Well, David has given up all hope in reconciling with the unstable and thoroughly fallen King Saul. As a result, he took the drastic and morally questionable step of moving his vast and growing army of disaffected Israelites and (no doubt) their families out of Israel after he made a deal with the Philistine King of Gath.
Now some years earlier David fled to Moab and had intentions of allying with the King of Moab and residing there; but a prophet, Gad, told David that he was not to leave Judah and live outside of Israel to escape Saul (yet here he was doing just that).
Achish welcomed David and his 600 men as defectors, whereas only a couple of years earlier he had seized David as he fled, alone, from Saul’s wrath. David had to pretend that he was insane to escape to Judah and Moab. But now he has voluntarily returned to Philistia with a bargaining chip: an army to help the King of Gath achieve his ambitions.
At first, David and his men stayed in the royal city of Gath as guests of the King, but that wore thin on both sides so David asked if he could be granted a place out in the countryside to move his army. Achish was only too glad to comply because no doubt there was friction between David’s people and his from both a political and a social perspective.
After all, we do have a large contingent of Hebrews suddenly moving in with what had been up to now a long-time sworn enemy; an enemy with a substantially different culture (a pagan Philistine culture) than that of these Israelites.
It’s important to understand that just as Israel had been a confederation of 12 independent tribes ever since they entered the Promised Land under Joshua, and that Saul was the first to have some limited success in uniting these tribes towards nationhood, so it was for the Philistines.
Philistia was not a sovereign nation under a single government leader. At this time it consisted of 5 independent kings of five cities and their outlying territories. They were a confederation of 5 small kingdoms comprised of the same ethnic people, and they were close allies, but that’s as far as it went.
So the King of Gath made this decision on his own to allow David and his army to settle in his territory. The other 4 Philistine kings probably didn’t benefit from this arrangement and even thinking it dangerous. In fact, we’ll see in the next chapter that they were quite suspicious of David.
Achish assigned David the village and area of Ziklag for his own. For David this was ideal; this would have been a racially mixed village comprised of some Hebrews and some Philistines.
Ziklag was at one time an Israelite town belonging to Judah; that the Philistines captured it and now controlled it by no means meant that the Hebrew were kicked out.
Somewhat those Hebrews remained who were willing to accept vassal status or even subjugation to Achish (or those who had no means to leave and go elsewhere), and the Philistines moved in and joined them.
Now this would have been a much more comfortable and familiar accommodation for David and all of his men and their families than the thoroughly Philistine capital city of Gath.
Further, David was deep enough into the Philistine territory to discourage Saul from pursuing him, yet far enough into the Philistine countryside that Achish wouldn’t be entirely aware of David’s daily activities. But there was a disadvantage as well; Ziklag was sufficiently isolated to be vulnerable to attack from the various tribes of desert marauders including the Amalekites.
Let’s Read 1 Samuel 27:7-12.
Once David and his men had gained a measure of trust from Achish and established themselves in their territory of Ziklag (a time listed as one year and four months), there began a substantial change in their behavior; they attacked and plundered nearby tribes as a means to make a living.
No doubt they learned much about Philistine military tactics and methods, and this served them well both now in their raiding and later on when David was King and had to take on the Philistines in battle.
The Complete Jewish Bible and other Bibles say that David’s army especially picked on the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. It was probably just the Geshurites and the Amalekites.
The Hebrew word typically translated as Gezerites (Girzites) is Gizri, and it means “separated or cut-off ones.” The Geshurite people were known to have lived primarily in the Transjordan region, but there is a record of a group of them migrating to the Gaza area.
So very probably the intention of this Biblical wording was initially meant to explain that those who David attacked were some Geshurites who had migrated to the upper Sinai, towards Shur. They were a band of Geshurites who had gizri (separated themselves) from the main tribal stomping grounds on the east side of the Jordan River and moved near to Philistine territory.
In any case, David’s methods were utterly ruthless; his army killed everyone they encountered, men and women, and took all their belongings and their domesticated animals as loot.
Very probably the Geshurites were allies of the Amalekites (or at least on friendly terms), and so from one perspective, David may have felt entirely justified in annihilating the Geshurites along with the mortal enemies of God, Amalek.
But on the other hand, there is no mention that David felt that he was fighting a Holy War or that was he was under God’s direction to slaughter these folks. And I seriously doubt that David was so delusional as to think that it was a divine act to plunder and kill them regularly.
Both Christian and Jewish Bible commentators have strained to find proper justification for David to engage in such activities; some have gone so far as to make the killing and to loot a divinely directed purpose (even if it was mysterious).
I cannot go that route. There is no attempt by the writer of these passages to characterize David’s attacks as good or evil, but merely to report them honestly as historical fact.
The purpose is precise to raid and plunder, and then David would report the results to Achish. Without a doubt the devious and cunning David is working both sides of the highway; he is attacking enemies of Israel, which will endear him to the many clans that form Israelite Judah; and those who he is attacking are apparently also not friends of the Philistines, so the Philistines are OK with it too.
By bringing a report of his activities to Achish, and indeed a portion of the booty as a gift, David is gaining Achish’s trust and admiration as well as increasing Achish’s treasury.
Verse 10 paints a picture of David’s nearly complete autonomy as he operates his army out of Ziklag. The king of Gath doesn’t tell David whom to raid; instead, he asks David who David has decided to attack.
“Who are you raiding today?” asks Achish, and David would tell him, “the Negev of Judah, or the Negev of the Jerahmeelites, or the Negev of the Kenites” or something along those lines.
What is instructive is that it is always the Negev of somebody; the Negev has become a formal place name now but in David’s day it more meant “the southern territory,” or simply “the south.” Today we would identify these areas as those that center around Beersheba and then further south to areas approaching the Arabian Peninsula.
Notice that these areas are far away from Saul’s sphere of influence, the north of Canaan, thus giving Israel’s king no cause to oppose David’s forays.
Verse 11 says that the reason that David killed all the Amalekites and Geshurites was so that they didn’t report the details of his activities to Achish.
Thus we are left with no doubt that David’s purpose for slaughtering these people had little if anything to do with God’s general command to Israel to destroy Amalek.
Killing those people allowed David to operate in secret; King Achish knew only of the amount of loot that David decided to tell him. David could have amassed much more in the way of weapons and wealth than Achish had any idea about. Further, the Philistines were not barbarians, and they may not have approved of David’s ruthlessness or tactics.
But verse 12 reveals something that we must not take lightly; that because David operated in the Negev of Judah (meaning territory that belonged to the tribe of Judah, his tribe), Achish figured that David must now be seen as a pariah to his people. And thus he has burned all bridges to his past and David is now nothing less than a naturalized Philistine.
- Are we to assume that David has wholly fooled Achish and has no intention of actually being loyal to Philistia?
- Could it be that this whole thing is an elaborate ruse and David is doing things distasteful to him, but it is all for a higher or very secret purpose?
- Or is David so far off the reservation that he genuinely has let his circumstances dictate that the dark side of his character, his evil inclination, has taken firm hold?
It’s almost as though he’s at least got one foot onto the same road that Saul eventually chose and it led to a failed kingship and total abandonment by Yehoveh.
As said earlier, commentators because of the can of worms that it opens carefully avoid this topic. But I think that it is one that demonstrates a great lesson to us. Heroes (including Bible heroes) are by nature flawed, and yet those significant flaws often are what facilitate their heroic actions.
David can be legitimately called a type, a shadow, of Messiah. The true Messiah would even come from David’s ancestral lineage. But that in no way means that David WAS an early version of Messiah; or does it say that David’s character is to be compared with Yeshua’s.
If we can learn anything from this, it is that David was a mere man even though he was handpicked by God to be the first King of a united and sovereign Israel.
He could be tempted and fail; he could be moral and idealistic and yet commit terrible injustices out of pragmatism. When faced with personal peril he could be unbelievably courageous (as in the Goliath incident), and he could become fearful and take any path to survival no matter who else was harmed in the process (as in the priests of Nob massacre).
And here we find David unapologetically throwing in with Israel’s archenemy, the Philistines, for protection and friendship. In fact, there is every indication that unless God intervened yet again, David could have remained in the service of Achish as a Philistine all of his days. There is no hint of a plan by David to eventually return to his people in Judah.
David had a heart for God, for this, there can be no debate, but he also had a desire for life and to live as a leader of men. We’ll find out later that he also had a passion for beautiful women, no matter what their legal marital status.
He had a bit of a crusader mentality and so would put his own life on the line to right what he saw as moral wrongs. He valued life on the one hand, but on the other hand, he could take life without remorse if he felt it was justifiable in his own eyes.
He was amazingly in-depth and introspective as demonstrated by his many Psalms; he was also impulsive and rash as shown by his determination to kill Nabal for merely being insulted and keep his activities private by killing countless men and women so that Achish couldn’t question them.
And yet, God loved him and used him mightily and (outside of God’s own Son, Yeshua) he may be the most revered Bible hero by Christians and Jews, and the most beloved of the divine Father.
And this ought to give each of us who loves the Lord the greatest hope. Even when we fail, miserably, provided we maintain unwavering loyalty to God, He will continue to claim us.
Even though those stages of our lives that were too embarrassed to reveal to those closest to us, and after some of our darkest moments, God can still use us for His Kingdom. If we will stick to Him and not close off the possibility (on our own accord) due to our shame, guilt and belief that there is no way that we are anything but shattered and broken vessels.
Folks, for unfathomable reasons God decided to love mankind and to use imperfect beings to achieve His perfect and holy purposes. Despite the rocky road, and doubling back, and false starts and failed attempts that are inherent to all the endeavors of humankind the Creator made a choice.
It is common for Christians to say, “Well, God uses men because they are all He has to use.” That’s not true. Yehoveh has legions of Angels to do His bidding. They are far more obedient and more powerful than we are. They are created more holy and even allowed into God’s presence.
God didn’t choose David because David was perfect or abler than other men; He selected David because He foreknew that despite his failures and stumbling David would always choose loyalty to Yehoveh.
We all have a little David in us, but we also all have a bit of Saul in us. So who among us will become David; who among us will become Saul? Which we become is the result of our free wills, not some unchangeable cosmic destiny that we were born under.
Saul was not brought into this world condemned to become the Anti-King, and David was not born with the assurance of becoming the anointed King.
Saul and David each knew the God of Israel, and each also put their foot onto the wrong path more than once; one corrected his way, he sincerely sought forgiveness and went on to become God’s friend. The other one embraced the wrong path, shook his fist at God and became God’s enemy.
Let’s move on to chapter 28.
Read 1 Samuel 28.
The political situation is that a significant confrontation is brewing between Israel and the Philistines. Verse 1 begins, “in those days”; this is a standard Hebrew phrase that is meant to give us a time reference and to initiate a new subject.
Therefore what this chapter describes sequentially happened after the events of Chapter 27, yet not long after so there is a definite connection between the two stories.
The reasons for this coming war, well not given because they’re not relative to the purpose of the story. Achish says to David that it’s a foregone conclusion that David will fight on the side of the Philistines against his fellow Hebrews. Right?
David is caught in a vise. Up to now his removal from his people Israel and his binding himself to Israel’s enemy, Philistia, proved advantageous and highly profitable.
But he had chosen to participate in a dangerous game, and it was only a matter of time before he would have to take a public stance: would he fight for his people or against them? Even more, who are his people, now? With whom is he identified?
David responds to Achish such that Achish takes it to mean that David has given unquestioned loyalty to him. David’s response so takes him that in verse 2 Achish makes David his somer le’rosh (“a keeper of my head”); that is his bodyguard.
But if one looks closely at what David said to Achish the words were somewhat ambiguous, and there was no promise of loyalty and indeed no commitment to fight alongside Achish. Rather all David said was that the king was well aware of what David’s fighting capabilities were.
If we stopped right here, we’d think that David would do many things to enrich himself and aid the Philistines in the process if necessary, but there is little chance he’d fight against his brethren on Achish’s behalf. Thus that’s why he was so smart and vague in his response; but if we thought that we’d be wrong.
To set the stage for what happens next the writer or editor of this portion of 1st Samuel reminds us that the most important Prophet, Samuel, had died. In fact, he had died before David defected to Philistia.
Further after his death King Saul had, for some unspoken reason, expelled all the diviners and necromancers from Israel (was it some temporary pang of religious fervor upon Samuel’s death that prompted this?)
Necromancers were those who conjured up the spirits of the dead and communicated with them. Other diviners openly made contact with demonic spirits. No matter, the Torah Law forbids such a thing on any level.
CJB Leviticus 19:31
Do not turn to spirit-mediums or sorcerers; don’t seek them out, to be defiled by them; I am ADONAI your God.
CJB Leviticus 20:6
The person who turns to spirit-mediums and sorcerers to go fornicating after them- I will set myself against him and cut him off from his people.
Verse 4 sets the scene: The Philistines have advanced for war and set up a battle camp at Shunem, which was located on a mountainside opposite of Gilboa where King Saul set up his opposing battle camp.
Gilboa was located on the northeastern edge of the Jezreel Valley. No doubt the two sides could see one another (that was customary in those days); by foot, the two camps were no more than 2 hours apart.
So we see that the coming battle would take place where countless battles had been fought for centuries and fought for millennia: the Valley of Jezreel, the same area where the Battle of Armageddon waged.
This was well north of Judah and the Negev where David operated. And this makes sense because Saul’s tribal coalition consisted entirely, now, of the northern Israelite tribes and this is where the Philistines would have desired to operate more freely since their ally David had Judah under control.
When Saul took a long look at the Philistine army arrayed before him he went into a panic. Already the utter darkness of despair had gathered around Saul. He was condemned; he knew it, he felt it, and his tormented conscience convulsed in the knowledge of it.
What was going to happen when the sun rose tomorrow, and the two armies raced at one another with deadly intention? His overwhelming fear can only be understood in that it was finally sinking in that he was on his own.
The Lord God had abandoned him completely and permanently after all, if not for this reason then what? He had fought the Philistines on many occasions and usually came out with the victory, but this time he was filled with foreboding and terror.
It was understood in that era that the first thing that any army did before firing the first arrow in anger was to consult their gods for direction. No doubt the Philistines had conferred with Dagan and were confident of their victory.
But what of Saul? Samuel made it clear that God had withdrawn from Saul and no amount of groveling or insistence would reverse the situation. Saul had no gods of his own to consult.
Knowing that he desperately needed some direction and wisdom from the spiritual sphere to have any chance against the Philistines, he proceeded as though by automatically using the standard Torah protocols that the Lord would have little choice but to communicate with him and give him what he sought.
Verse 6 explains that he used every means known to him to consult God but received no response. Thus we get a brief list of the Biblically approved ways that God communicated with men: by dreams, by Urim, and by Prophets.
- Dreams were a means that the Lord often talked to laypeople, ordinary Israelites.
- The use of the Urim and Thummim stones was limited to the High Priest and the passage saying only “Urim” is just shorthand. -Prophets spoke God’s wisdom to the Kings.
So not through his dreams and not through the High Priest did God speak to Saul; and of course, since Samuel was dead, Saul had no prophet to bring the Lord’s oracle to him. To whom could he turn for answers?
Saul took his usual route; he tried to go around God’s laws and commandments that he might obtain God’s wisdom in an alternative way.
Since you can’t force a dream upon yourself or anyone else, and since the High Priest apparently tried in vain in Saul’s presence, but the Urim and Thummim would produce no answer, the only remaining choice was to get a Prophet to give Saul God’s wisdom.
And since Samuel, his prophet, was dead the only way to accomplish that was to have a necromancer call up Samuel from the grave.
As I was contemplating this I thought to myself, isn’t that the way of humans of all ages and eras? Even Christians at times tend to believe that we can ignore God’s laws and commandments and instead ask the Lord to bless our way, our desires, and our methods.
We get ourselves into a dire situation as a result, and then we hope (expect?) that the Lord will give us a different and better answer to our problem using unconventional (even un-Biblical) means. And of course, because He’s merciful and He loves us, he’ll suspend His eternal laws and commands just this once and give us a solution that we prefer better.
Like Saul, we try to find the loophole and to go around the direction of the Lord’s ways, principles and patterns, sincerely believing that perhaps we could find another way to get to Him. It sounds so irrational when said out loud, but so logical when you try it.
As King, Saul decided to suspend the law he had, invoked: that all diviners and necromancers were to be expelled from Israel and if any remained and practiced their black arts they were to be executed. He cited such a law rightly; communicating with spirits of the dead was one of the most heinous crimes against God.
But the moment he felt threatened, and his soul felt hollow from the absence of God; the King saw no conflict in trying to obtain the services of a spiritualist for himself.
We can look at this and chuckle a little at this ancient superstitious mind, but such beliefs live on today in abundance. You can go to the local Yellow Pages and find Fortune Tellers by the dozens. Politicians, the famous and the wealthy especially seek private Spiritual Advisors. I’ve seen TV Pastors invoke Nostradamus and the Mayan Calendar to back up their predictions, all the while calling on Jesus.
How about the use of Tarot Cards, séances, Ouija boards, and Voodoo? Some may think they’re as harmless as playing Monopoly, but others are dead serious in their attempt to contact spirits and ghosts for information.
Every single one of these (no matter whether sought out by a Jew, Christian, or agnostic) is nothing more than an attempt to get around God to acquire a higher wisdom in a very similar manner that King Saul was trying.
King Saul tells his closest advisors to go and find him a female necromancer. The Hebrew term is Ba’alath Ob; it means, “Ghost wife.”
A little more than 5 miles northeast from Shunem, the Philistine encampment, was a place called En Dor where a well-known Ba’alath Ob lived. She had apparently agreed to quit her practice instead of leaving the area.
Let’s be clear: in general, the diviners and necromancers spoken of in the historical books of the Bible were Hebrews unless another nationality was given to them.
So very hypocritically, Saul disguised himself and went to the woman and said that he wanted to know the future through her bringing up the dead person that he named.
The ancients believed that the dead had information on the future and this was invariably the reason for attempting to consult the dead.
“Bringing up” meant exactly that; the dead were thought to live underground in an underworld. Therefore if you wanted to communicate with them, they had to come “up” to the world above the ground.
Even more, the ghost had to be “brought up,” often against their will. Saul came at night to this woman because these rituals occurred after dark.
But the woman was leery, and so she said that this wasn’t something she ought to do since the king had ordered it stopped. In fact, she thought it might have been a test, an attempt to entrap her that would inevitably lead to her death. But Saul swore to the woman in Yehoveh’s name that this was not the case and that no harm would come to her.
Isn’t it bizarre that King Saul was consorting in the act of Black Magic to consult dead spirits (a capital offense in the Torah), but then swearing in the name of the God of Israel as proof of his sincerity to hold the Ba’alath Ob harmless! Saul wanted the divine to come to him by means of the anti-divine!
Oh how I wish this was a rare occurrence among God’s people but sadly it is all too common.
We’ll continue on my next blog post on 1 Samuel to exam the King of Israel’s attempt to contact God using witchcraft.