I Samuel 29
1. Then the Philistines gathered together all their armies at Aphek, and the Israelites encamped by a fountain which is in Jezreel.
The Philistines apparently move their forces now, and all their lords come together and pitch their camp at Aphek. Aphek means “Fortress” or “Enclosure,” and was a traditional camp for them, as we saw they gathered there before in I Samuel 4:1: “Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, and encamped beside Ebenezer; and the Philistines encamped in Aphek.” There were apparently two “Aphek”s in Israel, and this one was in the tribe of Issachar, near Jezreel. This is where the Israelites choose to camp: by a fountain in Jezreel. Jezreel means “God Plants,” and was a city in Israel on the northwest spur of Mount Gilboa.
2. And the lords of the Philistines passed in review by hundreds and by thousands, but David and his men passed in review at the rear with Achish.
It seems that before going to battle, the lords of the Philistines choose to review their troops. They all march by, ordered in companies by hundreds and by thousands, probably with each hundred and each thousand with a ruler over it. David and his men are all there, and pass by the lords of the Philistines in the rear with the company of Achish, king of Gath.
3. Then the princes of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?”
And Achish said to the princes of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul king of Israel, who has been with me these days, or these years? And to this day I have found no fault in him since he defected to me.”
The other Philistine lords are not happy to see David and his men among their forces, and so the princes question Achish about their presence. Why should Hebrews be among their army, after all, when they are about to fight the Hebrews? Achish explains that this is the company of David, the former servant of Saul king of Israel, who has been serving him faithfully. David had been with him for over a year, but Achish seems to try to make the time seem as long as possible by describing it as “these days, or these years.” Well, years was probably being generous with it, but he was trying to make it seem like his experience with David was longer than it was. He claims to have found no fault in David the entire time he has been serving him since he defected to him. Of course, he knew nothing of the activities of David in attacking the Canaanite enemies of Israel while he was dwelling with him! His claims to know David well and know well his loyalty were indeed exaggerated, though he himself did not know that.
4. But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him; so the princes of the Philistines said to him, “Make this fellow return, that he may go back to the place which you have appointed for him, and do not let him go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become our adversary. For with what could he reconcile himself to his master, if not with the heads of these men?
The other rulers are angry with Achish for doing this, however. They demand that he send David back to the place he has appointed for him to sojourn, and not allow him to go to the war with them. They believe that David, if he is allowed to fight, will betray them and go over to the Israelites in the battle to win back favor with Saul. After all, what better way could he find to win back favor with his old master? Thus they believe that their heads will buy Saul’s favor toward David.
What would David have done if he had been allowed to fight with the Philistines? We have no idea what David really would have done. It is certain he did not want to fight against his own people, the people over whom he hoped to be king. Yet his Philistine lord Achish was expecting him to fight with them, which as we discussed would have been disastrous for David’s chances of ever taking the throne of Israel, as many would have considered him a traitor for doing this. What appears to be happening here, then, is that the LORD is rescuing David. His plan is for David to take the throne, and so He will not allow David to be forced into a fight that would take away the possibility of that ever happening.
5. Is this not David, of whom they sang to one another in dances, saying:
‘Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands’?”
To back up what they are saying, the Philistine lords repeat the song they have heard about David, that Saul slew his thousands, but David his ten thousands. Note how widespread this song has become, that even the Philistines have heard it and are familiar with it. No wonder Saul became so jealous and upset about this song. It must have been very popular indeed! And remember that this song was also sung about the Philistines, for they are the ones whom David had conquered when he conquered Goliath. So this song about David defeating Philistines makes them all the more suspicious of David being a part of their army.
6. Then Achish called David and said to him, “Surely, as the LORD lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the army is good in my sight. For to this day I have not found evil in you since the day of your coming to me. Nevertheless the lords do not favor you.
So Achish is given the unpleasant task of breaking to news to the man he thinks of as his loyal servant. He calls for David and starts out to apologize to him for this refusal by his follow lords. He swears to him by the life of Jehovah. This was an interesting oath for a Philistine! We might wonder if perhaps he had learned of Him from David? It would be nice to think that David had shared with his heathen lord the truth he knew about the real God. Or Achish might have thought it appropriate to swear to David by David’s God. At any rate, Achish swears that in his view, David has been upright, and all his activities as part of Achish’s army have pleased him. We cannot help but wonder how David’s usually-honest heart must have struck him when he heard Achish praise him this way, after all the deception David had practiced upon him!
Achich insists he has found no evil, meaning nothing bad or leading to trouble, with David since the day he first came to him. Yet he reveals to David that the other lords of the Philistines do not favor David’s presence with them, as Achish did.
7. Therefore return now, and go in peace, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.”
He urges David to return and go in peace to the place he has given him for his home in Ziklag. This way he will not anger and displease the other Philistine lords. They were probably angry largely with Achish at this point, but it would not be long before they were likely to turn their anger against David and his men, and decide that a few hundred fewer Hebrew soldiers might be the best thing they could do to help them in their upcoming battle. With the size of their forces and David with only his six hundred men, they would have had enough to wipe David out easily, assuming Yahweh did not step in to supernaturally help him.
8. So David said to Achish, “But what have I done? And to this day what have you found in your servant as long as I have been with you, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”
David was probably greatly relieved to hear this! As we said, he had no desire to fight against his own people, yet his schemes and deceptions had caught up to him here. The disfavor of the Philistine lords is a great boon that will get him out of having to go to battle with Israel. Yet it would not do for David to act happy or relieved before Achish, for then his deception would have been revealed. Remember, Achish thought he had already been raiding and killing his own people, since that is what David reported to him after his raids against the Canaanites. It would not make sense for David to be happy about not being able to kill more of his own people, then, if he had already been doing it voluntarily. So David acts offended before Achish, even while his heart must have been rejoicing.
David asks what he has done to cause this disfavor? He questions what bad thing Achish ever found in him all the days of his service? Why then should he not be allowed to go and fight the enemies of his lord the king? Yet even as he claims to be eager to fight the Philistines’ enemies, his inner being must have been greatly relieved knowing he would not have to face his own people in battle.
9. Then Achish answered and said to David, “I know that you are as good in my sight as an angel of God; nevertheless the princes of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’
Achish reiterates that he himself knows of David’s faithful service. He even compares him to an angel of God! This too might well have made David feel guilty, for now Achish attaches David’s good conduct to his God. What, then, will he think when he learns David has deceived him, if indeed he does learn it? Will this not make David’s God out to seem worse by the actions of His servant? David has indeed weaved a tangled web when he set out to sojourn with this king by lying and deceit.
Achish repeats that, no matter how good David is in his own eyes, yet the other Philistine princes will not stand for him to go with them into battle. Again, this must have been a great relief to David, though Achish thought he was put out by it.
10. Now therefore, rise early in the morning with your master’s servants who have come with you. And as soon as you are up early in the morning and have light, depart.”
Now Achish urges David and his men who have come with him to rise up early in the morning in order to leave at first light. Achish’s suggestion here is a wise one. He realizes, no doubt, that David must flee, for the other lords might decide at any time to murder him and his men, continuing to fear that they will fall away to Saul and make the battle that much harder for them. Of course, we know that did not happen, and David and his men did not fight the Philistines at this time, though David certainly did later after he became king. Yet the Philistine lords might well decide to get David out of the way, and so Achish’s wise suggestion is that they get out of there as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
11. So David and his men rose early to depart in the morning, to return to the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel.
David and his men follow the excellent advice of Achish. They rise up to depart early in the morning, prepared to return to the land of the Philistines, where they now make their home. They flee at first light like Achish said, while the Philistines go on to attack the army of Israel at Jezreel. So we see how the LORD graciously got David out of the tight spot his lies got him into. He would not allow His plans to make David king of Israel someday be ended by David being forced to fight against his own people as a traitor. This would have so blackened his reputation that he never would have been able to later take the throne. So God rescued David, and he narrowly escaped this tragedy. Yet how much better if David had never gotten himself in this difficulty in the first place! It would have been better if he had continued to trust the LORD, and had stayed in the land of Judah where he belonged.
Yet the troubles David got himself into with his deceitful policy while dwelling in the land of the Philistines are not over. Still more trouble will arise for David because of his conduct, as we will see in the following chapter.