Now the Philistines had gathered all their forces at Aphek. And the Israelites were encamped by the spring that is in Jezreel. As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years, and since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him. And the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Send the man back, that he may return to the place to which you have assigned him. He shall not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? Is not this David, of whom they sing to one another in dances,
‘Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands’?”
Then Achish called David and said to him, “As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.” And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” And Achish answered David and said, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you, and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.” So David set out with his men early in the morning to return to the land of the Philistines. But the Philistines went up to Jezreel. – 1 Samuel 29:1-11 ESV
While Saul was busy consulting with a witch, David was consorting with the enemy. According to 1 Samuel 27:7, David had been living in the land of Philistia for 16 months. And he had pulled it off by living a lie. He had deceived King Achish into believing that he had turned his back on Israel and had chosen to join forces with the Philistines. And he had been convincing. If there had been an Academy Awards that year, David would have won an Oscar for best actor in a drama. He had completely fooled Achish into believing that he was a faithful friend and ally. Just look at what Achish had to say about him:
“This is David, the servant of King Saul of Israel. He’s been with me for years, and I’ve never found a single fault in him from the day he arrived until today.” – 1 Samuel 29:3 NLT
“I swear by the Lord that you have been a trustworthy ally. I think you should go with me into battle, for I’ve never found a single flaw in you from the day you arrived until today” – 1 Samuel 29:6 NLT
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re as perfect as an angel of God.” – 1 Samuel 29:9 NLT
But David’s performance, while convincing, had also costly. The longer he stayed in Philistia, and the more he kept up his ruse, the more dangerous his predicament would become. It was only a matter of time before David found himself in the awkward and inevitable spot of having to display his true colors. He couldn’t keep up this charade forever. In time, the nations of israel and Philistia would find themselves at war and David would be caught in the middle. And that is exactly the event recorded for us in chapter 29.
The Philistines had gathered all their troops in order to do battle with the Israelites. King Achish and his men arrived at the Aphek, on Philistia’s northern border with Israel. Bringing up the rear of his column was none other than David and his 600 men. Don’t let the significance of this moment escape you. Here was David, the God-appointed, Spirit-anointed future king of Israel, riding among the forces of the Philistines, one of the greatest enemies of the people of God. This was no longer one of David’s cleverly disguised raids against Israelite enemies that he could cover up (see 1 Samuel 27:8-12). This was going to be an all-out war between the Israelites and the Philistines and David was going to have to make a decision. Would he fight with the Philistines, and risk the wrath of God? Would he go into battle and then turn against the Philistines, revealing to Achish and his men his true colors? If he did, he would find himself facing two foes: Achish and Saul. For the last 16 months, Saul had given up his hunt for David, but he had not given up his hatred for him. He most likely saw David as a turncoat, having switched alliances to the Philistines. Most likely, Saul believed David had allied himself with the Philistines in order to defeat him and take the crown from him. So, if Saul met David on the battle field, he would see him as an enemy, no matter which side he chose to fight for.
David was in a predicament. His little plan to escape Saul’s wrath by living among the Philistines had seemed the right thing to do at the time, but he had made his decision without input from God. There is no indication that God had directed David’s actions or commanded his escape into Philistine territory. And now, David was faced with the inevitable consequences of his God-less decision. But while David had left God out of his planning, God had not left David. The Almighty may not have approved of David’s strategy, but He had His hands on David. He knew David’s heart. David had been trying to do the right thing. He was still a faithful servant and all the while he had lived in Philistia, he had continued to fight against the enemies of Israel. But his self-inspired attempt at self-preservation had left him in a very bad spot. And it was going to take the sovereign hand of God to rescue him.
As David and his men arrived at the Philistine camp at Aphek, the other Philistine lords were furious with King Achish at having brought this former Israeli commander and his men into battle with them. What was he thinking? How stupid could he be? This was the same David who had killed the Philistine champion, Goliath, and who had songs written about his military exploits.
“Send him back to the town you’ve given him!” they demanded. “He can’t go into the battle with us. What if he turns against us in battle and becomes our adversary? Is there any better way for him to reconcile himself with his master than by handing our heads over to him?” – 1 Samuel 29:4 NLT
They saw David as a threat and Achish as a fool. To them, everything about this scenario was wrong. David had to go. And their anger convinced Achish to reluctantly give in to their demands. And always the actor, David feigned surprise, doing everything in his power to appear hurt and a bit offended at the news.
“What have I done to deserve this treatment?” David demanded. “What have you ever found in your servant, that I can’t go and fight the enemies of my lord the king?” – 1 Samuel 29:8 NLT
But in reality, this was the best thing that could have happened to David and his men. God had intervened and spared them from having to go into battle. At the very last minute, God stepped in and providentially protected David from the mess he had created. But as we will see in the very next chapter, God protected David, but would still allow him to reap the results of his determination to plan his life apart from the input of God. David would escape having to go into battle with the Philistines, but he would not escape the discipline of God.
God had plans for David. He had chosen him to be the next king of Israel. And part of those plans included the years that David spent hiding and wandering in the wilderness. God could have put David on the throne the very day Samuel anointed him, but David was not yet ready to be king. He had to be prepared for the role. He had to learn the lessons God had for him. And a big part of God’s preparation for David would be found in his failure to trust God. His tendency to make decisions without God’s input would teach him the danger of autonomy in the life of the servant of God. Decisions made apart from God will never result in the blessings of God. Trying to do God’s will our way will never produce God’s results. This phase of David’s life would provide yet another valuable lesson in learning to trust God, rather than himself.
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.