Lesson 8: Chapters 22-24
David the Outlaw

Beloved Lord,

You have called Christians to persevere in faith in the midst of unjustified persecution. The consequences of unjustified personal suffering do not mean that You have turned away from us in our sufferings. On the contrary, such sufferings can bring us to a more intimate and meaningful relationship with You when we unite our sufferings to the unjustified sufferings of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, as we study the sufferings of David as he persevered in faith and placed his destiny in Your hands despite the persecution inflicted by Saul and David's many hardships living as an outlaw. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Of David: Prayer of the virtuous in persecution:
Accuse my accusers, Yahweh, attack my attackers. Grasp your buckler and shield, up, and help me. Brandish spear and pike to confront my pursuers, give me the assurance, "I am your Savior." Shame and humiliation on those who are out to kill me! ... Unprovoked they laid their snare for me, unprovoked dug a trap to kill me. Ruin comes upon them unawares; the snare they have laid will catch them, and into their own trap they will fall. Then I shall delight in Yahweh, rejoice that he has saved me.
Psalm 35:1-4a, 7-9

In last week's lesson we were reminded that the themes of the Book of Samuel are Yahweh's holy sovereignty over salvation history, which includes the reversal of human destiny and the theme of kingship in God's Divine Plan for mankind's salvation. The themes of reversal of human fortune by God's direct action and the importance of kingship in God's Divine Plan were first introduced in the canticle of Hannah, the barren woman of faith who gave birth to Yahweh's prophet Samuel (1 Sam 2:1-10). In the narrative of the Book of Samuel such reversals in life at Yahweh's direction have occurred in the lives of Hannah, Eli, Samuel, Saul and David.

Concerning the theme of kingship, is important to remember that God is the Divine King of the Universe. God has been enthroned as king since "before the Flood" (Ps 29:10), that is from eternity. It is Yahweh who "will reign forever and ever" (Ex 15:18). The rule of a human king of Israel is temporary, and it is only permitted that a human king rules to serve as God's agent. The first occurrence of the word "king" is when Samuel's mother, Hannah, expresses her conviction that it is Yahweh who gives power to the human king and lifts up "the horn of his anointed" (1 Sam 2:10). That prophecy is fulfilled in her son, Israel's kingmaker, who anointed for kingship Saul and later David. Both themes will be fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and King of kings.

David is now a fugitive and will become the leader of an outlaw band of men and their families. With the exception of David's visit to the country of Moab, all his encampments will be in the tribal lands of Judah in chapters 22-24:

  1. Takes refuge in the Cave of Adullam (22:1)
  2. Takes his parents to Moab (22:3-4)
  3. Saves the town of Keilah (23:1-13)
  4. Stays at Horesh in the desert of Ziph (23:14-18)
  5. Escapes to the desert of Maon
  6. Camps in the strongholds of En-Gedi (24:1)

Chapter 22: David the Outlaw

For the choirmaster. Tune: "Do not destroy." Of David. In a quiet voice. When he escaped from Saul in the cave.
Take pity on me, God, take pity on me, for in you I take refuge, in the shadow of your wings I take refuge, until the destruction is past. I call to God the Most High, to God who has done everything for me; may he send from heaven and save me, and check those who harry me; may God send his faithful love [hesed] and his constancy. I lie surrounded by lions, greedy for human prey, their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongue a sharp sword... I will praise you among the people, Lord. I will make music for you among nations, for your faithful love [hesed] towers to heaven, your constancy to the clouds. Be exalted above the heavens, God! Your glory over all the earth!
Psalm 57:1-4, 9-11

1 Samuel 22:1-5 ~ David Seeks Refuge for Himself and His Parents
1 David left there and took refuge in the Cave of Adullam; his brothers and his father's whole family heard this and joined him there. 2 All those in distress, all those in debt, all those who had a grievance, gathered round him and he became their leader. There were about four hundred men with him. 3 From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, "Allow my father and mother to stay with you until I know what God intends to do for me." 4 He left them with the king of Moab and there they stayed all the time that David was in the stronghold. 5 The prophet Gad, however, said to David, "Do not stay in the stronghold; leave and make your way into the territory of Judah." David then left and went to the forest of Hereth.

David seeks refuge in cave in the rugged hill country of Judah near Adullam, a Hebrew word meaning "closed in place" (also see 2 Sam 23:13). It is a town in the tribal lands of Judah (Josh 15:35) about five miles south of Beth-shemesh in the Valley of Sorek on the border between the tribal lands of Judah and Benjamin. Beth-shemesh is sixteen miles southwest of Jerusalem on the highway to the Philistine city of Ashdod and the Mediterranean. David's hometown of Bethlehem is only five miles south of Jerusalem.

When David is able to send word to his family in Bethlehem, his brothers and his clan (extended family including uncles and cousins) immediately join him. In addition to David's family, Israelites who feel they have been wronged by Saul's regime join David in the hope that he can secure justice and a better life for them: All those in distress, all those in debt, all those who had a grievance, gathered round him and he became their leader. David was probably thinking of these men when he wrote: Psalm of David when he was in the cave; prayer: The upright gather round me because of your generosity to me (Ps 142: title and verse 7).

Question: How many men and their families initially join David at Adullam?
Answer: Four hundred men not counting women and children.

1 Samuel 22:3 ~ From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, "Allow my father and mother to stay with you until I know what God intends to do for me."
The conditions in the camp are too difficult for David's elderly parents, and he cannot leave them in Bethlehem. The route David traveled with his parent was from Adullam in the tribal lands of Judah to the east into the Valley of the Dead Sea and up to the plateau of Moab on the east side of the Dead Sea, a distance of about twelve miles. The site of Mizpah of Moab is unknown.

Question: Why does David want to find refuge for his parents in the pagan land of Moab? See Rt 4:9-10, 13-22 and 1 Sam 14:47.
Answer: David's father Jesse was the grandson of the Moabitess Ruth so there was a blood tie with the Moabites which David probably mentions in his request for sanctuary for his parents. In addition, the Moabites were Saul's enemies and any assistance they can offer an enemy of Saul's is to their advantage.

"Allow my father and mother to stay with you until I know what God intends to do for me." Notice that when David requests sanctuary for his parents in verse 3b, he gives testimony of his faith in Yahweh to the pagan Moabite king. David does not know what plans God has for him, but he is trusting God with his life.

1 Samuel 22:4-5 ~ He left them with the king of Moab and there they stayed all the time that David was in the stronghold. 5 The prophet Gad, however, said to David, "Do not stay in the stronghold; leave and make your way into the territory of Judah." David then left and went to the forest of Hereth.
The "stronghold" in verse 4 does not refer to the cave in Judah but to the Moabite stronghold at Mizpah. This passage is confusing, but apparently David stayed with his parents for a time at Mizpah on the east side of the Dead Sea until the prophet Gad (probably sent by Samuel) came to David and urged him to return to his band of followers across the river in Judah. David crossed back to the west into Israel and went to the forest of Hereth, an unknown site but presumably in the Judean hill country near Adullam. The prophets of God who counseled David during this period and during his kingship were Gad and Nathan. According to tradition, they are believed to be the inspired writers who continued writing the Book of Samuel after Samuel's death.

1 Samuel 22:6-11 ~ Betrayal of the Priests of Nob
6 When Saul heard that David and the men with him had been discovered, Saul was at Gibeah, seated under the tamarisk on the high place, spear in hand, with his staff [servants] standing round him. 7 "Listen, Benjaminites!" said Saul to them, "Is the son of Jesse going to give you all fields and vineyards and make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds 8 that you all conspire against me? No one warned me when my son made a pact with the son of Jesse; none of you felt sorry for me or warned me when my son incited my servant to become my enemy, as he is now." 9 Then, up spoke Doeg the Edomite, who was in command of Saul's staff [servants], "I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech son of Ahitub. 10 The man consulted Yahweh on his behalf, gave him provisions and also the sword of Goliath the Philistine." 11 The king then sent for the priest Ahimelech son of Ahitub and his whole family, the priests of Nob; they all came to the king. [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 773-74.

Saul was presiding over his court seated at his usual place under a tree. The court of an Israelite king is quite modest in this period and different from the ostentation of kingship in the era of Solomon and his successors. The tamarisk tree is a deciduous tree that grew up to 20 feet tall with small feathery leaves and pink flowers in the spring. Abraham planted one at Beersheba (Gen 21:33) and Saul will be buried under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh-Gilead (1 Sam 31:12-13). The spear in his hand symbolized his kingly status (see 18:10; 19:9; 20:33) just as the crook and flail symbolized royal power in the hands of the Egyptian pharaoh or the bow and the mace symbolized the kingly status of the Assyrian kings.

None of the Israelites in Saul's command, not even men from Saul's own tribe, want to betray David. David is admired and respected by everyone, including Saul's servants (18:5).
Question: Saul says he knows of the favor David enjoys and berates his own tribal kinsmen by asking what rhetorical question? What is Saul's point in verse 7?
Answer: Saul asks: "Is the son of Jesse going to give you all fields and vineyards and make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds 8 that you all conspire against me? Saul berates the men of his tribe serving on his staff by reminding them that they have him to thank for enriching them by his royal favor in giving them their commands, the grants of tracks of land, and the other favors. His point is if David was king all those favors would be going to the tribe of Judah, David's tribe.

Question: How does Saul's practice of giving "fields and vineyards" and appointing military leaders from among those he favors another of the consequences of kingship predicted by Samuel? See 1 Sam 8:12, 14.
Answer: Samuel warned the people that a king will conscript their sons and He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty (22:14) ... He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his officials (22:14). Saul's statement in verse 7 supports the fulfillment of Samuel's prophecy.

That Saul cannot name any one act of treason committed by David points to David's innocence and to Saul's continuing paranoia.

Question: What new accusation does Saul make against his son in verses 8b-9 and what knowledge does he have about the relationship between Jonathan and David?
Answer: Saul accuses Jonathan of conspiring to turn David against him, and he apparently knows about the loyalty covenant between Jonathan and David.

1 Samuel 22:9 ~ Then, up spoke Doeg the Edomite, who was in command of Saul's staff [servants], "I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech son of Ahitub.
Doeg the Edomite is probably in charge of Saul's servants who are his personal guard. It is Saul's commanding general Abner who would be over Saul's staff officers. It appears that Saul so distrusts his fellow's Israelites that his personal guard is composed of Edomite mercenaries. It was not uncommon for kings to have soldiers of another nationality serving as their personal guard. For example, the Roman emperors will establish an Imperial Germanic Bodyguard to provide close personal protection. Even the Pope has a personal Vatican guard composed of Swiss soldiers.

Question: Where was Doeg the Edomite mentioned in last week's lesson? See 1 Sam 21:8/7.
Answer: When David went to the Sanctuary at Nob, Doeg was there.

Question: In what three ways does Doeg report that Ahimelech helped David in verses 9-10?

  1. The man consulted Yahweh on his [David's] behalf
  2. [He] gave him [David] provisions
  3. [He] gave the sword of Goliath

Compare what Doeg reported to Saul with the information from David's visit to the Sanctuary at Nob recorded in 21:2-10:

1 Samuel 21:1-10/6-9 1 Samuel 22:9-10
(Doeg's account)
David to Ahimelech: The king has given me an order...Do not let anyone know anything about the mission on which I am sending you ...  
  The man consulted Yahweh on his [David's] behalf
The priest then gave him [David] what had been consecrated ... which is taken out of Yahweh's presence ... gave him [David] provisions
The sword of Goliath the Philistine ... if you care to take it, do so ... gave the sword of Goliath
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014

Notice that Doeg did not volunteer the fictitious story that David told Ahimelech; it was a story that both David and the priest hoped would save the priests at Nob from Saul's wrath. It is odd that Doeg called the holy "Bread of the Presence" simply "provisions." Perhaps being a foreigner and not a convert (if he was a convert he would never have referred to the holy bread as "provisions") he did not understand the significance of the bread Ahimelech gave David. Doeg also reports that the "man consulted Yahweh" on David's behalf, not referring to Ahimelech as a priest. It is information that is not included in the narrative of David at Nob.

The information that Ahimelech consulted God on David's behalf is probably not true and Ahimelech will deny the accusation in verse 15. The privilege of consulting God through the urim and thummim was limited to an anointed representative of God such as a high priest, or from the high priest to an ordained leader of the people like Joshua or a king; ordinary members of the covenant were not permitted this privileged communication (Ex 28:30; Num 27:18-21).

Question: If Saul believed that Ahimelech gave David divine direction through the urim and thummim, why would that have sealed the fate of Ahimelech? Would Ahimelech have provided such information and would David have even made the request?
Answer: For Ahimelech to provide such privileged information for David would suggest that Ahimelech acknowledged David as the legitimate king instead of Saul and there is no indication of this. It is also a request David would not have made since at this point since his loyalty still remains Saul as Israel's anointed king. As soon as Saul hears Doeg's report, he is convinced of a priestly conspiracy and sends for the chief priests of Nob.

1 Samuel 22:12-16 ~ Saul interrogates Ahimelech
12 Saul said, "Now listen, son of Ahitub!" He replied, "Here I am, my lord." 13 Why have you conspired against me," said Saul, "you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and consulting God on his behalf, for him to rebel against me as is now the case?" 14 Ahimelech replied to the king, "Of all those in your service, who is more loyal than David son-in-law to the king, captain of your bodyguard, honored in your household? 15 Was today the first time I ever consulted God on his behalf? Indeed it was not! The king has no grounds for bringing any charge against his servant or against his whole family, for your servant knew nothing whatever about all this." 16 The king retorted, "You must die, Ahimelech, you and your whole family."

The English translation of verse 15 in the NJB translation suggests that Ahimelech consented to consulting God for David; however, the Hebrew is difficult to translate and that verse can also be translated: "Is it this time that I began consulting God for him? Absolutely not!" (Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, page 544). This second version of the translation makes more sense since considering the restricted use of the ocular devises. David would not have asked since he acknowledges that Saul is Israel's legitimate king, and if he had asked Ahimelech, being a righteous priest, would not have consented.

Question When Saul doesn't like someone how does he refer to them?
Answer: When he doesn't like someone, Saul refuses to use their proper name and only refers to them by their patrilineal name, as in referring to David as "son of Jesse" and Ahimelech as "son of Ahitub."

Ahimelech and Ahijah are the sons of Ahitub, and Ahijah has been serving as Saul's chaplain (see 14:3, 18). They may have been co-high priests since both men controlled the urim and thummim.

1 Samuel 22:13 ~ Why have you conspired against me," said Saul, "you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and consulting God on his behalf, for him to rebel against me as is now the case?"
Saul begins by accusing Ahimelech of conspiring against his kingship and lists the three things Doeg testified transpired during David's visit to Nob. Notice that Saul lists what he considers the most serious offense last where as in verse 10 Doeg mentioned consulting God first.

Question: Ahimelech begins his defense by defending David. How does he defend David?
Answer: He declares that David character and conduct is incomparable to any other of Saul's servants as far as his loyalty is concerned. He makes three points to support his statement of David's loyalty:

  1. David is a member of Saul's family since he is Saul's son-in-law.
  2. David is the captain of Saul's bodyguard.
  3. David is held in esteem by Saul's household.

The "bodyguard" probably refers to Saul's personal guards who are now commanded by Doeg. It is not to Doeg's advantage to have David returned to his former position, and this may account for his willingness to accuse David of treason.

Question: What is Ahimelech's argument in his own defense?
Answer: Since David is loyal to Saul and has committed no sin against Saul, it was reasonable for Ahimelech to give assistance to David. He did not know his actions could be considered as conspiring against the king.

Question: What is Saul's response and what laws of the Sinai Covenant does he violate? See Ex 21:12; Lev 24:20; Dt 17:6; 19:15; 20:10-18; 1 Sam 15:3.

  1. Despite Ahimelech's defense, Saul announced that he and his whole family must die. This unjust verdict violates the law of reciprocal punishment ("an eye for an eye") in that the punishment must not exceed the crime and a man's family cannot pay the price for his sin.
  2. Saul's verdict also violates the law in which a person can only be found guilty of a crime on the testimony of two or three witnesses and certainly cannot be put to death unless two or three witnesses testify to witnessing the crime.
  3. Saul subjected Nob to herem, the curse of destruction that is only to be inflicted on Israel's worst enemies at God's command and never on Israelites.

1 Samuel 22:17-23 ~ Massacre of the Priests of Nob and their Families
17 The king said to the scouts [runners] who were standing round him, "Forward! And put the priests of Yahweh to death, for they too are on David's side, they knew that he was escaping, yet did not warn me of it." The king's professional soldiers [servants], however, would not lift a hand to strike the priests of Yahweh. 18 The king then said to Doeg, "Forward, you! Fall on the priests!" Doeg the Edomite stepped forward and fell on the priests, himself that day killing eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 Nob, the town of priests, Saul put to the sword: men and women, children and infants, cattle, donkeys and sheep. 20 One son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub alone escaped. His name was Abiathar, and he fled away to join David. 21 When Abiathar told David that Saul had slaughtered the priests of Yahweh, 22 David said to Abiathar, "I knew, that day when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would be sure to inform Saul. I am responsible for the death of all your kinsmen. 23 Stay with me, do not be afraid, for he who seeks your life seeks mine; you will be safe with me." [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 775. The Hebrew word ruwts, translated in the NJB "scouts," is from the Hebrew prime root "to run" and refers to Saul's strike force or "runners" that Saul sends to Nob to massacre the inhabitants of the priestly city.

The Israelite soldiers/servants refuse to harm the priests, but Doeg and his Edomite mercenaries are willing to kill the priests, their wives, children and every living thing in the town of Nob. Saul has inflicted the ban of herem, the "curse of destruction," that is only intended for Israel's enemies and peoples of great wickedness like the Amalekites on his own people.

Question: Who was the only person to escape the massacre?
Answer: Ahimelech's son Abiathar.

Since Abiathar is the only member of the priests who served at Nob (who were the descendants of Eli) that survived the massacre, it can be assumed the Saul's chaplain and Ahimelech's brother Ahijah (14:3, 18) was also murdered. Ahimelech and Ahijah were sons of Ahitub (14:3; 22:12).
Question: How is it that another part of the prophecy God's prophet gave to Eli has been fulfilled? What is the relationship of Ahimelech and Ahijah to Eli? See 1 Sam 2:27-36; 4:11; 14:3; 22:12.
Answer: Part of the prophecy in 1 Samuel 2:33 was that the bulk of Eli's family would die by the sword and this has come to pass in the massacre at Nob. Ahimelech and Ahijah were Eli's great-grandsons.

1 Samuel 22:21-23 ~ When Abiathar told David that Saul had slaughtered the priests of Yahweh, 22 David said to Abiathar, "I knew, that day when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would be sure to inform Saul. I am responsible for the death of all your kinsmen. 23 Stay with me, do not be afraid, for he who seeks your life seeks mine; you will be safe with me."
It is not so much that David knew Doeg would inform Saul but he feared it would happen, and yet he could not bring himself to kill a man who had not yet committed an act of violence against him. Still, David takes responsibility for what has happened to Abiathar's family and gives him sanctuary. David will make Abiathar his chaplain and later when he is king, Abiathar (a descendant of Aaron's son Ithamar) will become a co-high priest with his distant kinsman Zadok (a descendant of Aaron's son Eleazer).

During this period of his life, David's faith and trust in God are continually tested. David will write about the pain of being slandered, relentlessly being pursued by his enemies, and being unable to defend his good name in Psalms 54-55. In Psalm 55 he writes: I shudder at the enemies' shouts, at the outcry of the wicked; they heap up charges against me, in their anger bring hostile accusations against me. My heart writhes within me, the terrors of death come upon me, fear and trembling overwhelm me, and shuddering grips me (verses 3-4). But he concludes his prayer by expressing his trust in God's providence: You, God, will thrust them down to the abyss of destruction, men bloodthirsty and deceptive, before half their days are spent. For my part, I put my trust in you (verse 23).

Chapter 23: David Continues to Evade Saul

Psalm of David when he was in the cave; prayer:
To Yahweh I cry out with my plea. To Yahweh I cry out with entreaty. I pour out my worry in his presence, in his presence I unfold my troubles. However faint my spirit, you are watching over my path. On the road I have to travel they have hidden a trap for me. Look on my right and see: there is no one who recognizes me. All refuge is denied me, no one cares whether I live or die. I cry out to you, Yahweh, I affirm, "You are my refuge, my share in the land of the living!" Listen to my calling, for I am miserably weak. Rescue me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me. Lead me out of prison that I may praise your name. The upright gather round me because of your generosity to me.
Psalm 142:1-7

1 Samuel 23:1-6 ~ David saves the town of Keilah from the Philistines
1 News was then brought to David, "The Philistines are besieging Keilah and plundering the threshing-floors." 2 David consulted Yahweh, "Shall I go and fight these Philistines?" Yahweh replied to David, "Go and fight the Philistines and save Keilah." 3 But David's men said to him, "We are already afraid here in Judah; how much more, then, if we go to Keilah to fight the Philistine troops!" 4 So David consulted Yahweh again and Yahweh replied, "Be on your way; go down to Keilah, since I shall give the Philistines into your power." 5 So David and his men went to Keilah and fought the Philistines and carried off their cattle and inflicted a great defeat on them. Thus David saved the inhabitants of Keilah. 6 When Abiathar son of Ahimelech took refuge with David, he went down to Keilah with the ephod in his hand.

In verse 6 we learn when Abiathar escaped the massacre at Nob that he managed to bring with him the high priest's ephod that contained the ocular devises of the urim and thummim (see Ex 28:6-30; 39:8-21). The word "ephod" has been used previously to refer in various ways to any article of clothing, textile, or image used in association with worship of Yahweh or in profane practice (Judg 8:27), but in this case the reference is to the specially designed sacred garment that the high priest wore with his other vestments (Ex chapter 28-39). The priestly ephod was made of finely woven linen embroidered with gold, blue, red and purple threads. It had two shoulder straps that fit over the shoulder and a waistband that tied around the waist of the high priest fitting as in an apron-like garment. A doubled over and embroidered linen piece in the same colors as used in the ephod and covered in twelve precious and semi-precious stones in four rows adorned the "breastplate of judgment" that was attached to the front of the ephod on the high priest's chest. The "breastplate of judgment" held the urim and thummim (Ex 28:23-30). The ephod was worn over the priest's blue robe that was worn over his white linen tunic: see the chart of the High Priest's Vestments (Ex 28:1-5).

Question: What is the significance of David having Abiathar with him who has in his possession the high priest's ephod?
Answer: Now David not only has the support of the people and the soldiers but also the priesthood. He also has possession of the holy ocular devise that gives him the means by which to contact God through a descendant of Aaron. It has come to him from a Chief Priest who is under his protection. The priesthood and priestly counsel of the divine oracle have been officially transferred from Saul to David.

David hears that Keilah, a walled town located about eight and a half miles northwest of Hebron in Judahite territory (Josh 15:44; 1 Chr 4:19), is under siege by the Philistines. He consults Yahweh through the urim and thummim to ask if he should go and rescue the Israelite town.
Question: What is God's answer to David's inquiry but what complication arises and why? See verses 2-3.
Answer: God tells David to go and liberate the town; however, his men are fearful that they cannot succeed.

The four hundred fighting men with David are probably not properly armed and most are probably not trained soldiers. They are also afraid that David's own tribe may betray them and turn them over to Saul. To reassure his men, David consults Yahweh a second time (verse 4) and when the answer is the same there is no hesitation: they march on Keilah and, with God on their side, they defeat the Philistines and carry off the Philistines' animals and supplies (used during the siege of Keilah), which David's people probably desperately needed.

1 Samuel 23:7-14 ~ Saul prepares to attack David at Keilah
7 When word was brought to Saul that David had gone to Keilah he said, "God has delivered him into my power: he has trapped himself by going into a town with gates and bars. 8 Saul called all the people to arms, to go down to Keilah and besiege David and his men. 9 David, however, was aware that Saul was plotting evil against him, and said to Abiathar the priest, "Bring the ephod." 10 David said "Yahweh, God of Israel, your servant has heard that Saul is preparing to come to Keilah and destroy the town because of me. 11 Will Saul come down as your servant has heard? Yahweh, God of Israel, I beg you, let your servant know." Yahweh replied, "He will come down." 12 David then went on to ask, "Will the notables [baalim = lords/masters] of Keilah hand me and my men over to Saul?" Yahweh replied, "They will hand you over." 13 At this, David made off with his men, about six hundred in number; they left Keilah and went where they could. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he abandoned the expedition. 14 David stayed in the desert, in the strongholds; he stayed in the mountains, in the desert of Ziph; Saul kept looking for him day after day, but God did not deliver him into his power. [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 776-77.

Notice that unlike Saul who prefers to make his own decisions (see 14:18-19), that David continually seeks God's will before taking action. Also note that David has good intelligence coming from inside Saul's court as to Saul's actions and intentions.

Question: Why does Saul feel that he now has David trapped?
Answer: Keilah is a walled town and after the victory David and his men are now staying within the town. If Saul's army can surprise David and surround the town, he is confident that the townspeople will not risk having their town destroyed like Nob and will give David up.

Question: When David consulted Yahweh about a possible siege by Saul and about the attitude of the town elders, what did God reveal to David?
Answer: When David inquired of Yahweh concerning what he can expect from Saul and from the town elders, Yahweh tells him that Saul will come and that the town elders will indeed betray him.

David and his men escape just in time and find a refuge in the mountainous wilderness region of Ziph in the southern territory of the tribe of Judah (Josh 15:24). It is a region that is west of the southern end of the Dead Sea in the eastern Negeb.
Question: How many men did David have in 22:2 and how many men does he have with him now?
Answer: David had four hundred at the Cave of Adullam, but now two hundred more men have joined him and he has a fighting force of six hundred men.

1 Samuel 23:15-18 ~ Jonathan visits David at Horesh
15 David was aware that Saul had mounted an expedition to take his life. David was then at Horesh in the desert of Ziph. 16 Jonathan son of Saul set off and went to David at Horesh and encouraged him in the name of God. 17 "Do not be afraid," he said, "for my father Saul's hand will not reach you. You are to reign over Israel and I shall be second to you. Saul my father is himself aware of this." 18 And the two made a pact [cut (renewed) the covenant] before Yahweh. David stayed at Horesh and Jonathan went home.
[..] =
literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 777.

David may be in communication with Jonathan who risks his life in coming to see David in his stronghold at Horesh. It is the last time they will ever meet. Horesh means "forest" and is believed to be just southeast of Hebron.

Question: If Jonathan is on David's side, why doesn't he join David's band of outcasts?
Answer: Perhaps it is because Jonathan is more valuable to David living within the court of Saul.

It is obvious that David has an ally in Saul's camp and information is being passed to David that includes warnings of Saul's military plans.
Question: How many times is David warned concerning Saul's plans to capture him? See 23:9, 15 and 25.

  1. David is warned that Saul knew he was at Keilah and planned to trap him there.
  2. David is told that Saul is planning to trap him at Horesh.
  3. Later David will be warned that Saul is coming after him when he is in the desert of Maon.

Question: Jonathan realizes that his friend is feeling overwhelmed with his many struggles and worries not only about his own safety but the safety of the men who have linked their destinies to his. How does Jonathan encourage David?

  1. He tells David not to be afraid; Saul will not capture him.
  2. He tells David he is destined to be Israel's king and he will support David in his kingship.
  3. He renews his covenant with David as a sign of his loyalty.

1 Samuel 23:19-28 ~ Saul Attempts to Trap David at Horesh
19 Some men from Ziph then went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, "Look, David is hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the Hill of Hachilah to the south of the wastelands. 20 Now whenever you wish to go down, my lord king, do so; we shall make it our task to hand him over to the king." 21 Saul replied, "May you be blessed by Yahweh for sympathizing with me. 22 Go and make doubly sure, find out exactly what place he frequents, for I have been told that he is very cunning. 23 Take careful note of all the hiding places where he lurks, and come back to me when you are certain. I shall then come with you and, if he is in the country, I shall tack him down through every clan in Judah!"
24 Setting off they went to Ziph ahead of Saul. Meanwhile, David and his men were in the desert of Maon, in the plain to the south of the wastelands. 25 When Saul and his men set out in search, David was told and went down to the gorge running through the desert of Maon. 25 Saul and his men proceeded along one side of the mountain, David and his men along the other. David was hurrying to escape from Saul, while Saul and his men were trying to cross over to David and his men's side, to capture them, 27 when a messenger came to Saul and said, "Come at once, the Philistines have invaded the country." 28 So Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to oppose the Philistines. That is why the place is called the Gorge of Separations.

Some men from the city of Ziph, south of Hebron, went to betray David to Saul and to offer to assist in capturing him. In the meantime, David and his men are coming down from the mountainous wilderness of Ziph and on the way to Maon, probably a site about twelve and a half miles south of Hebron.(1) David has a very close call when Saul and his army are on one side of a gorge and David and his men are on the other. Divine providence intervenes when Saul receives news of another Philistine attack and breaks off his pursuit of David. David wrote about the experience:

For the choirmaster. On stringed instruments. Poem of David when the Ziphites went to Saul and said, "Is not David hiding with us?"
Arrogant men are attacking me, bullies hounding me to death, no room in their thoughts for God. But now God is coming to my help, the Lord , among those who sustain me. May their wickedness recoil on those who lie in wait for me. Yahweh, in your constancy, destroy them. How gladly will I offer you sacrifice, and praise your name, for it is good, for it has rescued me from all my troubles, and my eye has feasted on my enemies.
Psalm 54:3-7

Chapter 24: David Spares Saul's Life

For the choirmaster. For strings. Poem of David:
God, hear my prayer, do not hide away from my plea, give me a hearing, answer me, my troubles give me no peace. I shudder at the enemy's shouts, at the outcry of the wicked; they heap up charges against me, in their anger bring hostile accusations against me. My heart writhers within me, the terrors of death come upon me, fear and trembling overwhelm me, and shuddering grips me.
15 For my part, I appeal to God, and Yahweh saves me; evening, morning, noon, I complain and I groan. He hears my cry, he ransoms me and gives me peace from the feud against me, for they are taking me to law. But God will listen and will humble them, he who has been enthroned from the beginning, no change of heart for them, for they do not fear God.
Psalm 55:1-5, 15-19

1 Samuel 24:1-8 ~ David encounters Saul in a Cave and spares his Life
1 From there David went up and installed himself in the strongholds of Gedi. 2 Once Saul was back from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, "David is now in the desert of En-Gedi." 3 Saul thereupon took three thousand men selected from all Israel and went in search of David and his men east of the Rocks of the Mountain Goats. 4 He came to the sheepfolds along the route, where there was a cave, and went in to cover his feet. Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave; 5 David's men said to him, "Today is the day of which Yahweh said to you, I shall deliver your enemy into your power; do what you like with him." David got up and, unobserved, cut off the border of Saul's cloak. 6 Afterwards David reproached himself for having cut off the border of Saul's cloak. 7 He said to his men, "Yahweh preserve me from doing such a thing to my lord as to raise my hand against him, since he is Yahweh's anointed." By these words David restrained his men and would not let them attack Saul.

David and his men are hiding in the limestone caves near En-Gedi, an important oasis with fresh water and hot springs on the west shore of the Dead Sea about eighteen miles southeast of Hebron. The place name means "spring of the young goat." The site was part of the allotment given to the tribe of Judah (Josh 15:62).(2) Notice that David is limiting his territory to the tribal lands of Judah, his own tribe.

Saul has received word that David is hiding near En-Gedi and has brought three thousand soldiers with him to capture David and his men. While David and some of his men are resting in the back of the cave, Saul enters the cave alone. The euphemism "to cover his feet" means "to relieve oneself from the call of nature."

Question: What did David's men suggest?
Answer: They tell David that divine providence has delivered his enemy and he should kill Saul.

This is a test. God has given David the opportunity to kill his enemy and assume kingship of Israel on his own terms.
Question: Does David pass the test? What does David do and why does he feel remorse afterward?
Answer: David passes the test:

Saul may be David's enemy, but he is still God's anointed and the rightful king of Israel. David is not willing to usurp God's divine plan. If he becomes king, it will be according to God's timing not his.

1 Samuel 24:9-16 ~ David's Speech to Saul
9 Saul then left the cave and went on his way. After this, David too left the cave and called after Saul, "My lord king!" Saul looked behind him and David, bowing to the ground, prostrated himself. 10 David then said to Saul, "Why do you listen to people who say, 'David intends your ruin'? 11 This very day you have seen for yourself how Yahweh put you into my power in the cave and how refusing to kill you, I spared you saying, 'I will not raise my hand against my lord, since he is Yahweh's anointed.' 12 Look, father, look at the border of your cloak in my hand. Since, although I cut the border off your cloak, I did not kill you, surely you realize that I intend neither mischief nor crime. I have not wronged you, and yet you hunt me down to take my life. 13 May Yahweh be judge between me and you, and may Yahweh avenge me on you; but I shall never lay a hand on you! 14 As the old proverb says: 'Wickedness comes out of wicked people,' but I shall never lay a hand on you! 15 On whose trail is the king of Israel campaigning? Whom are you pursuing? On the trail of a dead dog, of a flea! 16 May Yahweh be the judge and decide between me and you; may he examine and defend my cause and give judgment for me by rescuing me from your clutches."

David attempts to convince Saul that he is not his enemy by providing evidence that he could have killed him and addressing him by the affectionate term "father." Then David quotes a proverb to make the point that those who speak against him are wicked and all his actions have been righteous: Wickedness comes out of wicked people... David is probably quoting or paraphrasing some ancient Semitic proverb. It is similar to Proverbs 11:5 ...the wicked fall by their own wickedness.

Question: When David speaks of Saul being on the trail of a dead dog or a flea to whom or what is he referring?
Answer: He is using self-abasement to refer to himself. Saul has far greater matters to direct his attention than to David who is unimportant and means him no harm and there is nothing Saul can gain by all his searching and contriving for this "flea."

1 Samuel 24:16 ~David told Saul: "May Yahweh be the judge and decide between me and you; may he examine and defend my cause and give judgment for me by rescuing me from your clutches."
David knows he cannot receive justice from Saul, the earthly judge and king, and therefore he appeals to Yahweh the divine King to judge and vindicate him by delivering him from Saul.

1 Samuel 24:17-23 ~ Saul's response to David
17 When David had finished saying this to Saul, Saul said, "Is that your voice, my son David?" And Saul began to weep aloud. 18 "You are upright and I am not," he said to David, "since you have behaved well to me, whereas I have behaved badly to you. 19 And today you have shown how well you have behaved to me, since Yahweh had put me in your power but you did not kill me. 20 When a man comes on his enemy, does he let him go unmolested? May Yahweh reward you for the good you have done me today! 21 Now I know that you will indeed reign and that the sovereignty in Israel will pass into your hands. 22 Now swear to me by Yahweh that you will not suppress my descendants [cut off my seed] once I am gone, or blot my name out of my family." 23 This David swore to Saul, and Saul went home while David and his men went back to the stronghold.
[..] =
literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 780-81.

David's speech moves Saul emotionally and he remembers the affection he once had for David. Notice that for the first time since 16:19 that Saul uses David's name instead of calling him "son of Jesse." Saul's tears are probably from self-pity and not from remorse for his wicked actions in trying to kill an innocent man. Saul's confession that David is righteous and that he is not is the root of Saul's hatred for David. The inspired writer of Wisdom will write centuries later about the way the wicked view the righteous: Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law, and accuses us of sins against our upbringing. He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. We see him as a reproof our way of thinking, the very sight of him weighs our spirits down; for his kind of life is not like other people's, and his ways are quite different (Wis 2:12-15). It is David's righteousness and his relationship with God in contrast to Saul's failures that Saul finds so threatening.

1 Samuel 24:21-23 ~ Saul said to David: "Now I know that you will indeed reign and that the sovereignty in Israel will pass into your hands. 22 Now swear to me by Yahweh that you will not suppress my descendants once I am gone, or blot my name out of my family." 23 This David swore to Saul, and Saul went home while David and his men went back to the stronghold.
Saul acknowledges that David will one day be king of Israel and then he asks David to swear an oath that cannot possibly be of any benefit to David. He asks David not to prevent his heirs from inheriting his throne.
Question: Why does David bind himself to an oath that can put him farther away from kingship over Israel?
Answer: David has already decided that the throne is not his to take but for God and the people to give.

Proving to Saul that he spared his life and David's sworn oath not to prevent Saul's sons from ascending the throne or to kill them results in Saul giving up the campaign to capture David. Saul returns to Gibeah while David and his men remain in the stronghold near En-Gedi. David knows that despite Saul's withdrawal that he cannot return to Bethlehem. After all, Saul has gone back on his sworn oath not to harm David in the past (19:6).

Of David:
Look upon me and have pity on me, for I am alone and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart; bring me out of my distress, put an end to my affliction and suffering; take away all my sins. See how many are my enemies; see how fiercely they hate me. Preserve my life and rescue me; do not let me be disgraced, for I trust in You. Let honesty and virtue preserve me; I wait
for you, O LORD [YAHWEH].
Psalm 25:16-21 NAB

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Review Saul's treatment of King Agag of the Amalekites in chapter 15 and compare it to the way he treated Ahimelech and the priests and their families of Nob. As in the case of the mercy Saul showed to the wicked Amalekite king Agag, people who show tolerance and mercy to those who practice lawless and/or wicked acts are likely to be the same people who are cruel to the innocent.
Question: In our times do you think that those who support and facilitate abortion are examples of this misapplication of tolerance and judgment? Can you think of other examples of this type of misuse of justice?

Question: Why does God continually test David and give him such difficult trials if he is God's anointed? Why does God allow Christians to experience trials? See Jam 1:12-15; 1Pt 1:6-9


1. Moan means "dwelling" or "refuge." It is a personal name as well as a place name (Josh 15:55; 1 Sam 25:2; 1 Chr 2:45). A man named Maon is one of a number of descendants of Caleb of Judah and all of those names of Caleb's descendants are also place names; probably named for the cities they founded: see Mareshah, Ziph, Hebron, Bethzur and Moan (1 Chr 2:42-50). The most famous resident of Maon is Nabal who comes to a bad end for his disrespectful treatment of David (1 Sam 25:2-42).

2. En-Gedi is just south of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in eleven limestone caves in 1947-48. En-Gedi is a beautiful oasis and is mentioned in Song of Songs (Solomon) 1:14 and Ecclesiastes 24:14.

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