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I Samuel 21-24 Listen
1 Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee?
2 And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place.
3 Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present.
4 And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.
5 And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.
6 So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.
7 Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.
8 And David said unto Ahimelech, And is there not here under thine hand spear or sword? for I have neither brought my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.
9 And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod: if thou wilt take that, take it: for there is no other save that here. And David said, There is none like that; give it me.
10 And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.
11 And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?
12 And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath.
13 And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.
14 Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me?
15 Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?
David, weaponless and foodless heads out of town to Nob (where the tabernacle is now located) to see the priest where he picks up some holy bread and that sword he confiscated from Goliath (Goliath was finished with it). The bread had been displayed on the Table of Shewbread in the Tabernacle (12 loaves: Exodus 25:2330, see notes); it ordinarily was to be eaten only by the priests and replaced every sabbath day (Leviticus 24:1-9, see notes). Apparently nobody ate it then. Ahimelech, the priest, bends some priesthood rules to accommodate David and his men. Ahimelech's no-women stipulation of verses 4-5 refers to the provisions of the Law of Moses found in Leviticus 15:16-18 (see notes). Actually, David tells Ahimelech a couple of lies to pull it off without the fact being discovered that Saul was really trying to kill him. Though a little suspicious, the priest cooperates. Incidentally, Jesus cites this occasion to the Pharisees (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5, see notes) when they criticize his disciples for plucking corn from the corn field on the sabbath, declaring it to be unlawful.
As it turns out, there was a loyalist to Saul present at the time - Doeg the Edomite. We'll see this name in chapter 22 (see below) when he carries his observations of David's transaction with Ahimelech back to Saul. Immense consequences follow, though Ahimelech was really in no position to resist David's request.
Then David flees to Achish, the king of Gath (a Philistine city). What kind of a story can he tell the king of Gath? How about just faking insanity? That seems like a good idea to David. These Philistines do remember that David was the one about whom the women had sung the song, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." The lyrics to that Hebrew hit were about slain Philistines! You know...that song had caused a lot of problems for David - causing Saul to become jealous back in I Samuel 18 (see notes). They were not misled concerning David's real identity when the servants of King Achish say in verse 11, "Is not this David the king of the land?" Yup! Acting like a lunatic may be the only way out of this predicament. Look at verses 13-15; David did a command performance here to imitate a mad man. The insanity defense served him well enough to help him escape.
1 David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him.
2 And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.
3 And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me.
4 And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold.
5 And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth.
In verse 1 we see that David has fled to the cave Adullam, about 2 miles south of the scene of Davids triumph over Goliath, and about 13 miles west from Bethlehem. Numerous caverns have been discovered there, and some of them are large enough to hold several hundred people. David's Moabite roots (Ruth was his great grandmother: Ruth 4:18-22, see notes) perhaps gave David the idea to turn to Moab. That's probably not the reason Mizpeh, the King of Moab, gave David refuge. It was probably because Saul had been at war with Moab (mentioned in I Samuel 14:47, see notes). As a matter of fact, David's family joined him there as well; who knows what Saul might do to David's family? David stayed there awhile until Gad (who would become his personal prophet) told him he should move on, after which he moves back into Judah (verse 5). We see that David has put together a rag-tag army of Jewish-society misfits (verse 2) totaling about 400 men.
Abiathar was the only surviving priest of the line of Eli after Saul's massacre of the High Priest Ahimelech's family. Abiathar demonstrates his faithfulness to David here (what choice did he have?). Later on, when David ascends the throne of Judah, Abiathar is appointed high priest. However, Zadok, of the house of Eleazar, is also the high priest. They share this role throughout the remainder of David's reign until Solomon has him deposed for disloyalty at the beginning of his reign. That brings to a close the high priesthood of Eli's descendants as was prophesied in I Samuel 2:27-36 (see notes).
Interestingly enough, In Numbers 25:11-13 (see notes) it was decreed that priests from that time forward would come only from the line of Aaron's grandson, Phinehas, who was Eleazar's son. This was because of his heroic deed in the midst of sin among the Hebrews. That would indicate that the priesthood line of Eli, Ahimelech and Abiathar were all in violation of that decree anyway.
6 When Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men that were with him, (now Saul abode in Gibeah under a tree in Ramah, having his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing about him;)
7 Then Saul said unto his servants that stood about him, Hear now, ye Benjamites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds;
8 That all of you have conspired against me, and there is none that sheweth me that my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you that is sorry for me, or sheweth unto me that my son hath stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?
9 Then answered Doeg the Edomite, which was set over the servants of Saul, and said, I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub.
10 And he enquired of the LORD for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.
11 Then the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s house, the priests that were in Nob: and they came all of them to the king.
12 And Saul said, Hear now, thou son of Ahitub. And he answered, Here I am, my lord.
13 And Saul said unto him, Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, in that thou hast given him bread, and a sword, and hast enquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?
14 Then Ahimelech answered the king, and said, And who is so faithful among all thy servants as David, which is the king’s son in law, and goeth at thy bidding, and is honourable in thine house?
15 Did I then begin to enquire of God for him? be it far from me: let not the king impute any thing unto his servant, nor to all the house of my father: for thy servant knew nothing of all this, less or more.
16 And the king said, Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou, and all thy father’s house.
17 And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him, Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the LORD.
18 And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod.
19 And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.
20 And one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David.
21 And Abiathar shewed David that Saul had slain the LORD’S priests.
22 And David said unto Abiathar, I knew it that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul: I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy father’s house.
23 Abide thou with me, fear not: for he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life: but with me thou shalt be in safeguard.
Saul does a complaining session about servant loyalty in verses 6-8. Wow! This king thing had gone to Saul's head. Doeg, the Edomite, had been present at the Tabernacle the day Ahimelech aided David and his men; he told Saul about the incident (see above). When Saul realized that the priest, Ahimelech had given David some food and Goliath's sword, he was furious, even though the priest had no idea David was on the run from Saul. Upon confrontation, Ahimelech makes a fine presentation on all the reasons why he should not be held accountable for helping David - not good enough for Saul. He treats Ahimelech and his priests like enemies of Israel. Saul's Hebrew servants refuse to slay the priests, but Saul has his hired hand, Doeg (an Edomite), kill all 85 of them along with their entire families, herds, etc. I guess he figured when God turns thumbs down on you, you may as well go for broke. One priest, Abiathar (also Ahimelech's son), escapes to tell David what has happened. David felt responsible for their deaths when he says in verse 22, "I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy fathers house." Let's face it, Saul is not an honorable man. We already saw his animosity toward God's man Samuel, his disregard for vows he had made before God and now the execution of God's priests. Abiathar becomes David's personal high priest at this point, accompanying David for his own protection from Saul's wrath.
Incidentally, Psalm 52 (see notes) was written by David as a result of the atrocities committed by Saul on this occasion.
1 Then they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshingfloors.
2 Therefore David enquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And the LORD said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah.
3 And David’s men said unto him, Behold, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?
4 Then David enquired of the LORD yet again. And the LORD answered him and said, Arise, go down to Keilah; for I will deliver the Philistines into thine hand.
5 So David and his men went to Keilah, and fought with the Philistines, and brought away their cattle, and smote them with a great slaughter. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
6 And it came to pass, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David to Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand.
7 And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars.
8 And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men.
9 And David knew that Saul secretly practised mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar the priest, Bring hither the ephod.
10 Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake.
11 Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the LORD said, He will come down.
12 Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.
13 Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth.
14 And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.
David hears that the Philistines are attacking Keilah, a town in Judah. It was one of those harvest-time invasions when the Philistines steal food from the harvest from the Jewish inhabitants. We see in verse 5 that they brought their cattle with them. David goes to save them. Saul gets word that David is still there. David gets Abiathar to bring him the ephod. This priestly garment was where the Urim and Thummim were kept. These items were used in the Old Testament for discerning God's will about matters. For more on the Urim and Thummim, click here. Then David asks God if these people, for whom he has just risked his life, will turn him over to Saul. Imagine David's surprise when God tells him that they will forsake him. It's time to move on with his army that has now grown to 600 men. We see in verse 14 that seeking David's death had become a full-time job for Saul; forget the Philistines, the real enemy of Israel.
15 And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood.
16 And Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.
17 And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.
18 And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.
19 Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon?
20 Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of thy soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand.
21 And Saul said, Blessed be ye of the LORD; for ye have compassion on me.
22 Go, I pray you, prepare yet, and know and see his place where his haunt is, and who hath seen him there: for it is told me that he dealeth very subtilly.
23 See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me with the certainty, and I will go with you: and it shall come to pass, if he be in the land, that I will search him out throughout all the thousands of Judah.
24 And they arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the plain on the south of Jeshimon.
25 Saul also and his men went to seek him. And they told David: wherefore he came down into a rock, and abode in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon.
26 And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them.
27 But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land.
28 Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore they called that place Selahammahlekoth.
29 And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi.
Well, indirectly anyway, David is saved by the Philistines. Saul had gotten a tip from those pesky Ziphites that David is in their area, up in the mountains about 20 miles south of Jerusalem; Saul's in hot pursuit of David to kill him and poised to attack, when he hears of an attack by the Philistines and has to take a break from his new hobby (killing David) to go fight them.
Something has taken place, though, that Saul does not know about, a covenant between Jonathan and David. Jonathan concedes the kingship of Israel to David in that covenant in verses 17-18, "And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth. And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house." Notice that Jonathan points out there that Saul is painfully aware of the inevitable kingship of David as well.
1 And it came to pass, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.
2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats.
3 And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave.
4 And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily.
5 And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.
6 And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.
7 So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul. But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way.
8 David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself.
9 And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?
10 Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD’S anointed.
11 Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it.
12 The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
13 As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
14 After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea.
15 The LORD therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand.
16 And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept.
17 And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.
18 And thou hast shewed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the LORD had delivered me into thine hand, thou killedst me not.
19 For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? wherefore the LORD reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day.
20 And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand.
21 Swear now therefore unto me by the LORD, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s house.
22 And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold.
Saul has been pursuing Philistines. After he gets back on David's trail with an army of 3,000, he locates him, so to speak, in the wilderness of Engedi. Saul goes into a cave to take a #2 bathroom break (that's what "covering your feet" means). David and his men are in the cave at the time. While he is stooped down (covering his feet with his garment), David sneaks up beside him in the dark cave and clips off part of Saul's robe without his knowledge.
Upon finishing his business in the cave, Saul emerges, only to find the voice of David hollering, "Does it feel a little drafty there, Saul? I got part of your robe here in my hand!" Well...not really David's words - actually, David was very respectful as he spoke to Saul - even referring to him as "the anointed of the LORD" (verse 6), bowing before him and addressing Saul as "My lord the king" (verse 8). Realizing that David could have killed him, Saul is very remorseful, expressing his evil intent to David as he confesses, "Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil." Wait, there's more! You can have the ol' kingship (verse 20); just take care of my boy, Jonathan, and let my seed go forward. Hint: Saul has a short memory and a real problem with rage. However, because of David's oath to Jonathan and to Saul to protect their offspring, Mephibosheth (Jonathan's son and Saul's grandson) remains under David's protection after Saul's death (II Samuel 9:1-13, see notes). Unlike Saul, David was an honorable man with his oaths.