DAVID THE FUGITIVE 1 Samuel 21–25
“Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Sam. 23:16).The fugitive years were some of the most important to David spiritually. Out of the painful experiences recorded in these chapters came some of David’s most beautiful psalms.
In flight, David lied to obtain help from a family of priests at Nob (21:1–9). He escaped from Philistia only by pretending madness (vv. 10–15). David gathered some 400 fighting men and settled in a wilderness area (22:1–5). There he learned that Saul had murdered the priests who helped him (vv. 6–23). David’s force saved a Judean city (23:1–6), but fled when Saul set out with an army to kill him (vv. 7–29). David spared Saul’s life, and the king called off pursuit (24:1–22). The intelligent and beautiful Abigail prevented David from taking revenge on her foolish husband, and later became David’s wife (25:1–44).
Understanding the Text
“David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest” 1 Sam. 21:1–9. David lied to Ahimelech, telling him that David was on a mission for Saul. The lie seemed innocent enough, as David was desperate for food and a weapon. David was soon to learn that even “little” lies can have tragic consequences. Later Jesus commented on the fact that Ahimelech gave David some of the consecrated bread that was to be eaten only by priests (cf. Ex. 25:30; Lev. 24:5–9). Jesus commended Ahimelech, who realized that the moral obligation to help a person in need was more important than ritual regulations (Matt. 12:3–4; Mark 2:25–26). David was wrong to ignore his moral obligation to be truthful with Ahimelech. But Ahimelech was right to give his moral obligation to David higher priority than a ritual obligation. “David . . . went to Achish king of Gath” 1 Sam. 21:10–15. David was also given a weapon by Ahimelech the priest—the sword of Goliath. We can sense something of David’s mental state when we’re told that he went from there to Gath, the giant’s hometown, where the weapon was sure to be recognized! It was recognized, and David escaped only by pretending to have gone insane. We can probably account for both David’s lie to Ahimelech and his flight to Gath by remembering that David was still very young. His life was in danger, and he was alone and helpless. Yet out of this experience of panic and uncertainty David forged an unshakable faith in God. The truths learned in this period sustained David all his life, and are reflected in Psalms 34 and 56. Only a person who has known fear grasps the necessity of trust. “You will surely die, Ahimelech” 1 Sam. 22:6–23. When Saul learned that Ahimelech had helped David, he accused the priest of conspiracy. Ahimelech answered reasonably. Everyone knew David was loyal—wasn’t he the king’s son-in-law, and captain of the king’s bodyguard? The paranoid Saul may have been further enraged by this implied praise of David. On Saul’s orders 85 priests and their entire families were murdered! One son, Abiathar, escaped. When David heard what had happened he immediately confessed, “I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.” David could never have imagined that Saul would be so wicked as to kill the priests of Nob. But David realized that his lie had led to the tragedy. There is no such thing as a “little” lie. Speaking or acting with intent to deceive others is wrong. Without excusing David’s sin, it’s important to see again how his character contrasts with that of Saul. At an earlier time Saul had refused to admit a sin of his, even when he was obviously guilty, and he was confronted by Samuel! (15:13–20) David immediately accepted responsibility for the consequences of his lie, even though there is no hint that Abiathar blamed him. If we remain as honest with ourselves, with God, and with others, we too will grow toward spiritual maturity, as David did. “David and his men . . . kept moving from place to place” 1 Sam. 23:1–29. David used his growing force of men to aid the Israelite city of Keilah against the Philistines. Yet the people remained loyal to Saul, perhaps out of fear. This left David no place to go but into wilderness areas where he might hide from Saul’s army. Saul’s army was closing in when a rumor that the Philistines were attacking drew Saul away. Psalm 54 reflects David’s fears and his faith in this critical situation. Again we remember that it is when we find ourselves in desperate situations that we learn, “God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me” (Ps. 54:4). “Jonathan . . . helped him find strength in God” 1 Sam. 23:16–18. This final meeting of the two friends reminds us how significant Jonathan was in the life of the younger David. Jonathan had saved his life. Now, when David seemed to have no future, Jonathan expressed his conviction that the Lord would one day make David king. Jonathan also expressed his own willingness to take second place. Jonathan would have made a great and godly ruler. But his role in life was to be a great and godly friend. Few of us will achieve greatness in this life. But each of us can be the kind of friend who helps others find strength in God. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly” 1 Sam. 24:1–22. David did not kill Saul when he had the opportunity, but spared his life. Later David stood at a distance and showed Saul a piece of his robe to prove that he could have killed the king. In calling himself “a dead dog” and a “flea” David used images to convey the idea that he was harmless, and no threat to Saul. Saul, deeply moved, admitted he was wrong. He asked that David not kill his family when the Lord made David king. David promised and later kept his word. Saul may have been sincere at that moment, but David knew that Saul was fickle and untrustworthy. Don’t rely on what a person says or feels at the moment. Rely on what he or she does over a long period of time. “Think it over and see what you can do” 1 Sam. 25:1–44. Abigail’s wisdom in defusing David’s anger over the insults of her husband Nabal provides a model we can follow (vv. 23–31). Notice that Abigail (1) admitted that Nabal had done wrong to David, (2) brought the provisions that Nabal had refused to provide, (3) and asked David’s forgiveness. Abigail also led David to consider the long-range consequences of acting in anger. David intended to become king. Killing some of his future subjects was hardly wise, for it would create fear and hostility. Why should David have the burden of needless bloodshed on his conscience? If we want people we wrong to set aside their anger, we need to take the three steps taken by Abigail. It’s no wonder that when God struck down Abigail’s husband a short time later, David wanted her for a wife.
Striking Back (1 Sam. 24)
Maybe it’s when that crazy driver cuts you off at a corner, making you jam on the brakes to avoid an accident. Maybe it’s when the boss takes credit just one time too many for your work or ideas. Maybe it’s when your abusive spouse belittles you in front of friends. But it happens to all of us sometime. We get tired of being a victim. And we want to strike back. I suppose it’s all right to be angry when people turn us into victims. God understands that rush of adrenaline, the flushed face, and the sudden feeling of fury. But no anger-even justified anger-gives us the right some people claim. The right to strike back. “Don’t get mad,” the world says. “Get even.” Once David himself might have felt that way. But when Saul unknowingly entered a cave where David and his men were hiding, David had grown spiritually. David’s men were excited. “Look, David,” they whispered. “Here’s your chance! God’s handed Saul over to you! You’ve got him now. Kill him!” David’s response teaches us how you and I as believers are to deal with those who victimize us. David did not allow his men to harm Saul. Later he told the king, “May the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you” (v. 12). How do we deal with those who wrong us? First, we turn them over to the Lord, asking Him to avenge any wrongs they may have done to us. This is a positive action, and relieves us of the feeling of being victims. We have actually “taken them to court.” Not a human court, but the highest court of all. Then we simply wait for God to judge. At the same time, we make a personal commitment. David said, “My hand shall not touch you.” For us this means we determine not to take revenge, or try to repay others for the wrong they do to us. The choice David made isn’t an easy one. When we’re wronged, when we’re angry, we want so much to strike back and hurt the person who hurt us. But the choice David made is the right choice. This is what counts with God and what should count with us too.
In what relationship do you need to apply the lesson of this incident?