David Moves in with the Philistines (1 Samuel 27-28:2)
First Samuel 26 ended with Saul offering David an invitation to return with him, but David sensed that Saul was not presenting him with a legitimate offer of reconciliation. David departed from Saul, and, to our amazement, he decides to go live among the Philistines (vv. 1-2). David rightly believes that Saul will not come after him in Philistia, since bringing a 3000 man army into that region to track down a fugitive would be interpreted by the Philistines as an act of war. His plan worked according to verse 4.
David’s decision to move to Philistia is remarkable in light of David’s previous exploits against the Philistines. David, after all, was the man who had killed Goliath of Gath (ch. 17) and had killed 200 Philistine men as part of the dowry agreement he made with Saul to marry Michal (ch. 18). Apparently, David’s status as an outlaw in Israel had changed his relationship to the Philistines. Since David was the express enemy of Saul, Israel’s king, it stood to reason from the Philistine perspective that an enemy of Saul’s was a friend of the Philistines. Achish saw an opportunity to employ one of Israel’s greatest warriors in his own cause (see v. 12). We are told in v. 7 that David would ultimately spend a year and 4 months living with the Philistines.
David’s time in Philistia would ultimately turn out to Israel’s advantage. David, in an effort to distance himself from close Philistine supervision, asked Achish if he could have a town in the country where he and his men could live. This arrangement would be mutually beneficial for David and Achish. From Achish’s standpoint, David and his men would constitute a defensive outpost for Philistia, and David’s absence from Gath would reduce potential social and economic turmoil in the city. From David’s perspective, he would not be under the close supervision of Achish and could carry out raids against Israel’s enemies without being detected.
David wasted no time in going to war for Israel. In effect, David renewed the conquest of Israel that remained incomplete from the time of the Judges (see Judges 1:27-36). Israel had been commanded to completely destroy the inhabitants of Canaan and had failed to do so. David would not make the same mistake. David’s total destruction of the villages he raided was consistent with the teaching of Deuteronomy 20:7, which required Israel to completely destroy the inhabitants of the land. The complete destruction of these villages also ensured that no one could tell Achish what David was doing. David kept Achish from knowing his activities by provided vague answers about his exploits by using the term “Negev” to describe the location of his attacks. The word negev simply means “south,” so his answers were never very specific. He led Achish to believe that he was conducting raids against Israel when in fact he was attacking Israel’s enemies. Hence, Achish’s belief that David “had made himself an utter stench to his people Israel” (v. 12).
David’s good relationship with Achish, however, leads to a very awkward situation. At the beginning of chapter 28, Achish wants David to lead his men in battle against Israel on behalf of the Philistines and is even willing to make David is personal bodyguard. Our author, the master story-teller his is, leaves the subject of David fighting against Israel for the remainder of chapter 28. We are left to wonder if David, the anointed king of Israel, will go and fight against his own people. We will have to wait until chapter 29 before we find out what happens to David.
This passage gives us some helpful information in understanding the Bible’s inspiration. Twice in this passage, our author reveals the thoughts of the characters in the narrative. In verse one we are told what David “said in his heart.” In verse 12, we are told that Achish was thinking that “[David] has made himself an utter stench to his people….” Such insight requires divine revelation. Only God knows the thoughts of men, and he revealed those thoughts to the men who wrote his word while under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit.
Another note about David’s destruction of different villages is in order. It was morally acceptable for David to do what he did because God had commanded these actions. God was using the people of Israel to bring judgment on sinful people groups. We should not view the Canaanites as innocent people who were unjustly destroyed. Rather these people were immoral idolaters who deserved the wrath of God for their sins. David was merely the agent of God’s wrath. However, we should also note the differences between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church. Such behavior today would be unacceptable because we have not been commanded to carry a physical sword into the world but rather the sword of God’s Word. Israel was a political nation, with a king, an army, and physical boundaries. The church has no earthly king–our king is Jesus Christ–and we have no political boundaries or national identity. Our citizenship is in heaven, and the church is a transnational, multi-ethnic assembly from every nation, people, tribe, and language. We have no business doing what David did then, today.