Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 29 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/11/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 29
“Fight Against the Enemies of My Lord the King”
If you’ve ever watched a TV show or a movie that involves spies or secret agents, you know how exciting the story gets when it looks like the agent’s cover is going to be blown. That usually gets you sitting on the edge of your seat, concerned to see what will happen. Or similarly, when the spy or secret agent is put into a situation where they might have to do something that would betray the real allegiances, you are particularly on your edge of your seat. You think that surely the secret agent won’t do what it seems like he is going to have to do, but how is ever going to get out of this predicament without blowing his cover?
Well, as we continue to study 1 Samuel, this is exactly the situation here with David. And so let’s begin today’s message by first remembering the background to this passage, to help set the suspense of what’s going on here. We have to go back two weeks ago to remember, because last week’s passage interrupted this episode with David to show us what Saul was doing at this time (remember he was visiting that witch at Endor). So, two weeks ago we were studying chapter 27 and the first two verses of chapter 28. That’s the passage where David decided that he could be safer from Saul if he fled to the land of the Philistines and took refuge there. So he went to Gath and we saw that he presented himself to Achish, king of Gath, as a defector of Israel. In chapter 27 he smooth talked his way into getting King Achish to give him a city, Ziklag, from which he was able to stage raids against Israel’s enemies. But of course he told Achish that he was actually staging raids against Israel. And so in chapter 27 David presents himself as “defector” and loyal to Achish and that he had become a stench to Israel. But the reality was quite different. David was using Achish for protection and to provide a staging ground to advance Israel’s cause and David’s own messianic-type work. So, in other words, David was a sort of secret agent for Israel living behind enemy lines, with connections to the top Philistine leadership. This setup had been working out very well for David, as we discussed two weeks ago.
But then we read the first two verses of chapter 28. The Philistine lords had decided to launch a huge all out assault against Israel. And so Achish comes to David at the start of chapter 28 and tells David that he will of course be expected to fight with him against Israel. Remember David’s answers to Achish. He told him, “Surely you know what your servant can do.” Achish took that as David agreeing, but of course that’s because Achish falsely believed that David was his loyal servant. But we knew otherwise, and when we heard David say that, we could see the ambiguity in the statement. And yet we nonetheless noticed the ambiguity. We nonetheless noted the tension here. Surely David wouldn’t really go out to war with the Philistines against Israel, would he? Surely David wouldn’t do anything to harm God’s people, would he? Surely not; of course not; but then what will he do? How will he get out of this without blowing his cover? Or worse, without maybe himself getting killed. I mean think about it, if he told Achish “no,” he won’t fight against Israel, that surely wouldn’t go well for David either. So, what’s going to happen for David? By the time you get to 28:2, the suspense is all right there, but then what happens? It’s like the TV show that ends right then and tells you that you have to come back next week to find out what will happen. Because that’s when the story jumps over to show us what’s going on with Saul and this witch and Endor. And so the break is supposed to heighten the suspense for us! What will become of David? Surely he won’t help the Philistines, but we are still left wondering. How will he get out of this? What can he do to save himself?
And so this brings us to our second point to see how David’s cover gets questioned by the Philistines. The storyline for this episode with David gets picked back up in verse 1. We find that the Philistines are assembling together their armies. The princes of the Philistines are reviewing all the armies. Remember, that the Philistines had five major city-states and that each had their own king or ruler. Achish was the king of Gath. But presumably all the Philistine rulers are now here gathering with the various Philistine armies. And so as the armies of Achish are marching through and being reviewed, we see in verse 2 that David and his band of soldiers are in the rear marching along as well. And so look at the response of the Philistine princes in verse 3. They see David and their men marching along in the rear and thy basically say, “What are they doing here?”
Achish of course responds saying that this is David, his loyal servant. And they respond by saying, “exactly, this is David!” They know who David is. They remember the song that praises David as a national hero of Israel. Notice in verse 4 that the princes actually get upset. Notice they won’t go as far as to call David a spy or to challenge the cover story that David was a defector. But these Philistine lords know enough about David’s past identity to challenge his supposed allegiances. They confront Achish and basically say that if David is at all wanting to get back in good graces with King Saul of Israel, then this would be a perfect opportunity. They know that to bring David into battle with them would be foolish. His past identity is in too much conflict with his current supposed identity to risk bringing David with them. Yes, Achish might be right that he is on their side, but if he’s not, then he will turn upon them during the battle. That’s too much of a risk in the judgment of these Philistine princes. And so in a decision of wisdom, they demand that David go back to Ziklag.
And so I do think that the Philistine princes were smart here. As I’ve said before, I don’t think David would have actually fought against Israel or attacked Saul. We’ve seen, for example, with Saul, how he would not under any circumstances strike Saul, the Lord’s Anointed. We’ll see later on that David will have an Israelite put to death when he claims to have killed Saul as a mercy killing at Saul’s request. So, I just don’t see how David would have actually fought with the Israelites. But we never get to see for sure. We never get to see how David saves himself from this situation. The reason why is that David doesn’t have to save himself. God saves him. In other words, I think we should credit God for getting David out of this situation.
This is kind of like back in chapter 23 when Saul had finally got David trapped and was closing in on him, when all of a sudden the Philistines attacked elsewhere. Saul had to abandon his pursuit of David, allowing David to escape to freedom. In that situation we said that this was clearly a work of God’s providence to save David. He so ordered things and orchestrated things so that it resulted in the Philistines attacking at just the right time. And here in God’s sovereign providence again things are ordered and orchestrated so that David doesn’t have to go into battle. He doesn’t have to actually face the situation where he would have to reveal his allegiances to the Philistines right when the Philistine armies are all around him. And so I think we should rightly give God the glory for his providential saving of David here. This is how all this suspenseful situation works itself out. God uses the wisdom of the other Philistines to allow David to remain in the good graces of the Philistines while not having to go into battle with them against Israel. In other words, David is able to maintain his cover as a defector, at least for now.
This brings us then to our third point. I want to observe how Achish continues to believe David’s cover. Though the Philistine princes are not completely convinced that David is truly a defector of Israel, clearly Achish does believe it. Look at the interchange between him and David in verses 6-10. It’s almost laughable to see how clearly deceived Achish is. David seems to play the matter up by sounding offended or hurt that the Philistine lords would have such suspicion. And Achish seems to accept it all. Achish seems almost foolish in his unwavering trust of David. But what is clear is that God’s providential saving of David in this passage has maintained David’s cover with Achish.
Two statements particularly stand out to me as ironic here in the dialogue between David and Achish. I’ll point out verse 9 first. Achish tells David that David is as good to him as an angel of God. You can also translate angel as messenger. The word can be used in both ways. The irony in this statement is that Achish shouldn’t be so glad to have an angel of the one true God with him. In a real way, David really is a sort of messenger from God right there in Achish’s midst. But since Achish is an uncircumcised heathen Philistine, he really shouldn’t want an angel of God with him. Now yes, of course, Achish doesn’t think that way. In his pagan thinking, I’m sure such thinking wouldn’t come into his mind. But remember, we are reading this from the perspective of God’s people. We can’t help but read this from the perspective that knows who David is, and knows who Achish is. We can’t help but smile a little when we hear Achish talk that way when we know the irony of what he’s saying.
The other statement that’s ironic to me is in verse 8. When David defends himself in light of the suggestion by the Philistines that he would turn on them, he says, “But what have I done? And to this day what have you found in your servant as long as I have been with you, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” And so notice that he talks about going and fighting against the enemies of his lord the king. When David says this, it strikes us again as a bit ambiguous. His ambiguous, covert, wording again comes out. Is he talking about Achish when he says this, that Achish is his lord and king? Clearly Achish thinks so. If so, then the enemies referenced would be the Israelites. Or does David actually have in the back of his mind King Saul? Yes, King Saul has been out to kill David, but David has never retaliated, but repeatedly has sworn his allegiance to Saul. If David really has in mind Saul as his king, then it would actually be the Philistines who are his enemy.
So who is David really referring to? Yes, Achish thinks it himself. But is that who David was really referring to? Again, it sounds unlikely from our vantage point. Though David might have actually had Saul in the back of his mind, we can’t help but think of the tension there given that Saul has shown him such evil. And yet I think of what David would write in Psalm 110:1. The LORD said to my Lord. I presume David has not yet written that Psalm. I presume that David likely hasn’t come to know yet what is to be described in that Psalm. But Psalm 110 is a revelation about the Messiah that would come from David’s line. In other words, it’s a revelation about Jesus Christ. We know that it’s not until later in 2 Samuel 7 that David learns about this Messiah that would come from his line. Presumably it would not be until sometime around then that he writes Psalm 110 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And yet regardless of when he writes Psalm 110, the truth was still true for him that day. David wrote in Psalm 110:1, “The LORD said to my Lord.” So, who is David’s ultimate Lord, his King? The coming messiah. The Lord Jesus Christ.
What’s my point? Beyond the question of either Achish or Saul, it’s actually Jesus who is David’s ultimate Lord and King. And when you read that Psalm 110, a lot of it is about how the Messiah Christ would come and destroy his enemies. So, whether David fully appreciated or not, surely his ultimate sentiment is the right one. David’s allegiance is ultimately to the LORD. As a man after God’s own heart, his real King and Lord is beyond Saul and certainly not Achish. Ultimately his King is the coming King Jesus. And that means right now in this passage, we know his enemies include these uncircumcised pagan Philistines, and even King Saul in one sense. But the LORD will save David. The LORD escapes David from the Philistines in this passage, allowing David to safely go back to Ziklag. God will use these pagan Philistines imminently to take out Saul, who has set himself as an enemy to both God and David. And later on we’ll see God will eventually deliver the Philistines into David’s hand, after David becomes king, in 2 Samuel 5.
And so God will bring victory for David against all his and God’s enemies. But again we are reminded of how God, not David by his own strength or cunning, brings it about. And so it wasn’t yet time for David’s cover to be blown. First God brings David safely out of this battle. Then God uses this Philistine-Israel battle to have Saul die in battle. Then God would bring David to the throne of Israel, and ultimately take out the Philistines in battle. And so in the future, David’s real allegiances would be seen. But for now, God safeguarded David’s identity in this situation until just the right time.
You know, we’ve seen God work like that at times. I think of Queen Esther. He allowed her identity as a Jew to be kept a secret to the Persian King until at just the right moment it served to bring a wonderful salvation for God’s people. Sometimes in history there has been a strategic value is not advertising your allegiances or identity until the right time. As an opposite example, I think of how Moses, when he killed that Egyptian, it revealed that his allegiance was really to God and God’s people, and not to the Egyptian crown as an adopted son. That didn’t help Moses at the time; rather he had to flee. Or maybe a more interesting example is to think of how Jesus himself carefully guarded his messianic identity at first. Yes, to some, he clearly revealed himself as the Messiah. But often, before the cross, he did not overtly go around telling people he was the Messiah. Rather, he would even silence demons who started to announce his identity. Jesus wanted to reveal his identity in his own timing. That the plans for the people to arrest and kill him on the cross would come about. And so that at the resurrection he would be clearly vindicated and declared before all that he was indeed the Son of God and the Messiah come in power.
My point then is that there have been times in history where it made sense to cover or guard one’s true identity. David certainly did here, in this wartime situation. Even Jesus kept his identity somewhat veiled until the right time. But what about us, at this time? Should we try to somehow hide our identities? Well, the answer is no. At this time, we are clearly called to go forth boldly as Christians. I think of how Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.” Or Jesus himself said not to be ashamed of him or his words. Consequently, at this point in history, there’s not generally a good reason for us to hide the fact that we are Christians.
We know some Christians lived this out recently at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. There several Christians testified in their faith in Christ at gunpoint and several were killed and several were injured. We are not immune to this in our country. Those fellow Christians did not hide their faith. And we have to be reminded today that whether it’s at gun point, or just in our everyday circumstances, we too have the call to not hide the fact that we are Christians.
I say this, because I wonder if too often we do. Too often we can be tempted to hide our Christianity until at some point we think we will finally can reveal who we really are to someone. Now, yes, we need wisdom on how and when we share what we do of our convictions with others. Sure. But too often we can live undercover lives as Christians. But that’s not the times we live in. Now is the day to shine brightly for Christ. Now is not the day for being undercover. Now is the day to proclaim boldly that our allegiance is with king Jesus, even if it means persecution.
The reason why we do this, is because of the state of the battle. Christ has already died and risen again. Christ has already sent us out into the world. Just like there was a day for David to hide, there would also come a day for him to unveil his true identity and allegiance. That was the case we mentioned with Queen Esther too. And Jesus particularly has said now is the time to make him known as Messiah to the world. That’s our orders. It’s not a covert mission at this point. We are to communicate the message that we’ve been given. That we are to tell people that the wrath of God is coming. When Christ comes back he will fight against and destroy all his and our enemies. And so we are to urge people now, today, to repent and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. We are to announce to them the good news that they can flee the wrath of God to come! They can find forgiveness and grace and salvation by the name of Jesus Christ, David’s Lord and our Lord.
I leave us with one final thought. My application has been that we are not to be undercover agents for Christ at this time. And yet though we don’t try to hide our identity as Christians and as sons of the one true God, we have to acknowledge that the world at large still won’t see us for what we are. The world can be like Achish just totally blind to the reality. But there will be a final day when everyone will clearly know our true identity. Romans 8:19 says that the creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God. That’s talking about when Christ returns. When he comes back, he will all the more make clear to the world his identity. Then all will see him as that picture of Psalm 110, that mighty conquering king. But not just him; but even us, we will be heralded to the world then as the sons of the Most High God. That will be our ultimate unveiling. That will be our ultimate coming out day. That will be amazing and awesome.
And so in light of that coming day, let us not try to hide who we are, or the message that we have. Let us do what Christ told us to do; be making disciples for him, and growing together as those disciples, until that great day of Christ’s visitation. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.