THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS (1 SAMUEL 30)
When my wife and I sold our old house, like most homebuyers, we had to sell our old house before we could afford a new one. At that time, interest rates were down and house prices were rising, so the time was right to buy and sell.
Selling our old house was necessary to lessen the mortgage on the new house. No couple in the right frame of mind would hold on to both, unless they have family money. After we had sold the old house, I could almost kick myself when the old home rose another $100,000 more in two years, which would have covered my new mortgage. Occasionally the regret at the back of my mind tied me up in knots. The thought kept coming back: “If we had held on to the house, we would be free of mortgage.” My wife said, “You cannot think that way.” True, even experts did not know that stocks would plunge, that housing would be hot and buyers eager.
Someone makes this observation, “Half of life is if.” Many people couldn’t help but say “If we had this and if we had that,” “If only we had done this and not done that” and “If my parents, my kids and spouse…” or “If my job and my friends,” or “If people or if I were, and were not, like this and that...”
David encountered doubts that almost overwhelmed him and his men. Running from Saul, David decided to best way to escape Saul was to stay out of the king’s reach, even if it meant living in the land of the Philistines (1 Sam 27:1) for a year and four months (1 Sam 27:7). David and his men had to walk a tight rope and to do a balancing act in hostile territory, and their loyalty was put to the test when the Philistines and the Israelites were on a collision path (1 Sam 29:1). David was on good terms with the king but the commanders or princes (1 Sam 29:3) and the rulers or lords of the Philistines (1 Sam 29:7) protested his inclusion in the Philistine army. David was spared a headache on the battlefield, but not a heartache at home when he returned to his village. The Amalekites took full advantage of David’s preoccupation with the two armies’ battle to a heartbreaking effect. Overnight, everything David and his men worked so hard for and people that meant everything to them were taken from them.
What is your hope when you are useless, helpless and defenseless? Who do you turn to? Who can you trust in? Who can you talk to? How does one turn tragedy into triumph, calamity into conquest or affliction into achievement?
You Can’t Choose the Circumstances, But You Can Choose the Colors You Look Through
30:1 David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, 2 and had taken captive the women and all who were in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way. 3 When David and his men came to Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. 5 David’s two wives had been captured-Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God. (1 Sam 30:1-6)
Tragedy, pain and loss are part of life. Suffering is inevitable; it often comes unannounced, unsolicited, in force or in pairs. The Chinese say, “Ill fortune often occurs eight to nine times out of ten.” The English has a proverb that says, “It doesn’t rain; it pours.”
Someone said to a woman who was in the midst of great sorrow, “Sorrow does color life, doesn’t it?” “Yes, and I propose to choose the colors,” was the reply. (Oswald Sanders 68, The Best that I Can Be)
It’s been said, “God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.”
David and his men had no house, family or city to return to. The Amalekites raided Negev but attacked and burned Ziklag (v 14). The word for “attack” in Hebrew is “slaughter.” You might remember that Saul spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:8); and David reaped the fruit of Saul’s disobedience. The raiders had taken boys, girls and mothers (v 2). Those not worth taking were killed by the sword or died by fire. None was spared. The destruction, the desolation and the dead left nothing but tears on David and his men’s eyes. David and his men wept until they could weep no more (v 4).
Like everyone in the camp, David was in distress; his wives were captured, too. Unlike others, he was blamed. He was not only in distress, but also under duress. After the crying, the men became bitter in spirit and rebellious in attitude. The word “bitter” (v 6) is usually translated as rebellious. Dismay led to discord, discontent and disturbance. They made David the scapegoat for their misfortune and the target of their abuse. The men lashed out at David. The men were stuck in the “if” and “if only” and “if I could only” mode. They wished they didn’t go to Philistia and they had not followed him. David’s men wished they were with their family when invaders struck. Death threats were made. Stoning David was even proposed (v 6).
The Israelites’ loss left them disillusioned, demoralized and despairing. They had no strength in themselves when things hit rock bottom, but David strengthened himself in the Lord when the bottom fell out. The word for “found strength” (v 6) is the word for “hardened” or “fortified” that was consistently used to describe Pharaoh’s obstinate attitude (Ex 7:22, 8:19, 9:35) in resisting Moses and God. David and Pharaoh’s hardening of the heart were different, of course. The difference was in the preposition “in” after the word “hardened” or “strengthened.” Pharaoh’s heart was “hardened” – period, no U-turn, end of discussion; but David’s heart was hardened in the Lord, not against the Lord. Pharaoh decided to chase out God, but David determined to cling to God. Pharaoh confronted God for his troubles, but David confided God in his troubles. The former expelled God from his life, the latter embraced Him for his life. Pharaoh’s hardening meant a downhill association with God, but David’s hardening meant a deeper relationship with God. One was soured inside out, the other was strengthened within.
Like everyone in camp, David had a low tolerance, a soft shell and a breaking point, but in the Lord, he had a stubborn hide, a steel interior and a strong resolve. He was quick and oft to cry, but in the Lord, he was hard and impossible to break. His troubles were like a torrent and a flood, but God’s peace was like a river.
Are your comforted, composed and calm in the Lord?
You Can’t Choose the Consequence, But You Can Choose the Channel You Listen To
7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, 8 and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” 9 David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Ravine, where some stayed behind, 10 for two hundred men were too exhausted to cross the ravine. But David and four hundred men continued the pursuit. (1 Sam 30:7-10)
A husband and wife were at a party chatting with some friends when the subject of marriage counseling came up.
“Oh, we’ll never need that. My husband and I have a great relationship,” the wife explained. “He was a communications major in college and I majored in theater arts.
He communicates well and I act like I’m listening.”
What do you do when crying over spilt milk is useless? A poem found carved on a stone under a tree in a refugee camp in the Philippines said this: “Your mind is like a radio that you can dial to a different voice. It depends on you. So do not keep your mind always tuned to sorrow. If you want, just change the channel.” The writer was probably a refugee who knew too well not to dwell on sorrow.
Unfortunately, problems do not disappear overnight, solutions do not come easy and answers do not completely satisfy.
David could have listened to his heart or head, or listened to his men or his advisers but he chose to seek the counsel of the Lord. He could have rushed into action, hurry and catch up or offer a plan at once, but he went to the priest and sought the Lord’s will (vv 7-8).
Two words were used to contrast sharply the path David and Saul were heading. One was the phrase “greatly distressed,” which applied to David (v 6) as well as Saul. Two chapters ago, Saul described himself as “greatly distressed” (1 Sam 28:15). Saul’s great distress occurred when his reign was almost over, but David was “greatly distressed” (v 6) when his leadership was about started. Saul was greatly distressed because his army was marching to battle against the Philistines, and David was greatly distressed because his village was wiped out by the Amalekites.
The next word – “inquired” – will explain and separate what the two did when the pressure mounted at a crucial time of their lives. When in doubt and trouble, David asked the Lord for guidance, but Saul consulted a medium for advice. Saul “inquired” of the Lord in vain twice (1 Sam 14:37, 28:5-7), so he then “inquired” of a medium (1 Sam 28:5-7) and “inquired” of a dead Samuel (1 Sam 28:16). The Lord answered David but failed Saul because Saul did not ask in good faith. Predictably, Saul went to a medium; he was insincere and faithless in the first place. Saul had his plan B drafted, his escape clause ready and back door open.
David, on the other hand, inquired of God a total of five times in his life (1 Sam 23:2, 4, 2 Sam 2:1, 5:19, 5:23). He never failed to ask God before he had rest from all his enemies (2 Sam 7:1). David was frustrated and fearful, but never frantic or furious, because in God he trusted. Saul was concerned for himself and his kingdom (1 Sam 28:15), but David was concerned for the people and their family. Saul only wanted to know about the unknown in the future, but David wanted to know the One who holds the future.
You Can’t Choose the Culture, But You Can Choose the Climate You Live In
21 Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow him and who were left behind at the Besor Ravine. They came out to meet David and the people with him. As David and his men approached, he greeted them. 22 But all the evil men and troublemakers among David’s followers said, “Because they did not go out with us, we will not share with them the plunder we recovered. However, each man may take his wife and children and go.” 23 David replied, “No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the LORD has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us. 24 Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” 25 David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this. 26 When David arrived in Ziklag, he sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah, who were his friends, saying, “Here is a present for you from the plunder of the LORD’s enemies.” 27 He sent it to those who were in Bethel, Ramoth Negev and Jattir; 28 to those in Aroer, Siphmoth, Eshtemoa 29 and Racal; to those in the towns of the Jerahmeelites and the Kenites; 30 to those in Hormah, Bor Ashan, Athach 31 and Hebron; and to those in all the other places where David and his men had roamed. (1 Sam 30:21-31)
Judaism teaches that one must bless God at the moment of daylight, but defining daylight is a tricky question.
A rabbi, testing his disciples, asked, “How does one know the precise moment when the night disappears and the day dawns — the moment when one must bless God for the creation of light?” One disciple said, “When from afar one can distinguish between a palm tree and a fig tree.” “No,” replied the rabbi.
Another responded, “When from afar one can distinguish between a dog and a goat.” “No,” again said the rabbi.
“Then tell us when! When does the moment come when we must bless God for the creation of light?” the disciples asked impatiently. The rabbi paused and then replied, ‘When from afar, in seeing a man, you recognize him as your brother, because then the night that was in your soul disappears and both your heart and his are filled with light.’”
The phrase “too exhausted” (vv 10, 21) occurs only in this chapter and nowhere else in the Bible. The Chinese have a saying for the condition of the men that stayed behind: “tendon, skin and energy spent.” 200 of the 600 men were tired from three days of non-stop travel (v 1) and were drained from the weeping, the resentment and the pursuit. These men had strapped on their boots and swords for another fight. They tried their best to follow on, to ride on and to push on, but crossing the ravine was more than they could bear physically. They did not want to become a burden and a distraction to the fighting men. They were never weaklings, but imagine their surprise when they were labeled as failures after the victory was won.
A small but vocal minority among the 400 that fought across the ravine refused to share the spoils of war with the 200 that rested at the ravine. The troublemakers gave the 200 men the “no pay, no play” lecture and stated that they will not get a cent or thing. The spoil was a great amount of plunder (v 16), not just small pickings. The Amalekites did not only take from Ziklag, but also from land of the Philistines and other cities in Judah (v 16).
David could not allow the culture of condemnation, criticism and cross-examination to continue, and had to change the climate into a healthy, positive, livable one. He argued that what they escaped, what they savaged and what they added were a gift from God (v 23). The 200 had done their best, stood the test and acted in faith. They were by the supplies from dusk until the evening of the next day’s battle (v 17).
Eventually, David generously shared the great spoil of animals, food and treasures not only among his men but also to the elders of Judah (v 26). People who lived to the north in Bethel and to the south in Ramoth Negev, Jerahmeelites and Kenites, too, received a gift. People lived in the mountains and across the river were not excluded. David shared with people of the shores and in the plains. In the process, he taught them an important lesson about not excluding others or glorifying oneself or his men, but including others and glorifying God (v 26).
Conclusion: Do you seek God’s guidance under all circumstances, show God’s grace at all times, and share God’s generosity to all people? A line from the movie “The Princess Bride” says: “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling you something.” Life is not a crystal ball, a Hollywood ending, or a safety net. It is a school of hard knocks and even cheap shots. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). Is your concern about how you get into a situation or what you can get out of it? Is your focus on what you hear about or who to listen to? Is your priority on how people behave or how you conduct yourself?
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