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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 27

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verse 1

1 Samuel 27:1

And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.

Despondency: Its causes and cure

The gloom and despondency of David’s heart. How variable is the Christian’s experience! Few pass on long without changes; the more equable Christians are generally those of the slightest attainment. The little tree is but moved by the breeze, the ponderous oak with its outstretching branches feels ice full weight; the tiny lake then only presents a small surface is but rippled, the sea is heaved and lashed into a fury. The powerful passion is generally allied to the corresponding intellect and acts as a counterbalancing power. David was a large-souled and large-hearted man, his experience is ever-varying, the slightest circumstance stirs him to the depths.

The causes of this despondency. God never willeth that we should be cast down; it is attributable to ourselves. Some men exclude themselves from the rays of the sun; it shines nevertheless.

1. The first cause here is his regarding man as a primary instead of a secondary agent. “I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.” Why? Is there anything in Saul that came not from God? Is he a man? God made him. A king? God appointed him. Has he power? It also belongs to God, and when His arm is removed, Saul at once becomes the helpless child. Another cause is found:--

2. In communing with his heart instead of with God. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man,” is as much true of ourselves as others. The earth kept by the centripetal and centrifugal forces never wanders too far from, or goes too near, the sun; let them cease but for one moment and we should with lightning speed rush into collision, or be lost in endless space. So man’s heart under Heavenly guidance is, and must be right. Die by the enemy, go into the land of the Philistines. The enemy within suggested it.

David erred in comparing his own with his enemy’s forces. Compare the suggestions of sense and faith. Sense says, what can six hundred with a valiant captain do against the army of Saul? Sense sees the host of Satan’s emissaries encamped before the solitary soul and says, Fly, for thy life fly, ere they overtake. Faith goes beyond, stoops not to count the opposing forces, and gives assurance of the victory. Sense says, “I shall one day fetish by the hand of Saul.” Faith says, Greater is be that is for me titan all that can be against me. “Stand still and see the salvation of God.”

Another cause of his despondency was his forgetfulness of the Divine promises. Had not Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, visited his father’s house and anointed him king? Had not this choice again and again been ratified? Had not Saul, his enemy, been forced to acknowledge him as his successor? Yet Saul is to kill him.

See the consequence of acting on such convictions. It may be that some of us have found our way into the land of the Philistines, have gone for peace and found war, gone for safety and have been more exposed. Why? Because we have acted against the Spirit and the Word. Take David’s experience as confirmatory of such results. Listen no more to such misleading assertions. Die! yes, you will, as far as a separation of the body from the spirit is concerned; but by the hand of the enemy, never, no, neverse (J. H. Snell.)

Sins arising from discouragement

1. This incident in David’s life is most instructive. It shows us the folly of endeavouring to remove evils under which we labour, by unlawful means; and especially of resorting to such expedients in our moments of discouragement; and may further teach us, that under all circumstances, the path of duty is the path of safety.

2. This lesson is one which we greatly need. Under the pressure of trials we naturally seek relief; and if no lawful means present themselves, we are tempted to use those which are unlawful; and by a delusive reasoning satisfy ourselves that that is right, which under other circumstances we should ourselves condemn as wrong. We often have cause to repent of resolutions taken, like David’s, under the pressure of trials and the influence of discouraged feeling. The fact is that despondency borders on insanity. “It makes a man his own executioner, and leads to suicidal acts.” Everything, therefore, we do under the influence of such feeling will be pretty sure to be wrong, and to give us work for after repentance.

3. Again, our subject may be applied to another class of hearers. There are those who have made many efforts to gain the hope of the Christian, but have failed in all. They say, “that they have sought most earnestly to believe and feel as the people of God do: that they have prayed, inquired, and done all that they knew ought to be done, but still do not enjoy a ‘hope of acceptance;’” and now they are discouraged, and that discouragement leads them into a very sinful resolution. This is a very common case, and one with which ministers and Christians do not sympathize as they ought! We are disposed, when we see one lingering in neglect of religion, to condemn him as if nothing but obstinacy and rebellion prevented his surrender of himself to God. We bear down harshly upon him with the terrors of the law, when the man needs encouragement. Such severity only tends to exasperate and harden. The Jews in Jeremiah’s time said “There is no hope,” and added, “we will walk after our own devices.” “The beggar will sometimes knock at a door until he finds that no notice is likely to be taken of his application, and then rail at those who live within; and so let the sinner fear that God’s heart is hardened against him, and his own heart will soon be hardened against God.” Let Christians, then, beware of taking away hope from the inquiring soul, by condemning all delay as obstinacy and obduracy, for it may arise from discouraged feeling; and the sinner may lie in the mire of sin, because be has made many efforts to get out, only to fall back again into the ditch.

4. And let the inquirer beware of yielding to discouragement, and thence to sin. “He may say, “I have sought, and prayed so many times, and found no relief; must I still continue to seek?” Even so, for what better can you do? If you finally and entirely cease from all effort, you are certainly lost; if you persevere you may be saved, and certainly will be in the end. Rise, discouraged soul, renew thy prayers, and if a lifetime of blind perplexed inquiries and in thine everlasting salvation, count the blessing cheaply won.

5. The same advice may apply to the backslidden Christian or to those who sometimes hope they are accepted in Christ, but lack the clear evidence of it. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)

David’s fear and folly

Observe his fear. It was the language, not, of his lips, but of his feelings--he “said in his heart, I shall now one day perish by the hand of Saul.” If a man hawks about his trouble from door to door, we may be assured be will never die of grief. Profound sorrow, like the deep river, flows noiseless; the man wounded at heart, like the smitten deer, leaves the herd for the shade. “I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.” And suppose be had? This was all the injury he could have done him: and we are forbidden to fear those that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. He must have died, according to the course of nature, in a few years: and what is death, in any form, to a good man, but falling asleep or going home? He ought then, you say, to have risen above the fear of death. But David was in no danger of perishing by the hand of Saul. Saul was indeed a malicious and powerful enemy; but he was chained, and could do nothing against him except it was given him from above. And the Lord was on David’s side: And he had the promise of the throne, which implied his preservation. And he had already experienced many wonderful deliverances. You would do well to take the advice of an old writer. “Never,” says he, “converse with your difficulties alone.”

Reminded Of David’s Folly. “There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines.” But nothing could have been worse. For by this step--he would alienate the affections of the Israelites from him--be would justify the reproaches of the enemy--he would deprive himself of the means of grace and the ordinances of religion--he would grieve his soul with the vice and idolatry of the heathen--he would 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.

1. How much depends on one improper step. The effects may be remediless, and give a complexion to all our future days. Our reputation, our comfort, our usefulness, our religion, our very salvation, may binge upon it.

2. Let us learn how incompetent we are to judge for ourselves. (W. Jay.)

A fit of mistrust

The Psalms, which, with more or less probability, may be assigned to this period of David’s life, are marked with growing sadness and depression. Amongst them may be reckoned the 10, 12, 17, 22, 25, 64, and perhaps 11 and 69.

Let us examine this sudden resolution.

1. It was the suggestion of worldly policy. “David said in his heart.” Never act in a panic; nor allow man to dictate to thee; calm thyself and be still; force thyself into the quiet of thy closet until the pulse beats normally and the scare has ceased to perturb. When thou art most eager to act is the time when thou wilt make the most pitiable mistakes.

2. It was very dishonouring to God. Surely, then, it, was unworthy of David to say, in effect: “I am beginning to fear that God has undertaken more than He can carry through. True, He has kept me hitherto; but I question if He can make me surmount the growing difficulties of my situation. Saul will, sooner or later, accomplish his designs against me; it is a mistake to attempt the impossible. I have waited till I am tired; it is time to use my own wits, and extricate myself while I can from the nets that are being drawn over my path.” How much easier it is to indicate a true course to others in hours of comparative security, than to stand to it under a squall of wind!

3. It was highly injurious. Philistia was full of idol temples and idolatrous priests (2 Samuel 5:21). What fellowship could David look for with the Divine Spirit who had chosen Israel for his people and Jacob for the lot of his inheritance? How could he sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land?

4. It was the entrance on a course that demanded the perpetual practice of deceit. The whole behaviour of David at this time was utterly unworthy of his high character as God’s anointed servant.

5. It was also a barren time in his religious experience. No psalms are credited to this period. The sweet singer was mute. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The danger of doubting

The thought of David’s heart was false. He said, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.”

1. We might conclude it to be false upon the very face of it, because there certainly was no evidence to prove it. On no one occasion had the Lord deserted his servant. Now, mark. When you and I doubt God’s Word there is this to be said of it, we mistrust it without a cause.

2. But, again, what David said in his heart was not only without evidence, but it was contrary to evidence. What reason had he to believe that God would leave him? Rather, how many evidences had he to conclude that the Lord neither could nor would leave him?

3. This exclamation of David was contrary to God’s promises. Samuel had poured the anointing oil on David’s head--God’s earnest and promise that David should be king. Let David die by the hand of Saul, how can the promise be fulfilled?

4. But further, this wicked exclamation of David was contrary to what he himself had often said. Yet once more, this exclamation of David was contrary to the facts. I mean not merely contrary to the facts that were in evidence, but contrary to the facts that were transpiring at that very moment. Where was Saul?

How was it that David came to think thus of his God?

1. The first answer I give is, because he was a man. The best of men are men at the best; and man at the best, is such a creature that well might David himself say, “Lord, what is man?”

2. But again, you must consider that David had been exposed to a very long trial; not for one week, but for month after month, he had been hunted like a partridge upon the mountains. Now, a man could bear one trial, but a perpetuity of tribulation is very hard to bear.

3. Then again, you must remember, David had passed through some strong excitements of mind.

What were the ill-effects of David’s unbelief?

1. It made him do a foolish thing, the same foolish thing which he had rued once before. He goes to the same Achish again! Yes, and mark ye, although you and I know the bitterness of sin, yet if we are left to our own unbelief, we shall fall into the same sin again.

2. But next: for the beginning of sin is like the letting out of water, and we go from bad to worse, he went over to the Lord’s enemies. He that killed Goliath sought a refuge in Goliath’s land; he who smote the Philistines trusts in the Philistines; nay, more, he who was Israel’s champion, becomes the chamberlain to Achish.

3. That not only thus did David become numbered with God’s enemies, but that he actually went into open sin. David did two very evil things. He acted the part of a liar and deceiverse He went out and slew the Geshurites, and sundry other tribes, and this he did often. When he came back, Achish asked him where he had been, and he said he had been to the south of Judah--that is to say, he made Achish believe that his incursions were made against his own people, instead of being made against the allies of Philistia. This he kept up for a long time; and then, as one sin never goes without a companion, for the devil’s hounds always hunt in couples, he was guilty of bloodshed, for into whatsoever town he went he put all the inhabitants to death; he spared neither man, nor woman, nor child, lest they should tell the king of Philistia where he had been. So that one sin led him on to another. And this is a very sorrowful part of David’s life. He that believes God, and acts in faith, acts with dignity, and other men will stoop before him and pay him reverence; but he who disbelieves his God, and begins to act in his own carnal wisdom, will soon be this, and that, and the other, and the enemy will say, “Aha, aha, so would we have it,” while the godly will say, “How are the mighty fallen! how hath the strong man been given up unto his adversary!”

4. Furthermore, not only was David guilty of all this, but he was on the verge of being guilty of still worse sin--of covert acts of warfare against the Lord’s people; for David having become the friend of Achish, when Achish went to the battle against Israel, David professed his willingness to go. We believe it was only a feigned willingness; but then, you see, we convict him again of falsehood.

5. The last effect of David’s sin--and here it blessedly came to close--was this: it brought him into great trial. While David was away with king Achish, the Amalekites invaded the south, and attacked Ziklag, which was David’s town. For some reason or other they did not put to death any of the inhabitants, but they took away the whole of the men, the few who were left, the women and children, all their household goods, and stuff, and treasures; and when David came back to Ziklag, there were the bare walls and empty houses, and Ahinoam and Abigail, his two wives, were gone, and all the mighty men who were with him had lost their wives and little ones; and as soon as they saw it, they lifted up their voice and wept. It was not that they had lost their gold and silver, but they had lost everything. That exiled band had lost their own flesh and blood, the partners of their lives. Then they mutinied against their captain, and they said, “Let us stone David.” And here is David, a penniless beggar, a leader deserted by his own men, suspected by them probably of having traitorously given up the town to the foe. And then it is written--and O how blessed is that line!--“And David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” Ah! now David is right; now he has come back to his proper anchorage. Sin and smart go together; the child of God cannot sin with impunity. Other men may. Ye that fear not God may go add sin as ye like, and often meet with very little trouble in this world as the consequence of it; but a child of God cannot do that. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 6

1 Samuel 27:6

Then Achish gave him Ziklag that day.

God’s restoring mercy

Throughout that season of declension and relapse (1 Samuel 27:1-12, Psalms 10:1-18) the loving mercy of God hovered tenderly over David’s life. God’s restoring mercy was evident.

In inclining strong and noble men to identify themselves with David’s cause. “Now these are they,” says the chronicler, “that came to David to Ziklag, while he yet kept himself close, because of Saul, the son of Kish; and they were among the mighty men, helpers in war” (1 Chronicles 12:1). And he proceeds to enumerate them. Some came from Saul’s own tribe, experienced marksmen. Some came from the eastern bank of the Jordan, swimming it at the flood, mighty men of valour, men trained for war. “Thine are we, David,” etc. Evidently the spirit of discontent was abroad in the land. The people, weary of Saul’s oppression and misgovernment, were beginning to realize that the true hope of Israel lay in the son of Jesse. They therefore went out to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. Thus, in silence and secrecy, loyal and true hearts are gathering around our blessed Lord, the centre of whose kingdom is not earthly but heavenly. Who then are willing to leave the tottering realm of the prince of this world, soon to be shattered on the last great battlefield of time, and identify themselves with the kingdom of the Son of David, which is destined to endure as long as the sun?

In extricating his servant from the false position into which he had drifted. The Philistines suddenly resolved on a forward policy. They were aware of the disintegration which was slowly dividing Saul’s kingdom. When this campaign was being meditated, the guileless king assured David that he should accompany him. This was perhaps said as a mark of special confidence. It was, however, a very critical juncture with David. He had no alternative but to follow his liege lord into the battle; but every mile of those fifty or sixty which had to be traversed must have been trodden with lowering face and troubled heart. There was no hope for him in man. If by your mistakes and sins you have reduced yourself to a false position like this, do not despair; hope still in God. Confess and put away your sin, and humble yourself before Him, and He will arise to deliver you. You may have destroyed yourself; but in Him will be your help. An unexpected door of hope was suddenly opened in this valley of Anchor. When Achish reviewed his troops in Aphek, after the lords of the Philistines had passed on by hundreds and by thousands, David and his men passed on in the rearward with the king. This aroused the jealousy and suspicion of the imperious Philistine princes, and they came to Achish with fierce words and threats. “What do these Hebrews here?” etc. They pointed out how virulent a foe he had been, and how tempting the opportunity for him to purchase reconciliation with Saul by turning traitor in the fight. In the end, therefore, the king had to yield. It cost him much to inform David of the inevitable decision to which he was driven; but he little realized with what a burst of relief his announcement was received. He made a show of injured innocence: “What have I done, and what has thou found in thy servant so long as I have been before thee unto this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” But his heart was not with his words; and it was with unfeigned satisfaction that he received the stringent command to depart from the camp with the morning light.

By the Divine dealings with him in respect to the burning of Ziklag. It was by God’s great mercy that the Philistine lords were so set against the continuance of David in their camp. They thought that they were executing a piece of ordinary policy, dictated by prudence and foresight; little realizing that they were the shears by which God was cutting the meshes of David’s net. As David was leaving the battlefield, a number of the men of Manasseh, who appear to have deserted to Achish, were assigned to him by the Philistines, lest they also should turn traitors on the field. Thus he left the camp with a greatly increased following. Here, too, was a proof of God’s tender thought, fulness, because at no time of his life was he in greater need of reinforcements than now. God anticipates coming trial, and reinforces us against its certain imminence and pressure. On reaching the spot which they accounted home, after three days’ exhausting march, the soldiers found it a heap of smouldering ruins; and instead of the welcome of wives and children, silence and desolation reigned supreme. The loyalty and devotion which he had never failed to receive from his followers were suddenly changed to vinegar and gall. But this was the moment of his return to God. In that dread hour, with the charred embers smoking at his feet; with this threat of stoning in his ears; his heart suddenly sprang back into its old resting place in the bosom of God. From this moment David is himself again, his old strong, glad, noble self. For the first time, after months of disuse, he bids Abiathar bring him the ephod, and he enquires of the Lord. With marvellous vigour he arises to pursue the marauding troop and he overtakes it. He withholds the impetuosity of his men till daylight wanes, loosing them from the leash in the twilight, and leading them to the work of rescue and vengeance with such irresistible impetuosity that not a man of them escaped. He was sweet as well as strong, as courteous as he was brave. (1 Samuel 30:26). The sunshine of God’s favour rested afresh upon his soul. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Disaster and deliverance

To what fluctuations, what ebbs and flows of spiritual power, the same man is subject! Moral victories are often succeeded by terrible weaknesses. Days differ not so much as the men who live through them. Elijah flung himself beneath the juniper in unbelieving despondency directly after the fire from heaven had honoured his faith in God.

David nursing doubt. The pendulum of his faith has swung right back. His heroism, patience, and fortitude are gone. He turns his face and feet toward the enemies of Israel. Tides are not the sport of chance, nor is David’s declension. No man retreats before a conquered enemy unless there be reason and cause.

1. God is not consulted. “David said in his heart” (verse 1). He omitted to lay the case before God, and turned to commune with his own heart. He is simply a man moved by his fears and inclinations. How they shut us out from prayer! To the busy no time, to the perplexed no need, to the anxious no use. How hurriedly we move to obey these promptings when once admitted! If David’s inclinations tended towards Gath, he would not wish to ask God. Do not affect surprise; plunge the test right into your life. Are you afraid lest the answer from God should be against your inclinations?

2. Indifference to past mercies, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.” Unbelief finds voice here--open, blank, base, ungrateful unbelief! What reason had David to doubt God’s care for and over him?

3. Doubt thus led David to draw false conclusions. “There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines.” The Seventh Psalm shows us how he suffered at this period of his life.

Distrust of God prepares the way for deceit. Doubt brought, forth deceit. Deceit led to cruelty (verse 11). He slew the Amalekites, “so that none should tell the king.”

1. Deceit producing difficulty. Achish tells David be must join with his people and fight against Israel (1 Samuel 27:1), and, moreover, appoints him captain of his bodyguard (verse 2). Deceit weaves difficulties which bind as chains. How could David go forward? Christian, you went with the multitude to do evil, and since then you have found the way of transgressors is hard.

Disaster following and yet producing deliverance. While David was away, the Amalekites, seizing their opportunity, pillaged and destroyed Ziklag. Home destroyed, wives and children gone, wounded where most susceptible in his affections, it was no wonder David “was greatly distressed.” If this was an hour of bitterness, it was also a blessed hour. Repentance does not always follow sorrow for sin--never, only in a gracious heart. David’s faith, chained down during these last sixteen months, sprang up through the gloom, and in the day of sorrow made itself heard. (H. E. Stone.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 27". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/1-samuel-27.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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