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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 30

Verses 1-2

1 Samuel 30:1-2. The Amalekites had invaded the south These Amalekites appear to have been clans of straggling freebooters, who rambled from place to place, and were common enemies of mankind; like the Arabian Hordes, living upon rapine and plunder wherever they came. It may seem strange, David having killed all he could meet with, chap. 1Sa 27:9 that they should not have served his people in the same manner. But though they sought revenge, says Bishop Patrick, yet they desired booty much more. Being a poor and covetous people, they spared not the women and children out of compassion, but because they wanted slaves either for their own use, or to sell to others. But, be this as it may, one cannot help observing the gracious interposition of Providence in this event; for, doubtless, it is most extraordinary, that the captives should have been thus spared, to be recovered afterwards perfectly safe and unhurt out of the hands of a people to abandoned and execrable as the Amalekites.

REFLECTIONS.—Little thought David and his men, while they were marching in the camp of the Philistines, what ravages were committing at home by their enemies.

1. The Amalekites, in their absence, probably having intelligence of it, fall upon the defenceless city, plunder and burn it, reserving all the women and children alive; not out of pity, it is to be feared, but covetousness; and in truth withheld secretly by God. Note; God can make the sins of men subserve his designs of mercy.

2. Great was the distress and consternation of David and his men at this unexpected calamity. Three days they had spent in marching home, and when they hoped to rest their weary limbs, lo! their houses are burnt, and their families gone, uncertain whether captives or murdered, and David's wives among the rest. Note; (1.) We know not, when we go from home, what scenes of mourning may meet us on our return. (2.) The more we promise ourselves comfort in the creature, the bitterer will be our disappointment.

3. While tears would flow, they wept, and wearied themselves with sorrow; and when these fountains were dry, in distress and despair the men turned their complaints on David, and threatened to stone him, as the author of their calamity by leading them from their home. Thus was his faith severely exercised, and sorrow added to sorrow. Note; (1.) Suffering is apt to make us impatient; and, though we dare not fly in the face of God, we are ready to lay hands on those who have been, though innocently, instruments of bringing us into the trouble. (2.) Great saints become so by great sufferings. Grace, like the palm-tree, crescit sub pondere, grows under trials.

4. David, under all his afflictions, encouraged himself in God. Though he shared deeper than any man in the general loss, and in this unreasonable anger of theirs bore a grief peculiarly his own, he yet thought upon God, his power, love, and faithfulness, and still hoped in his mercy. This was his support in the time of his trouble; nor was he disappointed of his hope; for no man ever trusted God, and was ashamed. Note; (1.) Our circumstances can never be so bad, nor our case so deplorable, but there is ground for faith in the promises of God. (2.) To encourage our souls in him, is the surest way to escape from our troubles.

Verse 8

1 Samuel 30:8.— We may just note here, what we have frequently observed, how much the insertion of particles in our version flattens the sense. Every reader of taste will discern it in the last clause of this verse.

Verse 9

1 Samuel 30:9. Where those that were left behind, stayed The sense is clearer than the expression. Of the six hundred men who accompanied David, two hundred, worn out with fatigue, (the same as had care of the baggage, 1 Samuel 30:24.) continued by the brook Besor, while the other four hundred crossed the brook, and went in pursuit of the enemy.

Verse 11

1 Samuel 30:11. And they found an Egyptian, &c.— Surely the leaving such a slave, sick with fatigue in his master's service in an enemy's country, utterly destitute of all the necessaries of life in the midst of unpurchased plenty, is one of the strongest instances of inhumanity that was ever heard of! This is a true specimen of Amalekite mercy. But this inhumanity cost them dear; for by this means they lost their own lives.

Verse 12

1 Samuel 30:12. And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, &c.— The eastern people are well known to carry with them in their journies several accommodations, and provisions in particular of various kinds, for, properly speaking, they have no inns. They did so anciently. Those who travel on foot with expedition, content themselves with a very slight viaticum. The writer of the history of the piratical states of Barbary, speaking of the great expedition of the natives of the country about Ceuta in carrying messages, (some of them running one hundred and fifty miles in less than twenty-four hours,) says, "Their temperance is not less admirable; for some meal, with a few figs and raisins, which they carry in a goat's skin, serves them a seven or eight days' journey, and their richest liquor is only honey and water." Not very different from this is the account here given by the sacred writer, of the provisions carried by David and his men, for their support in their hurrying pursuit after the Amalekites, as appears by what they gave the poor famished Egyptian, bread, (water) figs and raisins. The bread of the Israelites answers to the meal of Barbary; the figs and the raisins were the very things which the Moors now carry with them. We do not find any mention of honey in this account of David's expedition; but it is represented in other passages of Scripture as something refreshing to those who were almost spent with fatigue; chap. 1 Samuel 14:27; 1Sa 14:29 which is enough to make us think that they sometimes carried it with them in their journies or military expeditions. See Observations, p. 206.

Verse 14

1 Samuel 30:14. Upon the south of the Cherethites It is plain, from this relation, that the Cherethites were Philistines, see 1Sa 30:16 and that the Amalekites were enemies to the Philistines; and therefore, however David might have asked beside the intentions of his benefactor, yet he certainly did not act against his interest in destroying them. Calmet, in his dissertation upon the origin of the Philistines, says, that the name Cherethites, or Cherethians, is the same as Cretans; and he maintains that this people were Aborigines of Crete.

Verse 15

1 Samuel 30:15. I will bring thee down to this company Houbigant adds after these words, and David sware to him; following the Syriac and Arabic. The words might certainly be understood, if they are not expressed.

Verse 17

1 Samuel 30:17. And David smote them, &c.— The number of Amalekites that fled, was equal to that of all David's forces; and out of self-preservation, he was obliged to put as many of them to the sword as he could, to prevent being surrounded and destroyed by so superior a number. A partial victory, instead of being of any service to him, would have rather turned out to his disadvantage; because the straggling parties might have united, and watched an opportunity of retrieving their defeat by a second attack; and it was not unknown to David, nor can it be unknown to any impartial reader, that the Amalekites were such inveterate enemies to the Israelites, and so restless at the same time, that they would have lost no opportunity of wiping off their disgrace, or endangering the very being of the Israelitish nation. I affirm, lastly, that David not only acted prudently, but well, in pursuing his victory, and extirpating them, as they were proscribed by God himself, and condemned to be utterly cut off.

Verse 20

1 Samuel 30:20. And David took all the stocks and the herds, &c.— To crown his success, David and his men not only recovered every man his wife and children, and every thing they had lost; but all the plunder which the enemy had taken elsewhere; vast flocks and herds of cattle, which they now separated from their own, and, in honour of their leader, distinguished by the name of David's spoil; of which spoil, when David returned to Ziklag, he sent presents to all his friends who had protected and entertained him in his exile, whether in Judea or out of it; 1 Samuel 30:26-31. And from the account of this matter in the verses referred to, it appears, that David had in this exile sojourned in many places, whither the sacred historian did not think fit to trace him. Those places were principally in the tribe of Judah. This conduct of David's is certainly a high proof of the honest and overflowing gratitude of his heart for favours received.

Verses 23-25

1 Samuel 30:23-25. Ye shall not do so, my brethren David pronounced, in contrariety to the inhuman resolutions of some evil men who attended him, that they who went down to battle, and they who stayed behind to guard the goods and provisions of the army, should share alike in the enemy's spoil; well knowing that there was as much merit in contributing to save a citizen, as in destroying an enemy; and that those who now stayed behind had no other demerit than that of a weaker constitution. Chalcondylas tells us, (lib. 5:) that the Pisidians went further, and gave part of the spoil to those who staid at home and guarded the houses; and God himself appointed half to those who staid at home in the war with Midian. Numbers 31:0. This determination of David's became a law among the Israelites from that day: and we have reason to believe, that it lasted as long as the Jewish polity did, and was restored with it; and it is generally understood to have been practised by the Maccabees. 2 Maccabees 8 :

REFLECTIONS.—1st. David, having encouraged himself in God in this his great distress, addresses himself to him for direction.

1. He orders Abiathar to bring the ephod, and inquire whether he should go down after these spoilers, and whether he should overtake them; he receives a command to go, and an assurance of success. Had he consulted God before his expedition with the Philistines, perhaps all his trouble might have been prevented. It is good to be made wise by past oversights.
2. Encouraged by this answer from God, he immediately pursues with his six hundred men, who, though fatigued with their march, and more with their trouble, follow hard after the track of these spoilers. At the brook Besor two hundred were quite faint and disabled; these, therefore, he is compelled to leave there to recover themselves, while he continues the pursuit with the remainder, trusting not on the arm of flesh, which was thus weakened, but on the promise of God. Note; (1.) Discouraging providences will but exalt the faith of the determined soul. (2.) They who still press forward, will infallibly seize the prize. (3.) The Son of David considers our infirmities, and pities our weakness.

3. God brings them a guide: a wretched Egyptian lies in their way, sunk under the complicated pressures of sickness and want, speechless, and ready to expire. The men bring him to David, and compassion moves him to relieve so miserable an object. The refreshment they gave him soon brought him to his senses, and enabled him to give an account of himself, and say to whom he belonged. He was an Egyptian, and servant to an Amalekite, as indeed his treatment shewed. Being overtaken with sickness, occasioned by his hard service, his inhuman master had deserted him, and left him barbarously to perish for want. He gives David an account of their expedition, their ravages on the south of Judah, and their capture of Ziklag; and, at David's request, having by an oath bound him not to deliver him up to his cruel master, offers to bring him down to the place where these plunderers were. Note; (1.) Great events often depend on very trivial and unexpected incidents. (2.) No man is so mean and despicable, as to be beneath our notice: we know not how much good or evil the weakest instruments may do us. (3.) He is a cruel and an Amalekite master, who, when his poor servants are sick, dismisses them hastily, and leaves them to shift for themselves while they are so disabled and helpless. (4.) Nothing is ever lost by compassion: charity usually brings its own reward.

4. The Amalekites are surprised in the midst of their feast. Triumphing in their success, and concluding themselves safe from all fear of being pursued, military order was neglected; all were busy in eating, drinking, and dancing, spending the evening in mirth and jollity; when David and his men suddenly fell upon them, and, without resistance, put them to the sword. The pursuit continued till the evening of the next day, and not an Amalekite escaped, except four hundred young men, who owed their preservation to the swiftness of the camels, or dromedaries, on which they rode. All the spoil of their camp fell into the victor's hands: they recovered not only all they had lost, particularly David's wives, who are mentioned as the dearest and nearest to his heart, but also the flocks and herds of the Amalekites, which in triumph were driven home before them as David's spoil. Note; (1.) Security is the destruction of the sinner. (2.) Death unseen is hovering over many a soul which to dance and song devotes the day, and little thinks, in the midst of the throng of pleasures, how near he stands on the brink of never-ending pain. (3.) In prosperity they will be caressed and honoured, who in distress were, like David, insulted. (4.) The Son of David has recovered out of the hands of sin and Satan all that poor sinners had lost, and enriched his faithful people with better spoils than these flocks and herds, even with treasures which robbers can never steal, and mansions of glory, which are incorruptible, undefiled, and never fade away.

2nd, We have here David returning triumphant, and laden with spoil.
1. His wearied troops, who were left at the brook Besor with their baggage, come to meet him, and congratulate him on his victory, and David receives them with great kindness and affection. Note; They who are willing, but weak, must not be upbraided with, but comforted under, their infirmities.

2. The same wicked men, who had talked so mutinously against their leader, now shew the same inhumanity and uncharitableness to their brethren; and would greedily rob them, not only of part of the spoils, but of all that was their own, except their wives and children, which, left thus stript and destitute, would be but a burthen to them. Note; The covetous heart is hardened against the sufferings of the needy.

3. David rejects so unreasonable a proposal. It was highly ungrateful to God, whose hand alone had given them the victory. It was most injurious to their brethren, who, not by choice, but necessity, were left behind, and even then were employed in the needful service of guarding the baggage. David, therefore, commands an equal distribution to be made between them all. Herein they acquiesced, overcome by his persuasion, and overawed by his authority. Note; Resolute firmness is needful in a commander to restrain factious spirits.

4. David generously distributes his own share of the spoil among his friends in Judah and elsewhere, in gratitude for the favour and protection that they had shewed him during his haunts among them. Note; (1.) Every gracious soul must be generous: he who gives a new heart gives a liberal hand. (2.) They who have shewn us kindness deserve a recompence whenever God puts it in our power. (3.) They who are disposed to receive the Son of David for their king, will be enriched by his munificence, not merely with the gifts of grace in time, but with the riches of glory in eternity.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 30". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.