There are times when you’re exhausted – you need a rest. In our production-worshipping culture, which has also seeped into the church, resting for a time can be looked upon by some as laziness or sloth. How does God see it?
In 1 Samuel 30, while David and his men are still on the run from Saul, they returned to Ziklag where they had been staying to find that the Amalekites had been there and had “taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great.” It goes on to say that “they killed no one, but carried them off and went their way” (1 Sam. 30:2).
David and six hundred men went off to pursue the Amalekites. As they carried out their pursuit, two hundred of the men became too exhausted to go on, so they stayed on the other side of the brook called Besor (1 Sam. 30:10). Four hundred men continued with David in pursuit.
David and his men found the Amalekites and defeated them – “David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all” (1 Sam. 30:18-19). A problem arose, however, when they got back to camp. Verse 22 says, “Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, ‘Because they did not go out with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.'” We can relate to what they were saying, I’m sure – they were the ones who did the work, and those who stayed behind because they were tired didn’t do anything, so why should they be rewarded?
David answered the challenge of “the wicked and worthless” by saying, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike” (1 Sam. 30:23-24). This became a statute and rule in Israel to the day the book of 1 Samuel was written (1 Sam. 30:25).
The point here is that those who fought and those who were too exhausted to fight but stayed “by the stuff” (according to the King James Version) shared equally in the reward.
There are a few important points to recognize from this episode. First, this wasn’t something that happened all the time or every time. The 200 men who stayed by the baggage while the others fought didn’t make a habit of being “too tired to fight.” I’m sure they fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellow-soldiers on many other occasions. Second, fallen human nature is on full display among the 400 who did fight. Why should people who don’t “do their fair share” be given any of the reward? It’s easy for us to think that, but David’s answer was wise and consistent with God’s character. The Lord is merciful and gracious – giving us what we don’t deserve and not giving us what we do deserve.
Practically speaking, there are times in the course of our service for the Lord when we will get tired, even to the point of exhaustion, and need a rest. Take it, but make sure it doesn’t become a permanent rest (not, of course, in the sense of the Sabbath rest God promises His people in Hebrews 3 and 4). More often than not, we’ll be in the 400 hundred pursuing the Amalekites, but there will be times when staying by the stuff is the most faithful and obedient thing we can do. Regarding the rewards, let God take care of that. Regarding the rest (no pun intended) – there is a time to pursue and fight and there is a time to rest. May we have the wisdom to discern between the two.