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David is prevented from participating in the fight at Mount Gilboa by Achish's faith in him!
As David was deceiving the Philistines, Saul was engaged in committing his fourth tragic sin (1 Samuel 28) as the Philistine lords gathered their armies together to battle against Israel's king and his army. Among the Philistine leaders was Achish, who naturally planned to include David and his men in his army (v1), for his confidence in David was so great that he even promised to make him his personal bodyguard for life. Thus David and his mercenaries accompanied Achish as he traveled to his rendezvous with the rest of the Philistine armies (1 Samuel 29). In the meantime the Israelites were encamped by the spring in Jezreel while the Philistine armies joined one another at Aphek, which was about twenty miles west of Shiloh. Some of the Philistine chieftains, who obviously would not be familiar with everything that occurred in other territories, recognized David and his men among Achish's personal army and demanded (v33), "What are these Hebrews doing here?" Achish responded with high praise of David and his faithfulness since he thought that he had deserted to him from Saul. But the other Philistine leaders were suspicious and angry, demanding that he be excluded from the battle for they did not trust him, and feared he would use the opportunity to be reconciled to Saul at their expense. Even after all these years had passed they still remembered, and rightly feared, the man of whom the women of Israel had sung (v51), "Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands."
Achish now had the unpleasant task of "disappointing" David and telling him he must go home and this he did, addressing him by the Hebrew term Yahweh, for the one true God, the God of Israel (29:6): "As the Lord lives . . .". These are strange words indeed coming from the pagan Achish who may be carefully choosing his words to accommodate David's faith - or it may be that David's faith is having an effect on Achish. He is fulsome in his praise, telling David he has been pleasing in his eyes and that, from the day he first arrived to stay with him, he has done no wrong against him. We wonder if Achish would feel the same way and say the same things if he knew what David had really been doing, whom he had been raiding and killing, and that his reports to Achish were false? But Achish has more good things to say of David, even going so far as to say (v6-103): "I know that you are pleasing in my sight, like an angel of God". Achish was completely taken in by David, and the immensity of David's deception is evident in the words of praise of this pagan king. Achish not only flatters David, he apologizes to him. He explains to David that while he wants David to accompany him in the coming battle with Israel, his four colleagues will have no part of such a plan. David and his men must return to Ziklag in the morning. David never ceases to amaze us, for he protests as though he would talk them out of their decision and appears determined to go to war. Given a way of escape he tries to turn it down. Perhaps his previous acting experience as a madman has given him greater ability to deceive than we give him credit for and Dale Ralph Davis makes the following comments on this interchange between Achish and David, writing: "There is more than a little humor in this scene (vv6-8). Achish stands there, apologetically emphasizing how he thinks David should go with him in this campaign and extolling David's faithfulness, which he has no reason to extol. On the other hand, David with disbelief on his face and exasperation in his voice protests the rejection he has no reason to protest. The deceived defends his deceiver, and the relieved disputes his relief!"8
If David's words of protest are an act, David is surely a magnificent actor. Gratefully, the minds of these four Philistine commanders cannot be changed and Achish acceded to their demands and sent David and his men back to Ziklag. If only Achish had known the truth about his ally! Although David pretended to be hurt by his dismissal, he was probably greatly relieved to escape confronting his Israelite brothers in hand-to-hand combat and, in apparent obedience to Achish, he rose early the next morning and left the Philistine encampment to return to his headquarters in the land of the Philistines while the Philistines went on to Jezreel.
God's sovereignty is clearly apparent in the rescue of David and his men from military service, service to the Philistines and against Israel. God uses David and even his sin to achieve His ultimate purposes. God does not cause David to sin, nor is this sin excused but, in the end, God's sovereignty is so great that He can even employ the disobedience and sins of men to further His own purposes. He used the sinful betrayal of Joseph by his brothers to save the nation Israel and here we see Him using David and bringing good despite his sins. He uses the naïveté of a king like Achish and the foresight and practical wisdom of the four Philistine commanders and soon we see Him use the Amalekite attack for a good purpose. Dale Ralph Davis8 comments about God's use of His enemies:
"We see it again. What instruments does Yahweh use to rescue his servant from his dilemma? The commanding officers of the Philistine army. It was not the first time Yahweh had turned enemies into saviors (see 23:19-28). Philistines make such unwitting but effective servants! Who has ever been his counselor?! (cf. Isa. 40:13-14)."
"What our text does teach is that even in our folly and fainting fits, we are still no match for our God, who has thousands of unguessable ways by which he rescues his people - even by the mouths of Philistines. He can make the enemy serve us as a friend. He not only prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies but also has the knack of making the enemies prepare the table."
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