Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1Samuel 29:1-11) David and his Band is looked upon by the Philistine Lords with Suspicion, and is obliged to withdraw; preserving still the Friendship of Achish.
Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek: and the Israelites pitched by a fountain which is in Jezreel.(1) Aphek.—The name Aphek was a common one, and was given to several “places of arms” in Canaan. It signifies a fort or a strong place. This Aphek was most likely situated in the Plain of Jezreel. Eusebius places it in the neighbourhood of En-dor.
By a fountain which is in Jezreel.—“By a fountain.” The LXX. wrongly adds “dor,” supposing the spring or fountain to be the well-known En-dor—spring of Dor—but En-dor, we know, lay many miles away from the camp of Saul. This “fountain” has been identified by modern travellers as Ain-Jalûd, the Fountain of Goliath, because it was traditionally regarded as the scene of the old combat with the giant. It is a large spring which flows from under the cavern in the rock which forms the base of Gilboa. “There is every reason to regard this as the ancient fountain of Jezreel, where Saul and Jonathan pitched before their last fatal battle, and where, too, in the days of the Crusades, Saladin and the Christians successively encamped.”—Robinson, Palestine, 3:167, 8.
And the lords of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands: but David and his men passed on in the rereward with Achish.(2) And the lords of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands.—The orderly advance of this great military nation is thus described. The “lords” a different term to the expression “princes.” There were apparently in the Philistine federation five sovereign princes, of whom Achish of Gath was one. Beneath these were other chieftains, who seemingly had great control over the sovereign princes.
David and his men.—David, in return for the lands round Ziklag given him by the King of Gath, seems to have owed a kind of military service to his suzerain Achish. The difference in the arms and equipment of the Israelitish warriors in the division of David, which was marching under the standard of Gath, no doubt excited questions. The general appearance of the Hebrews was, of course, well known to their hereditary Philistine foes.
Then said the princes of the Philistines, What do these Hebrews here? And Achish said unto the princes of the Philistines, Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, which hath been with me these days, or these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell unto me unto this day?(3) These days, or these years.—An indefinite expression of time. The versions have translated it in various ways. The English Version here is literal. The Syrlac singularly renders, “this time, and time, and months.” The LXX. is not very easy to understand here, but it apparently took the expression as signifying “two years.” Maurer would translate, “who has been with me alway, for days, or rather for years.”
And the princes of the Philistines were wroth with him; and the princes of the Philistines said unto him, Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which thou hast appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be an adversary to us: for wherewith should he reconcile himself unto his master? should it not be with the heads of these men?(4) Go down.—This is a technical military expression, used constantly, on account of the necessity of the troops descending from the hill country in which they were encamped to the plain in order to fight.
Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands?(5) Of whom they sang.—The folk-songs, which had originally excited Saul’s jealousy of the young hero David, were current among the Philistines, who seem to have been a musical people. David’s having apparently learned and practised Philistine music when in Gath, which he subsequently introduced into Jerusalem, has been already noticed.
Then Achish called David, and said unto him, Surely, as the LORD liveth, thou hast been upright, and thy going out and thy coming in with me in the host is good in my sight: for I have not found evil in thee since the day of thy coming unto me unto this day: nevertheless the lords favour thee not.(6) Surely, as the Lord liveth.—This seems a strange oath for an idolatrous prince like the King of Gath to make use of—“By the life of Jehovah.” It was probably the equivalent of the real oath of Achish, unless, as Keil supposes, the Philistine friend of David, in his oath, used the formula which he thought would be most acceptable to David, whom he looked upon as injured falsely by the suspicion of the Philistine leaders.
And David said unto Achish, But what have I done? and what hast thou found in thy servant so long as I have been with thee unto this day, that I may not go fight against the enemies of my lord the king?(8) And David said unto Achish, But what have I done?—David’s words have a ring of falseness in them; he never contemplated fighting in the ranks against Israel, and yet he speaks thus. The generous confidence of the chivalrous Achish is here in painful contrast with the dissimulation of the Israelite chieftain, David.
It has been suggested that these suspicions of his loyalty on the part of the Philistine leaders had been aroused by David deliberately, in order to bring about his dismissal from the army in the field. This is possible, for the situation in which David now finds himself was most embarrassing from every point of view.
And Achish answered and said to David, I know that thou art good in my sight, as an angel of God: notwithstanding the princes of the Philistines have said, He shall not go up with us to the battle.(9) As an angel of God.—Again a simile, which Achish most likely borrowed from Hebrew thought, and made use of in his graceful courtesy as likely to be acceptable to David.
Wherefore now rise up early in the morning with thy master's servants that are come with thee: and as soon as ye be up early in the morning, and have light, depart.(10) With thy master’s servants.—The words have perplexed expositors. It is hardly the expression we should expect Achish to use of David’s followers. All Israelites were, of course, “subjects of Saul,” but the term would hardly be used except by one hostile to David, as Nabal was; he once (1Samuel 25:10) made use of an insulting term of a like nature to David. Achish, we know, seemed ever kindly disposed to the outlawed son of Jesse. A probable suggestion has, however, been lately made, that the reference here is to those tribes of Manasseh (comp. 1Chronicles 12:19-21) who had only lately come over to David. Was it not also possible that these very Manassites, who had only very recently deserted the king’s cause for David’s, were known to some of the Philistines as Saul’s soldiers, and that their suspicions had been awakened in the first place by finding them marching under David’s standard in the division of Gath?
So David and his men rose up early to depart in the morning, to return into the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel.(11) To return into the land of the Philistines.—No doubt David and his officers rejoiced at their escaping the terrible alternative of either turning traitors to the kindly man who had so hospitably received them in their distress, or of appearing in arms with the Philistines when they came into collision with the Israelites under Saul. But they little thought in how sore a danger their wives and children and homes were at this juncture. Their release from the Philistine army was not a moment too soon to save these.