I Samuel 29
29 The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. 2 As the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the rear with Achish. 3 The commanders of the Philistines asked, “What about these Hebrews?” Achish replied, “Is this not David, who was an officer of Saul king of Israel? He has already been with me for over a year, and from the day he left Saul until now, I have found no fault in him.” 4 But the Philistine commanders were angry with Achish and said, “Send the man back, that he may return to the place you assigned him. He must not go with us into battle, or he will turn against us during the fighting. How better could he regain his master’s favor than by taking the heads of our own men? 5 Isn’t this the David they sang about in their dances: “‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?” 6 So Achish called David and said to him, “As surely as the Lord lives, you have been reliable, and I would be pleased to have you serve with me in the army. From the day you came to me until today, I have found no fault in you, but the rulers don’t approve of you. 7 Now turn back and go in peace; do nothing to displease the Philistine rulers.” 8 “But what have I done?” asked David. “What have you found against your servant from the day I came to you until now? Why can’t I go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” 9 Achish answered, “I know that you have been as pleasing in my eyes as an angel of God; nevertheless, the Philistine commanders have said, ‘He must not go up with us into battle.’ 10 Now get up early, along with your master’s servants who have come with you, and leave in the morning as soon as it is light.” 11 So David and his men got up early in the morning to go back to the land of the Philistines, and the Philistines went up to Jezreel.
1. The Trap is About to Close 1-3
Observe the great trap that David was in, which we may suppose he himself knew full well. It is curious that we do not read of his asking advice from God, nor of any project of his own to get out of it. The armies of the Philistines and the Israelites were encamped and ready to engage, “The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel” (v 1). Achish, who had been kind to David, had asked him to come himself and bring the forces he had into his service. David came accordingly, and, upon a review of the army, was found to be with Achish, in a safe post assigned him as king in the rear. This may have been to protect the king while the other commanders were just rulers (v 2).
If, when the armies engaged, he should fall back, and quit his post, he would fall under the unescapable embarrassment to a soldier, not only of cowardice and treachery, but of base ingratitude to Achish, who had been his host and protector and had placed a great deal of confidence in him. David had received a very honorable position, commission and a city of his own. David was in a trap. There was no way he could have left the battle and maintained any semblance of honor. There is no way David could have persuaded himself to leave the battle—even though the battle was agains his own countrymen!
If he should, as was expected from him, fight for the Philistines against Israel, he would have become guilty of treason and a traitor to his country by being an enemy to the Israel of God. He would make his own people hate him, and unanimously oppose his coming to the crown, as unworthy of the name of an Israelite, much less the honor and trust of a king of Israel, when he had fought against them under the banner of the uncircumcised.
If Saul should be killed (as it proved he was) in this engagement, the fault could be laid at David’s door, as if he had killed him. So that on each side there seemed to be both sin and scandal. This was the strait he was in; and a great strait it was to a good man, there was sin and trouble before him no matter what he did. And to make matters even more complicated, he had brought himself into this situation by his own weakness and lack of faith in leaving the land of Judah, and going among unbelieving heathen.
It is strange and rare that those who associate themselves with wicked people, and grow intimate with them, can ever get away from them without guilt, or grief, or both. We are not told what he himself proposed to do to get out of this trap. Perhaps he planned to act only as keeper of the king and position himself near Achish and not himself do battle against Israel. There are many lessons here. One is that being out of the will of God in Philistia, when he should have remained in Judah, exposed him to difficulties, dilemmas and hardships from which there was no possible human escape.
Another outstanding lesson is that it is very difficult to come so near the brink of sin and not to fall in. God was, oh, so merciful to him! Instead of justly leaving him in this difficulty, to punish him for his foolishness, perhaps because his heart was upright and this was but a common human problem of weakness, not a problem of rebellion, God saved him. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (I Cor. 10:13).
So next we observe that a door opened for his deliverance out of this predicament. God inclined the hearts of the rulers of the Philistines to angrily oppose his joining them in the battle, and to insist that he leave. Their hostility towards David was a great blessing, as we shall see in the next chapter when he arrived back to Ziklag much much earlier than he would have had he gone to battle against Israel with the Philistines. No friend of his was capable of doing him such a kindness. Nor did anyone even know how much David was needed in Ziklag at that very time.
But from a moral and spiritual perspective, we can ask the same question. A Hebrew is out of his place, and, if he has the spirit of a Hebrew, is out of his element, when he is in the camp of the Philistines. He deserves to be made uneasy there. David wrote in Psalm 26:5, “I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.” What fellowship is there between light and darkness? What do God’s chosen people have in common with ungodly, wicked sinners? Why would children of God want to curry favor with children of the Devil? We have this same question before us today. There are crowds in which we need to feel uncomfortable.
Achish gave David an honorable commendation. He apparently looked on him as a refugee that fled from wrongful prosecution in his own country, and had put himself under his protection, for whom he therefore was justifiably obligated to care and protect. He also thought he might in prudence use David’s service; “He has already been with me for over a year, and from the day he left Saul until now, I have found no fault in him.” “ . . . more than a year.” That is, a considerable time, many days at his court and a year or two in his country, and he never found any fault in him, nor saw any cause to distrust him. On one hand, Ashich had not found fault with David because David hid them well. On the other hand, David was a loyal person, could have been, would have been, actually was, loyal to Saul, but Saul would not have it. Achish gained a loyal subject. It appears that David had conducted himself with caution, and had prudently concealed the affection he surely must still have had for his own people. A Christian spiritual leader will show himself or herself worthy of trust, so perfectly that even unbelievers see their virtues. The trouble with this instance was, however, that David must have been out of the will of God. Yet even there God helped him. He had won many battles as he fought against Israel’s enemies during his months with King Achish.
2. God Uses the Philistine Commanders to Deliver David 4 and 5
Yet the rulers are insistent in their demand. He must be sent home; and they give good reasons for this requirement: Because he had been an old enemy to the Philistines; witness what was sung in honor of his triumphs over them: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” They were saying, “It will be bad for us to harbor and trust so noted a destroyer of our people; nor can it be thought that he will now act whole-heartily against Saul who had earlier acted so vigorously with him and for him.” “ . . . he will turn against us during the fighting. How better could he regain his master’s favor than by taking the heads of our own men?” Who could be fond of popular praise or applause back home in Israel when, that praise may, another time in another place, be turned against a him? David may have enjoyed the praise once, but did he still?
The rulers did not know but what David might be a most dangerous enemy to them, and do them more harm than all Saul’s army could. “He may turn against us during the fighting,” and surprise us with an attack in the rear, while their army charges us in the front; and we have reason to think he will do so, that, by betraying us, he may endear himself again to his master. Who can trust a man who, besides his affection to his country, will think it his interest to be false to us?”
It is also possible that some of these rulers or Philistine soldiers had witnessed ten or twelve years earlier this David behead and kill their own champion Goliath on the battlefield. Or if they had not seen that, surely they would have heard about it.
3. The Sovereign God Used a Heathen King 6-8
If the reasons Achish had to trust David had been stronger than the reasons that the rulers distrusted him, Achish might have convinced them to allow David’s participation. But the rulers were correct; the rulers were certainly in the right, and Achish was but one of five. Though Achish was the chief, and the only one that had the title of king; he was out-voted in this council of war, and obligated to dismiss David. And we who objectively view this story many years later and far away can see the hand of God leading His sheep. David wrote, “The Lord is s my Shepherd.” and certainly here the Shepherd was there taking care of His sheep. Achish was a heathen unbeliever but God used him to accomplish His noble purpose.
4. David Walks out of the Trap vs. 9-11
The discharge Achish gives him was very honorable, and not final. It was a temporary solution; a release from the present service. He indicated the great pleasure and satisfaction he had in him and in his conversation: “I know that you have been as pleasing in my eyes as an angel of God.” Achish certainly meant this as a complement, but think about it. Angels of God are messengers of God and would an Angel of God have even been there, much less offering to help a heathen army against God’s chosen? Was Balaam an Angel of God? No, these were enemies of God because they made themselves enemies of God’s people. Wise and good men will gain respect, wherever they go, from all that know how to make a right estimate of persons and things. But was part of Achish’ respect for David based on what David said or implied he would do against Israel? Wasn’t part of Achish’ respect for David based on the fact that David had repeatedly said he had attacked Israeli towns, when he had, in fact, been attacking towns that were filled with enemies of Israel? It appears that Achish’ respect for David was ill founded. Achish did not know David.
Nevertheless, though the two professed different religions, what Achish says of David, by the prophet Zechariah (12:8), God Himself, says of the house of David. “On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them.” Achish was merely giving a human evaluation, but Zechariah was expressing a divine promise.
Achish gave him a testimonial of David’s good behavior, full and with obligating terms: “I know that you have been as pleasing in my eyes as an angel of God,” your whole conduct has been good and I find no evil in you. Saul would not have given him such a commendation, though David had done far more service for him than for Achish. Jealousy blinds. Saul could not see the good in David because he was jealous of David. It is a poor leader who will be jealous of the success of underlings rather than encourage, build, strengthen and train them to do even better.
Achish laid all the blame of David’s dismissal on the rulers who would by no means allow him to continue in the camp. “ . . . nevertheless, the Philistine commanders have said, ‘He must not go up with us into battle,’” as though to say, “The king loves you entirely, and would put his life in your hands; but the lords do not favor you; we must not fail to accommodate them, nor can we oppose them; “nevertheless, the Philistine commanders have said.”
“Now get up early, along with your master’s servants who have come with you, and leave in the morning as soon as it is light.” Achish had better part with his favorite than create disunity among his generals or effect a mutiny in his army. Achish intimated a reason why they were uneasy. It was not so much for David’s own sake as for the sake of his soldiers that attended him, whom he called David’s master’s servants namely, Saul’s servants. They could trust him, but not them. He ordered him to be gone early, as soon as it was light: “Now get up early, along with your master’s servants who have come with you, and leave in the morning as soon as it is light.” How very different the appearance of things were from the higher more profound reality—this was a miraculous deliverance and escape God was giving to his son, David.
David’s response to these explanations, appears to be conciliatory, but surly they hide the profound relief David must have felt in his heart to be able to leave a battlefield against Israel and still maintain his honor. “What?” says David, “must I leave my lord the king, whom I am bound by office to protect, just now when he is going to expose himself on the battlefield? Why may not I go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” David seemed eager to serve Ashich when he was at this juncture inwardly really anxious to leave him, but not willing that Achish should know that he was. How very different from his true thoughts were the impressions given by David’s outward expression. Just as when he slobbered in his beard on the door in Ashich’ palace, when by that behavior he escaped from Ashich who himself may have been acting. Words do not always indicate what is in the mind of the speaker. And no one knows how strong the temptation is to compliment and curry favor with the powerful using words and how very different those words may be from the actual thought in the heart of the speaker.
God’s providence ordered it wisely and graciously for David. For, besides that the snare was broken and he was delivered out of his dilemma, it proved a happy rushing of him to the rescue of his own city, which greatly needed him just then, though he did not know it. The disgrace which the lords of the Philistines put upon him prove, in two great ways, an unusually wonderful advantage to him. His honor is preserved and his city will be rescued.
David did not yet know the great blessing it was to him that this door closed. We don’t like closed doors, but God blesses us with them because He knows things we do not know. God knew David was needed at Ziklag; David did not yet know that. David wrote in Psalm 37:23 “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him,” and surely this is a great example of that wonderful truth. We do not know now what God will do with or for us, but we will know later, and then see it was all for good. If we knew now what God knows, we would do now what God does. Think for yourself of the many times God closed the door for you—not against you—and what a blessing it was which you realized only after the fact.