1 Samuel 27:1–12 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions

“David Deceives the King of Philistia”

It should be clear to you, after seeing in the last few weeks' of reading and discussions, that David's commitment to God resulted in his continuing to be God's instrument of blessing to the Israelites while also being God's instrument of judgment to Israel's enemies. We'll now see this to be true, in spite of David's failure to seek guidance from the Lord, before moving back into Philistine territory. David's strength continued to grow as Saul's continued to wane. In these last chapters of 1 Samuel, the writer continued to move back and forth: first describing David's activities, then Saul's, then David's, and then Saul's. This side-by-side technique puts the fates of both men in stark contrast.

In last week's summary of 1 Sam. 26:1-25, David shined as a man of faith in the Lord. However, in chapter 27, we'll see how he'll lose his perspective by leaving the Lord out of his decision and fleeing toward and uniting with the Philistines — Israel’s enemies. He'd become depressed because he believed that he'd soon be killed by Saul (v. 1) Depression drove him to disobedience, which resulted in danger, which led him to a disaster, which eventually ended up with his returning to the Lord.

David Seeks Asylum with the Philistines (27:1–7)

In v. 1, we learn that David believed he'd perish or be destroyed, possibly by Saul's hand, sword, or spear. That verse's text seems to suggest a fairly close proximity between the events of chapters 26 and 27. No significant time span is indicated; neither are any crisis situations described that would explain David’s sudden change of heart, as things now get more interesting. David, who was so confident that God would protect his life (24:15) and who'd been assured of this by Abigail (25:29), now speaks of his death as a certainty, if he doesn't flee to the land of the Philistines where he feels assured of his safety. Having said in the previous chapter that it was Saul who'd perish (26:10), David now says that it's he who'll perish.

Knowing that he'd never be safe so long as Saul lived, David once again sought asylum with Achish, king of the Philistine city of Gath. The first time David had sought refuge in Gath, he went there alone, then fled when he realized how vulnerable he was (21:10–15). This time he went to King Achish as a vassal (a person in a subordinate position to another), being a warlord with 600 warriors. Becoming Achish's vassal, David received protection from him. As a result, he also owed tribute to Achish and was required to defend Gath by fighting with and for the Philistines while at war.

King Achish welcomed David on the simple basis that "my enemy's enemy is my friend." And it had the desired effect: "When Saul was told that David had fled to Gath, he no longer searched for him" (v. 4). But do you wonder, Why would David have been welcomed by King Achish in Philistia? It's probable that Achish and other Philistine lords rejoiced at seeing the rift that existed between David and Saul. If so, Achish would have been willing for David and his men to live in Philistia, apparently as mercenaries. Achish appears to have treated David as a vassal ruler, giving David the town of Ziklag, in which he'd live peacefully for sixteen months, as a sphere of operation for him; his move was a fairly major relocation for him, his forces, and his family (v. 3). He evidently planned to stay in Philistia until God disposed of Saul. Since David now enjoyed Philistine protection, Saul no longer searched for him because he'd have had to take on the Philistines to get to David, and he obviously wouldn't have wanted to do that. Had David sinned by aligning himself with his enemy for his protection?

The personification of "sin" never comes to us, saying, If you'd like to ruin your life and the lives of those you love, follow me! Rather, it comes to us, often when we’re in a difficult situation, offering a seemingly attractive alternative. Eve yielded to the temptation to sin because she saw that the forbidden fruit was “good for food, . . . a delight to the eyes, and . . . desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). Sin always snags us by deceiving us into thinking that it'll get us what we want.

In David’s case, he'd been running from Saul for about eight years! Imagine that: For eight years you've been pursued by a madman and his army, intent on killing you! Saul had been relentless in pursuing David. Finally (v. 1), “David thought to himself, ‘One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.'”

Question: What’s wrong with David’s thinking here? Answer: It’s contrary to God’s Word! . . . God had promised that David would succeed Saul on the throne of Israel (15:28–29; 16:12). David himself had recently affirmed his trust in God’s promise (26:10). But in the opening verse, we can't find any mention of God being involved in David’s decision! He didn't seek the Lord on this major change of direction in his life. Rather, he got tired of the extended trial he was under, thinking only of a human solution that was to relieve him of pressures. So he chose his path without first seeking God's direction.

As we learn of David's struggles and ultimate failure to surrender his will to God's, it's apparent that Achish must have also been struggling: He now had to feed David's 600 men and their families in Gath. And David wouldn't have wanted to be so closely watched by King Achish. After all, David didn't share the Philistines' religion and values. So he brought this request to Achish.

Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be assigned to me in one of the country towns, that I may live there. Why should your servant live in the royal city with you?”

6So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since. 7David lived in Philistine territory a year and four months (1 Sam. 27:5–7).

Pulling the Wool Over King Achish’s Eyes (vv. 8–12)

True, David and his men were given a place in which to live. But they also needed a means of livelihood. His solution to this problem was indeed ingenious and deceptive. He used the town of Ziklag as his headquarters, his base of operations. From there, he and his hearty soldiers went about a larger area, raiding the cities and camps of Israel’s enemies.

We see in v. 8 that David used the opportunity that his vassal location in Ziklag afforded him to defeat and annihilate the common enemies of Israel and the Philistines that lived to Israel's southwest. He obliterated the enemy population and plundered their livestock, clothing, etc. The Amalekites, especially, were enemies of the Israelites. They'd attacked the Israelites when they were being led by Moses through the wilderness, and the Israelites never forgot what they'd done to their forefathers. He was clearing the Promised Land of foreign foes [again] so the Israelites could occupy it. He walked a thin line of deception; he was, through his lies, able to convince King Achish that his victories were for the welfare of the king and his Philistine nation. Really, he was conquering Israel's surrounding enemies, while giving Achish the impression that his raids were against the southern portions in Judah.

King Achish believed that, because David had alienated himself from the Israelites, he'd therefore be loyal to him from then on (v. 12). (The historian Josephus added that David sent part of the spoils that he took in war to Achish as a gift.) When David brought Achish tribute, he was asked about his raids: David lied to him when he said that he'd raided and killed those in the Negev (desert areas) populated by people of the tribe of Judah (his own Israelite tribe) and its allies, the clans of Jerahmeel or the Kenites. No one could have caught David in this lie because he'd apparently killed everybody. As a result, Achish trusted David, saying to himself: "He has become so obnoxious ["odious," NASB] to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant forever" (v. 12).

Closing Considerations

David may not have been wise in fleeing to the Philistines for safety, but he was certainly cunning and clever. King Achish possibly thought himself to be shrewd, while we readers of this text might be more inclined to think of him as being naive and gullible. David had approached this Philistine as a “defector,” whom Achish was inclined to view as a real prize, a “feather in his cap.” David’s presence among the Philistines appeared to have been an asset to Achish. After all, from all appearances, David was fighting for the Philistines, against the Israelites (v. 10), which must have meant that the Israelites would never take David back, certainly not as their king. Rather than consume Achish's resources, David became a contributor. After every raid, David apparently reported to Achish the conquests, while giving him a portion of the spoils (v. 9). Achish probably thought that he had David in the palm of his hand and that he could continue to “use” him to his full advantage.

However, Achish wasn't very perceptive. David wasn't killing off Israelites at all, but the enemies of Israel, doing it all successfully from his sanctuary in Ziklag. While we're not so told in this text, it won't be long before we learn that David will share some of his war spoils with the very people he appeared to be killing — his kinsmen! [Stay tuned for that episode's revelation in three weeks.]

Do you think that David at this time might have been mentally patting himself on the back? Perhaps he felt, It can’t get any better than this. After all, he no longer had to hide out in the desolate “God forsaken” wilderness areas of Israel; he could freely go anywhere he wanted, albeit being respected; he could even drop in on the king; he didn't have to “beg” for a handout for his men but lived high on the spoils of his raids. And if Saul would no longer deal with Israel's enemies who surrounded this nation, David would. He seemed to have the best of both worlds: the Israelites and the Philistines. So it appeared, but not for long. Check back next week when we review details in our summary of 28:1–25.

Intro Video: “The First Book of Samuel”

 Watch this introductory video clip created by The Bible Project on bibleproject.com.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  Was it God's will for David to leave Israel and move to Philistia?
  • Q. 2  David looked at Saul instead of God; he listened to himself, not to God. Have you ever done either? Both?
  • Q. 3  What has worked effectively for you at surrendering to God's ways, will, and plans?

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