Carolyn, a friend in her 90s, approached me at church after the morning worship service a few Sundays ago. She and her husband Alan had had a terrible week. The previous Tuesday she was hit by another car while driving, destroying her vehicle but leaving her mercifully with only a few bumps and bruises. On Friday there had been an electrical fire in her house. She and her husband were safe but their home was badly damaged. They were living in a nearby hotel and needed prayer. The couple, another friend and I prayed together immediately, and my family has lifted them up before the Lord several times in the past few weeks.
Every life has times of crisis. Some crises seem small, like having trouble not getting the classes that you wanted in college or having trouble setting up the Internet in your apartment. Other crises seem huge, like losing a job or losing a spouse. No matter the size, no one escapes crisis in their lives. The best we can do is learn what to do when crises come.
David faced one of the biggest crises in his life in 1 Samuel 30, and he provides an excellent example of what to do when crisis comes.
After David’s faithfulness when he refused to slay Saul in 1 Samuel 26, he became discouraged. King Saul was nearing the end of his life and was growing more desperate to kill David and secure his dynasty. The Ziphites had betrayed David before, and Saul was ramping up the pressure on the inhabitants of the Judean wilderness to turn him over. Unable to see a better alternative, David took his men, their families, and their belongings, and fled to the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:1-4). They did not know that they would have had only 16 more months of wandering before Saul was dead (1 Samuel 27:7).
David was playing a dangerous game, and Saul knew it. By supporting the enemies of Israel, David and his men would be perceived as enemies of Israel. Even if David did nothing directly against his countrymen, his name would be associated with the hated King Achish of the Philistines. Even if David did not kill one Israelite, by attacking the enemies of Philistia, David was sparing the blood of Philistines, who would then shed the blood of Hebrews. Saul could not kill David while under the protection of the Philistines, but he did not feel that he needed to. In his view, David had disqualified himself from being king.
Though the circumstances between Canaan in 1000 BC and those in modern America are vastly different, perhaps a historical parallel would be useful. David had served Saul and was a great combat leader, responsible for mighty victories against the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:7). Breaking with Saul, David seemed to reject his people, the Israelites, and help their oppressors. Benedict Arnold had served George Washington and was a great combat leader, responsible for mighty victories over the British such as Ft Stanwix and Saratoga. Breaking with the leader, he rejected his people, the American rebels, and helped their oppressors. When Saul died, David became king. Had Washington died, would Arnold have become president?
David also knew that his life hung by a thread. If King Achish discovered that he lied about attacking Israel, he would have destroyed him and his band. If David had shed one drop of Israelite blood, his hopes of being their king would disappear. He could not even go back to the Judean wilderness, because after sojourning with the Philistines, he would have lost most of his local support.
Achish and the other Philistine lords planned a major attack on Israel, the Achish commanded his vassal, David, to accompany him as his bodyguard. Achish had seen David’s prowess in battle and perceived him as being loyal. Further, David was no threat; he had betrayed his people and could not be king in Israel, and as a Jew he could not be king in Philistia. David and his men left their base in Ziklag and marched with the Philistine army for three days, to Aphek. There the other Philistine lords refused to fight alongside David, and so Achish sent him home. There is no doubt that David was desperate to get out of this campaign, a fight against his own people, and the Lord enabled his escape.
Returning to Ziklag, however, David found disaster. He had been raiding the Amalekites and other tribes in the Negev Desert for 16 months, and now they had exacted revenge. A large raiding party, probably over 1,000, had attacked and destroyed the city of Ziklag, taking everything as plunder. The wives, children, livestock, and possessions of David and his men were gone. David’s band had massacred the Amalekites, and there was little doubt that the Amalekites would return the favor.
Curiously, though, there were no corpses littering the ground in Ziklag. The Amalekites had taken the people away but not killed them. There was hope.
Deal with yourself
On finding the burning city, David and his troops were devastated; they had lost everything. The soldiers had joined David in the knowledge that he was a great leader and the hope that he would be King of Israel. That chance seemed gone. Perhaps David’s men had subsequently expected him to become a Philistine warlord, and envisioned the booty they would share. If so, that hope evaporated when the other Philistine lords turned against David. Now the men in David’s guerilla force were utterly destroyed; even the little that they possessed had vanished. In their despair, they turned against their leader (1 Samuel 30:6). David could have been paralyzed in sadness and fear. He could have let hopelessness overwhelm him. He did neither. David dealt with his body, his emotions, and finally his mind.
- Deal with your body – David and his band were exhausted physically from the march and exhausted emotionally from the disaster. Their weeping gave them time to physically rest.
- Deal with your emotions – However mighty these warriors, they did not hide their emotions. They wept, cursed and groaned in sadness for hours until they had no more power to weep.
- Deal with your mind – With his emotions spent, David’s mind became clearer. He remembered the Lord and took comfort in Him. David remembered that God was still in charge; He still had everything under control.
Modern medicine provides a good example of how important it is to deal with yourself first in times of crisis. When a patient collapses on a ward or in an emergency room, doctors and nurses rush to assist. Emotions are high when someone’s life hangs in the balance. Experts in emergency care teach medical professionals that the first pulse each care giver should take in an emergency is their own. Doctors and nurses must first ensure that they are calm and clear headed. Only then will they be any help to the patient.
Dedicate everything (the people, the outcome) to God
David was a man of God. No matter what happened, his first love was his Creator. This eternal perspective enabled David to have faith despite being in the most desperate situation of his life. He could not know the future; as likely as not he would be killed before evening. But David did know who held the future.
Part of David’s appeal as a leader was his undying devotion to Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews. Even those soldiers who doubted his decision to flee to the Philistines had to admit his dedication to the Lord, and this brought David great credibility. As a shrewd judge of human character, David involved others when inquiring of God as to what he should do. We have no evidence that David sought the Lord’s guidance when he fled to the Philistines, but ample evidence that he sought Him now. While David’s men waited for instructions outside the tent, David’s key leaders watched the priest Abiathar perform the official ceremony to get guidance from the Almighty. David could not know the answer to his inquiries, but knew that he and his men needed higher guidance than he could provide, and more credibility than he possessed.
Once David received the word from the Lord, he obeyed. In effect, David dedicated himself to trust and obey God no matter the outcome. He led his men in doing the same.
Deal with the situation
With a clear mind and emotions under control, David and his men armed themselves and set out in search of the Amalekites. They had not fully rested and eaten because time was of the essence; at any moment the raiders could have turned against their captives and slain them all. However, they did take enough rest and sustenance to keep going.
- Your enemies
The Amalekites were a nomadic tribe, but like all nomads they had a general area in which they could usually be found. David’s band knew the area but did not know where this particular party was. The raiders had attacked three days before, probably when David and his men had set out from Aphek. If the Amalekites had moved fast, they could have been uncatchable. An Amalekite raiding party would have been on camels, but David and his warriors were probably on foot. The Philistine Army included infantry and chariots but not cavalry, which did not become common until the Greco-Persian wars (4th to 5th century BC). Chariots and their drawing horses were expensive and hard to support, so David’s men would have marched with the infantry. Without a break, the Hebrews had almost no chance to find their quarry. But they did have the promise of God.
Taking the road toward Amalekite lands, David’s band set off as soon as possible. They left 200 men who were too exhausted to continue the pursuit at the brook Besor with instructions to guard the supplies. A while later, David’s band found an Egyptian slave who had been left to die by the Amalekite raiders. The Hebrews stopped for a few hours to nurse the slave back to health. Though they were impatient to move, this man was David’s best source of information. The alternative was to wander around in the desert looking for other clues. Refreshed, the slave revealed that his master had been among the party and that he could lead them to their enemies. David’s band found their enemies shortly before dark.
David had one more problem. He only had 400 men and the Amalekites had many more. As they approached the camp, David’s men discovered that their enemy had become lax. They had set no guard and did not detect the approaching Hebrews. Instead, the Amalekites were engaging the traditional joys of war – rape, pillage, and drinking. David assembled his troops and they crept into position. They attacked at dusk and annihilated the Amalekites. Once their enemies were dead or had fled, the Hebrews gathered the spoil.
- Your friends
After the victory celebration, David led the party back to Ziklag along the same road. When they found the 200 who had not been involved in the battle, the “wicked and worthless” among the 400 who had fought wanted to keep the spoil for themselves. David’s first crisis had been with his own men, his second had been with the Amalekites, and his third was with his own men. This is a frequent pattern in life; most of our crises involve people that are, or at least claim to be, on our side.
The soldiers proclaimed that the spoil was David’s, and he decided that everyone in the band should share equally. He reminded his men that the Lord had provided the victory, and the people had no right to deny others the treasure that God had given. This pleased the mass of his forces and set a precedent for his future kingdom.
- The future
Only three days after returning to Ziklag after the slaughter of the Amalekites, David learned that Saul and Jonathan were dead (2 Samuel 1:1-16). After the appropriate time of mourning, David moved to build political support back in Israel. His service to the Philistines had darkened his image in the eyes of many Israelites, so David took part of his share of the loot and sent it to his friends throughout the southern part of Judah. Rebuilding these old friendships would be useful when it came time to take the throne.
Though David and his men rescued all of the hostages, the events surely scarred them. Many of the women and some of the children had probably been raped. Some women may have become pregnant, and the resulting children had to be cared for. Other hostages had been beaten, and all had been terrified. In Ziklag, homes needed to be rebuilt and refurnished. Some of the soldiers and their wives probably remained bitter towards David for what had happened. As the leader, David had to concern himself not only with the immediate but also the long-term effects of the Amalekite raid.
Crises small and large are a constant part of our earthly lives. We can deal with them well or deal with them poorly. In 1 Samuel 30, David provided a good example of how a godly man handles crises. First, he dealt with himself. Second, he dedicated himself and the entire situation to God; his strength and support. Third, David dealt with the situation. He eliminated his enemies, balanced the needs of his friends, and looked to accomplish his goals in the future. Christians today who find themselves emulating David will also find themselves turning crisis into success.