In I Sam 28 Achish enlists David in his forces for the coming battle between the Princes of Philistine and the Israelites in which Saul meets his end. David's words to Achish are ambiguous, leaving us some wiggle room to believe that David did not actually intend to fight on the Philistine side, but in chapter 29 there is no doubt that David and his men do join Achish in the rendezvous with the Princes of Philistine at Apheq before the march to the Jezreel valley.

At the rendezvous, in 29:3 the Philistines ask Achish what these here "Hebrews" are doing in his forces. Clearly, they do not distinguish between the Hebrews and the Israelites. To them, "they all look the same". Probably as a result of the fickleness described in 14:21, the Philistine princes make it clear to Achish that they will not tolerate any Hebrew presence in their army. Achish sends David and his men back to guard the home front.

How are we to understand this brinkmanship on the part of David? And especially if we view I Samuel as a hidden polemic of the House of David against the House of Saul, how does this incident serve to enhance the image of David? It almost looks as though David was ready to fight, not only against Saul but also against Israel. Although we know that this would not have happened, it certainly does not look good.

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This whole section of Samuel is fraught with intrigue. It starts with 1st Samuel 27 where David takes his family, 600 men, and their families over to join Achish. But David's relationship with Achish is built on a lie: he did not switch loyalty away from his fellow Israelites.

As you point out, David keeps his options open when Achish prepared to join the other Philistines in battle with Israel:

At that time the Philistines mustered their forces for war, to take the field against Israel. Achish said to David, “You know, of course, that you and your men must march out with my forces.” David answered Achish, “You surely know what your servant will do.” “In that case,” Achish replied to David, “I will appoint you my bodyguard for life.”—1st Samuel 28:1-2 (NJPS)

David comes off here, as in much of the stories about him, as a man of daring who keeps his wits about him in moments of extreme danger. Ever since he acted insane in Abimelech's court, David seems to be confident of God's intervention in his favor. So the rest of chapter 28 stands in stark contrast: Saul lacks even the courage to visit a medium without disguising himself. He has no confidence in his own ability to make decisions and seeks out the council of the dead.

David, in 1st Samuel 29 and onward, worked both sides against the middle until he established his own kingship. While the Philistines and the House of Saul spent each other's strength in battle, David and his men captured the spoil of an Amalekite raiding party. With that, he strengthen his own position with the tribe of Judah. Rather than despairing when faced with opposition, David trusted God to bless him.

I can only speculate, but it seems the Philistine princes might have guessed right that if David had been allowed to come along, "he may become our adversary in battle." In other words, David may have been looking for an opportune time to betray his new "allies". That might not look the most honorable, but David often has a "flexible" notion of truth in the stories.

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    That is, if we were looking for an apologetic, we could say that David's battle plan was to betray the Philistines in their midst, and possibly even save the day for Saul, a further demonstration of both his loyalty, his bravery and his audacity ("hutspah" we wold call it now ;-). Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 2:45

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