David feels compelled to leave his land, the land over which he will reign according to God’s promises. He seeks refuge with Achish, the king of Gath, a Philistine city. Saul will certainly not seek him among Israel’s greatest enemies. Saul will also not dare to get there. However, he is recognized by the servants of Achish. They even call him “the king of the land”. They tell Achish what was sung about David. This song was sung after his victory over the champion of the Philistines (1Sam 18:6-76It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments.7The women sang as they played, and said,
“Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.”
When David notices that he has been recognized, he becomes afraid. Fear is always a bad counselor and an enemy of faith and love. For perfect love drives out fear (1Jn 4:1818There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.). Someone grows and gains victories to the extent that in faith he conquers fear. However, David is not guided by his faith during this period. He knows that the Philistines see in him a mighty enemy which by chance they have gotten in their hands by his coming (Psa 56:11For the choir director; according to Jonath elem rehokim. A Mikhtam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.
Be gracious to me, O God, for man has trampled upon me;
Fighting all day long he oppresses me.
). He knows no other solution to this problem than to behave like a madman. He presents himself as someone who has lost his mind.
David descends here far below the level of a believer. This is not a stratagem, but a desperate act. A believer who consciously behaves like an idiot gives a totally wrong example. He casts a reproach upon the Name of the Lord. Let's not judge David too harshly. How many times have we consciously behave ourselves differently out of fear of manifestations of enmity in the world and not been witnesses to the Lord Jesus, to put it mildly?
The downfall of David is great. His conduct causes Ahimelech to chases him away (Psa 34:11[A Psalm] of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
). Certainly, he has escaped from a dangerous situation, but how insulting is his salvation. There is a lot to be ashamed of. What remains is the grace of God.
That God’s grace also plays a role in this whole event, is shown by the two psalms that originated in his heart during his stay with Achish in Gath. [Ahimelech and Achish are two names for the same person. Ahimelech is the title of the prince of the Philistines (Gen 20:22Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.), like ‘Pharaoh’ among the Egyptians. Achish is his own name (1Sam 21:1010Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath.).] In the event described here, we see his outward behavior. In both psalms we see what is going on in his heart during that event.
Psalm 56 shows that his outward behavior is not the language of his heart. His heart has gone out to the LORD in these circumstances. Psalm 34 shows what is in his heart when he is afraid of Achish. His heart calls to God and He saves him, for his heart is broken and he has a contrite spirit.