1 Samuel 27 – David Flees to the Philistines
A. David joins with the Philistine leader Achish.
1. (1) David’s discouraged decision.
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.”
a. David said in his heart: The sad story of 1 Samuel 27 begins with something David said in his heart. He may have never said it out loud; he may have never said it to anyone else; he may have never said it to God. But David said it in his heart. What we say in our heart has a tremendous power to shape our thinking, our actions, even our whole destiny.
b. Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul: This is what David said in his heart. That was a word of discouragement coming from a heart tired of trusting God for His continued deliverance. In his discouragement David forgot God’s past deliverance.
i. “I remember on one occasion, to my shame, being sad and doubtful of heart, and a kind friend took out a paper and read to me a short extract from a discourse upon faith. I very soon detected the author of the extract; my friend was reading to me from one of my own sermons. Without saying a word he just left it to my own conscience, for he had convicted me of committing the very fault against which I had so earnestly declaimed.” (Spurgeon)
c. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines: David decided to leave Israel and live among the idol-worshiping Philistines. David was so discouraged that he thought there was nothing better for him in Israel and among God’s people.
d. Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So I shall escape out of his hand. Before David trusted in the Lord to protect him from the hand of Saul. Now, David gave up trusting in the Lord and instead left the land of promise, left the people of God, and found “protection” among the Philistines.
i. Saul will despair: Saul will not despair if David leaves the land of promise. Saul will not despair if David forsakes the people of God and joins the ungodly. It is David who is in despair, not Saul.
ii. Saul could never drive David to the Philistines. If Saul told David, “You must leave the people of God and go to live among the Philistines,” David would never bow to it. But discouragement and despair are more powerful enemies than Saul. Discouragement and despair will drive David to do something that Saul could never make him do.
2. (2-4) David goes over to Achish, leader of Gath.
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 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. And it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath; so he sought him no more.
a. David arose and went over with the six hundred men: David’s discouraged and despairing heart didn’t only affect himself; he led six hundred men out of the land of promise to live with the ungodly. Before David sunk into his pit of discouragement and despair, he would have never dreamed of doing this.
i. 1 Samuel 27:3 makes it even worse: Each man with his household. David’s defection to the Philistines touched even more than the six hundred men, it touched all their families. It directly touched David’s household also, because Ahinoam and Abigail were with him.
b. So David dwelt with Achish at Gath: Previously (recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15), David briefly went over to Achish of the Philistines, believing there might be a place of refuge for him. God allowed that experience to quickly turn sour, and David pretended to be a madman, so he could escape. In his discouragement and despair David will go down a road of sin he has been down before.
i. Achish received David this time when he would not in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 for two reasons. First, it is clear now when it wasn’t clear before that David and Achish share the same enemy, Saul. Second, David now brings with him 600 fighting men, whom Achish can use as mercenaries.
c. It was told Saul that David had fled to Gath; so he sought him no more: David accomplished his immediate goal because Saul stopped pursuing him. But now David is in a place of compromise that will leave him worse off than before. He is actually submitting to a Philistine master.
i. We have no record of any Psalms that David wrote during this time. This was not a high point in his spiritual life. In this period, David didn’t write sweet psalms to the Lord.
ii. “The sweet singer was mute. He probably acquired a few new strains of music, or even mastered some fresh instruments, while sojourning at Gath, a memory of which is perpetuated in the term Gittith, a term which frequently occurs in the inscriptions of the psalms composed afterward. But who would barter a song for a melody, a psalm for a guitar? It was a poor exchange.” (Meyer)
B. David becomes a bandit.
1. (5-7) David receives the city of Ziklag.
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?” So Achish gave him Ziklag that day. Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. Now the time that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was one full year and four months.
a. David said to Achish, “If I have now found favor in your eyes”: Before, David never cared about finding favor in the eyes of a Philistine ruler. This is a great change in David.
b. Why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you? It smarts to hear David say to a Philistine ruler, “your servant.” David wanted his own city because “he needed freedom to operate his own independent policy without being observed too closely.” (Baldwin)
c. Let them give me a place… that I may dwell there: In David’s mind, this isn’t just a visit to the Philistines. He may say to himself that he will someday return to Israel, but he isn’t planning on a short stay among the ungodly. He wants to dwell there and he did for one full year and four months.
i. Now David, his 600 men and their families lived in a completely new situation. They lived in a fortified city, a formal place of defense. But apart from God, they aren’t safer in the city.
2. (8-9) David’s new occupation: a roving bandit.
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. 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.
a. David and his men went up and raided: The Hebrew word raided comes from the verb to strip, with the idea of stripping the dead for loot. David attacked these villages or encampments, killed some of the men, stripped them for treasure or armor, and robbed the people of the village or encampment. This was no way of life for a man after God’s own heart.
b. The Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites: David hasn’t totally turned against God and His people. For now, he only attacks the enemies of Israel. This probably gave David some comfort, but it is a small consolation to know that you aren’t as bad as you possibly could be.
c. He left neither man nor woman alive, but took away: Even though he attacked the enemies of Israel, David was nothing more than an armed robber and murderer. He killed all the people of the village or encampment, took the spoil, and did it without the approval or guidance of God. He now fought wars for profit instead of for God’s honor.
3. (10-12) David lies to Achish.
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.” 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. So Achish believed David, saying, “He has made his people Israel utterly abhor him; therefore he will be my servant forever.”
a. And David would say, “Against the southern area of Judah”: David didn’t lie to Achish because he was ashamed of what he did. He lied to gain favor with Achish. He knew the Philistine leader would be pleased to hear that David raided his own people of Israel.
b. David would save neither man nor woman alive, to bring news to Gath: In his raids, David killed all the men and the women so his lie to Achish would not be exposed.
i. Much later in his life, David will have a far more notorious season of sin with Bathsheba and end up killing her husband Uriah to cover his sin. Though that later event is far more famous, the root of sin that nourished it began way back in 1 Samuel 27. Here, many years before David killed Uriah to cover his sin, David killed these men and women in his raids to cover his sin. The roots of sin must be dealt with or they come back with greater strength.
c. So Achish believed David, saying, “He has made his people Israel utterly abhor him; therefore he will be my servant forever”: Achish felt he was in a good place. David was trapped in a web and Achish was the spider. Achish believed that David had forsaken all connection with the people of God. It all looked rather dark, but David had not – and could not – burn his bridge with God.
4. (28:1-2) David takes sides with the Philistines against Israel.
Now it happened in those days that the Philistines gathered their armies together for war, to fight with Israel. So Achish said to David, “You assuredly know that you will go out with me to battle, you and your men.” And David said to Achish, “Surely you know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Therefore I will make you one of my chief guardians forever.”
a. Achish said to David, “You assuredly know that you will go out with me to battle, you and your men”: David had lied to Achish, telling him that he had raided the people of Israel. Now David is forced to live the lie he gave to Achish.
b. David said to Achish, “Surely you know what your servant can do”: Here, David seems completely surrendered to the ungodly Achish. He will fight for the Philistines, against Israel. We might wish that David was really operating as a “double agent” and he planned to turn on the Philistines in the midst of battle. But the text gives us no reason for such an optimistic perspective. David has come to a very low place.
i. To some degree, most Christians have been where David was in this back-sliding state. We can understand what David was doing, but it was still wrong, and was dangerous.
ii. “But it pleased God to leave David to himself in this, as well as in other particulars, that those might be sensible demonstrations of the infirmities of the best men; and of the necessity of God’s grace, and daily direction and assistance; and of the freeness and riches of God’s mercy, in passing by such great offences.” (Poole)