They Found an Egyptian: Video sermon by Alistair Begg (Continuing study in 1 Samuel)
Speaker, Alistair Begg
The sermon was given on Sunday, September 6, 2020, at Parkside Church
Video, audio and full transcript
David hit rock bottom when he and his army returned to Ziklag to find their home destroyed and their families taken captive. After David sought the Lord, though, he and his men defeated the enemy, rescued their loved ones, and recovered everything that had been taken. Alistair Begg examines how a “chance” encounter with an Egyptian servant led to David’s triumph, which he graciously shared, foreshadowing the eternal victory only King Jesus is able to secure.
We’re going to read this morning from 1 Samuel and chapter 30. And I begin at the first verse, if you’re following along with me:
“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.
“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. But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.
“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, 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. 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. 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.’ 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.’
“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. 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. David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all. David also captured all the flocks and herds, and … people drove the livestock before him, and said, ‘This is David’s spoil.’
“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. 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.’ 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. 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.’ And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.
“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.’ It was for those in Bethel, in Ramoth of the Negeb, in Jattir, in Aroer, in Siphmoth, in Eshtemoa, in Racal, in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, in the cities of the Kenites, in Hormah, in Bor-ashan, in Athach, in Hebron, for all the places where David and his men had roamed.”
Father, thank you that Jesus did not come to judge the world, he did not come to blame; that he did not only come to seek; it was to save he came. And so, when we call him Savior, then we call him by his name.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you turned to your disciples and said, “And I call you friends,” in the awareness that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man [would] lay down his life for his friends.” We thank you for the gospel as we turn now to the Bible. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, we’re getting to the point where the material is running out for us at the end of 1 Samuel, and, of course, the big question is, do we go into book 2? And that has to be determined.
My title for this morning is a strange one. I chose to call it simply, in the opening phrase of verse 11, “They Found an Egyptian.” “They Found an Egyptian.” I don’t want to delay on this, except to say that somebody in responding to that will say, “Well, why in the world would you do so? What does this have to do with the entirety of the text? How does an apparently chance encounter between this Egyptian man and David and his men affect David’s accession to the throne?” And I think that part of the reason I chose it is so that people would do that very thing, that you and I would be thinking along those lines. Because if I read the response to these studies in 1 Samuel that comes to me by various means, it appears to me that those of us who are attending on the Word of God in this way routinely are developing an increasingly Berean appetite.
Now, you remember how it was said of the Bereans that they were “more noble” than the Jews in Thessalonica because “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” And I hope you’ve picked up on the fact that the pace with which we are moving through this book assumes further homework on all of our part. In fact, one of the great encouragements to me when we began many, many months ago now—over a year ago now, I think—was a note that I got from somebody who hadn’t been attending Parkside very regularly at all, but they had come and found themself in one of our opening studies in 1 Samuel. And the gentleman sent me an email to say, “I was so intrigued by that study that I went out and bought a Bible because I wanted to read ahead.”
Well, I sense that that has been happening, and it is the privilege of the teacher of the Bible not simply, if you like, to prepare the meal for one another but also to teach us how to cook for ourselves. So I hope you’re learning more than we’re actually learning in these studies. After all, a great deal has happened since David’s secret anointing back in chapter 16. And the pathway to the crown has not been a straight pathway. There’s a sense in which all the suspicion and the jealousy and the animosity and the strife so hits David that he appears to be the kind of individual where, ultimately, nothing seems to go right for him at all. He’d slipped over the border, remember, in 27, joining Achish and the Philistines, only to find himself dismissed from there. And at the end of our study last time, at the end of chapter 29, he had been sent away with his men early in the morning in order that they could head for the only place that they could really call home at that time—namely, Ziklag. Which then brings us to chapter 30. And I have a number of headings in my notes, which I’ll share with you, and perhaps they will help and repay further study.
David Hits Rock Bottom
First of all, to consider the fact that here David hits rock bottom. He hits rock bottom. He’s been freed from his dilemma by the intervention, ironically, of his enemies. He and his men have then covered the some sixty miles from where they were in Aphek to Ziklag, getting there in approximately a couple of days, because, you will notice it says, “[And they arrived] on the third day.”
Now, you can anticipate all of the excitement that was theirs in thinking about going home. They were thinking of all that awaited them in terms of family life and marital affection and the good meals and the company of one another. And yet they arrive only to discover that what they were looking forward to is unavailable, because you will see in the text that the raiders “had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire”—didn’t kill anybody, remarkably, in the providence of God, but carried all these people off. We shouldn’t think that that was a wonderful thing for them to do; they would probably enslave them, perhaps even abuse them. But nevertheless, they were still alive. And in the third verse: “When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire.”
Now, their reaction to this in verse 4 is, I think, quite obvious: “Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep.” We’re not going to pause on this, but it is a reminder to us that an assurance of the company and promise of God does not remove us from the realm of grief. In fact, the Bible is very, very clear that one of the privileges that has been given to us in our humanity is the ability to wail and to mourn and to recognize sadness when it hits us. I’m really troubled by the people who seem to suggest that somehow or another, in Jesus, we’re removed from all of that. Well, no, we sorrow not as those who have no hope, but still we sorrow. And these people sorrowed. They wept until they had no more strength to weep.
They were devastated, and David now finds himself isolated. Not only have his wives been taken in verse 5, but his distress is on account of the fact that his own troops thought of stoning him. They arrive back, having done what he had led them to do, and presumably they would have said things like “You call this a victory? You call this a triumph? We’re worse off now than we were when we ever started following you, David.” And the word went around, “Let’s use him as our scapegoat,” and all the bitterness. You remember it was a bitter group that he assembled, and bitterness will have its way. And ironically, having avoided the spear of Saul and having dodged and conned the Philistine king, he now faces the prospect of being taken out, killed, by his own people. If we had had occasion to meet him and said, “How’s it going for you at the moment, David?”—“Well,” he said, “you know, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it has got worse.”
David Strengthens Himself in the Lord
Now, that leaves us to wonder, “What’s he going to do next? Is he gonna go back to the chapter 27 experience, where he crossed over and looked for help elsewhere?” But no. He’s hemmed in on either side. He’s at rock bottom, as we say. The only way that he can look is up. And so, from David hitting rock bottom, we notice that “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” It doesn’t just say David thought about God and it made him feel better about things, that David thought there was an entity out there—the kind of talk that is not unfamiliar in our day. People who have no knowledge of God at all, no awareness of his truth, no concept of the fact that he has made himself known in the person of Jesus, will often talk in these terms.
But “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” He would have been happy to join us in singing, “Mine, mine, mine, I know thou art mine.” There’s all the difference in the world between an intellectual capacity to conceive of a higher being and a personal relationship with the living God. Of course, David in his songs makes that clear: “Under his wings you will find refuge,” so that would allow him to say to people, “Why don’t you take shelter in the only one in whom it may be found?” When he says in Psalm 34, “Why don’t you taste and see that the Lord is good? Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Now, the contrast between Saul and David we’ve been pointing out along the way, and here’s another one in passing. How different is this from what Saul did in 28? He went to seek a word from God from the strangest of sources, and he was filled with fear. He wasn’t strengthened; he was met by silence. But now “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” This isn’t the first time that we’ve had this phraseology. If you remember the part that was played by Jonathan, way back in chapter 23, Jonathan was reminding David of the promises of God. He was reminding him of the facts, as they were. And as a result of that, David was “strengthened” at that time.
Now, I take it that verses 7 and 8… If someone says, “Well, what does it mean to strengthen yourself in the Lord your God? Is this some kind of emotional experience?” Well, let’s just think about it. What does David do? I think that 7 and 8 are explaining to us how this strengthening took place. He “said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech…” You’ll remember, this is the one who managed to get out when Saul had destroyed the priests at Nob. And how he is here in this moment we’re not told, but he is able then to supply David with the ephod in order that David then may listen for God’s word. Listen for God’s word.
I think it is a mistake—and I said this before—for us to get caught up in the mechanism of this, to immediately find ourselves saying, “Now, where was this ephod, and how did the ephod work, and how does this unfold?” Clearly, we’re not told. And I think that is purposeful. I take it that it is purposeful—that the writer wants the reader to understand that David wanted to hear from God, and David heard from God. He received a clear answer. And the answer was “Pursue”—“Should I go after them?”—“Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.”
And so, having listened to God, he then obeys God, and he sets out. Verse 10: “But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.” So if we’re saying to ourself, “How do I strengthen my hand in the Lord?”—“Well,” we say, “by listening to his Word, by obeying his Word, by joining with the company of others who have a like perspective on things.”
David hits rock bottom. David strengthens himself in the Lord.
David Meets an Egyptian
And in verse 11 and following, David meets an Egyptian: “They”—you will notice the “they” at the beginning of verse 11—“they found an Egyptian”—i.e., his men. He was out “in the open country.” They “brought him to David.” And notice what they did: “They gave him bread …. They gave him water … they gave him a … cake of figs and two clusters of raisins.” And it would seem that their kindness was extended before they learned his identity, before they knew who he really was and why he was actually there.
Now, at this point, you see, David may not know that the people who have burned Ziklag down are actually the Amalekites. We realize that the circumstances in verses 1 and 2 have then been encountered by David when he arrives, but there’s nothing to actually tell us in the text that he knew who it was. And even if he did know their identity, how was he going to discover where they were? It wasn’t as if they could just go down the road and there they would be sitting.
Now, this little section here that begins “They found an Egyptian” is rich for further study. Consider, for example, in passing, the callous disregard on the part of the Amalekite soldier that left his Egyptian servant to shrivel and die “in the open country,” and all the time not realizing that when he and his friends did that, they were actually signing their own death certificates. They could never have known: “He’s dispensable. What would he ever do? Leave him behind. He’s of no help to us again. He’s sick. He’s just a nuisance.” And fascinatingly, the Egyptian not only paves the way for the destruction of the Amalekites, who are the enemies of Israel, but he’s also the key to the recovery process whereby nothing is missing and everything is restored.
Now, it is in this context that David learns that the Amalekites have actually done what David had pretended to do. Remember, that was the whole circumstance there in 27 where he cons the king by making these raids, and the king is convinced that he’s actually raiding against his own people. But he wasn’t. What he was pretending to do, now the Amalekites have actually come and done. And so it’s from the lips of a stranger that he learns of the burning of Ziklag. And so it is that this Egyptian, then, is able to lead David and his men to the band of raiders.
Once again, we have the opportunity to think about the fact that the ways of God are undeniably odd. They’re undeniably odd. This is an amazing providence here, that this man should be here, in these circumstances, at this moment, and is able to display a knowledge of these things and lead them on. The ways of God are strange, but they’re equally sure, and what he purposes he accomplishes.
“David Brought Back All”
So, having hit rock bottom and strengthened himself in the Lord, and having met an Egyptian, in the next little section we realize that “David brought back all.” That is just there in verse 19: “Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all.”
Now, the Egyptian is a savvy soul, isn’t he? Because he wants David to swear that he will not kill him and certainly won’t deliver him into the hands of his master. He’s going to be saved. He wants to be sure that he’s saved. And so he then in turn leads him to the Amalekite camp.
And they’re certainly not arrayed in any kind of military splendor. They’re not put together in such a way that they would be ready for further battles. No, I think the way in which the text unfolds, we’re supposed to get a picture of carefree indulgence. There they were, “eating and drinking and dancing”; they were scattered over a wide area, and all of the great spoil that they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah was the source of what they were doing. They were clearly unaware of their vulnerability. And consequently, although David’s men were smaller in number, they were able to strike them down, catch them off guard, and all except the four hundred who headed out on camels were destroyed.
Again, let us notice that what is happening here is not a matter of personal vengeance on the part of David—that this is not just, if you like, some skirmish that has to do with the ego of one king against the ego of another king. No. Let’s not forget the fact that God had given clear direction to his people concerning the Amalekites because they were the enemies of the Lord. And what David is doing here is what should have been done a long time before.
And the recovery process is comprehensive. You just look at the word “all”: “David recovered all … the Amalekites had taken.” “Nothing was missing,” verse 19. He “captured all the flocks and [the] herds, and the people [who] drove the livestock before him.” And he “rescued his two wives.” It’s clear that David wants to make sure that his wives are under his jurisdiction once again.
Isn’t it fascinating, too, when you think about leadership, how quickly things turn? He is, if you like, in the earlier part of these proceedings, the scapegoat. He’s the one who is worthy of being stoned by his own people. But now he’s no longer the one who should be stoned; he’s the one who should be praised. And gratitude for his leadership is now part and parcel of things. After all, everybody is benefiting along with him. And they said of this, “This is David’s spoil.” “This is David’s spoil,” they said. Now, I don’t know whether what they were saying was “This is David’s spoil, and that’s not David’s spoil”—“This is his bit, and this is our part”—or whether they were actually saying, “This is what David has done. Isn’t David fantastic?” Someone says, “Yeah, but you wanted to stone him earlier on.” “Yeah, that was an aberration. No, no. He’s terrific.”
David Corrects the Greedy with Grace
Now, if that is the case—and I imagine that it probably is—then what is being said about David is about to be corrected. And he corrects it—and this is my fifth observation—David corrects the greedy by his theology of grace. He corrects the greedy by his theology of grace. Verse 21: “Then David came to the two hundred men who[’d] been too exhausted to follow David, and who[’d] been left at the brook.” And, of course, the inevitable happened: those who’d been responsible for taking care of all of the provisions—the kind of quartermaster role, the baggage handlers—they came out, and clearly they are going to benefit. After all, they’re part of things.
But that’s not the perspective on the part of the four hundred who went. Verse 22: “Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone…” Now, he’s not saying that the four hundred were a bad lot. But he’s saying what’s almost inevitable: that in that group, given that it was put together from a ragtag and bobtail group of individuals—some who were renegades and running away and worthless characters—it’s almost inevitable that it would be those, then, who said, “Well, we’re not going to allow them to participate in this. We’re the ones who did the fighting. What did they do?” And there’s a very dismissive line there where it says, “Just let them take their wives and their children and get out of here! They didn’t go with us. We’re not giving them any of the spoil that we’ve recovered, except that each man may lead his wife and children and depart.” And then verse 23: “But David said, ‘No, you’re not going to do this at all.’”
Now, notice, he’s very firm, but he’s also very gracious: “David said, ‘You shall not do so, my brothers.’” “My brothers, this is incongruous. You’re part of this team. You’re not gonna do so. You’re not gonna do this—hoard it for yourself—because it is what the Lord has given us. He is the one who has preserved us and given them into our hand. Who would listen to you in this matter? This is a wrong perspective.” And then here’s the principle: “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.” And he, in anticipation of his kingly authority, establishes this as a statute and makes it as a rule for Israel from that day forward.
Now, if you cut to the chase, what is happening here is that these individuals who respond in this way, these worthless troublemakers, are essentially operating on the principle of works: “We get this because we deserve it. We did this; therefore, we get that.” And those who operate their lives on this principle will always be impressed by their own contributions: “We did it. We deserve it. They didn’t do it. Therefore, they don’t deserve it.” Greediness and selfishness, when displayed in my life, make it actually clear that I need to enroll in a refresher course in the theology of grace. Because, you see, grace is not actually about fairness. A gift is a gift. And that’s why David not only demands this of these characters, but he lays it down as a statute to follow. He is not going to be the king that Samuel referred to when, reluctantly, he agreed that the people should have an earthly king—remember, the one who takes? No, David is going to be a king who gives.
David Shares the Benefits of Victory
And then you will notice in conclusion that David shares the benefits of victory with his friends and potential friends. That’s what we have in 26 to the end. Everyone is going to benefit from the generous rule of this king.
He sends part of the spoil—presumably his own spoil—to his friends, who are the elders of Judah. And perhaps thinking of what the future holds and the people who he’d been dealing with, very skillfully, he suggests that they become the beneficiaries of his largesse as well. And you have that lovely picture there: “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.” “Here’s a present for you.” “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life.”
You see, when we’ve been studying this—and it’s important we keep coming back to it—when we’re studying this, when we see this conflict between the Amalekites and between Israel, it’s actually pointing to a far greater conflict than what is here in history. It’s actually the great conflict which consumes the world ever since the garden of Eden. When Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, you’ll remember that he quotes there from the 110th Psalm, and he looks forward to the day when the great and royal King will see his enemies as his footstool. And on that day when that triumph takes place, all who are the friends of the King—all who are members of the King’s community, if you like—will enjoy the bounty that flows from his triumph.
So, David, we find at the beginning of the chapter, is at rock bottom. It’s an ash heap: he went home, and he found it destroyed. Now here we are at the end of the chapter, and David is giving out presents—generously, lavishly, and not because they had earned it. Fast-forward all the way to a scene outside the city wall, and there you have Jesus at rock bottom, opposed by so many. And from one perspective, it looks as though it’s all over. And yet he triumphs, doesn’t he, over sin and death? He ascends on high, and he pours out gifts, presents, that are undeserved.
And what it actually is saying to us is something far more than a historical lesson about the Amalekites and Judah, but it’s saying this: that it is only the King—it is only the King—who is able to turn defeat into victory. It is only the King who is able to establish the kind of unified peace that our world longs for.
I went looking for a hymn during the week that we never sing. And if I have a moment, I want just to read a couple of verses for you. You see, because not only does this section anticipate what happens in Jerusalem, but it anticipates what is described at the end of Revelation, when, in the triumph over all, the King establishes a new heaven and a new earth. And the hymn writer puts it like this:
Sing we the King who is coming to reign,
Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain;
Righteousness, peace, then his empire shall bring,
Joy to the nations when Jesus is King.
You think about the nations of our world today. Think about all of the rebellions. Think about all of the mayhem. Think about all of the committees, all of the designs, the desires, the increase in education and social care, everything that we’re able to do, and yet it is absolute mayhem. What are we missing? We’re missing the King who comes to reign.
All men shall dwell in his marvelous light,
And races long severed his love shall unite,
Justice and truth from his scepter shall spring,
Wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King.
Now, this is what Peter was proclaiming. And when the people listened to him, they said, “Well, what should we do about this?” You remember what he said? “Repent and be baptized every one of you … for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, he says, “Internally, turn to God and from yourself and from your sin, and trust him, and externally, declare it in this public forum.”
You see, we’re either on the side of the King or we are opposed to the King. Don’t fall for the notion that everybody is in sort of a quasi relationship with the living God, and it’s just that some are more into it than others. It’s not so. By nature we are enemies of God. We are alienated from God. We’re alienated by our rebellion on the one hand and by his settled reaction to sin on the other. And where is reconciliation to be found? And the answer is, in the King! Jesus is King.
Paul, when he takes this up in Romans, quite wonderfully he says, “If while we were enemies we were reconciled, how much more, now that we are his friends, may we enjoy all the benefits of that which he pours out to us?”
By your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near.
Your enemy you’ve made your friend.
Pouring out the riches of your glorious grace,
Your mercy and your kindness know no end. …
[Here I am,] once your enemy, now seated at your table.
Father, we thank you that these studies in this ancient book inevitably and wonderfully point us not to the kingly rule of David, which eventually crumbles, but to the rule and to the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Grant that we, in pondering these things, may do as Peter urged the folks to do on that Pentecost Day: to repent; to be baptized; to enter into a relationship with you, the living God; and to serve you, subjects of your kingship, soldiers in your army, friends, seated with you at your table. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Dora Greenwell, “A Good Confession,” in Songs of Salvation (London, 1874), 27.
 John 15:15 (paraphrased).
 John 15:13 (KJV).
 Acts 17:11 (ESV).
 See 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
 See 1 Samuel 27:2.
 Anna Hudson, “Dear Savior, Thou Art Mine.”
 Psalm 91:4 (ESV).
 Psalm 34:8 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 23:16 (ESV).
 See 1 Samuel 22:20.
 See 1 Samuel 27:8–12.
 See 1 Samuel 8:10–18.
 Romans 6:23 (KJV).
 See Acts 2:34–35.
 Charles S. Horne, “Sing We the King” (1909).
 Acts 2:38 (ESV).
 Romans 5:10 (paraphrased).
 Pat Sczebel, “Jesus, Thank You” (2003).
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.