Saul and some of his troops had come to Naioth in Raman. Their intention was to capture David at Samuel’s college.
But God made it easy for David to escape by causing a changed and devout state of mind to come over Saul and his men, insomuch that the Israelite leader and his soldiers joined in sacred services and spent many hours at the college in friendly fellowship (I Sam. 19:18-24).
David safely returned to his home to happily surprise his wife, who had been released after having been arrested by some of Saul’s soldiers. David hurried to visit Jonathan to try to find out why Saul was so eager to kill him.
“My father falls into a bad mood whenever he has one of those terrible periods of depression,” Jonathan told David. “But he doesn’t stay that way long. I’m sure he doesn’t really want to kill you when he is in his right mind. If he had planned to do away with you surely I would know about it” (I Sam. 20:1-2).
“Most of your father’s plotting against me has taken place during his sanest hours,” David said. “And he doesn’t always confide in you, as you’ll find out soon when you’ll have serious trouble with him because of me. Even tomorrow this could happen. It will be the new moon, and I’ll be expected to be present at the monthly feast. Your father will undoubtedly ask you where I am. Tell him that I’ve gone to be with my parents because of a special annual family meeting. If he is satisfied by that explanation, and isn’t perturbed because I’m absent, it will mean that I am wrong in believing that he wants me dead. But if he becomes angry when he learns I’m miles away, then you’ll know that I am right because he will be so upset when he learns that I am safe from him, miles away.”
“I don’t understand how you can be so certain,” Jonathan commented, shaking his head. “When my father returns from Naioth you’ll probably find him friendly.”
“Perhaps I’ve made too many harsh remarks about your father,” David said apologetically. “If I have spoken in such a manner that I have made myself out to be your father’s enemy, then remain loyal to your father and protect him by running your sword through me!”
“You’re becoming a bit dramatic in this matter, David,” Jonathan grinned. “Believe me, if I find that my father is truly scheming to take your life, I’ll make every effort to inform you at once” (I Sam. 20:3-9).
“You won’t be able to inform me if your father watches you closely,” David said.
For an answer, Jonathan led David out into a broad, open field where they could be sure that no one would be listening to their conversation. There Jonathan asked God to witness that he would do what was best for David. He had a feeling that David would succeed his father as Israel’s leader, and he asked David to promise him that Jonathan and his descendants would always be considered David’s close and loyal friends. David was pleased to make the promise. He realized that Jonathan was willing to give up the prospect of becoming the next king of Israel. At Saul’s death, under ordinary circumstances, Saul’s son would naturally come into leadership (I Sam. 20:10-17).
“After my father returns, we must use strategy in contacting each other,” Jonathan told David. “Go visit your family if you wish, but come back in three days and hide among those boulders over there. I’ll come out just three days from now for archery practice. After shooting three arrows, I’ll send a boy to bring them back. If I shout to him, ‘the arrows are on this side of you,’ then you will know that my father is friendly toward you, and that you should return at once. If I shout to the boy, ‘the arrows are beyond you,’ then you will know that it’s God’s warning to you to leave here immediately. Whatever happens, I trust that we’ll always be the kind of friends who are guided by our God” (I Sam. 20:18-23).
Next day, when Saul and his court sat down to eat as was customary at the beginning of the lunar months of God’s calendar, Saul immediately noticed that David’s chair was empty. He said nothing about it, nor did anyone mention the matter. He could only hope that something fatal had happened to David. But he supposed that David was likely was ceremonially defiled.
The following day there was another special meal. Again David’s chair was empty. Though it was one of only four chairs at the main table – for Saul, Jonathan, Saul’s commander-in-chief Abner and David – no one spoke of David because of realizing that Saul would be irritated by the mere mention of the name. A sudden question from Saul brought a hush to the spirited conversation around the main table.
“Why hasn’t David been here to eat with us these last two days?” he asked Jonathan, making every effort to sound casual while he was being consumed with a gnawing curiosity.
“David’s people are observing a special annual family meeting,” Jonathan replied, also striving to be casual. “You weren’t here when he wanted to go, so he asked me for leave. I knew that you surely wouldn’t deny his going for a visit to his parents’ home near Bethlehem. The meeting with this family was very important to him.”
By the time Jonathan had finished speaking, Saul’s face had colored with rage. He lunged to his feet and stared angrily down at his son.
“You offspring of a lawless woman!” he shouted. “Why have you become so friendly with David? Don’t you realize that he is scheming to take the throne of Israel away from me? If I die, you’ll never become king if you continue to be taken in by his evil plans! Go find him and bring him here so that he can be executed” (I Sam. 20:24-31)!
“Why should he be executed?” Jonathan demanded as he stood up to squarely face his father. “Exactly what has he done to cause you to be so unreasonably angry?”
Jonathan’s words sent Saul into an even greater rage. He whirled to seize his javelin, a short spear, which was leaning against the wall. With great force he threw it, intending to run it through his son. Jonathan knew that his father was capable of any rash move, and deftly leaped aside to escape what otherwise would have been instant death.
Now is was Jonathan’s turn to be angry, but with much more reason. He strode out of the building, leaving shocked members of the court and dinner guests glancing in fear and embarrassment at Israel’s leader, who was trembling with wrath because David had obviously escaped and because his son would not share his feelings in the matter (I Sam. 20:32-34).
“Rush men to Bethlehem to seize David if he is at his parents’ home there!” Saul growled at Abner, his commander-in-chief.
Several hours later, mounted soldiers returned to report that David was not at his parents’ home, and that neither his parents nor his wife could give any information about where he had gone.
“He could be floating down the Euphrates River by now! “Saul exclaimed sourly. “On the other hand, he could be trying to throw us off his trail by hiding in or near Gibeah. Search the whole town for him!”
Next morning Jonathan took his archery equipment and went with a boy out into the boulder field where he presumed David was hiding under some thicket. He shot two arrows at a target he had set up, and motioned for the boy to go after them. As he lad ran, Jonathan sent another arrow far beyond the target.
“My third arrow is far beyond the other two!” Jonathan shouted to the boy. “Hurry and find it! We don’t have much time today for practice!”
Jonathan knew that if David could hear him he would understand that he meant David should get away without delay. He carefully but casually looked around as he walked slowly among the boulders and bushes, but saw no sign of his friend. He had to cease searching when his young helper ran up to him.
“Here are your three arrows, sir!” the boy panted.
“Good work!” Jonathan praised him. “That will be all for today because I have remembered other things I must do. Take my bow and my quiver of arrows back to my quarters, and I’ll pay you later today for a full morning’s work” (I Sam. 20:35-40).
As soon as the jubilant boy had departed, Jonathan was happily startled to see David squirm out of some bushes and hurry toward him. David bowed respectfully three times, inasmuch as he regarded Jonathan worthy of the full respect one should show to a prince, even though the two young men were close friends. They spoke only briefly to each other, knowing that they shouldn’t risk being seen together, and that it was very dangerous for David to be seen under any circumstances. Both were moved to tears because they had to part, perhaps never to see each other again.
“Hurry away from here before someone sees you!” Jonathan warned. “Remember our pledge that we shall always be friends, and may God protect you” (I Sam. 20:41-42)!
With a final wave David disappeared among the bushes and boulders. Jonathan walked back to the streets of Gibeah to pass groups of soldiers moving from building to building in a frantic search for David.
Moving stealthily southward into the land of Judah by night, David came to the homes of several men who had been his trusted soldiers. There he received food and lodging. Because of their special devotion to David, some of the men joined him in his escape journey so that they might help protect him from those who would be hoping to capture or kill David and earn the rewards that Saul was offering. David and his men then headed northwestward.
Three days after he had parted from Jonathan, David arrived with his men at the place called Nob, in the city of Kirjath-jearim, about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem (I Sam. 21:1). It was here that the ark rested twenty years after it was returned by the Philistines – until David became king (I Sam. 7:1-2; I Chron. 13:5-7).
Hungry and weary when they arrived at Nob, David and his men sought out the place where priests were carrying on their duties before the ark of God. David knew the head priest, Ahimelech, and came by himself to Ahimelech’s door. When the priest saw who it was, he wondered why such a prominent Israelite should know up at night alone.
“Welcome to this place,” Ahimelech greeted David, “but where are your aides? Surely a man of your renown in Israel is not traveling abut without attendants” (I Sam. 21:1).
David didn’t want to tell the priest that he was running from Saul, so he quickly invented an explanation he hoped would be accepted. He was so intent on getting out of the country that he inclined to rely on his wits, in this case, instead of God.
“Saul has sent me on a secret mission,” David told Ahimelech in a low voice. “He wants no one to know about it, and I’m asking you to tell no one that you have seen me here. I have men with me on this mission, but they are waiting elsewhere. We are traveling light and rapidly, moving through the country seeking food when we are hungry. We would appreciate anything you can spare – especially bread. Five loaves would be a great help to us.”
“We don’t have that much ordinary bread on hand,” Ahimelech said. “We have many loaves of bread from yesterday’s shew-bread offering, but only we priests are to eat that. However – perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to give some sacred bread to men who need it to keep alive, provide they have been conducting themselves as godly men.”
“My men and I have been hiding for the last three day so that we wouldn’t be recognized,” David explained. “There hasn’t been much opportunity for them to be the kind of rogues you have in mind. And besides, the bread is in a manner common because the day on which it was sanctified has ended. (I Sam. 21:2-5).
Ahimelech seemed satisfied. He asked one of the many priests there under his leadership to bring bread for David, who stood off to one side so that he wouldn’t be noticed by anyone t the sanctuary. One man, however, having come to the place earlier for a purification ceremony, took notice of David.
That man was Doeg, Saul’s chief herdsman, an Edomite who was in charge of many men who worked on the Israelite leader’s cattle ranches. Just then a priest appeared with the bread for David, who took it and hurried out with only the briefest of thanks. Doeg stared after him.
“That man leaving looks just like David, Saul’s son-in-law!” he exclaimed to Ahimelech. “What could he be doing here by himself?”
“They say that most everyone has a double,” the priest shrugged, being careful to be honest and at the same time trying to protect David. “This man came in desperate need of food. Would David have to do that at a place like this? This man has a short beard, and David is known to be always shaven.”
Doeg left without saying anything about the matter, but the priest could tell by his shrewd expression that the herdsman was about convinced that the man was David. A little later Ahimelech was surprised to find David at the door again.
David wanted to leave hurriedly, but couldn’t. “We were sent in such a hurry on our mission that I had no time to get weapons for myself,” David told the priest. “We need weapons for defense. Do you have any you could let us have?”
“We have no use for arms here,” Ahimelech pointed out, “but the sword of Goliath has been brought here as a reminder to worshippers that God delivered our people again from the Philistines through you. If you have need of the sword, you surely would be the one most entitled to it.”
“It is a very heavy weapon, as I well know,” David said. “But it is a very fine swore and I have great need of it” (I Sam. 21:6-9).
After obtaining the sword, David returned to his hiding companions, who were still munching on the bread he had brought them earlier. When they saw that he was carrying Goliath’s sword, they were greatly impressed by it, but they felt that it had little value as a weapon because it was so burdensome.
“I have a reason for carrying it,” David disclosed to them. “Saul would never think of looking for us in the Philistine city of Gath. We’ll go there without danger of being jailed or killed because of the sight of this sword should command plenty of respect for us from the peop0le of Goliath’s home town. And very likely the king of Gath will befriend us since Saul now seeks my life.” David’s men were dismayed at the plan. They remained with him until they reached Gath in Philistia. Then they told him that it would be a risk of life to enter the city.
“I won’t ask you to go with me,” David told them. “Stay here out of sight and wait to see what happens. If I don’t send for you within a day, you’ll know that I’ve been wrong in this matter.”
Attired in his best clothes, and with his sprouting beard neatly trimmed, David strode up to the gate of Gath with Goliath’s sword over one shoulder. Soon he had attracted a crowd of onlookers, including some city magistrates. To these David announced that he would like to be taken to Achish, the king of Gath. The magistrates knew that the king would be curious to see the bearer of Goliath’s sword, and soon. David was presented to Achish. Just as the king was beginning to ask questions, one of his officers who recognized David apologetically and excitedly broke in.
“Sir, this man is the Israelite David who killed our champion, Goliath!” the officer declared. “Don’t you recall how he was proclaimed a great hero in Israel, and was given more credit for victory over us than the king of Israel received?”
“This is the man?” Achish muttered, scowling slightly and almost getting to his feet.
Achish’s scowl was one of curiosity rather than of anger. The king had no intention of harming his visitor, but David thought that his expression and actions indicated that he was about to order his guards to seize him and put him to death (I Sam. 21:10-12). Under the pressure of being sought by Saul, David had lately resorted to deceitful means, but in this situation he almost outdid himself. He was so filled with fear that he could think of only one thing that might save him. He fell, then began to scribble on the city gate and drool on his beard as though he were mad!
Be watching for the next installment of the Story of the Bible.