The Bible makes it clear that David was specially chosen and raised up by God to be Israel’s next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13), but Scripture also makes it clear that David’s rise to power came about through several shrewd maneuvers on his part. Among these shrewd maneuvers were David’s clandestine attacks on hostile peoples to the south of Judah and his distribution of Amalekite plunder among the towns of southern Judah. These actions by David strengthened southern Judah against their enemies and no doubt cemented Judah’s loyalty to him as a champion for their well-being. It should be noted that the Bible affirms King Saul’s effectiveness at attacking Israel’s enemies (1 Samuel 14:47-52), especially the Philistines, but various character flaws and bad choices by Saul led to God’s selection of David as the one who would replace Saul as king (1 Samuel 13:1-23; 15:1-35). Because of this, Saul grew jealous of David and sought to kill him, forcing David to seek refuge among various towns throughout Judah and even in Philistia (1 Samuel 16-27). After seeking asylum in Gath for a time, David asked King Achish if he could move his family outside of the city, and Achish gave him the border town of Ziklag. Apparently Achish still tried to keep tabs on David’s activities, however, periodically asking him where he had recently raided. David would answer that he had been raiding the Negev of Judah, the Negev of the Jerahmeelites (see 1 Chronicles 2:42), or the Negev of the Kenites (Judges 1:16; see “Saul Attacks the Amalekites” map), which were inhabited by people loyal to Israel. In reality, however, David had been raiding the Amalekites (longtime enemies of Israel; see Genesis 14:7; Exodus 17; Numbers 13:29; 14:45; Deuteronomy 25:17-19), the Geshurites, and the Girzites. These peoples lived to the south of Israel’s territory and along the Way to Shur leading to Egypt. Soon after this King Achish mustered his men at Aphek to head to battle against the Israelites in the Jezreel Valley further north. As they set off for battle and the other Philistine rulers realized David and his men were accompanying them, the rulers protested and insisted that David would turn on them in battle. So Achish sent David home and continued on to Jezreel. When David and his men arrived at Ziklag, they found that Amalekites had burned the town and carried off their wives and children. David and his men set out to attack the Amalekites and recover their families. When they reached the Besor Brook, two hundred of the men were too exhausted to go on and stayed with the other equipment while the remaining four hundred men continued toward Amalek. Along the way, David’s men found an abandoned Egyptian slave of the Amalekites who had participated in the attack on Ziklag and on other locations in southern Judah. The man led David’s men to the Amalekite camp, and then they attacked the Amalekites and retrieved all the captives and plunder that had been taken. Only four hundred Amalekites were able to escape, fleeing on camels. David’s men then rejoined their fellow warriors at the Besor Brook and returned to Ziklag. David sent some of the plunder to the leaders of Ziklag as well as to other towns where David had roamed during the time when he was fleeing from Saul. Many of these towns were located in territory formerly inhabited by Amalekites (Numbers 13:29; 14:25, 43-45; Judges 1:16; see also Judges 12:15) and were likely among those attacked by the Amalekites and other hostile peoples to the south. After this, the Amalekites are only mentioned again in Scripture to note that David killed an Amalekite who himself had killed Saul (to fulfill what Saul requested of him), to note that Amalekite plunder was among the treasures that David dedicated to the Temple of the Lord (2 Samuel 8:9-12), and to recount how in the days of Hezekiah some Simeonites went to Mount Seir and destroyed the remnant of Amalekites that had survived (1 Chronicles 4:42-43).
One of the most significant events in the story of the Old Testament is the exile of Judah to Babylon in 586 B.C. This event–actually the third in a series of exiles to Babylon (the others occurring in 605 B.C. and 597 B.C.)–precipitated several crises in the nation and in Judaism. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been exiled to Assyria over a century earlier in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29; 17:1-6; 1 Chronicles 5:26; see also “Israelites Are Exiled to Assyria” map), and in some ways that exile was even more devastating. Nevertheless, the Temple of the Lord remained intact in Jerusalem as a place where the faithful could continue to offer their sacrifices. With the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord at the hands of the Babylonians, however, sacrifices could no longer be offered at the Tabernacle or Temple of the Lord (Leviticus 17:2-4; Deuteronomy 12:5-7), and the Lord’s promise to provide a land for his people and a descendant on the throne of David no doubt seemed abandoned. At the same time, however, the Judean exiles were allowed to maintain their religious traditions in Babylon, and many even began to thrive there, including Daniel and his friends, who served at the royal court (Daniel 1; see also “The Land of Exile” map). One of the last kings of Babylon expanded Babylonia further by capturing the desert oases of Dumah, Tema, Dedan, and Yathrib (see “Oases of the Arabian Desert” map), but eventually the Median Empire to the north merged with the Persian Empire to the southeast and conquered the Babylonian Empire. King Cyrus of Persia then decreed that the exiled Judeans, now called “Jews,” could return to their homeland if they desired (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1-2; see also “Jews Return from Exile” map).
Saul’s war against the Amalekites exemplifies many of the key traits–good and bad–of Saul’s leadership over Israel. Immediately before the story is recounted, the author notes that during Saul’s entire reign he fought valiantly against Israel’s enemies on every side (1 Samuel 14:47-52), and he amassed an army of skilled soldiers. Thus, Saul fulfilled one of the primary reasons the people demanded that Samuel appoint a king over them (1 Samuel 8). Then the author notes that the Lord, through Samuel, directed Saul to attack the Amalekites and utterly destroy them and their belongings as punishment for their cruel attack on the Israelites after they left Egypt to travel to Mount Sinai (Exodus 17; Deuteronomy 25:17-19). So Saul mustered a large number of troops at a place called Telaim and traveled to an otherwise unknown “city of the Amalekites” and lay in lay in wait for them in a valley. Saul also warned the Kenites, the descendants of Moses’ father-in-law Hobab (also called Jethro), to move away from the Amalekites so they would not be killed in the coming battle. It appears that the Kenites had remained on good terms with the Israelites since the time of Hobab/Jethro and accompanied them as they entered the Promised Land, eventually settling among the Amalekites in the Negev near Arad (Judges 1:16). Saul defeated the Amalekites, pursuing them “from Havilah as far as Shur,” according the the Hebrew text. The region of Havilah, however, was several hundred miles from the Negev, making it unlikely to be the place to which Saul pursued them, and this is underscored by the Septuagint’s substitution of “Elath” for “Havilah”. It is possible that the author was using this phrase as a hyperbolic merism to indicate that Saul pursued the Amalekites throughout the entire land in which they lived (see also Genesis 25:18 regarding the Ishmaelites). But since elsewhere in Scripture the Amalekites are said to live in the Negev and in southern Canaan (Genesis 14:7; Numbers 13:29; 14:45; Judges 1:16), another possibility is that the “Havilah” reading is a textual corruption. The Septuagint translators may have preserved the original reading of “Elath,” or they may have been making their best guess as to the intended location. Simply based on the similarity of spelling and the geography of the region (as shown on this map), it is possible that the original reading was “Hachilah,” a hill where David would later have some close encounters with Saul during his time in the wilderness (1 Samuel 23:19; 26:1). In any case, Saul and his men thoroughly defeated the Amalekites, but they failed to completely destroy them (see 1 Samuel 30) and their belongings. Instead they took King Agag alive and kept the best of the spoils. After this Saul traveled to Carmel and set up a monument for himself, and then he continued on to Gilgal. When Samuel arrived in Gilgal, however, he was angry with Saul for failing to devote all of the Amalekites and their goods to destruction, and he told Saul that the Lord regretted having made him king. Samuel then killed King Agag himself at Gilgal and returned to his home in Ramah. Saul returned to his home in Gibeah, but Samuel never spoke with Saul again.
For this post, I am switching gears a little and sharing a ministry idea I have pursued with my church that helps young people understand God’s Word better by helping them visualize the world of the Bible. I know from my own experience growing up that many children (and even some adults like myself) struggle to learn through traditional, book-oriented resources often used in Bible classes and Sunday Schools. They would much rather being doing something active or watching a video, and this is not a bad thing, though it presents challenges for learning. To reach kids like this better and help them understand the world of the Bible, I have started what I call Bible Brick Club at our church for kids ages 8 to 12. We meet for 90 minutes and spend the first 20 minutes or so learning about a new Bible passage and the context in which it took place. I show them on a projector pictures of places and objects connected with the passage, such as the city of Jerusalem during New Testament times and pictures of what the Temple probably looked like. Then we spend most of the rest of the time working together to recreate the scene with LEGOs (or any LEGO-compatible bricks). I think it has proven to be very fun and effective for learning, as long as you are willing to have Jar Jar Binks show up in Jerusalem now and then or for characters to be mining gold on the backside of the Mount of Olives. For one of our projects, we spent three sessions building a replica of Jerusalem, complete with pools where Jesus performed miracles, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Golgotha. Each time we met we reviewed what happened at each place we had built so far, and this seemed to help cement the stories in their minds. And at the very minimum, the kids seemed to have a good time learning about the Bible at church, which I say is a win all by itself. As far as materials and preparation, the biggest challenge for us was getting enough LEGOs for the group, so I would start early collecting those. We invited donations of used LEGOs, too, but I quickly found out that not many people are willing to part with their own LEGOs! Another spinoff of this idea (though I have not attempted it yet), is to assemble a virtual team of older kids (perhaps ages 12-15) to recreate Bible scenes together using Minecraft. I hope some of you are able to use this idea in your own ministry at church, at school, at community centers, etc. If you do, I would love to hear about it (see my contact info here).
As the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman demonstrates, even simple geography–the divine arrangement of places where God leads us in life–can position us for fruitful ministry if we are willing to reach out to those along our journey. This episode in Jesus’ ministry occurred immediately after Jesus had cleared the Temple in Jerusalem and was gaining even more followers than John the Baptist (John 2:13-25; 4:1-3). Likely wanting to avoid a direct clash with Jewish leadership so early in his ministry, Jesus chose instead to return to Galilee. The most direct route from Jerusalem to Galilee passed through Samaria, and, as the Jewish historian Josephus notes, this was the route normally chosen by most Jews at the time (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX:6). The city of Samaria (renamed Sebaste by Jesus’ time) was originally the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, but in 722 B.C. the Assyrians exiled many Israelites to other parts of their empire and relocated other foreign peoples in Israel (2 Kings 15:29; 17:1-24; 1 Chronicles 5:26; also see “Israelites Are Exiled to Assyria”). This diverse population then developed a new religion that mixed elements of Israelite worship with pagan worship (2 Kings 17:24-41), and centuries later they set up their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Because of their mixed ancestry and religion, Samaritans were often detested by many Jews (John 4:9), and hostilities periodically erupted between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus himself would later be refused entry into Samaria while traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 9:52-56; also see “Jesus’ Final Journey to Jerusalem”), and Josephus notes that about 20 years after this time a number of Galileans were killed by Samaritans as they attempted to make their way to Jerusalem through the village of Ginae. Probably because of these hostilities, some Jews preferred to take alternate routes that bypassed Samaria. Still other Jews chose these routes to avoid even associating with Samaritans. Jesus, however, appears to have chosen the more direct route through Samaria, which led him to the village of Sychar–right next to the ancient site of Shechem and Mount Gerizim. There he met a Samaritan woman by a well and spoke to her about God’s gift of living water for her soul. He also revealed supernatural knowledge about her, so she asked him whether Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem was the proper place to worship. Jesus gently rebuked her belief in Samaritan worship practices, but he also assured her that one day the physical location of worshipers will no longer matter. Instead, all true believers will worship God in spirit and truth. When Jesus revealed to the woman that he was the Messiah, she left her water jar and told the townspeople about Jesus. Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples returned, and Jesus urged them to recognize that the fields were ripe for harvesting, presumably meaning that many Samaritans were ready to believe in him. Because of the Samaritan woman’s testimony, many of the townspeople believed in Jesus and persuaded him to stay there two more days before returning to Galilee. Years later the apostle Philip found fruitful ministry among the Samaritans as well, and many came to faith in Jesus (Acts 8:5-13; also see “The Ministries of Philip and Peter”).