David’s victory and Saul’s defeat (30:1-31:13)
When David’s men returned to Ziklag, they found it a deserted, burnt out ruin. The Amalekites had raided the cities of Philistia and Judah while all the fighting men were away at war. The shock of losing everything – wives, families and possessions – drove David to total dependence on God. It was the kind of dependence that seems to have been lacking during his sixteen months in Philistia (30:1-8).
Assisted by some capable Israelite military commanders who had deserted to him on his recent battle march (1 Chron 12:19-22), David set out after the Amalekites. He was helped also by a slave of the Amalekites who had been left to die by the roadside but who was able, after being revived, to direct
David to the Amalekite camp (9-15). David’s men slaughtered the Amalekites, recovered the Israelite people and goods, then plundered the possessions of the enemy (16-20).
In sharing out the plunder among his men, David guaranteed equal rewards for those who carried out the raid and those who stayed at the base camp to guard the supplies (21-25). He also shared some of the plunder among various Judean cities and local tribes, thereby giving these people good cause to support him in the future (26-31).
Meanwhile, farther north, the battle between Israel and the Philistines was raging. Overcome by the attackers, the Israelites fled. Saul’s sons were killed and Saul himself was wounded. Knowing the cruel and shameful treatment that he would receive if the enemy captured him, Saul took his own life (31:1-7). The enemy therefore dishonoured his dead body instead. But the men of Jabesh-gilead, remembering that Saul had once saved them from shameful treatment by their enemies, rescued his body and gave him an honourable burial (8-13; cf. 11:1-11; 1 Chron 10:13-14).