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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
1 Samuel 27

 

 

Introduction

DAVID SPARED SAUL'S LIFE A SECOND TIME

The critical canard that would relegate this chapter to the status of a "mere variation" of that other report of Saul's life being spared by David (1 Samuel 24) is an example of the same kind of "scholarship" that might identify the Battle of New Orleans with the Battle of Waterloo! Oh, but those battles were at different times, different places, involving different personnel and with different results. The same differences mark these two accounts of David's refusal to kill Saul when he had an excellent opportunity to do so. It is true, of course, that a limited number of the personnel participated in both events, those battles, and these two Biblical episodes, but that is no license to claim that these events are contradictory accounts of only one event or only one battle. The only alleged reason for this radical critical claim is that given by Canon Cook, "The incident is of a nature unlikely to have occurred more than once."[1] Indeed! If that was true, why would the Sacred Text have included both narratives?


Verses 1-4

DAVID'S LIFE AMONG THE PHILISTINES; DAVID DECIDED TO LEAVE ISRAEL

"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 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." 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. And David dwelt 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. And when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he sought for him no more."

"And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul" (1 Samuel 27:1). David had been warned upon another occasion when he was in Moab to return to Judah (1 Samuel 22:5); and it does not appear that it was God's will for David to dwell in Philistia at this time. There is no mention of him having consulted the sacred ephod or having sought the will of God in this matter. David's character during this sojourn in Philistia did not measure up to the high standard that would have pleased God.

Nevertheless, one can sympathize with David's thoughts during this period of his frustration and weakness of faith. As Henry said, "Long trials are in danger of tiring the faith and patience of even the best men."[1] From the human standpoint, David's situation was desperate. He and his six hundred men were hopelessly outnumbered by Saul and his thousands; and, having tried twice to persuade Saul to accept a reconciliation and without success, David decided to leave Israel.

The mention of David and his men bringing their wives and families into Gath indicates that the increasing danger to those families was one of the considerations that led David to this action.

"David went over ... with his six hundred men" (1 Samuel 27:2). "Achish welcomed David, no doubt because of the six hundred men which he commanded."[2]

"When it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he sought for him no more" (1 Samuel 27:4). A very important observation on this verse is that of Willis who wrote that, "The Bible does not tell us how long this sojourn in Gath lasted."[3] This means that even many years saw this arrangement continued. The word here that, "Saul sought for him no more," certainly suggests a considerable passage of time. Matthew Henry's quaint observation on this reads thus: "Saul would have continued his efforts to kill David if he could have done so, but he did not dare go down into Gath after him. Thus men seem to leave their sins, but really their sins leave them; and they would still sin if they could."[4]


Verses 5-7

THE TOWN OF ZIKLAG WAS GIVEN TO DAVID BY ACHISH

"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"? So that day Achish gave him Ziklag; therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. And the number of the days that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months."

We are not given much information about the conditions upon which Achish settled David in Ziklag, but part of David's obligation, as proved by subsequent developments, included his report back to Achish in Gath after each military expedition, including, no doubt, a sharing of the spoil from such endeavors with Achish, David's overlord.

"Ziklag" was an ideal location for David. "Scholars now generally agree that Ziklag is the modern Tel el-Khuweilifeh, about twelve miles north-northeast of Beersheba."[5] Following the Conquest, Ziklag was assigned to Simeon but later incorporated into the territory of Judah (Joshua 19:5). Although David had suggested this change as a convenience to Achish, that could not possibly have been his real motive. David needed to be at a distance from the observation of Achish in order to carry out his plans for deceiving the king of Gath. Furthermore, as Young wrote, "In a district of his own David could observe his own religious rites without being under the surveillance of the king."[6]

"Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day" (1 Samuel 27:6). This writer believes that such expressions as this are in all probability interpolations due to some later copyist adding the words in the margin and which eventually found their way into the text. Note that this expression is no part whatever of the narrative. The use which most scholars make of an expression such as this is that of making it a device for late-dating the Biblical book where it is found. To this writer, it seems very suspicious that critical scholars such as H. P. Smith who could always find anywhere from two or three to thirty or forty `interpolated verses' in a single chapter, always takes a comment like that at the head of this paragraph as the gospel truth and positive evidence of a late date. Such maneuvers are absolutely unbelievable.

"The number of days that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months" (1 Samuel 27:7). This is a mistranslation, representing some "scholarly guess" instead of what the Hebrew text says. Dummelow wrote that, "The Hebrew text here is literally, `days and four months,'"[7] thus being no definite statement whatever of the time David was with the Philistines. The RSV (the version we are following) guessed the time as a year and four months; but the Septuagint (LXX) guessed it as only four months; and according to H. P. Smith, both versions missed it, being far "Too short in the light of Achish's own statement in 1 Samuel 29:3."[8]


Verses 8-12

DAVID'S DECEPTION OF ACHISH IN HIS MILITARY RAIDS

"Now David and his men went up, and made raids on the Geshurites, and 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. And David smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive, but took away the sheep, the oxen, the asses, the camels, and the garments, and came back to Achish. When Achish asked, "Against whom 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." And David saved neither man nor woman alive, to bring tidings to Gath, thinking, "Lest they should tell about us, and say, `So David has done.'" And Achish trusted David, thinking, `He has made himself utterly abhorred by his people Israel; therefore he shall be my servant always.'"

"The Geshurites ... the Girzites ... and the Amalekites" (1 Samuel 27:8). These were the peoples that David raided; and who were they? They were all in the category of Israel's enemies, having dwelt in the land of Israel `from of old,' thus being among the nations God had devoted, placed under the ban, and ordered their total extermination during the Conquest. David no doubt used that ancient order of God to Joshua regarding the extermination of those peoples to justify his brutal butchery of whole cities among those peoples; and Matthew Henry thought that we can, "Acquit David of this injustice and cruelty because those peoples had been long ago doomed by heaven for destruction."[9] Maybe so! But David's constant lying to Achish about what he was actually doing is totally without justification. "The butchery and deceit here practiced by David are indicative of the desperate situation in which he found himself."[10]

"David ... came back to Achish" (1 Samuel 27:9). "This does not mean that David lived at Garb; he just went back there to share the spoils with Achish."[11]

"Against whom have you made a raid to day?" (1 Samuel 27:10). It was to the questions of Achish such as this that David returned false answers. He was, in fact, consistently raiding the enemies of Israel, but he informed Achish that he was actually raiding the Israelites, saying, in effect, `I have been raiding southern Judah.'

"The Negeb of Judah ... the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites ... the Negeb of the Kenites" (1 Samuel 27:10). "The word `Negeb' literally means. `the dry country.'"[12] By these assertions, David convinced Achish that he was making all of those raids against Judah and related Israelites. "The first named here was the tribe of Judah itself; the second of these three peoples was one of the prominent clans of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:9,42)";[13] and the Kenites had been associated with Israel since the days of Moses, whose father-in-law Jethro was of the Kenites. Also Jael who destroyed Sisera was a Kenite. If David had actually raided these people, as he said he did, Achish's belief that Israel at that time abhorred David would have been true.

"So David hath done" (1 Samuel 27:11). Keil rejected the rendition of the RSV that connects these words with what David feared the victims might say if he had spared any of them, making the words instead, "A clause appended by the historian himself, to the effect that David continued to act in that manner as long as he dwelt in the land of the Philistines."[14]

There is no way to gloss over David's sin in this. He lied continually about what he was really doing. Achish who believed David, trusted him and aided him was shamefully betrayed and deceived by David. As Willis stated it, "Like Saul and Nabal who returned to David evil for good, so David here returned to Achish evil for good."[15] Matthew Henry supposed that David's conscience must have hurt him because of all this, because of what is written in Psalms 119:29, "Remove from me the way of lying (KJV)." (Henry ascribed this Psalm to David).[16]

The chronology of these final chapters of First Samuel is not stressed in any manner. Between the death of Samuel (1 Samuel 25:1) and that of Saul (1 Samuel 31), a very long period elapsed. Josephus stated that it was twenty-two years; and although modern scholars question this, the old tradition that Saul reigned 40 years has never been disproved. These few chapters regarding those final twenty-two years are, in one way, much like the extremely abbreviated record in Numbers of Israel's forty years in the wilderness. God's purpose here is not to tell us all that happened, but to give us things for our admonition and instruction.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 27:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-samuel-27.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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