1 Samuel 27
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This history metes out equal justice, and, having shown to us the perversity of Saul, immediately exposes to us the fault of David, for he also, though no fool, returned to folly. In both cases equity and charity allow some plea of extenuation. Saul's hostility to David was due in some measure to an unsound brain, unable to shake off morbid suspicion. And David's mistrust of the Divine protection was the result of a very sensitive temperament tried beyond measure, a chafed and weary spirit. How far such pleas may be considered in weighing actions is a question for the Divine justice rather than for our sentence. Enough for us to recognise them, that we may the better understand how Saul could renew a pursuit which he had abandoned with tears, and how David could return to the land of the Philistines, from which he had formerly escaped only by simulating madness.

I. THE FAULT OF DAVID WAS UNBELIEF. It was not his habit; but it came upon him as a fit or mood, and, while it lasted, led him into actions unworthy and umwise.

1. He broke down at a strong point, as men often do. His faith rose to a heroic pitch in the valley of Elah, when the stripling, as a believer, encountered the blaspheming giant. But when he was put among princes his faith failed under apprehensions of mortal peril, and he fled to Nob, and thence to the Philistine town of Gath. He recovered his faith in God, and, assured of Divine protection, refused to injure Saul when the king on two occasions was within his power. But again his faith failed, and he was afraid. There is no mention of his having prayed, or consulted God through the priest as at other times. In his unworthy fear he took counsel with himself, and "said in his heart" that he would surely perish. Such is man. He falls at a strong point. Noah stood in his integrity against a whole world of sinners, but when he had no world to stand against he fell, and disgraced himself by intemperance. Moses was the meekest of men and most observant of the word of the Lord, and yet he erred at Kadesh in respect of self-control and fidelity to the Divine command, so forfeiting his entrance into Canaan. Hezekiah was eminent for prayerfulness and humility, and yet he fell in not spreading a matter before the Lord, but giving way to vain boasting. Simon Peter was all ardour and devotion to his Master, and yet, just after honest protestations of attachment, he lost courage, and denied his Lord. In like manner strong believers may fall into a fit of unbelief, in which past blessings are forgotten, promises are doubted or let slip, dangers are exaggerated, and the heart, instead of asking counsel of the Lord, takes counsel with itself, and suggests all sorts of folly.

2. Unbelief seems to have been the sin to which David was most tempted in his youth. We infer this both from this history and from the Psalter. The former tells how he more than once despaired of his life, and how Jonathan exerted himself to reassure his desponding mind. The latter reveals to us with touching candour the apprehensions of his youth in those psalms which plainly refer to his wanderings and hairbreadth escapes. The sorrows of death had compassed him, and the floods of the ungodly made him afraid, lie saw his enemies ready to swallow him up. And though he was naturally brave, unbelief enfeebled and distracted him, so that. his "heart was sore pained" within him. Indeed David's cries to God in the Psalms, and his way of repeating to himself that God was on his side, and was able to defend and deliver him, indicate not obscurely his inward struggle. If he had felt no fear he would not have thought of writing, "I will not fear what man can do to me." If he had known no failure of faith he would not have said so much as he has of crying after God and putting his trust in him. We read of Abraham simply that he believed. He fell on his face and listened to the voice of God; then he acted, journeyed, obeyed in faith; but we do not find him speak of his believing. David had a struggle to hold fast his confidence, and therefore has he given so much expression to the life of faith and its conflict with doubt and fear.

II. UNBELIEF LEADS A SERVANT OF GOD TO UNWORTHY DEVICES. "Nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines." Now we know that God did order and overrule this flight for the good of David and of Israel; but none the less was it, on the part of his servant, an unworthy action springing from unbelief. Better surely to have lived by faith in the forests and caves of Judaea than live by sight and behave like a freebooter in the land of the heathen Philistines. His stay at Ziklag, the town assigned to him by the king Achish, marks a bad period in the life of David. His incursion into the territory of certain southern tribes was most unjust and cruel. The injustice, indeed, may not have been apparent to his mind; for David and his men had, of course, been educated in the ideas of their own age and country, and had no scruple about invading and laying waste any territory of the heathen. They had also little, if any, respect for the lives of the heathen. Yet David must have sinned against his conscience in the cruel massacre of the southern tribes. One sin leads to another. And the son of Jesse added deceit to cruelty, and exulted in covering the first sin by the second, leaving no man or woman alive to contradict the tale he told to the Philistine king. Lord, what is man? When thou didst not hold up the goings of thy servant, into what miry places did he stray, into what a ditch did he fall! When his faith failed, what a breakdown of his character and conduct! Restraint of prayer, self-direction, then rapine, bloodshedding, and falsehood! What are we that we should have immunity from similar deterioration of character, if we give way to unbelief? A Christian in good repute takes some course that we should have thought incredible and impossible. We ask in amazement, What infatuation seized him? or, Can it be that he was always insincere; and wicked at heart under a cloak of seeming goodness? The real clue to his misconduct lies here - that he lost hold of God and fell through unbelief, allowed himself to doubt whether God would or could keep him in some strait, and took to trusting and keeping himself. So he fell into unworthy company, or betook himself to unworthy devices; and the end is what you see - dishonesty, duplicity, prevarication. Remember that nothing is so hard to be extirpated from the heart as unbelief. In his book of the Holy War Bunyan shows that when the town of Mansoul was in the devil's power, Incredulity was first made alderman, then lord mayor. When Immanuel took the town, Incredulity (unbelief) was doomed to execution, but managed to break out of prison, and lurked in hiding places where he could not be found. When the devil assaulted the town in hopes to retake it, "Old Incredulity" reappeared, and was made general of the army. After the assailing army was defeated, and many of the officers and soldiers in it were put to death, Unbelief still evaded capture. He did yet dwell in Mansoul, though he "hid in dens and holes." Application: -

1. Let believers beware. It is easy to slip off the way of faith, and it may seem to answer well for a time. You may get your Ziklag to dwell in, and find it more comfortable than the hold at Engedi or the hill of Hachilah, but you are in a state of declension from God, and on the way, as David was, to commit presumptuous sin. Matthew Henry remarks in his sententious way, "Unbelief is a sin that easily besets even good men. When without are fightings and within are fears, it is a hard matter to get over them. Lord, increase our faith!"

2. Let unbelievers be warned. If unbelief be so damaging when it prevails even temporarily over a servant of God, what ruin must it work in those who lie always under its power! "He that believeth not in the Son of God shall not see Life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." - F.

1 Samuel 27:1, 2. (THE WILDERNESS OF ZIPH.)
I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul (ver. 1). It is seldom (at least in a climate like ours) that a day passes in sunshine without clouds. And human life is as varied as the aspects of the sky. The best of men are liable not only to adversity as well as prosperity, but also to seasons of spiritual depression as well as of spiritual elation; and the one often follows the other very closely. These seasons of depression ought not, indeed, to be attributed to a Divine, sovereign, and uncontrollable influence. They are due to certain causes in men themselves which ought to be watched against. Yet who resists them constantly, effectually, and completely? Here is David, who recently said, "Let the Lord deliver me out of all tribulation," and heard Saul say, "Blessed be thou, my son David," etc. (1 Samuel 26:24, 25), talking to himself in a desponding mood, and coming to the conclusion that there is nothing better for him than to flee into the land of the Philistines. It may be preferable for a man to "commune with his own heart" of his fears and doubts, rather than pour them indiscriminately into the ears of other people; but his proper course is not to continue brooding over them, or surrender himself to their power, but to" inquire of the Lord," and "hope in God" (Psalm 42:11). "More of these no man hath known than myself, which I confess I conquered not in a martial posture, but on my knees" (Sir T. Browne). Concerning the state of mind which this language expresses, consider -


1. Fear of approaching danger. Saul bad renewed his persecution, and David thought that he should be "consumed." There was apparently no more reason why he should think so now than there had been before; but the desponding mind projects its shadow over all things, and magnifies ordinary into extraordinary peril. Imaginary evils are often occasions of greater trouble and temptation than real evils, and more difficult to overcome.

2. Distrust of Divine care. This is its chief element. If his faith had been in vigorous exercise he would have said, "Whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1). But it seems to have completely failed, leaving him a prey to overwhelming anxiety and fear. "My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God" (Isaiah 40:27). "Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost" (Ezekiel 37:11).

3. Depression of personal energy. He has lost heart, and thinks it impossible to continue safely in the land of Judah, to which the prophet had formerly recalled him, and where Divine providence has appointed his lot. The fearful and faithless shrink from difficulties which in a better state of mind they encountered boldly.

II. WHEREBY IT IS OCCASIONED. The influences productive of it are partly -

1. External add physical. Numerous perils, long hardship, constant watchfulness, great exertions, bodily exhaustion and suffering. "There are hours in which physical derangement darkens the windows of the soul; days in which shattered nerves make life simply endurance." Much of this may be removed by the adoption of proper methods, and where its removal is impossible, special grace should be sought that it may be borne cheerfully and patiently.

2. Mental and emotional. Perplexing thoughts, conflicting arguments, unjust and ungenerous treatment, want of sympathy, deferred hope, reaction from excited feeling. "Something of it might be due to those alternations of emotion which seem to be incidental to our human constitution. We have ebbings and fiowings within us like the tides; and just as in nature the lowest ebb is after the highest spring tide, so you frequently see, even in the best of men, after some lofty experience of spiritual elevation and noble self-command, an ebbing down to the lowest depth of fear and flight" (W.M. Taylor).

3. Moral and spiritual. Omission of duty, parleying with temptation, contemplating doubtful expedients (1 Samuel 26:19), intimate association with persons of little or no piety, self-confidence, bedimmed spiritual vision, loss of spiritual fervour, "restraining prayer before God." It is significant that nothing is said about David's asking counsel of the Lord concerning the step which he was contemplating, as he did on other occasions. "Josephus tells us that he advised with his friends, but no writer informs us that he advised with God" (Delany). His state of mind appears to have been unfavourable to his doing so; and it is probable that if he had done so the course on which he had half resolved would have been forbidden. Communion with God prevents or cures despondency and averts many a disastrous step.

III. WHEREFORE IT IS BLAMEWORTHY. For that it is so there can be no doubt. In it -

1. Past deliverances effected by God are ungratefully forgotten. Of these David had experienced many; they were assurances of continued help, and in better hours he regarded them as such (1 Samuel 17:37). But now his remembrance of them is clouded with 'fear, and produces neither thankfulness nor confidence. He speaks to his heart, but says not, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."

2. The faithful promises of God are faithlessly ignored. He who doubts them despises the Giver, deprives himself of the treasures of wisdom, strength, and blessedness which they contain, and "forsakes his own mercy."

3. The great name of God is greatly dishonoured. It is a "strong tower," and not to "run into it," but to continue in despondency, as if it were inaccessible or incapable of affording adequate protection, is to oppose the purpose for which it is made known, to act unworthily of the knowledge of it, and to incur just reproach. "Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die, and forgettest the Lord thy Maker?" (Isaiah 51:13). Surely nothing dishonours him more.

IV. WHERETO IT LEADS. "And David arose," etc. (ver. 2). He thought nothing could be better for him; but, in reality, nothing could be worse. "For by this step he would alienate the affections of the Israelites from him, justify the reproaches of the enemy, deprive himself of the means of grace and the ordinances of religion, grieve his soul with the vice and idolatry of the heathen, put himself out of the warrant of Divine protection, and lay himself under peculiar obligation to those whom he could not serve without betraying the cause of God." He escaped from one danger only to rush into another and much greater. Unbelieving and desponding fears commonly -

1. Incite to unwise and foolish courses of action.

2. Conduce to temptation and transgression (ver. 10).

3. Involve in embarrassment and great distress (1 Samuel 28:1; 1 Samuel 30:1-5).

"Beware of desperate steps. The darkest day,
Live till tomorrow, will have passed away."

(Cowper, 'The Needless Alarm.') Exhortation: -

1. Guard against the causes of despondency.

2. At its first approach turn instantly to God in faith and prayer.

3. Take no new step under its influence, nor until the will of God is clearly seen.

4. "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might." - D.

1 Samuel 27:3-12. (GATH, ZIKLAG.)
David had taken the decisive step, crossed the border, and passed with his 600 men and their families ("a little ambulant kingdom") into the Philistine territory. His position was very different now from what it had been five or six years before, when he came to Gath as a lonely fugitive (1 Samuel 21:10); and he was gladly received by Achish, who regarded him as in open revolt against Saul and Israel, and expected to obtain from him valuable assistance in his future conflicts with them. And here and at Ziklag he continued sixteen months (ver. 7). His condition (like that of other good men who enter into intimate association with the ungodly, voluntarily, unnecessarily, and for the sake of worldly advantage; see 1 Samuel 15:6) was marked by -

I. TEMPORARY SECURITY (ver. 4). By placing himself under the protection of Achish, David gained his end; for Saul dared not follow him lest he should excite another Philistine war, and (physically restrained, though.still retaining an evil will) "sought no more again for him." His outward circumstances were completely. changed. Instead of the uncertain, anxious, hazardous, and despised life which he had led in the wilderness, he enjoyed repose, comfort, safety, and respect in a royal city. To obtain advantages such as these men often swerve from the appointed path of duty, especially in times of persecution, not considering at what a cost they are obtained, how brief is their duration, or how great the trouble by which they may be followed.

II. CONSCIOUS INCONSISTENCY (vers. 5-7). In open alliance with the enemies of Israel, silently witnessing their idolatrous practices, looked upon as a traitor to his country, and ready to aid them against it, David must have felt what a contradiction there was between his apparent and real character. Yet he might not declare himself by a single word or act, for thousands of watchful eyes were always on him. He did not feel at home, and requested (under the plea of the unsuitableness and expensiveness of his residence with his large retinue at Gath) that the king would give him "a place in some town in the country," his real motive being that he might be "out of the way of observation, so as to play the part of Saul's enemy without acting against him." At Ziklag he would be less under restraint, and his real sentiments less likely to be discovered, though even there he might still be suspected. No outward advantages that good men may gain by their alliance with the ungodly can afford adequate compensation for the insincerity, distraction, restlessness, and vexation of soul which it involves (2 Peter 2:8).

III. SUCCESSFUL ENTERPRISE (vers. 8, 9). As soon as he was settled at Ziklag he made warlike expeditions against the Amalekites, Geshurites, and Gezrites, "of old the inhabitants of the land" (unlike the Philistines); and from the rich booty which lie procured he supplied the wants of his men, and gave valuable presents to Achish (ver. 9). His setting forth on these expeditions, and the cruel severity with which he executed them, must be judged of in the light of "the circumstances of those times, and the constant practices of nations one to another, especially of the neighbouring nations towards the Hebrews" (Chandler), and of the ban under which some of them had been placed (see 1 Samuel 15:1, 32, 33). He was doubtless animated therein by public spirit and religious zeal (1 Samuel 30:26), but his motives were not altogether unmixed, and his successes brought him a doubtful honour (ver. 12).

IV. CRAFTY POLICY (vers. 10, 11). To retain the confidence of Achish, he gave him the impression that his expeditions were directed against his own countrymen and their allies, instead of against Amalek and other neighbouring tribes; and he was thus, through distrust of God, again guilty of deceit (1 Samuel 21:1, 10). "If a man will put himself among Philistines, he cannot promise to come forth innocent" (Hall). "David might perhaps seek in some way to justify himself by the thought that in his ambiguous manner of speech he made use only of an allowable stratagem, and that he was a heathen to whom he veiled the truth. But he will yet be made to experience that God will weigh those who would be his in the balances of the sanctuary, in which, among others, that inviolable word is found as one of the weights, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness'" (Krummacher).

V. INCREASING POWER and importance. While at Ziklag he received large reinforcements (1 Samuel 22:1, 2; 1 Chronicles 12:1-22), some of whom were "of Saul's brethren of Benjamin" - evidently from dissatisfaction with the turn which things had taken (see also 2 Samuel 15:16-23). "As a matter of fact, David in this city laid the foundation of all his kingdom. Here he could already rule with greater freedom and independence, collect fugitives and deserters around him in larger and larger numbers, send or receive embassies like a prince (1 Samuel 30:26-31), and, as a ruler over soldiers and over peaceable citizens, rehearse, on a small scale, those arts by which he afterwards acquired and maintained his great kingdom" (Ewald). Notwithstanding all this, his condition was one of -

VI. SPIRITUAL DISADVANTAGE, and even spiritual deterioration. That which he had dreaded as the worst of evils (1 Samuel 26:19) had come about by his own voluntary act. Although he was not forbidden the exercise of his religion under Achish (1 Samuel 29:6), yet his circumstances were unfavourable to it; he was absent from the land and the sanctuary where God manifested his gracious presence to his people (1 Samuel 26:20; Psalm 42:2, 3), and his whole course of life is indicative of a lower tone of piety than before. "Being a genuine poet and lover of art, he took advantage of all his opportunities in this direction, and exercised himself as a musician in the Gittite and the Philistine style (Psalm 8., inscription), which he afterwards transferred from there to Jerusalem" (Ewald); but not a single psalm of his can be referred to this period.

VII. DANGEROUS ENTANGLEMENTS, intense suffering, and probably also serious delay in the attainment of his high destiny (1 Samuel 28:1, 2; 1 Samuel 30:3). The evils that sprang from his want of faith and patience were truly great. "His presence in Judah would have given an opportunity which Saul could hardly have refused, for calling him forth as the champion of Israel. At all events he would have been at hand to relieve the disaster, and would doubtless have been hailed as king by the united voice of Israel. As it was, his nation suffered a terrible defeat, which, instead of doing his best to avert, he narrowly escaped taking a share in inflicting; his recognition as king of Israel was postponed for seven years and a half at the cost of a civil war and a permanent alienation of Judah from the rest of Israel; and meanwhile he was involved in a course of pitiable deceit" (Smith, 'Old Testament Hist.'). Nevertheless the overruling hand of God must be recognised in all, and by Divine mercy he was delivered "out of all tribulation."

"Ay me, how many perils do unfold
The righteous man, to make him daily fall,
Were not that heavenly grace doth him uphold,
And steadfast truth acquit him out of all!
Her love is firm, her care continual,
So oft as he, through his own foolish pride
Or weakness, is to sinful bands made thrall"

(Spenser) = - D.

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