And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men.
And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever.
For a time in the land of the Philistines, it seemed as if David was carrying off his ruse quite well. Through a careful plot of pretense, he appeared to have everything working in his direction. Dwelling within the borders of Philistia he had escape and protection from the hatred of Saul. By marching each morning in the direction of Israel, he made it appear that he was fighting against his own people and alienating himself from them. Meanwhile, David and his men were actually raiding the cities of the Geshurites, the Gezrites, and the Amalekites, enemies of Israel and friends of the Philistines; but he kept Achish from learning of it by destroying every human being in each city that he invaded. It was indeed a precarious balance that he was maintaining; but it seemed as if he was pulling it all off quite well, that is, until God intervened. Suddenly David found himself in a most difficult situation.
It all began when the Philistine kings got together and decided to put forth a mass campaign against the kingdom of Israel. It was a most natural thing for them to do. Mass campaigns had often been conducted by them before. It was just that David had failed to consider the likelihood of such a situation. All at once he found himself on the side of the enemies of Israel with a great battle looming up before him. Achish, of course, had taken him at his word and was quite convinced that David had come to hate the people of Israel because of their treachery. He fully expected that David’s loyalty would continue with him, and that David’s forces would join his own in the coming battle him and said, Without hesitation, he called David to yr “Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men.”
Actually the answer of David was veiled in vagueness and ambiguity. He said to Achish, “Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do.” For Achish, convinced as he was of David’s loyalty to him, it was enough. David was promising to do his utmost for him. But what was actually meant by David is considerably more uncertain; in fact, David very likely did not know himself what was actually intended. The whole situation as it was suddenly thrown in his face was such as to tear his soul and all of its convictions asunder.
Life was becoming infinitely more complex for David than he had ever thought possible. As a young man he had had a strong conviction of loyalty to God and His people, and he had followed that conviction with a simple confidence. He was sure that faithfulness to God would win out against all opposition. Even when Saul had turned against him for no apparent reason, David had been willing to follow this conviction. No matter what Saul did to him, he was determined to answer with subservience and humility, convinced that in this way he could surely prove his love to the king and restore Saul’s favor as at the first. But it hadn’t worked out that, way. No matter how he tried, he could not turn that man from his wickedness. In fact, the more David demonstrated his humility and his love for the king, the more fanatically hateful Saul became, until he was persecuting David unrelentingly. It was finally as a move of almost complete desperation that David left his native country to take escape in the land of the Philistines. There at least he would be able to fight for his rights and life. But ironically, it wasn’t necessary. In the land of the Philistines, the enemies of Israel which he had always hated, he was freely given the peace and security that Israel had refused him. It hurt almost more than if the Philistines had, met him with open battle. What was he now supposed to think?
It was not, of course, that David had lost his faith. He had tasted the true love of God, and once that has happened a person cannot renounce it. In fact, separated as he was in the town of Ziklag, it was the God of Israel alone that he and his men worshipped. These were men, of deep-set conviction, and they did not quickly waver because of some external change of fortune. So generally understood was this that the most faithful of Israel continued to come to him in great numbers (see I Chronicles 12). Even men of Saul’s own tribe, disillusioned with their king’s wickedness, came across the border to join themselves to David. Some of them were the most valiant fighting men in all of the kingdom. But their righteous souls were vexed beyond endurance under Saul, and they came to be with David where Jehovah was worshipped in truth.
Nevertheless, the problem remained. What was the proper thing to do in the situation? After all, there was no question but that Achish had befriended them in time of need; and much more so than anyone in Israel had. It was not surprising or unfair, therefore; that he should expect loyalty of David when he was himself called to go out into battle. And the fact of the matter was that a good many of David’s own men were quite anxious to march against the army of Saul. It was not that they had really renounced their own country. To, them it was just a matter of considering Saul to be the greatest enemy of Israel that there was, and they would do anything that they could to undermine or overthrow his position as head of the nation. It was as simple as that to them. They would not be fighting against Israel; just against Saul.
As easy as it seemed, David’s mind had never let him take that position. He had always had absolute confidence in God, and in Samuel through whom Saul had been anointed to be king over Israel. That appointment he had to recognize; it might not be denied. For this reason, with all of the determination that was in him, he had always refused to do anything that might bring the least harm to God’s anointed.
Still, the time came when even David began to wonder. He was always so much alone in the conviction that Saul should not be harmed. The only one he had ever shared it with was Samuel, in fact he had first learned it from him, but now even Samuel was gone. He had only recently died, an old man, but of course David had not been able to go to mourn his passing like everyone else in Israel. It was just another of the cruel results of Saul’s wickedness. Was there no end to that man’s dastardliness? Would it actually be so bad to assist in his overthrow?
The time had come when David could withstand the pressure no longer. Actually, he was carried along with hardly any choice in the matter. All of the land of the Philistines was in preparation for the coming campaign against Israel and for David to have failed to make the same preparations would have been altogether too evident. Moreover, even as he was doing so, there happened something that almost seemed to be a sign in favor of his doing so: a large company of men from the tribe of Manasseh came across the border to join David just because they too wanted to do what they could to overthrow their king. Gradually, slowly, but very surely David found himself giving in. He had not real heart for it. He stalled until, when the armies were all come together, he and Achish were the last ones to appear. But he was there, nonetheless, carried along by a lot of things that he had started until he could control them no longer and he found himself controlled by them. But in these days, he was not very close to God, his conscience was numbed, and he was just going along wherever circumstances led him. It was a sad day in David’s life.
But God had not forsaken him, and when David was found too weak, He intervened. It happened when all of the Philistine armies were gathering together at Aphek to form their lines for battle. There were hundreds and thousands of Philistines there, and last of all to draw up were Achish and David with his men of battle. It was a strange situation for them, to be present with the Philistines as they prepared to do battle with Israel. Somehow they didn’t fit. David and his men were Israelites. About them were going on all kinds of heathen ceremonies and superstitions which they did not understand and with which they would have no part. Huddled together as they were on the sidelines, these men felt as if they didn’t belong and looked as if they didn’t belong. Neither did it take long for the lords of the Philistines to notice this. Quickly they turned to Achish demanding an explanation, “What do these Hebrews here?”
To Achish, naive man that he was, it was quite simple. David had been living in his domain many days and years now. Everyone knew this. He considered it his own chief claim to recognition. He had converted the very slayer of mighty Goliath and brought him over to their side. Now he was going to use this David against his very own people. Almost indignantly, he stood before the greatest lords of the Philistines and explained, “Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, which hath been with me these days, or these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell unto me unto this day?”
But the princes of the Philistines were not all so foolish. They understood the situation much better than Achish, and for that matter than did David at the moment. Disgustedly they answered Achish, “Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which thou hast appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be an adversary to us; for wherewith should he reconcile himself unto his master? should it not be with the heads of these men? Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying; Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands?”
Achish stood humiliated, first before his fellow Philistine’s, and then he had to return and pass the word along himself to David. He had insisted that David fight along with him, and now he had to tell him that he couldn’t. Calling David to him, he tried to explain, “Surely, as the LORD liveth, thou hast been upright, and thy going out and thy coming in with me in the host is good in my sight: for I have not found evil in thee since the day of thy coming unto me unto this day: nevertheless the lords favor thee not. Wherefore: now return, and go in peace, that thou displease not the lords of the Philistines.”
Well might David have felt the sting of those words, for he had not been as honest as Achish thought he hid. But David was not in a moment of moral sensitivity. He felt only the humiliation of not being trusted: In self-righteous indignation he answered back: “But what have I done? and what hast thou found in thy servant so long as I have been with thee unto this day, that I may not go fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”
But there was nothing Achish could do. He could only say again, “I know that thou art good in my sight, as an angel of God; notwithstanding the princes of the Philistines have said, He shall not go up with us to the battle. Wherefore now rise up early in the morning with thy master’s servants that tire come with thee: and as soon as ye be up early in the morning, and have light, depart.”
So it was that David returned toward Ziklag without going to battle”. It was well, for there was more for him to do at Ziklag than he realized. But even more, had he actually gone into battle, he might well have found that there was more to the warning of the Philistine lords than even he was willing to admit. The fact was, he was an Israelite and the Philistines were his enemies. This he should have never doubted as he did.