According to all indications in the previous few chapters of 1 Samuel, David has been growing in his faith and learning to rest in God even in the most difficult of circumstances. But now, in one of the most startling about-faces in Scripture, David’s trust in God and His promises seems to vanish. How can it be that the one who is called the man after God’s heart, who has received the anointing oil and the promise of the throne, who has witnessed God deliver him from danger time and again in many and varied ways, who has grown to the point where he could refuse to strike Saul even when two golden opportunities presented themselves, and who has heard numerous assurances (even from Saul himself) that the throne will be his can suddenly conclude that none of that matters, that Saul will succeed in taking his life, and that he must flee to a pagan people? Why does David come to this unwarranted conclusion?
Matthew Henry writes, “He represented to himself the restless rage and malice of Saul (who could not be wrought into a reconciliation) and the trajectory of his own countrymen, witness that of the Ziphites, once and again; he looked upon his own forces, and observed how few they were, and that no recruits had come in to him for a great while, nor could he perceive that he got any ground; and hence, in a melancholy mood, he draws this dark conclusion: I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.” In short, it appears that David grows weary of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises, that he simply finds himself unable to endure the time until his succession to the throne any longer. He is living a hard, toilsome, unsettled life, ever on guard, always fearful of betrayal. And in this hardship, he takes his eyes off God and soon loses his assurance.
And so David decides that he must flee beyond Saul’s reach, and Philistia looks like the best option. Despite the fact that he so recently berated Saul for driving him away from the corporate worship of God (26:19), David is now ready to go voluntarily to an idolatrous land. In his despair, he forgets God’s explicit command that he stay in Judah (22:5) and neglects to seek God’s guidance via a priest or prophet. He simply resorts once again to his own devices. As he should know from experience, the results will be lamentable.