In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”
Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” – 1 Samuel 28:1-7 ESV
Over the last few chapters, we have seen a repetitive, back-and-forth treatment of the lives of the two main characters in this story: David and Saul. One minute we’re given a look into the life of David, and then the scene shifts to that of Saul. Sandwiched n-between were the two face-to-face encounters between the two men where David confronted Saul after having chosen not to take his life. Now, in chapter 28, the two men appear together, but not physically. In these opening verses of the chapter we are given a brief, but sobering look into what happens when decide to disobey God and take matters into our own hands. While the author has gone out of his way to contrast David and Saul, in these opening lines it is as if he is trying to show that both men have created unnecessary and uncomfortable circumstances for themselves because they have chosen to disobey God.
David is living with the Philistines. Granted, he and his men, along with their families, occupy the city of Ziklag, in a more remote area within Philistia, but they are still considered vassals or servants of King Achish. In fact, King Achish was under the false impression that David and his 600 men were actually going out and fighting against Israel on his behalf. Where would he have gotten such an idea? From David himself. Each time David and his troops went on a raid, they would attack the enemies of Israel. But when they returned, they would report to Achish that they had been raiding areas within Judah. So Achish believed that David, because of Saul, had switched his loyalties and was now a faithful servant of the Philistines.
Now David had to think of himself as some kind of genius. By moving to Philistia, he had escaped the constant pursuit of Saul and he had a safe haven from which he could continue his attacks against the enemies of Israel. What a brilliant idea he had come up with. But his ingenious deception was about to blow up in his face. Because the inevitable happened. The Israelites declared war on the Philistines and King Achish turned to David, demanding that he join forces with him.
King Achish told David, “You and your men will be expected to join me in battle.” – 1 Samuel 28:1 NLT
The dream scenario David had created was about to turn into a nightmare. If he refused to do battle with the Israelites, King Achish would realize that it had all been a ruse and that he had been tricked by David. If David agrees to fight with the Philistines, he would be attacking his own people and forfeiting his right to be their next king. He would be a traitor. So, in the heat of the moment, David gave Achish an ambiguous commitment.
“Very well!” David agreed. “Now you will see for yourself what we can do.” – 1 Samuel 28:2a NLT
David is forced to continue his deception of King Achish, delaying the inevitable decision he must make. And the king, unaware of what David is up to, assuming that he has the full support of David and his men, gives David a rather awkward situation.
Then Achish told David, “I will make you my personal bodyguard for life.” – 1 Samuel 28:2b NLT
David, who once served as the personal bodyguard of the king of Israel, we now the bodyguard for the king of the Philistines (1 Samuel 22:14). Imagine David’s embarrassment at having to try and explain this promotion to his men. This was a predicament to end all predicaments. He found himself between a rock and a hard place. And his circumstances were all his doing. He had no one to blame but himself.
What about Saul? He found himself facing a war against the Philistines and he was missing one of his best warriors and 600 of his most battle-hardened soldiers, because he had chosen to make David and his men outlaws. His incessant, obsessive attempt to take David’s life had forced David to switch sides (or so Saul had concluded). Not only that, the prophet of God, Samuel, was dead. And God had removed His Spirit from Saul, leaving him without divine direction. He was a king without a Sovereign to whom he could turn for help and guidance. So he assembled his men for battle.
When Saul saw the vast Philistine army, he became frantic with fear. He asked the Lord what he should do, but the Lord refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets. – 1 Samuel 28:5-6 NLT
God wasn’t talking. The prophet was dead. David was AWOL. The Israelites were vastly outnumbered. And Saul was scared out of his wits. But this desperate situation had been of his own making. He is the one who had disobeyed God and failed to wipe out the Amalekites. He is the one who refused to wait for the prophet and offered sacrifices to God in direct disobedience to the law of God. He is the one who refused to accept God’s decree that David was to be the next king of Israel and, instead, had repeatedly attempted to take David’s life. Now David had sided with the enemy and Saul was facing consequences that were a direct result of his disobedience and poor decision-making. And, finding himself between a rock and a hard place, Saul would make one more ungodly decision, turning to a witch for help.
God had made it very clear that this kind of activity was forbidden for the Israelites.
“If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” – Leviticus 20:6 ESV
“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 18:10-12 ESV
Two men. Two different circumstances. But both found themselves in their own particular predicament because of disobedience to God. Rather than seek and submit to the will of God, they had determined to take matters into their own hands. Now they both were faced with the consequences of their God-less decision making. Thomas L. Constable provides us with a sobering summary of what is going on here.
This whole pericope illustrates that, when opposition from ungodly people persists, God’s people should continue to pray and trust Him for protection rather than taking matters into their own hands. If we initiate a plan without seeking God’s guidance, we may remove one source of aggravation and danger only to find ourselves in another. Such plans may result in some good, but they may also put us in situations where we find it even more tempting to disobey God (cf. Jacob). We should, instead, remember God’s promises (e.g., 1 Pet. 1:3-9; 2 Pet. 1:2-4) and pray for His guidance (cf. Phil. 4:6-7). – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Samuel, 2009 Edition
English Standard Version (ESV)
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