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David destroys Amalekite raiders, increases his army, and hears of the battle loss and of Saul’s death; the man who claims the credit for killing Saul is killed: 1 Samuel 30; 1 Chronicles 12:20–22; 1 Samuel 31; 1 Chronicles 10:1–14; 1 Chronicles 9:40–44; 2 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 1

David led a group of at least 600 skilled warriors. Most had spent years with David on the run, defending Israelite towns from raiding Philistines. More had joined him while he was at Ziklag, and David kept them busy with his ruthless raids on surrounding villages (belonging to the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites).

Then the tables were turned: the raiders became the raided.

David and his men returned from a six-day march to find the town burned to the ground. Everything was taken: wives, children, servants, slaves, livestock, as well as everything they’d taken in raids.

The returned soldiers were devastated. They weren’t used to losing, and someone had to pay. It was almost David:

1 Samuel 30:3-6 When David and his men saw the ruins and realized what had happened to their families, they wept until they could weep no more. David’s two wives, Ahinoam from Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal from Carmel, were among those captured. David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the Lord his God.

These men weren’t necessarily elite troops loyal to David as an alternative king. Some were loyal but not elite—his brothers and other relatives; some were neither—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented (1 Samuel 22:1–2). Others were elite, but possibly not too loyal as they had defected from supporting Saul as he became increasingly unstable (1 Chronicles 12:8–18).

Regardless, they weren’t in this to lose their own families and possessions. Losing wasn’t part of their plan.

They were also exhausted. They’d been on the road for at least six days (three to Aphek and three back to Ziklag), and the only food was whatever provisions they had with them. This would have had to make the shock all the harder.

David’s response, and he needed one very quickly, was to set out after the Amelakites and take back what was theirs and more. They did, and it worked.

This episode revealed a few things about David’s situation:

  • his men were indeed skilled fighters—so skilled the Philistines didn’t want them around in a war (for fear they’d change sides), and so skilled the Amalekites raided Ziklag only when they were away
  • at least some of his men were effectively mercenaries in that they were on his side for the benefits—the first loss led to threats to David’s life; the subsequent recovery was only reluctantly shared with those who couldn’t keep up the pursuit.

David was leading by consent. His authority lasted as long as his success.