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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 30

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-6


“Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid upon the Negeb and upon Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag, and burned it with fire, 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. 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. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept, until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 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.”

“David and his men came to Ziklag” Young stated that, “From the probable site of Aphek to the probable site of Ziklag is about seventy miles, so David and his men must have returned by forced marches.”(F1) Regarding the distance between those two places, scholars do not agree. Willis gave it as 80 miles; Cook estimated it at “about fifty”; and Philbeck’s “guess” was “nearly 60.” Whatever the distance, it is clear enough that David and his men had covered the mileage as rapidly as possible.

“Women, sons and daughters” taken captive (1 Samuel 30:2-3). It seems to be an unqualified miracle that the Amalekites “killed no one.” In David’s many raids against them, he had exterminated whole populations, sparing no one; and now, that the Amalekites had an opportunity to do likewise to David, they did not do it. Willis explained this as, “Yahweh at work, guarding the relatives of David and his men.”(F2) “No reason can explain this except that God restrained the Amalekites.”(F3) The carnal and selfish motive for the Amalekites not killing anyone might very well have been their intention of selling all those captives into Egypt as slaves. Both Young and Willis pointed this out. “Probably the Amalekites killed no one because they intended to sell their captives on the Egyptian slave market. The fact that an Amalekite had an Egyptian slave (1 Samuel 30:13) suggests that the Amalekites traded slaves on the Egyptian market.”(F4)

The providential watchfulness over David is also evident in the fact of his having been dismissed by the lords of the Philistines, releasing him to come to the rescue of Ziklag just in the nick of time.

“The people spoke of stoning him” This was a threatened mutiny among David’s own men, and it indicates the irresponsible and lawless nature of some of David’s followers. As Caird said, “How slender was David’s hold on his outlaw followers; his authority depended upon the sheer force of his character”!(F5)

As for the reason why they wanted to stone David, Dummelow thought that it was because, “They probably thought he had been negligent in leaving Ziklag unguarded.”(F6)

DeHoff pointed out that, “When things go wrong, people generally turn on their leaders. Kings, presidents and governors have often become the objects of scorn due to matters over which they had no control. Faithful ministers of the gospel have many times been pushed aside due to events that neither they nor anyone else could have prevented.”(F7)

“David strengthened himself in the Lord” Here is the true magnificence of the character of David. When things went wrong, he always turned to the Lord. And how does one do that? The next paragraph tells us how. One does so by consulting God’s Word and trusting it.

Verses 7-8


“And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, `Bring the ephod.’ So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 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.’“

This is evidently an extremely abbreviated account. The answers which God gave by means of the ephod and the Urim and Thummim were conveyed to the inquirer by the mouth of the High Priest, and it seems that the answer came to only one question at a time in the form of a plain “Yes” or “No.” There are given here two questions and three answers, which most likely involved asking the three questions one at a time, with the High Priest giving the “Yes” or “No” to each question in turn. Thus what we have here is a summary of the procedure.

David’s response to God’s will here was positive and immediate. In spite of his men being fired even to the point of exhaustion, and without any supplies except what they might have brought with them (the city had been burned), David instantly gave the order to pursue the Amalekites.

Verses 9-10


“So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those stayed who were left behind. But David went on with the pursuit, he and four hundred men; two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.”

“But David went on” These are the big words in the passage. Every argument imaginable might have been urged against David’s continuation of the pursuit. His men were exhausted; they did not even know what direction the Amalekites had fled when they left Ziklag; his troops were in a bad state of mind; but Glory be! “David went on”! Why? God had commanded it; and David very properly decided to obey the Lord no matter how hopeless the situation might have seemed.

Verses 11-15


“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, 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. 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. We had made a raid upon the Negeb of the Cherethites and upon that which belongs to Judah and upon the Negeb of Caleb; and we burned Ziklag with fire.’ 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.’“

What a providence was this! The Egyptian slave of an Amalekite knew the plans of the marauders, exactly where they would be, because, thinking themselves safely out of the reach of any enemy, they were indulging themselves in some kind of an uninhibited “fiesta,” celebrating their supposed “victory” with eating, drinking and celebrating. Such an occasion might have lasted several days.

“My master left me… because I fell sick three days ago” Here is the Biblical picture of the Amalekites. “To them, a sick slave was of no more importance than a crippled horse.”(F8) His master left him to die in the desert without even a flask of water to sustain him; it must be that God Himself kept that Egyptian young man alive to be the key instrument in the vengeance of God upon those heartless Amalekites. Here, then, is the reason that God commanded David to move at once upon his return to Ziklag.

As Henry supposed, “That Amalekite, thinking that he should now have servants enough from all those captives from Ziklag, cared nothing at all for his Egyptian slave whom he left to die in a ditch without even a drink of water, while he himself was feasting and drinking”!(F9)

“We made a raid upon the Negeb of the Cherethites” The other raids mentioned here were upon the territory of Judah; but, here, “The word Cherethites is used as a synonym for the Philistines.”(F10)

Armed with the marvelous information which this rescued slave gave David, he and his men arrived quickly at the camp of the celebrating Amalekites.

Verses 16-20


“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. And David smote them 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. And David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken; and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken; David brought back all. David also captured all the flocks and herds; and the people drove those cattle before him, and said, `This is David’s spoil.’“

“And when he had taken him down, behold, they” Sometimes the Biblical use of pronouns is amazing. Here “he” stands for the Egyptian slave; “him” stands for David, and “they” refers to the celebrating Amalekites!

“They were spread abroad over all the land” H. P. Smith believed that this feast they were having, “Was very possibly a religious feast.”(F11) Their being deployed over such a wide area shows that they were utterly helpless against the kind of ferocious attack David and his men brought against them.

“From twilight till the evening of the next day” Twilight may mean the morning twilight or the evening twilight. If the attack began in the morning twilight, it ended in the evening of the same day, as we would reckon the time; but the Jewish day began at sundown, so it is called the “evening of the next day” here.

“Not a man… escaped, except the four hundred” From this, we must conclude that perhaps as many as a couple of thousand made up the force of the raiding Amalekites; and, in answer to the question of how could David and only four hundred men have killed so many people, the answer is simple enough. As Henry suggested: “They were celebrating, eating and drinking; many of them were doubtless drunk; they were off their guard; they might not even have had their weapons ready, and they were completely surprised”;(F12) and David’s 400, angry, hardened soldiers would have had no difficulty at all in killing four men each, which is all it might have taken.

“This is David’s spoil” Caird’s comment here is important. “The text here is corrupt beyond recovery, but it is clear that David and his men captured additional booty besides recovering their own possessions. However, it is not necessary to accept this libel on David that he appropriated all the cattle for himself. Indeed, it is abundantly clear from the sequel that he did not.”(F13) Porter(F14) also concurred in this judgment, quoting Kennedy that, “To the suggestion that this sounds selfish, he says, `A corrupt and unintelligible text is responsible.’“(F15)

Verses 21-25


“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 drew near to the people he saluted them. Then all the wicked and base 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 which we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.” 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. 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 will share and share alike.” And from that day forward he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day.”

“All the wicked and base fellows who had gone with David” We believe this to have been a small minority of David’s men; and, “Possibly David’s question in 1 Samuel 30:24 implies this, `Who (i. e., of the rest of the men who continued) would listen to you in this matter’? The proposal that the two hundred depart apparently meant that they would no longer be allowed to be David’s soldiers.”(F16) Thus that wicked minority in David’s men were willing to treat two hundred of their fellow-soldiers just like the cruel Amalekites had treated that Egyptian slave.

“They shall share and share alike” H. P. Smith, and apparently Briggs, classified these words among the almost countless “additions”(F17) and “interpolations” they pointed out in First Samuel, but true to the knee-jerk conduct of radical critics, they missed the only expression in the whole paragraph that most probably is an interpolation. As we have frequently pointed out, any expression such as the words, “to this day” should be viewed with suspicion as an addition from some copyist. Caird gives us an excellent example of the critical use of a passage like 1 Samuel 30:25.

“David here initiates a piece of case law, which, once promulgated, became a precedent for all future occasions. This is quite obviously the first time that the question has arisen in Israel, and David’s pronouncement is the source and not a repetition of the law found in Numbers 31:27-47.”(F18) A comment like this has only one purpose, i.e., the establishment of the false theory of a late date for the Pentateuch, which is the darling of radical critics. We thank God that a very high ranking scholar in the person of John Willis has effectively denied and refuted such allegations.

“The principle that those who fight must share the spoil with the people appears in Numbers 31:27-47 and in Joshua 22:8. David is not establishing a new law here, but enforcing an earlier law or principle which had been established long before his time.”(F19)

Thus, Caird’s comment that, “This was the first time the question had arisen in Israel,” can be explained only as a denial of what God’s Word plainly says. Joshua (and he was a long time before David) sent the troops back home with the command that they were to, “Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers”! (Joshua 22:8). It is the apparent implication of 1 Samuel 30:25 that this action of David was some kind of a precedent that strongly supports the proposition that the passage might be an interpolation.

Another very questionable line in 1 Samuel 30:25 is the mention that “from that day” David made it a statute and an ordinance in Israel. Indeed! Indeed! How could an outlaw have done that? David was not yet king, but a fugitive, a vassal of a Philistine overlord; and the proposition that “from that day” David enforced a law over all Israel is simply not true. It was a prior injunction in the Law of Moses that David here honored.

Verses 26-31


“When David came to Ziklag, he sent part of the spoil to his friends, the elders of Judah, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord”; it was for those in Bethel, in Ramoth of the Negeb, in Jattir, in Aroer, in Shipmoth, in Eshtemoa, in Racal, in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, in the cities of the Kenites, in Hormah, in Borashan, in Athach, in Hebron, for all the places where David and his men had roamed.”

“Part of the spoil to his friends” That David was able from the spoil of the Amalekites to send substantial gifts to all of the friends mentioned in this extensive list emphasizes the enormity of that wealth which he had been able to seize. Dummelow cited two reasons for David’s action in this: “Gratitude for those people of Judah who had fed and supported him while he was a fugitive from Saul and also policy, cultivating the friendship and support of those whom he would need during his move toward the throne.”(F20)

All of the places mentioned here were from Hebron and southward. H. P. Smith identified Aroer with a place near Beersheba,(F21) and although Racal is said to be unknown, the same scholar noted that it probably means Carmel, which, of course, we should have expected to be in the list.

“Hebron” “It is significant that David sent part of the spoil to Hebron, because later when he became king over Judah, he made Hebron his capital.”(F22)

“For all the places where David and his men roamed” Thus this is only a partial list of the places receiving gifts from the spoil of the Amalekites. During the twenty-two years following the death of Samuel, David had wandered to many different places. It is a marvel of providence that David was able to survive, and that when his fortunes began to change, he remembered all of those who had befriended and aided him.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 30". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-samuel-30.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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