This week, we return to our series of messages as we look at the biblical record of the life of king David. David is important for believers to be well acquainted with because God does so many glorious things in his life that reveal what he [God] is like. But it’s also important for believers to understand David’s life because David is in many ways the Old Testament figure that most clearly points to Jesus Christ, the Son of David.
We saw last time that at this time during David’s life, king Saul is literally hours away from death at the hand of the Philistines. We saw that even from the grave, Samuel had prophesied that Saul and his son Jonathan would die in battle. You may remember that David and his fighting men had been staying with king Achish of Gad in the land of the Philistines. He did this to keep king Saul from hunting him down as he had done relentlessly for about the last decade.
This strategy DID keep Saul away from David but at one point, it also led king Achish to call on David and his men to join him and his Philistine army and fight against David’s own people of Judah. That would have been a disaster for all concerned, but God intervened through Achish’s men who didn’t trust David and who refused to trust these Jews to kill other Jews for them. As we’ll see next week, Lord willing, the Philistines on Mount Gilboa will fulfill Samuel’s bleak prophecy to Saul on Mount Gilboa.
When David and his men leave Achish and the Philistine army, they return to the city of Ziklag that Achish had earlier given to David. When they arrive, to their absolute horror, they find that Ziklag had been burned by the hated Amalekites. David and his men had recently defeated some Amalekite raiders, and this was probably their retribution for that defeat. Worse than the damage to the city however was the fact that the families of David and all the warriors had been captured and made prisoners of the Amalekites. This story highlights one of the most gut-wrenching chapters in David’s life and it also reveals many truths about God and how he works in the lives of his people in times of great trauma and stress. This story reveals how to respond in times of trial and enemy attack and our goal this morning is to be strengthened in God through these truths.
The first truth about God in the midst of trial and spiritual attack is found in the first six verses as we’re introduced to the horrific tragedy that David and his men confronted on their return to Ziklag. This truth is one nearly all believers experience at some time and that is: God allows both trials and assaults from the enemy into our lives that feel absolutely overwhelming. It’s important for us to just acknowledge this so that when these horrible seasons of pain enter our lives, we won’t think that something strange is happening to us. Life can be intensely painful at times and this is certainly what we see here in David’s life.
When we meet them here in this chapter, David and his men had just spent three days walking about 60 miles from Gath to their homes in Ziklag. When they get to this burned out city there, according to verse three they find “their wives and sons and daughters [were] taken captive.” The Amalekites raid this unprotected city and carry off anyone who could be of value to them. There were doubtless some older folks still remaining in Ziklag who couldn’t be sold as slaves or used as slaves. But everyone of any economic value to the Amalekites—wives, sons and daughters, had been hauled away as spoils of war.
The author describes how traumatic this experience was in verse four where we learn that “…David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep.” That tells us that it would have been nearly impossible for these men to have been more traumatized. These men, who were hardened warriors by this time, wept to the point of exhaustion. We know that David was also one of those victimized by the Amalekites—because the author tells us that his “…two wives had also been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel.”
If it weren’t enough for David to have lost his wives, the rest of his army, whose grief had made them irrational, decided that, as their leader, David was to blame for this disaster and “…the people spoke of stoning him…” So, David is not only a victim of his Amalekite enemies, but he also becomes the scapegoat for this disaster, and he hears his loyal comrades in arms talk of killing him. The author wants us to see that for David in particular, this attack is on two fronts and must have felt absolutely overwhelming to him.
Trials, and the emotional pain that accompanies them, obviously run on a continuum ranging from nuisance and annoyance on the one end, to terror and devastation on the other. This attack David and his men experienced was red-lining in the terror and devastation category. The agony is so intense, you feel like you need grace to endure even one more minute.
If you haven’t experienced this, you almost certainly will not escape this life without going through this, perhaps many times. The point for us from the text is that—like David, we are not exempt from these trials and the emotional collapse that accompanies them. A quick survey of church history reveals that believers who are faithful in a fallen and hostile world, rather than being exempted from these trials, are actually at a much higher risk for them. David’s life models for us the truth that God is not hesitant to allow these overwhelming situations into the lives of his children.
When they do come into our lives, we mustn’t assume that it is a mistake and that we are experiencing something unusual for a believer. Jesus says in John 16:33, “…In the world you will have tribulation.” What separates the Christian from the people in this world is NOT that we experience fewer or less severe trials. What is supposed to separate us from the world is—how, by God’s grace, we can respond to them. And David shows us what the grace of God looks like in these situations.
A second truth we see in this story about God in the midst of trial is: God is always available to his people in times of trial and spiritual assault, but we find him only as, in humble dependence, we actively seek him. We see this truth in verses six and seven. We read, “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. 7 And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David.”
David does two things here. First, he “…strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” What does that mean? First, let’s clarify what it does NOT mean. First, David does not find his solace in whining and self-pity. David doesn’t spend hours thinking about just how bad he has it or how deep his hurt runs. There’s no morbid introspection. Neither is he wasting any time questioning why God would ever let this happen to him. His theology obviously had room for his God to allow him to be horribly assaulted and suffer deeply.
In the Psalms David laments or makes lamentations many times. He cries out to God and even expresses his doubts to him—even to the point in Psalm 44 to telling God, “Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, Lord? Awake, do not cast us off for ever! 24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” It’s perfectly appropriate to bring a sense of urgency to God in your grieving and we see that over and over in the Psalms. In Psalm 69, David says, “ 1 Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 3 I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” David uses this metaphor of drowning to communicate his utter despair and feeling of helplessness.
It’s not wrong to tell God how miserable you are in these situations. But that’s NOT the same as “poor me” thinking. With self-pity, we are not lamenting about how hard things are, but how sorry we feel for ourselves. Another response you hear sometimes in the church (and that is totally inconsistent with what David does here) is “let go and let God.” People may mean different things by that, but if they mean that the right response to trial is passively waiting for God to come rescue us, that is not at all modelled in Scripture and it certainly isn’t what David does here. In fact, that kind of passivity can be dangerous because it can easily lead us to us feeling like God has failed us when in fact, we have failed to learn what trusting him looks like in the midst of trial.
David shows us what it looks like in verse six when the author tells us that, “David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” What does that mean? One commentator is helpful when he says, “It is not a quick fix…The Lord is not a genie you rub in trouble in order to make your feel better. Jesus is not your own personal pain reliever to get you on top of life’s aches.” The author gives us some help knowing what he means by David strengthening himself in the Lord because we read a very similar phrase earlier in First Samuel on the lips of Jonathan back in chapter 23. Verse 16 says, “16 And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. 17 And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.”
Jonathan strengthens the hand of David in God by reminding David of God’s promise to him about his future reign over Israel. That tells us that when David “strengthened himself in the LORD his God” he was at least in part, reminding himself of the promises God made to him and how God had preserved him through all these trials just as he said he would. To strengthen yourself in God surely includes this for us as well. When we feel like we are drowning in pain, the best thing we can do is to remind ourselves of God’s many promises to us.
“God will never leave me or forsake me.” [Hebrews 13:5] “ 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7] “13 … God is faithful, and he will not let me be tempted beyond my ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that I may be able to endure it.” [1 Corinthians 10:13] “ When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” [Psalm 56:3-4]
Those are just four of the more than 7000 promises of God to us in Scripture that God has given us to strengthen ourselves in him. Actively placing our trust in the inspired promises of God in his word is the best way to strengthen yourself in God. It’s also spiritually strengthening to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness in our life in the past when he has kept us and protected us and strengthened us and delivered us.
This is at least part of how David strengthened himself in God. But David does a second thing here that is not at all passive. He told Abiathar the priest, “Bring me the ephod.” This is probably the Urim and Thummin that was in some way attached to the priestly garment Abiathar possessed. This was an oracle of some sort that, during this period of Israel’s history, could be asked “yes” or “no” questions about God’s will and God would respond.
So, first David strengthens himself in the promises of God and second, he looks to God for guidance through the direct access to God he had through the ephod. Through the ephod, God assures David that he should not only pursue the Amalekites, but he promises David that he will overtake them and rescue them. We don’t have an ephod, but we have something better. Believers today don’t have some sort of stone to which we can address only very simple questions. We have the third Person of the Triune God living inside us who can give us supernatural encouragement when we pray. Far better than any ephod is to strengthen ourselves in God by enjoying “the direct access we have to God in prayer.” We strengthen ourselves in God in the midst of the battering of this world by claiming his promises, remembering his past faithfulness to us, and going to prayer where the Holy Spirit, through prayer will give us comfort and rest.
The truth however is, often God seems very distant in our trials and, when that happens, the example of Jacob is very helpful to us. In Genesis 32, you may remember that Jacob had left his crooked uncle Laban with a huge flock of animals and significant wealth. He was returning to his homeland and was justifiably anxious about meeting his brother Esau who, years earlier, he had treated so badly by stealing his blessing and his birthright. Jacob is under great stress and fearing for his life. He prays about it for a while and he plots and plans how to appease his brother. But finally, in the midst of the trial, God comes and wrestles with Jacob and Jacob tells God in verse 26, “…I will not go unless you bless me.”
Prayer to God in times of trial often resembles wrestling—crying out to God until he meets with you and touches you. As you do this wrestling with God in prayer, nothing changes in your circumstances, but when you get off your knees, YOU are changed. In the midst of your striving after God in prayer, God has touched your heart and strengthened you in him. This kind of wrestling with God in prayer doesn’t seem at all natural in an age of fast food and microwave ovens. There is no express lane when you wrestle with God in prayer—no shortcuts. But for those who have done it, they know that sometimes it is the only way to find peace with God in the midst of the onslaught. This is our, much superior way of saying, “bring me the ephod.”
A third truth about God in the midst of our trials is God will equip us with whatever we need in our trials/fight against the enemy. We see this beginning in verse 11 as they were following God’s word to go out in pursuit of the Amalekites. “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. 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.” 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.” 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.”
Think about the miraculous providence of God here. God tells David through the ephod that they will overtake the Amalekites, but he does NOT tell them where they are. So, they head out, probably in the general direction of the Amalekites homeland. But, as a small army pursuing a much larger army, they know that they must have the element of surprise. So, it’s imperative that they know specifically where their enemy is, so they can sneak up on them unnoticed. So, how does God solve their problem? He miraculously sends them this Egyptian slave who had actually been a part of this group of Amalekite raiders and who knew exactly where they would be. He had evidently taken part in the raid against Ziklag but at some point, he fell ill, and his master abandoned him.
God could have directed them to the Amalekites in any one of 100 ways, but he chose to give them their very own personal guide in the form of this Egyptian. In the vast expanse of this desert, what are the chances of David happening to come across the one man in this area who had first-hand knowledge of the Amalekite location? They were so remote that it never occurred to David to even look for such a person. They just happen to “come across him” as he’s stumbling to his death in the desert.
God is faithful to give David and these men what they need. As it relates to us, this does NOT mean that God will always work in overtly miraculous ways as he does here for David. The point is however that God CAN and indeed DOES give us whatever we need to prevail in the midst of the trial. He may supply this through very explainable ways. Or it may be through a miraculous example of God’s providence as we see here.
A fourth truth about God in this militant context is found in verses 17-20. This relates the results of the battle. “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.”
This is an absolutely resounding success—surely way beyond what David hoped for! David and his men are clearly outnumbered. We read that 400 Amalekites—the number of men equal to the size of David’s army, flee the scene of the battle. That was obviously only a small percentage of the entire Amalekite army. Yet, in spite of being greatly outnumbered, God works the victory here for David and his men.
But they not only retrieve what they set out to get—the return of their families. They also carry off all the spoils of war the Amalekites had won from those they had defeated. We know there was a great abundance of spoil here because David has enough to give a ton of it away to his friends back in Judah. The fourth truth about God in trial is God often uses trials to give us good things we could have never received apart from the trial. Do we believe this? That’s what is modeled here for us.
When the Amalekites attack Ziklag, they impoverish David and his men of their families. But God uses these same Amalekites to greatly enrich them NOT in spite of the trial, but BECAUSE of the trial. HE gave them these spoils of wealth and property they would not have had if the Amalekites had not raided their city. We may not always end up finding financial enrichment in our trials, but we can always profit from our trials in some way and in ways that are far more important than money.
Even unbelievers know that we often learn the most important lessons of life in adversity. We grow much wiser from our trials than we do for our blessings. If you are in the midst of trial, you must see that as an important part of God’s curriculum to teach you about him. Even Jesus learned through his trials. Hebrews 5:8 says, “8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” The point is not to say that Jesus was at some point disobedient, but suffering taught him how to obey. It’s that–just as Jesus grew in wisdom, so he also grew in obedience and his suffering was one of his main teachers. Likewise, in our lives, God teaches us things in the midst of our extremity that we could never learn from times of rest and comfort.
A fifth and final truth about God in the midst of trials is related to this. That is—God uses our present battles/trials to specifically prepare us for our future responsibilities. We see this in the final six verses. After the victory and the plunder has been collected and distributed, we read in verse 26, “26 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.” This verse tells us much more than meets the eye. David here sends spoil as a present to his old friends from his days with Saul, the elders of Judah.
We must remember that David knew that he would be the future king of Israel. And God knows that king Saul is hours away from death and the people of Judah will very soon be in need of a new king. On a purely human level, who do you suppose makes that decision? We know from Second Samuel that it was these men of Judah who anointed David king. David is simply using some political wisdom here. He knows that it would do these men good to have a reminder of the kindness of David and a generous gift can do that. In verses 27-31, there is a list of all these cities where these elders live. The author’s point is—these are all regions of Judah who’s support of David would be crucial.
But David’s preparation to be king through trials is obviously not limited to these verses at the end of chapter 30. The main reason that God didn’t terminate king Saul shortly after he disqualified himself from being king back in chapter 15 was because this new king David, if he were to be a godly, faithful king, would need to learn to trust God implicitly. Certainly, the story of David and Goliath reveals that, even as a teenager, God had given more faith to David than he did to most people. But the king over God’s people needed to be a very unique man if he was to manifest God’s own rule over his people.
And …God knew something about David that David didn’t at this point. That was that he was preparing David to be a king with an utterly unique mission. David wasn’t like any other king in one important respect. As we said earlier, David was the king, more than any other, that God raised up to point to—to foreshadow the king of Kings, the Son of David, Jesus Christ. In order for David to be the kind of king that would accurately point to Jesus Christ, he would need a unique training regimen. The kind of regimen you receive when, for a decade, you’re running for your life from an insane king Saul in the wilderness of Judah.
How many times do you suppose David experienced God’s deliverance from Saul? How many times did David witness God’s wondrous provision of food and shelter that he and his 600 followers needed out in the wilderness? How many of David’s urgent prayer requests were fulfilled? How many times did David find comfort in God as he wrestled with him in prayer?
The book of First Samuel teaches us that by the time David was given the throne of Israel, he had been through advanced training in God’s Graduate School of faith. And he would need that equipping to establish a strong and healthy nation. He would need that spiritual depth to establish new forms of temple worship. He would need the additional military experience, as the warrior king, to repeatedly and decisively defeat the Philistines and all the other enemies of God.
One lesson for us is—we don’t know the future responsibilities God has for us any more than David did but we DO know that God is not arbitrary in choosing for us the trials we experience. No, each trial is specially crafted by God so as to do the work in our hearts—teach us the life lessons that will enable us, in the future, to do what God has for us. This is so encouraging for us in the midst of painful trials because it reminds us that God doesn’t waste any of the pain in our lives. He uses it and what we learn about God from it to prepare us for future the battles we will fight.
Jesus, as the Son of David suffered far more than we could in 10,000 lifetimes. He was rejected, betrayed, mocked, tortured and crucified to do the work necessary for sinners like us to personally know and love the Lord of the universe. He did all that to guarantee that, no matter how much his people suffered, it would be temporary until he takes us home to him to enjoy eternal pleasures as his right hand. If you don’t know Christ, you repent of your sins and receive him today.
May God give us the grace to grow through our trials as we learn to trust his promises and actively seek after him for his glory and our joy.
 Davis, D.R. (2000). 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart (pp. 309-323) electronic edition, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.
 This wording is found in Davis, cited earlier.