Verses 10–15

David, though king elect, is here an exile—designed to be master of vast treasures, yet just now begging his bread—anointed to the crown, and yet here forced to flee from his country. Thus do God’s providences sometimes seem to run counter to his promises, for the trial of his people’s faith, and the glorifying of his name, in the accomplishment of his counsels, notwithstanding the difficulties that lay in the way. Here is, 1. David’s flight into the land of the Philistines, where he hoped to be hid, and to remain undiscovered in the court or camp of Achish king of Gath, 1 Sam. 21:10. Israel’s darling is necessitated to quit the land of Israel, and he that was the Philistine’s great enemy (upon I know not what inducements) goes to seek for shelter among them. It should seem that as, though the Israelites loved him, yet the king of Israel had a personal enmity to him, which obliged him to leave his own country, so, though the Philistines hated him, yet the king of Gath had a personal kindness for him, valuing his merit, and perhaps the more for his killing Goliath of Gath, who, it may be, had been no friend to Achish. To him David now went directly, as to one he could confide in, as afterwards (1 Sam. 27:2, 3), and Achish would not have protected him but that he was afraid of disobliging his own people. God’s persecuted people have often found better usage from Philistines than from Israelites, in the Gentile theatres than in the Jewish synagogues. The king of Judah imprisoned Jeremiah, and the king of Babylon set him at liberty. 2. The disgust which the servants of Achish took at his being there, and their complaint of it to Achish (1 Sam. 21:11): “Isa. not this David? Isa. not this he that has triumphed over the Philistines? witness that burden of the song which was so much talked of, Saul has slain his thousands, but David, this very man, his ten thousands. Nay, Isa. not this he that (if our intelligence from the land of Israel be true) is, or is to be, king of the land?” As such, “he must be an enemy to our country; and is it safe or honourable for us to protect or entertain such a man?” Achish perhaps had intimated to them that it would be policy to entertain David, because he was now an enemy to Saul, and he might be hereafter a friend to them. It is common for the outlaws of a nation to be sheltered by the enemies of that nation. But the servants of Achish objected to his politics, and thought it not at all fit that he should stay among them. 3. The fright which this put David into. Though he had some reason to put confidence in Achish, yet, when he perceived the servants of Achish jealous of him, he began to be afraid that Achish would be obliged to deliver him up to them, and he was sorely afraid (1 Sam. 21:12), and perhaps he was the more apprehensive of his own danger, when he was thus discovered, because he wore Goliath’s sword, which, we may suppose, was well known in Gath, and with which he had reason to expect they would cut off his head, as he had cut off Goliath’s with it. David now learned by experience what he has taught us (Ps. 118:9), that it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes. Men of high degree are a lie, and, if we make them our hope, they may prove our fear. It was at this time that David penned Ps. 55:1-23 (Michtam, a golden psalm), when the Philistines took him in Gath, where having shown before God his distresses, he resolves (1 Sam. 21:3), “What time I am afraid I will trust in thee; and therefore (1 Sam. 21:11) will not be afraid what man can do unto me, no, not the sons of giants.” 4. The course he took to get out of their hands: He feigned himself mad, 1 Sam. 21:13. He used the gestures and fashions of a natural fool, or one that had gone out of his wits, supposing they would be ready enough to believe that the disgrace he had fallen into, and the troubles he was now in, had driven him distracted. This dissimulation of his cannot be justified (it was a mean thing thus to disparage himself, and inconsistent with truth thus to misrepresent himself, and therefore not becoming the honour and sincerity of such a man as David); yet it may in some degree be excused, for it was not a downright lie and it was like a stratagem in war, by which he imposed upon his enemies for the preservation of his own life. What David did here in pretence and for his own safety, which made it partly excusable, drunkards do really, and only to gratify a base lust: they made fools of themselves and change their behaviour; their words and actions commonly are either as silly and ridiculous as an idiot’s or as furious and outrageous as a madman’s, which has often made me wonder that ever men of sense and honour should allow themselves in it. 5. His escape by this means, 1 Sam. 21:14, 15. I am apt to think Achish was aware that the delirium was but counterfeit, but, being desirous to protect David (as we find afterwards he was very kind to him, even when the lord of the Philistines favoured him not, 1 Sam. 28:1, 2; 29:6), he pretended to his servants that he really thought he was mad, and therefore had reason to question whether it was David or no; or, if it were, they need not fear him, what harm could he do them now that his reason had departed from him? They suspected that Achish was inclined to entertain him: “Not I,” says he. “He is a madman. I’ll have nothing to do with him. You need not fear that I should employ him, or give him any countenance.” He humours the thing well enough when he asks, “Have I need of madmen? Shall this fool come into my house? I will show him no kindness, but then you shall do him no hurt, for, if he be a madmen, he is to be pitied.” He therefore drove him away, as it is in the title of Ps. 34:1; which David penned upon this occasion, and an excellent psalm it is, and shows that he did not change his spirit when he changed his behaviour, but even in the greatest difficulties and hurries his heart was fixed, trusting in the Lord; and he concludes that psalm with this assurance, that none of those that trust in God shall be desolate, though they may be, as he now was, solitary and distressed, persecuted, but not forsaken.