What? David the lying murderous soldier of fortune!??!!
In this chapter David goes off and becomes a mercenary solider for the philistines, the enemy he has been defending Israel from since killing Goliath.
He lives in a philistine town with permission of the king. He spends his time attacking other enemies of the Israelites, so in practice if not appearance he remains loyal to Israel.
The worst bit, he lies to the philistine king. He tells him he’s a traitor attacking his own people, raiding towns in Judah. To prevent the lie being discovered he kills everyone in the towns he raids.
So he goes in, takes all the valuable livestock etc. Then kills every man woman and child, so no one can report to the king that he was raiding an enemy of Israel, not an enemy of the philistines.
This episode of his life lasts a year and a half.
The chapter follows the pattern I thought observed in 25. After a story of great grace and heroism, we have a story that shows David much worse. One chapter on, one chapter off.
There’s a few theories about how to comprehend this.
He could have abandoned God. He’s bitter and cynical. He’s hunted a as a criminal in his home, after being anointed king by Samuel. He’s had chances to kill king Saul, however his respect for god’s anointed didn’t let him. And now his life makes no sense.
He’s tired of living on the run unfairly, so he forgets God and takes matters into his own hands, doing the only thing he’s good at: war and killing. Being a coldly brilliant and effective commander.
The collateral damage, the lives he takes to cover his lies is a chilling echo of his more famous sin, organising the “accidental” death of the husband of the woman he wants.
The second interpretation I think of as the nationalist one. It’s harder for modern people to take. In this view we the reader are supposed to applaud what he does.
He’s completing the work god’s chosen people never had the stomach for, getting rid of all the original inhabitants of the promised land, and what’s more doing it smart right under the nose of his enemy.
On this view lying to an enemy is acceptable to further god’s work. It’s all about the holiness of god’s people, no one else counts.
The narrator makes no editorial content on David’s actions. Except two things.
David makes the plan in his “own heart”, usually it mentions him finding god’s will for his actions.
Also he takes the plunder from his raids. When the Israelites were occupying the promised land they took nothing for themselves. That was a very hard and fast rule.
So I don’t believe we are being told to applaud David here. They are just telling us what he did. And it is shameful.
Thinking a lot about christian leaders recently in the context of the u.s. presidential election and closer to home. There is the tendency to admire them too much or demonise them too much.
David would later write:
Free me from the guilt of murder, of shedding a man’s blood, O God who saves me. Now my tongue, which was used to destroy, will be used to sing with deep delight of how right and just You are. Lord, pry open my lips that this mouth will sing joyfully of Your greatness.
I would surrender my dearest possessions or destroy all that I prize to prove my regret, but You don’t take pleasure in sacrifices or burnt offerings. What sacrifice I can offer You is my broken spirit because a broken spirit, O God, a heart that honestly regrets the past, You won’t detest.