A Wilderness Within (1 Samuel 30)

If you’ve read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings saga, then you may have noticed Peter Jackson’s films omitted a large portion of The Return of the King.  Tolkien’s novel concludes with a lengthy section called “The Scouring of the Shire,” which records the way that the familiar homeland of the Shire had now become overrun by “ruffians.”  Tolkien was working in the years that followed the first World War.  Many young men had gone off to a war fought in trenches and stretches of territory called “no man’s land.”  When they returned home, they found they could not shake the evil they’d seen.  Tolkien’s fanciful story reflects this time—reminding all readers that it’s simply not possible to face evil without evil touching you, maybe even changing you.

If you’ve been through any sort of major trauma—a death in the family, a broken relationship, any sense of loss—there’s a sense in which you can’t really “get over it.”  There’s some part of you that always feels some sense of soreness, like some limp of the soul.

1 Samuel concludes with the coming war between Israel and the Philistines, but in chapter 30 the narration slows and focuses on David.  His wilderness years are drawing to an end, but the suffering he’d experienced was still very much a part of his life.


David and his men return to find a land in ruin:

Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 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.

The men are incensed, and the natural target was David.  After all, he’d been their leader, surely he’s to blame for failing to protect their families?

When we’re hurt, it’s easy to cast blame.  And why not?  Anger is often preferable to hurt, because at least when you’re angry you’re not feeling helpless.  But this small measure of control will never truly serve you well, and in time such bitterness can prevent you from taking a realistic look at your circumstances.


David’s first recourse was to seek God’s direction:

And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those who were left behind stayed.10 But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.

You and I don’t share this direct connection with God.  But we have something David didn’t.  Jesus promised that His followers would be given the provisionary guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Together with God’s word, God’s people have the tools necessary to navigate hostile terrain,


In contrast to his men, David was able to show kindness to a stranger:

 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.”

The kindness paid off—now this man would be instrumental in David’s victory.


David was now granted the ability to attain victory:

 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. 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.”

21 Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them. 22 Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.” 23 But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us.24 Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” 25 And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.

And notice that David was able to use this victory to bless others:

 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.” 27 It was for those in Bethel, in Ramoth of the Negeb, in Jattir, 28 in Aroer, in Siphmoth, in Eshtemoa,29 in Racal, in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, in the cities of the Kenites, 30 in Hormah, in Bor-ashan, in Athach, 31 in Hebron, for all the places where David and his men had roamed.

When we experience deliverance from a time in the wilderness, how can we use this victory for the benefit of others?  Chances are you have a story of how God delivered you from circumstances that seemed overwhelming.  That story—when shared with a neighbor or a coworker—can be powerful in God’s hands at revealing His character.

I experienced such a wilderness in the years after college.  My undergraduate training was in science and chemistry, but a brief stint in cancer research stretched my abilities past the point of breaking.  I was devastated—and jobless.  What was I to do?  It’s a terrible thing to witness your dreams dissolve in a veil of tears.  But it’s a wonderful thing to watch God work His will with your life.  The end of the story, of course, is that I would later become a pastor.  Life will always bring its share of time in the wilderness.  But we can remain confident that Jesus’ victory over sin and death—and the righteousness that he grants to our ledger before God—will see us through.