David’s undeserved generosity is a picture of the grace of God to us – who do not deserve the goodness God gives us.
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1 Samuel #29. Chapter 30
Remember last week, we read that David traveled 130 miles or so north with the Philistine army, and then returned. It took them three days on the return trip. That’s a pace of around 40 or more miles per day. Because of events which happened later on, I assume that they had some beasts of burden with them – either donkeys or camels or both (horses were never used widely in ancient Israel). That’s a very fast walk or slow jog for 10 hours (not counting rests) for humans. It is basically the same for either donkeys or camels. Even if they rode the entire way, they were being bounced and swayed for hour upon hour, probably traveling from just before dawn to a little after dark.
It was long distance at an exhausting pace. And when they got home, they found their town burned to the ground, and their wives and children taken for slaves.
Last time we examined David’s reactions in detail. After grieving, and after holding on to the Lord with all his strength, David and his men worshipped, and ask God what he wanted to do.
When he was convinced that God did indeed want him to pursue the Amalekites, David and his men set out again, possibly late on the same day that they arrived home. They came to a place called Wadi Besor. It’s hard to pin down the exact location today, but it was somewhere in what is now southern Israel, probably near Gaza, but further inland. My best guess is that it formed a kind of psychological border between the dry land and the extreme desert. Now remember, they have come from the northern part of Israel (where they were with the Philistines) to the extreme south. Two-hundred of the six-hundred men were too exhausted to continue. These men had traveled a round trip of almost 300 miles in a matter of days, either by foot, or by slow, uncomfortable animals. Exhaustion was nothing to be ashamed of. David left them with some of their provisions, and carried on, lighter and faster.
They encountered a lone Egyptian slave out in the desert, almost dead from hunger, thirst and exposure. David and his men treated him kindly, giving him food and water. As he revived, they asked for information. There is no doubt that they hoped to get good intelligence from him when they stopped to help him, but even so, they helped him before they knew he could help them. This is in stark contrast to how the Amalekites had treated this slave. Though they had plenty of loot, when he took sick, they left him in the desert with nothing.
As it turns out, the Egyptian helped them find the place where the Amalekites had stopped. No doubt they figured both Philistines and Israelites (whom they had raided) were still engaged in battle (as indeed they were). The Amalekites thought they were safe, so they stopped to celebrate their victory, to engage in eating and drinking what they had won, and probably to do worse things with the women they had captured.
David and his men fell upon them like an avenging fury. Four hundred Amalekites escaped, but the rest were killed. That statistic tells you something about the kind of warrior David was, and the men he had with him. The number of Amalekites that escaped was equal to the total number of men that David used in the attack. In other words, the Amalekites outnumbered David’s men considerably. David and his men had traveled several hundred miles in a matter of days, and yet David achieved total victory. It is true that David and some of his men were exceptional warriors. But I think it is impossible to look at this without seeing a miracle of God.
David recovered not only his own family and those of his men, but virtually everything that the Amalekites had taken from them. In addition, they recovered the loot that the Amalekites had taken from the Philistines and other Israelites in their expedition. So they ended up with far more than they had even before Ziklag was destroyed. The end of chapter thirty devotes some time to talking about what happened to all this stuff. There is a reason for that, so we will look at it too.
First, some of David’s men were not inclined to share with those who collapsed in exhaustion at the edge of the desert. David could have gone along with that, and no one would have blamed him. On the other hand, he would also have been within his rights as their leader to rebuke the miserly ones harshly, if he did not like their attitudes. Again, he chooses neither typical reaction. Instead, he speaks as a companion, urging them to do right:
23 But David said, “My brothers, you must not do this with what the LORD has given us. He protected us and handed over to us the raiders who came against us. 24 Who can agree to your proposal? The share of the one who goes into battle is to be the same as the share of the one who remains with the supplies. They will share equally.” (1Sam 30:23-24, HCSB)
His main point is very important. David feels clearly that it was the Lord who gave them the victory; therefore all that they gained from the Amalekites belongs not to them, but to God. It is the Lord’s loot, so to speak. Yes they worked for it. But even so, it was given by God. He says they shouldn’t be selfish “with what the Lord has given us.” David wants to distribute his gains with an understanding that it all came from the Lord.
It was not the fault of the 200 that they were not strong enough. And they did play an important strategic purpose, guarding a portion of their equipment. And it isn’t as if they those 200 had not already shared in many battles and hardships with the others. David would rather err on the side of kindness and generosity. This policy apparently become law when David was king – the ones who guarded the baggage received an equal share with those who fought.
There are two important points in connection with this. First, it shows that David continually placed his trust in God, not in his own strength or the strength of his warriors. In some ways, giving the baggage-guards equal shares would make some people more inclined to stay back and guard in the future. After all, guarding the baggage is safer than fighting the battle, and the pay will now be the same. But David is not worried about weakening his army. He trusts God – he doesn’t have to try and motivate people to help him – he trusts that God will be all the help he needs.
Second, this is where David again shows us a type of Christ. Jesus told a parable about workers in a field in Matthew 20:1-16. The basic point Jesus made is that the person who comes to him at the end of her life will receive the same eternal life as the one who followed Jesus for all her days. This can be seen as offensive. When I work harder than another person, but I get paid the same amount, something in me doesn’t like that – even if I agreed beforehand to work for that amount. But what David’s actions show us is a picture of the grace of God. God’s grace is not fair. If it was fair, no one would be allowed to have it all, and it wouldn’t be grace. No, God graciously gives us what we do not deserve at all – and so here David mirrors that. The bible clearly says that no one has the capacity to be good enough to get to heaven or earn God’s love or favor. But when something concrete like this happens, it forces us to see what that really means.
After everyone has received his own possessions back, plus a share of spoils, there is still more left over. David also uses this extra wealth as if it belongs to God, not to him.
First, he sent a portion to the elders at Bethel (verse 27). This could be the town of Bethel. But in Hebrew “Beth-el” means “house of God.” So far, we don’t know of any special connection between David and the town of Bethel. Considering that, and knowing David’s heart for God, I think that probably the best translation is that David’s first gifts were given to the “house of God” – meaning the tabernacle where the Ark was kept and where all Israel went to worship God.
Next, he sent gifts to a variety of towns and people. I think verse 31 sums up what he was doing. He was giving back “to all the places where David and his men had roamed.” He had depended on the generosity of others for years. Now, as soon as he has the chance, he returns the generosity. I don’t think he is trying to pay them back – I think it is gift of thanks, in honor of God.
Now, what do we do with this?
I have met people before who are proud of what they have accomplished, and who are unwilling to admit that they ever had God’s help with anything. “I’ve worked hard for what I have” is their underlying attitude. But David and his men clearly worked hard for what they gained also. They traveled 300 miles and fought a battle at the end of it. But even so, David receives it not as something he got for himself, but as a gift from God.
I want to encourage all of us to understand that everything we have ultimately comes from God – even if we feel we worked hard for it. A lot of people in this world work harder every day than your toughest day at work, and barely get enough to stay warm and fed. What makes your hard work better than theirs? Nothing, of course.
Now, I am not trying to condemn anyone. The point I want to make however, is that even the opportunity to be rewarded for hard work comes from the Lord. What I want us to understand is that everything that we have has been loaned to us by God, even if we work for it. It is His, not ours. If you aren’t sure about this, just ask yourself – how long do you get to keep what you have worked for? When you die, it isn’t yours anymore. It’s all given to us in trust, for us to use for God’s purposes. So like David, this first thing to do with it, is give some back to His work, and then to bless those we are led to bless, and then yes, to keep some to enjoy for ourselves.
The most important thing for us to understand from 1 Samuel 30, however, is God’s grace. We don’t deserve it. No one does. The men who waited at the edge of the desert simply failed physically. They couldn’t keep up. They didn’t journey as far. They didn’t risk their lives fighting to recover even their own families and goods, let alone the extra goods. Notice that those men did not speak up or argue, because the others were correct. But David spoke up for them, on their behalf. God shows his gracious heart through his servant David.
We have all failed, like those men. We haven’t done what we needed to do to get salvation for ourselves or our loved ones. We don’t have any excuse, or any claim upon the goodness of God. And yet, God gives us what we do not deserve. He blesses us abundantly with his love, his forgiveness, his acceptance, his favor, the material things we need to live, and especially his presence in our lives. I exhort you, receive from Him in faith right now, everything you need physically, spiritually and emotionally.