“God has put your enemy into your power to-day; do let me pin him to the ground with his own spear! Just one stroke! I will not need to strike him twice!” said Abishai, David’s oldest nephew, as he leaned close to David in the darkness (1 Samuel 26:8; Moffatt throughout). David understood the intensity on Abishai’s face. One flesh-crunch of the spear and their troubles with Saul would be over. The two men had made a bold move. Yet, David paused.
Tensions in David’s camp had mounted high. His scouts brought him the disquieting report that Saul was coming for them again. David, his men, their wives and children wondered, When would all the pressure end? Life on the run was extremely difficult and filled with suffering. The number of places to conceal their growing band of ex-patriots had become too few. David’s warriors had become very visible with their movements and reputation. They had become proven protectors and renowned raiders.
After the incident at Engedi, they returned to their stronghold on the hill of Hachilah, in the Judean wilderness near Ziph—an isolated place called Jeshimon. Located near the Dead Sea many would not wish to live there. Yet, Jeshimon’s isolated desolation was protection for David and company. David’s mighty men knew how to survive even under the harshest conditions. Yet, it was difficult to survive betrayal! The Ziphites informed Saul of David’s location again (1 Samuel 26:1). Saul immediately organized his troops for the march on David’s hideout. Some 3,000 men were equipped for the battle. David had good men—skilled warriors—but he knew their number was no match for Saul’s troops.
Miraculous Night Strike
However, in all this, David also recognized Saul’s vulnerability. Even with all his troops and loyal men, Saul was the man most alone in Israel. God had departed from him—was not on his side—no longer backed him up. David decided to confront Saul. Although unknown to David at that time, it was to be his final encounter with Saul.
David approached Ahimelek the Hittite and Abishai, Joab’s brother, with a plan. A little intimidation seemed to work best with Saul. David planned to go directly to Saul at night when the camp was asleep. Abishai volunteered immediately. Abishai, Joab and Asahel, all sons of Zeruiah, David’s sister, were audacious men. David deeply respected Abishai’s bravery. (Later, after David became king, Abishai and Joab, both military leaders, would prove to be troublesome for David. They would take too many matters into their own hands.) David and Abishai rested in the heat of the day waiting for the black of night.
Once well-protected by the darkness, the two warriors stealthily made their way past the entire circle of troops and entered the very center of Saul’s camp on the hill of Hachilah. David and Abishai, hovering close to the ground, came within a short distance of Saul. The evil king was deeply asleep on the ground. Abner, Saul’s army commander and protector, slept by his side.
David and Abishai were astounded at their success. Their incursion into the camp had been so easy. Steady. Swift. Silent. The wasteland darkness cloaked their movement. Like muscled black panthers, they stood over Saul. As if in a dream, David watched Abishai’s hand—like a paw with unsheathed claws—reach for Saul’s spear. The sweat on Abishai’s biceps dripped to the ground in the dull firelight. In a split second, the strong man could divide Saul’s heart. Shocked into action, David quickly stopped him.
“Do not murder him; for who can lay hands upon the Eternal’s anointed and be innocent?” David commanded Abishai in a whisper. “By the life of the Eternal, the Eternal strike him, his day of death shall come, or he shall go into battle and be swept away. The Eternal forbid that I should raise my hand against the Eternal’s anointed! But take the spear at his head and the jug of water, and let us be off!” (1 Samuel 26:9-11).
David and his nephew made their way easily out of the camp. They had successfully stolen two of Saul’s most import military accessories—his cruse of water and spear. Saul was now waterless and defenseless. Being without a spear or liquid in a desert campaign would be disastrous. David planned to teach a great lesson.
The two men made their way to a hill located a safe distance from Saul’s camp. What a miraculous night strike! No one saw them come. No one saw them leave. Not one soldier woke up. Jesus Christ, the Eternal, backed David. He stood with David in all his stresses and trials. God had put Saul and his entire army into a deep asleep (verse 12). David and Abishai could have blasted trumpets at a high pitch and not one man would have stirred.
David had spared Saul’s life. It was time to let Saul and his treacherous troops know.
Saul’s Second Public Apology
From the hill, David yelled out to the slumbering soldiers, taunting them to wake up. He called out to Abner. “Abner will you not answer?” he jeered (1 Samuel 26:14). Abner, still dozing in the darkness responded, “Who is that calling?” David did not yet reveal himself in the night. But he jabbed back, “Are you not a champion? Who in Israel is like you? Why then have you not kept guard over your lord the king? Some one got in to murder the king your lord! This is a bad business. By the life of the Eternal, you deserve to die for failing to keep guard over your lord, over the Eternal’s anointed! Look here, see where the king’s spear is, and the jug of water that was beside his head!” (verses 15-16). Abner, Saul’s choice hero, shamed by David’s insult, must have been somewhat nervous at the realization of what had taken place. Not only could Saul have been murdered, he, Saul’s guard, could have been killed too.
Saul recognized immediately who was addressing his beaten guards. It was David! “Is that your voice, my son David?” Saul called back (verse 17). Saul, always able to play both sides of the fence, spoke to David with feigned childlike innocence. He referred to David as his son. This must have nettled David. If he were a son, why was Saul striving to kill him like some treacherous Philistine? David was not impressed with Saul’s double-minded show of affection.
David answered with the focused intensity of a true leader, “It is my voice, my lord, O king. … Why is my lord pursuing his servant? What have I done? What guilt stains my hands? Pray let my lord listen to what his servant says. If it is the Eternal who has roused you against me, may he be propitiated by an offering! But if it be men, a curse on them in the presence of the Eternal!—for they have banished me this day from all contact with the Eternal’s own land, bidding me go and worship other gods. Oh, may my blood not fall to the ground far from the Eternal’s presence!—for the king of Israel is out to seek my life, like a vulture hunting a partridge on the hills” (verses 17-20). We can only imagine the depth of David’s distress and frustration over Saul’s violent hatred of him.
This was not a game. David’s life was in mortal danger. He was innocent of any wrongdoing against the king. Yet, he could not obtain justice. He was forced to remain on the run like some escaped criminal. David showed Saul and his troops that he was relying on God to judge between himself and Saul. If he was wrong, David understood that he deserved to die. But if he was not in the wrong, David asked God to curse those pursuing him. David was relying on the high court of heaven to guide the final outcome. It would not be long before the curse would come to pass.
David knew he had nowhere else to hide in Israel. He recognized that he was on the ropes. To protect the others and himself, he would have to flee the country. Banishment was his only option. This greatly upset David. Why? He did not want to leave the Eternal’s land. David had no desire to live in the land of another god.
David’s attitude is laudable here. He would not miss the land of his family—not his own land—David would miss the Eternal’s land. What a sterling example.
David held a great measure of spiritual perception. He saw things clearly the way God saw them. The land of Israel was the Eternal’s land. He desired to be close to the Eternal; he wanted to be in His land!
We must train ourselves to be as spiritually perceptive as David. The Philadelphia Church of God is the Eternal’s Church. The truth passed on to us by Mr. Armstrong is the Eternal’s truth. The new revelation we now enjoy is the Eternal’s revelation. The pcg’s blessings are the Eternal’s blessings. Let’s be sure we see things this way.
Pushed into an embarrassing corner, Saul apologized publicly—the second time. He entreated David, “I have done wrong; come back, David my son, I will never hurt you again, since you held my life sacred this day. I have acted senselessly, I have gone far astray” (verse 21). We must wonder what Saul’s men were thinking when they heard their king apologize. Saul admitted that he had gone far astray. What an understatement. Saul was wholly astray!
Surely Saul’s apology would have destabilized his men. Hearing Saul, they recognized that the reason for their military campaign against David was in question. Saul’s men had to have been demoralized that night!
Safe in Philistia
David could never believe Saul’s words. Who in his right mind would? David answered Saul’s invitation, “Here is the king’s spear; let one of the young men come across and fetch it. May the Eternal reward each of us for his honesty and fidelity! The Eternal put you in my power to-day, and I refused to raise my hand against the Eternal’s anointed. Now, as I set great store by your life to-day, so may the Eternal set great store by my life and rescue me from all distress!” (1 Samuel 26:22-24). David declined Saul’s invitation to return to the royal court. Too much had happened. All of David’s trust in Saul’s words had been destroyed.
The breach between them could not be repaired. David would patiently wait on God to deliver him from this great trial caused by Saul.
Saul’s last recorded words to David have a ring of finality. Saul said to David, “A blessing on you David, my son! You will do great things, and you are sure to win” (verse 25). What a sorrowfully tragic parting. Saul had rendered his life useless. David was blessed—Saul cursed. David was about to win big—Saul was about to lose it all. As far as we can tell from the scriptures, these two men never saw each other again.
David recognized that Saul would never give up his plan to murder him, so he and his vagabond nation moved into Philistine Gath. Since Saul had so much trouble defeating any Philistine garrison, David knew Saul would not follow him into Philistia. The Bible states, “And it was told Saul that David was fled to Gath: and he sought no more again for him” (1 Samuel 27:4, King James Version to end). David and his company were safe in Philistia.
During this second escape to Gath, David made an alliance with Achish, the king of this province. This time, David did not present himself as a mad man, as he had done previously (1 Samuel 21:10-15). He was no longer a lonely fugitive. He had an organized army. He held reputation. Achish knew that he was an accomplished warrior and leader. David’s group was much like a wandering city. Achish appears to have developed a great deal of respect and trust for David; he gave David rule over the captured Simeonite city of Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:5-6).
Destroying Israel’s Enemies
The history of David in Gath is an important one. The story is unique. We learn that David did not want to be in close proximity to Achish. There were several reasons why. For one, David wanted complete freedom to worship God in the manner of the Israelites. He and his people could do this, without notice, away from Achish. The geographic distance between Achish and David also gave David military privacy. While living in Gath, David didn’t spend his time on the beach. He went to work!
David eliminated some of Israel’s oldest enemies. “And David and his men went up, and invaded the Geshurites, and the Gezrites, and the Amalekites: for those nations were of old the inhabitants of the land, as thou goest to Shur, even unto the land of Egypt. And David smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel, and returned, and came to Achish” (1 Samuel 27:8-9). David was intent on obeying God.
God had commanded the Israelites to eliminate the Geshurites as far back as the time of Joshua. At the time of Joshua’s death this still had not been accomplished (Joshua 13:13).
Remember, Saul was commanded to totally eliminate the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul did not obey God and lost the right to rule. David was setting the record straight.
This showed David’s knowledge of history. As the king in waiting, he was cleaning up the land. These people were a threat to Israel’s unity, peace and blessings. They had to be eliminated. He laid an important foundation for his future reign. David destroyed every man, woman and child of Israel’s enemies, but he saved all the spoils. David faithfully shared the spoils as tribute to Achish.
There is a twist to the story: David led Achish to believe that he was making raids on Israelite towns. “And David saved neither man nor woman alive, to bring tidings to Gath, saying, Lest they should tell on us, saying, So did David, and so will be his manner all the while he dwelleth in the country of the Philistines. And Achish believed David, saying, He hath made his people Israel utterly to abhor him; therefore he shall be my servant for ever” (1 Samuel 27:11-12). As David made his raids, he left no one alive. No one could report to Achish what he was actually doing. Achish believed that David was a turncoat, attacking his own nation. Achish actually thought that David was his servant. What a gullible man!
How long David remained in Gath is debatable. A literal reading of the Scriptures states he was there for 16 months (verse 7). Most commentaries say this verse has been mistranslated. Scholars believe David was only in Gath for four months. The time involved is not important. What we do know for sure is that while in Gath, David grew in physical wealth. He was also able to rejuvenate mentally and emotionally. When David’s time in Gath finally came to an end, his days on the run were over for quite some time. In the distant future, however, David would be forced to run for his life again.
Witch at Endor
David’s days in Gath ended when the Philistine kings decided to wage war against Israel. They gathered together a massive army. Achish fully expected David and his expert warriors to join in the fight. “And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men. And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever” (1 Samuel 28:1-2). Achish promised great honor to David for fighting alongside the Philistines.
David pretended to go along with the fully deceived Philistine king, but when it came time for the battle, the other kings of Philistia refused to trust David. He and his men were sent back to Ziklag. Study this incredible history in 1 Samuel 29. David was spared from a very difficult situation. He did not have to reveal himself to Achish. And he did not have to witness Saul’s last battle.
While camped at Gilboa, Saul saw the Philistines organizing for a mammoth attack on Israel. Saul fell into total despair. He became uncontrollably distressed over who would win the conflict. “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” (1 Samuel 28:6). The Bible shows that God would not answer him. Godless, faithless and afraid, Saul did not know where to turn. Samuel was dead. He personally had all necromancers removed from the land (verse 3). He was desperate—he had to know something.
“Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor” (verse 7). Saul’s career as king had begun so bright—he was God’s chosen one to lead a great nation. Yet, now he was reduced to seeking the help of a demon-possessed witch. How utterly revolting! Saul’s life could have been so different.
Saul disguised himself and went with two servants to visit the witch in the dark of night. He asked her, “I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee” (verse 8). Even the witch was cautious at the request. Not knowing it was Saul, she said, “Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?” (verse 9). Saul hurriedly guaranteed her safety. He then asked her to bring up Samuel. As soon as the witch saw the demon that pretended to be Samuel, she recognized that Saul had deceived her (verses 12-14).
Saul inquired of the demon about the coming battle. He did not receive good news. First the demon recounted to him his sad history with God and with David (verses 15-17). Then the spirit said, “Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines” (verses 18-19). Israel was going to lose the battle. Saul and his sons were going to die.
Saul and Jonathan’s Demise
All physical strength drained from Saul when he heard the news. He had not eaten all day. Now he was physically sick. The realization hit hard. It was over! He had no kingdom. He was living his last hours. Seeing Saul so troubled, even the witch offered him some food. At first Saul refused, but then he and his two servants did eat.
Saul’s final battle is described in 1 Samuel 31. Read the entire chapter. The Philistines came after Israel with full strength. “Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul’s sons” (1 Samuel 31:1-2). Many in Israel were slain that day. Several of Saul’s sons were some of the first to die. How tragic for the good-hearted Jonathan.
Saul was mortally wounded with an arrow. How the pain must have burned—mentally, emotionally, physically. He did not want to be tortured by the Philistines, so he asked his armorbearer to end his life before the enemy got to him. The servant refused. Saul then took his own life by falling on a sword (verse 4). What a sad ending to a very sad life. Realizing Israel’s hopeless situation, Saul’s armorbearer also committed suicide. Anyone close to Saul would suffer torture.
With their king dead, the nation fell into panic. “And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them” (verse 7). Isn’t it somewhat ironic that those strong warriors who had hotly pursued David now fled in great fear?
The Philistines mutilated Saul’s lifeless body. “And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan” (verses 8-10). Saul’s enemies mocked him in both life and death. However, the brave and just men of Jabesh-gilead recovered Saul’s body at night and buried it.
The Philistines had won a big victory. They even gained more territory. But although Israel appeared to be in shambles, a new day was about to dawn. The Philistine victory was actually a great gain for Israel: their despotic king was dead. Unknown to the Philistines, his successor had already been prepared.
David Crowned at Hebron
While Saul was losing his life to the Philistines, David was winning another battle against the Amalekites.
As the Philistines organized for war against Israel, they left most of their territory unguarded. Amalekite raiders moved against David’s city of Ziklag while he and his men were assembled with Achish at Aphek (1 Samuel 29:1; 1 Samuel 30:1). They did not expect David would return to Ziklag so soon. When David returned, he found the city looted and burned. The women and children had been taken captive, including David’s two wives. David pursued after the Amalekites and rescued all the spoils and people. Read all of 1 Samuel 30 concerning David’s rescue of the inhabitants of Ziklag.
When David heard the news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, he greatly mourned. Yet he knew the nation had to go forward. God directed David to move back into Judah. “And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the Lord said unto him, Go up. And David said, Whither shall I go up? And he said, Unto Hebron. So David went up thither, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail Nabal’s wife the Carmelite. And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron. And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah” (2 Samuel 2:1-4). David was now king of the Jews.
Hebron was a new beginning for the beleaguered king. David’s life as king began with little celebration, no extravagant fanfare, and not much glory. A monumental task lay before him—he had to unite all of Israel.