“. . . and I shall escape out of his hand.”
In the last sermon, we noted David’s pronouncement that Saul would undoubtedly perish. We said that may have been a turning point in David’s expectations in general. Here we see David acting upon such a presumption and fleeing the country. It was that of which he had complained: that Saul and his men were driving David out of his rightful inheritance, compelling him to go serve other gods. Here we see the “driving out” aspect of this materialize (the blasphemy would not, of course). But there is much more to David’s flight into Philistia than meets the eye, as we shall see.
Once in Philistia, David finds a friendly-enough arrangement with king Achish that he can resume basic military operations against some of Israel’s enemies. Imagine that: fighting wars in such a way that they benefit the very people who ran you out of their country. Nevertheless, David fights on. But he has to do so in such a way that his new pagan rulers do not suspect too much of him. We find David to be very clever in the use of a very powerful weapon: silence.
From these things we get challenging lessons. First, we have to engage the issue of national judgment. It is a difficult discussion, an adult conversation so to speak, but a necessary one to have on the table. Even if all of the answers are not available at this time, comparing David’s experience to our own moves us at least to the discussion. Second, from David’s handling of strategic silence with Achish we are moved to discuss the power of the right to remain silent in our own time—how is it misunderstood and maligned? Why is it such a powerful principle of biblical worldview? We explain these things and more as we study the text and its applications.
In the opening of the narrative we see David making a monumental decision. He decides to take his entire group, families and all, and flee from Israel into Philistia. It is a monumental decision alright, but not for the reason commentators have traditionally considered. The classical commentators all see this decision as a major lapse of faith on David’s part. John Gill calls it “a strange fit of unbelief.” Matthew Henry expends beyond a paragraph decrying David’s decision. He saw it as “unbelief,” “sin,” and “weakness of faith,” and said that David “was no friend to himself in taking this course.” That sounds harsh, but admittedly one could come to that conclusion easily, all else being equal. After all, had not God protected David in even the direst of circumstances, and even delivered Saul right into David’s hands twice in the past? Why did David feel he needed to leave the country all of the sudden?
The answer to that lies in what we noted in the last sermon: David determined that major judgment was coming upon the nation. In 26:10, David recognized that Saul was destined for judgment unto death. But since a “deep sleep” of death had fallen upon the whole troop, David likely understood that judgment was coming upon the whole nation. Israel had become corrupt—molded after a pagan king-state—and that corruption had reached a culmination point. She would be judged like a pagan nation.
Whether David recognized this because of the particular events we mentioned or not, the language of the text here has a unique parallel that makes it clear that judgment was the right conclusion to draw. Let us note three things, briefly: the particular word for “escape,” the particular word for “perish,” and the usage of the two together. First, the word for “escape” is malat. There is nothing too special about it in and of itself, though it is used five times in a short space in the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative (Gen. 19:15–22). More on that in a minute. It is also used often in 1 Samuel in regards to David escaping from Saul.
Second, the word for “perish” is saphah, and it does have something of a distinctive. There are several Hebrew words translated “perish,” the most common one perhaps being abad. Saphah carries a connotation of “sweeping”—sometimes referring to sweeping judgments up into a heap or pile, other times to being swept away as part of a larger collective judgment. This, I believe, is what it means here. In fact, in two other places in 1 Samuel, the same verb carries the same meaning also. Compare 1 Samuel 12:25, where Samuel warns the people that if they do not obey, the whole nation and their king will “perish” or “be swept away” in judgment. Then, note the usage in 26:10 where David predicts that Saul will “perish”—either by being stricken by the Lord, or by going down into battle and being swept away.
The word is used this way in more than one monumental judgment in Old Testament history up to this point. During Korah’s rebellion, Moses warned the Israelites to stay away from the tents of Korah lest they be “swept away”/”perish” along with them (Num. 16:26). Indeed it happened. The ground swallowed everyone associated with Korah. David, who expects judgment to come upon Israel in his day, is essentially saying he wants to get out of town before he is swept up in it.
Another place this “sweeping away” word appears also brings up our third point, and that is again with Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham questioned whether God would “destroy” the righteous with the wicked—indeed “sweep away” the righteous with the wicked as the modern translations have it (Gen. 18:23, 24). Here, clearly, is the idea that a righteous remnant may be swept up in the larger collective judgment if they stayed around. Sure enough, when angels urge Lot and his family to leave, they use the same word: “As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city” (Gen. 19:15). Then, just as they reach the edge of town, one of the angels repeats: “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (Gen. 19:17). But notice in this last verse the addition of the word “escape.” It is the same word used in 1 Samuel 27:1. The only two places in scripture these two words are used together are in Genesis 19 and here in 1 Samuel 27. I believe this is no coincidence. Whoever wrote 1 Samuel was inspired to record David’s flight from the land of Israel in language reminiscent of the escape of Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah.
Putting these things together, I conclude that David knew judgment was coming upon Israel, and that he therefore needed to get himself and the remnant out of town as quickly as possible. This was not a failure of faith on his part at all. It was instead a profound expression of faith. It partakes of the exodus motif used so often in Scripture: Abram leaving Ur, Lot leaving Sodom and Gomorrah, Israel’s exodus from Egypt, and later, the Christians’ exodus from Jerusalem before AD 70. In each of these cases, the issue was judgment upon the rebellious people in the land, with the deeper purpose being the preservation of the remnant. David and his people are just that in this case. Meanwhile, Saul had become the new Sodom, the new Pharaoh, the new paganism which called for destruction.
The scope of this move was large and was expected to be somewhat lasting, for David, who had just inherited quite an abundance of family and wealth, uprooted everything—all the cattle, wealth, and families of all of his men—in order to escape into Philistia. This is not something you do if you expect to come back the next day or week. David knew he would need to wait a while. Indeed, the text says it would be a year and four months (27:7). David did not just escape, he strategically relocated his whole life.
Under the Radar
In the second part of the narrative, David does what David has always done: he continues the work of the Lord. He uses his new position to continue the battles of the Lord. Remember back in chapter 23, when David was on the run from Saul, and Saul had just murdered the priests at Nob? Yet David was moved to go and protect his countrymen in Keilah from attacking Philistines. He continued faithfully in his calling and his love of neighbor even though he was under threat—even from the very neighbors he was protecting. We see that again here.
But there is a twist in David’s work now since he is under the suspicious eye of a foreign ruler. Since he is continuing the Lord’s work (Deut. 20:16–18, et al), his total annihilation of the civilizations mentioned was not out of bounds in general. He was even completing Saul’s unfinished work with the Ameliktes from 1 Samuel 15. But had the Philistine king Achish found out that David was using his territory as a base from which to continue expanding Israeli dominion, he would have stopped David and likely punished or at least fought him. So the utter annihilations had the added benefit of eliminating any report reaching Achish of what David was really doing—for there were no witnesses left remaining except David’s army. So there needed to be a covert aspect to David’s work here.
Indeed, we see something instructive in David’s own reports to Achish. The Philistine king was indeed interested in what David was actually doing, for he asked him often. David made a habit of answering him in a cunning but not dishonest manner. Achish certainly saw David returning often with cattle and spoils, but no prisoners. He surely knew David was making raids in order to support his little village at Ziklag. So he would ask, “Where have you made a raid today?” (27:10). David would answer, “‘Against the Negeb of Judah,’ or, ‘Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,’ or, ‘Against the Negeb of the Kenites’” (1Sam. 27:10). That sounds a bit cryptic to us, since we do not normally know what the “Negeb” is. The King James is helpful in translating this as “south,” but scholars have since also realized that the Negeb referred to a specific territory to the south: a large mostly barren area to the south and southwest of Judah. It was inhabited in different parts by different peoples. David was being strategically vague with Achish, although technically he was answering the question as Achish asked, for he never apparently asked David specifically whom David was raiding. When he said “against the Negeb of Judah,” David really meant “to the south of Judah,” but Achish took him to mean “Again Judah’s portion of that land called ‘the Negeb,’ and thus against the people of Judah.” This is why Achish thought David was making himself odious to his own people. David just kept letting him believe that.
We can put this in the same general category as the Hebrew midwives who lied to Pharaoh and Rahab who lied to the Canaanite police in order to protect Joshua and Caleb. Although, David is not technically lying here—he is only being a shrewd lawyer. Nevertheless, as a free man under God’s Law, David felt that his actions were none of Achish’s business. Yet since he was within Achish’s civil jurisdiction, David took the step of filing his papers, so to speak, yet in a way that the government approved only because it was not doing its own due diligence—and indeed without further evidence, had no reason to do so. David knew what to say, when to say it, and why. As long as he could keep his work off their radar, he would be alright. But there was fast approaching a real test for him in this department.
1. Recognizing God’s judgment on a society
There is an obvious lesson here regarding God’s judgment on society and how to react to it. In this case, David reacts with expatriation. I have friends who have already done this in our own setting today, and some who have positioned themselves to do so if necessary. I am not saying it is necessary, but I am not criticizing it either. But I would like to consider the concept metaphorically, because sometimes we need to withdraw from an area of life so as not to be involved while God’s judgment is carried out, even if we are not withdrawing geographically. This may include an area of work, a job, a particular aspect or movement of culture, arts, finance, or many more. There is simply no single answer to this across the board. But there are many applications each individual should consider.
One thing that arises from this, or I should say is really the flip-side of it, is the question of what a Christian nation or society actually looks like. (Against this, we can judge how far in corruption a nation currently is.) What will society look like if actually reconstructed according to biblical Law? I encountered this question recently as a cynical criticism coming from some well-known proponents of premillennialism—people who believe evil and tyranny will overtake the world completely before Christ returns. They scoff at my view of dominion and God’s Law, and of Christ conquering His enemies before He returns (1 Cor. 15:21; Heb. 10:13). In a recent video one asked rhetorically, “When we reclaim America, does that mean there’ll be 124 R-rated movies as opposed to 262? Does that mean there’ll only be 20 percent of the guys watching pornography [as opposed to, say, 50 percent]?”
So what does a Christian nation look like? What does a reconstructed nation look like? Less pornography? What? Well, to start with, would these dispensational Christians not prefer that at least for a start? Would you not rather have less sin as opposed to more? I do not care what your eschatology is, why would you scoff at that as a social goal at all? And my answer the question in general is yes, in part. In the progressive reign of Christ, in which He is gradually in His time watching His enemies be made His footstool, yes. I expect pornography at some point to diminish, to grow less and less, until it disappears. Because Scripture says that Christ shall reign until all His enemies are under His feet. Then the end comes—not a moment sooner. He will not leave that heavenly throne one second before this is fully accomplished in the earth. And so this applies to pornography and sexual sin, but also to every sin in society: abortion, inflation, taxation, corrupt business practices enforced by government, and many more.
But remember, this is progressive. So yes, I expect it to go from 50 percent to 20 percent, but that is not what the kingdom of God looks like in its finished form. That is what the growth of the kingdom of God looks like. That is what the advance of the kingdom of God looks like. And we intend to keep pushing it. God will either give us gradual advances in each area, or He may allow areas to culminate and “fill up their sin” until He determines to bring judgment against it. But either scenario means progress to the child of the kingdom. We should have the mentality of David who would oppose and abstain from all such sinful areas until God performs either scenario.
There will be a time when a group or even a government will go past the edge on an issue or two or three, and I will have to say I am no longer a part of that. That is not being anti-government, but confessing the truth before God, praying, “Our nation is in gross sin. We have gone wrong on the abortion issue, or whatever. And God, if I can change that through whatever means, even if I have to live next to some gentiles for a while, even suffer gentile jurisdiction, I will do it.” But there may be that time in which we will have to step back like David did here and say, “They are going to perish, and I do not want to be swept away with them.” I cannot tell you exactly what that looks like for you in every area, but you must consider it and pray about it.
What does a Christian nation look like? You have to consider that from two perspectives. A “nation” can mean 1) the corporate structure of laws, institutions, courts, etc., and 2) the group of individuals who make it up as individuals and families. We can speak of it in many other ways, of course, but I mean here to introduce a problem that often besets this discussion, and that is some kind of equivocation on the meaning of the word “nation.”
In Scripture, all covenantal institutions are one-and-many, that is, Trinitarian, models. They are a unity and a plurality at the same time. If you only consider one of the aspects, you will run into a problem. God Himself is the model, the human covenantal institutions are all images of that. Family and church are built on same model of “one body, many members.” So is the civil state.
So, if you only have “Christian” in one or the other of these sides, the one or the many, it is not complete and will create social problems, and problems of Christian mission and witness. The old retreatist line is that Christians should not get involved in politics or government at all; we should only preach the gospel. But if we make enough converts, save enough souls, we will have so many moral people in the land it will not make any difference what the government is. It does not matter what the laws are, it only matters what the hearts of the people are. That is focusing only on the many, and neglecting the one. That is part of it, I agree, but it is not the whole story. Because righteous people can still be held down by the few evil ones through unjust laws, courts, schemes, etc. And if the institutions of education are not reformed in a biblical way, it will only be a matter of a few generations before that righteous mass of hearts is lost.
Then you have another school that has a more top-down view of Christian society. They say that if you only capture the elite positions of influence—professors, judges, politicians—then you have all you need to reshape society. Then we can make sure “In God We Trust” is on our coins and “One Nation Under God” is in our pledge of allegiance, and we can put the Ten Commandments back in the court house, and that is going to save society. You have the seats of power and you have the symbols and monuments of power also. But this is focusing only on the “one” side. And in that instance, meanwhile, you can have a whole populace of people who are subdued by alcoholism, pornography, lying and cheating, and all types of sin. In that case, it is not going to matter what slogan you write on the lintel of the Court House. The fruit is rotten from the inside out.
I remember preaching this message recently in a lecture at a Georgia Christian Heritage Festival. (Historically, I always get to play bad cop, criticizing American history.) When you read some of the early promotional literature of the colony of Georgia, and read the proponents of “America’s Christian History” (the sanded and varnished version), you will hear about nothing but the Christian origins of the colony: it would be a blessed Christian utopia with abundance, freedom, evangelism, and transformation. But when you study the actual history of what followed, you can quickly see through all the promotional rhetoric. It was promotional after all—it was advertisement designed to get good Christian people with money and Christian morals to donate to the cause. But in reality, for the first nineteen years, it was a socialist dictatorship with no private property (either real or personal!), no profit, and total micromanagement of the homesteaders’ lives. But worse, the land was almost entirely swamps and pine barrens. People were assigned lots from which they could not sell or move, and had to work in the extremes of mosquitos, disease, and infertile soil. Half of the first settlers died in the first year. It was a total disaster, and was totally against God’s Law—but the preachers who were funded by the trustees back in Britain kept preaching the propaganda about how great a utopia it was.
So what of a society like that, in which on paper everything is “Christian,” and all the rulers are professing Christians? As I told that group of people that day: I do not care what you write across the front of the court house, it means nothing if the laws inside that court house and in the people’s hearts do not reflect the biblical standard. I do not care if the Ten Commandments are standing in the court. If the court’s decisions are not faithful to that law, it is a waste. And I definitely do not want “In God We Trust” written across Federal Reserve notes and currency which are all debased through inflation directly contrary to God’s Law. That is not just a waste, it is utter blasphemy. In fact, please! Get God’s name off before He strikes us down for it!
When lines are crossed in this way, and God’s name is trampled and blasphemed in our institutions and in culture at large, at some point we can easily recognize that it is not a “Christian” nation in either respect, or in both respects. Then we might make the determination to separate ourselves from it as much as possible. We must say, “God is going to judge this at some point, and there is nothing better for me speedily to escape that judgment.”
We can look at our own nation now from each aspect: At the institutional level, politically speaking, it is not a Christian nation—pretty much across the board. The debate over the Christian-ness of the Constitution aside, the laws that it has been used to pass subsequently easily fall under the condemnation of both Law and Gospel. On the other side, the populace is barely remaining Christian. Among the 230 million or so professing Christians, many are liberals, and there is a large contingent of evangelicals and fundamentalists who believe their faith has no application to the social and political world. Many are just waiting to get raptured out. So socially speaking, we are not only not a Christian Nation, we are barely holding on as a nation of Christians.
Does this mean the culture war is lost and judgment is imminent? Should we leave the nation? Should we abstain from the political process? Hardly. In some aspects and at some times, yes, but not altogether yet. There is still much room to fight. It is simply not clear to us yet whether God will destroy our enemies through conversion or through judgment. As long as there is hope, I say we should continue to plan, work, and fight. Plan first. But plan to fight. And then fight.
2. In the world but not of it
Remember that even though David removed himself from Israel, he did not quit fighting the Lord’s battles for Israel. Even though he was living temporarily under a pagan jurisdiction, he kept doing the Lord’s work. We have to have the same mentality. This is essentially the lesson Jesus prayed about:
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth (John 17:15–19).
In general, we say, “We are in the world, but not of the world.” But note also that being “in the world” according to Jesus means being “sent into the world.” We are here on a mission. Even though we are under the jurisdiction of non-believers and unbiblical law sometimes, we still have to fight the Lord’s battles.
When David is making these monumental decisions, he’s thinking in terms of God’s Word—Sodom and Gomorrah, and God’s Law. He is not just fighting for the fun of it, but leaving according to the portents of biblical theology manifested in his own time, and fighting according to the plan prescribed by God. There is nothing arbitrary about this. It is calculated according to God’s Word, not man’s.
But David was in the middle of progress. He could not bring about the final form immediately. He had to choose according to what he could get done, yet without compromising in other vital areas. Considering the judgment aspect in different areas of life mentioned in our first point, living in the world and not of it means choosing which battles to fight and which not to fight, and also which battles from which to retreat.
So, David fights the Lord’s battles, and that means choosing which battles not to fight. He would not fight Saul, nor the Ziphites. But there were some battles he could fight in the meantime. So he went. We must do the same. Fight what battles you can fight. You may not win the presidency or the national courts back in your lifetime. It may be foolish to try. You cannot defeat the corporations and their billions quickly and single-handedly. But you can homeschool your children. You can fight local battles. You can join larger causes and support those you believe in. You can start a Christian business. There are many areas you can fight—and not only fight, but win, and not only win, but win right now. Let us be like David. Start making those raids as soon as possible.
Just be prepared to do so in the context in which you are in. This means, among other things, you need to learn to control your mind and your tongue to fit that context. This is a bigger lesson than traditionally taught.
3. Thinking like a lawyer
This is a topic that needs its own sermon, or even series, but arises here because David so cleverly handles Achish. We noted how he let Achish interpret his words as he wished, and David did not move to correct him. It is a fine distinction to be sure, but David was not lying—he just knew when to keep his mouth shut. And that is a huge lesson for all lovers of freedom, everywhere. In short, David was exercising his Fifth Amendment rights.
The Fifth Amendment is much misunderstood and therefore not appreciated. In fact, it is often maligned. We think people who need to exercise “the Fifth” are people who are guilty and have something to hide. On the contrary, the Fifth Amendment was written to protect the innocent from false or unjust incrimination. Our own Supreme Court not so long ago made this exact observation. In Ohio v. Reiner (2001), it opined, “one of the Fifth Amendment’s basic functions is to protect innocent persons who might otherwise be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.”
The principle goes back much further than 2001, however. Obviously it was recognized during the constitutional era, but even beyond that. In the Anglo-American tradition, it grew out of Puritan and Leveller protests against forced oaths and forced confessions under torture. These were used to force self-incrimination and to rat out other sectarians. A leading Leveller, John Lilburne, refused to take an oath in 1637, and was sent to prison. The cause rocked the Anglican world and helped Cromwell secure victory, after which he brought about more comprehensive reforms in this legal area. As an enduring aspect of religious freedom in English Common Law, this “right” was also recognized in the American colonies and was amended to the Constitution in our Bill of Rights.
Yet the foundations of this right and the wisdom of its free exercise go back further yet. Consider:
But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed (Matt. 27:12–14).
Are we beginning to see the association between the right to remain silent and innocence? And of course, it was a right inherent in God’s Law, as David’s clever employment of it in our text shows.
It is in this vein that I say Christians need to learn to think like lawyers. Now, of course, lawyers are not considered the most honest and virtuous of people. There are a thousand lawyer jokes out there for a reason. In opinion polls of the most trusted professions, lawyers rank quite low—not far above members of Congress (many of whom are, in fact, lawyers) and car salesmen. But they have had the advantage of law school training, and as a result understand the importance of some of these rights better than most people. They have certainly learned that you do not always have to tell everything, you do not always need to spill all the beans. Sometimes—in fact, many times—it is better to say nothing at all, despite your natural desire to exonerate yourself by explaining yourself.
A good booklet on the subject is startlingly titled, Don’t Talk to the Police, by Brent Winters. There are good videos on YouTube about the same subject. Winters notes, “The childish refrain, ‘If you have nothing to hide, you will never be afraid to speak,’ is bad advice for two reasons: first, because God sometimes desires silence nonetheless . . . second, prosecutors are skilled at twisting innocent and even exonerating words against the one having spoken them.” He lists and explains eight substantial reasons why you should never talk to the police or other government agents:
- Talking with police cannot help you, but can only be used against you.
- Prosecutors know #1 intimately and will never use anything you say to a police officer or other agent to your benefit—only against you.
- Nothing you say will ever persuade a policeman or other agent of your innocence (It is not their job!).
- Even if you are innocent, if you accidentally misspeak, it could be used to convict you or possibly bring other charges, such as making a false statement to an officer.
- Even the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, can possibly give prosecutors something to use against you.
- Prosecutors, police, or other agents may forget, misstate, or lie about what you said in order to get a conviction.
- Even the truth, when coupled with other weak or circumstantial evidence, can be used to bring conviction.
- Talking only makes you a target, or a further target, of investigation.
There are probably other reasons, to be sure, but you get the picture. These reasons and more are why Scripture so constantly and adamantly insists we control our tongue. It is not merely so we do not hurt someone’s feelings. It is about much more: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Prov. 13:3).
This certainly includes all of life, including not just legal but other social and political aspects as well. As I have discussed before, Thomas Jefferson once complained that the centralizers of power in his day had bamboozled the State governments out of many powers because the States simply had not learned “the slipperiness of the eels of the law.” We need to learn from this wisdom. The language, meaning, application, and process of law can be very slippery, and there are many people who specialize in finding the slipperiest spot and then giving you a good push. Well did our own former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson state, “Any lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to the police under any circumstances.”
So now we understand better what David was doing. He was thinking and speaking like a good lawyer. He said only as much as was required of him. He kept his mouth shut beyond that and thus preserved his freedom to obey God in the land. Let us do likewise. Let us learn the virtue of privacy of information, silence, and dutiful work. Perhaps this is where Paul was going when he instructed his readers “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11–12).
4. God’s agenda must remain central even under pagan jurisdiction
Finally, and briefly, note that even as David got back to work fighting what battles he could, these were still battles the Lord had directed the Israelites to fight. David did not get sidetracked with other matters, nor did he use his exile as an excuse to avoid doing what he could in regard to God’s agenda. He looked around, assessed the lay of the land and the situation he was in, compared it to the commandments of God, and got busy doing what he could.
We should learn from this that even in difficult times, God’s will for us must remain our central agenda. In such times, we could complain, quit, and use our idleness and excuses as reasons to pursue our own dreams. But God’s commandments remain outstanding anyway. As much as we can withdraw from parts of society we deem fit to be judged, we cannot withdraw from His will. We must pursue it as much as possible. It would make very little sense to escape one judgment, only to fall into rebellion and invite our own. But note also that David did not compromise his agenda, nor join in any common cause with the pagans that would contradict God’s. We will see him come close to such a predicament in the next chapter; and we will see how God will give him victory in exile yet again.