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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 29

Verses 1-11

The Philistines Gather In Readiness For The Invasion of Israel And Refuse To Have David In Their Company (1 Samuel 29:1-9.29.11 ).

This passage brings out how very much the concentration of the writer of Samuel is on the personalities involved, and how little on the history. Here was one of the great moments of history when the massed hosts of the Philistines, stronger than ever before, were about to overwhelm Israel, and, probably for the first time since their arrival in Canaan, extend their empire over the River Jordan. It is covering the period of the establishment of the Philistine Empire at its largest, and the total subjugation of most of Israel. And what is the writer’s concentration on? The one who did not take part in the battle because he was not to be trusted by the Philistines (David), and what he meanwhile accomplished against a gathering of the tribes of Amalekites. In other words what the writer is interested in is what happened with David, and what subsequently happened to Saul (and had happened in 1 Samuel 28:0). His interest is in YHWH’s activity in history. The Philistines’ activities are simply colourful background. What he is concerned with here is the outworking of YHWH’s purposes. This is the story of YHWH.

David was certainly put on the spot as a result of the call to join in the invasion of Israel. Had he actually had to do so it is questionable whether he would ever have been able to re-establish his acceptability to the Israelites. But we are expected to see that YHWH intervened and prevented him from having to do so.

This being turned back was also providential for another reason, for while the Philistine army was on the march, unknown to anyone the Amalekites had taken advantage of the situation in order to invade the southern parts of Judah and Philistia, including Ziklag. With David on war duty, and gone for the duration, and both Judah and Philistia emptied of its main fighting troops, it was seen by them as too good an opportunity to be missed. And it would give them even more satisfaction in that they would be gaining vengeance for what David had done to their fellow-tribesmen (1 Samuel 27:8-9.27.9). They never dreamed that because YHWH was at work watching over His people David might return so soon.

Analysis.

a Now the Philistines gathered together all their hosts to Aphek: and the Israelites encamped by the fountain which is in Jezreel (1 Samuel 29:1).

b And the lords of the Philistines passed on by ‘hundreds’, and by ‘thousands’ (smaller and larger military units), and David and his men passed on in the rearward with Achish (1 Samuel 29:2).

c Then said the princes of the Philistines, “What do these Hebrews here?” And Achish said to the princes of the Philistines, “Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, who has been with me these days, or rather these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell away to me unto this day?” But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him, and the princes of the Philistines said to him, “Make the man return, that he may go back to his place where you have appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For by what method should this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Should it not be with the heads of these men?” (1 Samuel 29:3-9.29.4).

d “Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands?” (1 Samuel 29:5).

e Then Achish called David, and said to him, “As YHWH lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the host is good in my sight, for I have not found evil in you since the day of your coming to me to this day (1 Samuel 29:6 a).

f Nevertheless the lords do not favour you. For this reason now return, and go in peace, that you displease not the lords of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 29:6-9.29.7).

e And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant for as long as I have been before you to this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” (1 Samuel 29:8).

d And Achish answered and said to David, “I know that you are good in my sight, as an angel of God.”

c “Notwithstanding the princes of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle’. For this reason now rise up early in the morning with the servants of your lord who are come with you, and as soon as you are up early in the morning, and have light, depart” (1 Samuel 29:9-9.29.10).

b So David rose up early, he and his men, to depart in the morning, to return into the land of the Philistines (1 Samuel 29:11 a).

a And the Philistines went up to Jezreel (1 Samuel 29:11 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel were encamped by the spring which is in Jezreel, and in the parallel the Philistines went up to Jezreel. In ‘b’ David went up with the Philistines, and in the parallel he returns from following the Philistines. In ‘c’ the Philistines refuse to let him ‘go down to battle’ and command that he return to Philistia, and in the parallel Achish points this out and tells him to return to Philistia. In ‘d’ the women of Israel sang of David’s glory, and in the parallel Achish sees him as ‘like an angel of God’. In ‘e’ Achish declares him faithful and reliable and in the parallel David argues that he is faithful and reliable. In ‘f’ it is stressed that David is not favoured by the lords of the Philistines, and that he must therefore go in peace and return to Ziklag.

1 Samuel 29:1

Now the Philistines gathered together all their hosts to Aphek, and the Israelites encamped by the spring which is in Jezreel.’

The writer was not really interested in the details of the invasion, but only in its consequences. However, we can gather from what he does tell us something of what happened. It would appear that the speed of movement of the invasion forces had taken Saul by surprise, so that although the call went out to the tribes in the north and in Transjordan, neither sets of levies had time to reach him prior to the battle with the result that they could only watch in dismay, (the northern tribes from across the valley of Jezreel), while those whom Saul had been able to gather initially were cut to pieces, first at Jezreel and then as they fled over Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:7).

There are two possible scenarios depending on whether we take the Aphek here to be that near Bethhoron (1 Samuel 4:1), or another Aphek further northward. Either is possible for we know that ‘Aphek’ in fact means ‘a fortress’ and we also know that there were a number of Apheks (fortress cities). Thus this Aphek may have been in or near the valley of Jezreel.

Some, however, see this verse as a flashback, referring to the initial gathering of the Philistine forces prior to their advance on Shunem (1 Samuel 28:4). This would place the David incident in 1 Samuel 29:0 prior to the Philistine movement on Shunem. Others see it as occurring after the Philistines had initially gathered, and had arrived at Shunem, being the next stage in their advance towards Jezreel. This ties in better with the impression we get from 1 Samuel 28:0 that David was with Achish at Shunem.

Either way Saul may have encamped where he did, rather than further southward, precisely because he was in expectancy of being joined by the tribal levies from the northern tribes, and hoped that they might arrive before the Philistines did, something which unfortunately for him may never have occurred (1 Samuel 31:7), simply because of the early Philistine arrival in Jezreel. If that is so it would appear that the Transjordanian levies also never had time to reach him (1 Samuel 31:7).

On the other hand the ‘men of Israel’ mentioned in 1 Samuel 31:7 may merely have been those left behind to guard their cities, in which case Saul would have had his full forces, with the description in 1 Samuel 31:7 simply bringing out the consequence of the battle, that the cities of Israel were subjugated by the Philistines to an extent never known before, as the Philistine empire reached its maximum extent.

But the writer is not over interested in all this. What he is concerned to present is the fact that while Saul and all Israel were in process of being hopelessly defeated and decimated, as YHWH had declared, David was marching off towards victory and triumph, maintaining the integrity of his ‘kingdom’, again within the purposes of YHWH. The Philistine triumph would not be the end of Israel.

“The spring of Jezreel.” This spring is probably the present Ain Jalûd (or Ain Jalût, i.e. ‘Goliath's spring’, so called because it was regarded as the scene of the defeat of Goliath). It is a very large spring, which issues from a cleft in the rock at the foot of the mountain on the north-eastern border of Gilboa, forming a beautifully limpid pool of about forty or fifty feet in diameter, and then flowing in a stream through the valley, being sufficient to turn a millwheel.

1 Samuel 29:2

And the lords (seren - only used of Philistine ‘kings’) of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands, and David and his men passed on in the rearward with Achish.’

Meanwhile the Philistines marched on Jezreel, perfectly organised in military units both small (‘hundreds’) and large (‘thousands’). And with them marched David and his ‘hundreds’, acting as bodyguards to Achish who was taking up the rear. The fact that he had made them his bodyguard demonstrated that he saw them as some of his best troops. It was an army to be feared.

1 Samuel 29:3

Then said the princes of the Philistines, “What do these Hebrews here?” And Achish said to the princes of the Philistines, “Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, who has been with me these days, or rather these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell away to me unto this day?”

But the other ‘lords’ of the Philistines, (here also described as ‘princes’, although this latter term may have indicated a wider group) were not pleased to see the Hebrew contingent among their forces. Possibly their memories went back to how Hebrew contingents had previously proved false when the heat of the battle was on (1 Samuel 14:21). So they asked Achish why he had brought these Hebrews along. Achish’s reply was that this was David, the former servant of Saul, who had proved himself a loyal servant to Achish through the years. The detailed reply was probably intended by the writer to be seen in the light of 1 Samuel 27:7-9.27.12, and to remind the reader and listener (when it was read out at feasts) how thoroughly David had duped Achish. He wanted David’s continued supremacy to be recognised. He was no one’s tool.

“Is not this ---?” Compare the similar question in 1 Samuel 29:5. Note how the reply here parallels that in 1 Samuel 29:5. This first reply indicates that Achish, while glorying in David’s faithfulness, has been deceived by David’s wiles and is therefore really the plaything of David, while 1 Samuel 29:5 reveals David’s supremacy as a fighting man. In other words both are deliberately exalting David. This is part of the point of the passage. All are to recognise that he is YHWH’s man and no one else’s.

1 Samuel 29:4

But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him, and the princes of the Philistines said to him, “Make the man return, that he may go back to his place where you have appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For by what method should this one reconcile himself to his lord? Should it not be with the heads of these men?” ’

The other leaders of the Philistines were, however, not impressed, and expressed their feelings forcefully. They demanded that David and his men return to the city that Achish had appointed him, and not go with them to battle, because they were afraid that in the heat of battle he might suddenly turn on them in order to win favour with Saul. They were, of course, totally unaware of the detailed history of the antipathy that Saul had for David. Given what had happened previously, and in the light of what they knew, their fears were perfectly justified.

It should be noted that they appear to have had nothing personal against David and his men (apart from viewing him with contempt as expressed by ‘the man’ and ‘this one’), and were quite content for Achish to employ them as mercenaries under any other circumstance. They were presumably even confident that David would not leave them and join up with Saul (what a difference it might have made). What they were not willing to do was have Hebrews among them when they were going to battle against Hebrews, and especially such a one as David. And they were clearly confident of their strength without him and his men.

1 Samuel 29:5

Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands?”

They then reminded Achish of David’s famed prowess in battle, and especially against Philistines. Had not the Israelite women in earlier days acclaimed him as the greatest warrior in Israel so that his name had become proverbial? For the citation compare 1 Samuel 18:7; 1 Samuel 21:11. This is the third time that it has been cited, emphasising the completeness of David’s superiority to Saul in the eyes of all. It brings out that his triumphs had never been forgotten in Israel, so much so that they were also well known in Philistia. (Had it only been said on one occasion it would not have become so prominently remembered. But it was clearly a sore point with the Philistines). They were thus pointing out to Achish that David was a famed slayer of Philistines. While they acknowledged that that was in the past they did not want that to happen again.

1 Samuel 29:6

Then Achish called David, and said to him, “As YHWH lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the host is good in my sight, for I have not found evil in you since the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless the lords do not favour you.”

Reluctantly Achish gave way to their request, and called David to him and explained that while he himself had every confidence in David’s loyalty, having never found any fault in him, the lords of the Philistines did not favour him, partly because he was a Hebrew (which was how foreigners would see him) and partly because of his reputation.

It is noteworthy that Achish swears by YHWH. This would presumably be because in his dealings with David he had become used to this as a regular form of oath used by David, with the familiar form of oath intended to appease David by expressing a show of sympathy with his position in a way that was familiar to him. It suggests that he wanted David to know that his heart was with him. (Compare Ittai the Gittite in 2 Samuel 15:21)

1 Samuel 29:7

For this reason now return, and go in peace, that you displease not the lords of the Philistines.”

So he now requested David to go in peace and return to Ziklag so that he might not displease or annoy the lords of the Philistines any further.

1 Samuel 29:8

And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant for as long as I have been before you to this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”

David’s response was to profess his total loyalty to Achish. He asked on what grounds he was being sent home, and challenged Achish to produce any evidence to support the doubt being cast on him. And he affirmed his willingness to fight on behalf of Achish against any of his enemies. By this David was ensuring that Achish would not have any suspicion about his being unwilling to fight.

It is difficult, however, to believe that David was not secretly relieved. He could not have been looking forward to entering into battle against his own countrymen, as his past behaviour brings out (1 Samuel 27:10-9.27.12), and had he gone into battle alongside the Philistine forces he would almost certainly have lost the goodwill in Judah and Israel that he had carefully built up. But he would not want Achish to doubt his total loyalty, and thus strongly argued his position, probably quite well aware that any such argument would be pointless. The decision was no longer in Achish’s hands. Once again he is seen as leading Achish on a string. (It was probably Achish’s total confidence in David that prevented the Philistines from interfering with David’s later proclamation as king of Judah. He no doubt assured them that David was their man).

1 Samuel 29:9

And Achish answered and said to David, “I know that you are good in my sight, as an angel of God. Notwithstanding the princes of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ ”

Achish strove to assure David that he himself had no doubt at all about his loyalty. Indeed to him David was so highly esteemed that he was as a messenger from God (compare 2 Samuel 14:17; 2 Samuel 14:20; 2 Samuel 19:27). But he then pointed out that the issue was no longer in his hands. In the circumstances he had no alternative but to bow to the will of the other lords of the Philistines, and they had forbidden David’s presence at the coming battle.

1 Samuel 29:10

For this reason now rise up early in the morning with the servants of your lord who are come with you, and as soon as you are up early in the morning, and have light, depart.”

So David was ordered to depart for Ziklag, along with his men (the other servants of his lord, Achish, who were with him) as soon as the sun arose, and there was light. Note the threefold emphasis on ‘early in the morning’ in 1 Samuel 29:10-9.29.11. There was to be no delay. It would seem that battle was about to be joined. In the writer’s mind there was also the knowledge of a further reason for haste, and that was that, unknown to all at this stage, Ziklag was under attack and would shortly lay in ruins.

The emphasis on the fact that David and his men must depart in the light of day stands in stark contrast to Saul who had departed into ‘that night’ (1 Samuel 28:25). The threefold emphasis in respect of David may be intended to emphasise the contrast. We are to see that David was marching forward into the light of day, while Saul was heading into the dark, because one was living according to YHWH’s commandments, whereas the other had held YHWH at arm’s length and had finally turned away from Him completely.

Some see ‘servants of your lord’ as indicating their past service to Saul, but it is not likely that that is how Achish would see David and his men (in spite of 1 Samuel 29:3).

1 Samuel 29:11

So David rose up early, he and his men, to depart in the morning, to return into the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel.’

So early the next morning David and his men rose up and returned to Philistia, while the Philistines themselves advanced on the valley of Jezreel, where battle would take place on Israelite soil. YHWH had ‘stepped in’ in order to prevent David from acting against his fellow-countrymen.

Verses 1-11

The Philistines Gather In Readiness For The Invasion of Israel And Refuse To Have David In Their Company (1 Samuel 29:1-9.29.11 ).

This passage brings out how very much the concentration of the writer of Samuel is on the personalities involved, and how little on the history. Here was one of the great moments of history when the massed hosts of the Philistines, stronger than ever before, were about to overwhelm Israel, and, probably for the first time since their arrival in Canaan, extend their empire over the River Jordan. It is covering the period of the establishment of the Philistine Empire at its largest, and the total subjugation of most of Israel. And what is the writer’s concentration on? The one who did not take part in the battle because he was not to be trusted by the Philistines (David), and what he meanwhile accomplished against a gathering of the tribes of Amalekites. In other words what the writer is interested in is what happened with David, and what subsequently happened to Saul (and had happened in 1 Samuel 28:0). His interest is in YHWH’s activity in history. The Philistines’ activities are simply colourful background. What he is concerned with here is the outworking of YHWH’s purposes. This is the story of YHWH.

David was certainly put on the spot as a result of the call to join in the invasion of Israel. Had he actually had to do so it is questionable whether he would ever have been able to re-establish his acceptability to the Israelites. But we are expected to see that YHWH intervened and prevented him from having to do so.

This being turned back was also providential for another reason, for while the Philistine army was on the march, unknown to anyone the Amalekites had taken advantage of the situation in order to invade the southern parts of Judah and Philistia, including Ziklag. With David on war duty, and gone for the duration, and both Judah and Philistia emptied of its main fighting troops, it was seen by them as too good an opportunity to be missed. And it would give them even more satisfaction in that they would be gaining vengeance for what David had done to their fellow-tribesmen (1 Samuel 27:8-9.27.9). They never dreamed that because YHWH was at work watching over His people David might return so soon.

Analysis.

a Now the Philistines gathered together all their hosts to Aphek: and the Israelites encamped by the fountain which is in Jezreel (1 Samuel 29:1).

b And the lords of the Philistines passed on by ‘hundreds’, and by ‘thousands’ (smaller and larger military units), and David and his men passed on in the rearward with Achish (1 Samuel 29:2).

c Then said the princes of the Philistines, “What do these Hebrews here?” And Achish said to the princes of the Philistines, “Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, who has been with me these days, or rather these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell away to me unto this day?” But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him, and the princes of the Philistines said to him, “Make the man return, that he may go back to his place where you have appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For by what method should this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Should it not be with the heads of these men?” (1 Samuel 29:3-9.29.4).

d “Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands?” (1 Samuel 29:5).

e Then Achish called David, and said to him, “As YHWH lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the host is good in my sight, for I have not found evil in you since the day of your coming to me to this day (1 Samuel 29:6 a).

f Nevertheless the lords do not favour you. For this reason now return, and go in peace, that you displease not the lords of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 29:6-9.29.7).

e And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant for as long as I have been before you to this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” (1 Samuel 29:8).

d And Achish answered and said to David, “I know that you are good in my sight, as an angel of God.”

c “Notwithstanding the princes of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle’. For this reason now rise up early in the morning with the servants of your lord who are come with you, and as soon as you are up early in the morning, and have light, depart” (1 Samuel 29:9-9.29.10).

b So David rose up early, he and his men, to depart in the morning, to return into the land of the Philistines (1 Samuel 29:11 a).

a And the Philistines went up to Jezreel (1 Samuel 29:11 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Israel were encamped by the spring which is in Jezreel, and in the parallel the Philistines went up to Jezreel. In ‘b’ David went up with the Philistines, and in the parallel he returns from following the Philistines. In ‘c’ the Philistines refuse to let him ‘go down to battle’ and command that he return to Philistia, and in the parallel Achish points this out and tells him to return to Philistia. In ‘d’ the women of Israel sang of David’s glory, and in the parallel Achish sees him as ‘like an angel of God’. In ‘e’ Achish declares him faithful and reliable and in the parallel David argues that he is faithful and reliable. In ‘f’ it is stressed that David is not favoured by the lords of the Philistines, and that he must therefore go in peace and return to Ziklag.

1 Samuel 29:1

Now the Philistines gathered together all their hosts to Aphek, and the Israelites encamped by the spring which is in Jezreel.’

The writer was not really interested in the details of the invasion, but only in its consequences. However, we can gather from what he does tell us something of what happened. It would appear that the speed of movement of the invasion forces had taken Saul by surprise, so that although the call went out to the tribes in the north and in Transjordan, neither sets of levies had time to reach him prior to the battle with the result that they could only watch in dismay, (the northern tribes from across the valley of Jezreel), while those whom Saul had been able to gather initially were cut to pieces, first at Jezreel and then as they fled over Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:7).

There are two possible scenarios depending on whether we take the Aphek here to be that near Bethhoron (1 Samuel 4:1), or another Aphek further northward. Either is possible for we know that ‘Aphek’ in fact means ‘a fortress’ and we also know that there were a number of Apheks (fortress cities). Thus this Aphek may have been in or near the valley of Jezreel.

Some, however, see this verse as a flashback, referring to the initial gathering of the Philistine forces prior to their advance on Shunem (1 Samuel 28:4). This would place the David incident in 1 Samuel 29:0 prior to the Philistine movement on Shunem. Others see it as occurring after the Philistines had initially gathered, and had arrived at Shunem, being the next stage in their advance towards Jezreel. This ties in better with the impression we get from 1 Samuel 28:0 that David was with Achish at Shunem.

Either way Saul may have encamped where he did, rather than further southward, precisely because he was in expectancy of being joined by the tribal levies from the northern tribes, and hoped that they might arrive before the Philistines did, something which unfortunately for him may never have occurred (1 Samuel 31:7), simply because of the early Philistine arrival in Jezreel. If that is so it would appear that the Transjordanian levies also never had time to reach him (1 Samuel 31:7).

On the other hand the ‘men of Israel’ mentioned in 1 Samuel 31:7 may merely have been those left behind to guard their cities, in which case Saul would have had his full forces, with the description in 1 Samuel 31:7 simply bringing out the consequence of the battle, that the cities of Israel were subjugated by the Philistines to an extent never known before, as the Philistine empire reached its maximum extent.

But the writer is not over interested in all this. What he is concerned to present is the fact that while Saul and all Israel were in process of being hopelessly defeated and decimated, as YHWH had declared, David was marching off towards victory and triumph, maintaining the integrity of his ‘kingdom’, again within the purposes of YHWH. The Philistine triumph would not be the end of Israel.

“The spring of Jezreel.” This spring is probably the present Ain Jalûd (or Ain Jalût, i.e. ‘Goliath's spring’, so called because it was regarded as the scene of the defeat of Goliath). It is a very large spring, which issues from a cleft in the rock at the foot of the mountain on the north-eastern border of Gilboa, forming a beautifully limpid pool of about forty or fifty feet in diameter, and then flowing in a stream through the valley, being sufficient to turn a millwheel.

1 Samuel 29:2

And the lords (seren - only used of Philistine ‘kings’) of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands, and David and his men passed on in the rearward with Achish.’

Meanwhile the Philistines marched on Jezreel, perfectly organised in military units both small (‘hundreds’) and large (‘thousands’). And with them marched David and his ‘hundreds’, acting as bodyguards to Achish who was taking up the rear. The fact that he had made them his bodyguard demonstrated that he saw them as some of his best troops. It was an army to be feared.

1 Samuel 29:3

Then said the princes of the Philistines, “What do these Hebrews here?” And Achish said to the princes of the Philistines, “Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, who has been with me these days, or rather these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell away to me unto this day?”

But the other ‘lords’ of the Philistines, (here also described as ‘princes’, although this latter term may have indicated a wider group) were not pleased to see the Hebrew contingent among their forces. Possibly their memories went back to how Hebrew contingents had previously proved false when the heat of the battle was on (1 Samuel 14:21). So they asked Achish why he had brought these Hebrews along. Achish’s reply was that this was David, the former servant of Saul, who had proved himself a loyal servant to Achish through the years. The detailed reply was probably intended by the writer to be seen in the light of 1 Samuel 27:7-9.27.12, and to remind the reader and listener (when it was read out at feasts) how thoroughly David had duped Achish. He wanted David’s continued supremacy to be recognised. He was no one’s tool.

“Is not this ---?” Compare the similar question in 1 Samuel 29:5. Note how the reply here parallels that in 1 Samuel 29:5. This first reply indicates that Achish, while glorying in David’s faithfulness, has been deceived by David’s wiles and is therefore really the plaything of David, while 1 Samuel 29:5 reveals David’s supremacy as a fighting man. In other words both are deliberately exalting David. This is part of the point of the passage. All are to recognise that he is YHWH’s man and no one else’s.

1 Samuel 29:4

But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him, and the princes of the Philistines said to him, “Make the man return, that he may go back to his place where you have appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For by what method should this one reconcile himself to his lord? Should it not be with the heads of these men?” ’

The other leaders of the Philistines were, however, not impressed, and expressed their feelings forcefully. They demanded that David and his men return to the city that Achish had appointed him, and not go with them to battle, because they were afraid that in the heat of battle he might suddenly turn on them in order to win favour with Saul. They were, of course, totally unaware of the detailed history of the antipathy that Saul had for David. Given what had happened previously, and in the light of what they knew, their fears were perfectly justified.

It should be noted that they appear to have had nothing personal against David and his men (apart from viewing him with contempt as expressed by ‘the man’ and ‘this one’), and were quite content for Achish to employ them as mercenaries under any other circumstance. They were presumably even confident that David would not leave them and join up with Saul (what a difference it might have made). What they were not willing to do was have Hebrews among them when they were going to battle against Hebrews, and especially such a one as David. And they were clearly confident of their strength without him and his men.

1 Samuel 29:5

Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands?”

They then reminded Achish of David’s famed prowess in battle, and especially against Philistines. Had not the Israelite women in earlier days acclaimed him as the greatest warrior in Israel so that his name had become proverbial? For the citation compare 1 Samuel 18:7; 1 Samuel 21:11. This is the third time that it has been cited, emphasising the completeness of David’s superiority to Saul in the eyes of all. It brings out that his triumphs had never been forgotten in Israel, so much so that they were also well known in Philistia. (Had it only been said on one occasion it would not have become so prominently remembered. But it was clearly a sore point with the Philistines). They were thus pointing out to Achish that David was a famed slayer of Philistines. While they acknowledged that that was in the past they did not want that to happen again.

1 Samuel 29:6

Then Achish called David, and said to him, “As YHWH lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the host is good in my sight, for I have not found evil in you since the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless the lords do not favour you.”

Reluctantly Achish gave way to their request, and called David to him and explained that while he himself had every confidence in David’s loyalty, having never found any fault in him, the lords of the Philistines did not favour him, partly because he was a Hebrew (which was how foreigners would see him) and partly because of his reputation.

It is noteworthy that Achish swears by YHWH. This would presumably be because in his dealings with David he had become used to this as a regular form of oath used by David, with the familiar form of oath intended to appease David by expressing a show of sympathy with his position in a way that was familiar to him. It suggests that he wanted David to know that his heart was with him. (Compare Ittai the Gittite in 2 Samuel 15:21)

1 Samuel 29:7

For this reason now return, and go in peace, that you displease not the lords of the Philistines.”

So he now requested David to go in peace and return to Ziklag so that he might not displease or annoy the lords of the Philistines any further.

1 Samuel 29:8

And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant for as long as I have been before you to this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”

David’s response was to profess his total loyalty to Achish. He asked on what grounds he was being sent home, and challenged Achish to produce any evidence to support the doubt being cast on him. And he affirmed his willingness to fight on behalf of Achish against any of his enemies. By this David was ensuring that Achish would not have any suspicion about his being unwilling to fight.

It is difficult, however, to believe that David was not secretly relieved. He could not have been looking forward to entering into battle against his own countrymen, as his past behaviour brings out (1 Samuel 27:10-9.27.12), and had he gone into battle alongside the Philistine forces he would almost certainly have lost the goodwill in Judah and Israel that he had carefully built up. But he would not want Achish to doubt his total loyalty, and thus strongly argued his position, probably quite well aware that any such argument would be pointless. The decision was no longer in Achish’s hands. Once again he is seen as leading Achish on a string. (It was probably Achish’s total confidence in David that prevented the Philistines from interfering with David’s later proclamation as king of Judah. He no doubt assured them that David was their man).

1 Samuel 29:9

And Achish answered and said to David, “I know that you are good in my sight, as an angel of God. Notwithstanding the princes of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ ”

Achish strove to assure David that he himself had no doubt at all about his loyalty. Indeed to him David was so highly esteemed that he was as a messenger from God (compare 2 Samuel 14:17; 2 Samuel 14:20; 2 Samuel 19:27). But he then pointed out that the issue was no longer in his hands. In the circumstances he had no alternative but to bow to the will of the other lords of the Philistines, and they had forbidden David’s presence at the coming battle.

1 Samuel 29:10

For this reason now rise up early in the morning with the servants of your lord who are come with you, and as soon as you are up early in the morning, and have light, depart.”

So David was ordered to depart for Ziklag, along with his men (the other servants of his lord, Achish, who were with him) as soon as the sun arose, and there was light. Note the threefold emphasis on ‘early in the morning’ in 1 Samuel 29:10-9.29.11. There was to be no delay. It would seem that battle was about to be joined. In the writer’s mind there was also the knowledge of a further reason for haste, and that was that, unknown to all at this stage, Ziklag was under attack and would shortly lay in ruins.

The emphasis on the fact that David and his men must depart in the light of day stands in stark contrast to Saul who had departed into ‘that night’ (1 Samuel 28:25). The threefold emphasis in respect of David may be intended to emphasise the contrast. We are to see that David was marching forward into the light of day, while Saul was heading into the dark, because one was living according to YHWH’s commandments, whereas the other had held YHWH at arm’s length and had finally turned away from Him completely.

Some see ‘servants of your lord’ as indicating their past service to Saul, but it is not likely that that is how Achish would see David and his men (in spite of 1 Samuel 29:3).

1 Samuel 29:11

So David rose up early, he and his men, to depart in the morning, to return into the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel.’

So early the next morning David and his men rose up and returned to Philistia, while the Philistines themselves advanced on the valley of Jezreel, where battle would take place on Israelite soil. YHWH had ‘stepped in’ in order to prevent David from acting against his fellow-countrymen.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 29". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/1-samuel-29.html. 2013.