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.” 2 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. 3 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. 4 And when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he no longer sought him.
5 Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be given me in one of the country towns, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?” 6 So that day Achish gave him Ziklag. Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. 7 And the number of the days that David lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months.
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. 9 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. 10 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.” 11 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. 12 And Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant” (1 Samuel 27).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Saul has recently sought David’s life yet again in the land of Israel. David knows that he must flee to Philistine territory to escape death (v. 1). David has not lost faith. God has said that Saul is going down and David is going up. David knows that. And he also knows Saul will not stop pursuing him if he remains in Israelite territory.
David heads to Achish king of Gath with his six hundred men and their households. As David anticipates, Saul no longer pursued him.
Eventually, David appeals to Achish attempting to leave Gath and take up residence in the country towns. Achish grants David’s request, giving him Ziklag.
David lived 16 months among the Philistines. While doing so, he made raids against various peoples. He would leave neither man or woman alive so there was none to bring back news to Achish of what David was doing.
David’s actions were not unlawful, but an act of faith and obedience to God. David is the anointed king of Israel, and he was continuing the conquest of Israel even while in exile. God has already said that the Amalekites, both men and women, were to die. David, here, strikes the Amalekites, which is what God had already commanded.
David was shrewd in his communication with king Achish. Achish developed the impression that David was fighting Israel and becoming a stench to them. David was happy to leave him with such an impression.
Even while David moved out of Israelite territory, he moved toward the throne of Israel. Even while living in exile among the Philistines, he conquered God’s enemies. God advances His conquest by sending His people into exile.
THE PATTERN OF EXILE (AND RETURN)
What David experiences here is not uncommon. Scripture reveals a pattern of exile and return. Abraham’s offspring had to go down to Egypt before returning to that Promised Land. And that there-and-back-again story involved Israel plundering the Egyptians. Likewise, Christ Himself was hidden in Egypt while a worldly king sought his life. When King Herod died, Jesus returned to the land. In just a few chapters King Saul dies and David returns to the land. Israel also went into exile in Babylon. Eventually, while in exile, they were nearly annihilated by Haman’s plot. But in that very exile they ended up destroying their enemies. In the New Testament, Christians were made to flee Jerusalem. Acts 8 tells us that a great persecution against the church arose such that they were scattered abroad through the regions of Judea and Samaria. And verse 4 adds, “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” The apostle Paul had to escape to Rome when the Jewish leaders sought his life. And his exile was designed to spread the good news in that godless land. When God gives you a pattern, you ought not be thrown off when He does it again. Now we say, “But I thought that when we prayed ‘Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” things would get better!” Well, they will . . . but you’re going to need to buckle up.
We can see the pattern: conquest through exile. But what exactly is exile? There indeed would not be any exile had sin not come into the world. But, it does not follow that we can draw a straight line between our sin and our exile. Israel’s Babylonian exile was certainly due to their sin. But, Israel had to stay in Egyptian exile until the sin of others, the Amorites, was complete. And exile does not exactly mean to be “away from the Lord.” Joseph was in Egypt, and Genesis repeatedly emphasizes that the Lord was with him. Exile is, however, being away from normalcy. There were familiar customs and traditions in Israel. Things were different among the Philistines. It also means being away from safety. To be within the walls of Jerusalem was to benefit from their protection. But when Babylon leveled those walls, the danger could no longer be kept out. Exile also signals a movement away from comfort. You can see Job’s experience as one of exile. And he did not have to go to it, but it came to him. He lost the comfort of his home, his children, his wife, his health.
Exile is the dark night, the burned down house, it is Bilbo in Smaug’s lair. It is Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund in the White Witch’s winter. It is the doctor telling you your wife has cancer. It is the death of a child. It is the crumbling of law and order. And the rewriting of the dictionary. It is something that a host of God-fearing Christians are feeling right about now.
The question is, of course, why would God send His people into all of that? Why exile? Well, the Amalekites need to be defeated. Ever since the rebellion in the Garden, there have been dark places in the land. They need the light. There are evil places and they need to be purged of that evil. The white witches winter needs the warmth of Aslan’s breath. And He has told us to go and preach good news. So we have to enter the dark, the cold, the danger, the trouble, and the pain. We have to take up the cross like our Savior did.
Mark the pattern. When exile comes, don’t think, “How could God?” Rather, anticipate exile, and trust God to do in it what He has always done in it: Advance His kingdom.
TEMPTATIONS IN EXILE
When the bottom drops out of things, peculiar temptations come. We see David valiantly resisting many of them in this passage. He is a model for us.
In exile, there is temptation to despair. Everything seems turned upside down. Everything seems different than before. How easy would have been for David to complain, “I can’t rely on the things I relied on before. I can’t operate the way I used to operate before.” His cook says, “How I am supposed to cook a meal when this kitchen is all turned around and half of my supplies are missing?” Someone jumps in and says he’s going to run to the supply store and fix all the problems, but then he realizes he doesn’t know where one is in Ziklag. He finally finds one only to discover there’s supply chain issues in Ziklag. When exile comes, you can just want to sink in despair. But the despair doesn’t actually come from the exile, it is revealed by the exile. The despair comes from trusting in self rather than trusting in God. And thanks be to God, He teaches us to avoid just that sort of thing. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:8, “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.”
Along with despair, we are tempted to apathy in exile. We just give up caring. The kingdom feels far away. And hey, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The chaos of the times makes us think that we may sow and not reap, and seeing that is the case, we decide to take some days off from sowing. One might say, “Look, I’m not worshiping Dagon, god of the Philistines. I’m still going to church every now and then. I’m not given to whole-hog worldliness. I’m just not as vested as I used to be in the ways of Christianity.” That is called the drift. That is called being asleep. And it is easy to do when exile comes. Hebrews 2:1 provides the remedy, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.”
Then there’s division. Moving a band of over 1,000 Israelite men, women, and children into Philistine territory would have come with its challenges. The situation is ripe for schism. In exile, a lot is up in the air. More decisions have to be made, tougher decisions, costlier decisions. There is less time to make the decisions and it’s likely tougher to get accurate information. In times like these, remember where divisions come from. The Apostle James says, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” So, in times like these, be eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
Perhaps the most pressing temptation on the church today, as we experience increasingly exilic conditions is that of retreat. David did not enter into Ziklag and ask himself, “How can I make sure I don’t get caught?” From man’s perspective, what better time is there for David to just slow down, play it safe, head for the hills? You are literally in the enemy’s territory and therefore surrounded by them. But, David takes the approach of the Marine Lewis Puller, who once famously said to his men when they were surrounded by the enemy, “Well, they can’t get away now.” And so we are told that David went up and made raids against the enemy. The church in America must awake to the realization that our nation is in the mess it is in because the church has been in a long retreat in the same direction. We have been in retreat mode for some time. So long in fact that we no longer realize that we are retreating.
We need to relearn the lesson that Mr. Beaver taught Lucy when she heard that Aslan was a lion, “‘I’d thought he was a man,’ says Lucy, ‘Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion. … ‘Safe’? said Mr. Beaver .. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Well, there’s nothing safe about that.
So, here you are, saints, in exile. And the message is: No retreat. Burn the ships. Go, go, go. Advance. Sing, pray, worship, love your families, confess your sin, do good to the saints around you, and speak the truth in love to those lost in the darkness. And far from having a spirit of fear or timidity, you’ll find yourself thankful that you get to run raids with David behind enemy lines.
PRINCIPLES FOR THE EXILIC CONQUEST
As we go about this exilic conquest, there are certain principles to keep in mind.
First, remember it is the conquest of Christ. The conquest is from Him, through Him, and to Him. David’s exile was not ultimately about David. We like to read stories with man at the center. I had to go down or else I would never have learned lesson (fill in the blank). And there is truth in that as far as it goes. But this story is not about David “finding himself” in exile. It is not about David turning over a new leaf, or starting fresh. It is about David going wherever God led and fighting the battles of Jesus there. Your story matters, but it matters because it is nested in God’s story. David slayed Goliath, but that is nested inside Christ slaying His enemy. You must conquer in exile, always for the purpose of Christ’s conquest.
A second and related principle is this: We are in this exilic conquest as kings. By which I mean, we are in it for the covenant people of God, not ourselves. David was not operating as a mere individual. He was operating as the anointed king of God’s covenant people. He was not killing Amalekites for his own reputation or his own safety. He did his work for the community, for the people of God. American life is so infected with individualism that we can slip into it constantly. We forget that we are a part of a people. We are a baptized people. A people at the table of the Lord. As the Apostle Peter has said, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). That “Ye” in the text is plural. Therefore it speaks to you all. You all are kings. And that means that you live, you fight, you labor each day in your station for the good of the saints; for the good of baptized Christians everywhere, that beautiful visible church which is the kingdom of God. When you live for the covenant people of God, you find yourself not caring or worrying about what happens to you, you don’t care how hard it is, you do it all for the sons of Abraham, the Israel of God.
A third principle for conquest in exile is that the whole operation must be done in faith. David is not out randomly killing people. God had told Israel to conquer the Promised Land. David was the Anointed King with the right and obligation to conquer the Promised Land and defend Israel against God’s enemies. David conquers by trusting God’s Word. David is included in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. And that chapter says that David put armies to flight and subdued kingdoms by faith. As he lived by faith, he actually evidenced the promise of God. This is a glorious point.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Now think about that verse. “Things not seen.” By definition, you cannot see them. And yet faith is the evidence of things not seen. Do you want proof that David will sit on the throne of Israel? Just look at him conquering by faith in exile. And faith is so beautiful and critical at this very juncture because it is in exile that everyone wants to start doubting the promises of God. “I know David is anointed to be king and all, but have you heard he is in the land of the Philistines?” And people today say the same, “You tell me Jesus reigns? You tell me His kingdom is coming upon earth? Have you seen our situation, buddy?” Ah, but look at the saints at Christ Church in Moscow. By faith, they conquer. And by faith, they evidence the things unseen. Do you want proof that the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ? Look to the saints exercising faith, for faith is the very substance of things hoped for.
And what is our faith in? Our faith is in the Greater David, Jesus Christ—the One who went into exile: He, the righteous one, came to the land of sinners. He who was One with the Father cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The light of the world was covered in darkness. The friend of sinners was betrayed. Life Himself went to the grave. And in that terrible exile, He conquered all of God’s enemies. He triumphed over sin, death, and the devil. For God made Him to be sin who knew no sin; that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. So “thanks be to God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ in every place . . . be it within the walls of Jerusalem or within the land of the Philistines.