The Amalekites burn down David's refuge!

The Amalekites — Eighth in a series

Saul waged war on the Amalekites all across the northern Sinai Peninsula, but they were not annihilated. They continued to attack Israel and even burned to the ground David's city, which takes some explanation.

The Philistines were Saul's nemesis, and in the earlier days of his reign, their legendary warrior was Goliath. He demanded that Saul send a Hebrew to fight him, one on one. If the Hebrew won, the Philistines would become the servants of Israel, and vice versa.

Saul had been king only a few years when the kingdom was taken from him. David had been anointed the new king by Samuel only a short time when he became Saul's armor bearer and harpist. To most intents and purposes, Saul was the king and David his underling, however, the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul and now was upon David. (1 Sam 16:13-14)

When David stepped forward to kill Goliath without armor or fanfare, he became a cult figure — and the object of Saul's envy and hatred. Soon, a new war with the Philistines erupted, and David was the man to defeat them. (1 Sam 19:8) For this, Saul tried to kill him (once again) with a javelin, but David escaped with his wife's help, who was Saul's daughter. He remained in hiding, but warred against Israel's enemies, Philistines included, with those who were loyal to him.

Over many years, David had opportunities to kill Saul but always refused. Saul gave David's wife to another and David married two more women; he gathered followers from among the distressed, and life went on. It seemed impossible that anything would change, after so long. Saul would say he wanted David to trust him and no harm would come, but David knew better.

Finally, David gave up — and joined the Philistines! He went to dwell among the very ones who had been his fierce enemy, thinking Saul would not look for him there. In fact, he took up residence in Gath, Goliath's home town!

And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: [there is] nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand. (1 Sam 27:1)

What a strange thing to say. Obviously, the man "after God's own heart" had given up on God's promises. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick (Prov 13:12). Trials that last many years confound our sense of right; only the Lord can sustain us through the spiritual warfare and waiting.

Had God not sustained David? It is somehow comforting to know that even the great saints were occasionally overwhelmed by discouragement — we have our treasure in earthen vessels. (2 Cor 4:7)

David did not completely give way. Gath's leader, Achish, gave him the city of Ziklag for a home, and from there he continued to war against Israel's enemies, the Geshurites, Gezrites, and the Amalekites, (1 Sam 27:8) but was not honest with Achish about it. He was in a place of compromise, deceit, discouragement and frayed devotion. He was in a "blind zone" about to be sideswiped by the Lord in the form of the Amalekites.

Achish trusted David so fully that he invited him on a campaign to war against Israel — in a battle that would be Saul's last, however Achish's men did not trust David, so after a hard journey, David with his troops returned to Ziklag. To their horror, the Amalekites had burned it down and taken their wives and children!

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. (1 Sam 30:6)

Where can we turn in our darkest times? We hide from God in God. Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. (Ps 69:6)

Two hundred of David's troops were too weary to pursue the attackers, but 400 immediately went to take revenge, and providentially, they came upon an Egyptian who had been a servant of the Amalekites. Though he had been abandoned because of illness, he led them to the camp where the Amalekites were celebrating because of the spoil taken at Ziklag. David decimated them, except for 400 young men who rode on camels and escaped. All that the Amalekites had stolen was recovered, including all the people. (1 Sam 30:19)

From our vantage ground, we can see that David was in the end zone of his long trial when he gave up and tucked in with Achish. He remained there a year and four months (1 Sam 27:7), and then events began turning to make him king. No doubt in years to come when he would look back, he would remember how he had given up and hid his life with the enemy, but God had not given up on him. Instead, he used the Amalekites to encourage David by way of disaster. Sometimes, encouragement is a very hard bottle to open.

What a mighty and wonderfully loving God we serve! He did not cut short the reign of Saul but gave him 40 years as king. He enriched David with lessons in leadership and with the comforts of life and loyal friendship over many years, and David was only 30 when he began to reign. (2 Sam 5:4) Would he have been fit to reign before then?

And though he struck fear in David by the Amalekite attack, showing him his sin and foolishness, he preserved him from going out with Achish and the Philistines to battle against Saul, prevented him from being stoned by his own men, gave him a guide to find the enemies, and saved the lives of all who were captured, every last one, restoring all the goods and providing spoils for the troops. With only 400 troops, the Amalekites were beaten though 400 escaped, and these numbers are noted so that we today might be encouraged that our God has power to save us, too, even against overwhelming odds, even despite our foolish detours, deceptions and distrust.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives!

And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this [is] our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this [is] the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isa 25:9)

No nemesis here - Amalek not eradicated!

The Amalekites — Seventh in a series

Before Moses died, he recalled to the Hebrews the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments (Deut 6:1) that the Lord wanted them to perform in the promised land. It was a lengthy discourse —nearly all of Deuteronomy — and included orders regarding the Amalekites:

Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, [even] all [that were] feeble behind thee, when thou [wast] faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance to possess it, [that] thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget [it]. Deu 25:17-19

Not long after Israel's first king had been anointed, the moment arrived to eradicate Amalek. It had been about four centuries since the incident at Rephidim and the Amalekites had continued attacking Israel over the years (Judg 6:3, 10:12; 1 Sam 14:48).

An expression, not biblical, now comes to mind: The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding fine. God never forgets to exercise justice, and in his providence he may begin with his own people. In this way, the refining retributions sift his own household (1Pet 4:17), even as they punish his enemies. So it was with King Saul. He had disappointed the Lord by his disobedience at Gilgal, and was sifted in the matter of annihilating the Amalekites. Again he disobeyed, and thus was rejected as king though his reign did not in fact end at the time.

At Gilgal, Saul offered the burnt offering rather than waiting for Samuel to do so. (1 Sam 13:9-14) Samuel warned him then …thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart (vs 14).

Again, when instructed to destroy the Amalekites, Saul disobeyed and disappointed. The Lord said to him through his prophet, I remember [that] which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid [wait] for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Sam 15:2, 3) But Saul spared the Amalekite king Agag and the best of the sheep, oxen and lambs. He only destroyed what he considered to be vile.

Then the Lord told Samuel he was sorry he had made Saul the king, and Samuel reprimanded Saul,

Hath the LORD [as great] delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey [is] better than sacrifice, [and] to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion [is as] the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness [is as] iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from [being] king. (1 Sam 15:22, 23)

Another expression comes to mind: The Lord is doing many things at one time. In this incident, He punished Amalek severely while proving Saul was unfit for command, and importantly, he arranged a lesson for us, To obey is better than sacrifice. This brings up a question: Am I willing to remove or destroy the object or subject in my surroundings that offends the Lord?

In the passage cited, many things are equated with disobedience: rebellion, witchcraft, stubbornness, iniquity, idolatry and rejection of God's Word. Though presumably sparing many sheep for the purpose of sacrificing them in thankfulness to God, Saul failed in his mission. He attributed the oversight to his followers (1 Sam 15:24), but is held responsible for failing to command them.

Obedience is required in all things, particularly in offering sacrifices properly. In Old Testament days, a king was never to usurp the role of the priest; likewise, for us in New Covenant days, there must be a godly presentation and handling of the doctrine of Christ's perfect sacrifice. If a pastor were to tell us he could forgive our sins or that our sins could be forgotten if we would follow a prescribed regimen of prayer, Bible reading or good works, he would be mishandling truth and promoting error.

A last expression is pertinent, this one from the Bible: To whom much is given, much will be required. (Luke 12:48) In context, this passage speaks of a servant who knew the right thing to do, but did not do it. The one who is aware of God's laws and specific commands will be held fully responsible for complete obedience. Those less knowledgeable will enjoy lenience. Leaders are doubly responsible to set an example in obedience. They have power to guide people into truth or into error.

The defeat of our enemies before we begin to fight them

The Amalekites — Sixth in a series

At the end of the last post, Israel was marching north, near the Moabites whose king had hired Balaam to curse them, but Balaam could not resist the Lord's power and blessed them instead. God had promised Abraham that Canaan would belong to his progeny and was close to fulfilling that promise.

The Moabites were not to be disturbed (Deut 2:9); they were cousins not Canaanites. But they were persistent in their desire to confound Israel. At Balaam's counsel (Num 31:16), Moab's daughters drew the Israelites into whoredom and idol worship (Num 25:1, 2), helped by their neighbors, the Midianites. (Num 25:6)

God told Moses to slay each Hebrew who had fallen to their schemes. When one man brought a Midianite woman into their midst and then into a tent, Moses' great nephew, Phinehas, followed them in and speared both in one thrust. For his zealous deed, God's anger was turned away, and Phinehas was promised God's covenant of peace, And he shall have it, and his seed after him, [even] the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel. (Num 25:12, 13) Indeed,

the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of [them] whose heart [is] perfect toward him. (2 Ch 16:9)

The Lord commanded Moses, Vex the Midianites, and smite them. (vs 17) This was to be Moses' final work before he died. We recall that Moses' wife was a Midianite: the Lord is not sentimental.

For the Israelites to take the land, there was urgent necessity that they honor and obey all of God's commands and punish any among them who would not. As they did so, victories began to mount up: first, Jericho, then Ai, though there was a step backward for the disobedience of Achan who hoarded some of the spoils from Jericho.

Again and again, the Lord urged them to victory, saying, The LORD your God has delivered them into your hand (Jos 10:19) or giving similar encouragement. All the battles had been won before the fight if obedience were at hand.

Finally, the enemy nations (except for the Gibeonites of the Hivites who deceived Israel to gain their protection) were defeated — there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand. (Jos 21:44)

However, small pockets of enemies were left to test the Israelites' faith and zeal for obedience, and after a time, as God's people joined with those remnants in idol worship, they had no strength to hold their land. (Judg 2:14) Even so, if they cried out for deliverance, God was faithful to restore their possessions.

When Deborah and Barak called the Israelites to battle against the Canaanites, many of the tribes, but not all, responded. The ones who did were commended in Deborah's song (Judg 5). Ephraim was praised for battling the Amalekites, who once again had joined the Canaanites to defeat Israel, (Judg 5:14) as they had done many generations prior in their second attack on Israel.

We recall that Moses had built an altar after the Amalekites' first attack, to mark God's promise to war against the Amalekites from generation to generation (Ex 17:14-16). Evil is persistent, but is never as determined, irresistible and successful as the LORD in all his plans.

As we consider these lessons from the Old Testament, we can see their application to us:

  1. God's people must be wholehearted and careful in their obedience to all of his commands.
  2. Amalek, the personification of presumption and arrogance, must be leveled in every generation. For us, this is a charge to defeat these tendencies from ruling our hearts.
  3. Those in Christ have been given a land, the kingdom of heaven, a place of our security in the Lord here on earth and for all eternity, and by our obedience, its borders and walls are retained or reestablished.
  4. To the Lord a thousand years is as a day (2 Pet 3:8), and we are never to overlook any of his commands, no matter how long the world goes on. They do not change.

As we are obedient, we will be empowered to resist the devil and to win each battle. (Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8-10) We cannot be obedient without God's love and help.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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