David Hides from Saul
Text: I Samuel 21:1-24:22
David Goes to Nob - I Samuel 21:1-9
David first heads south from Gibeah to Nob (which means “knoll or hill”) where the Tabernacle was currently located. Apparently, David was seeking advice from God (I Samuel 22:9-10). Ahimelech, the priest at the Tabernacle, is surprised to see David coming basically alone to the Tabernacle and asks David what is happening. David is the king’s son-in-law, so it is unusual for David to travel with only a few young men (Matthew 12:3-4; Mark 2:25-26). Clearly, something was wrong.
David lied and claimed that Saul had sent him on a secret mission and that he would meet the rest of his traveling companions later. While we understand the fear that drove David to lie, what he did was wrong and he changes at a later time (Psalms 119:29). David asks for five loaves of bread or whatever food can be spared. However, there is no ordinary food at the Tabernacle. The only thing Ahimelech has is the consecrated bread that has been replaced. This bread is restricted to the priests (Leviticus 24:9), but Ahimelech was willing to bend the rules so long as the young men and David had not made themselves unclean by having sex with women recently (Leviticus 15:18). David said that none of them had been with women recently. They were clean when they left on this trip and did nothing to make themselves unclean while journeying, so all of them are clean. So Ahimelech gave David the old consecrated bread. While Ahimelech showed David mercy, Jesus later states that what was done was wrong (Matthew 12:3-4).
It turns out that one of Saul’s servants, an Edomite named Doeg, who was in charge of Saul’s sheep, was there and noted what was happening. He was detained before the Lord, that is he was restricted from traveling at that time, which can happen due to uncleanness or fulfilling a vow.
David also asked Ahimelech if there was a weapon available. He claimed that his mission was so urgent that he neglected to bring a weapon with him. The only weapon available was Goliath’s sword which was stored behind the ephod. David took it.
David Goes to Gath - I Samuel 21:10-15
From Nob, David heads west to Gath and the Philistines’ territory. Saul is looking for him, so what better place to hide than in the territory of Saul’s enemies? There was too much of a chance that hiding in a nation at peace with Saul would lead to David being handed over to Saul as a goodwill gesture. Though David famously slew Goliath, he did that as a teenager and perhaps he hoped that no one would recognize him as an adult.
The Philistine king was named Achish. In Psalms 34, a song commemorating the events here, Achish is referred to as Abimelech, which is the title of Achish’s office.
Unfortunately, David is identified by Achish’s servants. They pointed out that this was the man everyone sung about killing tens of thousands of Philistines. In a panic, David pretended to be insane by scribbling on the doors and drooling down his beard.
Achish is annoyed that his servants bring him a madman. He said he had enough madmen to deal with without having another living in his house.
Side Topic: Psalms 34
Psalms 34 is a song that David wrote when he pretended to be insane and was driven away from Achish. The text of the song is an acrostic. Each verse begins with a letter in the Hebrew alphabet. This is not the work of a man scared out of his wits. He is greatly afraid, but he remains reasonable.
David starts out proclaiming that he will bless the Lord (Psalms 34:1-3). Not just when things go well but at all times (Psalms 34:1). He will bless, not just to himself, but he will openly proclaim it so as to give courage to the humble (Psalms 34:2). Nor will he bless God quietly by himself. He heartily praises God and wants others to join him (Psalms 34:3).
The reason for David’s boldness in praising God is due to the fact that God answers prayers (Psalms 34:4-7). God delivered Dave from all of his fears (Psalms 34:4). When people look to God for help, they will never have cause for shame (Psalms 34:5). Instead, they are enlightened by God. David cried out to God and was answered (Psalms 34:6). But that is because God protects and rescues all who fear Him (Psalms 34:7). Notice the alteration between David’s personal experience and what God does for all people. David is pointing out that we too have reasons to rejoice.
In particular, God is good to His people (Psalms 34:8-10). Just sample it and see how happy is a person who relies on God (Psalms 34:8). When you fear God, there is no lack of good (Psalms 34:9-10). God does not withhold anything good from the righteous (Psalms 84:11).
So exactly how does a person fear God? (Psalms 34:11-14). In simple terms, as if addressing children,
David explains that if you want to have a long and good life then ...
- Don’t talk of doing evil
- Don’t lie
- Don’t do evil; instead, do good
- Pursue peace
It is basically the same things that Peter said in I Peter 3:10-11. Peace is something people long for and the Bible reminds us that it is achieved, in part, through thankfulness (Philippians 4:6-7).
God cares for righteous people (Psalms 34:15-22). He watches over and hears the righteous but He cuts off even the memory of the wicked. God delivers the righteous. He is near to comfort the brokenhearted. No matter how many are the afflictions, God delivers the righteous. In contrast, evil destroys the wicked. The Lord redeems the righteous and they will not be condemned.
David Goes to the Cave of Adullam -I Samuel 22:1-2
“Adullam was an ancient royal city of the Canaanites, in the neighborhood of Jarmuth, Socoh, Azekah, and Shaaraim, all places in or near the valley of Elah (Joshua 12:15; Joshua 15:35). In this valley, about 2½ miles S. of the point where it takes an abrupt turn to the west, some ruins have been discovered bearing the name Aid el Ma, which is thought to be a corruption of Adullam. They lie at the foot of a high rounded hill, almost isolated by subordinate valleys, and commanding a fine view over the main valley to the east. It forms a natural fortress, well adapted for the site of a city, which numerous ruins shew once stood there. The sides of the tributary valleys are lined with rows of caves, amply sufficient to accommodate David’s 400 men, and still used for habitations” [Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges].
The cave David hid in was located near the ancient city of Adullam. When his family heard that David was on the run and where he was located, they all joined him there.
Men who were in distress, debt, or dissatisfied with Saul’s reign also joined him. Soon David was commanding a group of about 400 men. The fact that David is able to pull such an assortment of men into a military unit shows his abilities.
David Takes His Parents to Moab - I Samuel 22:3-4
For safety, David decides to move his parents out of the country. He took them to Mizpah in Moab and left them in the care of the king of Moab until David’s life became more stable. Meanwhile, David stays in a place called the Stronghold. The Hebrew word refers to a watchtower or mountain height. Most likely it was located in Moab territory and near Mizpah (modern-day Kerak in Jordan).
David Is Warned and Moves to the Forest of Hereth - I Samuel 22:5
Gad, a prophet of God, comes to see David and warns him not to stay in the Stronghold but, instead, to return to the territory controlled by Judah. So David moves to the forest of Hereth south of Jerusalem.
Saul Kills the Priests in Nob - I Samuel 22:6-23
Saul heard that David and his men had been seen. Sitting on the peak of a hill so that he was above everyone else. Note that Saul’s servants are from Saul’s own tribe instead of from all of Israel. He demands to know why his servants think that David will give them farmland or make them leaders in the army. Notice that Saul sees himself as a benefactor (Luke 22:25). He accuses his servants of conspiring against him because none revealed that Jonathan had made a covenant with David. None of them feel sorry for Saul. Saul believes that Jonathan had incited David to lead a rebellion against his own father.
Doeg reveals that he saw David at Nob talking with Ahimelech the priest. Doeg said that Ahimelech had inquired of God on behalf of David and gave David provisions and Goliath’s sword. Saul then summoned all the priests in Nob. When they arrived, Saul immediately accused Ahimelech of conspiring with David against the king. Saul stated that Ahimelech gave David help in order for David to ambush Saul.
Ahimelech is surprised as he was under the impression that David was loyal to the king, as well as being Saul’s son-in-law. He has inquired of God on behalf of David for a while now, so the recent request was not unusual. If there is a problem, Ahimelech and his household are unaware of it.
Saul immediately orders all the priests to be killed because they helped David and did not inform Saul that David had fled their way. However, the guards refused to follow Saul’s order. Throughout Saul’s reign, the people had been following Saul’s orders, even when they were clearly unwise, but this order went too far. So Saul ordered Doeg, the Edomite, to kill the priests and he murdered all 85 of them. Doeg then went to Nod and murdered everyone in the town, including the women and children. Thus, the prophecy against Eli’s house was fulfilled (I Samuel 2:31-32). One of Ahimelech’s sons, Abiathar managed to escape and he joined David.
When David heard the account of what happened, he blamed himself for the death of the priests and the townspeople because he knew Doeg would be a problem but he had done nothing about Doeg that day. David then invited Abiathar to stay with him. Psalms 52 was written about this occasion.
David Rescues Keilah from the Philistines - I Samuel 23:1-6
Word came to David that the Philistines were attacking the town of Keilah and stealing the harvest. David asks God (probably through Abiathar) whether he should handle the situation and God tells him to attack the Philistines and rescue the town. David’s men, however, were afraid to go. They thought it was bad enough in Judah -- going to Keilah to face the Philistines would be worse. So David asks God again and God assures him that he will win the battle.
So David and his men went and beat the Philistines, rescuing the town and its livestock.
We are then told how David had been able to ask God what to do. When Abiathar had fled Nob, he brought the ephod which contained the Urim and Thummim with him (Leviticus 8:7-8; Numbers 27:31; I Samuel 28:6).
Saul Tries to Trap David at Keilah - I Samuel 23:7-13
Saul hears that David is at Keilah and he believes David is trapped because Keilah is a walled city. Saul orders his army to lay siege against Keilah.
David hears about Saul’s order and asks God what to do. He wanted to know if he stayed, would the men of Keilah turn him over to Saul in order to save their city? God assures David that Saul will come and that the men of Keilah will give David over to Saul. So David and his 600 men left the city and scattered, preventing Saul from tracking the group.
David Goes to the Wilderness of Ziph - I Samuel 23:14-18
David then goes to the wilderness of Ziph. Though Saul sought for David, he wasn’t able to locate him. At Horesh, Jonathan goes to meet David and encourages him. Jonathan is certain that Saul will not find David and that David will one day be king of Israel. Jonathan plans to be at David’s side supporting him. Saul knows this, which is why he opposes David.
Once again, the two of them made a covenant before God, and Jonathan returned to his home.
- Why is Jonathan so easily able to find David while Saul can’t find him?
The Ziphites Betray David to Saul - I Samuel 23:19-23
The people who lived in the Wilderness of Ziph decided to tell Saul that David was hiding in their territory. They give Saul his exact location and invite Saul to come down. They would then hand David over to Saul.
Saul blesses the people of Ziph and asks them to keep an eye on David because he is cunning. Saul wants to know about all his hiding places. Then Saul will come and search him out.
David Goes to the Wilderness of Maon - I Samuel 23:24-28
But while the Ziphites were talking to Saul, David moved his operations to the Wilderness of Maon. Saul heard that David was in the Wilderness of Maon and came after him.
At one point Saul’s men were on with side of a mountain and David and his men were on the other. However, they were surrounded by Saul’s men without a way to escape. By “coincidence” a message arrived to Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again, so Saul hurried away with his army to address the bigger threat. David named the place “Rock of Escape.”
David Goes to the Wilderness of Engedi - I Samuel 23:29-24:22
David then moves to the Wilderness of Engedi where there were a number of strongholds.
Saul brought 3,000 of his troops to the Wilderness of Engedi and camped at the Rocks of the Wild Goat. Saul had to relieve himself, so he entered one of the nearby caves not knowing that David and his men were hiding deep in that cave. David’s men suggested that God had given Saul into David’s hand to do as he saw fit. But instead of killing Saul, David secretly cut off the edge of Saul’s garment. He refused to harm Saul because he was anointed by God to be king. David was not going to harm the man God had chosen. Eventually, Saul left the cave.
After Saul left the cave, David came out and hailed Saul, calling him his lord and king. When Saul turned, David bowed low to the ground before him. David then asks why Saul thinks he wants to harm him. He pointed out that the men with him wanted David to kill Saul in the cave, but David had told them “no.” He then showed Saul the cut piece from Saul’s robe as proof that David had the opportunity to kill Saul, but he had not. He emphasized that he is not evil nor is he rebelling against Saul even though Saul is unjustly seeking to kill David. David asks God to judge between the two of them as to who is righteous. Saul might harm David, but David will not raise his hand against the man God had anointed.
When David stops talking, Saul asks if he hears David’s voice and begins to weep. He realizes that David could have killed him and did not. He declares that David was more righteous than he had been. People don’t let their enemies walk away, so he realizes that David doesn’t see Saul as an enemy, despite how Saul had been treating him. Saul prays that God rewards David with good. He also realizes that David will be king and will do great things to establish Israel. All Saul asks is a promise that David will not destroy Saul’s descendants and cut off his lineage. David promises this to Saul and Saul leaves. David, however, returns to his stronghold.