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.
The king of Gath, instead of killing David, ejects him from his house as a madman, and so David escapes the Philistines. Perhaps he now realizes that his attempt to sojourn with Israel’s enemies was ill-advised. At any rate, he heads back into Judah, trusting God to care for him there. He escapes to a cave called Adullam, which means “Justice of the People.” This cave was near the city of Adullam in Judah’s plains. In this case, the cave did mean justice, since it hid David, whom justice proves was innocent of all the jealous accusations of Saul.
David’s family hears of his exile and of his new dwelling place, and they realize the difficult situation they are in. Now that David is branded a traitor his whole family is in danger, since Saul might figure they will know where David is and demand that they turn him over to him on pain of death. Their home is no longer safe for David’s family, so his brothers and all his father’s house come down to the cave and join him in hiding there.
This must have been a difficult thing. We saw back in chapter 17 that at least David’s oldest brother (and perhaps others of his brothers as well) was jealous of David and his choice by God. With them being swept up in this calamity that now had happened to David, they perhaps wished that David had not been chosen by God at all. Yet they were associated with David, and God would care for them along with him. They, unlike Jonathan, threw their lot in with God’s man, and they would go up or down with him. In the short term they might go down, but in the long term they would go up with David, and their faithfulness to him would be rewarded.
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.
Word gets around that David is there. Interesting that it seems to reach everyone but Saul! Perhaps the love the people of Israel had for David, their young hero, had not gone away when their king Saul turned against him. Among his own tribe, at the very least, there seem to have been those who were always loyal to David.
Now, interestingly, David and his family find that they do not have to remain in exile alone. A crowd of people, many of them young men, come out to join him. These are made up of those who are in debt and those who are discontented. They leave their homes and come and join David, and he becomes their captain. He is no longer a captain in Israel’s army, but he is a captain over these men whom God sent him.
These people were dissatisfied with the way things were in Saul’s kingdom. The Hebrew phrase is that they were “bitter in soul” (where we have it translated “discontented” in the New King James). They did not like the kingdom as they found it, and so they looked for a better one. They had a vision of a better kingdom, a kingdom from God, ruled over by David, God’s man. They were willing to leave their homes and their bitter lives behind to throw in their lot with God’s chosen and look to the future for a promised better kingdom.
These were impressive men, and we should learn a lesson from them. We too live in a world that is not as it should be, and we too should be dissatisfied with it. We do not look to this world’s solutions, its politicians and movements, for our hope. Instead, we look for a better kingdom to come to us from the hand of God. His kingdom is the better one we long for, and His King we look to to bring it in is the Lord Jesus Christ. May God speed the day when His kingdom comes to earth at last!
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.”
David realizes that living in exile is not a prospect that is very easy on elderly people. He does not want his aging mother and father to have to live the hard life he and his young followers will be living. Remember that David was the youngest son of eight, so in his twenties his parents are already fairly elderly. Therefore, he takes them to Mizpeh, which means “Watchtower,” a city in Moab. Moab, which means “From a Father,” was a nation descended from Lot, Abraham’s nephew. It was east of Israel over the Jordan River between Ammon in the north and Edom in the south.
David comes to Moab with his family. He requests the king to let his parents stay there until he discovers what God is going to do for him. David is confident that God will bring him through this, but he trusts the king of Moab with his family until that time. The king of Moab apparently was willing to help David. No doubt by this time word that David is out of favor with Saul and in exile has reached Israel’s neighbors, and so those who are enemies of Saul are willing to ally with David as long as he is against Saul. Therefore, he finds a friend in this neighbor king.
4. So he brought them before the king of Moab, and they dwelt with him all the time that David was in the stronghold.
The king of Moab agrees to help David, and so he takes his family into his land. They remain there with him, while David returns and stays in the stronghold, that is, in the cave of Adullam, for a while.
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.
Now we meet a prophet named Gad, which means “Troop.” This prophet is named after one of the tribes of Israel, though of course this does not mean for certain that he was from that tribe. He apparently comes to David at this point, and as far as we can tell he stays with David throughout the rest of his life. Perhaps he was one of the four hundred men who came to David back in verse 2. Gad is also the third author of this book that we call “Samuel,” as we learned from I Chronicles 29:29.
Gad warns David not to stay in the stronghold he is in, but to return to the main part of the land of Judah. David obeys and leaves the cave and the plains to enter the forest of Hareth. Hareth means “Wood” or “Forest,” which is not a very inventive name for a forest. David remains here for a time, but he does not remain long undisturbed, as we will see.
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—
David apparently was well hidden in his stronghold, but now that he has come out into the forest he is discovered, and word quickly gets back to Saul. We learn that Saul is holding court in Gibeah, his hometown, under a large tree in Ramah. This cannot be the Ramah that was Samuel’s hometown, for that was in Ephraim, and Saul’s hometown of Gibeah is in Benjamin. Apparently, this Ramah was a place near Gibeah in Benjamin.
Saul does not hold court unarmed. He has his spear ready in his hand, perhaps showing the paranoia he is starting to develop that David is out to kill him. All his servants are there, standing about him, as they probably always did when he was holding court.
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?
Saul starts to whine to his servants and accuse them of not taking his side, as he believes they should have done, against David. He points out that his servants were all promoted from his own tribe of Benjamin, so they benefitted greatly from the fact that their king, Saul himself, had been taken from their own tribe. On the other hand, David, the son of Jesse, is from the tribe of Judah, and so Saul suggests he will likely promote servants from his own tribe, not from Benjamin. He reminds them of the gifts of fields and vineyards and the positions of captains of thousands and hundreds that he has given them. He suggests that David will do no such thing for them once he is king. In other words, Saul is trying to win their loyalty through bribery.
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.”
Saul further accuses his servants of conspiring against him. He apparently has recently learned of the covenant that his son Jonathan had made with David. Notice though that he does not use David’s name, but calls him “son of Jesse.” He is distancing himself from David, and trying to look at him as a vicious enemy instead of the man who had been his son-in-law and friend. Saul feels that the proof of his servants’ disloyalty is that none of them had told him of Jonathan’s covenant with David. He further accuses them of having no feelings of pity towards him, feeling as he does that he has been conspired against.
Saul goes on to accuse his son Jonathan, not just of being David’s friend, but of stirring up David against him, hoping that David will kill him! In other words, he accuses Jonathan of wanting the throne, and of stirring up David to murder his father in order to get it. Of course, this was ludicrous, and shows the demented and paranoid condition of Saul’s thoughts. Being a godless and disloyal man himself, he believes all those around him, like David and his own son Jonathan, to be just as selfish and dishonest as he is. Perhaps this is how he justified in his own mind his actions earlier when he attempted to kill his own son for pleading for David. Now, in Saul’s mind, he has twisted it so that instead of him trying to kill Jonathan, he thinks that it is Jonathan who had tried to kill him! He did not want to admit to himself his own wickedness, and so he projected his own state of mind even on his Godly son. He was getting paranoid indeed.
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.
Doeg the Edomite hears Saul’s accusations. This causes him to remember what he saw when he was in Nob and David came there. Doeg is clearly just the kind of man Saul hoped to reach with his pleas for them to side with him because of the wealth and power he can give them. Doeg immediately reports what he saw in Nob when “the son of Jesse” came to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub the priest.
10. And he inquired of the LORD for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”
Doeg reports how Ahimelech the priest aided David by inquiring of the LORD for him, giving him provisions, and even giving him the sword of Goliath the Philistine. Doeg did not care how bad this made it look for Ahimelech. He himself had not heard of David’s exile at that time, and so he should have known that Ahimelech would not have heard of it either. Yet it is doubtful that Doeg cared. All he really wanted was the reward Saul promised to give those who acted loyal to him, and he is determined to get it, no matter who has to pay the price for his success. This Doeg was a poor kind of man indeed.
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.
Because of Doeg’s report, Saul sends for Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. He does not send only for him, however, but also for all his family, his father’s household, who were all the priests of Nob. They suspect nothing, and all come dutifully to appear at the summons of the king.
12. And Saul said, “Hear now, son of Ahitub!”
He answered, “Here I am, my lord.”
Saul calls upon him to hear, and he responds that he is listening. We must notice the names here mentioned. As we noted last chapter, the name “Ahimelech” means “Brother of a King.” He is the son of Ahitub, meaning “My Brother is Goodness.” In this situation, Ahimelech’s very name must have made him seem even more suspicious to Saul. Would not one named “Brother of a King” have ambitions that perhaps he might take the throne?
Remember that this family is under the LORD’s curse, being descended from the man Eli, who refused to submit to the rebuke of the LORD. Yet the fact that they were cursed does not seem to have been a reality in the lives of these priests, considering how they were naming their children. Your child is under God’s curse, and yet you name him “Brother of a King”! This does not seem at all like the kind of attitude the LORD would want from a family with whom He was angry. Now the very pride of this family in naming their sons will help to bring about their destruction.
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?”
Now Saul accuses Ahimelech of conspiring with David against him. He repeats what Doeg had reported, that Ahimelech had given David food and a sword and had inquired of God for him. Yet he also accuses him of what Ahimelech had not done: of doing these things to help David in a conspiracy against Saul.
Notice again that he does not say David’s name, but calls him the “son of Jesse,” showing his distancing himself from the man who had been his friend and son-in-law. His accusations against David are completely imaginary, for David did not rebel against Saul or set a trap for him. Saul at this time is no friend of the truth. Yet these lies come out of Saul’s jealousy and paranoid fear, and it seems likely that he has even led himself to believe them, as ludicrous as they were. The only one who had risen against anyone else was Saul himself rising against his own servant and army commander.
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?
This is the first Ahimelech has heard of any trouble between David and King Saul, and he says as much. He protests that he had no reason to think David a traitor. Is he not famous as the most honorable and faithful of Saul’s servants? Is he not the king’s son-in-law, and has he not always been trustworthy?
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.”
Ahimelech’s argument here seems to be that this is not the first time he has inquired of God for David. This was no unusual behavior, and Saul had no problem with it before. He trusted David, and that is why he enquired of the LORD for him. Far be it from Ahimelech, he protests, to think of rebelling against the king! He begs Saul not to impute any guilt to him or to his family, since he is actually Saul’s servant, and not a traitor. He knew nothing of the quarrel between Saul and David, little or much, and never suspected David of being treacherous.
16. And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house!”
Saul hears nothing of what the priest has said. In his madness and fear, he has already concluded that the priests are all against him, and he will not listen to any reason otherwise. Perhaps he thought that, after all, it was Jehovah who had chosen David instead of him, so why would not His priests be in on the plot? He has already determined to wipe out not only Ahimelech, but also his family. This wicked man no longer had any compunction against murdering Jehovah’s priests!
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.
Saul turns to his personal guards and commands them to kill Jehovah’s priests, since he is convinced that they are traitors who have sided with David against them. There is no justice to be found before this man’s court! With no evidence at all he concludes that they have joined David’s side and knew all about his flight from Saul and refrained from revealing it to him.
Yet Saul’s servants will not do it, refusing to strike down the priests of Jehovah. These men had good sense, and had a better conscience than Saul, who has come to the point where he has no qualms against such an affront to God.
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.
When Saul sees that even his personal guards will not carry out his wicked command, he turns to Doeg. This was the man who brought him the report against Yahweh’s priests, and he is the one who hopes to gain great favor with Saul by revealing their “treachery” to him. Thus when asked he eagerly becomes the executioner, and murders eighty-five of Yahweh’s priests at once. This man was an Edomite, and remember that they were the nation descended from Esau and were not Israelites at all. They had their own gods, and did not worship Yahweh. What did it matter to a man from this nation, then, if he killed Yahweh’s priests? Yet look at the kind of man Saul turns to to carry out his godless orders. Saul has indeed sunk very low in performing this bloody deed!
How was one man able to slay eighty-five without help? Remember that Doeg was an armed soldier, and the priests were unarmed. Also, though the other soldiers might not have been willing to help Doeg, they might have been willing to block off any way to flee at Saul’s command. Thus this slaughter is carried out by the wicked Doeg.
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.
It seems that neither Saul nor Doeg are satisfied with this slaughter. Therefore Doeg goes to Nob and kills every man, woman, and child there, and even slaughters the animals! Thus he performs against the LORD’s priests a mockery of the LORD’s method of devoting to destruction certain people and cities that are sinful in His sight. This is the kind of affront against the LORD that Saul is now capable of.
In spite of such a terrible crime against the LORD’s priests, we never really read of this again. Even when Saul is brought to destruction, there is no mention that this was brought upon him because of the slaughter of the LORD’s priests. Why did the LORD not act more incensed by this behavior?
To answer this, we must remember the curse upon Eli’s family. This curse was set forth in I Samuel 2:30-33.
30. Therefore the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the LORD says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. 31. Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. 32. And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever. 33. But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age.
This curse told Eli that the strength of his house would be destroyed. None of his descendants would live to old age. Any who remained as priests would not bring honor on his house, but shame. Ultimately, though, they would be cut off from His altar. Here, then, is the fulfillment of the LORD’s curse. As terrible as this slaughter of the priests was, this was God’s will. He did not work to stop it, since these men were under his curse, and also He does not appear ever to have acted to avenge it. Saul for now got away with this paranoid act of wickedness because it fit the LORD’s plan. However, he had plenty of other acts of wickedness that eventually came down on his head.
Therefore the LORD’s curse on Eli’s family comes to pass in a terrible way, as even the women, children, and animals of his family are slaughtered. How sad that Eli allowed this to happen because of his stubborn rebellion against the LORD! He loved his family more than the LORD and chose his family over the LORD, and so brought this destruction upon them. Let us learn from this, and not be like this man Eli!
20. Now one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David.
Yet the destruction of Eli’s family is not total. One and one only of the priestly family escapes, Abiathar, Ahimelech’s son. Abiathar means “My Father is Great,” another proud name among the members of this cursed family. Why was this one allowed to escape? How he escaped Doeg, who probably had help this time, we cannot say, but we know that Abiathar’s escape must have been brought about by God’s will. God’s curse could not be finished if ALL Eli’s family were wiped out, for there was more to the curse, as we read in I Samuel 2:35-36.
35. “Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever. 36. And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and say, “Please, put me in one of the priestly positions, that I may eat a piece of bread.”’”
The prophecy here is that a faithful priest will rise up to take the place of Eli’s cursed family. There will be some left of Eli’s family, and these will come to this priest and his descendants and beg them for money and food. They will be willing to take even the lowest of priestly positions in order to earn some small living. This is the final state of Eli’s family, but it could never come about if every last one of Eli’s family was wiped out. Therefore it was necessary for someone to escape the slaughter at Nob, and this Abiathar is the one whom God sees to it that he escapes. After escaping, he flees to David. He knows he is now a refugee from the unjust wrath of Saul, and David, a similar refugee, will doubtless take him in.
21. And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the LORD’s priests.
When Abiathar arrives at David’s camp, he reports to David what Saul did to Jehovah’s priests. Thus David learns of their deaths, and has more evidence of the depths of Saul’s jealous rage against him.
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.
When David hears this report, he laments to Abiathar that he knew on that day when he visited Nob and saw Doeg there that he would report his presence to Saul. Thus David blames himself for the death of Abiathar’s family. This sounds like the honorable heart of David, and yet he accuses himself somewhat unfairly. It was Saul’s madness that really was to blame, and he must bear the blame for his unjust slaughter of the priestly family. Yet there is another who might rightfully take the blame for this far more than David, and that is the unfaithful priest Eli, who by his refusal of the word of Yahweh caused Him to place a curse on his family in the first place. It was these godless men, and not the Godly man David, who must bear the blame for this nefarious deed.
23. Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.”
David is very willing to take in the fugitive Abiathar. He need fear nothing from David, he promises. Saul seeks both their lives, and this makes them allies and fellow fugitives. Abiathar will be safe as long as he is with David. The cursed man would be safe as long as he was with the blessed man. Indeed, both men were safe enough, for while David had to live for the LORD to fulfill His promise of blessing and kingship upon him, Abiathar also had to live to fulfill the LORD’s promise of shame and dishonor upon the remainder of his family, which at this point was reduced to him and him alone. Yet David is certainly not thinking of this, but takes in this man whose only crime that brought him now into exile was that his father had offered David kindness and help. They will continue as companions throughout David’s lifetime, though eventually the curse of God will fall upon Abiathar, as it must upon all his family at His word.