(1Sa 29:1-5 ESV) Now the Philistines had gathered all their forces at Aphek. And the Israelites were encamped by the spring that is in Jezreel. 2 As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, 3 the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years, and since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” 4 But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him. And the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Send the man back, that he may return to the place to which you have assigned him. He shall not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? 5 Is not this David, of whom they sing to one another in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”
Achish, king of the Philistines, was so confident in David that he invited him to fight with him against Saul and Israel, placing him at the back of the Philistine forces. But his “lords” — generals — were understandably upset. After all, should David decide to fight for Israel, the Philistines would have an enemy on both sides! This was suicide!
Therefore, they begged the king to send David home to Ziklag.
(1Sa 29:6-11 ESV) 6 Then Achish called David and said to him, “As the LORD lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. 7 So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.” 8 And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” 9 And Achish answered David and said, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ 10 Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you, and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.” 11 So David set out with his men early in the morning to return to the land of the Philistines. But the Philistines went up to Jezreel.
David therefore returns to Ziklag.
We aren’t told what David would have done had he not been sent home. It’s unimaginable that he would have taken up arms against Saul. He may well have fought against the Philistines, despite impossible odds — and despite thereby losing his sanctuary from Saul. But he never had to make that choice.
(1Sa 30:1-3 ESV) 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. 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. 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.
David had foolishly left his families undefended. He may have imagined that his enemies were too far away to do him harm. Or he may have been honor bound to bring all 600 men to the war. Or Achish may have ordered them all into battle. Either way, the result was a disaster.
(1Sa 30:4-6 ESV) 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. 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. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.
As you can imagine, his loyal soldiers were ready to kill him for the loss of their wives and children — and all their worldly possessions. But, as always, “David strengthened himself in the Lord.”
(1Sa 30:7-8 ESV) 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.”
As always, David turned to God for guidance. Evidently, had God told him not to, David would not have pursued the Amalekites! Most men would not have paused to ask God advice, because they’d have pursued the raiders regardless of God’s advice. Indeed, most of us would have avoided asking for fear that we’d not hear the answer we wanted!
(1Sa 30:9-10 ESV) 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.
This becomes important later.
(1Sa 30:11-12 ESV) 11 They found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. And they gave him bread and he ate. They gave him water to drink, 12 and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights.
David could have tortured the man for information, or he could have withheld food unless the man gave him the information he needed. But despite the desperation of the situation, David treated the man humanely, and the man responded with the information David needed.
(1Sa 30:13-14 ESV) 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” He said, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. 14 We had made a raid against the Negeb of the Cherethites and against that which belongs to Judah and against the Negeb of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire.”
The desert is a big, dry place — no place to go hunting for a raiding party without a guide.
(1Sa 30:15 ESV) 15 And David said to him, “Will you take me down to this band?” And he said, “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will take you down to this band.”
Having been treated well by David, the slave was glad to help — with a promise of protection.
(1Sa 30:16-20 ESV) 16 And when he had taken him down, behold, they were spread abroad over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing, because of all the great spoil they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. 17 And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. 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.”
David recovered all that had been taken as well as the spoils from their other raids.
(1Sa 30:21-25 ESV) 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, I think, a very important story. You see, we tend to overlook the people who watch the baggage and only honor those in the more glamorous, more upfront positions. David insisted that those who manage the equipment receive the same reward as those who fight.
It’s apparent that those who stayed behind exhausted watched the “baggage” (think: “supplies”).
I know leaders in business who, when they received a large profit, chose to share the profits with their staff and I know men who chose to keep it for themselves. It says a lot about a man’s character to voluntarily give up money to be fair.
Here, we see David — the archetype of Christ — treating everyone the same, regardless of type of service. If you’re in the army, you receive a reward, even though you aren’t the greatest warrior.
In church, the preacher, song leader, elders, etc. receive honor. They get to be upfront. They’re high on the organizational chart. In God’s eyes, they just have different gifts and therefore different responsibilities. Therefore, the nursery worker receives the same honor. The cradle roll teacher may have done more preparation than the song leader. God appreciates her just as much, even if the congregation does not.
In congregational life, we tend to forget that any army needs support people. The teachers, the elders, the preacher — they are all support people. The soldiers are the ones working to take enemy territory — the members inviting unchurched friends to church, volunteering to distribute food to the hungry, going on mission trips. And they deserve at least as much credit. God sees their work, even if the rest of us do not.
Moreover, often there are those in church who do great things by the power of God. There are leaders who found wonderful projects that do great good. There are people who give more sacrificially than others. And they make the rest of us feel unworthy — even if they are good, humble people and don’t look down on others at all. It’s just that a good person — an humble person — naturally feels less worthy than an unusually good person. And I know many unusually good people who don’t think of themselves as particularly good at all. And when they encounter a Christian they perceive as closer to God than they, they feel ashamed of their perceived inadequacy.
Often, when a church is maturing in the Spirit, the church unwittingly divides internally between the “super-Christians” and “regular Christians.” Indeed, even some of the super-Christians perceive themselves as regular Christians and feel looked down and separated from the members they see as more holy.
It’s human nature. When we confront a person who seems closer to God than us, some of us are attracted to that person, and some of us are scared. And if we’re scared, we convert the fear into rejection. We perceive them as rejecting us, looking down on us, because we can’t bear the thought of looking holiness in the eye. If we admit to ourselves that it really is possible to live such faith-filled lives, we may feel compelled to do the same.
I know people who routinely question the motives and effective of missionaries. I think some are simply avoiding the challenge such people present to how we live.
Now, we should let ourselves be challenged by those who walk more closely to God than we do. And let’s not pretend that we’re all just as close to God as each other. We’re not. There really are Christians who model Christianity better than the rest of us.
But we need to realize that there are far more such people than we think. Not everyone’s service is noticeable. Not everyone’s service is honored. There are far more people close-to-God than we imagine.
And in any church, the natural order of things is for some to be more mature than others. It’s just that, well, the older people really should be more mature than the younger (on the whole), and it’s often the other way around.
Nonetheless, if your part of the army, you receive the same reward. We are all saved, although some are closer to God than others.
Here’s the key. The reason some stay with the baggage is because somone needs to stay with the baggage. There is no shame in caring for babies or cleaning the toilets instead of leading great revival meetings. All need doing.
The shame, though, is in not using your gifts. The men stayed with the baggage because they were at their physical limit, not because they were faithless or lazy. And there’s a difference. The army isn’t made up entirely of soldiers and generals. There are also cooks, and medics, and even USO social directors. All are needed.
But all have to take up a rifle when it’s necessary. All go through basic training. And all serve — all day, all the time.
The point isn’t that some get to serve less than others. No, everyone is supposed to serve and serve all the time. But we serve in different ways, based on what’s needed and what we’re capable of doing. And all are equally honored.
However, an army that never fights and never captures territory is no army. It’s a country club in uniform.