Loyal Defection

1 Samuel 29:3 Then the Philistine commanders asked, “What are these Hebrews doing here? ” Achish answered the Philistine commanders, “That is David, servant of King Saul of Israel. He has been with me a considerable period of time. From the day he defected until today, I’ve found no fault with him.”

The Philistine army rejects David’s help that day. Many commentators remark concerning this passage that David was spared by divine providence. They see David in a very precarious tension marching into battle with the Philistines and against his own people as if he’s burdened with a nervous and unanswered questioned, “Oh what shall I do?” But we know what he would do.  He would slay the Philistines before his own people. He was already in a habit of lying to Achish about his exploits and we see later that David will promptly kill the man who merely voices assistance in Saul’s suicide even at Saul’s own request. Does this sound like a Hebrew who has turned against his king and people? No, if David had made it into the battle alongside the Philistines that day, he surely would have slain again “ten thousands” of the Philistines from the rear.

But Achish sees David as reliable as an “Angel of God.” He’s confused defection with disloyalty.

David did defect from Israel. But he was not disloyal to Israel. This is a strange occurrence that is probably more rare than common, but signifies the possibility of defection and loyalty coexisting.  They are not bound by mutual exclusivity. Although the verdict is still out on Snowden, he may be an example of defection and loyalty coexisting. Bergdahl, however, will likely fall into the more common camp in which disloyalty and defection conspire.

There’s a relationship lesson in it for us. Because that conspiracy between defection and disloyalty is the common camp, we are apt to fail in considering that we might at some point find ourselves in a position that demands defection, but one in which we might retain loyalty.  It’s a dangerous supposition that the two must be conjoined for in those unsavory situations where defection from an abusive relationship is demanded, its misperceived twin, disloyalty, tends to impose on our own consciences a guilt when none is needed.  Guilt is one thing. In that it often drives one back into an ill relationship prematurely is another.  Maybe scripture here teaches that it is in fact possible to defect from a relationship and still remain loyal. And to think it impossible may be to welcome harmful codependency. For David, most certainly, a premature return to Israel motivated by a false disloyalty-derived guilt would have been most harmful. And for us, it is the same. If that faux condemnation is not reigned in by truth, we will be left with only one of two choices: either return and defect no longer or become bitter toward the one from whom we’ve fled.

Within the definition of loyalty, one finds the words faithfulness and allegiance. These are heart issues. David’s relationship with Israel in the days of King Saul may be the shining example of a person who had to defect from his nation but never lost heart for it.  Forced to leave a relationship? A church? A job? Leave. But don’t lose heart. Consider a humble preservation of loyalty, that state in which immediate restoration cannot be and yet bitterness is refused. It is a place of certain grace.


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