King David: As shrewd as a serpent?

King David: As shrewd as a serpent? November 6, 2014

KingDavidsg When I read 1 Samuel 29 I have a number of unanswered questions. At the top of the list is “Would David really have fought against King Saul alongside the Philistines he had been hiding with?”

It is hard to imagine that the answer would have been yes.

David told the Philistine king he would have been a loyal subject and fought his fellow Hebrews. The king believed him, but others reminded him of David’s long-forgotten past as a slayer of Philistines, and their view prevailed.

This is the same David who decided he would rather be wronged than take matters into his own hands against Saul.  And yet it is the same David who needed to be restrained by the wise woman, Abigail, from taking vengeance against a foolish man

David had run to the Philistines. One cannot help feel that perhaps he had backslidden a bit from his faith in God. The Bible doesn’t tell us this, so we are left with two possibilities here:

  1. Was his time with the Philistines simply a wise withdrawal from a conflict he didn’t need to fight with Saul?
  2. Or had he fallen away from the presence of the LORD at least to some extent?

Was David preparing to be a traitor to King Saul, and if necessary kill him? Or was he preparing to be a traitor to the king who had taken him in and hidden him when he had no home to go to?

Perhaps David himself didn’t even know the answer to this question.

We don’t see him seeking God’s will about what he should do. Indeed, his decision to run away and hide had perhaps been one made out of fear and not faith.

David seems to have been so shrewd it is hard for us as readers to even determine what his plan was going into this massive conflict between the king who ought to have hated him but had given him a home, and the one who ought to have loved him but had driven him out.

The contrast between these two kings is interesting, as one commentator noted:

Saul considered David his mortal enemy, yet he was in fact his most loyal subject; Achish considered David his most trusted subject, yet he was in fact his most dangerous enemy. (1)

It would seem most likely that King Achish was being naive and gullible in accepting that David would fight for him. But David had shrewdly built himself a reputation. He was prepared to bide his time,  and was not going to declare his hand.

Jesus told his followers to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

While we are not meant to deceive, we can perhaps learn something from the shrewdness of David.

Also, sometimes it is wise to let other people or situations make our decisions for us. Here, in the end, David did not have to actively choose sides in this great conflict. God had other plans for him.


1 Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 272.

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