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In the last essay we studied 1 Sam., chapters 26-28, in which we found three separate stories. The first was an account of a second occasion when David spared the life of Saul. The second was a story of a second attempt by David to take refuge with the Philistine king Achish. And the third was Saul’s visit to a medium at Endor
In this essay we will finish 1 Samuel. Then in January, we will take up 2 Samuel. The first thing we need to do is get our geographical bearings. You might want to turn to a map of Saul’s kingdom in your Bible; or if your Bible doesn’t have that map, any map of early Palestine will do. The location of the events in chapters 26-27 took place rather deeply in the southern part of Palestine, and we talked about those locations in an earlier essay. But the events of chapter 28, at Mt. Gilboa and Endor, were in the northern part of the country.
Saul never possessed any coastal territory. The Philistines controlled the coastal plain northward all the way up beyond the Plain of Sharon to the area around Mt. Carmel. So to attack the northern part of Israel the Philistines could, and did, march up the coast to the area north of Megiddo.
Try to find Aphek on your map. Aphek is directly west of the Sea of Galilee, almost at the coast of the Mediterranean. It is just south of Acco, which is on the coast. If you see Aphek you see that the Philistines had marched quite far to the north. Notice that a plain extends to the southeast from Aphek past Megiddo. Megiddo was an extremely important city militarily. It overlooked the Plain of Megiddo, which later becomes the Valley of Jezreel. That beautiful valley runs past Mt. Gilboa eastward to the Jordan River. The town of Endor is about ten miles north of Mt. Gilboa, and the city of Beth-shan (which we will be mentioning later) is further east in the Valley of Jezreel not far from the river.
The “spring” or “fountain of Jezreel” mentioned in verse one is located at the foot of Mt. Gilboa. It is now in a public park, and both the fountain and a large pool are still there to be seen today. The war that the Philistines were planning against Israel in chapter 29 was a major war effort, not some sort of minor raiding. The armies of all five Philistine kings were involved. We are told in the chapter that when Achish’s army joined those of the other four Philistine lords or kings, the other commanders protested the presence of David (v. 2). Achish defended David, insisting he was loyal to him. But the other lords would have nothing to do with David, because of his past history as an enemy of Philisita (vv. 3-5).
So Achish, who was only one among five leaders, reluctantly told David that David had to return to Philistia (vv. 6-11). Notice in verse eight that David once again spoke ambiguously to Achish. When he spoke about going to “fight against the enemies of my lord and king,” he could have meant either Achish or Saul. But Achish who seemed to trust David implicitly assumed that David meant to fight against Achish’s enemies. So the next morning, David and his men returned to Philistia (v. 11). Of course this delivered David form a very sticky situation.
In chapter 30:1-6 we see that when David and his men arrived at Ziklag, they discovered that the Amalekites had taken advantage of the Philistine war effort. In David’s absence, they attacked Ziklag, burned it, and took captive the women and children (including David’s wives).
“On the third day” in verse one means the third day after David’s dismissal by Achish. David’s men were so upset at what they found at Ziklag, some of them wanted to stone David. But “David strengthened himself in the Lord,” meaning he found strength and consolation in prayer.
In verses 7-10 David officially “inquired of the Lord,” using the ephod of the priest to determine whether or not to pursue the Amalekites. The answer was affirmative. So he and his men set out. Because of the burning of their town, David’s men could not resupply, which meant they were not only tired from a week’s march, they were hungry. Therefore when they reached the Wadi Besor, 200 of the men did not have the strength to go on. So David continued with the other 400.
As David and his band moved along, they found an Egyptian lying exhausted in the field (v. 11). He had no food or drink for three days and nights. So the Israelites gave him water and fed him (v. 12). Then they interrogated the Egyptian and discovered that he was a slave whom the Amalekites had left behind, because he had become sick. He made a deal with David to take David and his men to the Amalekite camp on the assurance that he would not be killed or turned over to his Amalekite master (vv. 13-15).
When David’s band came to the Amalekite camp, they found the enemy celebrating their good fortune (v. 16). Therefore David was able to surprise them with a night attack. The battle lasted all the next day; but in the end, the Amalekites were slaughtered except for 400 men who escaped on camels (v. 17). Moreover David gained a great deal of booty in addition to rescuing all of the Israelite hostages and goods (vv. 18-20).
Here we see David establishing an important principle. When David and the 400 returned to the Wadi Besor where the 200 had remained, some of the men among the 400 wanted to exclude the 200 from the spoils. But David rejected that idea. He maintained that it was the Lord who had given them the victory. Therefore David decreed that under circumstances like these, all would share equally in the booty, not only that day, but always as a rule in Israel.
In verse 26 we see that David sent presents from the booty to various towns that are named in verses 27-31. None of them are important. They were border towns, some of which may have been looted by the Amalekites at one time or another. But David’s generosity certainly would have made some political capital for David when he later became king of Israel.
There is a parallel to chapter 31 in 1 Chronicles, chapter 10. The differences are not significant. In this chapter the author shifts his attention away from David back to the war between the Philistines and Israel. However it is mostly a summary of the results of the war rather than an account of the ear itself. Saul’s sons died in the battle, and then Saul himself was wounded. Saul asked his armor-bearer to finish him off, so that the Philistines would not be able to make sport with him; but the armor-bearer was too frightened to do it. So Saul killed himself by falling on his own sword. Then the armor-bearer did the same thing. “All his men” in verse six doesn’t mean all of the warriors in the army. It means all of the men of Saul’s household who took part in the battle. The parallel in 1 Chron. 10:6 uses the phrase “all his house” instead of “all his men.”
Turning to application, we could talk about several aspects of the three chapters; but one portion that appeals to me is chapter 30, verses 21-31. The Messiah of God, from his human side, is descended from David. One day the Messiah personally will rule over his kingdom on the earth. Even now we participate in that future kingdom by faith. And I believe we can find here in David’s treatment of his men some principles for our service in the present kingdom of God.
First, all workers in the kingdom are equally the Lord’s servants. David declared that the 200 who had been too weak to continue the pursuit and had stayed with the baggage were worthy of a full share of the spoils. In the first-century AD, the Messiah himself declared in his parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16) that all workers will receive the same wage regardless of their individual contributions.
Second, diversity of roles in the Lord’s kingdom is necessary for the Lord’s purposes. The 200 who guarded the baggage did something needful. And on other occasions they may have been the ones who carried the heavier load. The apostle Paul used the image of the body of Christ and declares every part of the body as important as any other (1 Cor. 12:14-31).
And third, the roles that often are thought of as secondary may actually be primary. Although it would be hard to make that argument in the case of the 200 in our story, in the kingdom widows who give their mites, and people who pray in obscurity, may be rendering greater service than those who on the surface have more prominent roles.
I look forward to sharing from 2 Samuel in January. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
In the last essay we studied 1 Sam., chapter 25, in which we found the story of David, Nabal and Abigail. Today we are taking up chapters 26-28, which contain three separate narratives. The first is an account of a second occasion when David spared the life of Saul. The second is a story of a second attempt by David to take refuge with the Philistine king Achish. And the third is Saul’s visit to a witch at Endor.
If you read 26:1-12, you can see there are some similarities between this account and the one recorded in chapter 24. For that reason some scholars have asserted that this story is a different version of the same event. But the differences in the two stories are much more significant than the similarities. Therefore this narrative is telling about a different event.
When David learned that Saul was pursuing him once again, he went to spy out Saul’s camp. Saul was sleeping in the center with his army camped around him (vv. 1-5). Then David decided to do a bold thing. It would have been a foolish thing had the Lord not supernaturally caused a deep sleep to come upon Saul and his men (v. 12). David and Abishai walked right into Saul’s camp. Abishai wanted to kill Saul with his own spear; but as in the cave at En Gedi previously, David refused to harm the Lord’s anointed (vv. 8-11). Instead David simply took Saul’s spear and a water jar so he could prove that he had been there (v. 12).
. In 26:13-25, again in a way similar to the occasion at the cave, David called out to prove that he had spared Saul’s life (vv. 13-16). Once again David challenged Saul’s determination to kill him by demonstrating that he was no threat to Saul (vv. 17-20).
And once again Saul said the right things. He admitted he had done wrong, and promised not to harm David. But notice that David paid no attention to that. Indeed Saul apparently was so eager to capture David that David decided, as he had done once before, to seek refuge from the Philistine king Achish of Gath.
Verse one of chapter 27 shows that David genuinely feared Saul, which was the reason he went to Gath. It is not possible so many centuries after the fact for us to know how local conditions at Gath might have changed after David’s last visit to Achish, recorded in chapter 21. At that time, David had to pretend he was crazy in order to save himself (vv. 10-15). But conditions evidently had changed, because now Achish gave David and his entire band refuge in Gath.
However David felt uncomfortable in Gath. So he asked Achish to provide space for himself and his people away from Gath in a country town. No substantive reason for the request is given, though based on what happened later in the narrative, I suspect it was because David wanted more freedom to use his troops without Achish seeing everything he was doing.
At any rate, Achish gave the town of Ziklag to David. Ziklag was located south of Gath near the southern border of Judah. This was ideal. On the one hand, it was far enough from Gath for David to pursue his own policies without interference from Achish. And on the other hand, it was a place where he was safe from Saul.
In 27:8-12 we see David take advantage of his situation in Ziklag by raiding various people groups in the area, groups that were not related to either the Philistines or Israel. Three groups are mentioned: the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites (vv. 8-9).
The Geshurites, mentioned in Josh. 13:2, were a Canaanite people who lived between Egypt and Philistia. There was another, different tribe of Geshurites that lived in northeast Gilead (Josh. 12:5; 13:11,13; Deut. 3:14). But they would not be involved in this situation.
The Girzites are mentioned only here, and thus are unknown. The Amalekites, on the other hand were the remnants of a traditional Canaanite enemy of Israel. You will recall that Saul defeated their army, as recorded in 1 Sam. 15. But the remnants of the group had gathered back together and were living in this same general area of Ziklag.
David evidently believed he could not rely on his relationship with Achish. So he kept his activities secret by taking no prisoners. When he made his raids against the three mentioned tribes, he not only took their animals and clothing and the like, but he also killed every man and woman, leaving no witnesses to carry the story of the raid to Achish.
Then when David reported to Achish, he lied about whom he had raided. He told Achish that he had raided towns of Israel, or Israel’s allies (the Jerahmeelites and Kenites both were tribes allied with Israel) rather than the common enemies of Philistia and Israel that he actually had raided (vv. 10-11). Apparently David thought Achish wanted to hear that. And it worked. Achish was pleased, thinking that he now had David under his thumb forever, because he assumed that David never could return to Israel (v. 12).
This development set up an interesting situation for David and his men. We see in 28:1-2 that the Philistines decided to go to war with Israel once more. And Achish told David that he expected David to join the Philistine effort against Saul. Notice the ambiguity of David’s reply. He didn’t actually commit himself to fight Saul, but Achish took David’s ambiguous answer to mean that he had made that commitment. As we shall see in chapter 29, the Lord delivered David and his men from the situation. But in the meantime, beginning in verse three, the author shifts his attention away from David back to Saul.
In verses 3-7 we see how much Saul had deteriorated mentally and spiritually. Samuel was dead. Saul had killed most of the priests. And he had alienated the prophets. In other words he had isolated himself spiritually. Now he was faced with a huge threat from the Philistines, and he was afraid.
Saul was positioned on Mt. Gilboa, an imposing mountain that rises to 1250 feet from a flat plain. From that vantage point Saul could see the Philistines coming. He needed guidance from the Lord, but he couldn’t get any. God gave him no dream, nor guidance by means of the Urim or the prophets. We can safely assume that the Lord did indeed give no guidance, because of Saul’s wickedness. So Saul was desperate.
He decided to consult a medium, a witch. Of course this was against the Mosaic Law (Lev. 19:31; 20:6; Deut. 18:10-11) and Saul’s own earlier commands (v. 9). But Saul was too desperate to worry about that. His servants knew of a medium at Endor, which was only about ten miles from Mt. Gilboa.
In verses 8-14 we see that Saul consulted the witch. What Saul requested is called necromancy. It is the attempt to call back the spirits of people who have died physically. The woman was suspicious. She had to be, because Saul himself had ordered such people as herself out of the land (vv. 8-9). Of course at that point she didn’t know it was Saul himself before her. Saul reassured her and told her what he wanted, namely, the spirit of Samuel brought back. So she began the session (vv. 10-11).
Notice that when Samuel’s spirit actually appeared the woman screamed. She also recognized Saul at that point, perhaps because of some unrecorded conversation (v. 12). The implication is that the woman did not expect Samuel actually to appear.
Over the years scholars have debated the role of the woman in this scene. Some have taken the position that it wasn’t really the spirit of Samuel that appeared, but an apparition produced by the woman. Others have argued that the woman actually had the demonic power to bring Samuel’s spirit forth. And her fear was due to the fact that she never before had experienced anything quite like what actually happened.
Still others have argued that it was Samuel’s spirit with whom they spoke, but it was the miraculous power of God that brought Samuel forth. And the woman’s fear was a result of her knowledge that she had nothing to do with it. The argument against this view is the question as to why the Lord would give Saul a revelation through a medium when he had chosen not to do it in the usual ways. But that doesn’t seem to me to be a decisive reason to reject this view, because the visit to the medium expressed even to Saul himself that he had hit bottom. And that was necessary.
At any rate, Samuel’s spirit appeared. Strangely it seems that Saul did not see it. Rather he depended on the witch’s description of Samuel to decide that the spirit actually was Samuel’s. When he was convinced, Saul bowed before the spirit (vv. 13-14).
In verses 15-19 Samuel proceeded to give Saul the bad news. God was now his enemy, because Saul had been disobedient as far back as the war with the Amalekites (ch. 15). The kingdom was to be taken from him and given to another. And he and his sons all would die in the coming battle.
The story plays out in verses 20-25. Saul had knelt in verse 14. But now he prostrated himself, completely depleted of strength. The woman and Saul’s attendants encouraged him to eat, which eventually he did. Then he went back to Gilboa.
Turning now to application, it seems to me that the great lesson here is Saul’s spiritual deterioration. His disobedience to God had caused God’s anointing to leave him. As we noted earlier, Samuel had died, and Saul had cut himself off from good spiritual advice by killing most of the priests and alienating the prophets. He was spiritually isolated, and desperate, so much so that he was willing to consult a witch for spiritual direction. The same thing kind of spiritual deterioration can happen in our lives if we willfully refuse to obey God and isolate ourselves from those who can help us stay on he right spiritual path. Final discussion?
Beginning in chapters 21 and 22 we saw that David, in order to escape capture and death at the hands of Saul, was constantly on the move. He went to Nob, where he received help from Ahimelech the priest. Unfortunately, that ultimately cost Ahimelech, 84 other priests, and the other inhabitants of Nob their lives.
Next David attempted to take refuge among the hated Philistines. But servants of the Philistine king immediately recognized David, and he had to pretend he was crazy to escape the situation.
David’s next stop was a place called Adullam, where hundreds of people gathered under his leadership. David went from there to Moab, whose he stayed for a time. But then on the advice of a prophet named Gad, David and his band relocated to the forest of Hereth in Judah.
In the last essay we studied 1 Samuel chapters 23 and 24, which continued the story of David’s adventures while Saul pursued him. In this essay we take up chapter 25 in which we find an exceedingly interesting story. Verse one tells us about the death of Samuel. It apparently was inserted here simply because it happened at this time.
Verses two and three introduce us to the two major characters that we do not already know. They are a husband and wife named Nabal and Abigail. Nabal was rich, but as the NRSV translates it, he also was “surly and mean.” Abigail on the other hand is described as “clever and beautiful.”
Nabal was a descendent of Caleb, though had Caleb been alive, he may not have wanted to claim Nabal. The story indicates that Nabal lived up to the meaning of his name. It means “fool.” The commentators tend to resist the idea that his actual name was “fool.” They question whether any parent would name their child “fool,” so they suggest it may have been a nickname of some sort. In any case, Nabal was his name.
As the narrative unfolds, David heard that Nabal was holding a sheep shearing, which ordinarily meant that a feast would also be held. So David sent some of his men to ask Nabal to provide some food for his men. The expectation was that Nabal would gladly do it, because David’s men had given Nabal’s sheep and shepherds protection while in the fields (vv. 5-8).
But Nabal did not do as expected. On the contrary, he not only refused to give food, he did it in a mean and insulting manner. “Who is David?” he asked. And then in effect he said, there are lots of outlaws out there, and I’m not giving my food to just anyone who comes out of nowhere and asks for it (vv. 9-11).
The men returned to David with the story of how they were treated. And David became sinfully angry. “Every man strap on his sword!” he exclaimed. And he immediately set out with 400 men with the intention to kill every male connected with Nabal and his household (vv. 12-13). It isn’t until verse 22 that we learn of that intention, but such was the case.
Fortunately for Nabal and his men, Nabal’s wife Abigail had better sense than he did. Abigail had not known about Nabal’s conversation with David’s men. But fairly soon after it happened, she heard about it. She also heard about how David’s band had protected Nabal’s interests in the fields (vv. 14-17). Abigail realized immediately the seriousness of Nabal’s refusal. So she set to work to undo his foolish action.
Without telling Nabal, she gathered a huge amount of food: bread, wine, dressed sheep, grain, raisins, and fig cakes. She had all of it loaded on donkeys, and then she set out to take it to David (vv. 18-19).
In the meantime David was moving toward Nabal’s home. And his intention to kill every male associated with Nabal is clearly stated in a kind of literary “flashback” in verses 21 and 22. The expression in verse 20 in the NRSV that Abigail “came down under cover of the mountain” means that her train of donkeys was out of sight, because it was coming down through a valley hidden between two mountains. As she emerged from the ravine, she met David and his men.
At the beginning of the story we were told that Abigail was clever. She proved it here. She alighted from her donkey and talked fast, doing and saying all of the right things to appease David’s wrath. First, she immediately bowed before David, paying him homage. Second, she asked David to lay the guilt of Nabal’s insults on her, hoping that it would soften his anger (vv. 23-24). Third, she attempted to bring David to a friendly state of mind. She begged for the opportunity to be heard (v. 24), and quickly admitted that Nabal was exactly what his name implied, a fool (v. 25). Then without waiting for an answer she gave David three arguments. One, she pointed out that the Lord had stopped David from committing murder by her coming to meet him. Two, she reminded David that the Lord is the avenger, and she wished that David’s enemies would all be fools like Nabal (v. 26). And three, she offered the food she had brought to benefit David’s men (v. 27). And to top it all off, she asked David for forgiveness, even as she flattered David in regard to his goodness and service to the Lord (v. 28).
Then Abigail concluded her discourse by speaking of David’s being “prince over Israel” some day. Scholars debate whether or not she could have heard somewhere that David would one day be king. In any case, as we see in the following verses, Abigail succeeded in changing David’s mind about taking vengeance.
David was completely convinced, so much so that he praised the Lord for sending Abigail to him (v. 32). He agreed with her that she had saved him from wrongly taking blood vengeance (vv. 33-34). He accepted Abigail’s gifts and sent her home in peace (v. 35).
Abigail didn’t tell Nabal immediately about her transaction with David, because he was drunk (v. 36). When she did tell him the next day, “his heart died within him,” which generally is interpreted as meaning he sustained a stroke. Then ten days later he died, apparently from a second stroke (vv. 37-38).
David laid Nabal’s death to an act of the Lord, and then he promptly asked for the widow Abigail’s hand in marriage (v. 39). She quickly accepted (vv. 40-42).
The chapter ends with two further notes on David’s love life. The author mentions that David married another woman in addition to Abigail. Her mane was Ahinoam. The author also informs the reader that Saul had given David’s wife Michal, who was Saul’s daughter, to another man (v. 43).
Turning to application, what we learn from this chapter comes from its three main characters: David, Nabal and Abigail. Beginning with David, he acted in good faith. First, he kept his men under discipline. It would have taken considerable food for David’s 600 men; and they had the collective strength simply to take what they wanted. But notice that Nabal’s shepherds were protected by David’s men rather than plundered by them.
Second, David rendered valuable service to people in the areas where his men lived. For example, they were like a wall around Nabal’s shepherds.
Nabal on the other hand was a prosperous fool. First, Nabal had every advantage. He came from a good family, the family of Caleb. He had an excellent wife, a woman who was beautiful, intelligent and generous. And he was immensely wealthy.
But though Nabal’s advantages were great, second, his character was worthless. He gave no evidence of fearing God. He despised those who were beneath his social position. He was ungrateful for help received. He was insulting to others, specifically to David. He was intemperate in his habits, getting drunk. And he lived only for himself.
And third, Nabal’s end was miserable. He was taken by illness and death suddenly, though he was unprepared for it. And like the rich fool of Jesus’ parable (and the rest of us for that matter), Nabal was unable to take his wealth with him.
Compared to Nabal, Abigail was a woman of good character. She was intelligent. That was demonstrated by her actions. She was decisive. Notice how quickly she made a decision about Nabal’s foolish treatment of David’s men. She was humble in her approach to David. She was generous, providing an enormous amount of food for David’s men. She was faithful to her husband, being willing to take the blame for his folly. And she was pious, pointing David to the Lord’s overarching providence.
In the last essay we studied 1 Samuel chapters 21-22, which contain the first part of Saul’s pursuit of David the fugitive. In this essay we are taking up chapters 23 and 24, which continue the story of David’s adventures as Saul pursued him.
The town of Keilah, mentioned in 23:1, was on the frontier between Judah and Philistia. As you can see, David learned that a raiding band of Philistines was robbing the threshing floors of Keilah. So David inquired of the Lord (v. 2). That means he sought the Lord’s will regarding whether or not to go to Keilah’s defense. This suggests that Abiathar the priest arrived before David went to Keilah. At any rate, David received an affirmative answer. However David’s men feared the idea. Thus they were reluctant to go (v. 3). So David inquired of the Lord a second time; and once again received the word that they should go. So they went, and won a significant victory (vv. 4-5).
Saul learned that David was at Keilah, so he decided to attack him there, thinking that David was trapped within city walls (vv. 7-8). But David heard about Saul’s plan. He inquired of the Lord and learned not only that Saul was serious about the attack, but also that the people of Keilah would not remain loyal to David. So David left Keilah for the hills, and Saul had to abandon the plan (vv. 9-13). Notice that David’s band had grown by this time to 600.
Verses 15-18 make up an interesting passage. Saul’s son, Jonathan, not only was able to locate David, David trusted Jonathan enough to permit him to visit. Jonathan used the visit to encourage David, and they renewed their personal covenant. Notice that Jonathan clearly knows that David is to be the next king. And he claims that Saul also knows that. And Jonathan obviously is content to be David’s second in command.
In verses 19-29, we see a betrayal of David by the Ziphites. David had been hiding in the wilderness of Ziph, which was the wilderness surrounding the city of Ziph, which is located south of Hebron. But the Ziphites were loyal to Saul, so they made plans to help Saul capture David (vv. 19-24).
By the time Saul arrived on the scene, David had moved to the wilderness of Maon. Maon is located about five miles directly south of Ziph. Saul learned where David was located, and he began to close in on David and his men. It was a close call for David. As Saul was moving up one side of the mountain, David and his band were moving down the other side; and escape didn’t look possible (vv. 25-26)
But suddenly David was saved by circumstances. Just as Saul was closing in, a messenger came to Saul and informed him of a raid by the Philistines, which seemed serious enough that Saul felt obligated to break off his pursuit of David to deal with the Philistine threat. So David escaped to the area of Engedi (vv. 27-29).
Engedi is a marvelous place. It is located almost at the coast of the Dead Sea, a little southeast of Hebron. But the fascinating thing about it is the water there. The surrounding area is largely a dry wilderness, but at Engedi there is this abundance of water that flows from fountains of some sort up in the mountains down a series of beautiful waterfalls to the Dead Sea. At least it used to flow into the Dead Sea. The modern state of Israel has siphoned off so much of the water for irrigation that none makes it as far as the Dead Sea anymore. But the stream, the waterfalls and the lovely pools of water at the base of the falls are still there; and it is a wonderful hike up the mountain to see them.
I have made that hike, and perhaps one still could see the “wild goats” mentioned in 24:2. I did not see any wild goats, but I did see a goat-sized species of antelope. Numerous caves also are visible in the area, though it isn’t possible to know which one David and his men hid in.
In 24:1-7 we see that after Saul dealt with the Philistine threat, he took up his pursuit of David once again. He heard that David was in the area of Engedi, and Saul took 3,000 troops there. In verse three we are told that Saul went into a cave “to relieve himself.” Interestingly, it just happened to be the cave in which David and his men were hiding deeper in the cave.
David’s men saw the fact that Saul chose to enter the cave where they were located as providential, as God’s way of giving David an opportunity to kill his enemy (vv. 3-4). But David didn’t see it that way. He had too much respect for the fact that Saul was the Lord’s anointed. So instead of killing Saul, David simply sneaked up on Saul, and stealthily cut off a piece of Saul’s cloak, which apparently he had laid aside while relieving himself (v. 4). Even doing that much against the Lord’s anointed made David feel guilty, and he forbade his men to harm Saul in any way (vv. 5-7).
When Saul left, David called after him to let him know that David had had the opportunity to kill Saul, but spared his life. Then he showed Saul the piece of his cloak to prove it (vv. 8-11). Saul could have no more conclusive proof that David intended him no harm. David then called upon the Lord to judge between them (v. 12). To further convince Saul, David used the metaphors of a dead dog and a single flea to further illustrate how harmless he was to Saul. Dead dogs don’t bite, and a single flea is completely insignificant (v. 14).
Saul was deeply touched by David’s sparing of his life. And at that moment Saul seemed completely repentant and won over. He even conceded that David would one day be the king. Saul only asked that his family be spared when that day came (vv. 20-21). David agreed. But notice that David didn’t trust himself to Saul regardless of what Saul said. David returned to his stronghold, rather than to Saul’s court. As we shall see, David was correct in his decision. As always before, Saul’s good intentions didn’t last.
For our application, I want us to give our attention to chapter 24. There are two things of note here. One is David’s unusual sparing of the life of Saul, and the other is Saul’s reaction.
In relation to David’s not killing Saul, first, David was tempted to kill him. I know the text doesn’t specifically say that. It doesn’t say anything about David’s initial reaction. But I offer two reasons for saying that. One, we must remember that Saul had become David’s mortal enemy. And in that day, under their world-view, it was standard procedure to take revenge on mortal enemies. And two, David was given a plausible argument to do it. David’s men reminded him that such a turn of events as Saul’s coming into the cave alone was to be interpreted as the Lord’s giving Saul into David’s hands so that he could kill him.
So I believe David was tempted to kill Saul; but second, David overcame the temptation. And again I offer two reasons. One, David had complete regard for the will of God. David consistently had determined to do God’s will in all things. And as part of that, he had respected Saul as the Lord’s anointed throughout his relationship to him. And two, David possessed a responsive conscience, which enabled him to perceive and do the Lord’s will.
Perhaps a more important application is seen in verses 16-22 in connection with Saul. Saul showed repentance and admitted his wrongdoing. In other words he exhibited good qualities. What can we say about this? First, it was not the first time. We have seen Saul repent and admit wrongdoing before.
Second, it apparently was genuine. There was genuine emotion. Saul wept (v. 16). There was genuine admission of evildoing (v. 17). There was genuine conviction of divine purpose in the situation when Saul acknowledged that David would one day be king (v. 20). And there was a genuine abandonment of an evil purpose on Saul’s part when he returned home (v. 22).
Third, and this is the most important one, it was temporary. Saul is an outstanding case study of many evil men. Some people are surprised at this, but evil men have the capacity to love and even be compassionate under certain circumstances. Many Nazi commanders who were responsible for unspeakable evils against Jews and others during WW II loved their families. They would go home for dinner and enjoy their wives and children. They would go to concerts on Saturday night and enjoy the music as any other German might. Saul had the additional issue of a mental problem. And as we shall see as we continue our study, his good intentions were temporary.
In the last essay we studied 1 Samuel chapter 20, which presented the developing relationship between Jonathan and David. In this essay we study chapters 21 and 22. We saw the beginning of David’s days as a fugitive in chapter 20, but the key matter in that chapter was David’s relationship with Jonathan. Now at the beginning of chapter 21 the author’s emphasis shifts to Saul’s pursuit of David the fugitive. Indeed hunting down David became an obsession with Saul. And David had to be both creative and resourceful to survive. David’s first stop after leaving Jonathan was Nob, which was a priest’s city (22:19), where the tabernacle apparently had been set up for worship there.
Nob was located close to Jerusalem, just to the northeast of it. The priest, perhaps the high priest, was named Ahimelech. When he saw David coming, he trembled because of David’s surprise appearance at the tabernacle. Ahimelech knew David was the son-in-law of the king. Not only did he have no advance warning that David was coming, one didn’t expect the son-in-law of the king to appear anywhere unattended (21:1).
We learn from verse two that David did have a few men with him, though they did not come to the tabernacle. Then David lied to Ahimelech. He told the priest that he was there on a secret mission of the king. And he demanded five loaves of bread (vv. 2-3). The priest had no bread except the 12 loaves of holy bread, also known as the “bread of the presence,” that the priests weekly set before the Lord in the tabernacle (Lev. 24:5-9).
Technically no one was to eat that bread except the priests. But Ahimelech wanted to please the king’s son-in-law if he could, so he made an exception in David’s case. He gave David the five loaves he requested on the condition that none of David’s men had made themselves ceremonially unclean by having sex (v. 4; Lev. 15:18). David assured him that they had not (vv. 5-6).
Verse seven is parenthetical. Its importance will be seen in the next chapter (Ch. 22), where Doeg plays an important role, as we shall see. Next, in verses 8-9, the author tells us that David also needed a sword. Notice the additional lie by David. Once we begin lying it doesn’t seem to matter how many more we tell. The only weapon Ahimelech had at the tabernacle was the sword of Goliath. Its presence there is not explained, but obviously, it ended up there, perhaps for safekeeping.
In verses 10-15 we see how desperate David felt as he fled. He decided to take refuge among the hated Philistines. From Nob David went to the Philistine city of Gath, apparently hoping to be unrecognized so that he and his men could attach themselves to king Achish of that city. Gath is the nearest Philistine city, located southwest of Jerusalem. But the servants of king Achish immediately recognized David, and he had to pretend he was crazy to escape the situation.
At the beginning of chapter 22, we see that David’s next stop was a place called Adullam, named after a cave located there. It was in southern Judah about halfway between Gath and Bethlehem. Then a remarkable thing happened. People began to gather at Adullam under David’s leadership. His family came, which could be expected. But others came as well. All of the malcontents in Israel, those in distress, those in debt, and those unhappy with Saul’s government, about 400 in all, came to Adullam seeking leadership from David (vv. 1-2). Later, the number rose to 600 (23:13).
From there David went to Moab, whose king was friendly. He put his parents in the care of Moab’s king, and then took up residence in a place described as “the stronghold,” which also may have been in Moab (vv. 3-4). No one knows its location. But a prophet named Gad came to David, probably from Samuel’s school, and advised him to return to Judah, which he did. He went to the forest of Hereth, which evidently was somewhere in Judah; but its location also is unknown today (vv. 3-5).
Verses 6-10 begin the sad account of Saul’s brutal murder of the priests of Nob. Saul was holding court under the tamarisk tree at Gibeah and complaining about the fact that no one told him what he needed to know about David’s relationship with Jonathan as well as David’s movements since he fled from Saul (vv. 6-8). He obviously was in a bad mood.
One man in the court saw this as an opportunity for self-advancement. It was Doeg the Edomite, who was at Nob when David got the sacred bread and Goliath’s sword from Ahimelech. So he stepped forward and told the story (vv. 9-10).
Verses 11-19 tell an ugly story. They demonstrate the level of paranoia and cruelty to which Saul had sunk. After calling all of the priests of Nob before him, Saul accused them of conspiring against him, which essentially was a charge of treason, because they had helped David (vv. 11-13). Ahimelech defended himself with the truth, but Saul wasn’t interested in the truth (vv. 14-15). He ordered all of the priests killed on the spot. But the order was so outrageous Saul’s guards refused to do it (vv. 16-17). So Saul turned to the ambitious Doeg the Edomite and ordered him to kill them, which Doeg was happy to do. Doeg personally killed 85 priests, in effect wiping out the priests of Nob (v. 18). But Saul wasn’t content with killing the priests. In a bloodthirsty decision he ordered the whole population of Nob destroyed, as if they were under the ban (v. 19).
In verses 20-23 we learn that one priest, Abiathar, somehow escaped the massacre. And he informed David of it. Upon hearing the story, David realized that he was somewhat responsible in the matter. And as long as David was alive he made good his promise to protect Abiathar.
Turning to application I want to focus on the deceit of David in chapter 21. David lied to Ahimelech the priest when he needed help. I’m sure David thought he was justified in doing so under the circumstances. He needed the bread and the sword, and a little lie seemed harmless. Thus, first, David had the pressure of circumstances. Had David not yielded to that temptation, the needs of himself and his men probably would have been met in some other way. But he saw an easy opportunity that required only a little lie. Have you ever been tempted to lie because of the pressure of circumstances?
Second, David also felt the promise of advantage. Lies invariably are like that. The lie easily enabled David to get what he needed. His lie gave him the advantage of getting what he wanted when he wanted it. That’s the promise of advantage. When we lie, it usually is because we believe the lie will easily bring us what we need or desire when we want or desire it.
And third, David failed to ponder the consequences. David simply assumed there would be no serious negative consequences. But in the end an entire city was slaughtered because of David’s lie. When most people lie, they believe it will have no serious consequences. They even have the gall to believe their lie will not be discovered. But lies come to light in many unexpected ways. In David’s case, in retrospect, he was suspicious of Doeg the Edomite. But at the time David was deceiving Ahimelech, he wasn’t thinking about what might happen in the future. Indeed he wasn’t interested in the future. He was only interested in his short-range gains.
How many parents have assumed there would be no serious consequences when they lied in front of their children? How many young people have assumed there would be no serious consequences when they lied to their parents about where they were going, or what they were doing? How many men and women have assumed there would be no serious consequences when they lied about their relationships, their work, their money, their taxes, etc. Frequently, as in David’s case, little lies result in great pain. Sometimes liars suffer the pain themselves. And sometimes it is others who suffer. Nearly always the suffering could have been avoided if we would not have bowed to the pressure of circumstances and the promise of advantage, and if we had not failed to ponder the consequences.