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I Samuel 21-24    Listen Podcast


So, sometimes you act a little extreme to stay alive (I Samuel 21)

1 Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?”
2 ¶ So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ And I have directed my young men to such and such a place.
3 Now therefore, what have you on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever can be found.”
4 ¶ And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.”
5 ¶ Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”
6 ¶ So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on 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 chief of the herdsmen who belonged to Saul.
8 ¶ And David said to Ahimelech, “Is there not here on hand a spear or a sword? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.”
9 ¶ So the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, there it is, wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it. For there is no other except that one here.” ¶ And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”
10 ¶ Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.
11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying:
‘Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands’?”
12 ¶ Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.
13 So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard.
14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me?
15 Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman 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 25:23–30, 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 has 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 this not 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.

Hey! My great Grandma was a Moabite! (I Samuel 22:1-5)

1 David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him.
2 And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.
3 ¶ Then David went from there to Mizpah of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and mother come here with you, till I know what God will do for me.”
4 So he brought them before the king of Moab, and they dwelt with him all the time that David was in the stronghold.
5 ¶ Now the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go to the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.

In verse 1 we see that David has fled to the cave Adullam, about 2 miles south of the scene of David’s 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.

Saul wipes out the priests (I Samuel 22:6-23)

6 ¶ When Saul heard that David and the men who were with him had been discovered—now Saul was staying in Gibeah under a tamarisk tree in Ramah, with his spear in his hand, and all his servants standing about him—
7 then Saul said to his servants who stood about him, “Hear now, you 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 All of you have conspired against me, and there is no one who reveals to me that my son has made a covenant with the son of Jesse; and there is not one of you who is sorry for me or reveals to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as it is this day.”
9 ¶ Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who was set over the servants of Saul, and said, “I saw the son of Jesse going to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub.
10 And he inquired of the LORD for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”
11 ¶ So the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s house, the priests who were in Nob. And they all came to the king.
12 And Saul said, “Hear now, son of Ahitub!” ¶ He answered, “Here I am, my lord.”
13 ¶ Then Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, in that you have given him bread and a sword, and have inquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as it is this day?”
14 ¶ So Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, who is the king’s son-in-law, who goes at your bidding, and is honorable in your house?
15 Did I then begin to inquire of God for him? Far be it from me! Let not the king impute anything to his servant, or to any in the house of my father. For your servant knew nothing of all this, little or much.”
16 ¶ And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house!”
17 Then the king said to the guards who stood about him, “Turn and kill the priests of the LORD, because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled and did not tell it to me.” But the servants of the king would not lift their hands to strike the priests of the LORD.
18 And the king said to Doeg, “You turn and kill the priests!” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck the priests, and killed on that day eighty-five men who wore a linen ephod.
19 Also Nob, the city of the priests, he struck with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and nursing infants, oxen and donkeys and sheep—with the edge of the sword.
20 ¶ Now one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David.
21 And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the LORD’S priests.
22 So David said to Abiathar, “I knew that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have caused the death of all the persons of your father’s house.
23 Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.”

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 caused the death of all the persons of your father’s 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.

David and his rag-tag army save Keilah (I Samuel 23:1-14)

1 Then they told David, saying, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and they are robbing the threshing floors.”
2 ¶ Therefore David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” ¶ And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines, and save Keilah.”
3 ¶ But David’s men said to him, “Look, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?”
4 Then David inquired of the LORD once again. ¶ And the LORD answered him and said, “Arise, go down to Keilah. For I will deliver the Philistines into your hand.”
5 And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines, struck them with a mighty blow, and took away their livestock. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
6 ¶ Now it happened, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, that he went down with an ephod in his hand.
7 ¶ And Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah. So Saul said, “God has delivered him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.”
8 Then Saul called all the people together for war, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.
9 ¶ When David knew that Saul plotted evil against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.”
10 Then David said, “O LORD God of Israel, Your servant has certainly heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah to destroy the city for my sake.
11 Will the men of Keilah deliver me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as Your servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.” ¶ And the LORD said, “He will come down.”
12 ¶ Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?” ¶ And the LORD said, “They will deliver you.”
13 ¶ So David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah and went wherever they could go. Then it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah; so he halted the expedition.
14 ¶ And David stayed in strongholds in the wilderness, and remained in the mountains in the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him 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.

Saved by the Philistines (I Samuel 23:15-29)

15 So David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. And David was in the Wilderness of Ziph in a forest.
16 Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God.
17 And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.”
18 So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.
19 ¶ Then the Ziphites came up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is David not hiding with us in strongholds in the woods, 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 your soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand.”
21 ¶ And Saul said, “Blessed are you of the LORD, for you have compassion on me.
22 Please go and find out for sure, and see the place where his hideout is, and who has seen him there. For I am told he is very crafty.
23 See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hides; and come back to me with certainty, and I will go with you. And it shall be, if he is in the land, that I will search for him throughout all the clans of Judah.”
24 ¶ So 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 When Saul and his men went to seek him, they told David. Therefore he went down to the rock, and stayed in the Wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued David in the Wilderness of Maon.
26 Then Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. So David made haste to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were encircling David and his men to take them.
27 ¶ But a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have invaded the land!”
28 Therefore Saul returned from pursuing David, and went against the Philistines; so they called that place the Rock of Escape.
29 Then David went up from there and dwelt in strongholds at En Gedi.

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 to him, 'Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.' So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house." Notice that Jonathan points out there that Saul is painfully aware of the inevitable kingship of David as well.

David could have killed him (I Samuel 24)

1 Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, “Take note! David is in the Wilderness of En Gedi.”
2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats.
3 So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.)
4 Then the men of David said to him, “This is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.’ ” And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.
5 Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe.
6 And he said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.”
7 So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way.
8 ¶ David also arose afterward, went out of the cave, and called out to Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed down.
9 And David said to Saul: “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Indeed David seeks your harm’?
10 Look, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD delivered you today into my hand in the cave, and someone urged me to kill you. But my eye spared you, and I said, “I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’S anointed.’
11 Moreover, my father, see! Yes, see the corner of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the corner of your robe, and did not kill you, know and see that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you. Yet you hunt my life to take it.
12 Let the LORD judge between you and me, and let the LORD avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you.
13 As the proverb of the ancients says, “Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.’ But my hand shall not be against you.
14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A flea?
15 Therefore let the LORD be judge, and judge between you and me, and see and plead my case, and deliver me out of your hand.”
16 ¶ So it was, when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept.
17 Then he said to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil.
18 And you have shown this day how you have dealt well with me; for when the LORD delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me.
19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely? Therefore may the LORD reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.
20 And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.
21 Therefore swear now to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s house.”
22 ¶ So David swore to Saul. And Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.

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 "attend to his needs" means). The actual Hebrew phrase is best reflected in the KJV when it literally translates it that Saul went in "to cover his feet." 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, "You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with 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.