Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.” So David arose and went over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath. And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal’s widow. And when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he no longer sought him.
Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be given me in one of the country towns, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?” So that day Achish gave him Ziklag. Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. And the number of the days that David lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months.
Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’” Such was his custom all the while he lived in the country of the Philistines. And Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.”– 1 Samuel 27:1-12 ESV
David was human. He was a flesh-and-blood man who had a sin nature like anyone else and had to constantly struggle with his own inner fears, feelings of doubt, and the nagging questions regarding his fate. He loved God and wanted to do be obedient to the will of God, but he also was driven by an innate desire to stay alive. And the longer his feud with Saul continued, the more he must have struggled with believing God was going to one day make him king. In this chapter we are given a glimpse into one of David’s weaker moments. Nowhere in the chapter is God mentioned. At no point do we see David seeking the will of God. In fact, it would appear that David’s decision to find refuge in the land of the Philistines was made without any input from God. He might have received well-meaning advice from this men, but his choice to return to the very place where he had been forced to act like a madman to save his life, was most likely not something God had told him to do. But thankfully, God was still in control.
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV
David’s last journey into Philistine territory, recorded in chapter 21, nearly got him killed. In order to escape the pursuit of Saul, David had showed up in Gath, seeking refuge from Achish, the king of the Philistines. And it just so happened that David was carrying the sword of Goliath, the Philistine champion he had defeated in battle. When the Philistine officers questioned the wisdom of providing sanctuary to David, and hinted to the king that he would be better off dead, David feigned madness and “pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard” (1 Samuel 21:13 NLT). Unwilling to kill a lunatic, Achish let David escape with his life.
And now, here was David, once again, seeking to find refuge among the Philistines. His doubt and fear clouded his thinking and, evidently, erased his memory of what had happened the last time he attempted to use this particular strategy.
This time, David was welcomed by Achish with open arms and even given his own city, Ziklag, within the territory of the Philistines. David relocated his 600 men, along with their families, to their new base complete with houses, walls, and protection from Saul. This would have been a welcome upgrade from the caves in which they had been hiding for so long.
While living in the land of the Philistines, David employed a strategy that allowed him to go out and attack the enemies of Israel, of which there were many. The text mentions the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. All of these nations occupied the land of Canaan and were part of the people groups that God had commanded Joshua and the people of Israel to completely remove from the land when they occupied it. But they had failed to do so. Over and over again, in the book of Joshua, we read of the Israelites’ failure to fully obey the command of God.
But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. – Joshua 15:63 ESV
However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor. – Joshua 16:10 ESV
Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Joshua 17:12 ESV
Their unwillingness or inability to drive out the inhabitants of the land would leave them with a constant threat of war and the potential for idolatry. These nations would prove to be a constant source of temptation and trouble. So David used his new headquarters in Ziklag as an outpost from which he sent raiding parties against the enemies of Israel. And his strategy included the complete annihilation of every man, woman and child, so that no one could tell Achish what he was up to. In fact, David would leave Achish with the impression that he was actually fighting the enemies of the Philistines, falsely reporting the locations of his raids.
When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” – 1 Samuel 27:10 ESV
So what do we do with all of this? David appears to have gone to the land of the Philistines without God’s permission. Yet, while he was there, he continued to fight the enemies of Israel, clearing the Promised Land of the nations that Joshua and the people of Israel had failed to remove. But in order to do what he did, David had to lie to King Achish. Everything he did while living in Ziklag was based on subterfuge and deception. So was he in the will of God? Was he doing what God would have him do? The text doesn’t provide us with an answer. But in the very next chapter we’ll see that David’s plan was going to eventually place him in a very difficult position. It would seem that David’s decision to seek refuge among the Philistines was not the will of God, but it did not thwart or derail the plan of God. The Proverbs have much to say about our plans and God’s will.
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT
The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way? – Proverbs 20:24 NLT
The prophet, Jeremiah, prayed these powerful, self-disclosing words to the Lord:
I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. – Jeremiah 10:23-24 ESV
Years later, even David would pen these words:
The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand. – Psalm 37:23-24 NLT
We can’t thwart God’s plan, but we can certainly cause ourselves a great deal of pain and suffering when we attempt to circumvent his plan with our own. We can complicate our lives by introducing detours into His divine will for our lives. Abraham and Sarah came up with the great idea to use Hagar as a means to fulfill God’s promise to give them a child. But in doing so, they were trying to do God’s will man’s way. Saul tried to seek God’s aid by offering sacrifices to him. But he failed to do it God’s way, instead taking on the role of the priest himself and bringing down God’s wrath rather than His blessing. Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling God’s will that He die, by forbidding Him to do so. But Jesus accused him of siding with the enemy, seeking the will of Satan rather than that of God.
We must be very careful to keep our wills from taking precedence over that of God. It is not that we can stop what He has planned, but we can certainly make more difficult the path He has laid our for us. Like a driver who refuses to use his GPS, we can wander off the path and find ourselves seemingly lost and delayed in our journey, but God continues to recalculate our way, providing us with another way to reach the destination He has in store for us. Thankfully, many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.