I Samuel 27
1. And David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So I shall escape out of his hand.”
David now realizes that no appeal to God or conscience will turn Saul from his dogged pursuit of David to kill him, and no word from Saul to the contrary is worth anything at all. It seems that he starts to dwell on this, and it looms large in his mind to the point where he fears in his heart. Remember that the Hebrew word “heart” means not just the emotions, but the inner being. It seems with his whole being he starts to fear and lose his confidence in the helping hand of God that was with him. He focuses on his fears, rather than on the LORD, Who has helped him up until now. The result is that he does not think he can continue to escape from Saul forever, and so he concludes that one of these days Saul will catch him and kill him. Well, the only reason that had not happened already was because the hand of God was with David. Yet where did David think that hand would go in the future? David forgot here his confidence and trust.
David realizes that it is not good for him to leave the land of Israel, the land which the LORD gave His people. Yet David decides that there is nothing better for him than to do this. The only course he can see open to him is to flee into the land of the Philistines, and he thinks he should do this speedily. Notice the haste David acts with here. If he had just slowed down and remembered the LORD and consulted Him regarding this matter, perhaps he would not have done what he did. Yet David was acting in haste, and in haste he forgot to trust.
David was sure that if he left Israel, Saul would despair of being able to catch him. As long as he was no longer in Israel, Saul would have no more reason to seek for him there. To demand his return from the Philistines would be to invite war with them, and David does not believe Saul will do this. Thus, he decides that this is the way to escape from his power. Yet we would point out that all through this David was acting out of his fears, and not because he had any word from the LORD regarding this.
2. Then David arose and went over with the six hundred men who were with him to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath.
So David goes into action. He takes his six hundred men who were with him and flees to Achish, the son of Maoth, King of Gath. Achish means “I Will Terrify,” or else “Only a Man.” Maoth means “Oppression,” certainly a less than promising name for a king!
Remember that David had fled to him once before back in chapter 21. When he came to Achish that time, Achish wanted to kill him, and David had to pretend to be insane before him in order to escape with his life. We might wonder, then, why David would think it would be safe for him to return to Achish now? We might say several things regarding this. First of all, David has an army with him this time, and is not simply a lone fugitive. Achish might demand the execution of one man, but it is another thing to attack six hundred armed men. Also, when David came the first time, his flight from Saul had just happened, so no one in Israel or Philistia really knew that David was a fugitive. By now, though, it is well known to all how he has been hounded by Saul, and so as an enemy of Saul Achish is likely to be much more willing to take him in. In fact, this is exactly what Achish did.
Notice once again, though, that David did not consult Jehovah before doing any of this! This was David’s plan from beginning to end, and we might well say that this is not what Jehovah would have told David to do if he had asked.
3. So David dwelt with Achish at Gath, he and his men, each man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal’s widow.
The result is that David, his men, and their families all dwell with Achish at Gath. This was one of the five royal cities of the Philistines, so it was large and wealthy and able to take in such a large company. To dwell in such a place must have seemed a relief to David and his men after their long exile and dwelling in the wilderness and in caves. Yet this plan was not carried out by Yahweh’s instructions, and the place of security would prove to bring with it many troubles of its own, as we will see.
We are reminded that David too had a family with him, which consisted of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal’s widow. The Hebrew reads “Nabal’s woman” or “Nabal’s wife,” and not “Nabal’s widow,” as the New King James has it. Bullinger in the Companion Bible speaks of this as the figure of speech Ampliatio, or Adjournment, wherein an old name is used after the reason for it has passed away. We might use the same figure if we would speak of “General George Washington” even though he is dead and no longer a general, or “President George Washington,” and so forth. Of course, we know just what the Bible means here, and so it is silly to act like this is a discrepancy, as some would suggest. Of course David had not stolen another man’s wife while he was still alive! We know Nabal was dead when David took his widow to be his wife. The figure of speech is easy enough to figure out here even without the help of the Companion Bible.
4. And it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath; so he sought him no more.
Saul’s spies inform him of this move by David. Just as David thought would happen, when Saul hears that David has fled to Gath, he stops chasing him and trying to capture him. So David’s plan works, and at first it seems like a good idea. We will see the trouble it causes David coming up, however.
5. Then David said to Achish, “If I have now found favor in your eyes, let them give me a place in some town in the country, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?”
In spite of his success, David does not seem satisfied with this arrangement. He was now living among the Philistines, idolaters who worshipped false gods. This was not a good thing, and made him and his men feel distant from the LORD, as he had suggested would happen when he brought his complaint against Saul in I Samuel 26:19. This burden of living with the Philistines was not something David had considered, it seems, in his haste to flee from Saul to Philistia. Yet now he finds himself in this unhappy situation, and it seems it bothers him. How can he now get out of it?
Perhaps this was the real motivation behind David’s appeal to Achish here. He requests of him to be granted some country town to dwell in. There, he will have the freedom to order his own affairs away from the king’s eyes, and to honor the LORD as he sees fit. He pretends, though, that his reason is that he is not worthy of such hospitality as to live with the king in the royal city. We cannot deny the truth that it is difficult for two kings to live together in one city.
6. So Achish gave him Ziklag that day. Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day.
Achish listens to David’s request, and probably cannot deny that his plan is a good one. The result is that Achish granted Ziklag to David. Ziklag means “Winding.” It was a town east of Gath and not too far from the border of Judah. Thus, even when David returned to Israel and became king there, this town was not lost to him. It belonged to the kings of Judah from then until this book was written down, probably either by Nathan or Gad.
(Yet it is worth noting that sometimes it appears that God would inspire one of His prophets to add a footnote like this here and there in various books of the Bible even long after the original author of the book was dead. Of course, God was the real author of the Bible, and could do this if He wished. We might compare this to George Lucas going back and tinkering with his Star Wars movie, adding little parts here and changing parts there decades after the movie first came out. He is the creator of the movie, and can do that if he wishes. The same is true of God, as long as He has inspired men to work through and wishes to do so. Therefore it could sometimes be that little notes like this are written by a different inspired author than the original one. As long as the later prophet too was inspired, this does nothing to change the integrity of Scripture or to cast doubt on Its accuracy.)
7. Now the time that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was one full year and four months.
We learn here the full extent of time that David was in exile in the country of Palestine until his return to the land of Israel. David lives in Philistia one full year and four months. This is just an overview, and we will read a much more detailed account of that time in the following verses and chapters.
8. And David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. For those nations were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as you go to Shur, even as far as the land of Egypt.
David was a man of action, however, and he and his men did not just sit in Ziklag. He was still zealous for his land and his people, and so he uses the time to invade the territory of some of the original Canaanite inhabitants of the land. The words “from of old” is from olam in Hebrew, and means they were from far back in flowing time or perpetually the inhabitants of the land from long before Israel came there. These were people that Jehovah had commanded Israel to destroy when they took over the land, but they have failed to do it so far. Geshurites comes from a word meaning “Proud Beholder.” Gizrites means “A Piece,” and probably refers to a city. Amalekites means “People of Lapping.” These were the nations he destroyed. The Amalekites especially were Yahweh’s enemies. He had promised to destroy them himself in Exodus 17:14-16.
14. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” 15. And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; 16. for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
Saul had been tasked with destroying some of them in I Samuel 15. He had failed to fulfill his mission, though he had mostly destroyed them. Yet that was just one tribe of Amalekites, and some of them remained, as is clear here from the fact that David went up and raided them.
9. Whenever David attacked the land, he left neither man nor woman alive, but took away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the apparel, and returned and came to Achish.
Whenever David attacked these places and the enemies of the land of Israel, his policy was to slaughter every inhabitant. He left neither man nor woman of these places alive. This seems very harsh to us. Yet there are several things we must remember. One is that these nations were at war with Israel. As soon as David took the throne, it would be his job to deal with such enemies. David did not consider it right to wait until then, but was working for Israel’s good even now. Secondly, we must realize that these people probably were representatives of the Canaanites, the nations the LORD had commanded Israel to destroy out of the land. We read of this command in Deuteronomy 20:16-18.
16. “But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17. but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you, 18. lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.
For David to wipe such peoples out was therefore according to the commandment of God. These nations were extremely wicked, and the LORD had wanted Israel to wipe them out so that they would not learn their wicked ways from them. Israel’s failure to do so had led to many of their problems, and still did so even hundreds of years later in David’s day. Thus we cannot really criticize him for carrying out such a bloody purge of these peoples. This was in fact what the LORD had commanded His people to do.
Though David kept none of the people of these places alive, he did take the spoil, such as the sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and clothing. He then comes back to King Achish with all this spoil he has taken, no doubt sharing some of the spoil with the king to help win his favor.
10. Then Achish would say, “Where have you made a raid today?” And David would say, “Against the southern area of Judah, or against the southern area of the Jerahmeelites, or against the southern area of the Kenites.”
When David would do this, King Achish would see all the spoil and ask where David made the raid that won him this wealth. David would then lie to Achish, and claim he got this spoil attacking Israel some place in the south near Philistia. He might say he had attacked the southern area of Judah. Judah means “Praised,” and was the name of David’s tribe. He might say that he had attacked the southern area of the Jerahmeelites. Jerahmeel means “Whom God Loves” or “Whom God Pities.” Jerahmeel was a great-grandson of Judah, so this was again part of the territory of David’s own tribe. Or again David might say that he had attacked the southern area of the Kenites. Kenites means “Smiths.” These people were not Israelites or part of the tribe of Judah, but rather were the tribe Moses’ father-in-law was from. They had largely been a wandering people, much like the gypsies in our day. It seems these particular Kenites had thrown in their lot with Israel back at the time of Moses. Ever since their alliance with Moses they were allies of Israel, and lived among them and to the south, where David was claiming he was attacking.
11. David would save neither man nor woman alive, to bring news to Gath, saying, “Lest they should inform on us, saying, ‘Thus David did.’” And thus was his behavior all the time he dwelt in the country of the Philistines.
Because David had slaughtered everyone in the raid, leaving neither man nor woman alive, no one remained of any of the Canaanite peoples he was attacking to come to Gath and to inform Achish that David was lying. The Philistines were already at war with Israel, so if David was making raids against Israel, that could not hurt the Philistines in any way. Yet it seems doubtful that the Philistines were at war with the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. The Philistines were not Canaanites, yet they were descendants of Ham, and so were more closely related to these nations than they were to the Israelites, who were descendants of Shem. So these were not places Achish would necessarily want David to attack. Thus David lies to Achish about what he is actually doing. No doubt David fears that Achish will be angry if he thinks that David is stirring up the Canaanites against him.
12. So Achish believed David, saying, “He has made his people Israel utterly abhor him; therefore he will be my servant forever.”
Achish believes David’s report. The ungodly Philistine believes the word of the Godly Israelite David. Sad that David’s word was not actually good! Yet because Achish believes David, he is convinced that David by attacking his own people will have made himself utterly abhorrent to them. In other words, he thinks that David has burned his bridges behind him, and that by attacking his own people he has allied himself with the Philistines permanently, and will never be able to go back. Thus David will now be his servant forever. This might well have been right, if David had actually been attacking his own people. Of course, the truth is that he was not doing that, but Achish was not aware of David’s falsehood.
The word “forever” here is a translation of the Hebrew word olam. The basic meaning of this word is “that which flows,” as does a river. Achish knew neither he nor David would live forever, so that is not what he meant here. Rather, he meant that David would serve him in an outflowing way, from this time and outflowingly. A good translation would be that Achish thought David would now serve him perpetually.