Book of Shmuel
55: Chapter 29
IN THE PELISHTI CAMP
THE ORDER OF THE CHAPTERS
the dramatic story of Shaul and the medium in Ein-Dor, Scripture picks up from
where it left off in the account of what is happening to David. As may be
recalled, it was related in chapter 27 how David had deceived Akhish king of
Gat, telling him that he was conducting raids against Yehuda, while in fact he
was conducting raids against the Geshurites, the Gizrites, and the Amelekites.
In this way, David gave Akhish the impression that he had severed his ties with
Israel and that he would be prepared to go out to war with him against them. We
noted there (lecture no. 52) that David's maneuver was problematic, for even if
his intentions were to help his people, his readiness to present himself as a
traitor against them was an exceedingly severe step, involving a measure of
desecration of God's name.
chapter opens with a description of the competing forces:
Now the Pelishtim gathered together all their hosts to Afek; and the Israelites
pitched by the spring which is in Yizra'el.
This account is somewhat surprising, for in the previous chapter it was
related: "And the Pelishtim gathered themselves together, and came and pitched
in Shunem; and Shaul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa"
(28:4). Why then is it stated in our chapter that the Pelishtim gathered
themselves in Afek? It is true that several different places are called
but even the northernmost city going by that name – in the region of today's
Rosh ha-Ayin – is south of Shunem
and the spring in Yizra'el! Based on this, it might be concluded that what is
related in our chapter took place prior to what is related in chapter 28. Our
chapter describes the initial staging of the two armies, which took place in the
center of the country, before they went north for the real battle. Accordingly,
it is only at the end of our chapter that we read: "And the Pelishtim went up to
Yizra'el" (v. 11).
Of course, this assertion raises the question of why Scripture records
our chapter only after chapter 28. Surely it would have been much simpler had
Scripture brought our chapter after chapter 27, which deals with the
relationship between David and Akhish, and only then the contents of chapter 28,
the story of Shaul and the medium – not only because this is a different story,
but also because chronologically it took place later, during a more advanced
stage of the campaign.
It seems then that it was important from a narrative perspective to
record the incident involving the medium before our chapter, even though it
transpired only later. The importance of this arrangement of the events will be
describes how David goes to Akhish and how Akhish argues with the rest of the
Pelishti princes whether or not to allow David to join the campaign:
And the lords of the Pelishtim passed on by hundreds and by thousands; and David
and his men passed on in the rearward with Akhish. (3) Then said the princes of
the Pelishtim, "What do these Hebrews
here?" And Akhish said unto the princes of the Pelishtim, "Is not this David,
the servant of Shaul the king of Israel, who has been with me these days or
these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell away
unto me unto this day?" (4) But the princes
of the Pelishtim were wroth with him; and the princes of the Pelishtim said unto
him, "Make the man return, that he may go back to his place where you have
appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he
become an adversary to us; for wherewith should this fellow reconcile himself
unto his lord? Should it not be with the heads of these men?
(5) Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Shaul
has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?"
The Pelishti princes argue with Akhish about David's loyalty. According
to Akhish, David was absolutely loyal to him. He was essentially a mercenary in
his camp, no different than the gentiles, like Achimelekh the Chittite and Doeg
the Edomite who served in the Israelite army. The Pelishti princes, on the other
hand, argue that David's loyalty was to his people, and that when put to the
test, he would act as a fifth column.
Who was right? Did David really intend to fight against Shaul's army, or
perhaps to strike at the Pelishtim? It goes without question that David did not
really intend to hurt his own people, but where is this alluded to in Scripture
itself? It is reasonable to assume that the answer to this question is found in
chapter 27. As stated earlier, David acquired Akhish's trust by way of
deception, and so it stands to reason that here, too, Akhish fell into David's
trap. Just as in chapter 27 David struck at the foreign tribes of the south and
fooled Akhish into believing that he had fought against Israel, in our chapter,
David wanted to continue in his deception, and thus to deliver Israel. It was
only the Pelishti princes who thwarted David's attempt to deceive Akhish and
thus to influence the outcome of the war.
can now return to the question raised earlier regarding the order of the
chapters. Had our chapter immediately followed chapter 27, we would lack the
answer to the question of why David's plot fails. It is for this reason that
chapter 28 is presented first, for it is there that it becomes clear that Shaul
is headed for utter defeat as part of the punishment imposed upon him and as was
told to him in the story involving the medium. It is for this reason that God
manipulated events so that David's plan would not succeed.
any event, David does not immediately agree with Akhish, but rather continues to
argue with him:
Then Akhish called David, and said unto him, "As the Lord lives,
you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the host
is good in my sight, for I have not found evil in you since the day of your
coming unto me unto this day; nevertheless, the lords favor you not. (7)
Wherefore now return, and go in peace, that you displease
not the lords of the Pelishtim." (8) And David said unto Akhish, "But what have
I done? And what have you found in your servant so long as I have been before
you unto this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord
the king?" (9) And Akhish answered and said to David, "I know that you are good
in my sight, as an angel of God;
notwithstanding, the princes of the Pelishtim have said, 'He shall not go up
with us to the battle.' (10) Wherefore now rise up early in the morning with the
servants of your lord that are come with you; and as soon as you are up early in
the morning and have light, depart."
Why does Scripture expand at length upon this argument between David and
Akhish? It seems that expression is given here to a second point in the story:
the problematic nature of David's action, alluded to above. This finds
expression on two levels. First, Akhish is described as a moral character,
albeit somewhat naive. Akhish, as may be recalled, was the king who had saved
David's life, refusing to kill him as his men had demanded (see chapter 21). He
puts his full trust in David and sings his praises in his presence, including,
"you have been upright," a somewhat grating praise in light of David's cunning
behavior, even if it was meant to serve a positive
Second, as already noted, David's presentation of himself as having
betrayed his people is also problematic. Is it right that David, as a servant of
God, should relate to his people as "the enemies of my lord the king?"
Even Akhish seems to have sensed the problematic nature of these words, and so
when he turns to David, he says to him: "Wherefore now rise up early in the
morning with the servants of your lord that are come with you." It is as
if Akhish were alluding to David: I believe you that in certain respects we
share a common interest, but still I see no reason for you to totally deny your
Of course, the main proof of the problem with David's behavior lies in
the events taking place at precisely the same time in his camp in Tziklag,
events that would never have taken place had David remained there. I shall
expand on this topic in the next chapter.
wish to conclude my analysis of this chapter with the final two
"Wherefore now rise up early in the morning with the servants of your
lord that are come with you; and as soon as you are up early in the morning
and have light, depart." (11) So David rose up early, he and his men, to
depart in the morning to return into the land of the Pelishtim. And the
Pelishtim went up to Yizra'el.
Despite David's failure to execute his plan, the chapter ends on a
positive and optimistic note that expresses itself in the threefold repetition
of the word "morning" and the addition of the word "light." These words stand in
stark contrast to the gloomy atmosphere hanging over the previous story that
began with "and
they came to the woman by night"
(28:5) and ended with "then
they rose up, and went away that night"
(ibid. v. 25).
This may be another reason for the inverted order of the chapters. This
is the way that Scripture signals the two parallel processes: Shaul's sun is
setting, while David's day is breaking through the dawn.
by David Strauss)