“And David smote them from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day: and there escaped not a man of them, save four hundred young men, which rode upon camels, and fled. And David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away: and David rescued his two wives. And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor any thing that they had taken to them: David recovered all. And David took all the flocks and the herds, which they drave before those other cattle, and said, This is David’s spoil” (1 Samuel 30:17-20).
In this brief passage we find David recovering everything that the Amalekites had stolen from him. We see how quickly God fulfilled His promise to him.
David took the Amalekites by surprise, for as Josephus writes, “for they were naked, and expected no such thing, but had betaken themselves to drinking, and feasting, and so they were all easily destroyed” (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 6:14:363). The slaughter was great and lasted from twilight until the evening of the following day. The word “twilight” [Hebrew, nesep] can mean “dawn” as in Job 7:4, “When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise, and the night be gone? and I am full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day” and in Psalm 119:147, “I prevented the dawning of the morning.” Therefore David’s attack might have started at first light when the Amalekites were hung over.
We have to remember that David and his men had travelled for three days to Ziklag, and had been distraught when they found the town destroyed and all they had taken, so their courage in fighting a huge army is commendable. The text states that only four hundred Amalekites escaped on camels, therefore the army must have been huge compared with David’s four hundred men.
It is likely that David waited until he thought the time was right to attack the enemy, so he may have watched them getting themselves into a weakened state as they indulged in food, drink and song. “It is probable, that when he came near them, he reposed himself, and his army, in some secret place, whereof there were many parts, for a convenient season; and then marched on so as to come to them at the evening time” (John Wesley).
Nothing was lost from what the Amalekites had taken from Ziklag. In the three days since the invasion, they could have easily sold the women and children as slaves to foreign traders. God had promised that all would be recovered, and it was. There is mention of David’s two wives because their recovery probably pleased him more than everything else.
After the defeat of the Amalekites there was a great amount of spoil left behind. There was so much that six hundred men could benefit from it, and David was able to send some as a gift to his kinsfolk in Judah. So we see that God’s promise fulfilled and David received more than he initially lost. No doubt they had lost their homes and other personal belongings when Ziklag was burned to the ground, but this added supply made up for the loss.
Why was David allowed to keep the spoil, whereas King Saul was commanded to destroy it? When Saul disobeyed God’s command he was punished (1 Samuel 15), but not so David. The answer is found in the fact that David was not commanded to destroy all Amalekite’s spoil. Also he was only recovering what had been stolen from him, though he recovered more than was taken we should see that as compensation.
Only our obedience to the word and will of God can bring us to the place of rich blessings. David was faced with a terrible situation, but he prayed to God, and it all turned out for good. We should never underestimate what God can do for us. “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Palm 24:1-5).
David had “strengthened himself in the LORD” (1 Samuel 30:6), “inquired of the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:8) and found that God always fulfils His promises. With this exploit the exile and wanderings of David come to an end.