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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 29

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-5


“Now the Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek; and the Israelites were encamped by the fountain which is in Jezreel. As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here”? And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is not this David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years, and since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him; and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Send the man back, that he may return to the place to which you have assigned him; he shall not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? Is not this David, of whom they sing to one another in dances, `Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?”

It would have been some kind of a miracle if David’s long association with Achish had not resulted in his being sucked into the vortex of war against his own people; and only the intervention of God Himself prevented that from happening, as revealed here. Fortunately, the temptation that came to David in this trial brought with it the promised “way of escape,” as the Lord promised (1 Corinthians 10:13). David wrote in Psalms that, “I do not sit with false men… I hate the company of evildoers” (Psalms 26:4-5); but at this juncture in his life he had been closely associated with the wicked for years. God alone could have spared him from the disastrous results which might have ensued.


Willis cited no less that four reasons why the commanders of the Philistines vetoed the intention of Achish to take David and his men into the battle against Israel. These were:

(1) The long enmity between the Philistines and the Hebrews had resulted in deep mistrust on both sides.

(2) In the battle of Geba (1 Samuel 14:21), the Hebrews who had deserted to the Philistines defected to their fellow-Israelites and aided Saul in destroying the Philistines. As Caird noted, “That was an unanswerable objection to David’s being allowed to join their army.”(F1)

(3) If David and his men decided to go back to Saul, they would easily do so by slaughtering the Philistines (any great number of them) and taking their heads to Saul. An opportunity like that, the lords of the Philistines were determined not to put into the hands of David.

(4) David had a reputation of having slain “tens of thousands” of Philistines; and the lords of the Philistines were not about to forget it.(F2)

It is surprising that H. P. Smith wrote that there is, “An absence of any allusion to Goliath,”(F3) in this chapter, but the quotation of the Philistine lords of that song which was sung following David’s killing Goliath is just about the strongest allusion to David’s killing that giant that could be imagined.

“David… has been with me now for days and years” These words from Achish indicate the indefinite chronology of this whole chapter. As noted earlier, the Bible does not tell us how long David’s total sojourn in Philistia actually lasted. R. P. Smith wrote that, “This passage refers to an indefinitely long time.”(F4)

“I have found no fault in him to this day” David had completely deceived Achish; but fortunately for the Philistines, the other lords of the Philistines were not so gullible.

“They were angry… Send him back” Regardless of the wishes of Achish, the Philistine lords outvoted Achish and successfully removed David and his men from their forces.

“In this manner David was saved from making war on his own people and was returned to Ziklag exactly at the right time to save his wives and property from their confiscation by the Amalekites.”(F5)

How marvelous are the ways of God in the protection that He casts like a cloak around his saints!

Verses 6-11


“Then Achish called David and said to him, `As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign; for I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.’ And David said to Achish, `But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?’ And Achish made answer to David, `I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God; nevertheless the commanders of the Philistines have said, “He shall not go up with us to the battle.” Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you; and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.’ So David set out with his men early in the morning, to return to the land of the Philistines. But the Philistines went up to Jezreel.”

One cannot help wondering if all that undeserved praise which Achish heaped upon David did not hurt his conscience. Another source of acute curiosity on our part is the question of, “What did David really intend to do during that approaching battle?” Was he planning to betray Achish, attack the Philistines and to aid Israel? Who knows?

“What have you found in your servant… that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king” Of course, Achish conceitedly applied David’s words here as a pledge that he would fight for Achish and the Philistines, but THE WORDS DO NOT SAY THAT. This is another of those ambiguous remarks which David so skillfully employed in his phenomenal deceit of Achish. David’s fighting against the enemies of “my lord the king,” applies to Saul as well as to Achish.

As was his custom for years during this period of David’s life, he prevaricated continually. Here he pretended that he really wanted to go to battle with Achish, but it is very likely that such was not David’s real wish at all. Still he kept up his persistent line of falsehoods to Achish, but his reason for doing so is by no means clear. It is difficult to realize that the David who appears in these chapters is the same David who wrote:

O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly,
And does what is right,
And speaks truth in his heart (Psalms 15:1-2).

That the man’s conscience was indeed wounded by such continual lying as is seen in these chapters is indicated by Psalms 51, in which David wrote:

Behold thou desirest truth in the inward being…
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…
Hide thy face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities (Psalms 51:1-9).

“You are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God” “What Achish said of David here, God by the voice of his prophet said of `the house of David,’ `On that day the Lord will put a shield about the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, at their head’ (Zechariah 12:8).”(F6) Of course, this reference in Zechariah has in view the Messiah and the new Israel of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.

“With the servants of your lord who came with you” This rather ambiguous statement was clarified by Cook. “The clue to this is in 1 Chronicles 12:19-21, where it appears that a considerable number of Manassites “fell” to David just at this time, and went back with him to Ziklag. It was to these newcomers that Achish applied the expression here.”(F7)

Philbeck’s comment on David’s professed reluctance to be sent back to Ziklag indicated that, “Although David was relieved, his role as a loyal subject of Achish required him to protest the decision. Nevertheless, he and his troops were ready to leave the next morning at daylight.”(F8)

Keil’s concluding comment on this chapter catches the probable emotion of David regarding this development.

“In accordance with Achish’s orders, David returned the next morning into the land of the Philistines, to Ziklag; no doubt very light in heart, and praising God for having so graciously rescued him out of the disastrous situation into which he had been brought, and not altogether without some fault of his own, rejoicing that he had not committed either sin, i.e., he had neither violated his loyalty to Achish nor had he fought against his own people.”(F9)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 29". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-samuel-29.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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