In between Saul’s visit to the witch at Endor and the record of his death, we can find the story of David and his defeat of the Amalekites. It is quite interesting that the author of the first book of Samuel saw fit to arrange the material in this way, whether or not the arrangement represents a precise chronological progression of events within Israel’s history (though the beginning of the second book of Samuel indicates that such is the case). At Endor, Saul has Samuel tell him about his pending death and the re-subjugation of Israel, connecting both with his not carrying out the Lord’s “fierce anger against the Amalekites” (1 Samuel 28:18b). From there, the story of the book progresses to the story of David being rejected and sent away by the Philistine leaders, which makes for a curious juxtaposition against Samuel’s declaration that Saul will be brought down by those same Philistines.
After David had been sent away from the Philistines, as they were about to go to war with Israel, “David and his men came to Ziklag” (30:1a). There, we find that “the Amalekites,” who had not been completely annihilated by Saul, “had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They attacked Ziklag and burned it. They took captive the women who were in it, from the youngest to the oldest, but they did not kill anyone. They simply carried them off and went on their way” (30:1b-2). Obviously, this only came about because Saul had failed in his duties. The Amalekites had been left alive to complete (albeit on a smaller scale) that which they had attempted when they had encountered Israel on their way out of Egypt. Here, David and his men, representative of Israel, were exodus-ing what could be referred to as their Philistine exile, when Amalek attacked. This is somewhat congruent to Amalek’s attack of Israel while they were exodus-ing Egypt. While we can see, in the raiding and the burning and the taking captive, something akin to the curses of Deuteronomy, it is clear that these are not being conducted at the hand of God against His wayward people. What we should see is God providing David, as a deliverer within Israel, with a pretext for the continued efforts against a people that were destined for complete destruction.
Moving on, we read that “When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned… Then David and the men who were with him wept loudly until they could weep no more… each man grieved bitterly over his sons and daughters” (30:3-4,6c). Even though David was suffering right along with his men, having had his two wives taken, “the men were thinking of stoning him” (30:6b), in a vivid reminder of the murmuring and complaining against Moses, by Israel, in the wilderness following the exodus. Just as Israel wanted to return to their Egyptian exile and their subjugation, so David’s men wanted to subjugate him to death. However, “David,” like Moses, when faced with this adversity, “drew strength from the Lord his God” (30:6d). “David inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Should I pursue this raiding band? Will I overtake them?’” (30:8a) The response that came to David was “Pursue, for you will certainly overtake them and carry out a rescue” (30:8b).
When David did indeed catch up with this group of Amalekites, “They were eating and drinking and enjoying themselves because of all the loot they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah” (30:16b). Though this could easily have been viewed in accordance with the Deuteronomic curses that stressed Israel’s loss of “loot,” David clearly saw it as an opportunity to enter into the blessings commensurate with faithfulness to God’s covenantal commands, so he attacked. “David struck them down from twilight until the following evening” (30:17a). It is said that “None of them escaped, with the exception of four hundred young men who got away on camels” (30:17b). Not only does this remind us of the promised blessing that Israel’s enemies would flee before them (Deuteronomy 28:7), but it also speaks to the woeful inadequacy of Saul’s striking down of Amalek, especially if there were so many Amalekites that even after experiencing being struck down for an extended period of time, there were still so many men to escape, and so many camels on which to escape, even as it is said that “None of them escaped.” This speaks to there being a significantly large number of Amalekites with which David had to deal, as he attempted to complete Saul’s mission.
Among other things, this should bring to mind Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua, and the ongoing (yet never completely successful) attempts to rid the land of the people by which it was inhabited, and which God had commanded His people to drive out. Just as Amalek became this ongoing source of problems for Israel, so too would the people of the land be an ongoing source of frustration---not just by their presence, but through the deleterious effects that they would have upon God’s people and upon what had been ordained as their proper worship.
Reveling in the blessings of the Lord’s deliverance, David provided rescue. It is reported that “David retrieved everything the Amalekites had taken” (30:18a). In a sense, this is the point at which David becomes king, as the Amalekites, figuratively, had taken the kingship from Saul. Where Saul had failed, David had truly begun to succeed. When a division arose concerning the sharing of the plunder, David takes up the language of exodus, speaking of the Lord and saying “He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us” (30:23b). He had rescued women and children from foreign subjugation, and now, following Saul’s death which immediately follows within this historical record, David is going to be installed as king, and used by God to continue the redemption and rescue of His people.