The Way to Win (and Not Lose)

It may come as a surprise to some of you, but the goal is not merely to play the game. The goal is to win the game. Now, as soon as somebody starts talking of winning, a sweet enough Christian, one who has unwittingly drunk too much of the egalitarian Kool-Aid, will say that winning is prideful, selfish, and we’re not here to win, just have fun and whatnot. So just in case someone is drifting toward the ditch of handing out silver medals to all participants, I advance the godly reasoning of the Apostle himself, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receivith the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” (1 Corinthians 9:24). That’s right—one prize for the fastest runner. The rest of you can cry it out on the walk home if you must. But, chin up. Your mother, in whom that unconditional love runs deep like the waters of the Mississippi, will still cook you up something for dinner. I’m sure of it.

There is no way around it. Saul and David have been in a pitched battle. Saul has hunted him for some time, and thus far, David has evaded him. But for chapters now, it has become clear that God himself is putting Saul down and raising David up. Hannah told us back in chapter two that this was going to happen, “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive . . . He bringeth low, and lifteth up” (1 Samuel 2:6-7). And this passage underscores that all of the everybody-gets-a-trorphying going on is a lie from the pit. That mindset runs contrary to God’s decrees. It runs contrary to God’s plan and providence. In this life, there are winners and losers. And the point applies to more than Little League Baseball. Today, we cover two chapters—1 Samuel chapter 29 and 30. 

The Text – A Summary

We left off with Saul and some of his men departing the witch’s house in Endor by night. Saul knew that he and his sons would die in battle when the sun rose the next day. But when chapter 29 opens, we have a flashback to a few days prior. 

David is with Achish and the Philistines at Aphek. They’re gearing up to head northwest, where they will set up for battle at Shunem. But the Philistines smell something fishy and force Achish to send David and his men away. They had heard of what this warrior could do, killing his ten thousand.

David treks south with his men to Ziklag, where they discover that the Amalekites had raided, burned the city, and kidnaped their wives and children. David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him (30:6). But David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. Note that this is different from trying to encourage yourself outside of the LORD your God. That would be attempting an impossibility. Moreover, this is a very different thing than despairing yourself in the LORD your God. That is a different kind of impossibility. David did neither. Just in case you missed it: He encouraged himself in the LORD his God.

In doing so, he knew what to reach for—the ephod. He essentially said, “Things are in a jumble. Better ask God what to do.” And there is the sine qua non of winning and not losing. The ephod was a liturgical vestment associated with the priesthood. Priests intercede. Priests pray. And David sought the face of the Lord like a priest when things went haywire. He didn’t go before the Lord with misty platitudes. Instead, he asked a practical question regarding his situation, “Shall I pursue them? And will I overtake them?” God said yes, telling David that he would overtake them and recover everything.

Some of David’s men grew weary, but he pressed on with those who could manage. He found a hungry Ethiopian who led them to the partying Amalekites. And David and his men struck them down, recovering all that was lost. Upon returning, some wicked men with David did not want to give the spoils to the men who had grown weary. But David, a king unlike Saul, gave the wearied men their spoils. He also gave gifts to the elders of Judah, seeing that several of the southern cities received gifts taken from the enemies of the Lord.

When They Kidnap Your Wife

David is a shining example of Christ in this passage. He killed the Amalekites and rescued the captured wives. Likewise, Christ came from heaven to save his bride, the church. If you’re going to win, then you must win in Christ. You must win by faith in the Greater David. All of your hard work, practice, and sacrifices are dust in the wind without Him—”Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows” (Psalm 127:1-2).

And settling in faith upon Christ does not leave you living in a world that is all peaches. Look around. This place is still very much under construction. One day, you may turn a corner to find that the Amalekites have burned down your city and stolen what’s yours. What will you do then? Win or lose? Those two options are ever before us. And if you would win, then you must grab the ephod and seek the face of God, engaging in real prayer about your real life. And when God gives wisdom, you have to go hard to the battle. You have to kill what needs to be killed and give what needs to be given. By faith, you won’t clutch on to the spoils. Rather like Christ your Savior, and like David the King, you will give to God’s people from the plunder of the LORD’s enemies.