1 SAMUEL #26. CHAPTER 27:1-12
David was not a great hero of the faith because he was particularly righteous. He became one of the Bible’s great ones because whenever he failed, he returned to the Lord seeking mercy, and went back to trusting God again.
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Many people have the misunderstanding that David only failed spiritually once in his life, in the matter with Bathsheba. If you have been following this sermon series, however, you will have noticed that in fact, David has already failed a number times in his life, both spiritually and in terms of achieving his goals. The picture we have of David is not a man who was almost perfect. Instead, he is a very flawed human being. But he was a person who was always willing to admit his mistakes, and he continually looked to the Lord (not to himself or to others) for forgiveness, help and encouragement.
Chapter twenty-seven records yet another time when David failed spiritually. The last time the Lord spoke to David about where he should be making his base, he said, through the prophet Gad, that David should stay in the land of Israel, in the territory of the Tribe of Judah (1 Samuel 22:5).
David did that for several years, but it was brutal. He and his men couldn’t live in a town for fear that Saul would catch them. If they stayed in a town, but escaped before Saul got to them, it was likely that Saul would punish the citizens of that place. So David and his men lived in caves and outdoors. They couldn’t farm to support themselves. There were six-hundred of them, so they couldn’t hunt or gather enough food either. They relied on friends and strangers to help them through their tough times. But often, the people alerted Saul to their location, and they found themselves running for their lives. They continued to barely survive, but it didn’t look (at least on the outside) like they were doing anything constructive.
At one point, it looked like David had convinced Saul to leave him alone, by sparing Saul’s life in the cave. But Saul eventually came back, and David was so surprised, he had to go see for himself. Last time we saw how David once again dramatically showed Saul that he meant him no harm. This caused Saul to leave again, but you can almost see the wheels turning in David’s head, as he realizes that Saul will never leave him alone for good. If sparing his life the first time would not convince Saul that David was a loyal subject, nothing could.
There is something else that the text mentions that we haven’t talked about yet. These men were young, but many of them, including David, had families (v.2). Living like they were, it must have been hard on their wives and children.
So David does something uncharacteristic – he makes a unilateral decision without consulting the Lord. The last thing he heard on the subject was that he should stay in the territory of Judah. Without asking God again, he takes his men and their families and goes to the territory of the Philistines. The Hebrew shows David’s thoughts to be something like this: “There is nothing good left for me. So I’ll go to the Philistines.”
Now, we should be careful stating absolutely that David was sinning here. The scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. But I think we can say that to do this without asking God was unusual for David, and it did not reflect the relationship of trust in the Lord that he normally had. In fact, it seems more like something that Saul would do, than David. At the very least, it looks like David made a decision that was based more on fear, hopelessness and weariness than on faith. We can also see that as a result, he put himself in a position where he had to be deceptive.
He went back to Achish, king of the Philistine city of Gath – the same place he went when he first fled from Saul (chapter 21). No doubt Achish has heard what David has been doing since he left last time, and he knows now that David is not insane. Even so, David might be a powerful ally. He is bringing six-hundred men who have been hardened by the wilderness and by some battles. He is technically the enemy of Saul, king of Israel. So Achish once again allows David to take refuge in his territory. He sees the potential in an alliance, and also the potential danger in picking a fight with David and his six-hundred hard men.
This time, however, David is a little wiser, and seeks to keep physical distance between himself and the king. He asks if he and his men can stay in some town out in the country, away from the capital, Gath. So Achish gave David the town of Ziklag to live in.
Four hundred years before, when Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan river, the entire land was given to the Israelites by God. They still had to enter in and take possession of the land by driving out the pagan tribes – but the Lord promised to be with them and help them do that. However, no tribe truly trusted God enough to fully possess what he had promised. So the town of Ziklag was supposed to belong to the tribe of Judah – but they had never actually taken possession of it, being too afraid to challenge the Philistines. Now, David – a man from the tribe of Judah – receives this little town as a gift, without any fight at all.
We could look at this and say, “Oh, I guess David did the right thing after all, because things began to work out for him.” But I don’t think so. Just a little more than a year after David went to the Philistines, David’s problem with Saul was solved, and he was free to live in any city in Israel. This would have happened whether or not he had gone to live in Philistine territory. So I don’t think the gift of Ziklag was God’s endorsement on David’s actions. Instead, I think it shows us how gracious God is. Even when David was afraid and more or less ran away, the Lord blessed him, and through him, blessed his people. The Lord did not allow David’s fear and lack of faith to hinder what He (God) wanted to do. Though David didn’t deserve it, God used him anyway. Though David didn’t deserve it, God allowed he and his men to have a time of relative rest and stability. God continues to work, no matter what happens. Our own failure will never stop him from being at work.
There is something else that strikes me. Right or wrong, now that David has done this, the Lord moves forward from here, and he leads David to do the same. Remember in chapter 15, earlier in Saul’s reign, the Lord told Saul to wipe out the tribe called the Amalekites? Saul only partly obeyed. He didn’t carry out the war the way the Lord asked. But now David begins a campaign of raids against the Amalekite clans. In each raid, he completely wiped out everyone he found. This was something that God wanted to happen. We don’t have time and space to re-hash all the discussion about Holy War, where we considered why God might want to do this. Go back to http://tinyurl.com/7zuaqcv to review this subject. The point here, is that David, even after he messed up, is back on track. He is letting the Lord accomplish his purposes through his (David’s) life. David and his men were warriors, with the hearts and desires that go along with that. So the Lord used them just as he made them. Even so, there is an obedience here. They weren’t fighting just anyone they could find. They were letting the Lord fight His battles through them, making war only when and where the Lord led them to.
Unfortunately, David had to engage is some deliberate deception at this point. King Achish wanted to know what he was up to. So David replied accurately, but deceptively. He said he was raiding in the southern territories of Judah and Israel. Technically, that was true. All that land was supposed to belong to Israel, including the places where David fought the Amalekites. But he certainly was not fighting other Israelites. Even so, he let Achish believe that he was making war on his own countrymen.
Now, we might say that David’s deception was part of the war between Israel and the Philistines, and therefore it is justified. After all, Achish was actually David’s enemy, though they were in a temporary truce. So it is almost like a spy lying to the enemy – it is an act of war, not a sin. I won’t say that interpretation is definitely wrong. And in the short term, David’s deception allowed him and his men to be at peace, and to advance God’s agenda.
Even so, David’s deception led to problems in the future – even as it had in the past. It put him in a very awkward position not too long after this. He had to be saved from that position by people and circumstances beyond his control. In fact, I suspect it was the Lord who saved him from the consequences of his own lies.
In the long run, true honesty is always the best policy. The fact that David put himself in a position where he basically had to lie, is one reason that I suspect that God did not lead him to go live among the Philistines. In addition, I am not sure why David and his men could not have raided the Amalekites from their base in the Wilderness of Judah, and thus gained much needed supplies and food.
Here are some things that I personally take away from this passage:
One thing that strikes me is how the Lord moves forward with us and with his plan, even when we take a wrong turn. We don’t go back to where we screwed up and do it over. Instead, the Lord mercifully picks us up where we are, gets us back on track. He didn’t make David go back to Judah and start over. Instead he adapted his plan, accounting for David’s mistake.
As we have seen before, the main goal in the life of faith is to trust God. If we do that, our behavior will naturally be pleasing to God. And even when we fail, if we return to a place of faith and trust, God is overwhelmingly gracious. Despite David’s failure, God gave him stability and rest, and through him, restored to Israel one of the towns that had been given them. Despite David’s failure, he continued to use him and bless him. I can trust that the Lord will deal with me in the same. I know I am not perfect – not in behavior, not even in how well I trust God. Because of Jesus, my failure is not the final word, not the most important factor. God’s grace is always a bigger factor than my failure. God has a way of turning failure into gracious victory and blessing. That takes a lot of pressure off me.
What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?