A. The Philistine rulers object to David’s presence among the Philistine army.
1. (1-3) Achish defends David before the Philistine leaders.
Then the Philistines gathered together all their armies at Aphek, and the Israelites encamped by a fountain which is in Jezreel. 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. 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.”
a. Then the Philistines gathered together all their armies: The battle lines were drawn in the previous chapter when the Philistines made a deep incursion into Israelite territory. The Philistines intended to deliver a death-blow to Israel and the two armies squared off in anticipation of battle.
b. The lords of the Philistines passed in review…David and his men passed in review at the rear: David is among the Philistines because when he was discouraged, he left the people of God and the land of Israel and cast his lot with the Philistines instead (1 Samuel 27). David now finds himself in a place he thought he would never be: among the ungodly, ready to fight against God’s people.
c. What are these Hebrews doing here? Leaders among the Philistines looked at David and his men and said, “They don’t belong with us. They are Hebrews. They worship another god. They shouldn’t fight with us.”
i. The Philistine leaders could see what David was blind to. David started to think and act like a Philistine and was ready to fight with them against the people of God. But the Philistine leaders could see that this wasn’t right, even when David couldn’t.
ii. The Philistine leaders knew who David really was – that is, a Hebrew, one of God’s people. David seems to have forgotten this, but the Philistine leaders knew. David would have never slipped into this sinful place if he remembered who he really was and what his destiny was.
iii. F.B. Meyer made this observation based on the King James wording of these verses: “It is very terrible when the children of the world have a higher sense of Christian propriety and fitness than Christians themselves, and say to one another, ‘What do these Hebrews here?’”
d. Is this not David…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: It is a sad thing that a Philistine ruler defended David so confidently. David identified himself so much with the ungodly that Achish knew he had David in his pocket.
i. Hearing these words from Achish should have grieved David. To hear an ungodly ruler say, “David has been with me” and “I have found no fault in him” and “he defected to me” should have been a great wake-up call to David. It is as if an ungodly coworker insisted to others that you really weren’t a Christian after all because they saw how you lived.
ii. It is also important to see that Achish wasn’t just making this up. David said as much in 1 Samuel 28:1-2 and Achish had reason to believe that David would fight with him.
2. (4-5) The Philistine leaders reject David.
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? Is this not David, of whom they sang to one another in dances, saying:
‘Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands’?”
a. But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him: The other Philistine leaders were not in agreement with Achish at all. They didn’t trust David and they feared he would turn against the Philistines in battle, to bring himself back into Saul’s favor.
b. Is this not David, of whom they sang to one another in dances, saying: The faith-filled victory over Goliath seemed like a distant memory for a backslidden David, but the Philistines remembered it well. The song of David’s victory came back to haunt him again.
B. David heads back to Ziklag.
1. (6-7) Achish tells David to go home.
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. Therefore return now, and go in peace, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.”
a. Surely, as the LORD lives: “As the Lord lives is unexpected in a Philistine oath; can it be that Achish has committed himself to David’s Lord, or is he being courteous to David in not swearing by Philistine gods? The latter is perhaps more likely.” (Baldwin)
b. Nevertheless, the lords do not favor you: David thought he couldn’t be happy or at peace in the land of Israel (1 Samuel 27:1). Now he finds that his “Philistine friends” won’t accept him either. David has no home; he is trying to live in both worlds, so he has no home in either world.
i. No doubt, David didn’t like being rejected by the Philistine rulers. Not many people like rejection. But God would use the rejection of ungodly people in David’s life. Many people are hesitant to live out-and-out for Jesus Christ because they are afraid of the rejection of the ungodly. How much better it is to be all out for Jesus, and to trust that if the ungodly reject us, God will use it for good – for our good and for theirs.
ii. In many ways, David was in the worst place for any child of God. He had too much of the world in him to be at peace in the LORD, and he had too much of the LORD in him to be at peace in the world. God spoke to David through this, but David had to listen.
c. That you may not displease the lords of the Philistines: David used to displease the lords of the Philistines all the time. He used to be a mighty warrior for the cause of God, and he used to strike fear in the heart of every enemy of God. Now, David is concerned about displeasing the lords of the Philistines.
i. Is this the same David who fought Goliath? Could you imagine someone coming to David before that battle, and saying, “Excuse me, David. I don’t think you should do that. You might displease the lords of the Philistines.” What do you think David’s response would be? He might say, “Of course I will displease the lords of the Philistines. I want to displease the lords of the Philistines. I can’t wait to displease the lords of the Philistines. Let me know if I ever stop displeasing the lords of the Philistines.” But all that was a distant memory in this time of backsliding and compromise for David.
2. (8-10) David appeals to Achish.
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?” 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.’ 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.”
a. But what have I done? David seems genuinely disappointed that he will not be able to fight for the Philistines against Israel.
b. He shall not go up with us to the battle…. as soon as you are up early in the morning and have light, depart: David wanted to fight with the Philistines against Israel but God wouldn’t let him. David’s heart was in a bad place, but God didn’t abandon him. We should praise God for the times when He keeps us from sinning as badly as we might want to.
3. (11) David returns to Ziklag and the Philistines army prepares to meet Saul.
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.
a. To return to the land of the Philistines: The Holy Spirit made it clear to David. All these events were a wake-up call. David should have heard God speaking in many ways, but he didn’t. Instead, he made his return to the land of the Philistines. It would take a dramatic crisis to bring David back to where he should be.