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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Samuel 30



(1 Samuel 30:1-9.30.31) Ziklag, David’s City, is Sacked by the Amelekites—David, after Consulting the Urim, Pursues them—The Captives are Recovered—The Friendly Cities are Rewarded.


We read in the description of the high priest’s official vestments (Exodus 28:2-2.28.32), that over the ephod there was to be a “breastplate of judgment,” of gold, scarlet, purple, and fine linen, folded square and doubled, a span in length and width. In it were to be set four rows of precious stones, each stone with the name of a tribe of Israel engraved on it, that Aaron might “bear them upon his heart.” Inside the breastplate were to be placed the Urim and Thummim (the Light and the Perfection), and they, too, were to be on Aaron’s heart as he went in before the Lord.

What, now, were these mysterious gems? for that they were precious stones of some kind nearly all tradition seems agreed. Among the best supported traditional notices—quoted by Dean Plumptre in his learned article in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible—the following are the usually accepted ones.

(a) The Urim and Thummim “were identical with the twelve stones on which the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved, and the mode in which an oracle was given was by the illumination, simultaneous or successive, of the letters which were to make up the answer” (Jalkut Sifre, Zohar, in Exod., f. 105; Maimonides, R. ben Nachman, in Buxtorf, I.e.). Josephus (Antiq. iii. 7, § 5) adopts another form of the same story, and, apparently identifying the Urim and Thummim with the sardonyxes on the shoulders of the ephod, says that they were bright before a victory or when the sacrifice was acceptable, dark when any disaster was impending. Epiphanius (Deuteronomy 12:0 gemm.) and the writer quoted by Suidas present the same thought in yet another form. A single diamond placed in the centre of the breastplate prognosticated peace when it was bright, war when it was red, death when it was dusky.

(b) In the middle of the ephod, or within its folds, there was a stone or plate of gold, on which was engraved the sacred name of Jehovah, the Shem-hamme-phorash of Jewish cabbalists; and by virtue of this, the High Priest, fixing his gaze on it, or reading an invocation which was also engraved with the name, or standing in his ephod before the mercy-seat, or, at least, before the veil of the Sanctuary, became capable of prophesying, hearing the Divine voice within, or listening to it as it proceeded, in articulated sounds, from the glory of the Shechinah (Buxtorf, 50100, 7; Lightfoot, 6:278; Braunius, de Vestitu Hebrews , 2; Saalschütz, Archäolog., ii, 363).

That mighty storehouse of learning and tradition, the Babylonian Talmud, suggests, however, another and quite a different explanation of this mysterious and sacred possession of the Israelites in the earlier days of their existence as a people. (See note on 1 Samuel 30:7 of chapter 30)

The Talmud begins by explaining why the oracle was called Urim and Thummim. It is called Urim because it gave explanatory light to its utterances; and it is called Thummim because it made perfect and complete its declarations.
How did the Urim and Thummim indicate or manifest its utterances? Rabbi Yochanan saith: Boltoth (by means of) projection. Resh Lakish saith: Mitz-taphoth (by means of) transposition.

(1) Boltoth (by means of projection).—The several letters that were intended by the oracle to form the word or words in reply to an enquiry were raised from concave to convex (as the engraved letters on a seal were to become raised letters, as on a coin, and the priest, uniting these projected letters, thus ascertained the proper meaning of the intended answer, which he delivered to the enquirer. For instance: in the reply to David, ăleh—“go;” the ayin in Simeon, the lamedh in Levi, and the he in Judah become prominently raised, and thus the answer was unmistakable.

(2) Mitztaphoth (by means of transposition).-The letters composing the names of the twelve tribes transposed themselves into words, which indicated the oracle’s reply. But it is objected: How could the oracle express 1 Samuel 30:8 (i.e., “Thou shalt without fail recover all”), since the letter tsadde, for instance, is not to be found in any of the names of the tribes? nor is the letter teth to be found there either. To this it is responded that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were engraved on the gems, as also the Hebrew words signifying “the tribes of Jeshurun.”

Thus the Hebrew alphabet in the Urim and Thummim is made complete.—Treatise Yoma, fol. 73, Colossians 1:0 and 2.

Verse 1

(1) On the third day—That is, on the third day after King Achish, in consequence of the remonstrances of the Philistine chieftains, had dismissed David and his contingent from the ranks of the Philistine army. This dismissal could hardly have taken place at Shunem, in the Esdraelon (Jezreel) Vale, for Shunem is some ninety miles distant from Ziklag. The division of Achish had marched from Gath with David; and somewhere in Philistia, after the whole force had been gathered into one, the scene which resulted in David’s services being dispensed with took place.

The Amalekites had invaded the south.—This was partly in retaliation for the late raids of David in the Amalekite country, partly because Amalek had heard that, owing to the Philistine and Israelite armies having left the southern districts for the central part of Canaan, all the south country was left unguarded. “The south,” that is, “the Negeb,” or the dry land-all the southern part of Judea; it included also a part of the Arabian Desert.

And smitten Ziklag.—This was an act of vengeance, Ziklag being the city of that famous Israelite chieftain David, who had done so much damage to Amalek, and who had treated the captives with such cruelty. While other parts of the south were simply plundered, Ziklag was marked for utter destruction was sacked and burned.

Verse 2

(2) They slew not any.—There was no one in the hapless city to resist the attack of the fierce sons of the desert. David—never dreaming of the sudden invasion—had marched with Achish, accompanied by his whole force. The Amalekites slew none of their captives; they were, we read, women and children. These possessed a marketable value, and were carried off to be sold into slavery, probably in Egypt, with which country the Amalekites, as neighbours, had constant dealings. We read a few verses on specially of an Egyptian slave in the army.

Verse 3

(3) And behold, it was burned with fire.—A terrible reception for David and his free lances, on their return from their ill-omened expedition with the great Philistine army, to find only the charred and smoking ruins of their homes; not one of all their dear ones, whom they had left behind—as they thought in security—left to tell the story of the disaster. It was the Egyptian slave who had fallen sick, and, in consequence, had been deserted, and whom they came upon in the course of the pursuit, who gave them the details, and told them the story of the invasion, and described the route taken by the marauding force on their return to their country.

Verse 4

(4) Then David and the people.1 Samuel 30:1-9.30.4 form one period, which is expanded by the introduction of several circumstantial clauses. The apodosis to “it came to pass when,” &c., 1 Samuel 30:1, does not follow till 1 Samuel 30:4, “Then David and the people,” &c.; but this is formally attached to 1 Samuel 30:3. The statement, “So David and his men came,” with which the protasis commenced in 1 Samuel 30:1, is resumed in an altered form: “It came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag . . . the Amalekites had invaded . . . and had taken away the women captive . . . and had gone their way . . . and David and his men came into the city, and behold, it was burned. . . . Then David and the people with him lifted up their voice.”—Keil.

Verse 6

(6) For the people spake of stoning him.—Probably the discontent and anger of the people had been previously aroused by David’s close connection with Achish, which had entailed upon these valiant Israelites the bitter degradation of having had to march against their own countrymen under the banner of the Philistine King of Gath; and now, finding that David had neglected to provide against the Amalekite raid, their pent-up fury thus displayed itself. Then David, we shall see, threw himself, with all his old perfect trustfulness, upon the mercy of his God.

But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.—He encouraged himself in prayer, thus casting himself and his fortunes on the God who, years before, had chosen him to be “His anointed.” It was this trust, as we have before seen in his own case, in the case, too, of Jonathan, as it had been in old days with all the heroes of Israel—this perfect, childlike, implicit trust in the “Glorious Arm”—which had been the source of the marvellous success of the chosen people. When they forgot the invisible King, who for His own great purposes had chosen them, their fortunes at once declined; they fell to the level, and often below the level, of the surrounding nations. We have many conspicuous examples of this; for instance, in the lives of Samson and Saul, how, when with weeping and with mourning, they returned to their allegiance, and again leaned on the “Arm,” success and victory returned to them. This is what happened now to David at Ziklag, while about the same time Saul, alone and distrustful, fought and fell on the bloody day of Gilboa. David, with the help of his God, on whose mercy he had thrown himself, obtained his brilliant success over Amalek, and restored his prestige not only among his own immediate followers, but through all the cities and villages of Southern Canaan.

Verse 7

(7) Abiathar.—Abiathar had doubtless been with David, and he had joined him at Keilah. Through all his wanderings we hear, however, nothing of prayer and of consultation of the Urim. As regards the unfortunate Philistine sojourn, David seems to have determined upon that step entirely of himself; distrustful and despairing, he had fled the country, and taken refuge with the enemies of his people. One unbroken series of sin and calamity was the result ha sees of his fatal error.

And Abiathar brought thither the ephod.—Modern commentators, as a rule, prefer to disbelieve in any response coming through the medium of the Urim in the ephod. They either pass over the whole transaction in silence, or assume that some Divine inspiration came to the high priest when vested with the sacred garment. The plain meaning, however, of the frequent references tells us in some way or other the Divine will was made known through the agency of the mysterious Urim and Thummim. See, for instance, in the case of Saul, where definitely it is stated that the Lord answered him not “by Urim” (1 Samuel 28:6), where this peculiar Divine response is carefully distinguished from the manifestation of the will of God in a dream or a vision, or through the Divine instrumentality of the prophet or seer. The ancient Hebrews had no hesitation in attributing to the sacred precious stones an occasional special power of declaring the oracles of God. The Talmudical traditions are clear and decisive here. Now, without attaching anything like an implicit credence to these most ancient Hebrew traditions—many of them fanciful and wild, many of them written in a cryptograph, or secret cypher, to which Christians in most cases do not possess the key—it does seem in the highest degree arbitrary to reject the ancient traditional belief of the Hebrew race contained in the Talmud with respect to this most mysterious ephod and its sacred gems, and to adopt another interpretation, which fits in very lamely with the plain text. The whole question respecting the traditions of the Urim and Thummim is discussed at some length in the short Excursus M on the Urini, at the end of this Commentary on the First Book of Samuel.

Verse 9

(9) So David went.—Immediately on receiving the answer of the Urim, David started in rapid pursuit. The “six hundred” by no means represented his present force; but these were probably the old band of veteran soldiers, whose speed and endurance he could depend upon—men tried, no doubt, by many a weary night march, by many a rough, wild piece of work. A large contingent even of these veterans could not stand the forced march of their leader on this occasion.

In the words “for two hundred abode behind,” the narrator anticipated what is told in 1 Samuel 30:10. It is a proleptical expression, arising from the vivacious description of David’s rapid march with four hundred men (Lange). The Vulg. paraphrases, or rather seeks to amend the text here: “and certain tired ones stayed.” The Syriac changes the text into “David left two hundred men;” these men who had fallen out of the rapid march were gathered together, and kept the baggage and everything that could be left behind at the encampment at the brook Besor. It is to be supposed that owing to the hurried departure, but scanty provision for the forced march was made, hence the falling out through weariness in the course of the rapid advance. The brook Besor cannot be identified with certainty; and Raumer (Palestine) supposes it to be the Wady Shariah, which falls into the sea below Askelon.

Verse 11

(11) An Egyptian.—The Amalekites, as above stated, were a nomad race; their wanderings would have taken them to the frontiers of Egypt, hence the probability of their having Egyptian slaves in their tribe. The savage nature of these untamed sons of the desert has been already commented upon when the war of extermination with Amalek was discussed. They seem to have been a ruthless, cruel race, the scourge of the desert, and of the people dwelling near its borders. From the narrative, they had evidently many camels in their force (1 Samuel 30:17), so the abandonment of the sick slave, left, without food or water, to die of hunger, was a needless act of barbarity on their part.

Verse 12

(12) Three days and three nights.—This was a note of time as to the amount of start the Amalekite leader with the plunder had. It may well be conceived there was no time to lose. The cruelty of the Amalekites to their slaves was the cause of their ultimate discomfiture, for with the very considerable start they already had, if David had not been quite certain, through the information of the Egyptian, of their route, the pursuit would have been utterly hopeless.

Verse 14

(14) We made an invasion. . . .—The Egyptian, who apparently was a man of education, accurately describes to David the nature and scope of the Amalekite raid, which had closed with so signal a disaster to the inhabitants of his city of Ziklag. Taking advantage of the war between Israel and Philistia, and of the northerly march of the troops of both countries, Amalek made a swift and sudden descent upon the south country. The Cherethites were a Philistine people dwelling in the south, and along the sea-coast.·Some have supposed that the name “Crçthites” which represents the Hebrew more accurately—came originally, as the name seems to indicate, from the island of Crete. Capthor, the home of the Philistines (Amos 9:7), not improbably is identical with Crete. The whole question of the history of this singular Philistine people, who were certainly not indigenous to Canaan, but who were settlers in it at a comparatively recent date, and who gave their name “Palestineto the whole land, is most obscure.

Before the arrival of Israel in Canaan the Philistines held a very strong position on the southern coast, and not long before Samson’s time they had been strengthened by fresh arrivals from Crete and other western regions, and from this date rapidly gained power and influence, and at more than one period disputed the supremacy with the Hebrew race, whom they threatened to supplant altogether.
We hear subsequently of the Cherethites mentioned in the passage under the command of Benaiah, as a portion of King David’s body-guard. This troop or regiment of Philistines was first, no doubt, enrolled during his residence at Ziklag. He retained this body of foreigners, of course continually recruited, about his person all through his reign. Such a body-guard, made up of foreigners, has always been a favourite practice among sovereigns. The Scottish archers and the corps of Swiss Guards, at different periods of the French monarchy, and, on a larger scale, the Varangian guard of the Greek emperors of Constantinople in the tenth century, are good examples of this preference for foreigners in the case of the body-guards of the sovereign.

And upon the coast which belongeth to Judah.—The eastern portion of the Negeb or south country, reaching from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea.

And upon the south of Caleb.—One district of the Negeb or south country was given to Caleb, the companion of Joshua, as a reward for his faith and his courage. His portion, which was called Caleb after the famous chieftain, included all the country and villages round about Hebron, which became subsequently a city of the priests.

And we burned Ziklag with fire.—This act, which closed the reign of Amalek, was intended as a piece of stern revenge for the late incursion of David into their country, and for the cruelties practised on the captives.

Verse 15

(15) By God.—The oath was to be by “Elohim,” not by Jehovah, of whom the Egyptian knew nothing.

And I will bring thee down.—His accurate knowledge of the route taken by the Amalekites, and his clear account of the late raid, show that he was a person of no ordinary ability; he was probably an Egyptian merchant or wealthy trader captured in some border fray.

Verse 16

(16) Spread abroad upon all the earth, eating and drinking and dancing.—We have here a vivid picture of the wild license which these barbarians allowed themselves, now that they were secure, as they thought, from all pursuit. When the picked warriors of David’s troops looked on the scene of revelry and debauch, and thought who were among the captives in that disorderly encampment, and remembered what homes had been made desolate to provide much of that great spoil over which Amalek was rejoicing, we may well conceive with what strength and fury the little veteran force of Israelites fell upon these desert robbers, who evidently far out-numbered them.

Verse 17

(17) From twilight even unto the evening of the next day.—Keil thinks the fighting went on from the evening twilight till the evening of the next day. Bishop Hervey, in the Speaker’s Commentary, with greater probability, supposes that “the twilight is the morning twilight, as the contrast between twilight and evening rather suggests.” David thus arrived at night, and finding his enemies eating and drinking, put off his attack until the morning dawn or twilight, when they would be still sleeping after their debauch. Although thus taken by surprise, their great numbers and their natural bravery enabled them to prolong the fierce struggle all through the day, and when the shades of evening were falling four hundred (we read) of the young men, a body of fugitives equal to David’s own force, managed to get clear of the rout and escape. The number of slain on this occasion must have been very great.

Verse 20

(20) The flocks and the herds, which they drave.—In the English translation the word “which,” inserted in italics, obscures the sense; the literal reading is, “And David took all the flocks and the herds; they drove them before their cattle, and said, this is David’s spoil.” David took, no doubt, by popular acclamation as his share of the plunder, all the flocks and herds belonging to the Amalekites, mostly acquired, no doubt, in the late raid; these were driven in front of “those cattle” thus particularising the cattle of Ziklag belonging to David’s own people. Of course, this plunder went back to the original Israelitish owners. The drovers, as they marched behind the vast herds of Amalekite cattle, sung of the prowess of their leader in words long remembered, “See all this. This is David’s spoil.” It was “these herds”—numerically, probably very great—that David distributed among the friendly cities of the south. (See 1 Samuel 30:26; 1 Samuel 30:31.) All the other plunder of the camp—arms, accoutrements, ornaments, jewels, camels’ cloths, &c.—was divided, as Bishop Hervey well suggests, among the little army. David’s motive in choosing the sheep and oxen (for his warriors certainly the least desirable part of the Amalekite possession) is evident from 1 Samuel 30:26-9.30.31. They were the most acceptable presents he could make to his friends in Judah.

Verse 22

(22) Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial.—The scene here related chronicles an act of greed and of heartless covetousness—an act that has been many times repeated in the world’s history. The wise compiler of the book chose it as part of the memoirs of David, which were to be preserved in the sacred volume, because it was another authoritative declaration on the part of the beloved king respecting a question which would crop up again and again on the conclusion of a campaign. The chronicler was justified in his selection, for this famous decision of David continued in force until the time of the Maccabees. (See 2Ma. 8:28-30.) A somewhat similar law was enacted by Moses. (See Numbers 31:27.) The dispute arose thus: The victorious troop with their enormous booty quickly re turned to the brook Besor, where the 200 that had broken down on the rapid march had been left to guard the baggage. David salutes these with all kindly courtesy; but the harmony which prevailed in the little camp is speedily broken owing to the highhanded claims of the 400 who had actually taken part in the rescue. These refused to share the booty with their comrades who had been left behind, only proposing just to restore to them their wives and those things of their own which had been recovered from the Amalekites. David, however, refused to listen to these iniquitous claims, and decided that all the fighting part of the force, and those men who had stayed behind and guarded the baggage at the brook Besor, should share alike.

Verse 23

(23) Ye shall not do so my brethren.—Translate “Do not so my brethren with that which the Lord hath given us,” that is, “in respect to that which the Lord,” &c. Ewald prefers to render the phrase as an ejaculatory oath, “By that which the Lord,” &c. Some commentators here quote a passage from Polybius, where a similar scene is depicted as having taken place after the capture of Nova Carthago, where Publius Scipio decided that the spoil then taken should be divided equally among the troops that had been actually engaged, and the reserves and the sick among the soldiery, and those in the army who had been detached from the main body on special service.

Verse 25

(25) A statute and an ordinance for Israel.—The decree that they, who for good reasons tarry with the stuff, shall share alike with those who go down to the battle, which became a received ordinance in Israel, is not without its meaning. In the Heavenly Church of God

“ His state

Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

MILTON: Sonnet 19

Moses praying on the hill contributed to the victory over Amalek even more than Joshua fighting in the plain (Exodus 17:11). “All Christians are not of equal strength, and some follow Christ to the conflict, others tarry with the stuff. Some fight the Lord’s battles in the din of active life; others, aged men and women, the Simeons and Annas of the Church . . . weak in body but strong in faith, fight with the peaceful arms of prayers and tears; Christ is omnipotent and merciful He rewards those who tarry in patience with the stuff, as well as those who go forth in the march to fight valiantly in the battle.”—Bishop Hall, in Wordsworth.

Verse 26

(26) He sent of the spoil.—To have made it worth while to have sent presents to all the places enumerated below, the spoil of the Amalekites captured on this occasion must have been enormous. One special circumstance connected with the history besides leads us to this conclusion. Although these desert Arabs were surprised and attacked at a terrible disadvantage after a debauch, they seem (so great evidently was their numbers) to have held their ground from early morning until evening, and then 400 managed to escape on their swiftest camels. It was not improbably the main division of the great tribe, and they had with them the bulk of their flocks and herds, besides what they had just captured in their raid in southern Canaan. No doubt the cities to whom rich gifts of cattle were sent were those places where, during his long wanderings, he and his followers had been kindly received and helped.

Verse 27

(27) Bethel . . . South Ramoth . . . Yattir.—Here follows an enumeration of the cities of Judah to whom David sent, most of which have been identified. Bethel—evidently not the well known place of that name, but Bethuel or Bethul in the tribe of Simeon. The LXX. read here Baithsour. South Ramoth, i.e., Ramah of the South. Shimei, who was over David’s vineyards, was most likely a native of this town (1 Chronicles 27:27). The place has not been identified. Yattir—the present Attir in the southern part of Judah. Its ruins are still visible.

Verse 28

(28) Aroer . . . Siphmoth and . . . Eshtemoa.Aroer, a city, with colossal ruins of foundation walls, south of Hebron. Of Siphmoth nothing is known. Zabdi, the Shiphmite (1 Chronicles 27:27), who was over King David’s cellars, clearly comes from Siphmoth. Bishop Hervey well calls attention to a remarkable proof of the grateful nature of David and his fidelity to his early friendships, “that we find among those employed by David in offices of trust in the height of his power so many inhabitants of these obscure places, where he found friends in the days of his early difficulties. Ezri, the son of Shemei the Ramathite, Zabdi the Shiphmite, and many others, were among the friends of his youth.” Eshtemoa, a priestly city, still survives, with ruins still visible, in the village of Semna.

Verse 29

(29) Rachal.—The name Rachal never occurs again, and is quite unknown. Here the LXX., instead of Rachal, have five different names—Ged, Kimath, Saphek, Themath, Karmel. No satisfactory explanation has been suggested for this strange addition; three of them are unknown, and the other two—Gad (Gath) and Carmel—places we should certainly not expect to meet in this catalogue.

The cities of the Jerahmeelites and Kenites.—These places were situated in the south of Judah; they cannot be traced.

Verse 30

(30) Hormah . . . Chor-ashan . . . Athach.—Hormah, called by the Canaanites Zephath, still exists in the modern village of Zep-ata. Chor-ashan is probably the same as Ashan (Joshua 15:30): it has not been discovered in modern times. Athach is quite unknown.

Verse 31

(31) Hebron.—Hebron is one of the most ancient known cities in the world. It is now called El-Khalil (“friend of God”), owing to Abraham’s residence there. During the early years of David’s rule, which followed the death of Saul, Hebron was the residence and royal city of David. Beneath the building of the present Mosque of Hebron is the famous Cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and Sarah and the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob, and his wife Leah, are buried.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 30". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.