These chapters of 1 Samuel begin with an epiphany for the future king of Israel: “David said to himself, ‘One of these days I’ll be swept away by Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape immediately to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will stop searching for me everywhere in Israel, and I’ll escape from him’” (1 Sam 27:1). The bulk of 1 Samuel 27-29 is concerned with David’s survival amongst foreigners. These may have been some of the darkest days in David’s life; he was a man without a country. Nonetheless, as David confessed in Ps 11:4, “The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven. His eyes watch; He examines everyone.”
During David’s stay with the Philistines in 1 Samuel 27, for one year he supervised an area of the periphery of the Philistine territory (1 Sam 27:5-7). David was aggressive in battle (1 Sam 27:8-11), annihilating the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. David’s military success for the Philistines also benefited Israel. Yet David’s reports to Philistine leadership were ambiguous, even to the degree that they thought he was attacking the southernmost Israelite territories. King Achish of Gath “trusted David, thinking, ‘Since he has made himself detestable to his people Israel, he will be my servant forever’” (1 Sam 27:12). In time the Philistine battalions joined forces to fight Israel and David was required to go along, acting as the king’s bodyguard (1 Sam 28:1-3).
The Old Testament is marked by literary excellence. In 1 Samuel 27-29, the author employs a “sandwich” technique, explaining David’s initial situation amongst the Philistines (ch. 27), turning the reader’s attention to Saul’s continued demise (ch. 28), and then returning to the subject of David’s exploits with Israel’s enemies, the Philistines (ch. 29). The Lord allowed Saul to hear from the deceased Samuel so that Samuel could rebuke him. Samuel said, “The LORD has done exactly what He said through me: The LORD has torn the kingship out of your hand and given it to your neighbor David…The LORD will also hand Israel over to the Philistines along with you. Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (1 Sam 28:17, 19).
The author of 1 Samuel then returned to David’s situation among the enemies of Israel; in ch. 29, he described the providential escape the Lord arranged for David and his men. Although David had been able to pull the wool over Achish’s eyes, the Philistine commanders were shrewder. In 1 Samuel 29:4-5, they reminded their fellow Philistines of the chant the Israelite women sang for David, when he returned from killing Goliath. They said, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam 18:7). Early the next morning, David and his troops left the battle zone.
David’s perilous situation in 1 Samuel 27-29 parallels the latter part of Jesus’ ministry and Psalm 41 provides an intertextual link. Because the psalmist was opposed and betrayed by even close associates, he asked God to raise him up that he might execute vengeance upon them. The Gospels record numerous instances when, like David, Jesus’ opponents wished to have Him removed from their midst. When Jesus proclaimed Himself the Good Shepherd in John 10, He said that no one could take from Him the sheep the Father had given Him. Jesus’ opponents were willing to endure this teaching until Jesus went on to say, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). At this statement, the Jews picked up stones to cast at Jesus, accusing Him of blasphemy. John records, “They were trying again to seize Him, yet He eluded their grasp” (John 10:39). This situation parallels the ministry of David. It shows God’s sovereign timetable over the lives of David and Jesus; He brought them to their places of leadership despite the efforts of those who opposed. Yet a distinction remains—fundamental to God’s unfolding plan of redemption in Scripture. David received the throne, expanded Israel’s territory, and died in relative peace; Jesus’ opponents eventually apprehended and crucified Him. Jesus’ opponents had help from an insider, Judas Iscariot. After Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He told the disciples that not all of them were clean (John 13:10-11) or chosen (John 13:18a). In John 13:18b, Jesus quoted Ps 41:9, “The one who eats My bread has raised his heel against Me.” Jesus shared bread with Judas, who went into the night to betray Him and contributed to fulfilling God’s sovereign plan(John 13:26-30). Jesus said, “this is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again” (John 10:17).