Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1Samuel 27:1-12) David and his Band take Refuge with Achish, King of Gath, who Receives him Kindly, and gives him Ziklag as a Residence—Their Expeditions against the Nomad Tribes lying south of Canaan.
And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand.(1) And David said in his heart.—David’s position seems to have grown more and more untenable during the latter days of Saul’s reign. Probably the paroxysms of the king’s fatal malady grew sharper and more frequent, and his chieftains and favourites, whom, as we have already seen (1 Samuel 26), he had chosen mostly out of the one small tribe of Benjamin, feared—and with good reason—the advent of David to the throne, which they saw was imminent in the event of Saul’s dying or being permanently disqualified to rule. These men, whose bitter hostility to David is more than hinted at in several places, doubtless taking advantage of the king’s state of mind, incited him against David. The words and persuasions of such men as Cush the Benjamite (see Psalms 7), Doeg the Edomite, probably Abner the captain of the host, the men of Ziph, and others, quickly erased from the memory of Saul such scenes as we have witnessed in the En-gedi cave, and, still more recently, in the hill of Hachilah, and more than counterbalanced the devotion and powerful friendship of true warriors like Jonathan, who loved and admired David. In David’s words, after he had taken the spear and cruse from the side of the sleeping Saul, we see something of what was passing in his mind—his constant fear of a violent death; his knowledge that powerful and wicked men were constantly plotting against him; and his determination to seek a home in another land, where, however, he expected to find a grave far away from the chosen race, among the idolators and enemies of Jehovah of Israel. He now realises a part of these sorrowful forebodings. But in this determination of the son of Jesse we never hear of prayer, or of consultation with prophet or with priest. A dull despair seems to have at this time deprived David at once of faith and hope.
Into the land of the Philistines.—David chose to seek a refuge among these warlike people, for he believed he would be in greater security there than among his friendly kinsfolk, the Moabites, where, in former days, he had found such a kindly welcome for his family in the first period of Saul’s enmity. He probably doubted the power of Moab to protect him.
And David arose, and he passed over with the six hundred men that were with him unto Achish, the son of Maoch, king of Gath.(2) The six hundred men.—This was the original number. They still formed the nucleus of the force, but the total number was now far larger. These “six hundred” had each their households, besides which, many a group of warriors, large and small, had already joined the now renowned standard of the future king.
Achish, the son of Maoch, king of Gath.—The same, we believe, as that Achish to whom David fled before (see 1Samuel 21:11), and identical with Achish, son of Maachah (1Kings 2:39). This would involve the necessity of ascribing a fifty years’ reign to this prince. (Such a lengthy reign is quite possible.) The whole of Philistia subsequently fell under King David’s rule. It seems, however, that he permitted, even after the conquest, Achish to remain in his old city of Gath, most likely as his tributary: thus, we may suppose, paying back the old debt of kindness to Achish.
And David dwelt with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, even David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal's wife.(3) And David dwelt with Achish at Gath.—His reception by the Philistines seems to have been most kindly. There was a wide difference between the circumstances of this and his former visit to Gath. Then he was a fugitive, almost unattended; now he was at the head of an army of trained and devoted soldiers. Such a guest might be of the greatest service to the Philistines in their perpetual wars with Saul, with whom David would now be considered to have finally broken off all relations, seeing he had sought a home and shelter among the most bitter of his foes.
And it was told Saul that David was fled to Gath: and he sought no more again for him.(4) And it was told Saul.—This short statement tells us plainly that up to the moment when Saul heard that David had crossed the frontier, he had not ceased to pursue after him and to seek his life. Ewald considers that it was during the residence at Gath that David exercised himself as a musician in the Gittite—i.e., the Philistine—style, which he afterwards transferred from there to Judah and Jerusalem. (See titles of Psalms 8, 81, 84, “upon the Gittith.”) Gittith is a feminine adjective derived from Gath; the words possibly signify, “after the Gittith manner: some peculiar measure of style of Philistine music, or else the reference may be to a Philistine musical instrument.”
And David said unto Achish, If I have now found grace in thine eyes, let them give me a place in some town in the country, that I may dwell there: for why should thy servant dwell in the royal city with thee?(5) Why should thy servant dwell in the royal city with thee?—The real reason why David wished a separate residence was that he might conduct his forays and other affairs apart from the supervision of his Philistine friends. They had one purpose in welcoming him and his band, he had quite another. Achish trusted that through David’s assistance powerful military demonstrations in the southern districts of Saul’s kingdom might be made. At this time the Philistine nation were preparing for that grand national effort against Saul which culminated in the battle of Mount Gilboa. David, on the other hand, intended, from a comparatively secure centre of operations somewhere in Philistia, to harry those nomad foes of Israel whose home was in the deserts to the south of Canaan.
Then Achish gave him Ziklag that day: wherefore Ziklag pertaineth unto the kings of Judah unto this day.(6) Ziklag.—In the days of Joshua this place fell to the lot of Simeon (Joshua 19:5). It was afterwards captured by the Philistines, not long before the time of David, and Keil thinks was left without inhabitants in consequence of this conquest. Its exact situation has never been clearly ascertained; it certainly lay far south, near the Amalekite borders.
Wherefore Ziklag pertaineth unto the kings of Judah unto this day.—These words supply us with a double note of time in the question of the date of this First Book of Samuel. They tell us that it was cast in its present shape after the revolt of Jeroboam, and certainly before the days of the carrying away of Israel to Babylon.
And the time that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was a full year and four months.(7) A full year and four months.—Keil calls attention to the exact statement of time here as a proof of the historical character of the whole narrative. The Hebrew expression, translated “a year,” is a singular one: yamim—literally, days—a collective term, used in Leviticus 25:29, 1Samuel 1:3; 1Samuel 2:19, &c., to signify a term or period of days which amounted to a full year. This year and four months were among the darkest days of David’s life. He was sorely tried, it is true; but he had adopted the very course his bitterest foes would have wished him to select. In open arms, apparently leagued with the deadliest foes of Israel, like an Italian condottiere or captain of free lances of the Middle Ages, he had taken service and accepted the wages of that very Philistine city whose champion he once had slain in the morning of his career. At last his enemies at the court of Saul had reason when they spoke of him as a traitor. From the curt recital in this chapter, which deals with the saddest portion of David’s career, we shall see that while he apparently continued to make common cause with the enemies of his race, he still used his power to help, and not to injure, his countrymen; but the price he paid for his patriotism was a life of falsehood, stained, too, with deeds of fierce cruelty, shocking even in these rough, half-barbarous times.
And David and his men went up, and invaded the Geshurites, and the Gezrites, and the Amalekites: for those nations were of old the inhabitants of the land, as thou goest to Shur, even unto the land of Egypt.(8) Went up.—The expression is strictly accurate. The nomad tribes against whom his expeditions were directed dwelt on higher ground than David’s home at Ziklag, apparently on the wide extent of the mountain plateau, that high table-land at the north-east of the desert of Paran.
The Geshurites, and the Gezerites, and the Amalekites.—These were all “Bedaween” tribes, the scourge of the Israelitish families dwelling on the south of Canaan. It is not easy to identify the first two named of these nomades against whom David directed his operations. We hear of these Geshurites in the neighbourhood of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:14), and of another tribe of them in Syria (2Samuel 15:8). They were a widely scattered race of nomad Arabs. The Gezerites, or Gizrites, it has been supposed, were the remains of a once powerful race dispossessed by the Amorites. The third named, the Amalekites, were the remnant of that once powerful tribe destroyed by Saul in his famous war, when his disobedience incurred the wrath of Samuel.
For those nations were of old the inhabitants of the land, as thou goest to Shur, even unto the land of Egypt.—The grammar and construction of this sentence is confused and difficult. On the whole, the rendering and explanation of Erdmann in Lange seems the most satisfactory: “David . . . invaded the . . . and the Amalekites (for these were inhabitants of the land, who inhabited it of old) as far as Shur and Egypt.” Thus David’s raids extended as far as the desert frontier of Egypt.
And David smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel, and returned, and came to Achish.(9) And left neither man nor woman alive.—These acts of ferocious barbarity are simply without excuse; the reason for them is told us in 1Samuel 27:11. No captive was to be left alive to tell the tale to King Achish, who was under the delusion that David’s feats of arms were carried out at the expense of his own countrymen, whose lands he was harrying. At this the Philistine rejoiced when he heard David was thus burning his only bridge of retreat: by alienating by these cruelties the affection of the people of Israel, by means of which, at some future time, he might have been recalled to his native land. There were a few occasions in the history of the chosen race when a war of extermination was commended. Then Israel was simply the stern instrument of wrath, used—as a pestilence is at times—to carry out the will of the earth’s Master; but David had no such charge. Was it not these acts of ruthless cruelty which left on this king’s hands the stain of blood which rendered them unfit in after days to build the House of the Lord he longed so passionately to erect? (1Chronicles 28:3).
And took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel.—To fight under David’s banner now promised to be a lucrative service as well as an adventurous and wild career. Here at Ziklag, and for some time previously, we hear of brave discontented spirits from all parts of Israel joining him. In 1 Chronicles 12 we have a long and accurate list of heroes who formed that Ziklag band. Amongst these gallant soldiers who now, to use the chronicler’s term, “day by day came to David to help him,” were a troop of Benjamites who had joined him some time before: their leader Amasai, on being questioned as to their reason for joining him, answered, “We are on thy side, thou son of Jesse . . . for thy God helpeth thee” (1Chronicles 12:18). The words of Amasai express the feeling which seems to have pervaded Israel at that time in reference to David. The people throughout the land were coming to feel that Jehovah had indeed chosen David. The chronicler even speaks of David’s band at Ziklag, after the recruits from all parts of Israel had poured in, “as a great host, like the host of God” (1Chronicles 12:22).
And Achish said, Whither have ye made a road to day? And David said, Against the south of Judah, and against the south of the Jerahmeelites, and against the south of the Kenites.(10) And David said, Against the south of Judah.—The answer of David to his sovereign lord, the King of Gath—for he was now, to all intents and purposes, a vassal prince of Achish—was simply a falsehood. He had been engaged in distant forays against the old Bedaween enemies of Israel, far away in the desert which stretched to the frontier of Egypt; and from these nomads—rich in cattle and in other property, which they had obtained by years of successful plunder—he seems to have gained much booty, a share of which he brought to his “suzerain,” Achish. But David represents that the cattle and apparel had been captured from his own countrymen, whose territory he was harrying. “The Jerahmeelites were descendants of Jerahmeel, the firstborn of Hezron (1Chronicles 2:9; 1Chronicles 2:25-26), and therefore one of the three large families of Judah who sprang from Hezron.”—Keil, They dwelt, it is believed, on the southern frontier of the tribe of Judah. The Kenites were a race living in friendship with and under the protection of Judah.
And David saved neither man nor woman alive, to bring tidings to Gath, saying, Lest they should tell on us, saying, So did David, and so will be his manner all the while he dwelleth in the country of the Philistines.(11) And David saved neither man nor woman.—This and the following (12th) verse gives the reason for these atrocious acts of murder. The wild and irresponsible Arab chief alone seemed represented in David in this dark portion of his career. This saddest of all the chapters in David’s life follows close upon the death of Samuel. It appears that the holy man of God had exercised, all the time that he had lived, a great and beneficent influence over the son of Jesse; and when he passed away, other and less wise counsellors prevailed with David. Want of trust in God and a craven fear for his own life (see his words, 1Samuel 26:20; 1Samuel 26:24) drove him to leave the land of Israel, and to seek a refuge among his Philistine foes. One sin led on to another, when, in Philistia—to preserve that life of his—he commenced a course of duplicity, to carry out which he was driven to commit these terrible cruelties. “The prisoners taken would naturally have been part of the spoil; but David dared not bring them to Gath, lest his deceit should be discovered. Obviously these tribes (Geshurites, Gezerites, and Amalekites) were allies of the Philistines.”
Saying, So did David, and so will be his manner.—The English Version of this passage is in accordance with the present punctuation in the Hebrew Bible, and represents these words as the saying of the slaughtered enemies. This is of itself most improbable. The Hebrew, too, will scarcely bear this interpretation; for the verb “to dwell” is a past, and cannot correctly be rendered “while he dwelleth.” The Masoretic punctuation of the present Hebrew text is of comparatively recent date. It is better, then, in their place, with Maurer and Keil, the LXX., and Vulg. Versions, simply to put a stop after the words “so did David,” and then begin a new sentence, which will read, “And so was his manner all the while he dwelt in the land of the Philistines;” understanding these words as a remark of the narrator of the history.