June 3 – June 10

Friday, June 3

First Samuel 20: It would be a simple matter to document the political crisis brought about by the decline of Saul and the simultaneously increasing success of David. Holy Scripture is not content, however, simply to chronicle the details of this crisis. Two other aspects of the political situation are objects of his interest and reflection: the divine purpose and the human drama. The first aspect is concerned with theology, and the second with psychology.

First, with respect to God’s purpose in the painful unfolding of these events, the comments of Holy Scripture are necessarily brief, modest, and occasionally indirect. The biblical writer claims no clarity of perception into the divine mind beyond the experienced conviction that the Lord of history had a decisive hand in the political development described in these pages. Things did not simply happen. They happened, rather, because they were guided by an obscure providential impulse that nudged events along in a determined direction. At no point in the story, moreover, did this providential impulse violate or impair the free choices and decisions of those taking part in the drama.

Here and there the biblical author points to some seam in the story’s fabric where God inserts a subtle but determining influence. For instance, when David and his two companions gain the advantage over Saul as he sleeps in the camp at Hachilah (chapter 26), the author discerns the divine intrusion that makes the story’s outcome possible: “David took the spear and the jug of water at Saul’s head, and they slipped away; and no man saw or knew it or awoke. For they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them.” How did this come about? The writer has no idea of the mechanism of it, but he is sure the sleep came from the Lord, and this little detail determines the outcome of the narrative.

Sometimes the author’s perception of the providential influence is so oblique that he refrains from drawing attention to it. The reader is obliged to ferret the matter out for himself. For example, after going into minute detail on everything David did on the morning he set out for Saul’s camp near Azekah (chapter 17), the biblical writer barely hints at (wehinneh—“and behold”) the significance of Goliath’s appearance at the very moment David arrives on the scene. If the reader is unable to spot the importance of this “coincidence,” the author will not insult him by pointing it out.

More often the biblical writer summons his characters to become the spokesmen for his thesis. In the present chapter, for instance, Jonathan conveys his conviction that God is leading David to the throne; the Lord, Jonathan asserts, will be with David as He was, in former days, with his own father. Abigail, too, in chapter 25, voices this same conviction about the divine plan. She says to David, “For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house.” Even Saul becomes the spokesman for this thesis, declaring in the following chapter, “May you be blessed, my son David! You shall both do great things and also still prevail.”

Second, with respect to the human drama of this political crisis, the biblical author describes in detail the complex psychological experiences of the major characters.

Chief among these is Saul himself, who suffers the emotional trauma born of his rebellion. For a brief period—lasting exactly one verse in the previous chapter—Saul lets Jonathan persuade him to abandon the persecution of David. Saul’s is unhappy at his spiritual state, but there is no real repentance. Deeper than these transitory impulses of remorse is Saul’s radical rebellion against the divine will. Even though Saul can say—and evidently, for the time being, believe it—“I have played the fool and erred exceedingly,” David cannot trust the king’s emotional instability to hold that thought in place very long.

In the present chapter, the author analyzes the inner suffering of Jonathan, torn between the obligations of piety to his father and fidelity to his friend. Intrinsically opposed, both claims are equally tested. Even as he is obedient to his father, Jonathan is fully aware that the old man cannot be trusted, even with his son’s life. Saul is doomed, and Jonathan knows it, but Saul is still his father. David, to whom he is bound by personal covenant, is in danger, and Jonathan must protect him, even at the cost of offending Saul.

At the same time, he knows, David will prevail; David, not he, will wear the crown, and what will David do, when he comes to power, to secure his hrone against the claims of Jonathan’s own family? Most of all, in the present chapter, what can Jonathan do to demonstrate his absolute loyalty to his friend, whom the rest of the world must see as Jonathan’s rival for the throne? Was ever a friendship so tested as this one?

Saturday, June 4

First Samuel 21: Jonathan, though sorely pressed in the effort, found a way to remain loyal to David without breaking his allegiance to Saul. Not everyone involved in the crisis was able to do this—the priests at Nob, for example, one of whom David now approaches in the first story of this chapter (verses 1-10).

Ahimelch, chief of these priests, is the great-grandson of Eli, the priest of Shiloh, who was so important to the first chapters of this book. That family moved south after the Philistines’ capture of the Ark and the death of Eli, and now we find them at Nob, not far from Jerusalem.

Ahimelch, acquainted with reports of the deteriorating relationship between the king and his son-in-law, is at first fearful to receive David. Doubtless he knows these reports from his brother, Ahijah, who serves as Saul’s military chaplain (14:3). Ahimelch is nervous.

He has reason to be: Although David has struggled to remain an obedient subject of the king and a faithful friend to the king’s son, he is not overly scrupulous with the truth on every occasion, including two occasions in this chapter. In short, David deceives Ahimelch, perhaps with the intention of giving him an excuse if Saul should learn of this meeting.

First, David is well aware that Ahimelch has custody of the sword of Goliath. Indeed, it was to obtain this sword that David has come to Nob. Nevertheless, he never mentions the sword; he simply requests a weapon, and he does so near the end of his visit, as though the matter were an afterthought.

Second, David deceptively reassures Ahimelch that, far from being on the outs with Saul, he has just been dispatched by the king on a top-secret mission. He goes on to elaborate this hoax by mentioning that the rest of his party is concealed in the neighborhood, and they need food.

In other words, David hoodwinks the priest into helping him—the first of many beggars to pull a fast one on the clergy this way—and when the incident is soon reported to Saul, Ahimelch will pay a dear price for his kindness. In due course, David’s conscience will not lie easy on this matter.

The bread David receives from Ahimelch come from “the loaves of the presence,” the dedicated bread placed in the sanctuary before the Lord and replaced each Sabbath (cf. Exodus 25:30; 35:13; Leviticus 24:5-9; 1 Chronicles 9:32). Normally this bread is eaten only by the priests, but Ahimelch makes an exception in the present case. This exception will later meet a very important approval (cf. Matthew 12:3-4; Mark 2:25-26; Luke 6:3-4).

One verse mentions that Saul’s Edomite spy witnesses the entire transaction. Not good.

In the second and shorter story (verses 11-16), David continues to elude Saul by going southwest and crossing into Philistine territory. This is risky, but David is a bit desperate. We suspect that reports of the political crisis in Israel may have reached Philistine ears, but David takes no chances. To make certain the Philistines will see in him neither a threat nor an advantage, he begins to act demented. When David recently watched Saul in a completely demented state, he took notes and knows what to do. This is his second deception in this chapter. The Philistines are impressed.

There have gone abroad, of late, reliable tales of whole sections of Saul’s army—even Saul himself—suddenly going berserk, so the Philistines are on their guard. The problem might be contagious, for all they know, so Achish, the king of Gath, declines to have anything to do with this mad visitor from Israel. Out with him!

While David is playing the idiot in Gath, Saul’s Edomite spy wastes no time getting word to the king about what has just happened at Nob.

Meanwhile, it occurs to David that his own family is at risk; he must get them to safety, away from Saul. They will be safest in Moab, he considers. Through their venerable ancestor, Ruth, the family has a touch of Moabite blood. It is time to turn east.

June 5

First Samuel 22: This chapter is formed of three parts, the first concerned with the journeys of David (verses 1-5), the second with the activities of Saul and Doeg (verses 6-19), and the third with the flight of Abiathar (verses 20-22).

Several significant facts emerge from the first section:

First, David is joined in his wanderings by his family and other outcasts interested in eluding Saul. This group will provide the wanderer with the makings of a guerilla army.

Second, David puts his family under the protection of the king of Moab, who feels no qualm, we imagine, to helping someone he thinks is opposed to the king of Israel.

Third, David begins to receive guidance from a prophet, Gad, who enters his service and will remain with him for years to come (cf. 2 Samuel 24:11-19; 1 Chronicles 21:9-19).

This chapter’s second part, concerned with the activities of Saul and Doeg, presents three scenes:

First, Saul convenes a sort of “court of inquiry,” during which he upbraids his officers for their alleged disloyalty to him (verses 6-8). Doeg, by way of defending himself against this indictment, reports on David’s helpful reception by the priests of Nob (verses 9-10).

Second, in pursuit of Doeg’s charge, Saul subpoenas Ahimelech and interrogates him on the charges alleged by Doeg (verses 13-15). In spite of the priest’s able defense and asseverations of innocence, Saul condemns him and all his family to death (verse 16).

Third, when Saul is unable to find anyone else to do the deed, he commissions Doeg to execute the priests, and his slaughter is extended to the entire priestly city of Nob (verses 17-19). Nob became—like Jericho of old—a city under a divine ban (cf. Deuteronomy 13:16-17; 20:16-17; Joshua 10:28,30,32; Judges 1:8,25).

The number of slain priests varies in the sources: the Massoretic text—85; the Septuagint—305; Josephus (Antiquities 6.12.6[260])—385.

The final section of this chapter (verses 20-23) tells of the escape of Ahimelech’s son, Abiathar, who seeks and finds refuge in David’s company. Now this group includes a priest as well as a prophet.

Saul’s mental and spiritual deterioration is now extreme. What began as personal jealousy is quickly becoming a civil war, including the willful slaughter of innocent people.

Monday, June 6

Frist Samuel 23: Three episodes make up the narrative of this chapter: first, David at Keilah (verses 1-13); second, Jonathan and David together (verses 14-18); and third, Saul’s further pursuit (verses 19-28).

The complex episode at Keilah, in which David delivers the city from the enemies of Israel, may be contrasted with the story of Nob, in which there was no one to deliver the city from the King of Israel.

Faced with reports of the Philistine siege of Keilah, David is uncertain of his course: Does he dare take his modest guerilla band to fight the besiegers, even as Saul pursues him with a large army? David is no coward, but he also does not want to tempt the Lord by presumption.

Well, then, there is nothing for it but to consult the Lord, and recent events have made this recourse a bit easier. When Abiathar fled from Nob, he took with him the oracular ephod used by the priests to discern God’s will (verse 6). David, who appeals to this source several times in the present chapter, seeks guidance about what to do about Keilah. He consults the oracle once for himself, and then again to reassure his men. The answer, both times, is “Go for it!” He does, and a mighty victory ensues (verses 1-5).

Saul, who should have been the one to help Keilah, learns that David is now in the city, behind its walls. Aha, says he to himself, now we’re got him! Forthwith, the king proceeds to march toward Keilah.

David now confronts a new dilemma: Should he stay and take a stand in Keilah, to face Saul’s inevitable siege of the city, or should he flee before Saul arrives? There is a more direct way of posing the question: Will the citizens of Keilah protect David from Saul as he protected them from the Philistines?

On the face it, there is every reason to believe that the people in Keilah will be unwilling to put themselves at risk. They know what Saul just did to Nob, when he believed that city had aided David. David, again guided by oracular counsel, leads his men out of Keilah. It is a close call, nonetheless, and David is afraid (verses 14-15).

Jonathan, learning David’s whereabouts, leaves Saul’s force and comes to visit his friend in the Judean Desert (verses 16-18). On this, their final meeting, they renew their fraternal covenant.

One suspects that if Jonathan can ascertain the whereabouts of David, so can Saul, and he does. A messenger arrives, however, to report that the army is needed elsewhere to engage another Philistine attack. Once again, David experiences a providential mercy.

Before Jonathan departs from his friend, he professes certainty that David will inherit the throne. He adds that Saul, too, knows this. Thus, the reader is given an update on the state of Saul’s mind: He is aware of the hopelessness of his cause; he is conscious of resisting the inevitable.

This resistance, nonetheless, is still pretty strong. Relying on further reports of David’s whereabouts in the southern desert, Saul again advances and closes in on him. Just as the situation seems critical for David, word reaches Saul that he must break off the pursuit and journey back to deal with those pesky Philistines (verses 19-28). Divine Providence strikes again.

Tuesday, June 7

First Samuel 24: The story in this chapter has so many points of correspondence with the episode in chapter 26 that some Bible readers speculate that both accounts are records of the same event.

To me this seems unlikely, because there are too many significant differences, chief among them being the roles of Abishai and Abner in chapter 26. It is more likely, I believe, that the resemblances between these two stories come from the history of their transmission; details from each story became transposed to the other, because the two “situations” are so similar. Such an exchange of details is hardly rare in the history of narrative.

Here is the story of Saul and David in the cave: When Saul’s jealousy and dangerous behavior drove him from the royal court, David was obliged to wander, much like an outlaw, in the desert regions in the south of Judah. Harassed and pursued by the army of the increasingly deranged king, David was constantly on the move, he and his small band of friends, hiding here and there as chance provided, often hungry and always exposed to danger. Saul had put a price on David’s head, moreover, so there was the added peril of betrayal; the king’s spies might be anywhere.

David’s plight was dire indeed: “in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness,” “being destitute, afflicted, tormented,” while wandering “in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (2 Corinthians 11:27; Hebrews 11:37-38).

The present reading tells the story of David’s concealment in another cave, this one at Engedi, just west of the Dead Sea, where Saul had led a military detachment to apprehend the young fugitive. The circumstances of this encounter draw attention to two features of the story, both of them typical of this whole period of David’s desert wandering.

First, there is the quiet, subtle working of Divine Providence, whereby the Lord protects David from capture and delivers his enemy into his power. The Lord has all these things in His historical control, a truth already perceived when David just happened to show up at Saul’s camp at the very moment Goliath was throwing out his challenge! This theme will be repeated in the next two chapters, the story of David and Nabal, and a second encounter with Saul.

Second, David shows mercy to Saul, whom he yet regards as Israel’s rightful king. This trait of mercy will also be manifest (and put to the test) in the two chapters that follow.

Throughout this period of great hardship and relentless persecution David learned by experience that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God has “called” David to become the next and better king, and David must bide God’s time and pleasure to reveal that call.

As Israel, at the time of Moses, endured a period of trial in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, so did David, who was put to the test in the desert preparatory to assuming leadership of Israel. These several chapters of First Samuel (23—26) form an account of that period.

In both chapter 24 and chapter 26, God puts the life of Saul into David’s hands. All David had to do, in order to seize the throne of Israel, was to reach out and take the life of the deranged king. David recognized each occasion as a temptation.

David did not regard kingship over Israel as “a thing to be seized” (harpagmos—Philippians 2:6). Although it was David’s to receive, it was not David’s to take.

In this respect, David’s temptation in this chapter puts the reader in mind of a temptation Satan put to Jesus in the desert:

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these things I will give tou if You will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)

This satanic “shortcut” to kingship was a temptation, inasmuch as it would have removed the necessity of the Cross. The Son of Man would have been seizing what only the Ancient of Days could give (Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 28:18). Jesus rejected the offer; he was content to serve God—“Him alone shalt thou serve” (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:10).

This temptation to seize power, a temptation common to both Jesus and David, corresponded to temptation experience by Israel during the years of the desert wandering. Jesus himself made the connection by citing Deuteronomy 6:16). This verse refers to Israel’s repeated disposition to seek temporary advantage by worshipping alien gods (Deuteronomy 12:30-31; Exodus 23:23-33).

Saul is bewildered by the mercy David shows him, since it conflicts with his own obsessive and murderous attitude. Saul was clinging desperately to what David refused to seize.

What we also see in David here is the refusal to retaliate. Given the Torah’s adherence to the principle of retaliation)“eye for eye, tooth for tooth”). David’s behavior represents a new and significant strike in the direction of Christian morality; although David did not—during the course of his long life—always rise to this heightened moral level, the evidence of it in the present scene is worthy of note.

In short, David refused to hasten the hour of his own ascent to the throne. In his patience, he possessed his soul.

Wednesday, June 8

First Samuel 25: 1 Samuel 25: In this chapter, roughly halfway through the description of
David’s exile, comes the endearing account of his meeting with Abigail and of their eventual marriage. Reckoned among the most winsome narratives in the Bible, it is a story interesting, and even intriguing, from several aspects. The principal interest of the biblical author himself is properly theological, especially the theme of wisdom.

Even though she will not become an active participant in the drama until verse 14, Abigail is immediately introduced with her husband Nabal, near the very beginning of the account. This stylistic arrangement allows the author to establish early what becomes a sustained contrast between the two characters throughout the story. Abigail is “a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance,” whereas her husband “was harsh and evil in his doings” (verse 3). The rest of the account, elaborating the differences between a wise, attractive woman and her sottish, offensive husband, thus becomes a narrative enactment of the tension between Wisdom and the Fool, a standard theme of the Bible’s sapiential literature.

Nabal is rash, compulsively driven, hot-tempered, sharp-tongued, stubborn, stingy, impossible to reason with, and very slow to learn. A major feature of Nabal’s moral imbecility is the failure to appreciate his wife’s wisdom. Long habituated to ignoring her example and her counsel, he has followed his own path to self-destruction. His household servants sum it up: “He is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him” (verse 17).

Notwithstanding the conditions of her marriage, however, Abigail is not a woman to sit around agonizing over her fate. On the contrary, she is the very embodiment of the resourceful, energetic, and “virtuous wife” described in Proverbs 31:10–31: loving and patient, disciplined, hard-working and efficiently organized, wise and discerning, and endowed with a gentle disposition and pleasant speech.

Abigail’s household is so well ordered that, with no prior notice, she can promptly put together an enormous meal (including two hundred loaves of bread!) to feed David’s entire army (verse 18). A woman of great practical insight, she acts with dispatch; three times in the one chapter we are told that she “made haste” (verses 18, 23, 42). The attentive reader gains the impression of a woman who decided, years ago, that her very survival would require an energetic but disciplined approach to life.

To save her household, therefore, Abigail goes out to meet the outraged David. This latter, sadly, is not far behind Nabal in rashness of temper. Vowing an exorbitant retaliation for Nabal’s arrogant affront, he too is on the point of playing the Fool (cf. Proverbs 14:17). But then Abigail, acting as David’s own personal Lady Wisdom, comes to seek him out, giving the “soft answer [that] turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1), instructing him not to “answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him” (26:4). As the personification of Wisdom on David’s behalf, Abigail “has slaughtered her meat, / She has mixed her wine, / She has also furnished her table. / She has sent out her maidens, / She cries out from the highest places of the city” (9:2–10).

In his hour of impending moral peril, then, David’s deliverance comes from receiving the instruction of Wisdom (Proverbs 15:32–33). He is rescued from an evil course of action that his anger had caused to seem proper (16:25; Ecclesiastes 7:9). The wise Abigail exhorts him to patience and restraint. She persuades him to abandon his foolish vow—compare this with Saul’s earlier vow in chapter 14—of blood-vengeance and to leave retribution to a provident God.

Thus rescued from the edge of moral catastrophe, David recognizes and praises Abigail as a woman of sense and discretion. The ultimate, decisive difference between David and Nabal is that the one will listen to Abigail’s exhortation and the other will not. The wise man gladly receives instruction and reproof, but the fool does not.

As the messenger of Wisdom, moreover, Abigail serves in a prophetic role. She perceives God’s true purpose in history, foretelling David’s ascent to the throne and the founding of his dynasty: “The Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house” (verse 28; see also verse 30). She asks for herself only to be “remembered” by David (verse 31), a modest petition that is providentially granted in the marriage that ends this lovely story with both irony and extravagance.

Thursday, June 9

First Samuel 26: First Samuel 26: This chapter describes a second encounter between Saul and David during the latter’s time of wandering in the desert as an exile.

There are distinct points of similarity between this story and the account found two chapters earlier—the encounter at the cave of En Gedi. These similarities include the betrayal of David by the friends of Saul, the irony of Saul’s seeking David and David’s finding Saul, David’s mercy and his reference to Saul as the Lord’s “anointed,” Saul’s retreat from further pursuit, and certain close resemblances in the conversations between the two men on both occasions.

In each account, the circumstances of their encounter give David an advantage over his adversary, an advantage that he exploits with singular restraint. In the first story, he cuts off the edge of Saul’s robe; in the second, he absconds with the spear and water jar placed near Saul’s head as he sleeps in camp. In both cases, the seized items serve as tokens to smite the conscience of Saul and bring him to a sense of remorse.

A major difference between the stories is the introduction of extra characters—Abishai and Abner—in the second. These are relatives of the antagonists; David is the uncle of Abishai, and Abner the uncle (or, perhaps, cousin) of Saul. From the perspective of the literary structure, the introduction of these extra characters ties the present episode to later—and deadly—encounters between them (cf. 2 Samuel 2—3).

Like the account of the cave at En Gedi (1 Samuel 24), the present story is largely structured on the contrasted characters of Saul and David. The one is mad and relentless in persecution, while the other is longsuffering and patient in mercy.
Whereas the one imagines himself threatened, the other—who truly is threatened—forgives the offense and foregoes vengeance. Saul is clearly the unworthy king; David is clearly worthy to be the king.

This double thesis is elaborated through an identifiable dramatic sequence: David is tempted for a second time. Two chapters earlier he had “turned the other cheek” to Saul’s offense, refusing to return evil for evil (24:17). Now, once again, David steadfastly declines to harm this king who has proved himself to be an enemy.

Nonetheless, the author’s moral contrast between the two men is far more than the development of an ethical theme. That is to say, the primary purpose of this narrative is not to convey a lesson in virtue. The author is not a Hebrew Aesop, nor even a biblical Plutarch. The moral structure of the story serves, rather, to illustrate the righteous judgment of God and His purposeful governance of history.

If the two main characters in this new account are less explicit on this thesis than they were in the En Gedi story (cf. 24:12,20), the narrator is not. Indeed, I suggest that the entire theological burden of the encounter is conveyed in a single and subtle detail, which is introduced into the narrative at the point where David, under cover of darkness, departs from the enclosure of Saul’s picket line: “So David took the spear and the jug of water by Saul’s head, and they got away; and no man saw or knew it or awoke. For they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them” (26:12).

With this masterful stroke of storytelling, the narrator inserts the divine action into the story: “a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them.” The author mimics, as it were, the subtlety of David’s secret intrusion into the camp of Saul. This introduction of God is so quiet, so unobtrusive, that the reader—like one of those pickets posted on the line—must be fully awake to observe it. This “deep sleep from the Lord” is the sole point at which the narrator reveals the true theological significance of the story: a vigilant God keeps guard over these events.

What transpires here is not just a conflict between two antagonists. It is an episode in the dramatic enactment of the divine judgment. David, the reader knows, will come to the throne. At the end, even Saul’s knows it: “Be blessed, my son David! You shall do great things and you will continue to prevail.”

The deep slumber that came over Saul’s camp that night was the historical lock, into which God inserted “the key of David.” He shuts, and no one opens; He opens, and no one shuts.

Friday, June 10

First Samuel 27: As this chapter begins, the reader is immediately aware that the story shifts from the external circumstances in David’s life to his internal world of reflection and resolve. Hitherto, only dialogue within the narrative has disclosed what David is thinking. Now, however, for the first time in the story, the narrator enters, directly into the mind of David and, as it were, records his thought: “David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul.” David now reaches the same conclusion that has probably occurred to the reader already! Saul cannot be trusted. David may not be so fortunate, if he meets the king a third time.

David’s decision to “go over” to Israel’s traditional enemies, the Philistines, is drastic. He has already received prophetic intimations—from Jonathan, Abigail, and even Saul—that he will, in due course, become King of Israel. He must realize that this decision to join the Philistines, on the face of it, renders those prophetic intimations less likely. Will the Israelites ever choose, as their king, a man who—as far as they can tell—abandoned them in order to collaborate with their enemies?

One suspects this question occurred to Saul, as well, because he foregoes further pursuit of David: “And it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath; so he sought him no more.” The situation lasts sixteen months, until the Battle of Mount Gilboah.

One further suspects that other Israelites at the time also regarded
David’s move, as described in this chapter, to represent betrayal and apostasy. The Philistine king depends on this impression among the Israelites, because he believes it will strengthen David’s loyalty to him.

Arguing for a frontier post for himself and his followers, David uses these sixteen months to continue smiting Israel’s Canaanite enemies to the south, cleverly disguising this activity from his Philistine overlord. His pretense requires the slaughter of whole Canaanite populations, so that no survivors can tell the truth.

David scruples over this slaughter no more than the original Israelites who conquered the territory back in the time of Joshua. Indeed, David surely regarded this policy as a continuation of Joshua’s own conquest, except that he does not scruple to take spoils from those whom he kills.

Questioned on the matter, David deceives the Philistine leader into believing that his conquests have been against his own countrymen, the people of Judah. Just as in the case of David’s acts of slaughter, the biblical author does not comment on the morality of this lie. It appears that the Philistines, in spite of David’s constant proclamations of loyalty, still have their nagging doubts. David’s words, after all—if carefully analyzed—suggest a touch of evasiveness!

Two can play that game, however. By making David’s men his own bodyguard, the Philistine king contrives to keep him close and under surveillance.

It is worth remarking here that the episodes in this chapter testify to the truthfulness of the biblical story. If the account of David’s rise to power were simply an idealized, Camelot-like narrative, the details in this chapter would never have found their way into the Bible. They are included for the simple reason that the biblical author knew them to be historical facts.