I’m sure we’ve all seen those pictures which, if you look at them in one way, look like one thing; and if you look at them in another way, they look like something else. There’s that one which, if you look at it one way, you’ll see an old woman wearing a scarf over her head; and if you look at it another way you’ll see a young woman with her head turned away from us. There’s another which, if you look at it one way, looks like two faces; and if you look at it another way, it looks like a goblet or candlestick. We’ve all come across those kind of things.
And if you look at today’s chapter in a certain way, it will look as if everything David does is wrong; and you’re disappointed in him. But if you look at today’s chapter in another way, it will look very different to you. In fact, while David is far from perfect, nevertheless, seen from a certain perspective, what David does in this chapter points forward to the good news of the gospel and to the work of Christ our King who has defeated all our enemies in order to give us life in the Promised Land to come, which is the new heavens and earth where all of Christ’s people will live with him for ever and for ever.
The negative angle
And so, let’s take the negative angle, first of all. At the beginning of the chapter, we find David thinking to himself about Saul. No doubt he was thinking about the way Saul had been pursuing him relentlessly, trying to catch him and to kill him. And despite Saul’s confession in the last chapter, when he admitted that he had sinned and acted like a fool, and when he promised not to harm David, David believed that Saul could not be trusted and that Saul would continue to pursue David until David was dead. ‘One of these days’, David thought, ‘I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul.’ And so, he decided the best thing he could do was to flee from Israel and to escape to the land of the Philistines.
And people have read those words and they’re disappointed with David, because they wonder to themselves: ‘Where is your faith, David? You should trust in the Lord to keep you.’ And so, his decision to go to the land of the Philistines seems wrong to many of us when we read these words at first.
And then we read how David and his 600 men left Israel and they went over to Achish, who was the king of Gath. Gath was Goliath’s hometown; and so, it belonged to the Philistines. And the name Achish might be familiar to you, because once before David went to Gath to get away from Saul. But the Philistines captured him and brought him to Achish. And do you remember? David was afraid for his life at that time and so he pretended to be insane. And Achish told his men to let him go. Well, at that time, David was on his own. Now, he’s got 600 fighting men with him as well as their families. And, as one of the commentators suggests, the words ‘went over’ are a little sinister, aren’t they? It sounds like David and his men ‘went over’ to the other side, to join forces with the Philistines and to offer to serve them.
Presumably some time has passed by the time we get to verse 5, when David goes to Achish to ask him to give him and his men and their families their own city to live in. And look how he begins his request. He said: ‘If I have found favour in your eyes’. And the implication behind those words is that David had already done something to make Achish look at him with favour. He’s already made himself useful to Achish. And so, because of what he had done for Achish, Achish was willing to give them the city of Ziklag.
And according to verse 7, David lived among the Philistines for over a year. And we read this, and we’re perhaps disappointed in David, because we wonder how could he possibly be willing to live among the Philistines, who have always been the enemies of God’s people? Has he lost his way?
And we’re disappointed by what we read next, because the text tells us how David and his men went up and raided these people: the Geshurites and the Girzites and the Amalekites. And when they attacked them, they apparently showed them no mercy, because they killed every male and female among them, leaving no witnesses. And they took for themselves the sheep and cattle and donkeys and camels and clothes. It seems they were making themselves rich by carrying out this terror campaign.
And then, when Achish used to ask David about the raids he was conducting, David lied and said that he has been attacking the Israelites in the Negev. And according to verse 12, Achish, the Philistine king of Gath, trusted David and he thought that David would be his servant forever. And according to verse 1 of chapter 28, Achish wanted David and his men to accompany him into battle against the Israelites. And in verse 2 David refers to himself as Achish’s servant. And Achish was willing to make David his bodyguard. And we think to ourselves perhaps: ‘David, how could you?’ ‘How could you side with Achish and the Philistines?’ ‘What has become of you?’
The positive angle
So, that’s the negative angle. But as with those optical illusions I mentioned at the beginning, where you have to look at the same picture in two different ways to see two different things, so it’s possible to look at this chapter from another angle. And when we do that, the picture we have of David is much more positive.
So, let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter when David is thinking to himself about Saul and he decides to escape to the Philistines. One person reads this and thinks this shows a lack of faith on David’s part. He should have trusted in the Lord and remained where he was. However, another person can read this and decide that David is being wise. He’s been wise because he’s thought about what Saul is like. Even though Saul has confessed that he had sinned and been foolish and even though he promised David that he would not harm David, David knows Saul cannot be trusted.
And let’s not forget that David is responsible, not just for his own safety, but for the safety of his 600 men and all their families. One of the commentators has estimated that there may have been 2,000 people with David. You can’t easily hide 2,000 people.
And then you have people like the Ziphites. Remember them? They went to Saul in chapter 23 and in chapter 26 to tell Saul where David could be found. So, when there are informers all around, who are willing to give you up to Saul, then you’ll never be safe and you’ll always have to be on your guard.
And, of course, since David was unwilling to harm Saul, then the only option for David is to try to keep out of Saul’s way.
And so, taking all this into account, David decided that the best move to make was to escape to the land of the Philistines. So long as the Philistines don’t attack him, he’ll be safe from Saul, because Saul won’t want to follow him into enemy territory.
And look down to verse 4 where it tells us that when Saul heard that David had fled to Gath, Saul no longer searched for him. In other words, David’s plan worked: Saul would not bother him so long as he remained in the land of the Philistines. David was being wise.
And then David asked Achish the king of Gath for a city. And Achish gave him Ziklag. Now, I suspect you don’t know much about Ziklag, because it’s only mentioned a few times in the Bible. But the first time it’s mentioned is in Joshua 15. And the reason it’s mentioned in Joshua 15 is because it was one of the cities of the land of Canaan which was assigned to the tribe of Judah. In other words, Ziklag was part of the Promised Land, the land which the Lord promised to give to his people. Perhaps the people of Judah were never able to take control of it; or perhaps the Philistines had taken it from them. Whatever happened in the past, David was now able to take the city, which was part of the Promised Land. And our narrator tells us in verse 6 that ever since that time Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah. So, David, who would become the king of God’s people, took over the city and he kept control of the city, which, of course, is what the Lord’s anointed king is supposed to do. That’s what Saul was supposed to do; but he didn’t do it. But here’s David, who has been anointed as king and who will eventually take over as king, and he’s already taken back one of their cities from the Philistines.
And then, what about these raids which David carried out on the Geshurites and the Girzites and the Amalekites. We don’t know anything about the Girzites, but the Geshurites and the Amalekites are tribes which made up what are known collectively as the Canaanites. They were the people who lived in the land of Canaan which the Lord promised to give to his people. And back in Deuteronomy 7, when Moses was preparing the people to enter the land, he told the Israelites that the Lord was going to drive the Canaanites from the land. And he was going to drive them from the land by sending in the Israelites to fight against them. And Moses told the Israelites to show the Canaanites no mercy. So, don’t make any agreements or treaties with them. Don’t make an alliance with them. Don’t have anything to do with them. But destroy them. And when you read that, you wonder why God told his people to show the Canaanites no mercy.
And there are really two answers, which I’ll mention briefly. The first is that the Lord wanted the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites to punish the Canaanites for their sin. They were a wicked people and though the Lord had given them many years to repent, they refused to repent and they continued in their sin. And so, eventually, the Lord sent the Israelites to punish the Canaanites for their sin. And the second answer is that the Lord knew that if the Israelites let the Canaanites live, the Canaanites would only lead his people astray. They would teach the Israelites to worship their false gods and to give up their faith in the Lord. And so, for that reason, you must not have anything to do with them.
So, for those two reasons, the Israelites were commanded by God to destroy the Canaanites. Now, in Deuteronomy 7, Moses told the Israelites that they wouldn’t be able to destroy the Canaanites all at once, but only bit by bit. It would take time. And so, when we come to the time of David, there are still Canaanites living in the land. But David knows what the Lord commanded the Israelites to do. He knows that the Lord commanded the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites. And so, what do we find in verses 8 and 9 of 1 Samuel 27? We find him doing what the Lord commanded his people to do: he’s showing the Canaanites no mercy and he’s destroying them totally. The one who has been anointed king over God’s people is conquering their enemies and he’s cleansing the Promised Land from these pagan nations.
But what about David’s lie? When Achish asked him about the raids he was conducting, David apparently lies and tells Achish that he has been attacking the people of Israel in the Negev. Was David lying? Apparently he was. But we have to remember, of course, that David was a sinner. He’s not perfect like the Saviour Jesus Christ, who never once sinned. David was a sinner like you and me; and just as we sin, so he sinned. And yet, how wonderful, that the Lord our God who is holy and pure is willing to pardon sinners like us and he’s willing to use us in his service. He’s able to take us — warts and all — and use what we do, including our sins, for his glory. So, it’s not a surprise that David lied, because he — like us — was a sinner.
And it’s a reminder, of course, that though David was living in the Promised Land of Canaan, he wasn’t in the true Promised Land, which is the new heavens and earth where all of Christ’s people will live forever. In the new heavens and earth, we’ll be made perfect so that we will never sin again. In the new heavens and earth, we will never lie as David lied to Achish. That’s the great hope that God gives to all who trust in his Son: that one day we’ll be glorified in his presence and made perfect forever and will live with him in the Promised Land to come. And we’ll never sin again. But for now, we’re like David. And therefore, while we want to do God’s will, we find ourselves sinning against the Lord and doing things which are not right.
And what about the first two verses of chapter 28 where Achish tells David that he and his men must accompany him into battle against the Israelites. Will David really attack the Israelites? Well, his response to Achish is a little vague, isn’t it? He doesn’t really commitment himself. He merely says: ‘Then you will see what I can do.’ It’s not at all clear what he means. And as we’ll discover as we read on in 1 Samuel, the Lord intervened in any case and David did not have to fight with the Philistines.
And so, there you are. From one angle, we’re disappointed in David. But from another angle, we see that what he’s doing is — for the most part — right. He’s doing what the Lord’s anointed king is supposed to do, because he’s took over Ziklag which was part of the Promised Land and he conquered the enemies of the Lord.
And the Lord our God has promised to give us life in the Promised Land to come in the new heavens and earth. And therefore he sent his Son into the world to be our Great King and to conquer his and our enemies. By his resurrection from the dead, he has conquered death; and he now promises everlasting life to all who believe in him. For now, it seems that death always wins and every day death claims more and more victims for itself. There seems to be no escape for us from death. But Christ our King has conquered death and he gives eternal life to all who trust in him so that, though we die and our bodies are laid in the grave, yet we will one day be raised from the dead to live with him for ever.
And Christ our King who is now exalted in heaven has bound Satan who once held the whole world in captivity. But now he’s been bound; and the Lord Jesus now delivers his people from Satan’s tyranny and he brings us into his own kingdom of grace, which is an everlasting kingdom. And he promises to keep us in his kingdom forever.
And not only has Christ our King conquered death and Satan, but he has also conquered sin, because he has paid for our sins with his life so that we are set free from sin’s condemnation; and he gives us his Spirit to help us to resist sin and temptation in our daily lives and to do God’s will here on earth. He helps us to say ‘no’ to sin and to obey our Father in heaven.
Jesus Christ is God’s Great Anointed King who has conquered death and Satan and sin. And if you trust in him, then he gives his victory to you, so that you needn’t fear death, because you will live with him forever; and you don’t need to fear Satan, because Christ your King has bound Satan and delivered you from his tyranny; and he has conquered sin for you, so that you don’t need to fear the day of judgment, because for those who trust in Christ there is now no condemnation and there’s peace with God forever. And Christ your conquering king is even now preparing a place for you in the Promised Land to come, which is the new heavens and earth. And when he comes again, he will bring you into the new heavens and earth to live with him. And in the Promised Land to come, there will be no enemies to make you afraid or to hurt you, but you’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest in the presence of the Lord. And there will be no more sorrow or sadness or disease or death, but everlasting life. And so, what David did to take over Ziklag and to defeat the Canaanites foreshadows what Christ the King has done for you by defeating death and Satan and sin and to prepare a place for you in the Promised Land to come. And so, we should all trust in Christ our King, and keep trusting in him. And we should give thanks to God the Father for his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.