While David is making his home after being turned away from the battlefield his camp is making their way into captivity. Ziklag was left unprotected in his absence and it was sacked by Amalekite raiders.
David and his men felt confident that they were unknown as the ones who were committing all the raids near the edge of Judah. They took pains to ensure that no one was left alive to tell the tale. But after a year it appears someone figured it out. I have no doubt that they were being watched and when they set out for Gath, disaster was determined for them.
We get to look at the heartbreaking part of the story today. The destruction and the hard chase. Let’s see where the Spirit takes us in the story today.
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David and all the fighting men of the camp march off towards Gath. The mothers and children are used to seeing the backs of their men. Usually David takes 400 of them with him at a time. The rest remain behind and protect the settlement. This time he was commanded to bring them all. There have been other times though when the women and children ‘kept the home fires burning’ while all the men were engaged in battle. This time should be no different.
Night falls on the evening of their departure. It marks the beginning of a new day. Children are rounded up for baths and bedtime stories. The older children help with the younger and also putting everything away for the night. Finally all is quiet and the camp settles in for a good night’s sleep.
Morning dawns like any other morning. The women prepare the morning meal, the older children begin their tasks of the day, and the younger children are set to play. Jeremiah and Andrew are given the task of tending to the animals. With their fathers gone the animals stay in their pens. They are dependent on these two young men to bring them food and water. Their hearts burst with pride at being entrusted with such an important job.
Jeremiah completes his first trip from the well to the water trough as Andrew breaks cakes of dried hay into pieces to throw to the sheep. They call back and forth to each other while performing their duties.
“Jeremiah, who do you think our fathers were called out against?”
“I don’t know. But whoever it is my dad will send them running back to where they came from!”
“Well, my dad will kill them where they stand!”
Jeremiah’s words are cut off in mid-sentence by a hand across his mouth and a dagger at his throat.
“What was that Jeremiah?” Andrew turns and sees his friend’s eyes, wide with fear in the hands of a man he does not know. Andrew jumps to his feet as if to rush the man and free his friend but the man does a quick shake of his head and presses the knife harder into Jeremiah’s throat. Andrew freezes in place.
Men pour from the bushes and swarm over the camp like hungry locust. The women are quickly subdued by threats to their children’s lives. So far no blood has been spilt and they pray it stays that way. Within minutes those from the camp are assembled at its perimeter. They watch as torches are tossed into their homes. The ones they built with their own hands. Flames begin to show through the thatch roofs and soon the whole town is alight.
While the women and children watch their homes burn the raiders herd the animals away to keep them calm. The raiders standing guard over the inhabitants of the Ziklag each select a child about the age of five. These they tie to themselves with rope. Mothers cry out as their children are removed from them but a knife to the child’s neck quickly silences all.
It took less than an hour from Jeremiah’s muffled words until David’s camp is emptied of life. Not one drop of blood spilled in that whole time. This is not the treatment David’s people had expected but they are grateful for it. They will continue to cooperate with their captors and wait for the Lord’s rescue.
David and his men have no idea of what awaits their return. The fact that all this took place before they even made it to the battlefield is unknown to them. Their focus was on the task at hand; convincing Achish of his need to include their number in the attack on Israel.
Failing to win the confidence of the other Philistine lords David calls for his men to travel home quickly so they can turn back and hopefully rejoin the battle from the opposite front. If they weren’t being watched they would have turned back already. They must however convince their pursuers that they are following Achish’s command to return to their place.
On the third day of moving fast, David and his men break through the forest that surrounds their temporary homes. Something is not right. No sounds come from the camp. No laughing children. No animals lowing. No welcome cries of their wives. As they move closer they notice burn scars on their homes. Roofs are gaping, doors are missing or hanging in pieces, the pens are trampled, and vessels strewn about and shattered.
Men begin running through the camp calling to their families who are unable to answer them. They search franticly but find nothing to calm their fears. Cries of anguish tear from their throats until they are completely exhausted by grief.
They are furious at David for insisting they all march to Gath together. How could he be so careless with their lives? They might as well be dead themselves for they see no return from this devastation. Better yet, they could stone him as they would not be in this position if it were not for him.
David is feeling the loss as well. His wives are among the missing. But he has noticed something he counts as favorable. There are no bodies. Their families may yet live. He needs direction as to how to proceed. He turns to the One he knows has the answers; he turns to his God.
David called his men together. “We will seek the Lord. Abiathar, ‘Bring me the ephod’ (verse 7b).”
Everyone waits while Abiathar pulls the ephod from the pack he carries and pulls it over his body. Once it is in place he turns to David and waits for him to state his question to the Lord.
“Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” (verse 8a).
Abiathar relays the answer from the Lord, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue” (verse 8a).
The men’s faces began to brighten as hope flooded their hearts. David called them to begin searching the ground for signs of departure to know the direction they should travel. With a company as large as his there would surely be signs.
The raiders had taken some pains to wipe away the trail but not enough to fool David’s men. They were experienced in this activity themselves and they soon recognized the direction they must travel. David and his men began the chase.
There was no time to lose. Their families had already been gone for days as the scars of the fires had already cooled. David set the pace at a run. They reached the brook Besor and stopped to refresh themselves for a moment. Many of the men fell to the ground in exhaustion. Three days hard marching, their discovery at Ziklag and now hours of running had used all their strength. They could go no further.
David understood their exhaustion and he did not chastise them for it nor demand they continue. “Those who can go no farther, stay here. I am going on and any with the strength remaining, follow me.”
Two hundred men stayed behind. David led the four hundred with strength on the trail of their families. They had to slow their pace in order to find signs of the raider’s trail. It had been obvious that they would have to pass through the brook from the signs left at the camp but from this point nothing was certain. Except the Lord’s promise.
As they progressed further into the wilderness Joab spotted an Egyptian lying by the road. He looked near death. Joab called out for David to join him. “Maybe this man has information we can use” suggested Joab.
“We need to revive him first. Bring some food and water quickly.”
Joab grabs a pack and searches through it. He comes away with some bread and passes it to David. David takes his water skin from across his body. He raises the man’s head and presses it to his lips. He drinks greedily. “Easy” urges David as he pulls it back. “You will make yourself sick if you drink too quickly.” The man nods his head in understanding and David returns the skin to his lips where he pulls small sips into his mouth. David eases him into a sitting position and Joab hands him the bread.
The Egyptian slowly eats the bread and drinks more water. This process is painstaking for David’s men. They need answers now but the Egyptian is in no shape to answer yet. Another one of David’s men retrieves a piece of cake of figs and two clusters of raisins from his pack. These too are given to the Egyptian to strengthen him.
“We may as well join him in breaking for a meal too. We need our strength refreshed also” offered Joab. David agreed and his men knelt on the ground and quickly consumed portions from their packs. They would eat but they wouldn’t relax and take their time. They wanted to be ready to go as soon as they could obtain any information from the Egyptian.
Finally the man’s eyes brightened. His spirit was revived. He had not eaten or drank for three days and nights. He was near death when Joab came upon him. Now he was ready to repay his rescuers however he could.
David began to question him. “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” (verse 13a).
“I am a young man from Egypt, servant to and Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. We had made a raid against the Negeb of the Cherethities and against that which belongs to Judah and against the Negeb of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire” (verses 13b-14).
David was thrilled to learn that this man was servant to the men he was looking for. “Will you take me down to this band?” (verse 15a).
The Egyptian’s eyes showed both anger and fear. “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” (verse 15b).
This was an oath David was more than willing to make. “As the Lord lives, I so swear. If you bring me down to this band without alerting them you will become a free man as none of them will remain who were your masters.”
(to be continued)
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I find it very interesting that these raiders didn’t kill anyone in David’s camp. This is NOT the condition David and his men would have left those they raided. It feels to me as if God allowed one more delay for David that kept him from joining in the battle. He would be engaged in a personal battle and miss joining in. This kept David away from Saul and Jonathan’s sides.
God also provided them with a direct guide. He brought them to the man just in time to save him from death. This man also knew exactly where his master was taking his captives. Just exactly what David needed to save his people and just in time.
Father God, You for knowing what it will take to get us where YOU want us to be. Sometimes it isn’t pleasant to be ‘sidetracked’ by You but it is always what is best for us. Did David realize the miracles You sent him that day or did he focus on the pain of the moment? Did he notice after it was all said and done? I sure hope so. ‘Finger prints moments.’