Shemuel Alef Chapter 29
David and his men find themselves in a bit of a conundrum. King Akhish is readying himself to go out to battle against the Jewish people, and he naturally expects that David and his entourage will accompany him. This is the first time David is put in a position where his loyalties to Akhish and to Israel are in direct and open conflict with one another. Although David has convinced Akhish that he has defected from his homeland and joined the cause of the Pelishtim, we know that this conversion was not entirely sincere. In a war between the Philistines and the Jews, David would have no choice but to either side with his brethren and reveal that he has systematically misled his Pelishti hosts or sacrifice any hope of ever returning to Israel by fighting alongside the Philistines.
When the other Pelishti leaders and officers see that David and his men have arrived at the garrison, they complain to King Akhish. Although Akhish protests that David has been nothing but a faithful servant ever since he relocated to Philistine territory, the other Pelishtim harbor serious suspicions about him and refuse to accept his presence in their midst. They fear that he is still secretly allied with his Jewish brethren.
Akhish approaches David and explains that he trusts David completely but his associates have their doubts and will not consent to welcome David into their camp. David questions Akhish’s willingness to go along with the other Philistines, pointing to his record of trustworthy and devoted service, and taking offense at being rejected. Akhish reiterates that he sees no fault in David whatsoever but that he cannot persuade his colleagues to accept his view. He instructs David to leave the next morning and head home to Tziqlag.
One interesting observation we can make about this brief chapter is the fact that, when he wishes to emphasize how much he trusts David, Akhish takes an oath in the name of Hashem, using the Tetragrammaton or four-letter Divine appellation that is uniquely Jewish. We would normally have expected him to refer to “God” or to use some other generic term. The implication is that David likely taught Akhish some of his ideas about Hashem and religion.
Politically, David had joined the Philistines, but religiously he remained a Jew. It should come as no surprise that a man who wrote in Tehillim/Psalms that “I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and I will not be embarrassed” spoke freely, openly and passionately about Torah and the true concept of the Creator of the Universe, and that Akhish benefited from some very enlightening conversations with him. Truthfully, part of our mandate as Jews is to share the wisdom of Torah with all of humanity to the extent possible.
We see this in Parashat Lekh Lekha in the way Avraham interacted with and attempted to educate “Malkitzedeq, King of Shalem” after the war against the four kings. There, Malkitzedeq praises “El Elyon”, the highest deity in the hierarchy of mythological gods, but stops short of recognizing Hashem Who is absolutely unique and transcends all other forces. Avraham responds by taking an oath in the name of “Hashem, El Elyon”, emphasizing that Hashem is not just “first among equals”, but is qualitatively different from everything else.Similarly, we learn in Parashat Miqetz about the way Yosef guided Pharoah toward a more sophisticated understanding of the Creator and how He communicates to human beings through dreams and prophecy.
We can assume that David followed the same path in his interactions with King Akhish, sharing much of his Torah knowledge with him. Therefore, it stands to reason that Akhish is not merely flattering David by using the name of David’s tribal deity; Akhish is invoking a name that he understands and recognizes as meaningful in its own right.
Another practical lesson we can derive from this story is the way that David accepts the “bad news” from Akhish. It must have been an enormous relief for him to learn that he would not be expected to “take sides” in some kind of ultimate showdown between the Pelishtim and Israel. Nonetheless, rather than immediately acquiesce to Akhish’s suggestion that he return to Tziklag, David protests at first, demonstrating his sincerity and eagerness to join his new master on the battlefield.
A person shows his true colors in his response to being let off the hook; David realized this and made an even deeper and more abiding impression on Akhish by expressing some resistance to being excluded from the military operation. Simply stated, when the boss tells you that you are relieved of some responsibility, don’t show too much exuberance in response to the news. He may interpret it as a sign that you are not too thrilled to be working for him and therefore you are especially happy to have been given a break.