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The Story Of The Bible - Life Among The Philistines

Chapter Ninety-Six

Having taken Saul’s spear and canteen while the Israelite king was sleeping with his encamped army, David stood on the top of a hill and loudly lampooned Saul’s chief officer for not watching over his leader (I Sam. 26:5-16).

When it was discovered that Saul’s spear and canteen were missing, the officers and guards were greatly embarrassed. Finally Saul recognized the voice from the hill, and realized that somehow David had again managed to get near him when he was asleep.

“This is Saul!” the king boomed out. “Are you David, my son-in-law?” “I am, sir!” David shouted back. “Please tell me why you and your soldiers are out looking for me again. What have I done to cause you to desire to kill me? If it is God who sent you after me, why hasn’t He put me into your hands? You know that God would accept an offering if I had committed an offense against you. If men have talked you into this chase, a curse should be on them for causing me to have to stay away from the tabernacle and go to live among heathen”.

“You have pursued me as a hunter who runs after a partridge in the mountains, throwing sticks at the weary bird every time it flies up from a hiding place. You remind me of one who keeps slapping at a hopping flea. And what will you gain if you succeed in shedding my blood before God, who sees all” (I Sam. 26:17-20)?

Saul stood with his head down. Once more he was made painfully aware of the futility, expense and shamefulness of this ridiculous, drawn-out pursuit. His soldiers stood at attention, waiting for orders to storm up the hill or surround it with bands of nimble archers. After an awkward silence Saul looked up at the hill.

“I have been unwise and vengeful!” he shouted to David, “come back to Gibeah and I’ll see that no harm comes to you, inasmuch as you kept me from harm last night!”

“Then here is your spear – and your canteen!” David answered, holding them aloft. “Send a man after them! As for what has happened here, God will deal with each of us according to what each of us has done! He made it possible last night for me to take your life, but I couldn’t do it because He at one time ordained you as the king of Israel! As I spared you, so do I trust that God will spare me from trouble and death!”

“I, too, hope that you will receive God’s protection and blessings!” Saul shouted back in a friendly tone that must have puzzled those of his solders who didn’t know him very well. “I believe that you shall one day become Israel’s ruler, and a successful one!”

David chose to say no more. For a while he dispiritedly watched Saul’s army prepare to return to Gibeah, and then he went back to his men. He was weary of being pursued. In spite of what Saul had said in a time of momentary repentance, he knew that Saul wouldn’t let up for long. He wanted to go to a place where he wouldn’t constantly be hunted, and where the authorities wouldn’t be too unfriendly (I Sam. 26:21-25).

Although the king of the Philistine city of Gath had put David out of his city when he had previously sought refuge there, David believed that if he returned to Philistia with an impressive number of soldiers, he might be welcomed, especially inasmuch as foreign rulers now regarded him as a strong enemy of the king of Israel.

David sent representatives to Achish, the ruler of Gath, to ask if he could move into Philistia with his band. Achish sent back word that David and those with him would be welcome in Gath. It was obvious that Achish would probably expect a return of the favor by making use of David’s well-trained troops. Nevertheless, David and his men and relatives moved into Gath. Included were his two wives, Abigail and Ahinoam. Many of the solders had wives, and all these women went with their husbands.

Reports of this state of affairs soon came to Saul. He was angered because David had gone where it wasn’t safe to pursue him. Saul’s only comforting thought was that the Philistines might do away with David because he was their natural enemy. The Israelite king knew that he would have to patiently wait and see how matters turned out (I Sam. 27:1-4).

Having established the news that he was safe in one of Philistia’s strongest cities, and being anxious to get away from the Philistines’ pagan practices as soon as possible, David asked Achish if it would be feasible for him and his soldiers and families to go to some small country town to live. David pointed out that it wasn’t right that strangers should dwell in a royal Philistine city for very long, because the people of Philistia wouldn’t understand.

 Achish agreed. There was an old walled town called Ziklag, on the border between Philistia and Judah that was in need of skilled solders for the benefit of the Philistines.

“Take your people there and occupy the place,” Achish told David. “All I’ll require in return is that you defend that area of the border from the enemies of Philistia, no matter who they are” (I Sam. 27:5-6).

After David and the people with him were settled at Ziklag, which was about twenty-five miles south of Gath, David began taking his men on forays in the area to the south, against the tribes who had invaded Israel in previous years. Saul’s victory over the Amalekites in that region years previously had broken what remained of their nation into a few wandering bands of Arabs. These had increased in numbers, and were raising herds and flocks at the edge of the desert that extended into the Sinai Peninsula.

Every time David attacked one of these groups, all the people were killed. Then the livestock was seized and taken up to Ziklag because David and his men were in great need of more livestock, having had to eat many of their food animals while they were hiding from Saul in the mountains.

Although God had instructed the Israelites to destroy most of the heathen tribes in and close to Canaan (Ex. 23:20-25; Deut. 7:1-5; I Sam. 15:1-3), David’s main reason for doing away with the desert people was to prevent information of his raids to the south to Achish, who presumed that the forays were against Israelite ranches and towns.

These bloody raids continued for several months. Once in a while some of the captured cattle, donkeys, camels and sheep would be herded into Gath, much to the satisfaction of Achish. At such times he would ask where the animals were rounded up, and David would explain that they came from various places in the south part of Judah, so that Achish would be led to believe that David had taken them from Israelites. Gath’s ruler was more and more pleased with this state of affairs, never guessing that David was deceiving him. He considered David a traitor to Israel, and one who had such a hatred for his own people that he would long remain a great help to the Philistines (I Sam. 27:8-12).

In this matter David was far from honest. Possibly he was inspired by God to take measures to preserve himself and those with him, but his words and actions were too extreme to indicate that God was backing him up in all that he did.

David had been in Philistia for well over a year when Achish confided in him that the leaders of the nation were planning to attack Israel with their combined armies (I Sam. 27:7).

“Of course your men will join my men to go with the troops that will very soon rally from all parts of Philistia,” Achish told David.

“You can look forward to my solders fighting hard against the enemy,” was David’s answer.

David didn’t promise allegiance to Philistia by that remark. The king of Gath assumed that David was talking about the enemy of Philistia, whereas he was really referring to the enemy of Israel.

“I want the very best of your men as my bodyguards,” Achish announced enthusiastically, “and I want you to be their captain for as  long as you choose to be” (I Sam. 28:1-2).

Shortly afterward the Philistine armies began to move off to the north close to the east coast of the Great Sea, boldly going through the territories of Dan and Ephraim into western Manasseh to a spot near the southern end of the valley of Jezreel (I Sam. 28:3-4). This level expanse had been the site of fierce warfare, years previously, between the Israelites and the inhabitants of northwester Canaan (Joshua 11:1-12).

Ashish’s soldiers were the last to move out of Philistia. It wasn’t until days later that it became known to all the rulers of Philistia that the famous David of Israel was among their ranks. They sent word to Achish that they didn’t approve of this, whereupon Achish replied that David had always been loyal to him, and that there was no reason to distrust him. This reply angered the other leaders, and they demanded that David be sent home with his men lest they be plotting to attack the rear ranks of the Philistine troops to gain favor with Saul ( I Sam. 29:2-5).

Although he was disappointed in losing David and his men, Achish had to agree to the demands of his fellow kings. Whether David was really disappointed or relieved isn’t indicated in the Bible, though to Achish he gave the impression that he was disappointed. The rear troops were already camped for rest after the third day of march. David and his men stayed that night, and started back for Ziklag next morning as the Philistines moved into battle positions (I Sam. 29:6-10).

Three days later, as the Israelite troops came within sight of their fortress home, they noticed smoke floating up from inside the stone walls. Weary as they were from marching, they excitedly ran the rest of the way. To their surprise and horror, they found that the inside of the fortress had been burned and that their wives and children were gone!

Frantically they pawed through the rubble, but there wasn’t even a dead person to be found! Cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys had been taken, as well as food, clothing and other things of value. All else that was burnable had been consumed by fire. Even the barns, sheds and corrals outside Ziklag had been burned. There was no clue to point to the identity of the spoilers. But their trail led southward. From the jumble of tracks of people and animals, it was obvious that more than a small group of men had been required to take all the women, children and all the animals. But who were these mysterious men? And where had they gone with their captives?

Not knowing what to do to rescue their families, David and his men fell into a miserable state of depression and sorrow. Some sat silently in dejection, but most loudly wept with grief until they were nearly exhausted.

David’s distress turned out to be greater than that of any of his men when he learned that some of them blamed him for the situation, and even mentioned stoning him to death. His followers were devoted to him, but the calamity of losing their families temporarily caused them to be seized by a wild desire for revenge, and David was the only object they could find (I Sam. 30:1-6).

David couldn’t decide if pursuit would be worthwhile. Having had a head start, the invaders could easily have dispersed in several directions, leaving the Israelites searching for weeks or months all over the Sinai Peninsula.

David had to look to God for the answer. Abiathar the priest still accompanied the soldiers, and David requested him to pray about the matter, asking God if they should pursue the Amalekites. David prayed also. God made it known to them that the Amalekites should be pursued. To David’s relief and joy, God also predicted what would happen. The Israelites would overtake the Amalekites and recover all that had been taken from them!

When David disclosed the message to his men, they were greatly encouraged. They set out with enthusiasm prompted by the desire to rescue their families, but many of them soon lost their little remaining energy because they had lately done so much marching. By the time they had trotted a few more miles, some were too weary to ford a stream, called the brook Besor, they rushed toward the Great Sea through a deep gully.

“You who are too tired to cross should stay here by this stream,” David told his men. Two hundred men stayed behind (I Sam. 30:7-10).

As it developed, David and his remaining four hundred men had only a few more miles to go. A young man was found lying in a nearby field. He was so weak that he couldn’t at first tell who he was, but after being given water, bread, figs and raisins, he was soon able to talk.

“The Amalekites burned your town and took your families,” he informed the Israelites. “As soon as they learned that the Philistine soldiers had gone north, they came up from the desert to attack Philistine towns. Then they moved eastward into southern Judah, taking everything they could find and burning what they left behind. This was the last town they attacked before starting back.”

“If you are one of them, why did you stay here?” David asked.

“I am not an Amalekite,” the man answered. “I am an Egyptian who fell into the hands of a desert band when I was a boy. I have been a servant ever since. I was brought here to help in the raids, but became ill. My master left me here three days ago with nothing to eat or drink.”

 ”Do you know where the Amalekites are now?” David asked.

“I know which route they took, but they would kill me if they found out that I told you,” the Egyptian replied. “I’ll tell you only if you will swear by your God that you won’t kill me and that you won’t take me back to my master” (I Sam. 30:11-15).

“We have no intention of killing you or taking you back to your master,” David firmly told the Egyptian.

Dusk was coming on when they came over a rise to see the well-lighted camp of their enemies in a wide hollow below. Confident that David and his men and the soldiers of Philistia were far away, the Amalekites had started celebrating their successful raids before reaching their home territory. Even from where they stood, the Israelites could plainly see that their enemies were happily eating, drinking, singing and dancing.

“Spread out behind the surrounding rises and encircle them!” David instructed his men. “As soon as you’re well positioned, wave to me. I’ll give the signal for attack!”

When the Israelites rushed down on them from all directions a few minutes later, the Amalekites were so surprised that they had little opportunity to prepare to defend themselves. A great part of them lost their lives by that first onslaught of David and his men, but during the hours of darkness that followed, about four hundred Amalekites managed to escape on camels. All during the night and until evening of the next day the Amalekites struggled to beat off David’s soldiers. They would hide behind knolls and then leap out to attack the Israelites who came looking for them. After hours of such skirmishes David’s men finally wiped out the last stubborn resisters. Then came the joyful rescue of the women and children and others who had been taken from Ziklag. David found his two wives safe and well. Other Israelite wives and their children were discovered to be unharmed by their abductors (I Sam. 30:16-19).

When the Israelites turned back to the north, it was with all that had been stolen in both Judah and Philistia by the Amalekites except what had been eaten. Before they reached the stream where two hundred of David’s men had been left behind, those men saw them approaching, and excitedly waved and shouted greetings to them. Those who had grumbled because these men had stayed behind began to complain again. This time it had to do with how the recovered property should be distributed.

“Probably these lazy ones will expect a share of what we are bringing back,” they desired. “They shouldn’t receive a part of what they have failed to fight for.”

“They’ll receive their share,” David sharply informed the grumblers. “At least they watched over the heavy supplies we left with them so that we could travel faster. Those who are left behind in war should receive their just share, and I’ll do my best to see that it always will be that way in Israel” (I Sam. 30:20-25).

After arriving at Ziklag, part of David’s men set to work repairing the town. David shortly sent out others to the towns of southern Judah that had been raided by the Amalekites. These men determined from the residents what had been taken from them, then later returned with what had been taken or things of equal value. And from among the livestock and other property the Amalekites had taken from the Philistines, David afterward sent valuable presents to those friends in Judah who had helped him and his men during their long ordeal of running from Saul (I Sam. 30:26-31).

Meanwhile the Philistines had arrived by the thousands to camp at the west end of the valley of Jezreel. Thousands of Israelites soldiers had come to take up a stand on the east end of the valley near Mt. Gilboa (I Sam. 28:1-4). Saul was greatly troubled when he saw the superior numbers of the Philistines. All he could think about was certain defeat. In this time of growing desperation he fearfully looked to God for help.

“Be merciful to the army of Israel!” Saul pleaded in prayer. “Make it known to me what should be done to defeat the enemy!”

Saul hoped that God would answer through a vision or dream, but there was no answer. There was no priest through whom God could be contacted (I Sam. 28:5-6).

Saul could think of only one other possibility. Although in the past he had made great efforts to drive wizards, sorcerers. magicians and mediums out of Israel, he was now confronted with what he thought was the necessity of making use of such a person. If he had turned to God in a spirit of true repentance, God wouldn’t have remained silent.

“Find me a woman who can contact the spirit world! “Saul commanded some of his officers.

Astonished at their leader’s request, the officers told him of a sorceress who secretly practiced her forbidden pursuit near a town called Endor a few miles to the north (I Sam. 28:7).

“We have heard that this woman has great and mysterious powers,” they said. “She is known as the witch of Endor, the one who talks with the dead!”

Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible. Read about Saul’s experience with “The Witch of Endor”.

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