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Deeper Commentary

1Sa 29:1 The Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek, and the Israelites encamped by the spring in Jezreel-
"The spring in Jezreel" is now thought to be the fountain at Ain Jalut, "Goliath's fountain", regarded as the scene of the defeat of Goliath. This would have heightened the connections with that battle, and highlighted the absence of David and Samuel; see on 1 Sam. 28:4, which also presents this battle in the same terms as that with Goliath.

1Sa 29:2 The lords of the Philistines marched on in units of hundreds and thousands, and David and his men marched in the rear with Achish-
We are left to imagine what desperate plans were going through David's mind. He didn't want to fight his own people, he who had been so careful not to kill Saul. Achish was at the rear, out of danger's way. It appears David was already his personal bodyguard, so David would have been desperately praying that the Philistines would win and he would not be required to fight; or for some Divine intervention to save him. He of course should have done the honest thing and refused to fight. But having failed to do so, he was now in a very compromised situation. It was only by grace that he was saved from it. We have likely experienced such situations ourselves.

1Sa 29:3 Then the lords of the Philistines said, What about these Hebrews?-
This was the grace of Divine intervention. As discussed on :2, David got into it by his own weakness of faith. But God saved him from it now at the last minute by an unforeseen situation. The Philistines refused to have David and his men anywhere near the battle.

Achish said, Isn’t this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, who has been with me these days, or rather these years, and I have so far found no fault in him?-
Achish seems to have been the sole supporter of David amongst the Philistines. Quite why he had this strange sympathy for David, even making him his personal bodyguard, is not explained. Clearly God's Spirit was at work giving this man an unusual attitude towards David. His idea was that David had once been Saul's servant but now was hated by him, and therefore David could be counted on as surely being against Saul. Achish failed to understand the love and grace which David had practiced toward Saul.

1Sa 29:4 But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him and said to him, Send the man back to the place you have appointed for him-
Presumably they refer to Ziklag, perhaps not without a hint of resentment and disagreement that Achish personally had appointed this place for David and his men.

He must not go down with us to battle, in case he turns against us during the fighting-
The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament uses the Greek word diabolos to translate the Hebrew 'Satan'. Hence Devil and Satan are effectively parallel in meaning. Thus we read in the Septuagint of David being an adversary [Heb. Satan, Gk. diabolos] in 1 Sam. 29:4 ["turns against us"]; the sons of Zeruiah (2 Sam. 19:22), Hadad, Rezon and other opponents to Solomon (1 Kings 5:4; 11:14,23,25). We face a simple choice- if we believe that every reference to 'Satan' or 'Devil' refers to an evil cosmic being, then we have to assume that these people weren't people at all, and that even good men like David were evil. The far more natural reading of these passages is surely that 'Satan' is simply a word meaning 'adversary', and can be applied to people [good and bad], and even God Himself- it carries no pejorative, sinister meaning as a word.

How better could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord-
Achish chose to interpret the fallout between Saul and David as meaning that David would be loyal to him and not Saul. But his commanders argued the other way. "This fellow" reflects their deep dislike of David.

Than with the heads of these men?-
They recalled how David had carried the head of Goliath to Saul (1 Sam. 17:57). To carry the heads of a king's enemies was a way to get the king's favour, as in Jud. 7:25; 2 Sam. 4:8; 16:9; 20:21; 2 Kings 10:6-8. Again we see the inspired, historical record has consistency. It would have required a clever editor to insert this theme of beheading to curry a leader's favour throughout the entire Biblical record. But the histories were clearly written at different times; a later hand would not have thought of all these realistic touches to sprinkle so consistently throughout it. The internal harmony of the Bible is to me the greatest indication that it is what it claims to be, the Divinely inspired word of God, evidencing His editing throughout. 

1Sa 29:5 Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, ‘Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands?’-
If indeed Saul reigned literally 40 years (Acts 13:21), this celebration would have been quite some time previously. But the memory of that great humiliation was still very much alive amongst the rank and file of the Philistines. Achish seems so out of touch with these feelings that we wonder if he was himself actually a Philistine, or some non-Philistine who had taken power.

1Sa 29:6 So Achish called David and said to him, As Yahweh lives-
I have noted several times that the favour of Achish towards David was most unusual, and out of step with the feelings of the Philistine people in Gath, home town of Goliath. Here he swears by Yahweh [and you only swore by your own god in those times], and so we wonder whether he had been converted to David's God; hence his particular grace toward David. But David had lied to him repeatedly in giving the impression he had been attacking the Israelites, when in fact he had been massacring various non Israelite settlements. So in this case, Achish came to the one true God through the witness of one of His followers who was not of integrity before Him. This would then be a parade example of where truth must triumph over personalities and the bad advertisement for God given by some of His most apparently devoted followers.


You have been upright and your conduct with me in the army has been good in my sight; I have not found evil in you since the day you came to me till this day. But the lords don’t approve of you-
This estimation however was based upon David's inveterate lying to him, and David massacring whole settlements lest a single person should survive to tell Achish what was really going on. We wonder how Achish felt afterwards, when he realized how badly he had been deceived; and whether he retained his faith in Yahweh by whom he has just sworn.

1Sa 29:7 Therefore now return and go in peace; do not displease the lords of the Philistines-
To "return in peace" was a phrase sometimes used of returning from a military conflict in victory (Josh. 10;21; Jud. 8:9; 11:31; 1 Kings 22:28). Perhaps Achish is saying that he knows David wants victory, but he as it were grants this to him. David can be the victor without having to fight. 

1Sa 29:8 David said to Achish, But what have I done? What have you found against your servant all the time I have been with you to this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?-
This is one of those statements which is left purposefully unclear as to its import, so that we can reflect upon it. There may be no correct answer; it is left for our imagination. David may have been gasping thankfulness to God at the deliverance from his hard situation, and just went along with the appearance he had given of being supportive of the Philistines by making this insincere protest. In this case, this was hardly an example of the “integrity” and “uprightness” which David glorifies in his Psalms, and which he insisted he was full of (Ps. 25:21). Indeed he claims that his integrity is the basis of his acceptance by God (Ps. 26:1).

Or it could be that David evidently wanted to fight against Saul alongside the men of Achish, but planned to turn against them and fight for Saul, sandwiching the Philistines between the Hebrews- as they correctly guessed. This would have been suicidal. For Saul wanted to kill him, and the Philistines also would have tried to kill David as a result of this. He would have had no place to run. But even to the point of political suicide and the serious risking of his own life, David so loved Saul his enemy. This true love leads to and is related to true respect. This kind of respect is  sadly lacking in our society, and has rubbed off upon our relationships within families and ecclesias. But whether all of his 600 men were equally convinced to take this huge risk is unclear.

1Sa 29:9 Achish answered David, I know that you have been pleasing to me, as an angel of God, nevertheless the princes of the Philistines have said, ‘He must not go up with us to the battle’-
Achish clearly felt David was God's representative to him, and thereby had come to accept Yahweh as his God (:6).

1Sa 29:10 Now get up early in the morning with the servants of your lord who have come with you, and depart as soon as it is light-
Achish seems to be saying that David's men were his servants, and is reminding him that he was David's "lord". Perhaps he too was slightly jittery about the whole idea of David's men coming to the battle.

1Sa 29:11 So David got up early, he and his men, to depart in the morning to return to the land of the Philistines, and the Philistines went up to Jezreel
Ziklag was considered to be in the land of the Philistines (:4). There is a much repeated characteristic of God's servants: that they 'rose up early in the morning' and did God's work. In each of the following passages, this phrase is clearly not an idiom; rather does it have an evidently literal meaning: Abraham (Gen. 19:27; 21:14; 22:3); Jacob (Gen. 28:18); Job (1:5); Moses (Ex. 8:20; 9:13; 24:4; 34:4); Joshua (Josh. 3:1; 6:12; 7:16; 8:10); Gideon (Jud. 6:38; 7:1); Samuel (1 Sam. 15:12); David (1 Sam. 17:20; 29:11); Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:35; 2 Chron. 29:20). This is quite an impressive list, numerically. This can be a figure for being zealous (Ps. 127:2; Pr. 27:14; Song 7:12; Is. 5:11; Zeph. 3:7). God Himself rises up early in His zeal to save and bring back His wayward people (2 Chron. 36:15; Jer. 7:13,25; 11:7; 25:3,4; 26:5; 29:19; 32:33; 35:14,15; 44:4). Yet the above examples all show that men literally rose up early in their service to God; this was an expression of their zeal for God, in response to His zeal for us. I'm not suggesting that zeal for God is reflected by rising early rather than staying up late; but it wouldn't be too much to suggest that if we are men of mission, we won't waste our hours in bed. Get up when you wake up.