At Ziklag David’s power received constant increase. The position he now occupied, in a strong town on the frontier towards Judah, no longer a wandering exile, but a great lord, able to find rewarding employment for the swords of resolute men, and the hopes of whose great future began to loom distinctly in the horizon, caused his force to be greatly increased by accessions from various quarters. In 1Ch_12:1-22, a long list is given, of persons of more or less consideration in their tribes, who, through disaffection with the government of Saul, made themselves voluntary exiles, and staked all their prospects in David’s cause. The list opens with members of the tribe of Benjamin, “Saul’s own brethren,” at which we might wonder, did we not recollect that the influence of Samuel had been very strong in that tribe, and that the seat of Saul’s government being therein, it had probably been more annoyed than more distant tribes, by some of his unpopular acts. This body of Benjamites were “armed with bows, and could use both the right hand and the left in hurling stones, and shooting arrows out of a bow.” They were therefore invaluable for breaking and discouraging an enemy’s force before coming to close quarters.
During the reign of Saul the tribes beyond the Jordan had taken a very independent part, and had gained great accessions of power and territory by wars waged on their own account with the neighboring nations. This, with their separation by the river from their brethren, and the greater separation effected by their pastoral habits, rendered very loose the connection between them and the agricultural tribes of the west, and it would seem that they acknowledged little, if any subjection to Saul. Indeed, it may appear that there was something like a small harassing civil war between them and Saul, for a strong party of Gadites, who crossed the Jordan at the time of flood, and marched through the country to join David at Ziklag, Note: Compare 1Ch_12:8-22; 1Ch_5:10; 1Ch_5:18-22. are described as having chased away the inhabitants of the river valley, on both banks, in their course. The names of their leaders are given, eleven in number, and they are described as “captains of the host: one of the least was over a hundred, and the greatest over a thousand”—not that they brought such numbers with them, but that they were such men as were, from their rank and military worth, entitled, when Israel was under arms, to act as centurions and chiliarchs in the army; but yet that they were in considerable force is shown by their exploit in the valley of the Jordan. It is said of these auxiliaries, that they were “men of war, fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains.” These were, then, trained and well-armed soldiers, of the kind most valued in ancient warfare, being most formidable in close action.
Not long after came over to him a large number of men, headed by persons of distinguished valor, from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. As this large force appeared before him, David was somewhat suspicious of their intentions, perhaps owing to the presence of the Benjamites, who might naturally be supposed attached to Saul, who was of their own tribe. He therefore went out to them, not only as an act of civility, but to ascertain their intentions before they were admitted into the fortress. This anecdote, found in an obscure place, Note: 1Ch_12:16-18. is interesting, as everything is that illustrates David’s position at this time, and as the leader of a troop so variously composed, and so difficult to manage, except by the influence of personal regard and high military character. The words in which David addressed the newly arrived force are striking, and well illustrate the kind of oratory by which he spoke to the hearts of men: “If ye be come peaceably unto me, to help me, mine heart shall be knit unto you; but if ye be come to betray me to mine enemies, seeing there is no wrong in mine hands, the God of our fathers look thereon and rebuke it.” These words awoke the enthusiasm of the strangers, whose sentiments found expression in the voice of their leader Amasai: Note: Perhaps the same as Amasa, son of David’s sister Abigail—at a later period Absalom’s general-in-chief, and designed by David to be his, but that he was slain by Joab. “Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse. Peace, peace, be unto thee, and peace be to thine helpers; for thy God helpeth thee.” They were then most gladly received—the leaders remaining in command of those they had brought over with them.
The king of Gath beheld these accessions to David’s force with satisfaction, reckoning upon their services in the approaching campaign against Saul. This expectation he declared to David. After the recent impositions practised upon him, he had no reason to doubt that this intimation would be most acceptable to David, and it is clear that he meant it as a mark of his confidence rather than as an exaction. So David was obliged to receive it, after the pretences he had made, and with seemingly cheerful acquiescence, said, “Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do.” Upon this, Achish, in testimony of his satisfaction, appointed him “keeper of his head”—that is, captain of his body-guard—a post of high honor and confidence, but which further embarrassed David’s position, by obliging him to be near the king in the approaching action, so that all his movements would be under the eye of his royal protector. Under this arrangement it would seem that some Philistines were added to his force, who, with his own band, might act as the royal guard; and the men thus added probably formed the Gittite (Gathite) troop under Ittai, which afterwards followed his fortunes, formed his own body-guard, and remained most faithfully attached to him under all the changes of his career, a striking instance of his extraordinary power of attracting the hearts of even foreigners to himself.
How David might eventually have deported himself, it may be difficult to conjecture. It is hard to believe that he would really have fought against his own nation, and quite as hard to suppose that he would have betrayed the generous confidence which Achish reposed in him. It may be that he would have confined himself to the duty which his new office imposed, of defending the person of the Philistine king. God was pleased, however, to release him from the embarrassment which his own false step and his disingenuousness had occasioned, by awakening the jealousy and alarm of the Philistine princes, who were startled to behold the large body of Hebrews in the rear, under the orders of David, when the army was drawn up near Jezreel, and deemed it possible that there might be a secret understanding between Saul and his son-in-law, or at least that David might intend to purchase forgiveness by betraying the Philistines. An incident that occurred at this moment, and which we learn from 1Ch_12:20, may have tended to confirm this suspicion. A troop of Manassites deserted from Saul, and went over to David, which might very well, in the eyes of the Philistines, look like a concerted movement to strengthen David, when, at some appointed signal, he should fall on the rear of the Philistines, while Saul contended with them in front. The chiefs of the other Philistine states, therefore, insisted they should withdraw; and, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the confiding Achish, they absolutely refused to allow David’s force to take any part in the action. Thus happily relieved from a most difficult position, the son of Jesse marched his men slowly back to Ziklag.