Shemuel Alef Chapter 30
David and his men return to Tziqlag to discover that it has been burned to the ground by Amaleqites and that all of the people and possessions that were in their camp were gone. Assuming that their families had been massacred, the troops are devastated, and cry to the point of exhaustion. They are angry with David, blaming him for leading them to the battlefield and convincing them to leave their wives and children exposed to attack. David himself is deeply troubled; his own wives have disappeared and are presumed dead, and his men are threatening his life. Nonetheless, David remains steadfast in his trust in Hashem. He summons Evyatar the Kohen and requests the Ephod so that he can inquire of Hashem. Hashem tells David that he should pursue those responsible for the attack and that he will vanquish them.
David departs with six hundred men and they reach the brook of Besor. Two hundred men are too tired to continue and remain at the stream; David crosses it with the remaining four hundred troops. The group encounters an Egyptian lad who appears to be near death – he had not eaten or drunk anything for three days. David and his entourage provide the sickly Egyptian with bread, water and fruit to restore his energy. David then asks the youth for his background; he explains that he is an Egyptian who was a slave to an Amaleqi. They had attacked and plundered numerous cities and burned Tziklag to the ground. However, this lad had been sick for the past three days, so his master abandoned him and left him for dead.
The Egyptian agrees to lead David and his men to the Amaleqite camp if they swear not to kill him or allow him to fall back into the hands of his cruel master. When they arrive, they see the Amaleqites eating, drinking and celebrating as they feast on all the bounty they have stolen from the towns and villages they have assailed. David’s company launches an immediate surprise attack and, fighting valiantly for twenty-four consecutive hours, defeats the Amaleqites soundly; only four hundred survivors manage to escape on camels. David and his entourage are pleased to find that none of their family members have been harmed nor has their property or livestock been consumed or damaged. They lead all of the people and animals back with them, declaring all that they have recovered “the spoils of David”.
When they reunite with the troops who remained behind at the brook of Besor, the men who fought on the front lines do not want to return any of the material goods to those who did not risk their lives in battle. David refuses to accept this argument, insisting that those who guard the camp deserve a share in the spoils of war that is equal to that of the fighters. This becomes the official policy of Israel for all time. When David and his men finally return to Tziqlag, he sends portions of the spoils of the “enemies of Hashem” to the elders of Yehuda in several key Jewish cities.
There is much to comment upon in this chapter. Some have suggested that suffering this attack was a subtle form of “punishment” for David for having betrayed his people and allied himself with Akhish, even if only on the surface. They bolster their interpretation by drawing attention to the fact that it is only because David returns home early from the battlefield that he arrives in time to stage a successful counterattack against the Amaleqites. Had David tarried with Akhish, he would have missed the opportunity to respond to the assault and may not have been back in time to salvage all of the people and property that were taken.
However, I would argue that the very fact that David sustained little or no harm as a result of this incident may also be taken to indicate that it was not really a punishment. In fact, it can even be seen as a fortuitous circumstance utilized by Divine Providence to propel David to further levels of greatness. There is no doubt that David’s waging a war against Amaleq is meant to highlight his kingly status; it is the King of Israel who is commanded to battle Amaleq, and it was precisely Shaul’s failure in this effort that cost him the kingdom.
We can also see that David’s magnanimous act of “sharing” the spoils of war with his fellow Jews is a symbolic gesture designed to emphasize that he continues to serve the God of Israel and to attack His enemies; in other words, it is a deed, like the battle against Amaleq, through which David asserts his claim to leadership of the Jewish people. It is as if David is conveying a message to his nation (and specifically to his tribe, Yehuda) – you may not have seen me for a while, but I am still on the job, albeit from a distance, and I am poised to make a comeback when the time is right.
The encounter with the Egyptian is noteworthy for several reasons. It reminds us of the Torah’s command – fulfilled here by David – that one should not despise the Egyptian. Moreover, the abject cruelty and heartlessness of the Amaleqites (manifest in the abandonment of the slave who becomes an informer) is what ultimately seals their fate, and the compassion and righteousness of the Jews who care for him (sincerely, without any knowledge of his link to the Amaleqite marauders) is what ultimately leads them to the recovery of their families and property. This is poetic justice at its Biblical best.
Lastly, we again see a stark contrast being drawn between David and Shaul. The text’s constant shifting back and forth between the stories of these two figures encourages us to compare them and accentuates the contrast even further. In Chapter 28, King Shaul finds himself in the throes of distress and despair and seeks information from Hashem. When he receives no response, he places his religious commitments aside and succumbs to the temptation to consult with practitioners of the occult who he hopes can provide him with the reassurance he needs.
David, on the other hand, even when his men are angry with him and the situation seems hopeless, remains steadfast in his relationship with God even before he receives any communication via the Urim VeTummim. His connection with the Almighty is independent of his getting what he wants from the relationship; it is unshakeable regardless of circumstances. As the verse describes it, “David strengthened himself in Hashem, his God.”
This kind of unassailable trust in Hashem is one of the many outstanding qualities that recommend David for the throne of Israel. On the most basic level, the difference is clear – Shaul is spurned by the Almighty and loses in battle; David is embraced by Hashem and emerges from conflict victorious and unscathed.