So there stood Elijah, on top of Mt. Carmel, victorious. Earlier he had taunted the 450 prophets of Baal as they cried out, sung to, and cut themselves to get their god’s attention saying ‘Maybe your god is asleep, maybe he doesn’t hear you, maybe he’s off relieving himself?’ No answer ever came from Baal. Then it was Elijah’s turn. He set up his offering, had an enormous amount of water poured over the altar to soak it thoroughly, and prayed to God asking Him to display His power to His enemies so they would know who He is. God answered and consumed the offering Elijah had set up in an instant. The terrified crowd of onlookers and the 450 prophets of Baal cried out “The LORD He is God, the LORD He is God.” Elijah gave the order, all 450 false prophets were seized and killed while and Ahab fled to tell Jezebel all that had taken place. She heard, became furious, and vowed to kill Elijah as he had so gruesomely killed her prophets. Then comes a surprise. Elijah, who had so bravely and courageously stood against God’s enemies, heard Jezebel’s threat and was so terrified that he ran for his life.
Surprising and startling that Elijah would plunge into such deep distress and despair directly after such a great victory. Yet, he does. As surprising and startling this moment is for Elijah, moments like this throughout the Bible are not rare, and if we’re honest moments like this take place in our own life too, more often than we’d probably care to admit. It’s these moments that remind us of our utter inability and God’s astounding grace. In our text today we see such a distressing moment in David’s life, and we learn much from it.
Follow along as I read 1 Samuel 27:1-28:2.
In v1 we see the crushing moment of despair for David. This moment is as surprising as Elijah’s sudden despair after the victory on top of Carmel. Since chapter 18 Saul had been jealous of David and had been trying to kill him in various ways. But as Saul’s folly continues God gives such rich encouragement to David. Twice in the past few chapters (at the end of chapter 24 and chapter 26) God had reassured David that he would deal with Saul, give him the throne, and make him very successful as king. As chapter 26 ends we get the feeling that David has this deep reassurance from God after a clear weaponless victory over Saul and his entire camp. But as soon as we get into 27:1 we see a sharp turn of events. David says to himself, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.”
Though he knew that he had been anointed and would be king, and though he had seen God frustrate Saul’s wicked attacks time and time again, you get the feeling from v1 that David could not bear being constantly hunted, that David could not bear the seemingly unending game of hide-and-seek he and Saul were playing. Perhaps it made him weary to always feel on the run, perhaps it was that he now had wives and 600 men to care for, perhaps he felt that his demise was inevitable if he stayed in Israel. So, he decides to leave. His plan, given to us in v2-4, is to go back to Gath, the large Philistine city where king Achish lived to escape the reach of Saul. Recall 21:10-15, the last time David went to Gath for aid he had not been welcomed and acted the part of a madman to save himself. This time he, his family, and his men are welcomed and they take up residence in Gath with Achish. And as David guessed Saul quit looking for him once he heard he had gone over the border.
These first four verses have a depressing weight to them. It’s as if David finds himself where Bunyan’s character ‘Christian’ in Pilgrim’s Progress once was, trapped in Doubting Castle believing the lies of Giant Despair. It’s only natural for us to see this hopeless turn of events and think of the dark nights of the soul we have had in our lives, when we have despaired and wept and cried out in lament. Everyone of us, at one time or another, walks into a season of shadow. Even though we are the children of God, and even though the Spirit of God fills our hearts with all kinds of wonderful things – we who have known what it is to walk in the sunlight enjoy the sunlight so much because we know what it is to walk in the shadows.
David has just entered a shadow, and before moving on, look at one small detail in v1.
1) The importance of soul talk: in v1 notice what it says, “Then David said in his heart.” David is talking to himself here and it’s a curious thing to notice that what he says to himself in v1 largely determines his actions throughout this chapter. Learn here the importance of soul talk. We constantly talk to ourselves, and what we say by and large determines what we do. How important is it then, to speak the truth to our souls everyday? The Psalmist does this in Psalm 42-43, when hopelessness hits him he literally speaks to his soul saying “Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation, and my God.” David even says this later in life when he writes Psalm 62 saying in v5, “For God alone, o my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.” This is even more pointed when we compare this v1 moment with 26:10. In 26:10 David was confidently telling Abishai that God would handle Saul. In 26:10 David uses the Hebrew word safah (to perish) saying that God would one day allow Saul to perish, whether by battle, or by old age, or by striking him down. In v1 David now uses the same word in relation to himself. He now believes that he will soon ‘safah’ or perish by the hand of Saul unless he escapes to the Philistines. This is a quick drastic reversal of what God has told him. God has told him otherwise, that Saul wouldn’t have the last word over his life. But in the midst of the despairing fog David is in, do you see how quickly he forgot what God said and trusted in other things? David forgot God’s promise to him, and trusted in the safety of the Philistines instead, and because he’s constantly talking to himself, he convinces himself that this is a good decision.
Because we too constantly talk to ourselves, we must take great care that what we’re saying is informed and inflamed by the gospel. Soul talk may sound strange to us in our modern times but it was a familiar concept to Christians of former generations. We would do well to 1) be careful what we tell ourselves, because it will likely determine what we do in life, and 2) to learn how to wield our private inner soul talk conversation to holy ends.
In v5 we see David asking to Achish to move, probably due to the uneasy nature of living directly underneath the eye of their enemy. Achish grants his request and gives David the city of Ziklag to live in. Ziklag was a good place for David and his men to be, he knew that. It was a border-town in the foothills between Philistia and South Israel (Judah). It was originally given Simeon in Joshua 19:5 and was listed among Judah’s towns after the conquest. But that Achish was able to give it to David indicates that it was either never fully occupied by Simeon or that it had been re-conquered sometime by the Philistines. Being in Ziklag had a double advantage for David: it was far away from Saul and the Philistine capital cities. Why then was Achish willing to allow David to live there? Achish may have seen it as a political move. David would not only protect the Philistine southern border from enemies, but placing David that close to the southern Israelites (to Judah) may cause David to gain their support against Saul, which would mean that Achish would gain a huge army against Saul. Achish gives Ziklag to David in v6 and we read that David lived there with his family and all of his men for 16 months.
When we get to v8-12 we come to the crux of the passage. It is the crux of the passage because it’s where our passage shows us it’s main point. So far in this chapter we haven’t seen much good from David, but here we see good and we see bad from him. Bottom line: we see that David is a mixed bag.
Let’s see what he did. v8-12 says David regularly left Ziklag and went on raids against certain people groups: v8 names these peoples: the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites… “for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old.” Do these peoples sound familiar? They should. Modern commentaries and scholars strongly denounce David for doing this, some go as far to call David a butcher for slaughtering these peoples. But older commentaries say something different – older commentaries praise David for raiding and killing these peoples because by doing so he is continuing the conquest of Canaan that Joshua didn’t finish. Remember? When Joshua led Israel over the Jordan into the promise land he led the conquest against all the peoples of the land. God commanded they leave no one alive, that they devote all to destruction. They did this, but they didn’t finish. And the peoples they didn’t get rid of proved to be thorns in Israel’s side. Now come back to David…the reason we get the small detail in v8 that these peoples ‘were inhabitants of the land from of old’ is meant to tell us that even though David’s despairing, hopeless, and not trusting in God, he’s still being an obedient king of Israel by attacking the enemies of God’s people throughout the promise land! David is a mixed bag, disobedient to leave Israel and trust that Achish will protect him from Saul, yet obedient when he picks up where Joshua left off.
More so, David shows his mixed bag nature yet again when he makes his reports about his raids to king Achish. In v10-12 we see that David lied to Achish about who he was really attacking. Rather than telling him the truth (which would’ve likely got him in deep trouble with Achish) David would lie and say he was out attacking the enemies of the Philistines, like the Kenites, the Jerahmeelites, or even the Israelites in Judah. Well from this lie and all the great spoils of war David would constantly bring back to Achish what else is Achish supposed to think?? He sees David’s great ability as a warrior and rejoices and does some soul talk of his own saying to himself “David has made himself an utter stench to his own people, therefore he will be my servant always.” This leads to an overwhelming dilemma for David in 28:1-2. David was so successful in defeating God’s enemies that Achish wanted to make David his own bodyguard when they go fight against Israel!! How is David going to get out of this one? Achish knows David is a mighty warrior, and he is, but Achish was duped into believing that David was out already attacking Israel so to him it’s no big deal to make David his bodyguard when he goes against Israel. But for David…surely the one who is anointed to be king of Israel isn’t going to fight against Israel alongside the Philistines is he?
Once the author of 1 Samuel brings up this dilemma the passage ends, and we as the reader are left thinking…what is David going to do? Nice ending huh?
As for you and I, we’ll have to wait for the rest of the story…but before we end look back over this chapter to see the mixed bag that is David’s heart.
He sins by not trusting God to protect him from Saul and flees to one of the largest Philistine strongholds, Gath, to receive protection from Achish. He then obeys God by strategically moving to Ziklag to continue carrying out the unfinished Canaanite conquest. He sins again when he lies about it, and this sin leads to one of the most stomach churning dilemma’s David has been in yet, being a bodyguard in an army that’s about to attack Israel. This is David. This is who he is. The Scripture shows us his raw, real, and sometimes rotten heart. He sins, he obeys, he sins again and gets in way over his head. See here that the Bible never sugar coats its main characters. David was a sinner and he sinned in some pretty fantastically wicked ways. But guess what? The Bible never sugar coats you and I either…the mixed bag that is David’s heart here in this passage should look familiar. Why?
Because it’s the same heart you have and the same heart I have…Only Jesus Christ was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He stands alone, we stand amazed.