The Philistine Forces Assemble – 1 Samuel 27&29

David knew that Saul would not give up chasing him till he had caught and killed him. So he fled to the Philistine territory and took shelter with Achish, the king of Gath. When Saul found out, he gave up searching for David and turned his attention to the growing forces of the Philistine army that were about to come against him.

Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be assigned to me in one of the country towns, that I may live there. Why should your servant live in the royal city with you?”

1 Samuel 27:5 (NIV)

David had once stayed in Gath when he was alone and on the run from Saul. But when the people there found out about his conquest, especially the slaying of the giant, he had to act like a mad man and slip away from their land before they could kill him. Now he is back, but this time he is not alone as he has six hundred of his most loyal men with him. Earlier David was a lonely man hiding out in his country but now has returned with his own mini army. No king would pass on the chance to add valiant warriors to his army, let alone such a large group of seasoned fighters. Achish was helping him prosper because of the bounty that David and his men would bring back after decimating a town during one of their raids. The monetary and political benefits of having David live in his country would have outweighed the shame and disrespect that his deceit would have caused the king earlier.

Once Upon a Time in Ziklag

Achish gave David and his men the Philistine territory of Ziklag, where they resided for almost a year and a half. Later this land was added to the boundaries of the kings of Judah but it was initially in the heart of the Philistine country. David and his men raided different tribes, all of who were at one point, adversaries of his homeland, Israel. He would destroy these lands completely, sparing not even a single soul, but carried away their sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels and clothes. He would lie to Achish saying that he was going up against the territories of Israel but all the while he was taking out Israel’s unfavourable neighbours.

Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for life. ”

1 Samuel 27:12 (NIV)

David acts like a double agent who wants to remove the target from his back and gain back the trust of the king whom he had once fooled. He utilised his army to raid small tribes that were historically the antagonist of his people. This way he was able to kill off the enemies of Israel, providing for his small army and their families and gaining the favour of the king by letting him believe that he is attacking the territory of his enemy.

Perhaps his conscience is pricking him as he has joined forces with the ungodly while being separated from his homeland. Maybe killing the enemies of the Israelites is a way for him to comfort himself, that he is making up for living with the ungodly. We often overcompensate for our sins and try to make up for it by doing something good but in the end, we grow deeper into sin. What David is doing here can be compared to someone by giving tithe out of the bribes that they have accumulated.

The Long March Back

The Philistine commanders gathered all their forces at Aphek, while the Israelite army camped by the spring at Jezreel. By this time, the bond between Achish and David had become even closer, as David was now the personal bodyguard of the king of Gath. It was only natural for Achish to bring along his most trusted commander, David, and his men while going up against the mighty army of Saul. But his other commanders were sceptical of David’s history with Saul and were totally opposed to the idea of bringing along the Hebrews to the battlefield.

The commanders of the Philistines asked, “What about these Hebrews?”
Achish replied, “Is this not David, who was an officer of Saul king of Israel? He has already been with me for over a year, and from the day he left Saul until now, I have found no fault in him.”

1 Samuel 29:3 (NIV)

Not sure what is the plan, as David and his men had also joined the band of soldiers heading to the battlefield to face Saul’s army. If David had difficulty killing his tormentor Saul, surely he would not be able to lay a hand on his countrymen. Perhaps the position that David and his men took, was indicative of their intentions. They were marching right at the tail of the procession of soldiers and perhaps when the battle started they would have capitalised on the opportunity and killed off the members of the Philistine army. David was perhaps hoping that this would finally help him gain favour in the eyes of his true master, Saul. He is still wasting his time by trying to get right in the eyes of Saul. We try to please people more than obey the will of God and David learnt it the hard way as he should have just stayed back in Ziklag.

The Philistine commanders identified David as a man of God as they remembered the slaying of the giant at the hands of a young David. It was only Achish who had seen the loyalty of David but for the others, he would always be the commander of Saul’s army. We are reminded by the ungodly that we are God’s people when we forget that we belong to God. It was the Philistine commanders who made David realise that he was still a man of God. Bringing him along would have been like carrying the ark of the covenant into the battle which was historically a source of sorrow for Israel’s enemies. Thus, the Philistine commanders were adamant and did not listen to Achish as they all rallied for David and his men to be sent back home. Achish called David and told him of their decision and asked him to return back to Ziklag. David insisted that he and his men should be allowed to accompany Achish during this crucial war and asked what was his wrongdoing that he was being sent back.

Achish answered, “I know that you have been as pleasing in my eyes as an angel of God; nevertheless, the Philistine commanders have said, ‘He must not go up with us into battle.’ Now get up early, along with your master’s servants who have come with you, and leave in the morning as soon as it is light.”
So David and his men got up early in the morning to go back to the land of the Philistines, and the Philistines went up to Jezreel.

1 Samuel 29:9-11 (NIV)

While the Philistine commanders thought they had wised up to the plot that David had hatched, it was actually part of God’s plan to send David back home. Saul was eventually going to get killed in this war. If David had any part to play in the killing of Israel’s king, it would have caused a civil war among the tribes of Israel. The Benjaminites would have never trusted David and probably seceded. The division of Israel into the northern and southern territories would have been inevitable. But David was to be the king who united the land. So God did not let David be a part of a war that killed Saul’s family and sent him back home where his own house had been robbed by raiders. While David was busy retrieving his belongings and avenging his honour, God was using the Philistine army to put an end to the reign of Saul and establish the reign of the anointed one.

We all think that we are in total control of the situation. While David was following the Philistine army, he would have thought that he was in control of the situation and had the upper hand. When the Philistine commanders caught a whiff of David’s schemes, they would have thought that they were in control of the situation. And when Saul brought back Samuel from the grave to grant his request, he would have thought that he was in control.

In the end, it was only God who was in complete control and enabled the transition of power from one king to the next. In our lives, let us never be fooled into thinking that we are in control of any situation because of our position or influence, as there is only one who is always in control. Let us align our thoughts to His, and surrender our will, that he may take over and help us walk on the path that he has prepared for us.

Discussion Questions

  • 27:5 – Why is Achish allowing David the madman back into his country?
  • 27:12 – Why is David killing off the neighbours of Israel and lying to Achish?
  • 29:2 – Why is David joining forces with the army of Philistine commanders to take down Israel?
  • 29:11 – Why were valiant warriors such as David and his men sent home and not included as part of the army that went up against Israel? How was God’s plan set in motion by the rejection of the Philistine commanders?


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