God likes to apply the term 'worthless' to wicked men in the Bible. Even a quick search of an online or electronic Bible will show you a ton of passages (mostly in the Old Testament) where this word is used to describe a person or persons. But in almost every case we see that these 'worthless' fellows actually have the exact opposite estimation of their own worth. Such is surely the case for Nabal (who I discussed in part yesterday). His flocks had been protected by David and his men for an extended period of time while David camped in that land. Yet, when David's men approached Nabal on a feast day to ask that he share something with them, he responded by saying, "Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?" (1 Samuel 25:10-11) Nabal showed clearly that he found no worth in David, and yet the man's own wife accurately described her husband as 'worthless' (25:25).
The same word shows up again just a few chapters later in 1 Samuel 30:22. In that story, the 'worthless' men are the ones that went with David to the battle against the Amalekites who had sacked their city, Ziklag, and then complained afterwards about those who did not go with them. When the army had reached the brook Besor, two hundred of the men were too exhausted to continue on to the battle, so they had remained behind with the baggage. So when the army returned triumphantly with much spoil, there were some who did not want to give the two hundred exhausted men an equal share of what they had taken from the enemy.
Now, that sentiment is in no way unique to those men in that particular battle. Even most of us, as we read that story, find ourselves partly siding with those whom the Bible calls 'worthless'. After all, why should these men get the same reward that I get when I put my life on the line to win the victory and they sat in the dirt rubbing their aching feet? We'll be generous and give them their wives and children back, but that's it! Next time they can actually help!
The difficulty that arises here that causes us to think along the same lines as those 'worthless' fellows is that we think about the battle in the same way that they thought. They saw those who stayed behind as 'worthless' - not worthy of any of the spoil - because they believed that they were the ones primarily responsible for winning the battle: the ones who went out to fight it. David saw it differently, however. He saw the truth of it. He understood that he took only four hundred men with him (30:10) against a force that were "spread abroad over all the land" (v. 16), and yet his company was able to slaughter this far mightier force for over twenty-four hours straight (v. 17) so that only four hundred young men escaped - the same number that comprised the entirety of David's force!
In other words, the victory did not belong to David and his four hundred men. Only one person truly won the battle and that was God. As David said, "He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us" (v. 23). Therefore, the spoil did not somehow belong only to those that fought - as though they earned it - but really to God, who had graciously allowed them all to share it. That's why David demanded that the two hundred who were too exhausted to go down to the battle receive the same portion as everyone else: because he knew what grace is all about.
Jesus tells a similar story in the New Testament about a farmer who hires servants all throughout the day to work his fields, but at the end of the day he pays all the workers the same amount. Those who got there early and worked all day got the exact same amount as those who came late and toiled for only an hour or so (Matthew 20:1-16). In that parable, those who worked harder have the same kind of 'worthless' attitude as the men in David's company. They begrudged the others an equal share of the master's reward.
The point is that in order to not be 'worthless' fellows ourselves, we must must first rightly understand that we have no intrinsic worth! All of the strengths and gifts and good qualities that we possess were in fact given to us by our gracious God. We did not produce them in our own strength. And as we experience victories in life, we must not think that we somehow accomplished those things in our own power, but we must rightly understand that God does it all. He sets kings on their thrones, works military victories according to His purposes, He builds up and He tears down, and He is the one that even gives us life and knits us together in our mothers' wombs. So the irony is that if we find worth in ourselves - stemming from our own strengths and abilities and apart from God - then we are truly 'worthless' people. But if we see that the only worth in us is a gift from God and not of ourselves, we are then those who can be useful in God's hands. In other words, we will have value to Him and true worth.