David and his men were fighting against robbers in the deserts south of Philistia and Israel.
Groups of robbers had lived there since ancient times. They had established their own rules and customs about how they operated.
Each group consisted of several hundred men with a chief (leader). The chief would establish friendly relations with the chiefs of some groups, but other groups would be his enemies. Each group showed great kindness towards their friends, but they dealt cruelly with their enemies.
To King Achish, Davidís men would have seemed like one of those groups of robbers. Davidís men gained their property by attacks on those groups which were their enemies. Davidís men had friendly relations with Achish, so they did not cause any trouble for him. They were also friendly with Ittai and his men (2 Samuel 15:18-22), who probably supported them in their attacks.
There was, however, one important way in which Davidís men differed from the groups of robbers. When the robbers attacked Philistia, Israel or each other, they tried to take as many prisoners as possible. They could make a lot of money when they sold those prisoners as slaves. They kept the most beautiful women for themselves.
David would not allow his men to behave in such a manner. If his men caught any of their enemies, they must kill that person. They could not keep a man as a slave, or a woman for sex. David had a special reason for that rule. He did not want Achish to realise that he was fighting on behalf of the people in southern Israel (27:10-12).
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© 2014, Keith Simons.