Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 29

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

The Philistine commanders’ fear of David 29:1-5

The lords or commanders of the Philistine city-states mustered their troops and marched north to the town of Aphek. It is interesting that the first place the Philistines mustered their troops for battle against the Israelites in this book was at Aphek (1 Samuel 4:1), and the last place they did so that the writer recorded was also at Aphek. This indicates that Israel had not subdued her neighbor enemy effectively during Saul’s reign because of his failure as her leader. Aphek stood near Philistia’s northern border with Israel. The Philistine commanders were on their way to the Jezreel Valley to battle King Saul. Jezreel was a town on the northwestern slope of Mt. Gilboa about three miles south of Shunem (cf. 1 Samuel 28:4). David and his 600 mercenaries were bringing up the rear in the Philistine procession. The Philistine commanders noticed David and his men and asked each other why Hebrew soldiers were accompanying them since they were going to war against the Israelites. "Hebrew" is the common word that non-Israelites used to describe the Israelites, according to the Old Testament writers. It was an ethnic designation. Achish, whom David had deceived into thinking that he was no longer loyal to Saul, came to his defense. David had lived in Philistia now for almost 16 months (cf. 1 Samuel 27:7). The other Philistine kings could hardly believe how naive Achish was being. They saw that David would probably turn against them in the upcoming battle to regain acceptance with his commander, Saul. They proceeded to use the same phrase Achish had used to defend David, "Is this not David?" to impress on their gullible comrade what a danger David posed to them. David had not only slain many of Israel’s enemies, including many Philistines, but he also enjoyed solidarity with Saul in the minds of all the people, which the song they quoted assumed.

Verses 1-11

Yahweh’s providential protection of David ch. 29

As Saul reached the depth of his fortunes, David attained the height of his popularity thus far. This chapter seems to antedate the previous one slightly. The writer appears to have incorporated it in his narrative here to highlight the contrasts between Saul and David in chapters 27-31.

Verses 6-11

David’s exemption from the battle 29:6-11

Achish swore in Yahweh’s name to David, probably to impress the truth of what he was saying on David, that David had been upright and pleasing to him. Nevertheless David had not won the confidence of the other Philistine commanders, and so he had to return to Philistia. David again (cf. 1 Samuel 17:29; 1 Samuel 20:1; 1 Samuel 26:18) asked, "What have I done?" He had done nothing to deserve this rejection. He then professed to want to go into the battle and to fight the enemies of "my lord the king." David probably wanted Achish to think that he was referring to Achish as "my lord," but he really meant Saul, I think. It seems incredible that David would really have entered the battle and fought for the Philistines against the Israelites. Thus David continued his deception. For the third time Achish vindicated David (1 Samuel 29:3; 1 Samuel 29:6; 1 Samuel 29:9). Note the parallel with Pilate’s threefold vindication of Jesus (John 18:38; John 19:4; John 19:6; cf. Luke 23:22). [Note: Brueggemann, p. 200.] David had been as a divine messenger to the Philistine king, a source of much blessing to him (cf. Genesis 12:2-3). David may have shared the booty that he had taken in his battles against his southern enemies with Achish (cf. 1 Samuel 27:7-10). [Note: Miscall, p. 174.] Nevertheless the other Philistine rulers would not allow David to enter the battle. Consequently David had to return south with his men, the former servants of David’s previous commander, Saul. David did as Achish ordered in the morning, and the Philistines proceeded north to engage Saul near Mt. Gilboa.

This chapter is an encouraging revelation of how God takes care of His own when they are under extreme stress and not entirely obedient. David had come close to running out of ideas about how he could preserve his life (cf. 1 Samuel 27:1). He had apparently received no special guidance from God in answer to prayer. The name of God does not appear in chapter 27 or in chapter 29, except in Achish’s references to Him, suggesting that God’s guidance was scarce while David was in Philistine territory. David had even resorted to deception to protect himself (cf. 1 Samuel 27:10-12; 1 Samuel 29:8). Nonetheless God continued to guard His anointed servant, even in a foreign land. He convinced Achish of David’s loyalty, which yielded a measure of protection for David. He also convinced the other Philistine commanders of David’s threat to themselves, which resulted in their sending him far from the field of battle.

"The very same Philistines who will finally dispose of Saul (ch. 31) are the ones who unwittingly rescue David." [Note: Brueggemann, First and . . ., p. 199.]

In short, God providentially caused the reactions of people, as different as those reactions were, to protect David (cf. Romans 8:28). Even when we do not sense it, God cares for us, as a shepherd (cf. Psalms 23).

"David’s sixteen months at Ziklag probably marked a low point in his spiritual walk with God. He displayed a lack of faith in going there, as though God could not protect him in his own land; he was not honest with Achish after he arrived there; and it was only because of God’s intervening grace that he was spared from having to fight his own people. Significantly, too, it was during this time that his men nearly mutinied against him, not being sure that he was leading them aright. He had been doing so well until this time, but here he definitely slipped." [Note: Wood, Israel’s United . . ., p. 211.]

David’s wise leadership of the Israelites ch. 30

This chapter reveals many qualities that marked David as an outstanding leader. As Saul continued to decline, God perfected the characteristics of leadership in David that prepared him for the throne. The Amalekites’ capture of Ziklag at first looked as if tragedy had struck, but later it proved to be a great blessing. In this respect this event resembled David’s whole career (and that of Jesus Christ). As a result of this victory, the people of Judah came to regard David as the obvious successor to Saul’s throne.

The chiastic structure of the chapter focuses attention on the defeat of the Amalekites, the people that God had commissioned Israel’s leaders, including Saul, to annihilate.

"A. David reaches destroyed Ziklag and finds it plundered (1 Samuel 30:1-3).

B. David and his men are promised the Lord’s help (1 Samuel 30:4-8).

C. David defeats the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30:9-20)

B’. David shares the Lord’s plunder with his men (1 Samuel 30:21-25).

A’. David returns to Ziklag and distributes the remaining plunder (1 Samuel 30:26-31)." [Note: Youngblood, "1, 2 Samuel," p. 791.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 29". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.