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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 27
Today, we will study 1 Samuel 27. This is probably the most difficult chapter in the book to understand. I’m going to do my best with it but forgive me if I get it wrong.
1 Then David said in his heart, “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.”
Do you see why this is going to be so difficult to understand? Until now, David has shown us a remarkable faith. He stood up to a giant when no one else would fight. He’s trusted God to provide for his men in the wilderness. He has confronted Saul twice without fearing for his life.
This verse seems so out of character for David. Where is the man’s faith? This is not courage. This is not faith. This is despair.
Notice that he doesn’t ask God what he should be doing. He makes this decision in his heart and his heart leads him to the absurd belief that he will be safer among his enemies. He leaves his homeland and escapes to his enemies. And God is silent.
2 So David arose and went over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath.
3 And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal’s widow. 4 And when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he no longer sought him.
If you remember, this is actually the second time David fled to Gath. Gath was the hometown of Goliath and this is the same king as before. Back in chapter 21, David went to Gath alone and the king arrested him. David pretended to be insane, and they let him go.
Now David returns with an army – six hundred men, but they have wives and children and servants. Really, this is more like 6 or 7 thousand people. The circumstances have changed.
5 Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be given me in one of the country towns, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?”
6 So that day Achish gave him Ziklag. Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. 7 And the number of the days that David lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months.
David is basically asking for an alliance, but clearly submitting himself to Achish – a Gentile king. He asks for a town and he is given the town of Ziglag. Here’s where things get interesting. Ziglag was actually a town inside the promised land. It was part of the territory set aside for the tribe of Judah, but it had never been conquered.
In other words, this may have been David’s plan all along. He didn’t actually abandon Israel. He just negotiated a safe haven inside the promised land in a town that rightfully belonged to his own tribe, the tribe of Judah.
And yet, God is still silent.
8 Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt.
These tribes were occupying unconquered regions of the promised land. David uses his new location to make raids against these tribes and take territory for Israel. But Achish had no idea this is what David was doing.
9 And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish.
10 When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.”
This was very clever. David was not technically lying. These were the geographical regions he attacked. But he made it sound like he had attacked Israelites. That’s what he wanted Achish to believe.
11 And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’” Such was his custom all the while he lived in the country of the Philistines.
12 And Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.”
As the old pirate saying goes, “Dead men tell no tales.” David kills everyone to keep the king from hearing the truth. He’s not attacking Israelites, but Gentiles.
Notice that David’s trick works. Achish thinks David has been killing his own people.
But what about the moral dilemma here? Is this OK that David does this? Not just the deception, but also the killing… he’s killing women!
Some commentaries defend David by saying that these people were already under a curse from God. Remember that the Canaanite tribes were sacrificing children and doing other terrible things. David was only doing what God had commanded Joshua to do long ago.
But other commentaries say David goes to far to protect himself or that he’s doing this for profit, not for the glory of the Lord.
The truth is we don’t know because the writer doesn’t tell us what God thinks about this. He just gives us the story and God is silent.
But we’re going to end with the first 2 verses of chapter 28, which is a cliffhanger.
28:1 In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.”
This is a problem. The jig is up. David won’t be able to hide the truth any longer, but he at least buys himself some time to think.
2 David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”
David was a smart man. He gave an answer that sounded good to Achish, but notice he didn’t really say anything. We won’t find out how this story ends until chapter 29, but this is the end of our text for today.
Now, what in the world do we do with it?
On the one hand, David proved himself to be a strong, gifted man. He was a shrewd leader.
On the other hand, David followed his heart in this chapter instead of following God.
Is David a good example here or a bad example? The writer doesn’t help us decide because God was silent in this story.
And you probably won’t hear many sermons on this chapter because it is so difficult to apply.
But there is one thing I want us to learn from it. There’s actually a grid we can use to help evaluate David’s actions and ours.
Every action we take can be placed somewhere on this grid.
Sometimes we do the right things for the right reasons, but the only person who ever did this all the time was Jesus.
Sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons. For instance, I might give money to charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen because I want the praise and recognition – not because I sincerely want to love and serve other people.
Sometimes we do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Those actions are clearly sinful, right? No one would dispute that. Like the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues”. He says, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” That’s just bad. We would all agree.
But sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons, at least we think what we are doing is justified. For instance, Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie A Time to Kill was charged with murdering the two men who assaulted his daughter. In the most famous scene, the prosecutor asks Jackson’s character if those men deserved to die and he yells, “Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell.” And every man in this room resonates with that response, but it was still wrong.
Our intentions don’t matter when we commit sin. They do not soften God’s response to our sin.
Proverbs 14:12 – “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
The truth is that most of us believe we are doing the right thing, even when we are doing the wrong thing. T.S. Elliot said, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” He’s right. This is what we do.
Facebook creator Mark Zuckerburg is in the media spotlight right now because of leaked documents showing that his company may be damaging society in profound ways. I read an interview this week with a lady named Kara Swisher, a journalist who has followed Mark since 2010. She talks about the fact that Mark Zuckerburg really believes he is doing the right thing. He has a positive belief in humanity and sincerely wants his platform to help the world.
But it may be hurting us, not helping us. At the end of the interview, she says this:
“He’s willing to take people’s private information and tell you he knows what’s best. But he doesn’t know what’s best, and he never did. It’s so easy to make him evil. I don’t think he’s evil. That’s sort of an easy way out of it. There’s a really famous quote that says, ‘Evil is unspectacular and always human.’ Mark is very human. That’s the problem.”
And so are we. We are very human. And so was David. I don’t know if what David did in chapter 27 was right or wrong, but I doubt his intentions were good because of what verse 1 says about his heart. He went to Gath for the wrong reasons.
And this is everyone I know, including myself, every day. Sometimes, by God’s grace, I may do the right thing. Sometimes I do the wrong thing and I know it is wrong. But very often I do the wrong thing, thinking I’m doing the right thing. That is the human problem.
But there’s good news. And even in this seemingly godless chapter, there is a hint of that good news. Even here.
We could describe this chapter as a self-exile. Exile in the Bible is something God usually did to his people when they broke the covenant. Exile was a curse, but God used it to lead His people to repentance. David was not being forced into exile by God. He chose it. He self-exiled.
Can you think of anyone else in the Bible who self-exiled? The answer is Jesus.
The cross was a self-exile. Jesus went to the cross willingly. He suffered willingly. He placed himself into exile. He placed himself under the curse of sin and death. The Scriptures had said, “Cursed is any man who hangs on a tree.”
And there was a moment when that exile became painfully clear, when Jesus cried out on the cross – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
But who said that first? King David in Psalm 22. And so, what did Jesus do? He became very human. He took David’s place… and my place… and your place… He took the place of all God’s people.
He exiled Himself to bring us back into fellowship, even though we have spent and will spend our entire lives doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons and the wrong things for the right reasons and the right things for the wrong reasons.
Jesus was David’s hope. He is my hope. He is your only hope. Rest your faith in Him.