I Samuel 21–24. David Was Chased By Saul. The Priestly Clan Was Destroyed.

Key Notes: The priest gave David sacred bread and Goliath's sword. An Edomite betrayed the priest to Saul. Juedgment on four generations of Eli's clan. David saved Keilah from the Philistines, but was not given asylum against Saul. The people of Ziph informed Saul about David. David was inches away from killing Saul. Psalms by David in distress.

This passage completes the prophecy against the family of Eli. Saul was the executioner and David an unwitting accomplice. There are further developments of the relationship between Saul and David, the hound and the hare, with David in almost constant danger. Saul tried to kill him three times. David responded with adroit tactics, crying to God for relief and praising Him in spite of his troubles. we can see Psalms closely attached to this part of David’s life.

21:1–9  The priests and the Tabernacle have apparently moved from Shiloh to Nob, now the city of the priests. Ahimelech (great grandson of Eli) was on duty. Sacred bread for the Table of Show-bread was at hand, so the furnishings of the Tabernacle must have been there. Ahimelech regarded David’s sudden appearance with concern. Why was he alone? David made up a story about doing an errand for Saul. The young men who are with him were kept out of sight, but were clean—sexually abstinent.

Ahimelech gave him five loaves of  the Bread of the Presence. (Leviticus 24:5–9). Two tenths ephah of flour is calculated to be 3.5 lb., making each loaf around 4 lb. Twenty pounds of this bread would feed a lot of men. David also came away with Goliath’s sword. There is an ominous note. Doeg the Edomite witnessed the scene, “detained before the Lord.”

21:10–15  David ran from Saul into the arms of the Philistines—a bad mistake. They recognized him as their arch-enemy—worse than Saul. It is amazing that they did not kill him outright. He acted insane and they let him go. He recorded his feelings in a psalm:

“I sought the Lord and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant.
So your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.”
(Psalm 34:4–6, “when he feigned madness before running to Ahimelech.”)

22:1–5  David went to the cave  of Adullam and gathered around him escaped prisoners, debtors and malcontents. He became a kind of Robin Hood. His family needed to be safe so they were delivered to the care of the king of Moab. David was warned by the prophet Gad to leave the stronghold where he could be besieged. He went into the forest. This was his prayer:

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
For in Thee my soul takes refuge;
In the shadow of Thy wings I will take refuge,
Till the storms of destruction pass by.
I lie in the midst of lions
That greedily devour the sons of men.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
Let thy glory be over all the earth.”
(Psalm 57:1–5, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.)

22:6–19  Next we find Saul at home in Gibeah wallowing in self-pity and anger. He gave his reasons:
*David (tribe of Judah) will not give his men (of tribe of Benjamin) jobs when he comes to power.
*Jonathan has made an alliance with David. No one told him that Jonathan had stirred up David, “the servant”, against him.
*David was hiding, waiting to ambush Saul.
*Nobody felt sorry for him.

Paranoid people believe that those they hate, hate them; and, therefore, can be fairly attacked.
David was not waiting in ambush for Saul, but hoping to escape with his life. He had no animosity against Saul. All the hatred was on Saul’s side. He was threatened, delusional, and paranoid.

Doeg, the Edomite, pleased Saul by reporting that Ahimelech had helped David. Ahimelech and the rest of the priestly clan were summoned and summary judgment pronounced. Ahimelech’s obvious innocence was unavailing. As far as he knew, David was the king’s favorite. Saul’s men would not touch the priests of the Lord, but Doeg of Edom had no such inhibitions. He killed 85 priests and then sacked the town of Nob, killing everyone. David recorded his thoughts about Doeg in a psalm:

“Why do you boast, O mighty man,
Of mischief done to the godly?
All the day you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor….
But God will break you down forever,
He will snatch and tear you from your tent.
He will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous shall see and fear,
And shall laugh at him, saying,
‘See the man who would not make God his refuge,
But trusted in the abundance of his riches
And sought refuge in his wealth.'”
 (Psalm 52:1–7, when Doeg, the Edomite came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech”.)

22:20–23  Abiathar alone escaped the carnage. David was repentant for contributing to the death of his family. Indeed, there were at least seven events leading to to the death of Abiathar’s family:
1)  The Lord prophesied to Eli by a man of God that his family would be destroyed for abuse of   the sacrifices (I Samuel 2:27–36);
            “Why then look with greedy eyes at my sacrifices ...”
            “… and honor your sons above Me by fattening yourself upon the choicest parts of the                             offering of my people Israel.”
2)  Next, Samuel, himself, as a young man, had to tell Eli, his mentor, something “that would                    make the ears tingle”: “… his sons were blaspheming God and he did not restrain them.” (I Samuel 3:13).
3)  Samuel anointed both Saul and David by God’s direction, creating the conflict between                       them.
4)  David frightened Saul by his effectiveness in everything he did.
5)  David lied to Ahimelech about his escape from Saul, exposing him to risk from Saul.
6)  Doeg of Edom, there by God's direction, observed David and Ahimelech collaborating, and reported him to Saul.
7)  Saul, in his paranoid state, ordered the execution of the whole clan of Eli’s descendents.
8)  Doeg the Edomite carried it out.

The judgment of God, slow and fearsome, is here displayed, a unique demonstration of ”visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me ...” (Exodus 20:4–6). See what became of the generations of Eli’s family (I Samuel 14:3 & 22:20):

Generation 0:  Eli, the high priest, fell over and died in his old age.
Generation 1:  Hophni and Phineas, sons of Eli, were killed by the Philistines.
Generation 2:  Ahitub and Ichabod, sons of Phineas, were killed by Doeg.
Generation 3:  Ahimelech and Ahijah, sons of Ahitub, were killed by Doeg.
Generation 4:  Abiathar, son of Ahimelech, survived, but was finally deposed from the                      priesthood years later by Solomon when he supported Adonijah to be king over                                 Solomon. I Kings 1:7; 2:26–27

This judgment was meted out to those who should be closest to God, the priests. Judgment began at the house of God. (I Peter 4:17). Did Eli really hate God? He spoke of God in a knowing way:  “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to Him.” (I Samuel 3:18). But Eli as high priest had no fear of God, broke the Law of Moses in the abuse of the offerings and corrupted the priestly office by allowing his sons to do the same—and worse. They were not the first to experience God’s judgment. Korah, Dathan and Abiram  plus 250 others of the priesthood died for their rebellion against Moses in the wilderness. (Numbers 16). Much later, after the Exile, Malachi would have hard words to say to the priests for their corruption of the priesthood. Malachi 2:1–9

23:1–5  The Philistines invaded the city of Keilah and were stealing the harvested grain. Should David go and attack them and save Keilah? The Lord said he should, but David’s men were afraid of being caught between the men of Judah and the Philistines. So David asked the Lord a second time and He confirmed David’s mission to Keilah. David delivered the people of Keilah and captured Philistine cattle. But Saul continued to look for him every day.

23:6–14  Saul was delighted that David was in a walled city where he could be put under siege and captured. David knew of the plot and consulted with Abiathar and the ephod. (23:6). David asked God if Saul would come after him. He would. Would the men of Keilah surrender him to Saul? They would. {Gratitude to David is fine, but not when Keilahite lives are at stake.}  David collected his 600 men and escaped into the wilderness of Ziph. He prayed:
            “O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee,
            My soul thirsts for Thee;
            My flesh faints for Thee,
            As in a dry and weary land where no water is.
            So I looked upon Thee in the sanctuary,
            Beholding Thy power and glory.
            Because Thy steadfast love is better than life,
            My lips will praise Thee.
            So I will bless Thee as long as I live;
            I will lift up my hands in Thy name” (Psalm 53:1–4, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah).

Abiathar brought an ephod with him when he escaped from Nob (23:6) and used it to help David’s decision about rescuing Keilah. (23:9). The ephod was a plain white tunic commonly worn, but most notably a garment for the high priest. His special dress was held together at the shoulders by jeweled clasps. It may also have had a breast-plate of twelve gem-stones representing the twelve tribes, with a pocket containing “urim and thummim”, unknown articles, perhaps dice with which the priest invoked God’s direction. If standing alone as a copy of the original, it could be viewed as a worship center.

23:15–18  David was afraid, but Jonathan came out into the desert to encourage him. David would be king and he would be next to him. They promised that to each other and parted forever.

23:19–29  Now the people of Ziph informed Saul of David’s whereabouts and offered to capture David. Saul was pleased by their compassion for him and encouraged them to pursue. Meanwhile, David had moved to the wilderness of Maon and Saul was closing in on him, perhaps a half mile away,  when a messenger reported a new attack by the Philistines. David escaped once more. This psalm gives some of his feelings:

“Save me, O God, by Thy Name,
And vindicate me by Thy Might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
Give ear to the words of my mouth.
For insolent men have risen up against me;
They do not set God before them.
Behold, God is my helper;
The Lord is the upholder of my life.”
(Psalm 54:1–4, “when the Ziphites came and told Saul, ’David is in hiding among us.'”)

24:1–7  Now Saul took 3,000 men and pursued David into the Wilderness of Engedi. Near the sheepfolds, there was a large cave that Saul used for his latrine. David’s men were deep in the cave, hiding, and they pushed David to seize the initiative and kill Saul. David snipped the fringe of his robe and let him go.

We can imagine what this limestone cave looked like. It had to have a large mouth, allowing good light. It needed a stream running through it to hide the sound of whispering. It had to have a side hall large enough to hide David and his men. There are caves still found in Palestine, but it is not likely they are the same as they were 3,000 years ago.

24:8–15  David came out and called after Saul, and bowed in reverence. He showed his trophy—a piece of Saul’s royal robe. He had not sinned against him; he would not attack the Lord’s anointed. God would avenge him for Saul’s wickedness. Should Saul waste his time chasing a dead dog or a flea?

24:17–22  Saul was surprised and embarrassed to tears. He prophesied that the Lord would reward David. He knew that David would be king and made David promise not to destroy his family. They parted. But Saul will try yet one more time to kill David (I Samuel 26) with the help of the Ziphites.

What did David do when he was harassed, his life repeatedly threatened? He prayed, blessing God and begging for relief. He lived and grew stronger in faith. He was a man after God’s own heart.