1 Samuel 21:10
And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.
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(10) And David arose and fled·—The cause of this sudden flight was, of course, the fear of Doeg, one of Saul’s most trusted servants. Not an hour must be lost, thought David; my deadly foe will hear that I am here, and I shall be trapped like a hunted beast of prey. It seems at first sight strange that David should dare to go among the Philistines, who had such good cause to hate and fear him, but the son of Jesse ever thought lightly of himself, and had no idea that his person was so well known, or his story so generally current as it subsequently proved to be. (See 1Samuel 21:11.) Of David’s humility, so conspicuously exhibited on this occasion, when he ventured among his foes, not dreaming how great a personage they considered him, the Babylonian Talmud strikingly writes:—“No man in Israel despised himself more than David where the precepts of the Lord were concerned, and this is what he said before God (Psalm 131:1-2), ‘Lord, my heart was not haughty when Samuel anointed me king, nor were mine eyes lofty when I slew Goliath . . . as a child . . . have I likened myself before Thee in not being ashamed to depreciate myself before Thee for Thy glory.’”—Treatise Bamidbar, chap 4.

Achish the king of Gath.—The title “king” is somewhat loosely used in this scene among the Philistines. Achish was one of the Philistine lords, perhaps the hereditary lord of Gath. Achish is called Abimelech in the title of Psalms 34, that apparently being the title, the “nomen dignitatis,” of the hereditary (or elected) chief among the Philistines, like Agag among the Amalekites. It is quite possible that this Achish, although called king of Gath, was the supreme chief or king of the Philistine nation. Gath was the nearest Philistine city to the sanctuary of Nob where David then was.

1 Samuel 21:10. David arose and fed to Achish — A miserable condition, to be forced to flee to those for protection who were naturally his bitter enemies. For this was the city of Goliath whom he had slain, and whose sword he had now about him. But it must be considered that Saul’s rage was so great, and his power and diligence also in hunting after him, that he despaired of escaping any other way; and a desperate disease requireth a desperate remedy. Perhaps indeed he thought he should not be known: or, being now in disgrace with Saul, he thought the Philistines might take him for Saul’s enemy, and so receive him gladly. The king elect is here an exile: anointed to the crown, and yet forced to run his country! So do God’s providences sometimes run counter to his promises, for the trial of our faith, and the glorifying of his name in accomplishing his counsels, notwithstanding the difficulties which lie in the way.

21:10-15 God's persecuted people have often found better usage from Philistines than from Israelites. David had reason to put confidence in Achish, yet he began to be afraid. His conduct was degrading, and discovered wavering in his faith and courage. The more simply we depend on God, and obey him, the more comfortably and surely we shall walk through this troublesome world.Achish king of Gath - It appears from the title that Psalm 34 was composed on this occasion. (See the note there.) Nothing can give a more lively impression of the straits to which David was reduced than the fact of his going to the country of the Philistines. 1Sa 21:10-15. At Gath He Feigns Himself Mad.

10. David … fled … to Achish the king of Gath—which was one of the five principalities of the Philistines. In this place his person must have been known, and to venture into that country, he their greatest enemy, and with the sword of Goliath in his hand, would seem to have been a perilous experiment; but, doubtless, the protection he received implies that he had been directed by the divine oracle. Achish was generous (1Sa 27:6). He might wish to weaken the resources of Saul, and it was common in ancient times for great men to be harbored by neighboring princes.

A strange action; but it must be considered,

1. That Saul’s rage was so great and implacable, his power also and diligence in hunting after him so great, that he despaired of escaping him any other way; and it is not strange if a desperate disease produceth a desperate remedy.

2. David might reasonably think, that being persecuted and banished by Saul, and the Israelites under his command, he should be welcome to the Philistines; who would be glad, not only to be freed from all those evils which he had from time to time done, and was likely further to do to them, but also to make him their friend, and oblige him by their kindness, and to make him the more odious and irreconcilable to Saul and the Israelites.

Quest. But why did he go to these, and not rather to some other neighbour nation?

Answ. Because they were all at peace with Saul; and therefore would certainly have delivered him up, upon Saul’s demands.

And David arose and fled that day for fear of Saul,.... He had fled before for fear of him both from his own house, and from Naioth, 1 Samuel 19:18; but now he fled out of the land of Israel, for fear of him; or it may be the reason of his fear and flight on this day was because of Doeg the Edomite, lest he should go directly to Saul, and tell him where he was; and therefore through fear of him would not stay any longer, but the same day he came, he fled:

and went to Achish the king of Gath; Gath, according to Bunting (p), was twenty four miles from Nob. Achish, the king of it, is called Abimelech in the title of the thirty fourth psalm, see Psalm 34:1, that name being common to the kings of the Philistines, as Pharaoh was to the kings of Egypt. It may seem strange that David should go into an enemy's country, and especially to the country of the Philistines, by whom he was mortally hated for the victories he had obtained over them, and the numbers of them he had slain; and particularly that he should go to Gath, the place of Goliath, their champion, whom he had slain, and whose sword he now had with him: but this is to be said for him, that such was the fury of Saul against him, and his resolution to slay him, that he was as safe in an enemy's country as in the land of Israel; and that if he must die, he might as well die in one place as another; and that he went particularly here, the reason might be, because all other lands were at peace with Saul, and so would have delivered him up to him, had he went elsewhere; but this people were at war with him, and he might hope not to be known by them; and if he was, that they might think it their interest, to detain such a person that was so serviceable to Saul, and so harmful to them; and being Saul's enemy, they might hope to engage him on their side against him; and besides, he might know that Achish was well disposed towards him, as he seems to be, and might like him never the worse for cutting off Goliath's head, who might not be heartily in the interest of Achish. After all, as impolitic as this step of David's may seems to be, it is what great men have taken in their distress, to go over to their enemies, as Themistocles to the Molossians, and Alcibiades to the Lacedemonians.

(p) Travels, &c. p. 136.

And David arose, and {h} fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.

(h) That is, out of Saul's domain.

10–15. David’s flight to Gath

10. and went to Achish] In the extremity of peril, David was driven to take refuge among Saul’s bitterest enemies, and offer himself as a servant to Achish (1 Samuel 21:15). He hoped no doubt that the Philistines would not recognise the stripling who slew their champion. Unlike Themistocles and Alcibiades when they were banished from Athens, he had no intention of turning traitor to his country.

The circumstances of this sojourn at Gath and that recorded in ch. 27 are entirely unlike, and correspond exactly to the difference of occasion. In the present case David went alone, was ill received, and was compelled to feign madness for safety and escape as soon as possible: later on when his breach with Saul was notorious, he went with a numerous following, was received and established at Ziklag, and remained for more than a year.

Verse 10. - David arose and fled that day. The presence of Doeg at Nob was a most untoward circumstance; and though David could never have anticipated that Saul would visit upon the priests the unwitting assistance they had given him with such barbarous ferocity, yet he must have felt sure that an active pursuit would be at once instituted against himself. He therefore took a most unwise and precipitate step, but one which clearly shows the greatness of the danger to which he was exposed. For he flees to Achish, king of Gath, the first town upon the Philistine border, at the mouth of the valley of Elah (see on 1 Samuel 17:3). Achish is called Abimelech in the title of Psalm 34, written by David in grateful commemoration of his escape, that being the official title of the kings of Gath handed down through many successive centuries (see Genesis 26:1). It has been objected that nothing could be more improbable than that David, the conqueror of Goliath, should seek refuge with a Philistine lord, and that this is nothing more than a popular tale, which has grown out of the real fact recorded in ch. 27. But when men are in desperate straits they take wild resolutions, and this meeting with Doeg, just after he had broken down with grief (1 Samuel 20:41), evidently put David to his wits' end. As, moreover, Saul was degenerating into a cruel tyrant, desertions may have become not uncommon, and though only three or four years can have elapsed since the battle of Elah, as David was only about twenty-four years of age at Saul's death, yet the change from a boyish stripling to a bearded man was enough to make it possible that David might not be recognised. As for Goliath's sword, we have seen that it was not remarkable for its size, and was probably of the ordinary pattern imported from Greece. Even if recognised, Achish might welcome him as a deserter from Saul, the great enemy of the Philistines; for as a deserter never received pardon or mercy, he must now use his prowess to the very utmost against Saul. Finally, the historical truth of the narrative is vouched for by Psalm 34, and the details are all different from those in ch. 27. David there is a powerful chieftain with a large following of trained soldiers, and feels so secure that he takes his wives with him; he asks for some place in which to reside, and occupies himself in continual forays. Here he is in the utmost distress, has no trained band of soldiers, and goes well nigh mad with mental anguish. And this is in exact keeping with that extreme excitement to which David was a prey in his last interview with Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:41); and only in his first grief at Saul's cruel bitterness would his mind have been so affected, and his conduct so rash. 1 Samuel 21:10David with Achish at Gath. - David fled from Nob to Achish of Gath. This Philistian king is called Abimelech in the heading of Psalm 34, according to the standing title of the Philistian princes at Gath. The fact that David fled at once out of the land, and that to the Philistines at Gath, may be accounted for from the great agitation into which he had been thrown by the information he had received from Jonathan concerning Saul's implacable hatred. As some years had passed since the defeat of Goliath, and the conqueror of Goliath was probably not personally known to many of the Philistines, he might hope that he should not be recognised in Gath, and that he might receive a welcome there with his few attendants, as a fugitive who had been driven away by Saul, the leading foe of the Philistines.

(Note: This removes the objection raised by modern critics to the historical credibility of the narrative before us, namely, that David would certainly not have taken refuge at once with the Philistines, but would only have gone to them in the utmost extremity (Thenius). It is impossible to see how the words "he fled that day for fear of Saul" (1 Samuel 21:11) are to prove that this section originally stood in a different connection, and are only arbitrarily inserted here (Thenius). Unless we tear away the words in the most arbitrary manner from the foregoing word ויּברח, they not only appear quite suitable, but even necessary, since David's journey to Abimelech was not a flight, or at all events it is not described as a flight in the text; and David's flight from Saul really began with his departure from Nob. Still less can the legendary origin of this account be inferred from the fact that some years afterwards David really did take refuge with Achish in the Philistian country (1 Samuel 27:1-12 and 1 Samuel 29:1-11), or the conjecture sustained that this is only a distorted legend of that occurrence. For if the later sojourn of David with Achish be a historical fact, that popular legend could not possibly have assumed a form so utterly different as the account before us, to say nothing of the fact that this occurrence has a firm historical support in Psalm 34:1.)

But in this he was mistaken. He was recognised at once by the courtiers of Achish. They said to their prince, "Is not this David the king of the land? Have they not sung in circles, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?" (cf. 1 Samuel 18:6-7). "King of the land" they call David, not because his anointing and divine election were known to them, but on account of his victorious deeds, which had thrown Saul entirely into the shade. Whether they intended by these words to celebrate David as a hero, or to point him out to their prince as a dangerous man, cannot be gathered from the words themselves, nor can the question be decided with certainty at all (cf. 1 Samuel 29:5).

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