Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. 1 Samuel 30:4, 6b
The army that follows David is a ragtag. Its defining quality is the hardness of its members’ lives. The author of 1 Samuel describes the original assembling: “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were about four hundred men” (1 Samuel 22:1-2).
It seems those who led a relatively comfortable life under Saul were too content with the present regime to risk a new allegiance, despite what they might have heard about the up-and-comer’s anointing by the prophet Samuel. But the Israelites’ experience of Saul’s reign was disparate. For some, life under him was unbearable.
Beyond David’s family, who perhaps reflect the vestiges of clan-based loyalty as much as faith in God’s anointing, David presented an attractive prospect to the poor and indigent. Maybe they did not see their decision to follow him as much of a risk, being buoyed by the recollection of his early victories: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7; 29:5) On the other hand, perhaps the assessment of their current situation made them feel they had nothing to lose. If the latter, their strategic blunder would be exposed by ensuing events.
The army that follows David is a ragtag. Its defining quality is the hardness of its members’ lives
Following a series of successful military escapades, David’s entourage, now numbering 600 men, shelters from Saul in the land of the Philistines while surreptitiously raiding and desolating nearby villages, including those of their archenemies, the Amalekites. Their service to David eventually brings them to the awkward precipice of a battle in alliance with the Philistines against their own Israelite brothers, a precarious situation that is circumvented through David’s own rhetorical skill and, evidently, divine providence.
But out of the frying pan and into the fire. Returning to their home base in Ziklag, they find the handiwork of the Amalekites, likely conducted in revenge for David’s raids. Their village is burned, and their women, children, and possessions are gone. Grief is mixed with rage as the men begin discussing the prospect of stoning David.
At this point, the author draws a clear parallel with their initial situation as described in Chapter 22: “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul” (1 Samuel 30:6a) Bitter in soul. That was why they had left Saul and followed David. By all appearances, however, following David had gotten them nowhere. Instead, he had exacerbated their misery. They now found themselves living in enemy territory with nothing to their names.
But there is another detail of the event that the author wishes to highlight: David’s association with the suffering of his men. Like his men, David is pierced with grief. “Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep” (v. 4). As the narrator specifies, this is due to David’s own considerable loss. “David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel” (v. 5). Additionally, as v.6 makes it clear, David’s own grief is compounded by the moral feebleness and lurking infidelity of his followers.
David’s own grief is compounded by the moral feebleness and lurking infidelity of his followers
While David is likened to his followers in their suffering, he is distinguished from them in his response. “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (v. 7). This strengthening takes the form of a process of discernment. David’s question to God is not “What have you done?” or “Why have you done this?” — but “What would you have us do?”
He summons the holy ephod, an implement long used by the Israelites to discern the will of God, and asks if he is to pursue his enemies and if he will be able to overtake them. The reply envisages more than was desired, especially given that at this point David and his men do not know whether their families are dead or alive: “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue” (v. 8)
Subsequently, David leads 400 of his men (the other 200 being too exhausted to keep up pursuit) to a resounding victory, not only recovering their lost families and goods but ending up with a surplus. David’s men rightly recognise the glory of their leader when they declare “This is David’s spoil.” But David does not clutch at his prizes. Not only does he distribute the fruits of victory among the 400 who fought beside him, but also to the 200 who were left behind along with the elders of his tribe, Judah. Many are blessed by the generous ripple effect of David’s victory.
Like David’s followers, we have thrown in our lot with Jesus because we are dissatisfied with the state of this present world. Despite the unprecedented prosperity many of us enjoy, we recognise that, apart from God’s deliverance, we are destitute. But the way of Jesus is not a straight line from loss to restoration. Only dishonest prosperity preachers make such claims. Rather, the restoration to which Jesus calls us requires the loss of everything we have ever known and cherished — a complete renunciation of everything we have and everything we are for the sake of following Him. In a way, following Jesus means embracing a life that is far harder than the one we would have known otherwise.
The way of Jesus is not a straight line from loss to restoration. Only dishonest prosperity preachers make such claims
Like David’s men, we might understand this theoretically when we set out on our Christian journey. But when the “pain of searing loss” bears down, we are often driven to question our new allegiance, perhaps even attributing our newfound misery to the incompetence or negligence of our leader. The current pandemic, for example, is a sobering reminder that pain and tragedy do not discriminate between believers and non-believers and that we cannot attempt to reconcile God’s love for His children by pointing to differing physical and material blessings in this life. Followers of Jesus will be swept away by COVID-19, or by some other form of death endemic to this world, like everyone else. In the face of such blunt realities, it is easy to falter.
But like David’s men, comfort is to be taken in the reality that Jesus has not remained aloof from our suffering but has entered into it. He has raised His voice and wept with us. He has plumbed the depths of our destitution, death itself, through His cross. But He has also distinguished Himself from us through His perfect obedience to the Father. Never doubting, never faltering, “not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
And it is because of Jesus’ perfect obedience that we who have suffered the loss of all things for His sake can look forward to the fulfillment of His victory over our archenemies — sin, death, and the devil — and our participation in His reward. We will enjoy not only the restitution of all that we have lost, but the fullness of the eternal life that we have begun to experience through His Holy Spirit. We serve a generous King.
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