Tactics – David in the Desert of Ziph

David Stealing the King’s Spear

Modern tactics are really nothing more than the same tactics used for thousands of years, just re-written to sound more high tech.  It was once said that it was the longbow, and not the infantryman that became obsolete, and the horse, not the cavalryman.  That is very true.

However, the same combat engineer and security skills that Nehemiah used in Jerusalem are still in use today, as are the same recon skills and tactics that David used in the Desert of Ziph, thousands of years ago.

In 1 Samuel 26, a great adventure story plays out that proves that the Bible is still the ultimate tactical handbook.  Let me set the stage.

King Saul knew that David was going to replace him some day, so he decided to kill David.  David has already survived one assassination attempt.  David and his small band of warriors were hiding out in the wilderness of the Desert of Ziph.

King Saul brought 3,000 troops and because the force was so large, they had to camp right beside the road….You can’t hide 3,000 men making a trail.  These two pieces are the first tactical lessons in this story.  

  1. Don’t bring a massive force to search for a small force, it’s very easy to track, and hard to hide.  
  2. Don’t set up or halt in an obvious danger zone, where you can be found or observed easily.

When David heard that Saul was near, he immediately sent out scouts, who fixed the location of Saul’s forces and reported back to David.  Two more quick tactical points that are equally valid today:

  1. Have an intelligence network up and running, so that you hear about things happening.  Because David had a network, his team immediately knew when a threat was near.
  2. Confirm all reports by getting your own people to physically observe what’s been reported.  David could have launched an attack as soon as he heard, but what if Saul wasn’t really there?  David would have exposed his meager force.

Once David’s scouts reported back to the main body where the enemy was, David immediately went to take a look himself and finalize a plan.  Today, we give that the fancy name of “Leader’s Reconnaissance”, but despite the modern name, it’s the same thing David did. 

  1. Conduct a Leader’s Recon to finalize the plans.  David took one other man with him, for security.
  2. When leaving on a Leader’s Recon, issue a “GOTWA” plan.
    1. Going:  Where you are going
    2. Others: Who is going with you
    3. Time: Time of your return
    4. What: What to do if you don’t return
    5. Actions: What to do if you are attacked or the main body is attacked.

Now, David and his partner were able to sneak into the enemy camp undetected, because the King’s forces were confident that no one would attack a force of 3,000.

1. ALWAYS post security and have a security and sleep plan for your entire team.

David found where the King was sleeping, and the King’s spear and water jug were sitting near his head.  Rather than killing the King, which would have meant a victory, for about 2 seconds until the other 3,000 men killed David, David disarmed the King and took his water jug.

  1. Fighting is not always the best option.
  2. Sometimes, removing resources from an enemy force can force it to retire or lose (The Crusaders lost the Battle of Hattin because of a lack of water).

David and his escort then withdrew, but continued in a direction AWAY from their own forces, and secured themselves a position on a hill overlooking the enemy camp.

  1. Use deception by traveling in a unexpected direction or by leading pursuers away from your true positions.
  2. Always secure high ground and commanding terrain.
    1. Use the Acronym OCOKA to pick out the best position:
      1. Observation and fields of fire
      2. Cover and concealment
      3. Obstacles
      4. Key terrain
      5. Avenues of approach
OCOKA. Observation and Fields of Fire. Cover and Concealment. Obstacles. Key Terrain. Avenues of Approach. FM

The next morning, David contacted the enemy force and let them know that he had penetrated their camp and could have killed their King in his sleep, but chose not to.  The King was shaken by this, and saw it as a sign.  The King immediately vowed to stop pursuing David.  While we know that outcome isn’t certain in today’s world, it does give us a couple of tactical points.

  1. Sometimes, simply making it known that you COULD have taken action, but instead showed FORBEARANCE accomplishes far more than fighting.
  2. In preparedness, not every fight is a fight we SHOULD make.  In fact, we should avoid it as much as possible.

Now, that’s a fun analysis that illustrated some very basic tactical principles, but how does that apply to preparedness?

Most people who are into preparedness want to immediately talk about all the guns they have and all the tactical training they do, but that misses the entire point of preparedness.  

The point of preparedness is to SURVIVE.  Sure, being able to fend off an attack is a good skill to have, but it’s not always the best option.  

You aren’t going to be light infantry out in the outback with Mad Max, righting the wrongs of society. 

This story illustrates that by applying proper tactics, and accomplishing your goals WITHOUT fighting, you’ll be a lot better off in the long run.  Sure, David could have been all secret-squirrel ninja and killed the King, but how would he have gotten out of the camp, and then away from the pursuit that was sure to follow?

By not fighting, he solved the problem on a far more permanent basis.  Let that be the one tactical truth you take away from here.  

He was not showing weakness; remember that at this point, David was already known as a great Warrior.  He showed STRENGTH by choosing not destroy the King.

There is a great lesson in that.

The other lesson I hope people take away from this analysis of David’s tactics in the Desert of Ziph is that your training shouldn’t always involve punching holes in paper.  The ability to conduct Scouting & Patrolling, operate a Listening/Observation Post, and how to gather intelligence are all skills that anyone into preparedness should master, even more than shooting.

Be safe, and train for the real world.


Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

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