By Samuel Ridout
David with the Philistines
1 Samuel 29.
But where, may we ask, was the man after God's own heart during this sad hour of Israel's shame? Heretofore he has been the deliverer of the people from their enemy, the champion who had gone down into the valley of Elah, taking his life in his hands and facing the whole Philistine army with nothing but his own feebleness and faith in God's almighty power. He had "slain his ten thousands" when Saul at his best had slain but thousands. Alas for man, even for the best! We find him here outwardly associated with the very enemy whom he had so often defeated. If Saul's final overthrow can be directly traced to the sparing of Amalek, David's outward association with the enemies of God can be as directly traced to his departing from the inheritance of the Lord and taking his case out of divine hands.
The chapter before us is one of many illustrations of the truth that, for the child of God as well as for the man of the world, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Let us, however, trace the story first, and then gather its manifest lessons.
The Philistines are gathered together again for war against Israel, and David is accompanying them in the rear with Achish, his special master. The Philistine princes demur to this, and insist that David must withdraw. Achish pleads that David has been faithful during his entire stay with him, but the Philistines cannot forget that this is the very one of whom it had been said, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." The princes overrule Achish, and David must depart. They pertinently ask, "What better could he do than turn over to Israel in the heat of battle, and join them in their conflict? Would not this last proof of loyalty to Saul heal any breach between them?" Achish reluctantly consents; and while assuring David of his complete confidence in him and his entire course, commands him to take his leave.
With great show of disappointment, David pleads, and uses words as to Israel which, if conscience were not entirely asleep, must have been to him most bitter. For the deliverer of Israel to speak of them as "the enemies of my lord the king" was indeed a humiliation. Achish cannot yield, even though David is as an angel of God to him; and David, rising up early, departs into the land of the Philistines, instead of going against his own people.
What would David have done had he been permitted to continue with the Philistines? Would he really have drawn his sword against the people of God and fought against the Lord's anointed, or would the anticipation of the lords of the Philistines have been fulfilled, and would they have found themselves assailed from their own ranks by David in the midst of the battle?
There seems little doubt that the latter would have been true. We can hardly think of this man of faith actually drawing his sword against Israel. They were the sheep whom he loved, for whom he had endangered his life on many a hard-fought battle-field. He knew the heart of many toward him, and, above all, he could not forget the purpose of God, both with regard to them and himself. We have seen, however, how he had put himself in an absolutely false position by leaving the land and going down to the Philistines for protection, and it might be contended that this declension had gone so far that he would even fight against his own people.
One glimpse indicates both the state of his mind and the evident purpose which he had formed. He had already gone against the Amalekites and others in the south country, put them to death, and brought back their spoil. In explaining his absence to Achish, he had declared that he had gone into the country of Judea and assailed his own brethren; and this, Achish believed. David shows that while he was so far from God that he could readily lie about his movements, he was not so lost to his responsibilities that he would actually fight against the people of God. Most likely, therefore, he had a similar plan for the present.
But what should we say of the state of soul which made such a line of action possible? How dishonoring to God, how humiliating to David, what an abuse of the confidence reposed in him by Achish king of the Philistines, was a course like this! The very fact that we are obliged to search for proofs that will exculpate him from the charge of treason is a great humiliation. When he was in the Valley of Elah, no such proofs were necessary; nor when he delivered Keilah from these Philistines; nor when, though a fugitive, he dwelt still in the country that God had given to Israel. His conduct was above reproach then, his attitude unmistakable, and therefore no explanations necessary.
Here we search in vain for any hint of God's interposing to vindicate His servant. From the narrative before us, we could not even gather whether David was for or against the Philistines. If he were brought to trial, the outward evidence would be of treason to Israel. And God will not link His holy name with gross lapses of faith and manifest departure from the path of uprightness. So far as the Old Testament is concerned, a cloud rests upon the last days of Lot, and also upon those of king Solomon. God is not at pains to declare that either of these was His own. It must be left to prayerful examination for us to gather the comforting thought from Scripture, far removed from the immediate narrative, that the one was a "righteous" man, and the other "beloved of the Lord his God." There is instruction in this of the gravest importance. God is not ashamed to be called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but He is ashamed to be called the God of Lot.
Therefore He gives us also in this humbling narrative of David the bare facts, and leaves us to gather comfort from other Scriptures, and from the well-known character of His beloved servant. So serious is the lapse of unbelief.
What a merciful interposition it was on God's part! If David had done nothing to avoid the awful disgrace of the dilemma in which he had put himself, either to be a traitor to Israel or to Achish, God rescues His unworthy servant through the very opposition of those to whom he would ally himself. We may well believe that later on David unfeignedly blessed God for His mercy in this regard.
How often, alas, do we make it necessary that we should be rescued from our own path of unbelief by the manifest providence of God, rather than by the energy of a faith which turns to Him! We cannot censure David as though we were innocent, but seek to learn from the lesson which God has given us here that all such departure from God is a grievous dishonor to His name, and that if we are spared from the outward consequences of our own unbelief, it is not because of any faithfulness on our part, but because of Him whose mercy endureth forever.