I Samuel 27:1 – 28:4
27 But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.” 2 So David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish son of Maok king of Gath. 3 David and his men settled in Gath with Achish. Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives: Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel, the widow of Nabal. 4 When Saul was told that David had fled to Gath, he no longer searched for him. 5 Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be assigned to me in one of the country towns, that I may live there. Why should your servant live in the royal city with you?” 6 So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since. 7 David lived in Philistine territory a year and four months. 8 Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) 9 Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish. 10 When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.” 11 He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory. 12 Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for life.” 28:1 In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.” 2 David said, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.”’ Achish replied, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” 3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land. 4 The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa.
1. David Moved to Gath 1-4
David demonstrated great fear and weak faith. “I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul.” Where did that idea come from? Is that what God had said? Saul was against him and came looking for him twice. The Ziphites had twice betrayed him to Saul. No new recruits had come to him for a while (he still had just 600 men). And he could not see that he was making any progress. So, understandably, he concluded that he would be eventually destroyed by Saul. David where is your faith? What of all the wonderful things you wrote in your Psalms? Where is your trust in God? If he were anointed by Samuel to be king, didn’t that imply that this period would pass? Even though he had no reason to trust Saul’s promises, he had all the reason in the world to trust the God’s promises. His experience in his own history of the particular care God repeatedly showed him ought to have encouraged him. He that has delivered does and will. But unbelief is a sin that plagues even good men. With danger on the outside and fear on the inside, we often need to cry out to God: “Increase our faith.”
Now that Saul had, for this time, returned to his place, so David determined to take this opportunity to retreat and hide in Philistine territory. He consulted his own heart; not the ephod, the priest or the prophet which were apparently all available. Long trials tire the faith and patience of even very good men.
Saul did not do himself a favor when he mistreated David with the result that David stopped or, perhaps, rather could no longer continue serving Saul. Soon Saul would need David, but David was off restoring his wives, family and possessions back from the Amalekites who had plundered Ziklag. Through his own foolishness Saul lost his best general and a brave regiment. Saul was an enemy to himself and his kingdom in driving David to this extremity. He weakened Israel’s position when he expelled so great a general as David was from his service, forcing him into the service of his enemies.
Neither was David a friend to himself in fleeing into Philistia. Through Gad God had appointed him to set up his standard in the land of Judah (I Sam 22:5). God had preserved him and occasionally even used him to bless Israel. Why did he desert his post? How could he expect the protection of the God of Israel if he went out of the borders of the land of Israel? More importantly, if outside the borders of God’s will for him? Could he expect to be safe among the Philistines, out of whose hands he had so recently escaped? . . . barely getting away by pretending to be insane? Would he receive kindness from them now with whom he knew he must make war when he became Israel’s king? How could he give the enemy such an opportunity? Why did he flee to a place where people worshipped other gods? How did he get to a place where he must fight for a people he would necessarily soon fight against? Oh, what messes we get ourselves into! Oh, Lord lead us not into temptation!
Why would Achish give such a good reception to David at Gath when earlier his court had opposed David being there? Possibly out of generosity, in part being proud to entertain so brave a man, partly out of policy, hoping to engage him in his service, and maybe that his example would invite many more Israelites to desert and come over to him. He very possibly promised David protection, which David felt he could count on more than Saul’s promises. What a bundle of contradictions: to think that the word of a Philistine should go further than the word of an Israelite, and that the city of Gath should be a place of refuge for a good man when the cities of Israel refused him a safe place.
David brought his men with him possibly that they might guard him, themselves be safer where he was and to make himself the more useful to Achish, who may have hoped to have service out of him and them. He also brought his family with him, his wives and his household, so did all his men. This seems to suggest that at a deep level, David had truly given up hope for a future for himself in Israel. This move was not lightly made. Twice he avoided Saul’s spear, twice he had showed kindness to Saul even though Saul was pursuing him. Now twice he fled to Philistia. He would soon face even greater challenges when the commanders of the Philistine army rejected David’s participation and when David and his band returned to Ziklag to find the city plundered. This was a truly low period in David’s life. But it was temporary; God brought him out. You and I pass through them too and God also brings us out.
Saul stopped chasing David: “When Saul was told that David had fled to Gath, he no longer searched for him.” This suggests that even with the professions of repentance he had recently made, if he had had David within his reach, he would have aimed another blow. But, because Saul dares not come where David is, he resolves to let him alone. Many seem to leave their sins, but really their sins leave them; they would persist in them if they could. Saul stoped searching for him not by his own choice or good will, rather contenting himself with David’s banishment, since he could not have David’s blood. And perhaps he again hoped that David would be destroyed by the Philistines as he had done earlier (I Sam 18:25).
2. David’s Arrangement with Achish 5-6
David’s request for permission to move out of the royal city was prudent and very modest. David knew what it was to be envied in the court of Saul, and had much more reason to fear in the court of Achish, and therefore preferred a smaller more quiet place where he might be private, more able to follow his own pursuits, and less in other people’s way. In a town of his own he might also be freer to worship, sing and write. We will soon see that David attacked enemies of Israel, yet told Achish that he had attacked Israelite villages. He could not have done this if he lived in Gath. Gath was, after all, a center of pagan activity and religion. In Samuel’s day, when the Philistines captured the ark of God, Gath is one of the cities to which the Philistines took it. Those that would stand secure must not be ambitious to stand high; humble souls do not aim to dwell in royal cities. David did well to make the request for a village away from Gath.
God gives and God takes away. Liklag on Judah’s southern border was given to Judah by Joshua according to Joshua 15:31. It was later given out of Judah along with some other cities to the tribe of Simeon (Joshua 19:5). Ziklag was not Achish’ to give away. Through our carelessness, or lack of faith to assert ourselves in prayer or to lay claim to what God has given to us, we lose gifts, opportunities and blessings, but God is a Restorer—even if He has to use someone like Achish. Judah and Simeon had been given Ziklag, but they did not claim or conquer it. They lived beneath their privileges. They did not claim their possession. Either the city was never subdued, or the Philistines had, in some struggle with Israel, taken it. Perhaps Achish knew this history and determined to restore it to Israel by giving it to David. We don’t know. But we do know that the Bible says, “So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since.” I prefer to believe that God, the righteous Judge, restored the city He originally, even from Joshua’s day, intended Israel to have to David. It was well located close to Israeli territory and all during the developments leading up to David becoming king of Judah and moving to Hebron, Ziklag served as a place with easy access for David’s many Israeli visitors.
Yet it could be said that the grant which Achish made to him, upon that request, was very generous and kind. David gained a convenient settlement, not only at a distance from Gath, but bordering on Israel, where he might maintain communications with his own countrymen, and where they might easily travel to him at the time of the fast-approaching revolution. Though we do not find that he augmented his forces at all while Saul lived, yet, immediately after Saul’s death, that was the place where David met his Israeli friends. There is nothing lost by humility and modesty, and a willingness to retire from places that appear to be prestigious like Gath was a good thing. Ziklag was fine. Real advantages follow those that flee from imaginary honors.
3. David Lives a Lie 7-12
What did David do while he was in the land of the Philistines? He attacked and destroyed people God had long since decreed should be destroyed. So even from Ziklag, David’s activities served a God-ordained noble purpose. This was not cruelty; it was finishing a task that Saul left undone. Those people whom he destroyed were such as heaven had long since doomed to destruction, and David had been ordained by God to dominion; so that the thing needed to be done, and he was the one to do it. It was not for him that had been anointed to fight the Lord’s battles to lazily sit still. He wanted to be safe from Saul only that he might serve Israel. He avenged an old quarrel that God had with these nations, and at the same time earned provisions for himself and his army, for by their swords they must live. The Amalekites were all to have been cut off. The Geshurites and Gezrites were possibly branches of Amalek. Saul was rejected for sparing them and David compensated for Saul’s disobedience and deficiency before he succeeds him. He attacked them, and “did not leave a man or woman alive.” The service paid for itself, for they carried off abundance of spoil, which served as supplies for David’s forces.
On the other hand, we face an ethical question: Was it right to tell Achish that he attacked Israeli towns when, in fact he had attacked enemy towns? David was not willing that Achish should know the truth, and partly for that reason therefore killed everyone so that no one would take the news to Gath. Probably this was not as much because he was ashamed of what he had done, but because he was afraid. If the Philistines knew it, they would be more aware of the danger to which this would expose them or their allies by allowing him to live among them.
God enabled David to succeed in battle even during this time. Achish thought better and better of David with every report of a victory. It was true he had invaded those countries that lay south of Judah, but he made Achish believe he had invaded those that lay south in Judah. Achish understood “He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for life.” Achish thought so highly of David, trusted and believed him so readily that it proved very easy for David to continue his series of lies. Was this right? The respect Achish had for David, his good opinion of him, and the confidence he put in him, encouraged David’s to deceive him like this. Later it seems that David penitently reflected on this when he wrote in Psalm 32:2 “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit,” and Psalm 119:29 “Keep me from deceitful ways;” If lying was a part of David’s God-blessed strategy of war, then lying could be permitted. If It was motivated simply by self-interest, then it would not have been good. God knows.
4. David Gets in a Trap 28:1-4
The Philistines then makes plans against Israel. They resolved ‘to fight against Israel.” If the Israelites had not forsaken God, there would have been no Philistines remaining to bother them; if Saul had not forsaken God, they would by this time have no danger from the Philistines. Evidently there was some division or opposing opinions among the Philistine commanders. Apparently some of them wanted to use David against Israel. They wanted to make this attempt when they had David among them. They knew their enemy and they knew David was in Gath. Yet other commanders of Philistine forces were to insist that David not fight with them against Saul and Israel.
If Philistia went to war against Israel, what would David do? Would he fight against his own countrymen? If he did, would they ever accept him as their king? How now can he not fight against Israel if he lives in Philistia? How will God get David out of this dilemma?
Achish expected David to fight with him against Israel and David encouraged Achish to think that way. What is wrong with David? How will he escape this situation? What a trap he has gotten himself into! Achish seems to say, “If I protect you, I may demand service from you,” and he will think himself happy if he may have such a man as David on his side, who prospered everywhere he went for the Lord was with him. But would the Lord still be with him if he fought against Israel? David gave him a somewhat ambiguous answer: “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.” Was David saying, “I will consider in what post I may be best able to serve you, if you will but give me leave to choose it.” Was David keeping himself free from a promise to serve Achish and yet maintain his expectation of it; for Achish took it in no other sense than as an intention to assist him, and thereby promised him a promotion.
The armies gathered onto the battlefield. “The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem” (v 4). Shunem was in the tribe of Issachar, a long way north from Philistia. The land of Israel, apparently, was not well guarded, if the Philistines could march their army into the very heart of the country before encountering an army to resist them. Saul, while he had devoted so much time, thought resources and effort to pursue David, had left his people naked and exposed. On some of the mountains of Gilboa, near Shunem, Saul gathered his forces, and prepared to engage the Philistines. He had no courage to do this since, among other considerations, also the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him.
David could say by his God he could run through a troop and leap over a wall, but Saul could not say that. And neither did Samson realize that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him. It is possible that God’s ministers get so busy in the work of the Lord that they do not realize that they are just still going through the motions that they went through at an earlier stage or phase of their lives when the Spirit of the Lord was still with them. Man and woman of God, ask yourself if the strong anointing of God’s Spirit that was on you is still on you.