1 Samuel 27: Lessons from David’s Second Flight to Gath to Avoid Becoming a Backslidden Believer

Introduction: After sneaking into a camp of 3,000 soldiers to steal Saul’s spear, he restrained his servant from killing Saul. He then gently corrected Saul to resolve their dispute peaceably (1 Sam. 26). And this was the second time that David had acted in faith to defuse a conflict with Saul (1 Sam. 24). David might have seemed ready to be king. But moments after reaching this spiritual mountain top, he looked down and became filled with fear. In a panic, he would soon take refuge amongst his enemies and compromise in his walk. From David’s mistakes, God reveals seven warning signs that you have backslidden in your walk. These include: (1) doubt, (2) worldliness, (3) surrender, (4) compromise, (5) complacency, (6) lawlessness, and (7) lies.

First, despite being delivered many times, David doubted God's protection and fled to his enemies for protection. From David’s mistake, God reveals that doubting God’s promises is a sign that you have backslidden. Second, David sought to live in the world with his two wives instead of living according to God’s Word amongst the Jews. From David’s mistake, God reveals that a worldly lifestyle is also a sign of a backslidden walk. Third, David gave up on fighting for God’s kingdom when he lived with his enemies. Saul no longer needed to pursue David because he had won the battle. From David’s mistakes, God reveals that surrendering to evil is another sign of a backslidden walk. Fourth, David declared himself a servant to a Philistine king and asked for a land inheritance in exchange for the promise of tribute. From David’s mistakes, God reveals that compromising with evil is also a sign of a backslidden walk. Fifth, David lived amongst the Philistines for 16 months without trying to serve God. From David’s mistake, God reveals that complacency is another sign of a backslidden walk. Sixth, David raided and killed villagers as a bandit without any direction from God and for his own glory. From David’s mistake, God reveals that lawlessness is also a sign of a backslidden walk. Finally, David used lies and deceit to conceal from his Philistine master that he was killing Canaanites. Like his other mistakes, lies and deceit are also signs of a backslidden walk.

1. Doubt: Doubting God’s Promises is a Sign that You Have Backslidden. 1 Sam. 27:1.

  • David’s faith faltered, and he believed that he needed protection through his enemies. Despite seeing the hand of God deliver him on many occasions, David’s faith failed, and he believed that only his enemies could give him refuge from Saul: “Then David said to himself, ‘Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.’” (1 Sam. 27:1). The prophet Gad previously warned David not to stay in Moab and to return to his homeland in Judah (1 Sam. 22:5). Knowing the dangers of living in a pagan land, David pleaded before Saul not to force him into exile. He previously argued that anyone who might force him into exile where he might be too tempted to serve other gods would be cursed: “Now therefore, please let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if it is men, cursed are they before the LORD, for they have driven me out today so that I would have no attachment with the inheritance of the LORD, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’” (1 Sam. 26:19). David’s fear and lack of faith now put him at risk of this same curse.

  • Taking your eyes off Jesus can also cause you to fear those around you. When David quoted God’s Word and believed in faith, even a giant like Goliath or an army of Saul’s 3,000 men could not stop him. But David’s faith failed because he took his mind off the Lord. “Saul could never drive David to the Philistines. If Saul told David, ‘You must leave the people of God and go live among the Philistines,’ David would never bow to it. But discouragement and despair are more powerful enemies than Saul. Discouragement and despair will drive David to do something that Saul could never make him do.” (David Guzik of 1 Sam. 27). In many ways, David was like Peter. Peter began to walk on water when Jesus called him (Matt. 14:29). “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen.” (Matt. 21:21). “But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord save me.” (Matt. 14:30). After saving him, Jesus responded: “You of little faith, why did you doubt.” (Matt. 14:31). Paul reveals that it is the “spirit of slavery” which “lead[s] to fear.” (Ro. 8:15). “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (Jam. 1:6). The last time you felt fear, did you take your eyes off Jesus?

  • Trust in God’s promises to you. When you take your eyes off the Lord and become filled with doubt, you should return to the Word and have faith that it is true: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thess. 5:24). “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant . . . ;” (Dt. 7:9). “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9). He is faithful even when you are not: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). Have you given thanks for His faithfulness when your faith fails Him?

  • God will rescue you when you call upon Him in your time of trouble. David forgot that God previously rescued him from Saul and the Philistines when he called in times of trouble. Instead of giving up, God wants you to call on Him to rescue you when you are in trouble: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Ps. 50:15). “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.” (Ja. 5:13). “But as for me, I would seek God, and I would place my cause before God;” (Job 5:8). “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” (Ps. 50:15). “Rescue me and deliver me out of the hand of aliens, whose mouth speaks deceit and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” (Ps. 114:11). If you are trapped in despair, fear, or addiction, have you called upon Him to help you?

  • Don’t forsake the counsel of God and godly leaders. David failed to pray in his time of fear. He also ignored the many godly people who could have helped to guide his choices. In addition to the prophet Nathan, “There was also Abiathar, the only surviving heir of Ahimelech, who joined David, along with the ephod (1 Samuel 22:20-23; 23:6). Then there was Jonathan, who constantly stood behind him, assuring David he would be the next king (1 Samuel 20:12-17, 41-42; 23:15-18). And there was also Abigail, who greatly encouraged David to do right as Israel’s next king (1 Samuel 25:26-31). Even though David was accompanied by many, he seems somehow to have withdrawn into himself. His conversation in 27:1 is with himself (literally, the text informs us he “said to his heart”). David suffers from what I call the “Lone Ranger syndrome.” It is that false sense of “being alone” in your spiritual struggle, pain, or suffering . . . Whenever we think we are alone in our spiritual struggles, we are self-deceived and ripe for a spiritual fall.” (Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh “24. One Step Forward and Two Backward” (1 Samuel 27:1-28:2))1 (italics in original) Have you isolated yourself from other believers?

2. Worldliness: A Worldly Lifestyle is Also a Sign of a Backslidden Walk. 1 Sam. 27:2-3.

  • David found refuge in the world, and he lived a worldly life. After turning from God as his refuge, David fled with his 600 men and two wives to live with the Philistines: “So David arose and crossed over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath. And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, each with his household, even David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal’s widow.” (1 Sam. 27:2-3). This was not the first time that David had fled to the Philistine king in the city of Gath. David previously fled from Saul to this same Philistine king after receiving food and the sword of Goliath from the high priest. “Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath.” (1 Sam. 21:10). The Philistines immediately recognized him and demanded that the king kill David. David was so traumatized that he later wrote a psalm to remember how he asked God to rescue him: “Mikhtam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath. Be gracious to me, O God, for man has trampled upon me; fighting all day long he oppresses me.” (Ps. 56:1(b)). David then wrote another psalm to remember how he had to feign madness to escape the same Philistine king: “A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed. I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Ps. 34:1). Unfortunately, David had a short memory of his harrowing experience and God’s deliverance.

  • Don’t use your freedom in Christ to return to bondage. David failed to use God’s deliverance to live in freedom. Instead, he returned to his prior place of bondage in Gath. The fact that his two wives (Ahinoam and Abigail) are mentioned here stresses that he lived a worldly life while seeking refuge amongst the Philistines (1 Sam. 27:3; 25:42-43). God’s leaders cannot have more than one spouse (1 Tim. 3:2). David also wrote no psalms during this carnal time in his life. At this time in his life, David lived like Lot. Lot was imprisoned in Sodom. Abraham then freed him (Gen. 14:13-16). But after receiving his freedom, he returned to the evil city of Sodom where God had to come to free him a second time from his bondage and judgment (Gen. 19). Those who are freed and willingly return to sin face the greater judgment: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.” (2 Pet. 2:20-21). “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” (Prov. 26:11). Are you misusing your freedoms to sin more?

3. Surrender: Surrendering to Evil is Another Sign of a Backslidden Walk. 1 Sam. 27:4.

  • David surrendered his desire to live amongst his Jews, and Satan no longer pursued him. Saul tried to kill David because was a threat to his kingdom. Yet, as soon as David fled from the Jewish lands to live with their enemies, Saul felt victorious and gave up his pursuit of David: “Now it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, so he no longer searched for him.” (1 Sam. 27:4). Saul failed three times in his attempt to kill David with his own spear. He also failed to kill David by sending him to fight the Philistines. And his 3,000 troops failed to stop David despite two attempts. Saul realized that he could not stop David with force. But he believed he could win if David surrendered on his own.

  • Do not surrender to the instincts of your flesh or your own understanding. David never sought God’s guidance in prayer. Instead, he surrendered to his fleshly instincts by doing what seemed wise in his own eyes: “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” (Prov. 12:15). It is, however, not enough to simply pray for God’s guidance, you must also make no provision for the flesh when your flesh tells you to do something different: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16). “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24). “[K]nowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Rom. 6:6). Have you surrendered to your flesh or the ways of the world in any area?

4. Compromise: Compromising with Evil is Also a Sign of a Backsliding. 1 Sam. 27:5.

  • David called himself a servant of the Philistine king and asked him for a land inheritance. After finding refuge with the enemy, David called himself the servant of the Philistine king and asked the king for land: “Then David said to Achish, ‘If now I have found favor in your sight, let them give me a place in one of the cities in the country, that I may live there; for why should your servant live in the royal city with you?’” (1 Sam. 27:5). David should have sought favor in God’s eyes. He also should have called himself God’s servant. He further should not have sought the Philistine king’s permission to obtain land that God had promised to the Jews. As the servant of the Philistine king, David would need to pay taxes to this king. He would also need to tolerate idolatry within the Promised Land that God ordered him to expunge. David had compromised in his walk.

David arrived with his men in Gath, and sought refuge with the Philistines2

  • Do not conform to this world. David was guilty of following the wisdom of the world instead of trusting God. Believers should avoid letting their thinking conform to the world: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). Letting the cares and concerns of the world control you is one of the many steps that lead to compromise in your walk: “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Matt. 13:22; Mk. 4:19). Have you conformed to the world in your walk?

  • Compromise with the world can lead to spiritual blindness. Paul warns “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:5). They are people “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” (Phil. 3:19). “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” (Rom. 16:18). They are spiritually blind to the path leading to salvation: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” (2 Thess. 1:9). David’s compromises also blinded him to the nature of the evil that he embraced. Like David at this moment, many live according to their own standard of morality. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdgs. 21:25; 17:6). Like David, many who make compromises with the world become spiritually blinded. Have you guarded your heart and prayed for the Spirit to keep you on the narrow path?

  • Trust in God and not the powerful rulers of the world. Unlike what David did here, God does not want you to trust in powerful people, powerful nations, or human institutions. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3). “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” (Ps. 118:8). “Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”’ (Jer. 17:5). “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?” (Is. 2:22). Instead, He wants you to trust in Him alone. “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” (Ps. 55:22). “[C]asting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7). When times are difficult, do you place your trust in strong people or in God?

5. Complacency: Complacency is Another Sign of a Backslidden Walk. 1 Sam. 27:6-7.

  • David settled down as a Philistine servant in occupied lands for 16 months. For 16 months, David resided as a servant of a Philistine king in lands that he was meant to liberate. His compromise led to his spiritual complacency: “So Achish gave him Ziklag that day; therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. The number of days that David lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months.” (1 Sam. 27:6-7). David should have felt uncomfortable living in the city of Ziklag and paying tribute to the Philistine king for his right to be there. Through Joshua, God promised this city to David’s tribe of Judah. “Now the lot for the tribe of the sons of Judah according to their families reached the border of Edom, . . .and Ziklag . . .” (Josh. 15:1, 31). But David may have felt unmotivated to liberate it because the city was later given to Simeon, the tribe that had no contiguous land inheritance because of the sins of their forefather. “Then the second lot fell to Simeon, to the tribe of the sons of Simeon according to their families, and their inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Judah. . . . and Ziklag . . .” (Josh. 19:1, 5). Whatever David’s motivation, it was not to do God’s work. David further showed that he trusted a Philistine king more than God when he accepted this gift. “Unbelief is a sin that easily besets even good men . . . We may blush to think that the word of a Philistine should go further than the word of an Israelite, and that the city of Gath should be a place of refuge for a good man, when the cities of Israel refuse him a safe abode.” (Matthew Henry on 1 Sam. 27).3

David and his men settled in Ziklag4

  • Don’t become complacent in your walk with God. Believers are warned never to grow weary, tired, or complacent in doing God’s will. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Gal. 6:9). “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.” (2 Thess. 3:13). “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart,” (2 Cor. 4:1). “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,” (Lk. 18:1). “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:3; Rev. 2:3). Have you grown complacent in your walk?

  • Seize your spiritual inheritance. David’s complacency caused him to backslide in his walk. Instead of liberating the Promised Land, he was now serving an occupying king. Jesus has given every believer an inheritance of “talents” that are to be used for His glory (Matt. 25:14-30). If you have been given gifts for teaching, preaching, hospitality, prayer, or any other skill, He wants you to seize and develop those talents for His glory. If you are successful and make money, that money can be used to further His kingdom. If you are failing to use your talents for His kingdom, you have committed the sin of slothfulness in His eyes. “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” (Prov. 20:4; 21:25). “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (Prov. 10:4; 12:24). When one disciple asked Jesus, “‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father,’” He responded, “‘Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’” (Matt. 8:21-23). Each compromise caused David to backslide further off his walk with God. Have you compromised in any part of your walk with God?

6. Lawlessness: Lawlessness is Also a Sign of a Backslidden Walk. 1 Sam. 27:8-9.

  • David raided the Canaanites for his own glory and not for God. While serving a Philistine king, David deceptively raided the surrounding Canaanites as a marauding bandit. “Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites and the Girzites and the Amalekites; for they were the inhabitants of the land from ancient times, as you come to Shur even as far as the land of Egypt. David attacked the land and did not leave a man or a woman alive, and he took away the sheep, the cattle, the donkeys, the camels, and the clothing. Then he returned and came to Achish.” (1 Sam. 27:8-9). Moses ordered the Jews to completely drive out every last vestige of Canaanite culture from the Promised Land: “and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.” (Dt. 7:2; 7:16). “Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes.” (Dt. 20:16). Only the women and children were allowed to live. “Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.” (Dt. 20:14). The Amalekites whom David attacked were further under God’s judgment because they attacked the Jewish nation immediately after they fled from Egypt (Ex. 17:8; Nu. 24:20; Dt. 25:17). God later ordered Saul to kill the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:2-3). He later judged him when he refused to follow His order (1 Sam. 15:28). David also secretly shared his spoils with Jewish leaders to build alliances (1 Sam. 30:26-31). Thus, David likely had many reasons to justify his actions. But his actions were not for God. Instead, he was a bandit who supported a Philistine king with his booty. “Even though he attacked the enemies of Israel, David was nothing more than an armed robber and murderer. He killed all the people of the village or encampment, took the spoil, and did it without the approval or guidance of God. He now fought wars for profit instead of for God’s honor.” (David Guzik on 1 Sam. 27).5

David and his men turned to raiding the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites6

  • Believers should have no part in lawless behavior. Paul later compared lawlessness to the exact opposite of the righteous behavior expected from all believers: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnerships have righteousness and lawlessness, . . ..” (2 Cor. 6:14). “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 Jo. 3:4). “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;” (1 Jo. 1:6). Is there any rebellion or lawlessness in your walk with God?

7. Lies: Lies and Deceit Are Also Signs of a Backslidden Walk. 1 Sam. 27:10-12.

  • David engaged in lies and deception to conceal his real banditry. In order to avoid provoking his new Philistine master, David lied about the people he murdered and looted in his many raised: “10 Now Achish said, ‘Where have you made a raid today?’ And David said, ‘Against the Negev of Judah and against the Negev of the Jerahmeelites and against the Negev of the Kenites.’ 11 David did not leave a man or a woman alive to bring to Gath, saying, ‘Otherwise they will tell about us, saying, ‘So has David done and so has been his practice all the time he has lived in the country of the Philistines.’’ 12 So Achish believed David, saying, ‘He has surely made himself odious among his people Israel; therefore he will become my servant forever.’” (1 Sam. 27:10-12). David’s acts of murder were not motivated by a divine directive to cleanse the Promised Land. Instead, he sought to remove witnesses to his acts of murder. His success in doing so here may have led him years later to believe that he could cover up his sin of adultery with Bathsheba by sending her husband Uriah to his death in battle.

  • Deceit and lies place you under Satan’s influence. By employing lies and deceit, David had backslidden even further in his walk. If you are using lies and deceit, you also have backslidden in your walk. Lies and deceit are Satan’s tools to turn people away from God (Dt. 11:16; 30:17). If you deceive or lie, you are also under Satan’s influence. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. . . Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jo. 8:44). Are there any lies or deception in your dealings with others?

  • A godly person only speaks the truth. Solomon warns that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21) and that “a wholesome tongue is a tree of life.” (Prov. 15:4). If David were under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he would have spoken only the truth. “Your word is truth.” (Jo. 17:17(b)). “For He said, ‘Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely.’” (Is. 63:8(a)). “You shall not . . . deal falsely, nor lie to one another.” (Lev. 19:11). “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” (Eph. 4:25). Will you speak God’s truth to others, even if it might cause you harm?