First, in 1 Samuel 29 David finds salvation from his embarrassing and uncomfortable relationship with Achish, king of Gath. The Philistine lords reject his
participation in the upcoming battle, and rightly so! And from what we read in 1 Samuel 27, we can see better than Achish how erroneous his words to David are: “As the LORD lives, you have been honest” (1 Samuel 29:6). It also bothers us to
listen to the words of submission that Yahweh’s anointed has to say to a Philistine: “What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” (1 Samuel 29:8) Therefore, although the text doesn’t tell us directly, we perceive the
Philistines’ rejection of David as another visible form of Yahweh’s salvation. And although we may not like to recognize it at times, we should give Him praise and glory for the times when, in His mercy, He has saved us also from embarrassing links with sin and condemnation.
In David’s case, Yahweh has saved him from even more than is apparent here. Notice that chapter 29 occurs before the events of chapter 28. Samuel tells Saul, “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me”; that is, they will die (1 Samuel 28:19); and according to 1 Samuel 29:1, 11, when the Philistines reject David, they are not even at the battlefield yet. The biblical narrator not only changed the perspective from Saul to David between chapters 28 and 29, but he went back in time to tell us the events in David’s life several days prior to Saul’s divination request. This detail is important because now we see that David and his men are completely separated from the events of Israel’s defeat and Saul’s death on Mount Gilboa. On the day of the battle, the Israelites do not see David and his men slowly marching away from the Philistines in the distance. Instead, David and his men are nowhere in the area; they haven’t been with the Philistines for days, and as we will see in 1 Samuel 30 and 2 Samuel 1, they are far from the battle and occupied with other matters.
Therefore we can see that Yahweh completely protects David, His anointed, from the judgment of Saul and his house. We don’t know what David would have
done if he had to fight on the Philistine side that day. We would like to think that he would have changed sides to attack the Philistines and guide Israel to victory, but the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. Neither does it say how Israel would have reacted to David’s participation in the battle that day, even if he had changed sides and led Israel to victory. Would he be seen as untrustworthy, fighting against Israel for awhile and then changing sides when it was convenient? Would he be blamed for Saul’s death or for not having arrived in time to save him? Would there be accusations that he weakened Israel’s hand in battle until Saul died, then took advantage of the situation to win the victory and be named king?
If we thought like Hollywood, maybe we would send David into battle on the Philistine side, have him repent of his decision when he sees Jonathan under attack, then go and save Jonathan and Saul in a fierce battle. Then Saul could see David’s sacrifice to save his life, repent of the way he’s treated David all these years, and even give the death blow to a Philistine (perhaps Achish himself?) who is sneaking up on David to kill him. Israel could win the battle that day, and we could end our film with a scene days later in a huge, formal ceremony with all Israel present in solemn joy to celebrate the crown being passed from an aging Saul to a submissive
David, with Jonathan smiling and applauding in the background.
But because Hollywood celebrates the achievements and potential of men in very dramatic fashion without taking into account Yahweh’s holiness and judgment, He never asked Hollywood to write the Bible. Instead, Yahweh’s judgment, as disagreeable as it may be to our carnality, has decreed the destruction of Saul and his royal house because of rebellion: “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (1 Samuel 15:28-29). “Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day” (1 Samuel 28:18). And we see Yahweh’s mercy in protecting His anointed from any link with His judgment on Saul.
Second, notice in 1 Samuel 30 that this Philistine salvation and the tribulation caused by the Amalekite attack against Ziklag push David to seek Yahweh again: “David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). He inquires of the LORD again (1 Samuel 30:7-8). He recognizes Yahweh’s hand in the recapture of all their family members and wealth (1 Samuel 30:23, 26). It’s been a long time since we’ve heard the name of Yahweh come from David’s lips; now, in the midst of trouble, David finds his refuge and strength in Him again.
Third, we read the sad news of the deaths of Saul and his sons. Worse than Samson’s death, the four die together and are mocked by the Philistines. Even though it is a complete and shameful defeat, 1 Samuel does not end in complete desperation. The men of Jabesh-gilead risk their lives to bury their bodies. Remember that Saul had saved them from the oppression of Nahash the Ammonite in 1 Samuel 11; here they are showing their devotion and gratitude. Saul’s reign was not a total failure. Yahweh worked through him to save Israel, although in a limited way and with a lot of time and resources wasted in pursuing His anointed. But the echo of salvation in 1 Samuel 11 should be an encouraging detail: Yahweh certainly will not forget His people.