April 2 Reading: I Samuel 21-24 Commentary
“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.'” ( I Sam. 24:6)
I Samuel 21 – David Eats Holy Bread
After David parted ways with Jonathan (I Sam. 20), he went to Nob and came to Ahimelech. Ahimelech was the great-grandson of Eli and he served as high priest at the time. He is concerned that David, a member of the royal court, is traveling alone and he questions David about it (v. 1).
David assures Ahimelech that he is just about the king’s business, although it’s a secret mission he cannot discuss (v. 2). So David lied about his relationship with Saul, no doubt thinking he was protecting the priests in some way. Or perhaps he simply didn’t want to share his burden at that time with the priests. We all relate to that, as each of us often conceals to others what is going on in our personal lives.
What David does need is provisions, specifically food (v. 3). Ahimelech told David the only food on hand was the holy bread (v. 4). Often called the “showbread”, this was always displayed before the Lord in the tabernacle in accordance with the Mosaic Law (see Ex. 25:23-30 and Lev. 24:5-9). It was only to be eaten by the priests.
David assures Ahimelech that his men are ritually pure and that the bread in question is in fact common, now that it has been replaced by new bread (v. 5). So in the spirit of preserving David and his men’s life, Ahimelech gives him the bread to eat (v. 6). Jesus would later refer to this action in a discussion with the Pharisees about Sabbath regulations, saying that Ahimelech had abided by the spirit of the law by performing a compassionate act for David (see Matt. 12:2-4 and Mark 2:25-26).
David in Gath
Ahimelech also gave David the sword of Goliath, as David had no weapon at the time (vv. 8-9). And in a bit of foreshadowing, the author notes that Saul’s chief herdsmen, an Edomite named Doeg, spotted David in Nob interacting with the priests.
From Nob, David fled to the Philistine city of Gath, perhaps seeking protection behind enemy lines from Saul. When the kings servants heard David had come into the city, they informed their king David had come. They even called David “the king of the land”, thus showing that even the Philistines knew of David’s growing popularity (v. 11).
This text does not tell us all that happened in Gath. But in Psalm 56, David referred to this incident. From it, we know that he was captured by the Philistines while at Gath, perhaps for David to be brought into the king’s army (vv. 14-15). So there was reason for David to be “very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath” (v. 12).
David devised a clever scheme to escape the king. He pretended to be a madman, and “scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard” (v. 13). When King Achish saw this, he wanted no part of David and drove him away (22:1).
I Samuel 22 – David’s Fighting Men
David left Gath and went to the well-known cave of Adullam. Not the most ideal place to set up camp. But still David’s mother and father Jesse came to stay with him there (vv. 3-4). And they weren’t the only ones.
There must have been something about David. Leaders draw people to themselves in many ways. It can be their charisma and personality, how they treat others, the cause they represent or their life circumstances that connect with others.
With David, we don’t know exactly what pulled people to him. But it happened nonetheless. We read that “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.” (v. 2).
These men would prove extremely loyal to David in the years to come.
Saul Murders the Priests
While David was on the move, Saul stayed at Gibeah in Benjamin (v. 6). At this time, he didn’t know the whereabouts of David. He’s thinks everyone is against him because no one revealed that Jonathan had made a covenant with David (vv. 7-8).
But one person did know a recent stop of David. That was Doeg the Edomite who had seen David in Nob with Ahimelech. He told this to Saul, including the details that Ahimelech had given David provisions and sword of Goliath (vv. 9-10).
Saul summoned Ahimelech and all the other priests from Nob (vv. 11-12). When they arrived, Saul aggressively questioned Ahimelech about siding with David and conspiring against the king (v. 13). David had never told Ahimelech about his relationship with Saul, which Ahimelech explained saying, “your servant knew nothing of all this, little or much” (v. 15).
Besides, Ahimelech says, “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?” (v. 14).
Saul is so angry at the situation he ordered his soldiers to kill all the priests. They refused “to strike the priests of the Lord” (v. 17). So Saul ordered Doeg to kill Ahimelech and all the priests, 85 men in total. And to further the atrocity, Doeg went to Nob and killed “men and women, children and nursing infants, oxen and donkeys and sheep—with the edge of the sword” (v. 19).
One son of Ahimelech, Abiathar escaped and found his way to David with the news (v. 20). David is broken, thinking that it’s his fault and knowing it was Doeg who had spilled the news (v. 22). David told Abiathar to stay with him for his own protection (v. 23).
I Samuel 23 – David Saves the City of Keilah
David is gaining recognition as a mighty warrior. It’s especially true now that he has a band of loyal men following and protecting him. People are calling to David for help, including people from the city of Keilah who are being attacked by the Philistines (v. 1).
When asked, David “inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall I go and attack these Philistines?'” (v. 2). Even now, David knew the Lord’s will took precedence over his own. In this case, the Lord told David to go attack them.
David’s followers are nervous about leaving the safety of Judah for this mission (v. 3). So David asked the Lord again if it’s His will. And again, the Lord said to go “…for I will deliver the Philitines into your hand” (v. 4).
The battle did go in David’s favor. In fact, it’s a route as they “struck them [the Philistines] with a mighty blow” (v. 5). But once again, with another public interaction, Saul found out David’s location and pursued him (v. 8).
Even though David had just saved Keilah, the Lord told him that the inhabitants would turn him over to Saul when he arrived. So David and his growing fighting force (now up to 600 men) leave Keilah and head into the wilderness (vv. 9-13). When Saul found out they had left, he halted his expedition.
David Lives in the Wilderness
Today we use the term “wilderness” to describe an internal uncertainty, discouraging time, or spiritually dry period of life that we go through. David had his own wilderness journeys. Except in his case, he literally lived in the wilderness to hide from King Saul. So, he experienced both sides of the wilderness in his life – external and internal.
After fleeing Keilah, he found himself in the barren Wilderness of Ziph. It’s here he received an unexpected visitor. His good friend Jonathan arrived to give him comfort and strengthen him.
Jonathan had some amazing words for David. He said, “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” (v. 17). What an encouragement that must have been to David to know that his good friend had not deserted him.
Well, the Ziphites got word to Saul that David was encamped nearby. So once again, Saul set out to pursue David. But in their continued game of hide-and-seek, David moved on to the Wilderness of Moan (vv. 19-24). But God again protected David. The Philistines used Saul’s absence to invade the land, which forced Saul to break off his hunt of David again to counter their aggression (vv. 25-29).
I Samuel 24 – David Spares Saul’s Life
Saul’s rage against and pursuit of David continued after fighting off the Philistines. One of his famous encounters with David occurred in the Wilderness of En Gedi, east of Hebron near the shores of the Dead Sea. It was here that Saul pursued David with 3,000 chosen men from Israel.
David and his men were hiding deep in some caves near a place known as the Rocks of the Wild Goats. When Saul’s army passed by, the group came to stop for a rest. Saul went into the front of the very cave David and his men were hiding in to “attend to his needs” (v. 3).
Saul was vulnerable and defenseless. It’s the perfect opportunity for David to rid himself of an enemy and claim the throne that is already rightfully his. That’s what the men say to him anyway: “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'” (v. 4).
David’s response speaks volumes about his heart. Instead of killing Saul, he crept up and cut off a corner of his robe. But even after that, he is conscience-stricken for his actions saying, “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” (v. 6).
And he kept the men from rising up against Saul.
David Reveals Himself
When Saul left the cave, David stepped out and revealed himself to Saul. He shouted to Saul from a distance, explaining what he could have done to Saul but chose not to (vv. 8-11). He showed Saul the torn piece of robe and said, “…Let the Lord judge between you and me, and let the Lord avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.’ But my hand shall not be against you...” (vv. 12-13).
Saul was ashamed of his actions in front of his men and wept, at David’s mercy and his own vengeance. He told David, “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil. 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” (vv. 17-18).
At that, Saul stopped pursuing David, for the time being. He knew his days were numbered as king and pleaded with David not to destroy his family name once David came to power (vv. 20-21). David swore that would not happen and they went their separate ways (v. 22).
From David’s perspective, it shows his patience. He could have taken matters into his own hands. Instead, he waited on God’s timing for the events of his life to unfold.
Questions to Consider:
If it seems too good to be truly, it probably is. Even seemingly obvious decisions should be weighed through the lens of your faith and with counsel from the Lord.
How would you define the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law?
It’s easy to take matters into our own hands, especially when an opportunity presents itself, like it did for David in today’s reading. But our timing is not God’s timing and we need to be sensitive to realize that. Have you ever tried to rush God instead of waiting on him to unfold life as he sees fit?
What other points would you want to know about in our I Samuel 21-24 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.