The Amalekites — Eighth in a series
Saul waged war on the Amalekites all across the northern Sinai Peninsula, but they were not annihilated. They continued to attack Israel and even burned to the ground David's city, which takes some explanation.
The Philistines were Saul's nemesis, and in the earlier days of his reign, their legendary warrior was Goliath. He demanded that Saul send a Hebrew to fight him, one on one. If the Hebrew won, the Philistines would become the servants of Israel, and vice versa.
Saul had been king only a few years when the kingdom was taken from him. David had been anointed the new king by Samuel only a short time when he became Saul's armor bearer and harpist. To most intents and purposes, Saul was the king and David his underling, however, the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul and now was upon David. (1 Sam 16:13-14)
When David stepped forward to kill Goliath without armor or fanfare, he became a cult figure — and the object of Saul's envy and hatred. Soon, a new war with the Philistines erupted, and David was the man to defeat them. (1 Sam 19:8) For this, Saul tried to kill him (once again) with a javelin, but David escaped with his wife's help, who was Saul's daughter. He remained in hiding, but warred against Israel's enemies, Philistines included, with those who were loyal to him.
Over many years, David had opportunities to kill Saul but always refused. Saul gave David's wife to another and David married two more women; he gathered followers from among the distressed, and life went on. It seemed impossible that anything would change, after so long. Saul would say he wanted David to trust him and no harm would come, but David knew better.
Finally, David gave up — and joined the Philistines! He went to dwell among the very ones who had been his fierce enemy, thinking Saul would not look for him there. In fact, he took up residence in Gath, Goliath's home town!
And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: [there is] nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand. (1 Sam 27:1)
What a strange thing to say. Obviously, the man "after God's own heart" had given up on God's promises. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick (Prov 13:12). Trials that last many years confound our sense of right; only the Lord can sustain us through the spiritual warfare and waiting.
Had God not sustained David? It is somehow comforting to know that even the great saints were occasionally overwhelmed by discouragement — we have our treasure in earthen vessels. (2 Cor 4:7)
David did not completely give way. Gath's leader, Achish, gave him the city of Ziklag for a home, and from there he continued to war against Israel's enemies, the Geshurites, Gezrites, and the Amalekites, (1 Sam 27:8) but was not honest with Achish about it. He was in a place of compromise, deceit, discouragement and frayed devotion. He was in a "blind zone" about to be sideswiped by the Lord in the form of the Amalekites.
Achish trusted David so fully that he invited him on a campaign to war against Israel — in a battle that would be Saul's last, however Achish's men did not trust David, so after a hard journey, David with his troops returned to Ziklag. To their horror, the Amalekites had burned it down and taken their wives and children!
And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. (1 Sam 30:6)
Where can we turn in our darkest times? We hide from God in God. Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. (Ps 69:6)
Two hundred of David's troops were too weary to pursue the attackers, but 400 immediately went to take revenge, and providentially, they came upon an Egyptian who had been a servant of the Amalekites. Though he had been abandoned because of illness, he led them to the camp where the Amalekites were celebrating because of the spoil taken at Ziklag. David decimated them, except for 400 young men who rode on camels and escaped. All that the Amalekites had stolen was recovered, including all the people. (1 Sam 30:19)
From our vantage ground, we can see that David was in the end zone of his long trial when he gave up and tucked in with Achish. He remained there a year and four months (1 Sam 27:7), and then events began turning to make him king. No doubt in years to come when he would look back, he would remember how he had given up and hid his life with the enemy, but God had not given up on him. Instead, he used the Amalekites to encourage David by way of disaster. Sometimes, encouragement is a very hard bottle to open.
What a mighty and wonderfully loving God we serve! He did not cut short the reign of Saul but gave him 40 years as king. He enriched David with lessons in leadership and with the comforts of life and loyal friendship over many years, and David was only 30 when he began to reign. (2 Sam 5:4) Would he have been fit to reign before then?
And though he struck fear in David by the Amalekite attack, showing him his sin and foolishness, he preserved him from going out with Achish and the Philistines to battle against Saul, prevented him from being stoned by his own men, gave him a guide to find the enemies, and saved the lives of all who were captured, every last one, restoring all the goods and providing spoils for the troops. With only 400 troops, the Amalekites were beaten though 400 escaped, and these numbers are noted so that we today might be encouraged that our God has power to save us, too, even against overwhelming odds, even despite our foolish detours, deceptions and distrust.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives!
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this [is] our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this [is] the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isa 25:9)