You Shall Know What Your Servant Can Do

Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 27-28:2 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/27/2015 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Samuel 27-28:2

“You Shall Know What Your Servant Can Do”

One of the presidential candidates was asked a question about what their specific military strategy would be for a given particular situation and they responded saying that they wouldn’t say. They explained basically that they wouldn’t want to tip their hand to our nation’s enemies over what we might do in such and such a military situation. Now, if you think you know who might have said that, it’s irrelevant, since you know I don’t promote candidates from the pulpit, and that’s not what I’m doing right now. But my point is that sometimes in a military situation you want to be very guarded with what you let the enemy know. In fact, you often want to give one appearance of the situation to the enemy, when the reality is something different.

In fact, we’ve already seen such a situation in the book of 1 Samuel. Back in chapter 21, David is all alone, and flees to the Philistine town of Gath. He gets noticed by them as the famous David, and he gets seized and brought to King Achish. David thinks quickly on his feet, and pretends to be insane when he is brought before Achish. The deception worked, and Achish sends David away, thinking David is just some madman. And so in that story, David appeared to Achish as insane, but the reality was quite different. And so there appearances were not the same as the reality.

Well, we see that again in today’s passage. David amazingly goes again to that same Philistine town of Gath, and again meets with their leader Achish (who may or may not have been the same leader as before). Well, as David does this, we see that there are certain appearances that are given here by David doing this. But we will also see that the appearances don’t always match up with the reality. Rather, we see David artfully presenting the appearances in certain way, so as to help him pursue the reality that he is after. That reality is one that is very consistent to the fact that he is the Anointed of the Lord.

So let’s begin today’s message by considering first the appearances and then the reality for David. Let’s start with the appearances. What appearances are given by David’s going and living with the Philistines here? Think of first the appearance this surely gave to Saul. David already set this up to Saul last chapter. In chapter 26, verse 19, David told Saul that if some of Saul’s men had stirred up Saul against David, then they should be cursed. Listen to why David said that about such people. “May they be cursed before the LORD, for they have driven me out this day from sharing in the inheritance of the LORD, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.'” And so David suggests that Saul’s pursuit of David could result in him having to flee the land of Israel, to flee the inheritance of the Promised Land given to Israel, which would be like telling him to go and serve the foreign false gods. And so soon after David tells Saul this, what does David do? Well, he leaves the land of Israel and flees to the land of the Philistines. To Saul it may well appear that he’s successfully driven David out of the Promised Land, even to have to go and be with the pagan nations with their pagan gods. Who knows, but Saul might have even taken this as some measure of success on his part.

Well, think next of the appearance this all gave to Achish, king of the Philistines. When we look at this passage, it becomes clear that Achish thinks David is a defector of Israel. We are not sure what David initially told him to make him think that. But as the story develops, it becomes increasingly clear that Achish thinks David is not only a defector, but has become a loyal servant of Achish. Let’s notice a few details.

First, you have, for example, David’s demeanor toward Achish in verse 5. David speaks respectfully to Achish and appears to show humility toward him by requesting a place to live outside of the capital of Gath. Again, David makes the request with the appearance of humility, as if he’s not to be honored enough to dwell in the royal city with Achish. So Achish believes this and has David move to a town named Ziklag. Second, in verse 10 David reports to Achish that he has been raiding towns of Judah and their allies. Achish in verse 12 again believes David, and concludes that such actions by David has made him so much a stench to Israel, that now he will have to forever remain a loyal servant of the Philistines. Third, in chapter 28, we see that the Philistines are preparing to go to a big battle against Israel. Achish comes to David saying that he’ll have to of course fight with the Philistines, against Israel. In 28:2, David answers Achish in a way that seems ambiguous to us, but not to Achish. David tells him, “Surely you know what your servant can do.” Achish evidently interprets that as a sort of macho bragging and that David is assuring him of his loyalty. This causes Achish to all the more trust David, and say that he is going to make David his chief bodyguard. And so in all these details, we see that David appears to Achish as a defector of Israel and now a loyal servant of the Philistines.

So we’ve mentioned how David’s actions have appeared to Saul and Achish. But let me mention one more group. Let’s think how his actions appear to modern readers. How have theologians and scholars interpreted his actions? What appearance has his actions here in fleeing to the Philistines given them? Well, I must say that too many Christian students of the Word have seen this as a low point in David’s time of flight from Saul. Now I can appreciate some of the concerns here. David is leaving the land of Israel to a place where pagans and paganism is the norm. This is “enemy territory.” Here they worship false gods. Here he could get pressured into compromising situations. Yes, there are many inherent dangers present. I did mention this back at the first time he went to Gath that there is a clear and present danger when you are in such a pagan place. I still agree with that point. Also, people today often point to what motivates David here according to verse 27. There he appears motivated by some degree of fear. There could also be some weariness going on with David too. And we know that sometimes in fear and weariness we can make bad choices that put us in worse situations. And so some, many, have read this passage and come away with that appearance to them.

That all being said, I want to say that these appearances are not reality. The appearances given to Saul, and to Achish, and even to many readers today that would want to paint this as some low point in David’s life, are not the reality. And so let us look at the evidence in this passage to understand the reality of what is going on. Let’s begin with that appearance given to Saul. What is the reality? Was David driven by Saul out of the Promised Land, to go and worship other false gods? Well, no. First off, of course, he is not worshipping Dagon here. Second off, though he is not in the Land of Israel, he is actually in the Land of Israel. What I mean is that he hasn’t fled to Egypt or Babylon, or some place outside of the Promised Land. The place that he is at is part of the land that God had promised to Israel. The fact that Philistines are controlling this part of the Promised Land only goes to show that Israelites need a Messiah to finish liberating the land from all the pagan nations that hadn’t yet been removed. And third, realize that unlike David’s first flight to Gath, this one seems much more calculated. You know when he first fled to Gath back in chapter 21, he seems panicked, on the run, and out of options, and he inadvertently gets himself in trouble there, but manages to escape. This time when we read verse 1 of chapter 27, we see David in his heart considering and calculating. It wasn’t some whim of a decision or rash choice. This time he calculates that he can escape Saul by making this move temporarily to the Philistines. Though some might claim this was done out of fear, I would reply that fear like any emotion must be evaluated and you must determine a wise and right response given to your fears. Well, that discernment and calculation seems to be what David is endeavoring to do. And guess what? His discernment works. Per verse 4, Saul finds out that David fled to Gath and he stops pursuing him. So, David’s plan to escape Saul works. And as will become clear, David’s calculation to go to the Philistines is not just to escape Saul, but he also uses this as a chance to work against the enemy of the Philistines from within.

This brings us to consider the reality with regard to Achish. The appearance to Achish that David was a defector and loyal servant to him was not the reality. Think about the details we mentioned. David’s humility that brought him to Ziklag? What is the reality in that regard? Look at verse 6b to start. From that point on, Ziklag becomes a town that ends up belonging to the Kings of Judah from that point onward. So, in a non-violent way David is able to annex more of the Promised Land for Judah. But even more so, this becomes a staging ground and safe haven for David in a couple ways. And so we mentioned that it appeared to Achish that David was raiding Jewish towns; but that wasn’t the reality. The reality is in verse 8. David lied to Achish, and was actually raiding the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amelekites. Well, not only were these likely Philistine allies, but actually we read in verse 8 that they were the inhabitants of the land of old. Remember, when Israel came into the Promised Land God called them to bring judgment on the peoples of the land because of all their sins. A big failing we see in the book of Judges was that Israel didn’t finish the job. They hadn’t fully wiped out all the original peoples there. These groups became a constant thorn in their side. And so they needed a Messiah to come and finish the conquest. And so David is doing that right now, at least in part. He’s helping to further establish Israel in the Promised Land, by removing its enemies from it, one town at a time. And amazingly he does it from within enemy territory. He gets to have the protection of the Philistines as he launches regular raids against Israelite enemies. And so Achish thought David was hurting Israel throughout this time, when he was actually helping them.

And that’s not all that went on in Ziklag. We can say a few more things. When David would conquer these pagan towns, we see in verse 9 that he would take back much spoil. This would have helped provide for his men. And not only that, but we’ll see in chapter 30, that when David returned back to Ziklag after a battle, that he would send some of the spoil to various elders of Judah in various places. So, he actually would be using a good bit of the spoil not just to provide for his men, but also to send some back home as well. And then not only that, but we find that according to 1 Chronicles 12, that while David was at Ziklag other mighty men from Israel kept leaving Israel and coming to him at Ziklag to join his army and fight with him like this. It says there that he was gaining people from all over Israel, including some even from the tribe of Benjamin, Saul’s tribe. And so listen to the conclusion of this army building according to 1 Chronicles 12:22 “…At that time they came to David day by day to help him, until it was a great army, like the army of God.”

And so in light of all this, clearly David was not a loyal subject to Achish. David clearly had deceived Achish and was using this situation for Israel’s interests, and thus God’s interests. And so when 28:2 records David responding the way he does to Achish, we know that surely David wouldn’t actually fight with the Philistines against Israel. Of course, what will happen is that the other Philistine leaders won’t allow David to fight. We’ll see that in chapter 29. But surely if they hadn’t intervened, then David would have somehow acted in the interest of God’s people, even if he had to finally reveal his hand to Achish of where his allegiances truly lay.

And so, appearances here are one thing. The reality was something different. We ought to recognize that David is the Lord’s Anointed and even before he officially takes the throne, he is acting like the Lord’s Anointed One. As he comes to hide out in the land of the Philistines, he is able to kill two birds with one stone. He is able to find safety away from Saul until the LORD removes Saul from the throne. And he is able to continue to begin to live out his calling as a messianic figure in doing battle with the enemies of God’s people. And amazingly, he is able to do this all from the covert position behind enemy lines, from within enemy territory.

I might pause at this point and address a common question here. Is David wrong to deceive and lie like he is doing here? That’s a fair question. I can appreciate why people would want to ask that. Now I don’t want to be overly dogmatic here, but I believe it was okay for David to do this here. This is ultimately a military situation. In times of war and certain circumstances, its understood that deception and subterfuge and covert operations are part of what goes on. That’s what the CIA does. That’s what an undercover cop does. That’s what the tale of the Trojan Horse was about. Unless we are willing to say that these and all such similar things are morally wrong, then I think we have to be consistent and say that there is a time and place for such deceptions. I think we need to be very, very, careful, of course, in employing this. But it seems the Bible does allow in several places for this art of deception in situations like this.

So then, what I’d like to do now is look forward to Christ. How does David’s messianic activities serve as a type of the ultimate Christ to come? Well, we think of what Christ did in this regard. We can think of appearances versus the reality for Jesus Christ. In terms of appearances, Jesus came in a rather humble fashion. Surely, to many, he didn’t look too messianic at first. This came to a climax when he died on the cross. In terms of the appearance of the cross, think of how it probably appeared to many. To Satan, who incited Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, it must have appeared at first as a victory. To the unbelieving gentiles, it would appear foolish to put your faith in Jesus because it would look like the cross was his end. To the unbelieving Jews, the cross gave the appearance to many that Jesus was under divine curse, and so it would be a stumbling block to them to believe the Jesus was the Christ.

And so the appearance of Jesus, when you come ultimately to the cross, looked liked a defeat and a failure to so many. The Jews rejected him. The Romans aided them in putting him to death. People mocked him while he hung on the cross basically telling him he was a failure. And so the cross became foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews. But that was only the appearance. What was the reality? The reality was the Jesus was sent by God into this world. He was sent literally into enemy territory. Remember that Satan has been called the ruler of this world. That accounts for how this world has been one largely of rebellion against God, where pagans and pagan religions abound. So God sent Jesus here, into this evil place among this wicked and perverse generation. Jesus came to bind Satan the strong man. He came to destroy the works of the devil. And the centerpiece for his victory was the cross. To so many it appeared like defeat; but the reality was that without the cross there could be no victory. He had to become a curse, to bear the curse for those whom he would save.

And so as we think about Jesus, we again declare the gospel. There is coming a day when Jesus will return to this world of rebellion and all will see then what he can do. He’ll come to bring judgment upon a world that has lived in rebellion against him. None will be able to stand in his way when he comes to pour out God’s wrath against a rebellious world. And yet he came that first time, not for judgment, but to bring about salvation. That all who repent of their sins and turn to him in faith shall be saved.

That is our story, brothers and sisters. And so having been gathered to Christ in this life, our situation is one that is very similar to David and his men at Ziklag. As they were behind enemy lines, they were strangers and aliens and exiles in a place characterized by evil and wickedness. But where they were at, it was like a little bit of the Davidic kingdom that was to come, like it was right there. That’s us. We live as strangers and aliens and exiles in this world. That’s what 1 Peter 1:1 calls us. We live in this pagan world. But Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Anointed One, is with us. And he will have us here, behind enemy lines, before the coming of his kingdom in glory — he will have us advance the cause of the kingdom. He will have us do his kingdom work right here and now, from within this enemy territory. He has commissioned us to bring the gospel to the people all around us. That we would call people out of this world and into the glorious kingdom of our Lord. And where we are at then, is like a little bit of the kingdom of heaven, a little bit of Christ’s kingdom, right here on earth. Especially today, right here, in this place, as we gather right now, this is like our Ziklag. And we will go out again this week, to do battle on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his kingdom.

And just as David’s kingdom battles provided for his men, so will Jesus see to our provisions in the spiritual battles he will have us to be on. So then, take heart, brothers and sisters. Our time in this foreign land will be short in the grand scheme of things. It was just for a year and four months for David and his men, and in the grand scheme of things this time will just be for a little while for us in comparison to eternity. And our time in this foreign land to some appearances might seem like nothing but a bad idea for us who would profess Christ; but Jesus has us intentionally here to bring the gospel to the world.

Let us then be shrewd in our kingdom labors for Christ in this world. Let us be as shrewd as righteousness allows. Let us make the most of every opportunity that is before us. Let us then speak truth to our enemies around us. That’s what they need. They need the truth of the gospel. God has ordained for us to do battle not with deception, but with the sword of the spirit, which is word of God, girding ourselves up with that belt of truth.

And so, in this battle, should we find afflictions and troubles, do not lost heart. Don’t lose heart even if it appears like the world might be winning. Because we are reminded that appearances are not the same as reality. And we know that Christ is in control. And that he has a calculated and discerned plan in all of this. Trust in him. Serve him. Rejoice in him. Hail King Jesus, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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