(1 Samuel 30:1-31) Ziklag, David’s City, is Sacked by the Amelekites—David, after Consulting the Urim, Pursues them—The Captives are Recovered—The Friendly Cities are Rewarded.
EXCURSUS M: ON THE URIM AND THUMMIM (1 Samuel 30).
We read in the description of the high priest’s official vestments (Exodus 28:2-32), that over the ephod there was to be a “breastplate of judgment,” of gold, scarlet, purple, and fine linen, folded square and doubled, a span in length and width. In it were to be set four rows of precious stones, each stone with the name of a tribe of Israel engraved on it, that Aaron might “bear them upon his heart.” Inside the breastplate were to be placed the Urim and Thummim (the Light and the Perfection), and they, too, were to be on Aaron’s heart as he went in before the Lord.
What, now, were these mysterious gems? for that they were precious stones of some kind nearly all tradition seems agreed. Among the best supported traditional notices—quoted by Dean Plumptre in his learned article in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible—the following are the usually accepted ones.
(a) The Urim and Thummim “were identical with the twelve stones on which the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved, and the mode in which an oracle was given was by the illumination, simultaneous or successive, of the letters which were to make up the answer” (Jalkut Sifre, Zohar, in Exod., f. 105; Maimonides, R. ben Nachman, in Buxtorf, I.e.). Josephus (Antiq. iii. 7, § 5) adopts another form of the same story, and, apparently identifying the Urim and Thummim with the sardonyxes on the shoulders of the ephod, says that they were bright before a victory or when the sacrifice was acceptable, dark when any disaster was impending. Epiphanius (Deuteronomy 12 gemm.) and the writer quoted by Suidas present the same thought in yet another form. A single diamond placed in the centre of the breastplate prognosticated peace when it was bright, war when it was red, death when it was dusky.
(b) In the middle of the ephod, or within its folds, there was a stone or plate of gold, on which was engraved the sacred name of Jehovah, the Shem-hamme-phorash of Jewish cabbalists; and by virtue of this, the High Priest, fixing his gaze on it, or reading an invocation which was also engraved with the name, or standing in his ephod before the mercy-seat, or, at least, before the veil of the Sanctuary, became capable of prophesying, hearing the Divine voice within, or listening to it as it proceeded, in articulated sounds, from the glory of the Shechinah (Buxtorf, 50100, 7; Lightfoot, 6:278; Braunius, de Vestitu Hebrews , 2; Saalschütz, Archäolog., ii, 363).
That mighty storehouse of learning and tradition, the Babylonian Talmud, suggests, however, another and quite a different explanation of this mysterious and sacred possession of the Israelites in the earlier days of their existence as a people. (See note on 1 Samuel 30:7 of chapter 30)
The Talmud begins by explaining why the oracle was called Urim and Thummim. It is called Urim because it gave explanatory light to its utterances; and it is called Thummim because it made perfect and complete its declarations.
How did the Urim and Thummim indicate or manifest its utterances? Rabbi Yochanan saith: Boltoth (by means of) projection. Resh Lakish saith: Mitz-taphoth (by means of) transposition.
(1) Boltoth (by means of projection).—The several letters that were intended by the oracle to form the word or words in reply to an enquiry were raised from concave to convex (as the engraved letters on a seal were to become raised letters, as on a coin, and the priest, uniting these projected letters, thus ascertained the proper meaning of the intended answer, which he delivered to the enquirer. For instance: in the reply to David, ăleh—“go;” the ayin in Simeon, the lamedh in Levi, and the he in Judah become prominently raised, and thus the answer was unmistakable.
(2) Mitztaphoth (by means of transposition).-The letters composing the names of the twelve tribes transposed themselves into words, which indicated the oracle’s reply. But it is objected: How could the oracle express 1 Samuel 30:8 (i.e., “Thou shalt without fail recover all”), since the letter tsadde, for instance, is not to be found in any of the names of the tribes? nor is the letter teth to be found there either. To this it is responded that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were engraved on the gems, as also the Hebrew words signifying “the tribes of Jeshurun.”
Thus the Hebrew alphabet in the Urim and Thummim is made complete.—Treatise Yoma, fol. 73, cols. 1 and 2.
The Amalekites had invaded the south.—This was partly in retaliation for the late raids of David in the Amalekite country, partly because Amalek had heard that, owing to the Philistine and Israelite armies having left the southern districts for the central part of Canaan, all the south country was left unguarded. “The south,” that is, “the Negeb,” or the dry land-all the southern part of Judea; it included also a part of the Arabian Desert.
And smitten Ziklag.—This was an act of vengeance, Ziklag being the city of that famous Israelite chieftain David, who had done so much damage to Amalek, and who had treated the captives with such cruelty. While other parts of the south were simply plundered, Ziklag was marked for utter destruction was sacked and burned.
But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.—He encouraged himself in prayer, thus casting himself and his fortunes on the God who, years before, had chosen him to be “His anointed.” It was this trust, as we have before seen in his own case, in the case, too, of Jonathan, as it had been in old days with all the heroes of Israel—this perfect, childlike, implicit trust in the “Glorious Arm”—which had been the source of the marvellous success of the chosen people. When they forgot the invisible King, who for His own great purposes had chosen them, their fortunes at once declined; they fell to the level, and often below the level, of the surrounding nations. We have many conspicuous examples of this; for instance, in the lives of Samson and Saul, how, when with weeping and with mourning, they returned to their allegiance, and again leaned on the “Arm,” success and victory returned to them. This is what happened now to David at Ziklag, while about the same time Saul, alone and distrustful, fought and fell on the bloody day of Gilboa. David, with the help of his God, on whose mercy he had thrown himself, obtained his brilliant success over Amalek, and restored his prestige not only among his own immediate followers, but through all the cities and villages of Southern Canaan.
And Abiathar brought thither the ephod.—Modern commentators, as a rule, prefer to disbelieve in any response coming through the medium of the Urim in the ephod. They either pass over the whole transaction in silence, or assume that some Divine inspiration came to the high priest when vested with the sacred garment. The plain meaning, however, of the frequent references tells us in some way or other the Divine will was made known through the agency of the mysterious Urim and Thummim. See, for instance, in the case of Saul, where definitely it is stated that the Lord answered him not “by Urim” (1 Samuel 28:6), where this peculiar Divine response is carefully distinguished from the manifestation of the will of God in a dream or a vision, or through the Divine instrumentality of the prophet or seer. The ancient Hebrews had no hesitation in attributing to the sacred precious stones an occasional special power of declaring the oracles of God. The Talmudical traditions are clear and decisive here. Now, without attaching anything like an implicit credence to these most ancient Hebrew traditions—many of them fanciful and wild, many of them written in a cryptograph, or secret cypher, to which Christians in most cases do not possess the key—it does seem in the highest degree arbitrary to reject the ancient traditional belief of the Hebrew race contained in the Talmud with respect to this most mysterious ephod and its sacred gems, and to adopt another interpretation, which fits in very lamely with the plain text. The whole question respecting the traditions of the Urim and Thummim is discussed at some length in the short Excursus M on the Urini, at the end of this Commentary on the First Book of Samuel.
In the words “for two hundred abode behind,” the narrator anticipated what is told in 1 Samuel 30:10. It is a proleptical expression, arising from the vivacious description of David’s rapid march with four hundred men (Lange). The Vulg. paraphrases, or rather seeks to amend the text here: “and certain tired ones stayed.” The Syriac changes the text into “David left two hundred men;” these men who had fallen out of the rapid march were gathered together, and kept the baggage and everything that could be left behind at the encampment at the brook Besor. It is to be supposed that owing to the hurried departure, but scanty provision for the forced march was made, hence the falling out through weariness in the course of the rapid advance. The brook Besor cannot be identified with certainty; and Raumer (Palestine) supposes it to be the Wady Shariah, which falls into the sea below Askelon.
Before the arrival of Israel in Canaan the Philistines held a very strong position on the southern coast, and not long before Samson’s time they had been strengthened by fresh arrivals from Crete and other western regions, and from this date rapidly gained power and influence, and at more than one period disputed the supremacy with the Hebrew race, whom they threatened to supplant altogether.
We hear subsequently of the Cherethites mentioned in the passage under the command of Benaiah, as a portion of King David’s body-guard. This troop or regiment of Philistines was first, no doubt, enrolled during his residence at Ziklag. He retained this body of foreigners, of course continually recruited, about his person all through his reign. Such a body-guard, made up of foreigners, has always been a favourite practice among sovereigns. The Scottish archers and the corps of Swiss Guards, at different periods of the French monarchy, and, on a larger scale, the Varangian guard of the Greek emperors of Constantinople in the tenth century, are good examples of this preference for foreigners in the case of the body-guards of the sovereign.
And upon the coast which belongeth to Judah.—The eastern portion of the Negeb or south country, reaching from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea.
And upon the south of Caleb.—One district of the Negeb or south country was given to Caleb, the companion of Joshua, as a reward for his faith and his courage. His portion, which was called Caleb after the famous chieftain, included all the country and villages round about Hebron, which became subsequently a city of the priests.
And we burned Ziklag with fire.—This act, which closed the reign of Amalek, was intended as a piece of stern revenge for the late incursion of David into their country, and for the cruelties practised on the captives.
And I will bring thee down.—His accurate knowledge of the route taken by the Amalekites, and his clear account of the late raid, show that he was a person of no ordinary ability; he was probably an Egyptian merchant or wealthy trader captured in some border fray.
“ His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
MILTON: Sonnet 19
Moses praying on the hill contributed to the victory over Amalek even more than Joshua fighting in the plain (Exodus 17:11). “All Christians are not of equal strength, and some follow Christ to the conflict, others tarry with the stuff. Some fight the Lord’s battles in the din of active life; others, aged men and women, the Simeons and Annas of the Church . . . weak in body but strong in faith, fight with the peaceful arms of prayers and tears; Christ is omnipotent and merciful He rewards those who tarry in patience with the stuff, as well as those who go forth in the march to fight valiantly in the battle.”—Bishop Hall, in Wordsworth.
The cities of the Jerahmeelites and Kenites.—These places were situated in the south of Judah; they cannot be traced.