I wonder if you have ever ended up somewhere where you were not supposed to be. Have you ever ended up in a situation you never expected to be in?
Like most men I like to pride myself in my navigational skills - I can get from a-to-b without too many problems! Most of the time! Part of my basic training for the Royal Air Force included a week’s survival exercise in a location not a million miles from here. On the first night I was tasked with a simple navigational exercise to get my team from one point to another. Now, I was weary, hungry and suffering the disastrous effects of caffeine withdrawal and I messed it up big style. I arrived confidently at my location and was about to announce that we were where we needed to be, when, on checking the map, I realised that we stood at the corner of the wrong copse. Indeed the copse that we should have been at was a good half a mile up a steep hill. And I remember thinking to myself – how on earth did that happen? How did we end up here? I’m better than this!
Well, a similar question can be asked of David from this passage before us tonight! How on earth did David (Philistine slaying, God-trusting David) find himself lining up alongside the Philistines, facing the prospect of going into battle against his own people? He’s so much better than that surely?
Well, to find out why it happened this way let’s look again at 1 Samuel 27, and we’re going to need to examine a text where the author, for the most part, gives no direct comment or obvious judgement on David’s course of action. Let me just remind you of a few of the highlights that lead to chapter 27. David we know, is God’s chosen King. Problem is, there is already a King – Saul. And Saul wants to get rid of David. And in the preceding chapters God has protected David time and time again.
But by the end of chapter 26 we find the two men having a bit of a chat and remarkably Saul admits his sin, recognises his mistake in pursuing David (been here before) and promises to do him no more harm. Indeed, he blesses David! It appears to be a picture of reconciliation and peace between the two men. Which is why what comes next is a bit of a surprise.
So to my first point of four:
1. David’s Plan - Taking matters into his own hands [27:1-7]
Verse 1: Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall 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. (v1-2)
It’s understandable that David has had enough – given Saul’s track record of breaking his promises and going back on his word. But it’s not only Saul that David doesn’t trust here. He’s also turning his back on the many promises and assurances of God – that he would protect him and keep him safe. So why the change of heart?
Well we get a hint of the reason in v.1 as David talks to himself. And what he says in his heart isn’t a reminder of God’s truths, it isn’t a reminder of God’s protection so far, it isn’t a reminder of God’s promises to him from the likes of Jonathan and Abigail. No! What he says in his heart, what he meditates on, is the fear of one day perishing at the hand of Saul. It is a complete crisis of faith, or as one commentator describes it, one of ‘faith’s fainting fits’ brought on by focusing on fear and possibilities, not the love and promises of God. In other words it is an example of the Reformer Thomas Cranmer’s maxim: “What the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” You see at this point David’s heart desired freedom from fear of Saul more than he desired faithfulness to God. And his desire lead to his will choosing an action that his mind could quite easily go on to justify, but that in all honesty was far from faithful.
We may not always realise it but all of us talk to ourselves. I’m not talking about audible comments, but our thoughts and decisions that flow from the things we concentrate and meditate on. That’s why is so important that we feed our hearts with truths about God and focus on him, not ourselves. The Bible gives us many examples of people who don’t do this – our New Testament reading from earlier reminded us of the farmer who was blessed with a bumper crop, but who ‘thought to himself’ and ‘said to his soul’. The result of such a foolish, selfish focus? Calamity. Friends, what we tell ourselves and each other is so important.
In 1854, Charles Spurgeon was in his first year of ministry in London. Cholera had struck. One family after another called him to the bedside of their loved ones and almost daily he stood by a grave. At first Spurgeon threw himself into his visitation of the sick with all his youthful energy. Soon, however, “weary in body and sick at heart” he began to think he was about to succumb. He was on the Great Dover Road dragging himself home from a funeral when he noticed what he thought was an advertisement in a shop window, but on closer inspection he saw words from Psalm 91written clearly in the centre of the poster:
“Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge— no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.”
The words took immediate effect. Spurgeon reported: “Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed…I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit.”
Friends, we need to speak God’s truth in Scripture to ourselves and to each other. We need to let our faith appropriate God’s words as her own, and we need to guard against the lies and misinformation we feed our hearts. Back to David though - having chosen his course of action, v.3 David finds himself…
[ And David lived] 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. (v3)
This is the second time David sought sanctuary in Gath. His first visit ended in a bit of a disaster and he had to pretend to be mad to escape. One would have thought that as David left the gates of Gath, he would have muttered to himself, “I’ll never do that again!” And yet, here he is, and this time with a 600 strong army as well as all their wives and families!
And then we read in verse 4: [And] when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he no longer sought him. It’s the result that David wanted – and you could read this as some kind of validation of David’s plan. But David being in Gath, is not the faithful result God wanted. David seems to have forgotten God’s direct command to him (recorded in v5 of ch22) to go to the land of Judah. God wanted David to be his man in Judah.
This episode teaches us an important lesson. God, in his mercy and grace, can still choose to bless a situation (here through Saul no longer seeking David) even when he doesn’t approve of the methods. In our day and age it is vital we grasp this. Sometimes when blessing flows from our actions we mistake it for God’s approval of our methods, without actually critiquing what we are doing. When we entertain this kind of thinking we are on the slippery slope towards pragmatism and as JI Packer so helpfully said:
“God has blessed his people before through intrinsically inappropriate arrangements and he may…do so again. His mercy in practice does not settle matters of principle any more than majority votes do.”
We would do well to remember that as we fight an overwhelming wave of public opinion that says the church should move with the morality of the time – because that will get results. ie ‘change what you believe’ – ‘change what you practice.’ Nowhere is that battle more obvious today than in the debate around women bishops and actively homosexual clergy. We must hear God’s call to faithfulness first and foremost. That is the path to true and lasting blessing.
Part one though of David’s plan is complete – now he needs a bit of breathing space from someone who, ultimately, is his enemy. And he asks Achish for somewhere else to live. Verse 5:
Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favour in your eyes, let a place be given to 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 lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months. (v5-7)
It’s not all bad. David is still using some of his God-given wisdom and skill to provide for and protect his people. In effect he is able to make his HQ at Ziklag where, although away from the direct oversight of Achish, David and his men are expected to serve Achish as mercenaries against Israel.
And so my second point
2. David’s Opportunism - Making the most of a bad situation [27:8-12]
And – warning – there are things that go on here that our 21st C sensibilities will feel a revulsion towards. Verse 8:
Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, 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 would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. When Achish asked, “Where 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 would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’” Such was his custom all the while he lived in the country of the Philistines. And Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.” (v8-12)
What is going on here? Well David is playing a dangerous game in an attempt to make the most of a bad situation, and to his shame he does so in a brutal and deceitful manner. And to properly understand it, a little geography is called for (see slide!). You can see on the map where Gath was, and the two possible locations of Ziklag. Basically we’ve got Judah in the east and the Philistines in the west, with Gath & Ziklag probably on the border. David attacks the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites down to the south (in red) – common enemies of both the Philistines and the Israelites. But he deceived Achish and told him he was attacking tribes associated with Judah (and you can see those in green). Now it’s not abundantly clear from the text what motivates David to such ruthless butchery.
Some see it is as David fulfilling what Saul had failed to do. Saul was tasked by God to destroy the Amalekites for what they had done to Israel on the way out of Egypt. But Saul hadn’t followed God’s instructions and had spared some. The result? God rejected Saul as King of Israel. But if David is attacking these peoples in order to obey God’s command, then he is no more obedient than Saul, because he too fails to follow God’s instructions to the letter. He too keeps back livestock and clothing.
Some see David’s motivation as more opportunistic pragmatism. David, it is argued, is simply keeping Achish sweet, providing food for his army and their families, protecting Israel and leaving no survivors, not because this is God’s command, but because it is the only way he can continue his deception. The fact that David weakens Israel’s enemies in the process is merely an added bonus!
Either way, at this point it must have seemed to David that his plan had worked - he had the best of both Israelite and Philistine worlds….but sooner or later, all the lies catch up with you, and for David the chickens are about to come home to roost. And as we move into Ch 28 we come to my third point & here we see the consequences of David’s actions in the form of a pretty big dilemma:
3. David’s Dilemma – The consequences [28:1-2]
Verse 1 of Ch 28:
In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” (28.1-2)
Now amongst all the “very well’s” – which sound awfully polite and British in our day and age – what we have is a deadly game of one-upmanship. Achish is basically saying: “I’m so impressed with you, you’re going to come and fight with me against Israel.” David tries to bluff it out with bragging: “No problem, you’ll get to see what we can do first hand!” Which actually forces Achish to change his plans for David: “ok David - if you’re as good as you say you are - I need you right next to me, defending me!” You have to wonder why David never saw this scenario coming! But then none of us ever set out to end up in trouble do we? David’s intention was probably just to get out of Israel long enough for Saul to lose heart and give up his pursuit. But one sin has a way of opening the door to another, and then another. As it was with David, so it can be with us. It all starts with what appears to be a minor lapse in faith, an attempt to force God to act in the way we think he should and then it snowballs out of control. For David the ultimate irony is that he finds himself ready to take Goliath’s place against king Saul and Israel.
And we rightly ask – as we did at the start – how on earth did David end up in this position? Surely the David we know and learnt about in Sunday school is better than this? Surely the man God had chosen, the one who Paul describes as being called ‘after God’s own heart’, should have known better. So by way of conclusion let’s move on to my fourth and final point and re-evaluate…
4. David’s problem – weariness
Of course it would have been much more helpful had the writer of 1 Samuel told us explicitly what caused David’s failure here. But he doesn’t – and instead we are left to fill in the blanks - there is no crushing defeat; no irresistible temptation (as there would be with Bathsheba); and no major crisis. In fact, David’s failure in chapter 27 follows immediately on the heels of his “successes” in chapter 26. No, what probably causes David’s failure here is one of the most serious and deadly enemies that every Christian will ever have to face at some point – the enemy of weariness. There is no “blow-out”, but given all that David has been through it seems he simply “fizzles out” and gives up.
I wonder how many of us here tonight can relate to the kind of situation David finds himself in? True – I don’t think many here have been anointed a King or find themselves in charge of a 600 strong mercenary unit! – but I’m sure any of us can relate to that feeling of being so weary we just want to jack it all in and take matters into our own hands. I’ve known young brothers and sisters in Christ who have committed themselves to live for Him as their King – to live counter-cultural lives, saying no to pornography, no to sex before marriage, no inappropriate relationships, no to drugs. And then one day, they become weary and in a moment of weakness – when they listen to their own voice and not God’s – that commitment and zeal to follow God is cast aside. And as in David’s case – it may not be an instant disaster, but that small compromise leads to a bigger one which left unchecked leads to disaster.
In a church of this size, there are bound to be represented here marriages which, humanly speaking, are on the brink of disaster. For so long you have been faithful to your spouse and have pursued biblical principles in your marriage for the last however many years, but right now you are weary of the arguments and the effort involved and you are tempted to take matters into your own hands and cast aside your commitment to you spouse. Or what about those who are weary at being single? Maybe you have had enough of waiting and trusting that God knows what he’s doing with circumstances that are beyond your control. Or what about those who are ridiculed at school or work because of their faith? Maybe for so long you have been trying to live for Christ watching your language, watching your gossip but right now you so weary with it all and you just want some friends, you just want to fit in and be liked and you are tempted to throw your commitment to Christ to the wind and give up.
JPC we need to learn from David’s mistake here. We need to listen to God’s truth and not our own analysis.
We need to read Scripture and listen to Scripture and let faith appropriate the words of Scripture for our own situations.
Jesus says: Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in hart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Isaiah declares: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
And when we are tempted to think we know best, that God has no idea how we are feeling then remember Christ. Hebrews 12:3: Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint-hearted.
Of course it’s possible that you are here tonight and you would place yourself in David’s sandals at the end of tonight’s passage. You feel like you are standing before the proverbial Achish, you are in trouble so far up to your neck that you can’t see a way out. Well God always provides a way out – it’s never too late. If that is you tonight I plead with you – return to the Lord now. It is never too late. Grasp the grace that is on offer. As we’re going to see in the coming chapters despite David having this crisis of faith, God graciously continues to protect him in fulfilment of his purpose to make him king. And God wants to fulfil his purposes for your life too. The really good news is that even when our faith, like David’s, fails God remains faithful.
Praise and thanks be to God!