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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 27

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 5. David’s First Taste Of Kingship - The Death Final Disobedience And Of Saul (1 Samuel 27:1 -2 Samuel 1:27).

A). David Rises To Petty Kingship Over Ziklag And Continually Destroys The Amalekites (YHWH’s Enemies) While Saul Proceeds On In Darkness To His Doom (27:1-30:31).

In this subsection David and his Men flee to Gath, while with Samuel dead Saul falls further into error and confides in a spiritist medium because YHWH too has deserted him. David meanwhile becomes a petty king, continually defeats the Amalekites, YHWH’s enemies, and is spared from having to fight against his own people (1 Samuel 27:1 to 1 Samuel 30:31).

Analysis of 1 Samuel 27:1 to 1 Samuel 30:31.

a David leaves his haunts in Judah and goes over Achish of Gath to escape from Saul (1 Samuel 27:1-4).

b David becomes a petty king under Achish and attacks and defeats the Amalekites, slaughtering them and obtaining great booty (1 Samuel 27:5-12).

c David swears loyalty to Achish in view of the invasion of Israel (1 Samuel 28:1-2).

d Saul seeks to consult Samuel through a necromancer and is reminded that he is rejected by YHWH (1 Samuel 28:3-20).

e Saul shares hospitality with a woman condemned by YHWH and goes out into the night (1 Samuel 28:21-25).

d David is accompanying the Philistines and is rejected by them (1 Samuel 29:1-7).

c David swears loyalty to Achish in view of the invasion of Israel and goes out into the day (1 Samuel 29:8-11).

b David finds his kingdom despoiled and attacks and defeats the Amalekites, slaughtering them and obtaining great booty (1 Samuel 30:1-25).

a David shows his gratitude to those who had assisted him among the people of Judah when he was escaping from Saul (1 Samuel 30:26-31).

Note than in ‘a’ David leaves his haunts in Judah and goes over to the Philistines in order to avoid Saul, and in the parallel he send gifts to his friends who had supported him while he was in his haunts in Judah escaping from Saul. In ‘b’ David slaughters the Amalekites, and in the parallel does the same. In ‘c’ David swears loyalty to Achish, and in the parallel does the same. In ‘d’ Saul is with a woman rejected by YHWH and is reminded that he too is rejected by YHWH, and in the parallel David is with the people rejected by YHWH (the Philistines) but is himself rejected by them. In ‘e’ Saul reaches the lowest stage in his fall from YHWH when he enjoys hospitality with a woman rejected by YHWH and goes out into the night.

In some ways the flight of David to Gath appears to conflict with all that has gone before, for up to this point YHWH had always ensured that David remained in Israel/Judah and had protected him there. Indeed when David had previously fled to Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15), it had resulted in his being humiliated and driven back into Israel, and this fact, combined with the later words of Gad the Prophet (1 Samuel 22:5), suggests that being in Israel/Judah was God’s purpose for him at that time even though he was an outlaw. In this regard it has, indeed, been pointed out that in 1 Samuel 27:1 to 1 Samuel 28:2 there is no mention of God, with the inference being drawn that his action here was also not of God.

On the other hand it is questionable whether this latter fact can really be emphasised for we must bear in mind that we are only talking about fourteen verses, verses which are on the whole the kind where no mention of God was really required, and this is especially so as there are certainly previous passages elsewhere which have also not included the name of God, even when we might have expected it, without it there being especially significant. See for example, 1 Samuel 13:15-23; 1 Samuel 17:1-24; 1 Samuel 17:55 to 1 Samuel 18:9; and especially 1 Samuel 14:47-52. Furthermore we should note that when the account of the stay among the Philistines continues the king of Gath is himself portrayed as swearing by YHWH (1 Samuel 29:6, see also 1 Samuel 27:9), something possibly intended to illustrate the influence that David has had on him, and certainly demonstrating that he recognised YHWH as David’s God and that YHWH was with him there. Thus there is no real indication that the writer sees this as a backward move. Rather he seems to portray it as demonstrating a sensible way of escaping from Saul’s prevarications, while immediately stressing that he finally took up refuge in Ziklag which was a Philistine occupied town of Judah in the Negeb (as he emphasises). So he had not permanently left Israel after all. The only question that does possibly spring to mind in this regard is as to why David did not at this stage ‘enquire of YHWH’ through the ephod. Precedent might suggest that he did in fact do so and that the writer simply does not mention the fact.

Certainly we should note that David would see no difficulty in consulting YHWH when he was in Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:7-8), even though it was outside the current boundaries of Israel (although still in what was part of Israel’s inheritance). On the other hand we might argue that Ziklag had been appropriated from Judah/Simeon (Joshua 15:31; Joshua 19:5) by the Philistines, and could really therefore be seen as an ‘Israelite’ city. This might be seen as confirmed by the fact that the writer emphasises that from that time on Ziklag was seen as belonging to Judah (1 Samuel 27:6). Consider also the fact that many fighting men of Israel came to join up with him there at this point, including men from Benjamin, Judah, Gad and Manasseh (1 Chronicles 12:1-7; 1 Chronicles 12:20-22). They too probably saw it as a haven from Saul and a kind of little Israel where they could be freer to behave as they wished, even though it did give them responsibilities towards a Philistine king, which YHWH would overrule.

We might thus argue that having established his popularity at home in Israel/Judah (apart from with the Ziphites), his rule over a semi-independent Ziklag with its surrounding territories was now intended by God to be the next stage in his training for the kingship, for through his time there he would be able to gain experience of ruling a city and its environs before he was finally faced up with the greater task of ruling Judah, and then all Israel. It is a reminder that God educates His people as and where He will.

That God was with him there comes out quite clearly in the narrative. Firstly in that he was given this convenient semi-independent position, in a place where YHWH could be consulted, and secondly in that he was later prevented from having to fight against his own countrymen, something which would surely have hindered his later rise to kingship. So whether his first move was pleasing to YHWH or not, it is clear that YHWH did not see him as having been grossly disobedient. (And all of us know of situations in which we have to make difficult decisions which have to be based on our own judgment at the time, and which might even be ‘wrong’, with God then acting graciously towards us on the basis of what we have done in all honesty, as He continues to lead us forward).

Furthermore there are good grounds for seeing the writer as deliberately wanting us to contrast this triumphant move into Philistia, along with David being given an honoured position there, with the debacle that had taken place on his previous visit to Gath when he had had to publicly humiliate himself and flee. Then it was clearly being portrayed as a move that he should not have made. Here it can be argued that, as a move that brought him honour and prestige and an opportunity to serve God in destroying the Amalekites, it was clearly of God.

But why should Achish have given Ziklag and its surrounding territories to David? The probable reason must be that it was a part of a suzerainty treaty whereby David was given his own independent city in a spot convenient for raids over the border, on condition that he made such raids and gave to Achish a certain proportion of any booty that he and his men collected. For we must surely recognise that the whole purpose of having David and his army under his umbrella was in order that David might earn his keep by raids over the border, while at the same time being available for any major offensive that had to be made. He would not want to continually provision David and his small tribe while they were idle, and continual raiding was considered to be the sport of kings (2 Samuel 11:1). There appears little doubt that such border raids constantly took place (e.g. 1 Samuel 23:1-6, and compare David’s earlier activities against the Philistines, not all of which can have been related to major invasions - 1 Samuel 18:5; 1 Samuel 18:27; 1 Samuel 20:8) as we would in fact expect in those savage days. This certainly also serves to explain David’s subsequent activities.


Verses 1-4

David Decides To Move To Gath And Is Welcomed By Achish (1 Samuel 27:1-4).

It is easy to understand the reason why David moved to Gath. He had at last realised that there was no hope of any further reconciliation with Saul, and had no doubt also recognised that a broody and constantly changing Saul would never finally leave him and his men to get on with their lives. Furthermore he was once again a married man, and his wives were with him, and it would appear that many of his men also had their families (‘households’ - 1 Samuel 27:3) with them, possibly sheltering them from the vengeance of Saul. Life in the harsh wilderness was no life for such as them. Thus the idea of being mercenaries to the Philistines and living a ‘normal’ life must have appealed to them. While David had previously been rejected at Gath as an individual who had fairly recently slain Goliath, it was very unlikely that a strong band of Habiru mercenaries would be rejected by the Philistines, as previous references have suggested (1 Samuel 14:21).

Analysis.

a 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 escape into the land of the Philistines, and Saul will despair of me, to seek me any more in all the borders of Israel. So shall I escape out of his hand” (1 Samuel 27:1).

b And David arose, and passed over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath (1 Samuel 27:2).

b And David dwelt with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, even David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal’s wife (1 Samuel 27:3).

a And it was told Saul that David was fled to Gath, and he sought no more again for him (1 Samuel 27:4).

Note than in ‘a’ David hoped by going to Gath to cause Saul to give up pursuing him, and in the parallel that is what happened. Centrally in ‘b’ David and his six hundred left Israel and took service under the King of Gath as an independent mercenary force, and in the parallel dwelt in Gath, along with their wives and children. (their ‘households’; compare 1 Samuel 30:6).

1 Samuel 27:1

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 escape into the land of the Philistines, and Saul will despair of me, to seek me any more in all the borders of Israel. So shall I escape out of his hand.” ’

Musing in his heart over the whole situation that they faced David came to the conclusion that the time had at last arrived when he and his men must leave Israel. It had become quite clear to him that Saul was not to be trusted whatever he might say (which was, of course, partly due to his dreadful psychiatric illness which no one would have been able to understand), and that those of his men’s families who were with them could not be expected to go on living in wilderness conditions in constant fear of pursuit. Better then to take his now experienced military force and put them at the disposal of someone who would appreciate them. The employment of such mercenary forces was a feature of those times. It was something that was true over many centuries, for in a world where nations were continually seeking to grow rich at the expense of those around them (2 Samuel 11:1), kings were always looking to augment their own armies with experienced foreign mercenaries so as to make themselves more effective.

It was quite clear to him that once they had moved out of Israel the news would reach Saul so that he would cease to pursue them. They would no longer be his concern. Thus they would be able to relax and live without the constant fear of Saul being on their tails. Of course they would be required to earn their keep. They would be expected to take part in border raids and seize booty, and to take part in any major engagements that their employer required of them. But it would be better than living in the wilderness, surviving on minimal provisions.

There is much that we are not told. We are not told whether David consulted God, although in the light of what we know from elsewhere it seems very likely. Nor are we told why David seems always to have favoured Gath over the other main Philistine cities. Perhaps it was because Achish was famed as a warrior king, or because Gath was well known for welcoming migrants. Or it may have been because he knew that the king of Gath and Saul were sworn enemies so that there was no likelihood that Achish would hand him over to Saul. Or possibly it was simply because it was the nearest and had territories extending down to the Negeb. It was probably only a few miles/kilometres from Lachish, but its site has not yet been certainly identified.

1 Samuel 27:2

And David arose, and passed over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath.’

Having come to his decision David made overtures to the king of Gath and clearly came to an understanding with him, for he and his ‘six hundred’ (six small but effective military units) passed over the border and went to Gath.

We do not know whether this Achish was the same as the Achish in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. ‘Son of Maoch’ might be intended to make a distinction. Achish may have been a throne name (compare Abimelech in Genesis 1 Samuel 20:2; 1 Samuel 26:1; Psalms 34 heading). On the other hand there is no reason why they should not be the same person. An Achish, king of Gath, is also mentioned in 1 Kings 2:39-40, but there is no reason for thinking that Achish could not have had a long reign. It may be asked why Achish should accept David now when he had rejected him years before, but we should recognise that then it had been as a single suppliant seeking refuge and feigning madness, now it was as leader of an effective military force. The situation was totally different. How much the Philistines knew of his exploits we do not know, but they were certainly aware of his past fame (1 Samuel 29:5).

1 Samuel 27:3

And David dwelt with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, even David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal’s wife.’

So David and his men, with their households of women and children, settled down in Gath, David having with him his two wives Ahinoam and Abigail.

1 Samuel 27:4

And it was told Saul that David was fled to Gath, and he sought no more again for him.’

The news that David had left Israel and was living in Gath reached Saul, and the result was that he stopped looking for him. It is clear that he did not expect the king of Gath to hand David over. The Philistines and the Israelites were at constant enmity and saw themselves as independent of each other. Thus David’s anticipated purpose (1 Samuel 27:1) had been fulfilled.


Verse 5

David Becomes A Petty King of Ziklag And Carries Out successful Raids To Obtain Booty, Thereby Consolidating His Position with The King Of Gath Who Thought That He Was Raiding Israel/Judah (1 Samuel 27:5 to 1 Samuel 28:2).

We need not doubt that there was far more to the discussions between Achish and David than we are told. It seems very probable that David was feeling constricted both physically and spiritually in Gath and that his men were possibly chafing through inactivity. There may also have been conflicts with local Gittites who objected to their presence. David may well therefore have proposed to the king that he and his men could achieve more by having their own city to operate from, a city ‘in the country’, that is, in a less occupied area from which raiding operations could be carried out.

Achish clearly saw the sense in this and gave David the city of Ziklag, with its environs, which was probably sparsely occupied at the time. Ziklag was in the far south, in the Negeb. (That it was near Beersheba is suggested by Nehemiah 11:28). There its surrounding area was especially vulnerable to attacks from the warlike tribes that roamed the Sinai peninsula. Achish may well therefore have seen this as a means of making that area, which was under his control, secure. And from there David in his turn attacked these tribes and obtained from them much booty, including large quantities of cattle, sheep and goats. Achish would receive his share of it, being informed erroneously that it had been obtained by attacking Israelite towns. Some of it was also distributed among the hardpressed people of Judah, to their eternal gratitude, so that they began to look on David with favour. He was a good neighbour to have.

Analysis.

a And David said to Achish, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, let them give me a place in one of the cities in the country, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?” (1 Samuel 27:5).

b Then Achish gave him Ziklag that day, which is why Ziklag pertains to the kings of Judah to this day. And the number of the days that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was a full year and four months (1 Samuel 27:6-7).

c And David and his men went up, and made a raid on the Geshurites, and the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for those nations were the inhabitants of the land, who were of old, as you go to Shur, even to the land of Egypt (1 Samuel 27:8).

d And David smote the land, and saved neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the clothing, and he returned, and came to Achish (1 Samuel 27:9).

c And Achish said, “Against whom have you made a raid today?” And David said, “Against the South of Judah, and against the South of the Jerahmeelites, and against the South of the Kenites” (1 Samuel 27:10).

b And David saved neither man nor woman alive, to bring them to Gath, saying, “Lest they should tell of us, saying, So did David, and so has been his way all the while he has dwelt in the country of the Philistines.” And Achish believed David, saying, “He has made his people Israel utterly to abhor him, therefore he shall be my servant for ever” (1 Samuel 27:11-12).

a And it came about in those days, that the Philistines gathered their hosts together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said to David, “Know you assuredly, that you will go out with me in the host, you and your men.” And David said to Achish, “Therefore you will know what your servant will do.” And Achish said to David, “Therefore will I make you keeper of my head for ever” (1 Samuel 28:1-2).

Note that in ‘a’ David had found favour in the eyes of Achish, and in the parallel that favour is clearly demonstrated. In ‘b’ we learn of the limited period for which David dwelt in the land of the Philistines, and in the parallel Achish mistakenly thought that he had him as his servant for ever. In ‘c’ we are told the names of the tribes which David raided, and in the parallel the names of those that he claimed to have raided. Central in ‘d’ is the fact that Achish received much tribute, thus enhancing David in his eyes..

1 Samuel 27:5

And David said to Achish, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, let them give me a place in one of the cities in the country, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?” ’

Whatever the reasons David approached Achish and asked to be given a city some distance from Gath so as to avoid cramping the royal city. This probably indicates that many of the Gittite aristocracy were somewhat put out by the presence of David and his men, and were in some way expressing their hostility, claiming that this was the royal city of Gath, a place in which such a foreign element were not welcome. If this was so Achish would be aware of it and might well have seen David’s suggestion as very wise. He had little to lose and much to gain by giving to David a sparsely populated town guarding the approach from the south, especially if David was able to keep the surrounding area safe and use it as a base from which to carry out his foraging expeditions (compare 1 Samuel 13:17), thus enhancing Achish’s wealth. It does, however, illustrate the confidence and trust that Achish had in David. He saw him as someone reliable.

1 Samuel 27:6

Then Achish gave him Ziklag that day, which is why Ziklag pertains to the kings of Judah to this day.’

So that day Achish gave Ziklag and its surrounds to David, for him to rule as a petty king over an independent city state under Achish’s suzerainty. That is why when David became king of Judah the city would become conjoined with Judah (with Achish still seeing David as his loyal vassal), and the city became seen as a Judean city under the control of whoever was king over Judah at the time. Thus anyone who ruled Judah, even if as a part of Israel, ruled Ziklag by right of the fact that it had been given to David and had been conjoined with Judah. It had, of course, always been seen as in Judah’s (and Simeon’s) territory (Joshua 15:31; Joshua 19:5) by the Israelites. That it was near Beersheba is suggested by Nehemiah 11:28.

There is no reason for suggesting that this phrase pinpoints the date of authorship of the final book, for all kings from David onwards were ‘kings of Judah’, and it was by virtue of this rather than as kings of Israel/Judah that they ruled Ziklag.

1 Samuel 27:7

And the number of the days that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was a full year and four months.’

This may indicate the length of time that David was in Gath prior to moving to Ziklag, after which on moving to Ziklag he was seen by the writer as living in an independent city which was in territory allocated to Judah, even if Achish saw it differently. As far as the writer is concerned David was a patriot who was to be seen as having lived among the Philistines for as short a time as possible.

David appears to have ruled the city and its surrounds as an independent city state, while acknowledging Achish as his overlord. The terms on which he received the city would have been laid out in a suzerainty treaty. It would include the obtaining of booty, a proportion of which would be given to Achish, as a result of raids on ‘foreign territory’ (which Achish would see as including Judah), and an expression of willingness to serve Achish directly as mercenaries when called on. To this city and its environs flocked many who were disaffected by Saul’s rule, in order to serve under David who had once been a popular Israelite commander (1 Chronicles 12:1-7; 1 Chronicles 12:20-22). From it he sent ambassadors to Judean cities gaining their friendship (1 Samuel 30:26-31). He was founding his own small kingdom and it was giving him great experience for the future, with an influence that Achish never dreamed of.

1 Samuel 27:8

And David and his men went up, and made a raid on (advanced militarily on) the Geshurites, and the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for those nations were the inhabitants of the land, who were of old, as you go to Shur, even to the land of Egypt.’

From Ziklag David made raids on fierce and warlike tribes in the Sinai peninsula. It appears that the Geshurites and the Girzites, of whom little else is known (but see Joshua 13:2), were similar to the Amalekites, and somewhat like modern Bedouin, although they may have been more settled than the nomadic Amalekites, in desert cities and oasis encampments. They no doubt constantly raided the Negeb of Judah, and the Negeb of the Philistines, and it is possible that these raids on Philistine territory were one reason why Achish was glad to place Ziklag as a buffer between them and Philistia. These tribesmen had been there in the Sinai peninsula up to the borders of Egypt for as long as men could remember, and they were seen as a constant threat to the more settled peoples of the Negeb, swooping down unexpectedly on unprotected areas and people, seizing both their cattle and flocks, and their people to sell into slavery.

We know that the Amalekites had been responsible for attacks on the children of Israel shortly after leaving Egypt (Exodus 17:8-16), the kind of act for which they later came under God’s curse (1 Samuel 15:2-3; Deuteronomy 25:19). And while Saul had wiped out one of their prominent tribes they were very numerous and separated into a number of different tribes, some of which had escaped his intentions. The Geshurites and Girzites may well therefore have also been seen as coming under that general curse. David’s action would, in fact, partly be a retaliation for raids made on what he now saw as his territory.

1 Samuel 27:9

And David smote the land, and saved neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the clothing, and he returned, and came to Achish.’

Wherever he could find them David, in defence of his territory, sought out these warrior tribes, smiting the land where they could be found, and slaughtering them all, including both men and women. And in the process he took away their sheep, oxen, asses, camels and clothware, most of which they themselves would have obtained by the same method. David’s policy of mass slaughter no doubt sounds harsh to us today, but it is doubtful if those who heard of it then thought the same. All knew that any Amalekites who were left alive would simply join up with other similar tribes, strengthening them for further raids on innocent people, while their womenfolk would be seen as wild, insular, and useless as wives, and likely producers of more raiders once they connected up with other tribes. They were probably as fierce as the men. Harsh as it may seem eradication was therefore seen as the only way of dealing with them (we can compare them with the pirates of later times who preyed on anyone and everyone and were subject to none). Any other route simply resulted in further problems of a particularly vicious kind.

David would then come to Achish bringing his spoils so that Achish could receive his no doubt generous share, and the remainder would be divided up among David’s men.

1 Samuel 27:10

And Achish said, “Against whom have you made a raid today?” And David said, “Against the South of Judah, and against the South of the Jerahmeelites, and against the South of the Kenites.” ’

Achish was naturally interested in where David had been carrying out his raids, and was erroneously informed that it had been ‘against the Negeb of Judah, and against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites, and against the Negeb of the Kenites.’ These areas were far enough off and remote enough for Achish not to be aware of what was going on there, and they would anyway no doubt constantly experience raids of one kind or another. That was a consequence of living in such places, which was no doubt why Samuel had earlier sent his sons to act as war-leaders and judges there (1 Samuel 8:2). There was also probably some truth in his statement. No doubt when he heard of Amalekite raids on those areas he entered them (with the consent of their elders) in order to deal with the Amalekite invaders within those territories.

“The Negeb” was a fairly vague term covering a large area of the dry south, with its lesser rainfall, which extended into the Sinai peninsula. Thus what David said was a half truth. He is not depicted as actually saying that he had attacked the peoples themselves, only their area. He may well have found Amalekites wandering in those areas. And there were Amalekite ‘cities’ in the Negeb.

The Jerahmeelites were a semi-independent clan similar to the Kenites, who had friendly relations with Judah, and gradually became Judeans by adoption (compare 1 Chronicles 2:9 ff). The Kenites had been spared by Saul when he had slaughtered the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:6), and had previous associations with Judah (Judges 1:16). They had assisted Israel on their journey through the wilderness. The Negeb may well have been at this time a fairly fruitful area as a result of careful use of what rainwater it experienced, which was cleverly used for irrigation, but it depended heavily on oases and springs. It was also an area suitable for grazing large flocks. It would thus be seen by the nomadic tribesmen (and by Achish) as a very suitable area from which to obtain booty.

1 Samuel 27:11

And David saved neither man nor woman alive, to bring them to Gath, saying, “Lest they should tell of us, saying, ‘So did David, and so has been his way all the while he has dwelt in the country of the Philistines’.” ’

The writer now tells us that one reason why David never left any living witnesses to his attacks was so that no one could inform on his activities. The only purpose for taking some alive would be to sell them as slaves, something which David forbore to do. However, we must not discount the fact that he also knew that they were under YHWH’s curse and therefore dealt with them accordingly. But it was clearly essential for him that none should be able to counteract what he had told Achish. The only alternative was to sell them as slaves, for simply letting them go would have meant that they were free to join up with a similar tribe and continue the attacks on innocents, or to produce those who did so. It would have been storing up trouble for the future. But had he turned up with only Amalekite, Geshurite and Gerzite slaves for sale it would have been a real give-away. Achish would have asked, where were the Judeans and Kenites?

He could ,of course, simply have let them go in which case they would never have had any connection with Gath, but that would then have left them free to attack innocent people again. So we must probably see his harsh measures as going beyond just preventing Achish from finding out the truth, and as tying in with the carrying out of YHWH’s curse on them, as a result of the fact that God had declared them worthy of the death sentence (Genesis 9:6) because of their savage behaviour.

To us, of course, all this killing is rightly abhorrent. But then most of us live in a society where there is an adequate police force, and where there are organised prisons. We do not live on our wits, faced with constant attacks from merciless tribesmen, with no one to protect us but ourselves. The sentence of death on them was the consequence of the fact that they were seen as regular murderers who would never learn their lesson and therefore needed to be finally dealt with in the only way possible to render them harmless, death (at a time when for all people death by violence was an everyday occurrence for their households, to be constantly warded off by killing others, especially in the Negeb).

1 Samuel 27:12

And Achish believed David, saying, “He has made his people Israel utterly to abhor him, therefore he shall be my servant for ever.” ’

Achish believed David’s half-truths, and gloated. He considered that by turning his own people and their allies against him it would mean that David for ever remained faithful to those who had not been turned against him, his employers. In other words, they would serve Achish faithfully, as bound to him, into the distant future. They had nowhere else to look.

1 Samuel 28:1

And it came about in those days, that the Philistines gathered their hosts together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said to David, “Know you assuredly, that you will go out with me in the host, you and your men.” ’

However, inevitably the day arrived when what David had probably constantly feared came about. A full scale invasion of Israel was planned by the Philistines, in contrast with mere border raids. This was not to be merely for booty. The time had come when the five lords of the Philistines wanted vengeance for past defeats, to re-subjugate Israel, and to expand their territory even further. This may partly have been initiated as a result of Saul’s activities in the valley of Jezreel by which he was cutting off the Philistine trade routes. With this in mind they had built up their strength and trained their troops, and now they mustered their whole armies, which would involve the muster of Canaanite farmers to bolster their numbers, and of course, any mercenaries. It was for activities such as this that mercenaries were mainly hired. Along with the Philistine standing armies they would be the core of the fighting strength, trained fighters who lived for nothing else but warfare. So it is not surprising that Achish called on David and his men and told them to stand ready. They would be required to go out with the Philistine host as part of his contribution to that host.

Achish now had no doubt about David’s faithfulness. Why, had he not already proved his willingness to despoil his own countrymen? Why then should he hesitate in taking part in an exercise that would bring him even more booty and reward?

1 Samuel 28:2

And David said to Achish, “Therefore you will know what your servant will do.” And Achish said to David, “Therefore will I make you keeper of my head for ever.”

When David was called on he assured the king that he ‘would know what David his servant would do’. To Achish this was an assurance of total loyalty and an indication of a desire for battle. To those who knew David better it might have appeared to be somewhat of an evasive answer. But Achish was satisfied, and assured David that it was because of his dedication and faithfulness that he would make him the permanent ‘keeper of his head’. In other words, David and his men would be his personal bodyguard and his constant protector. He knew that they were the toughest of his troops.

It is possible that the writer deliberately used a phrase which was ironical. We remember, as the writer did, how David had kept Goliath’s head and had taken it to Jerusalem as a trophy (1 Samuel 17:54). But Achish was not to know that one day David would be his archenemy, so that he would never have dreamed of such an interpretation to his words.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 27:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-samuel-27.html. 2013.

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