The Selfish Worldly Person

After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed at Ziklag two days. On the third day a man with torn clothes and dust on his head came from Saul’s camp. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage. David asked him, “Where have you come from?”

He replied to him, “I’ve escaped from the Israelite camp.”

“What was the outcome? Tell me,” David asked him.

“The troops fled from the battle,” he answered. “Many of the troops have fallen and are dead. Also, Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.”

David asked the young man who had brought him the report, “How do you know Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”

“I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” he replied, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear. At that very moment the chariots and the cavalry were closing in on him. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, so I answered: I’m at your service. He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I told him: I’m an Amalekite. Then he begged me, ‘Stand over me and kill me, for I’m mortally wounded, but my life still lingers.’ So I stood over him and killed him because I knew that after he had fallen he couldn’t survive. I took the crown that was on his head and the armband that was on his arm, and I’ve brought them here to my lord.”

Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and all the men with him did the same. They mourned, wept, and fasted until the evening for those who died by the sword—for Saul, his son Jonathan, the Lord’s people, and the house of Israel.

David inquired of the young man who had brought him the report, “Where are you from?”

“I’m the son of a resident alien,” he said. “I’m an Amalekite.”

David questioned him, “How is it that you were not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” Then David summoned one of his servants and said, “Come here and kill him!” The servant struck him, and he died. For David had said to the Amalekite, “Your blood is on your own head because your own mouth testified against you by saying, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.’”
-2 Samuel 1:1-16

I came across this story, of the Amalekite man who killed Saul.  It is a curious story to ponder.  What is the lesson here?

The Amalekites were bad, evil people.  Amalek was the grandson of Esau.  There is a lineage of earthiness.  Augustine said that Amalekites represented the city of the world and Israel represented the city of God.(1)

The heritage or culture of Amalekites was self-interest.  They were a mercenary people.  In Jewish tradition, Amalekites represent pure evil in that they are anti-faith or cynical.(1)

Amalekites are purely driven by self-interest.  They have no faith in God nor others, but live with eyes of doubt.  Lying, cheating, stealing, and killing is their way.

The default communication way for an Amalekite is to lie.  The way of self interest is so pervasive, that there is a delusion where they don't realize that someone, like David, is going to smell a lie.

Part of this story is that whether or not the report was a fabrication, it was wrong to kill Saul.  This is how David sees it, even as being the person that Saul wanted to kill.  And David was a killer, a killing machine warrior.

But there is a difference between killing in warfare and murder.  And even when a man tries to kill you, who has been anointed by God and still stands in a place or role that was given by God, even if it has been rescinded by God; it is never right to kill him.

The previous account of Saul and Jonathan's deaths, in 1 Samuel 31, just say they were killed in the battle.  Knowing that cynical lying is the default for Amalekites, our best guess is that this man's story was a fabrication.  And his words instruct us about what someone is like, who is wholly given over to selfish, self-interest.

These notes about this passage, and this man, the Amalekite, are copied here from a scholar named D. Fraser.

Seven aspects of selfish craft:

1. Dominant selfishness. He is supremely concerned about his own interest. Self-love is an original principle of our nature, and, when properly regulated, points in the direction of virtue and happiness. But it easily degenerates into selfishness, "the source of all the sins of omission and commission which are found in the world." And when a man comes under the dominion of the latter, he may sink into any depth of meanness.

2. Subtle scheming. Amidst the dying and the dead, after the battle, his only thought is of gain; and, having plundered the fallen king of the regalia, he coolly calculates how he may dispose thereof to the greatest advantage; and then hastens a long distance across the country to one whom he expects to find ready to welcome the prospect of his own elevation by an enemy's death, and to pay him "the wages of unrighteousness."

3. Feigned sympathy. He comes into the presence of David "with the marks of distress and dismay - dust and clay smeared over his face, and his clothes torn" - on account of the disaster which has befallen Israel (1 Samuel 4:12). But how little does his appearance correspond with the feelings of his heart! "Self-love sometimes borrows the face of honest zeal" (Hall).

4. Obsequious homage. "He fell to the earth, and did obeisance;" prostrating himself before the rising sun of the new era with abject, insincere, and wicked mind. "To those who are distinguished in the kingdom of God as specially called and favoured instruments of grace, falsehood and hypocrisy draw near most pressingly and corruptingly in the guise of humility and self-abasement" (Erdmann).

5. Plausible lying. (Vers. 6-9.) He artfully mingles falsehood with the truth he utters, for the sake of enhancing the value of his good offices. If he had been satisfied with simply telling the tidings of the death of Saul, all would have been well with him; but by his gratuitous inventions he entangles himself in a dangerous snare.

6. Unconscious self-accusation. "I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen" (ver. 10). He accuses himself in the excuses he makes for his conduct. Qui s'excuse s'accuse. Even the request of Saul would not have justified his act or absolved him from responsibility. And how could he be sure that the wounded king could not live? Even the most hardened villain deems it needful to endeavour to palliate his offence. And he who is solely intent upon his own interest often makes admissions that clearly reveal his guilt.

7. Fatal miscalculation. He judges of the character of another by his own, meets with a generosity, loyalty, and justice which he cannot understand, fails of his purpose, and receives a reward which he did not anticipate. "The incident gives us the opportunity of marking the immense difference in the order of mind and character which may subsist between two individuals brought together by one event, and having their attention occupied by one and the same object" (J.A. Miller, 'Saul'). "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness" (Job 5:13). "The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands" (Psalm 9:16; Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 18:7).


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1. Amalek and Spiritual Warfare, John J. Parsons

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