near to God’s throne of grace in confidence, not in fear, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
One last thought… I want to go back to the idea that David strengthened himself in the Lord, because this is the most important take away for us. That verse hints at something called “Union with Christ”, which is perhaps the most important theological concept in the New Testament.
The Apostle Paul hammers the church with this idea. When I am weak, then I am strong. God’s grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. That’s not just fancy encouragement. He’s talking about something mysterious and amazing.
Paul understood what Jesus meant when he said in John 15, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” This is what it means to be saved. It’s not my works that save me. It’s not my faith that saves me. It’s the object of my faith that saves me. David strengthened himself IN THE LORD. But then, IN THE LORD, he goes to work.
Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” over 160 times to describe the Christian experience and at the most basic level, it means this: I’m not the most important person in my life. Jesus is. His work for me and his work in me – that’s what defines me. He’s the source of my strength for today and my hope for tomorrow.
Sometimes we walk away from church telling ourselves, “I just need to obey God more.” Sometimes we walk away thinking, “I just need to believe the Gospel more.”
But neither of these, alone, is the right message – because the focus is on you – not Christ.
The message is that if you belong to Jesus you’re not walking out of here alone. As one writer says, it is the perfect Christ who saves us – not our imperfect obedience or our imperfect faith. Don’t reduce the glory of your salvation in Christ to the smallness of your individual experience of Him. It is a wonderful and marvelous mystery that any of us are saved. Let it be that. Just walk away this morning in worship.