And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any move in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand.
And David arose and he passed over with the six hundred men that were with him unto Achish, the son of Maoch, king of Gath.
One could wish that the spiritual life of God’s children always moved from strength to strength. Sadly, it is not so. In fact, it seems only too often that the great peaks of spiritual attainment are followed by falls into the dark valleys of most wretched sin. It was after Noah had been saved by the flood, not before, that he yielded to the temptations of drunkenness. It was after Peter’s great confession, immediately, that Jesus had to turn and rebuke him for advancing the cause of Satan. And so it was with David. Two of the most beautiful moments in his life were when he returned good to Saul for evil by sparing his life when he could have as well have plunged a dagger into his heart. To this day we can only look back and marvel at his restraint and dedication to his God. And yet, those moments too were followed by one of those sad lapses into unbelief.
It was not due to any new and greatly impending danger that threatened David’s life; it was rather the gradual wearing of time under the never relenting tension of always having to be on the alert. Saul had changed his tactics. No longer did he go himself out in the hills to try to ensnare David with a large deployment of troops. Three times he had tried that, and the last two times it had only brought him to the extreme embarrassment of having to admit himself wrong and David right. Thus it was that he determined to stay himself at home while sending out small companies of troops to keep the pressure on David and look for an opportunity to take David’s life. It was the most effective thing he could have done; for, while David was always quite ready and willing to plunge into the center of a great battle, this unrelenting pressure of constantly having to be on the alert finally began to tell on him. Particularly was this true because of the added responsibilities he had just taken upon himself. Formerly he had been in the field as a single man, his first wife Michal having remained by her father’s palace; but now he had taken to himself two more wives who lived with him where he was. It had seemed at first to be a good thing for him to have one wife, and then two, to take care of his needs; but it was not long before he discovered that life in the caves of the earth and the rigor of hasty mountainous travel were not the things for a woman; and soon he began to search for some alternative.
It was here that the trouble came in. David had made up his mind what he wanted to do. For this reason he avoided the one real answer which he had to all of his problems—consulting with God through the ephod of Abiathar the priest. But David had made up his mind what the best answer to his problem would be, and he knew full well that it would not be acceptable to God. Thus he merely avoided presenting his problem to God, for he had already said in his heart, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand.” Once again David had decided to seek his peace in the land of the enemy.
At first, as is so often the case with human wisdom, it appeared to David that his decision was really quite wise. He came to Achish, king of Gath, one of the smaller enters of life in the land of the Philistines, and was received with a most hearty welcome. Achish after all knew of David’s reputation as a warrior, and what could be more enhancing to him than to have this same David living in his city under the care of his protection. And besides, having David’s six hundred trained men added to his own force, increased his own power greatly. Willingly he received David into his city giving both him and his men place to stay and provisions.
It all seemed to be quite a comfortable arrangement, except that soon David discovered something he had not anticipated. These Philistines were heathen people, who commonly filled their city and its streets withal1 kinds of idolatry, adultery, revelry and wickedness. Living there in the midst of it brought out a deep feeling of revulsion within him; he knew it was a vexation of soul to the morally sensitive among his men, while it threatened the moral lives of those who were weaker. But what could he do? He was a guest in the city by his own choice, and surely this gave him no right to rebuke or advise those who were his hosts. All he could do was stand there in dumb silence while the wickedness of Satan danced its wild dance around him.
It was not long before David knew full well that this situation could not be allowed to continue; and yet, having tasted the ease of this city living, he was not ready to return to the hills of Judah either. But David’s mind was agile, and it wasn’t long before he came up with what seemed to be a solution to this problem too. He went to Achish and said, “If I have found grace in thine eyes, let them give me a place in some town in the country, that I may dwell there: for why should thy servant dwell in the royal city with thee?”
Once again this was a plan which seemed to have much to commend itself. Also Achish saw by this time that the present arrangement was not entirely ideal. Having a man of David’s reputation with a trained force stronger than his own dwelling in his royal city was apt to leave the impression with many that he was more a forced captive than a willing host. And besides, just feeding a force of this size was almost more than the resources of his people could supply. It clearly would be better if David and his men could dwell in some lesser city of his territory where they would have to provide for their own needs. And there were cities suited to this function available too. There were a number of them on the border between Israel and Philistia whose ownership shifted back and forth between the two nations according to the prevailing balance of power. The people who remained living in them were only of the poorest kind who hardly seemed to belong to either nation and who were quite adaptable to both. Into one of them David and his men could go with a minimum amount of trouble, and still they would be under his dominion.
Thus it was that Ziklag was chosen. David and his men moved into it and very literally took over the town. It left them free to live the kind of life they wanted while remaining safe from Saul under the protection of the prevailing Philistine borders. Only one problem remained, and that was the obtaining of sufficient provisions. Even here, though, the solution was not hard to come by. There was a time honored means in that day by which any strong fighting force might obtain its livelihood-that was, by raiding and plundering nearby communities. Always before David had shied away from this kind of activity. It had seemed to be too much like stealing; and, living as they had in Israelitish territory, he did not feel free to harm his own people. He had always preferred to earn their upkeep by helping his brethren and protecting them from the plundering of others. But now he was living in Philistia. He could not go back to help his own people; and he had no heart for rendering the same service to these heathen. After all, would it really be so bad if his men would go out and obtain their upkeep in the same way every other fighting force did if only they were careful not to harm God’s people?
There seemed to be no other answer; and soon David’s men were spreading out in daily raids upon the nations just over the southern borders, the Geshurites, and the Gezrites, and the Amalekites. It wasn’t even difficult for them to conclude that what they were doing was really a good thing. These nations were the traditional enemies of Israel, and to destroy them was sort of like helping the people of God. The only thing was that they had to be careful, for, although these nations were hostile to Israel, they were considered to be the friends of the Philistines. If ever the word should get around as to what they were doing, it would not look good for him, and it would reflect most unfavorably upon the hospitality of his host Achish. It forced them into the expediency of seeing to it that no one ever learned who was raiding these southern nations; and the only way of doing this was to kill every last person, men, women, and children, of every last city they entered. It was not an easy thing for a man of David’s sensitivity—so cold-bloodily cruel—but what else was there to do? And did it matter as long as they were the enemies of the people of God?
Slowly David was slipping deeper and deeper into the morass of spiritual isolation. It began at that moment when he ignored the opportunity and responsibility which was his, to share his problems with his God, and instead went on to follow the way of his own choosing. It only led him farther and farther away from His God and deeper and deeper into situations and practices which he never would have considered before. And it had not stopped yet, for sin ever leads to more sin until it is stopped by the grace of God.
It was the accepted practice of that day that, whenever a raiding party returned with its plunder, a sizable part of what they had taken should be shared with their king. So it was to be expected that David, since he had placed himself under the dominion of Achish, should share his considerable booty with Achish too. Neither was David hesitant to do this, for he was fully appreciative of the kindness Achish had showed him. But always this presented a problem. Each time David came to Achish with his share of the plunder Achish was inclined to ask, “Whither have ye made a road to day?” It was a natural enough question, especially since David’s efforts always brought back such sizable returns. The thing was that David simply could not answer the question honestly because those whom he had destroyed were the Philistines’ friends. Thus David’s answer would be, “Against the south of Judah, and against the south of the Jerahmeelites, and against the south of the Kenites.” In fact so desirous was David to give his claim a small element of truth that each day before making any attack upon the friends of the Philistines, he would first march his men into, and through one of these territories of Israel or their friends and then turn to the Geshurites, and the Gezrites, and the Amalekites to take his plunder. Thus his road did pass where he claimed even though it was beyond this that he did his harm.
With Achish it worked wonderfully. Trusting the truthfulness of David, he was quite happy with the whole situation and said to himself, “He hath made his people Israel utterly to abhor him; therefore he shall be my servant for ever.” David’s life had become a ruse, a pretense, a living lie, for he had departed far from communion with his God.