Oh, What Tangled Webs.


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. – 1 Samuel 30:1-6 ESV

It was in his epic poem, Marmion, that Sir Walter Scott first penned the now-famous words: “Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” And no story proves the veracity of those words quite the one concerning David as he returned to Ziklag after having been sent home by Achish. No doubt, David was feeling a bit relieved after having narrowly escaped having to go to war with the Philistines and risk exposing the subterfuge behind his whole scheme. He had deceived Achish into believing that he was on his side. He had convinced the Philistine king that he and his men had been occupying their time attacking the enemies of Philistines, when in reality, they had been raiding the enemies of Israel. David never should have been in Philistia in the first place. He had received no direction from God to take his two wives along with all his men and their families and seek refuge among the enemies of Israel. But he had. And now, his life of deception was going to result in a less-than-happy reception when he returned home.

David and his men discovered that their town had been raided by Amalekites while they were away. Believing that their wives and children would be safe, David and his men had mustered for battle, under the pretense that they were going to aid the Philistines in their war against the Israelites. It is doubtful that David would have ever raised his sword against Saul or his kindred. More than likely, he and his men would have turned against the Philistines as soon as the battle started, but he would still have had to deal with Saul, his mortal enemy. David’s rejection by the Philistines was a godsend. He was blessed to have been given a reprieve by God and been allowed to go home. But what he found when he arrived was devastating. Ziklag had been burned to the ground and every person in it had been taken captive by the Amalekites, including David’s two wives. And we don’t have to imagine how David’s men reacted to the scene. They blamed David. It was all his fault. No doubt, they had questioned the wisdom of David when he first came up with his plan to hide among the Philistines. They had probably grumbled and complained as they made their way to the front lines, facing the prospect of having to fight against their own people. But now, their sorrow and frustration overflowed. We’re told that “they wept until they could weep no more” (1 Samuel 30:4 NLT). And then their sadness turned to anger.

David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. – 1 Samuel 30:6 NLT

David had been in difficult circumstances before, but nothing quite like this. His wives were gone. His men wanted to stone him. Things could not have gotten much worse. And all of it was David’s doing. He had been the architect behind this fiasco. It had been his decision to seek refuge among the Philistines. It had been his idea to use his base in Ziklag to launch raids against the enemies of Israel. He may have fooled King Achish, but he obviously had not fooled the Amalekites, who made it a point to raid and sack the very town in which David and his men lived. All the way back in chapter 27, we read:

Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. – 1 Samuel 27:8-9 ESV

In attacking the Geshurites, Girzites and Amalekites, David had actually been doing the very thing God had commanded the Israelites to do when He gave them the land of Canaan. He had commanded that they completely destroy all the inhabitants of the land. Why? Because if they didn’t, He knew the Israelites would find themselves being negatively influenced by their presence. In a way, these pagan nations represented sin and ungodliness. They practiced idolatry and their societies were marked by immorality and godless behavior. God’s command to remove them was in order to keep the Israelites from becoming like them. But the Israelites had failed to do what God had commanded them to do. So, David’s attacks against the Amalekites had been in obedience to God’s professed will for the people of Israel, but there is no indication that God had commanded David to carry out his raids from the safety of his headquarters in Ziklag. David was attempting to do God’s will his own way. He had been trying to remain faithful to God while, at the same time, failing to trust God to keep him safe in the land of Judah. Like Abraham seeking relief from a famine by seeking refuge to Egypt, David had discovered that his plans, made apart from God’s input, had resulted in some very unsatisfactory and uncomfortable consequences.

But David found strength in the Lord his God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 NLT

This is a key moment in the life of David. In the midst of one of the most difficult moments of his life, David turned to God. The Hebrews word translated “strength” is chazaq and it carries the idea of encouragement or finding courage. David, at a very weak moment in his life, found courage by turning to God. He had made a mess of his life, but he knew that He could turn to God for strength, support, and the boldness he would need to handle the situation. With his men seeking to stone him, David sought solace and strength in God. And he would learn a valuable, life-changing lesson from this moment in his life. He would later use the very same Hebrew word when penning the words of his psalms.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! – Psalm 27:14 ESV

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord! – Psalm 31:24 ESV

We can weave some very tangled webs in our lives. We, like David, have the unique capacity to get ourselves in all kinds of predicaments, through disobedience or our own stubborn self-sufficiency. It is so easy to leave God out of our decision-making and then wonder how things got so screwed up. But in those moments of confusion and weakness, we need to do what David did. Turn to God. Seek strength, comfort, encouragement and courage in Him. David could have easily followed up one bad decision with yet another one. He could have begun scheming and planning, trying to figure out how to get himself out of the jam he had created. But instead, he turned to God. He found strength in the Lord his God. And in spite of all that had happened and all that David had done, God would come through. He would prove faithful yet again. And God would untangle the the web that David had weaved. He would graciously clean up the mess created by David’s choice to rely on deceit rather than divine guidance.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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