Introduction: David started off as a man of incredible faith and promise. Yet, while living in the wilderness and fleeing from Saul’s army, he took his eyes off of God, and his faith failed him. He became a servant of a Philistine king and almost waged war against God’s people until God forced him from the battlefield. God could have disqualified David and found someone else to be king. But God remained faithful to His promises. From the way that God stopped David from engaging in his sins, God reveals seven lessons about His mercy and grace.
First, David’s slow descent into sin led him to a place where he was ready to wage war against God’s people in service to the Jews’ enemies. But God did not reject David as king. From God’s mercy and grace in the face of David’s mistake, He reveals that He will not leave or forsake a believer because of sin. Second, the Philistine commanders did not trust David. But the Philistine King Achish vouched that he had seen no sign of any walk with Yahweh after observing David for 16 months. God meant for David to drive out the Philistines, not to serve them. From David’s failure, God reveals that He delivered you out of mercy and grace to be salt in the wound of sin, not to live as a worldly person. Third, because David would not leave the Philistines on his own, God turned the hearts of the Philistines against him to drive him off the battlefield. From God’s sovereignty in molding the Philistines’ hearts against David, He reveals that He may use rejection and hardship to keep you from sinning. Fourth, God then used King Achish to order David off the battlefield. David assembled an army of disgruntled Jews that he could not use against Saul. But he was later able to use this army against the Philistines. From this, God reveals that He is sovereign over both good and evil and can even use your mistakes for good. Fifth, David could not see God’s hand in King Achish’s orders and pleaded with King Achish to let him fight against the Jews. From David’s inability to understand God’s direction, God reveals that rejecting His mercy and grace can lead to spiritual blindness. Sixth, after David pleaded for the right to fight against the Jews, King Achish ordered him a second time to leave the battlefield. God used King Achish to give David a second chance to repent and return to Him. From the mercy and grace that God showed to David, He reveals that He gives His people many chances to repent and is faithful, even when you are not. Finally, God delivered David by sending him from the battlefield against his will. God will also deliver you from your sins when you turn to Him. When He does deliver you from your sins, give thanks, return to Him, and walk with Him as your Lord.
David prepares for war against God’s people. David spent 16 months living in a self-imposed exile amongst the Philistines. His descent into sin culminated with his agreement to wage war against God’s people: “1 Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek, while the Israelites were camping by the spring which is in Jezreel. 2 And the lords of the Philistines were proceeding on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were proceeding on in the rear with Achish.” (1 Sam. 29:1-2). David was once Israel’s greatest military hero. He defeated Goliath. He also repeatedly defeated Israel’s enemies in battle. God had also repeatedly saved David’s life from King Saul’s efforts to kill him. But David grew tired of trusting in God in his many near death experiences. Thus, he fled to take refuge with the people God wanted him to drive out of Israel. “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.’” (1 Sam. 27:1(a)). David then pleaded with the Philistine King Achish to give him a city where he could pay King Achish tribute and be his servant (1 Sam. 27:5). King Achish agreed, and David served him for 16 months (1 Sam. 27:7). David did all these things after pleading with Saul not to expel him to a foreign land where he would be tempted by calls to “‘Go, serve other gods.’” (1 Sam. 26:19). David voluntarily placed himself into bondage with King Achish. When King Achish asked David to wage war against the Jews, David responded: “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” (1 Sam. 28:2). He was meant to liberate the Promised Land for the Jews. He had fallen so far into bondage that he was about to win back the Promised Land for the Philistines.
The Philistines and David’s men gathered together for battle against Saul’s army1
Your sins can also cause others to stumble as well. David’s actions caused all 600 of his men to sin as well. Even worse, the book of Chronicles reveals that his actions also caused members of the tribe of Manasseh to join in the war against God’s people: “From Manasseh also some defected to David when he was about to go to battle with the Philistines against Saul.” (1 Chron. 12:19(a)). From David’s mistake, you must learn to guard your heart from sin. Failing to do so could lead others into sin as well.
God is faithful never to leave or forsake His people. God could have looked upon David and said that his sins were worse than Saul’s sins. Saul fought only to preserve his own power. But he never agreed to wage war against the Philistines. God, however, is filled with mercy and grace. Because David was sealed with the Holy Spirit, He would never leave or forsake David. “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). If you have sinned after accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, have faith that God also will not forsake you.
Satan will use the same methods to attack you when you stop walking with God. The Philistines assembled at a place called “Aphek.” According to Ellicott’s commentary: “The name Aphek was a common one, and was given to several ‘places of arms’ in Canaan. It signifies a fort or a strong place. This Aphek was most likely situated in the Plain of Jezreel. At another place with the same name of Aphek, the Philistines previously defeated the Jews and killed 4,000 Jewish soldiers. (1 Sam. 4:1(b)-2). Because the Philistines were successfully attacking from one of their “places of arms”, they returned to attack Israel again under a similar strategy. Satan attacks in a similar manner. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8). If Satan has found a gap in your walk with God where you are sinning, he will continue attacking the same weakness in your walk until you repent, turn back to God, and change your ways.
The Philistine king vouched for David as a man pursuing the interests of the Philistines. When the Philistine kings protested at the presence of a Hebrew army within their ranks, King Achish vouched that he had seen no evidence that David had fought for Yahweh over the prior 16 months: “3 Then the commanders of the Philistines said, ‘What are these Hebrews doing here?’ And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, ‘Is this not 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 from the day he deserted to me to this day?’” (1 Sam. 29:3). David had so convinced King Achish from his worldly ways that he believed that David would serve him forever: “So Achish believed David, saying, ‘He has surely made himself odious among his people Israel; therefore he will become my servant forever.”’ (1 Sam. 27:12). One commentator observes, believers should know believers from their walk: “It is a sad thing that a Philistine ruler defended David so confidently. David identified himself so much with the ungodly that Achish knew he had David in his pocket. . . . Hearing these words from Achish should have grieved David. To hear an ungodly ruler say, ‘David has been with me’ and ‘I have found no fault in him’ and ‘he defected to me’ should have been a great wake-up call to David. It is as if an ungodly coworker insisted to others that you really weren’t a Christian after all, because they saw how you lived.” (David Guzik on 1 Sam. 29).2
Be salt in the wound of sin and let your faith be known by your fruits. Jesus calls His believers His salt and light in the world. Salt is an irritant in the wound of sin. If you do not irritate sin and serve as a light for His truth, Jesus asks what are you good for: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” (Matt. 5:13; Mk. 9:50; Lk. 14:34). Jesus also said that you will know a believer from their fruit: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” (Matt. 7:16, 20). “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” (Matt. 12:33; Lk. 6:43-44). “It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself if his conduct is pure and right.” (Prov. 20:11). Do non-believers know your convictions for God’s morality by your actions? Or, like David here, have your friends seen you long enough to certify that you are not a person of the Word?
God used the Philistine commanders to stop David from attacking God’s people. David had fallen so far into sin that God had to stir up the hearts of the Philistine commanders to drive David from the battle against God’s people: “4 But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him, and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, ‘Make the man go back, that he may return to his place where you have assigned him, and do not let him go down to battle with us, or in the battle he may become an adversary to us. For with what could this man make himself acceptable to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of these men? 5 Is this not David, of whom they sing in the dances, saying, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?’” (1 Sam. 29:4-5). After David killed Goliath, the women of Israel prophetically sang that David would kill more Philistines than Saul: “The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”’ (1 Sam. 18:7). After David fled from Saul to King Achish the first time, they knew of this prophecy and insisted that the king seize him because of the threat that he posed: “But the servants of Achish said to him, ‘Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” (1 Sam. 21:11). The other Philistines knew of this prophecy as well. According to the book of Chronicles, they feared that David would turn against them during the battle: “But they did not help them, for the lords of the Philistines after consultation sent him away, saying, ‘At the cost of our heads he may defect to his master Saul.”’ (1 Chron. 12:19(b)). It is a sad testament to David’s walk at this point that the Philistines could clearly see David’s destiny as the ruler of Israel while David could not.
God can use rejection and hardships to push you back on track. God stirred up the hearts of the Philistine commanders against David. As a consequence of David’s sins, God would also allow the Amalekites to burn his hometown in Ziklag and steal the wives of David’s men because they were not where they were supposed to be (1 Sam. 30:1-6). Jesus warns: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:19). “Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.” (Dt. 8:5). “But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Cor. 11:32; Ps. 94:12; Heb. 12:6-7). As He did with David here, He uses hardship in your life for good to bring you back on your walk with Him. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28). If you encounter hardships, pray for God to reveal if you are sinning and then respond by correcting your path.
Through God, the Philistine King ordered David to leave the battle against the Jews. Because David was too spiritually blind to see his sins, God directed King Achish to send David away from the battle. “6 Then Achish called David and said to him, ‘As the Lord lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the army are pleasing in my sight; for I have not found evil in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, you are not pleasing in the sight of the lords. 7 Now therefore return and go in peace, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.’” (1 Sam. 29:6-7). King Achish did not worship or follow Yahweh. Based upon David’s secular walk, he also did not see David as a strong follower of Yahweh. Thus, he found David pleasing in his sight. But he proclaimed that Yahweh lived when he stated: “‘As the Lord lives, . . ,’” (1 Sam. 29:6). Some commentators suggest that King Achish was simply being respectful to David. But he considered David to be his servant. Another possibility is that God put these words into King Achish’s mouth to let David know that He was in control and directing David to leave the battlefield.
The Philistine King ordered David to leave and not fight against Israel3
God is sovereign over both good and evil. God is sovereign over even the evil in the hearts of pagan rulers. “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” (Ps. 103:19). “Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high.” (Ps. 113:5). In the same way that He controlled King Achish, He also controlled the pharaoh's heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3). “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (Ro. 9:18). David was meant to drive out the Philistines. David could have been disqualified from serving as king if he killed Jewish soldiers and helped the Philistines drive the Jews out of the Promised Land. God showed mercy upon David in restraining his sinful heart. If God has used a non-believer to rebuke or redirect you in your walk, give thanks for His mercy and grace.
Through His sovereignty, He can also use your evil for good. There was nothing redeeming about David’s willingness to fight against God’s people. Nor was there anything redeeming about the decision of many Jews to join with David in the war against their fellow Jews: “For day by day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army like the army of God.” (1 Chron. 12:22). But God turned their evil intentions for good by creating an army for David that he would later use against the Philistines. Through His sovereignty, He can also turn your mistakes into something good. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28).
David pleaded with the Philistine King not to be sent from the battle. David was so blinded in his walk that he could not see God’s hand in King Achish’s commands. Thus, he was disappointed that he could not join in the battle against God’s people: “8 David said to Achish, ‘But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant from the day when I came before you to this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?’” (1 Sam. 29:8). David proclaimed himself to be King Achish’s servant. This was the third time that he had made this declaration (1 Sam. 27:5; 28:2; 29:8). David should have proclaimed himself to be a servant of Yahweh. He saw himself as God’s servant when he killed Goliath: “Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.” (1 Sam. 17:45). Even though David sinned here and would continue to sin later as king, God continued to see David as His servant. Years later, He called David His servant to the prophet Nathan. “Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in?’” (2 Sam. 7:5).
God prevented David from killing his own people4
Seeking friendship with the world can create hostility toward God. David was more concerned with what the Philistines thought of him than he was with what God thought of him. God warns that believers should never prioritize friendship with the world over serving Him. “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Ja. 4:4). “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jo. 2:15). Thus, believers are warned not to conform to the things of 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). Are you more worried about the approval of your worldly friends or God?
Failing to follow after God can lead to spiritual blindness. David should have rejoiced that God had freed him from having to fight against his own people. Believers are warned that if they reject God’s guidance, they may become spiritually blind to their sins. ‘“Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear.”’ (Jer. 5:21; 4:21). “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” (Is. 6:10; Ro. 11:8). Many become spiritually blind because they love darkness more than God’s light (Jo. 1:10; 3:20). Or, like David, they make compromises in their walk with smaller sins leading to greater sins. Have you accepted any sin in your life as normal?
Invite Jesus to expose the hidden sins in your heart. If you say you are without sin, the truth is not in you (1 Jo. 1:8). To remove the scales from your eyes, you must pray for the Holy Spirit to expose and convict you of your hidden sins (Ps. 139:23). Jesus comes to give sight to the spiritually blind: “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”’ (Jo. 9:39; Lk. 4:18; Matt. 11:5; Is. 61:1). Are you praying for Jesus to expose and convict you of your hidden sins?
Through King Achish, God gave David his second warning to leave the battlefield. Because David would not accept God’s more subtle efforts to drive him from the battlefield, God used King Achish a second time to drive David from the battlefield: “9 But Achish replied to David, ‘I know that you are pleasing in my sight, like an angel of God; nevertheless the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He must not go up with us to the battle.’ 10 Now then arise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who have come with you, and as soon as you have arisen early in the morning and have light, depart.’” (1 Sam. 29:9-10). David was too spiritually blind to see his sins. Out of mercy and grace, God forced David to leave with the king’s second command.
Out of mercy and grace, God gives believers many chances to turn and repent. Through His gentle second chances with David, God showed that He is slow to anger and quick to forgive: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;”’ (Ex. 34:6). “the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” (Ja. 5:11(b)). Yet, sadly many use His mercy as a license to sin more: “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” (Ecc. 8:11). If God has given you a second or third chance, have you misused His mercy and grace?
Even when we are unfaithful, God cannot break His promises. God appointed David to be the next king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13). God further promised that the Messiah would come through the line of David: “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (Jo. 7:42; Ps. 89:4). Jesus later came from the line of David (Matt. 1:1; Lk. 2:4). Satan attempted to disqualify David through his sins and try to destroy the line leading to the Messiah. Yet, God is faithful to keep His promises even when we are unfaithful. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). David would have no reason to boast that his sins were less severe than Saul’s sins. He became king only because God made a promise that He would not break.
God kept David from committing a horrible sin against His people. While David did not obey God, he did obey his Philistine king’s commands and left the battlefield: “11 So David arose early, he and his men, to depart in the morning to return to the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel.” (1 Sam. 29:11). David arose early in the morning to do what was right, even if God forced him to do so. In contrast, Saul came to the medium or witch from En-dor in the darkness (1 Sam. 28:8). Even though both were sinners, God delivered the sinner who would repent, turn back to Him, and then deliver Israel from its sins. God is the God of hope.
The Philistines assembled to fight against Saul’s army5
Give thanks when God delivers you from your own sins. God delivered David from committing a horrific sin against God’s people. One commentator observes that this was one God’s greatest act of deliverance for David: “David scarcely ever had a greater deliverance than when dismissed from such ensnaring service.” (Matthew Henry on 1 Samuel 29). Another commentator observes that David’s deliverance fits within a larger narrative of the many times that God delivered the Jews for His judgment. “I think we sometimes unthinkingly assume God is a saving God only at the cross of Calvary. The fact is that God has been and still is a saving God. He has been saving men from the beginning of history. God is a rescuer. He rescued Noah and his family from the flood (Genesis 6-9). He rescued Abram from Egypt and from the hand of Abimelech in Gerar (Genesis 13, 20). He rescued Lot and his daughters from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). He rescued Jacob and his family from extinction as a separate nation (Genesis 37ff.). He rescued the Israelites from Pharaoh, and from the evil hand of many other kings and nations. He constantly rescued the Israelites from their surrounding enemies during the days of the judges.” (Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh “26. From ‘Playing Both Ends Against the Middle’ to ‘Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place”’ (1 Samuel 29:1-30:6)).6 God rescued Abraham, Lot, and David from their own sins. If God has used a tragedy or hardship to keep you from sinning, give thanks.
God sees you for what you will become in Jesus, not as a sinner. This would not be the last time that David would stumble. But God saw him as the faithful servant that he would become. If you have sinned after accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, repent and God will also forgive your sins (1 Jo. 1:9). He is also faithful to finish the work that He starts in you after you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (Phil. 1:6). If God could forgive David and turn him into a king, is there any sin in your life that is too big to forgive?
Praise God when He delivers you. David later wrote psalms to thank God for delivering him from his sins. “A Psalm, a song for the Sabbath day. It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;” (Ps. 92:1). “I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” (Ps. 9:2). “I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high.” (Ps. 7:17). “Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious.” (Ps. 66:2; 68:4; 135:3). Have you given thanks for the many times that God has saved you from yourself?
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