A Psalm of David, when he changed his countenance before Abimelech, who banished him from his presence, and he departed from him.
David gives thanks to God for a signal deliverance, and takes occasion from it to celebrate his perpetual grace towards all the saints, and to exhort them both to trust in him, and to the study of godliness; affirming, that the only way to pass through life happily, is to walk holily and harmlessly in the world, in the service and fear of God. It is obvious from the title what particular instance of God's favor he here celebrates. When he was driven to King Achish, as recorded in 1 Samuel 27:2, whom, with the exception of Saul, he accounted the deadliest of all his enemies, it was not probable that he would ever be able to make his escape from him. The only means, therefore, he had of saving his life was to feign himself mad by frothing at the mouth, looking fiercely, and disfiguring his countenance. Nor is this to be wondered at; for Achish, being disappointed of the confident hope of victory which he had, and attributing to David alone both the loss which he had sustained and the dishonor which he had received, burned with implacable hatred against him. In allowing him to escape, therefore, contrary to his own expectation, and the expectation of all other men, David acknowledges that there had been exhibited a memorable instance of God's favor towards him, which may be serviceable for the general instruction of the whole Church. Instead of Achish, Abimelech is here employed; and it is probable that the latter name had been the common designation of the monarchs of the Philistines, as Pharaoh was the common name of the monarchs of Egypt, and Caesar that of the Roman Emperors, which was borrowed from the name of Julius Caesar, who had first seized the imperial power among the Romans. We know that many ages before David was born, the kings who reigned in Gerar in the time of Abraham were called Abimelech. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at, that this name should be handed down from age to age among their posterity, and become the common name of all the kings of Palestine. The Hebrew word tm, taäm, which I have translated countenance, signifies also tasting, understanding, and therefore might be pertinently interpreted in this manner, that he appeared foolish and without taste. The verb from which it is derived properly signifies to taste, and therefore is often transferred to reason, understanding, and all the senses. Accordingly, David having feigned himself mad, the term understanding is very appropriate. Now, although he escaped by this subtle device, he doubts not that he was delivered by the hand of God; nor does he ascribe the praise of his safety to the pretense of madness, but rather acknowledges that the cruelty of his enemy had been softened by the secret influence of God, so that he who formerly burned with rage against him had been pacified by an artifice. Certainly it was not to be expected that Achish would have driven away in contempt from him so brave a man, whom he had found a dangerous enemy to his whole kingdom, and from whom he had suffered such severe losses. This gives rise to the question, Whether David feigned himself mad under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? For by his appearing to connect together these two things, - the pretense of madness and the happy result of this pretense, it might be inferred that the same Spirit by whom this psalm was dictated suggested this stratagem to the mind of David, and directed him in deceiving King Achish. I answer, that although God sometimes delivers his people, while at the same time they err in choosing the means, or even fall into sin in adopting them, yet there is nothing inconsistent in this. The deliverance, therefore, was the work of God, but the intermediate sin, which is on no account to be excused, ought to be ascribed to David. In this way Jacob obtained the blessing by the favor and good pleasure of God; and yet the subtlety of the mother, with which the obtaining of it was mixed up, was, we know, sinful on her part. It may then sometimes happen that the event shall be brought to pass by the Spirit of God, and yet the saints whom he may employ as instruments shall swerve from the path of duty. It would therefore be a superfluous task to endeavor to exculpate David, who is rather to be blamed, because, by not committing his life entirely to God, he exposed himself and the grace of the Spirit, by whom he was governed, to the derision of the ungodly. I would not positively assert it, but there appears in this deception some token of infirmity. If it should be said that David here magnifies the grace of God, because by changing his countenance and his speech he escaped death, I again reply, that David expressly mentions this circumstance, in order to render the grace of God still more illustrious, in that his fault was not laid to his charge.