'Studies in the Old Testament'

Early History of King David - 5

March 2020

(Continued from page 554)


David survives as a mercenary soldier during a spiritual low in his life!


After so many years of running from Saul, it appears that even the great king-to-be, David, a man of real faith and one who waited patiently for his God to bring all things to pass, became despondent and we read his testimony of seeming despair in I Samuel 27:11:

And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand.

No significant span of time is indicated, and neither are any crisis situations described which would explain David's sudden change of heart.  David, who was so confident that God would protect his life (24:15) and who has been assured of this by Abigail (25:29), now speaks of his death as a certainty if he does not flee to the land of the Philistines where he is assured of his safety (27:1). David, who in the previous chapter said it was Saul who would perish (26:10), now says it is he who will perish.  David, who had pleaded with Saul that he not be forced to leave the land, now feels compelled to leave even though Saul has given him some assurance of safety.  Although we ask ourselves what on earth David is doing in the land of the Philistines the question is not new or novel. We could certainly ask Abraham what he was doing in Egypt, passing his wife off as a mere sister (Genesis 12).  It is what God asked Elijah, as He found him sulking at Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:9).  We would want to ask the same question of Peter, as he sat warming himself by the fire along with those who were about to crucify our Lord (Mark 14:66ff.).

The word David employs here (rendered
"perish" by the NASB) is significant, especially since David should have known the Law of Moses. The word is employed some 18 times from Genesis to Judges - that is, until David employs it in I Samuel 26:10 and 27:1. Three of those times it is used to refer to God's judgment on Israel's enemies. Eleven times it refers to God's judgment on Israel as His enemy, for disobeying Him and disregarding His Law. It is interesting that David, who has just spoken of himself as innocent and of others as guilty, now uses this term to express his fear that Saul will destroy him.  Many commentators consider this to be a low point in David's life, such as all believers suffer.  Dale Ralph Davis writes that, ". . . the thinking that led David to this move points to one of faith's fainting fits."8  Dale Ralph Davis also makes a point of the repetition of the word, "perish:" "It is the verb sapah, which David uses in 26:10 when he tells Abishai that Yahweh would surely dispose of Saul in his time; for example, Saul might go down into battle 'and be swept away.' Now, however, David is convinced that he himself will be 'swept away' by Saul if he does not exit Israel. It is a revealing reverse. Contrary to Yahweh's record of protection, contrary to Yahweh's promise via Jonathan and Abigail, David is certain he will now be swept away."

We must wonder how David came to this decision - apart, perhaps, from sheer fatigue.  Perhaps we need to take into account the undoubted grumbling and criticism which would emanate from the group with whom he now travelled.  When we remember the discontent of the Israelites travelling with Moses and Joshua we have no trouble anticipating a similar response from the families who had joined David.  Did these dependents play a significant part in the decision to seek sanctuary in Gath, even as David sought sanctuary for his parents in Moab (22:3-4)?  It is doubtful that the whole of this group was in the cave in chapter 24, but many would have learned how David refused to take Saul's life when he had the chance and would possibly be reminding him that, if he had taken his opportunity to take the kingdom then, all of their troubles and dangers would now be past. The families of David's men would have slowed down their movement dramatically and been in obvious fear of Saul (remembering the fate of Ahimelech in chapter 22), and the longer David and his men had to hide out the more eager these men would have desired to be reunited with their families.  We might also wonder what Abigail thought of David's plan to flee to Achish, or if he even asked her opinion or considered her counsel.

The Bible does not give us "faultless" Hollywood-style heroes, men and women who have the Midas touch and who are successful in all they do and never seem to fail.   The Bible gives us men and women with all their flaws and who are just like us or, as James calls them, men
"with a nature like ours?" (James 5:17).  Abraham, the man who was willing to offer us his son, Isaac, was also willing to "offer up" his wife Sarah by passing her off as his sister (and more than once, ref. Genesis 12:13; 20:10-13) when his faith and courage deserted him.  Jacob was a man who often displayed the lowest of scruples and resorted to the lowest tricks to try and get his own way, when all he had to do was wait for God to do it for him, and it is hard to tell who was the more crooked of the two, Jacob or his uncle Laban.  We are seeing more and more of David's weaknesses in these chapters and we certainly know about men like Gideon, Jonah, and Peter.  In the Bible, there are no perfect husbands, no perfect fathers, and no perfect wives.  God does not want us to "worship" men or to make them our idols.  He wants us to worship Him and, when we idolize men, we are not only foolish but we also set out to cause trouble for ourselves and the one we idolize.  Too many in the contemporary Christian community idolize leaders and, when their hero fails, they are devastated.  Some feel inclined to throw in the towel, totally devastated by the realization that their hero is not all they were cracked up to be. If our leader couldn't live up to the standards they set for themselves, they say to ourselves, how can anyone expect us to live up to them? The failure of some public Christian leader often has a domino effect on the Christian community and many lose faith and their testimony because of this error.

David was about twenty-eight years old at the time and he took his army of six hundred men and hired himself as a professional mercenary, a "soldier of fortune," to Achish, king of Gath, to Israel's traditional enemies, the Philistines.  David, his men and their families, including David's two wives, lived for a time in Gath and when Saul heard of it he abandoned his pursuit and no longer concerned himself with David.  Does this mean Saul would have tried to hunt David down had he remained in Israelite territory?  Surely it isn't really surprising that Saul would not seek to capture David in Philistine territory for, after all, he was never really aggressive in fighting Philistines anyway.  It was his son Jonathan who was aggressive in this matter and therefore being correct about Saul giving up does not mean that David is right in fleeing to Philistine territory, however, as these passages make clear.

After a time, however, David requested that he and his company be assigned a city of their own, reasoning that it was not fitting for the king's servants to dwell in the royal city and we read (v6):
  "Then Achish gave him Ziklag that day: wherefore Ziklag pertaineth unto the kings of judah unto this day."  Ziklag is on the Philistine border just southeast of Gaza and verse 7 informs us that David's mercenary activities for the Philistines lasted sixteen months.  However, during those sixteen months, David operated as a double agent for the tribe of Judah.  He would promise the king of the Philistines one thing and then do another and thus benefited from the protection of the Philistines, while at the same time acting as their enemy, although they did not know it.  David's military exploits were consequently very bloody for his army raided the villages of the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, down through the wilderness toward Egypt, killing every living soul. It seems that David attacked these peoples for pragmatic reasons, such as providing food for the families.  He killed all the people, leaving no survivors, not because this is God's command, but because it is the only way he could continue his deception (v11).

We know some of these people, such as the Amalekites but of others, such as the Girzites, we know nothing. We do know, in a generic manner, that these are the peoples who inhabited the land from ancient times.  It may be safe, therefore, to conclude that all of these peoples are "Canaanites," who are under the ban (cf. Exodus 23:23; Numbers 21:3; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; Judges 1:17).  David may be doing the right thing (i.e., annihilating those God put under the ban), but for all the wrong reasons.  We must also recognise, through the "warts and all" accounts in the Bible, that God often accomplishes His will by means of self-serving men who only unwittingly do what God has purposed.  This was also true of Joseph's brothers (cf. Genesis 50:20), and it seems so with David in Philistine territory.

Periodically, David would report back to his boss, King Achish, taking him captured sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and clothing and Achish would ask (v101),
"Whither have ye made a raid today?," and David would lie and answer, "Against the south of Judah, and against the south of the Jerahmeelites, and against the south of the Kenites."  These three nations were traditional enemies of the Philistines so the Philistines were not going to question their destruction.  David's philosophy at that time was "dead men tell no tales," for he was involved in "situation ethics" with a great deal of maturing and spiritual growth to undergo.  By leaving no one alive who could report the truth back to Achish, the Philistine king remained in ignorance and was content with the exploits and "gifts" brought to him by his hired soldier and we read that (v121): "Achish believed David, saying, 'He hath made his people Israel utterly to abhor him; therefore he shall be my servant forever.'"

We live in a day when "situation ethics" of this kind are common. Situational ethics do not judge an action, such as immorality, as wrong, but seeks to discern "rightness" or "wrongness" on the basis of motives.  This kind of reasoning would consider that a man who commits adultery out of a "loving" and "caring" concern for the other party is not in error in his actions.  While there is a certain element of truth here in the eyes of the world, some things are plainly wrong, and our motivation and attitude in trying to accommodate such morals into our Christian lives will never make them right.  We can try and find human reasons why David acted as he did, but Scripture does not try and dress up the errors of God's servants.  He knows that we will all fail repeatedly and is content to let us see this in His Word as we read of great Spirit-led servants who make mistakes of this kind.  When we agonize over why David acted this way we should concentrate on learning the lessons of our text and try not to repeat the errors.  One of the larger lessons I learn from David is his worth as a man of action who acted positively and strove to obey his God when he clearly knew His will.  Even in this example, when we consider that David may not be wise in fleeing to the Philistines for safety, we cannot avoid seeing that he is certainly cunning and clever.  King Achish may think himself to be shrewd, but on this evidence he appears naïve and gullible.  David comes to this Philistine as a "defector," whom Achish is inclined to view as a real prize, and a "feather in his cap."  David's presence among the Philistines looked like a real asset to Achish because, from all appearances, David was fighting for the Philistines against the Israelites - but David was really "playing both ends against the middle."  David does not have to hide out in the desolate wilderness areas of Israel and can freely go anywhere he wants, treated with respect by both sides, for he can even drop in on the king.  He does not have to "beg" for a handout for his men, but rather can live high on the spoils of his raids and does not have to fear that the Israelites will betray him for he frequents Israelite villages and towns, bringing their leaders presents from the spoils of war.  If Saul will not deal with the enemies of Israel who surround this nation, David will.  David seems to have the best of both the Israelite and Philistine worlds, but not for much longer for a storm was brewing on the horizon.

(Continued on page 556)

Early History of King David!

David meets Achish

The prophetic relationship between the slaughter at Nob with the earlier curse on the house of Eli

David had two opportunities to kill Saul but proved himself to be a spiritual man!

David is insulted by the worthless Nabal, but righteous Abigail saves her foolish husband!

David survives as a mercenary soldier during a spiritual low in his life!

David is prevented from participating in the fight at Mount Gilboa by Achish's faith in him!

Saul's spiritually devastating encounter with the witch at Endor!

David's faith in the One True God turns disaster into victory and proves he is worthy to be king of Israel!

Saul is killed by the Philistines, but his remains are recovered by faithful men and buried with honour and dignity by David!

The importance of I Samuel to all believers in the One True God of Israel!

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