David had come to the Philistine city of Gath to escape being killed by Saul’s soldiers. He hoped the Philistine king would befriend him. Because he carried Goliath’s sword, he was able to gain an audience with Achish, the ruler. Achish intended to treat him civilly, but his manner was a bit gruff. Believing that Achish was about to order his death, David sought a quick way to save himself. He began to act insanely (I Sam 21:10-13).
Achish and the members of his court stared. Then the king settled back in his chair as his mouth tightened and his brows furrowed in irritation.
“Whoever this man is, get him out of here!” he commanded, vigorously waving both arms. “I want an explanation from the ones who brought him here! Why does anyone assume that I need maniacs to entertain me?”
Guards rushed at David to seize him and carry him from the room.
“Take him outside the gates and see that he doesn’t get back through them!” Achish called to the departing guards. “I’ll not provide food and shelter for a madman” (I Sam. 21:14-14)!
While he was being dragged through the streets David continued to pretend that he was crazy by struggling madly and muttering senseless phrases. As he was taken outside the walls he snatched up a sharp stone and made a long scratch on the planks of the gate.
Disgusted with his actions, the guards yanked David off his feet, tossed him into a nearby clump of short bushes and retraced their steps, banging the massive gates shut behind them.
As soon as he was alone, David scrambled out of the bushes and trudged off to where his men were faithfully waiting. Not wanting to add to his embarrassment, they said nothing as he walked up to them.
“Obviously I was wrong to thing that I could stay in Gath,” David said to them. “But who can say for certain that God had no part in this? Possibly he directed us here so that we would escape being discovered in some other place.”
“If we must return to Canaan, I have a suggestion, sir,” one of the men spoke up. “There are many pits and caves in the limestone areas a few miles east of here across the plain at the base of the mountains. If we could reach one of the more obscure caves, we might be able to hide there for a long time.”
David welcomed this idea. At the risk of being seen as they crossed the broad plain, they hurried to the nearby Judean mountains, where they found a good-sized cave, at Adullam, on a steep western slope close to a spring. It was a hideout that afforded then a good view of the surrounding territory, though it couldn’t be seen very well from a distance.
In the next few days it became increasingly difficult to obtain food. Deer were scarce in the area. And David wasn’t in the habit of eating squirrels or rabbits because he knew that God had told the ancient Israelites that people shouldn’t eat rodents. (Lev. 11). A few clean birds and wild goats downed by arrows were about all the men had to eat. Although he didn’t want even his family to know where he was, David finally, in desperation, chose one of his men to go to Bethlehem to obtain food from Jesse, his father.
About three days later one of David’s group excitedly reported that a party was approaching from the north. David ordered his men to spread out and hide in various spots so that they couldn’t be surrounded in the event the approaching figures turned out to be one of Saul’s searching parties.
Suddenly David realized that the oncoming group included his father, mother, his brothers’ and sisters’ families and the man he had sent after food! He leaped out of his place of concealment and ran down the slope to happily embrace them (I Sam. 22:1).
“Why are you here?” he anxiously asked. “Saul has been threatening your family and friends,” explained the man who had gone after food. “They insisted that I tell them your whereabouts so that they could join you to escape the death that Saul promised them, soon unless they should tell where you are. Saul thinks they have been hiding you, and his men have searched their homes many times.
Several persons had come besides David’s family, but each one brought his share of food, clothing and practical utensils. And most had managed to bring a few animals. Working together, the little band of people soon turned the cave and some nearby smaller caverns into a fairly livable area.
David hoped that his family hadn’t been followed, but later that day several men were seen approaching from the north. Everyone went into hiding, but the oncoming figures had already seen people near the cave, and boldly kept drawing nearer. At a signal from David, his men rushed out and closed in on the newcomers, who made no move to resist.
“We’re friends!” one of them declared. “We’re not Saul’s soldiers or spies, but oppressed people like yourselves. We followed David’s family here at a distance because we guessed that they would be going to join him. We have come along to help make up an army for David! We are helpless without his leadership.
These well-equipped soldiers were obviously sincere. David recognized at least one of them as formerly being among his troops. After questioning them, he was satisfied that it was safe to welcome them to camp in nearby caves. Obviously, word of David’s whereabouts had leaked out.
This was only the beginning of visitors. In the next few days all kinds of people arrived, though it was a mystery how they all learned where David was hiding. Some came because they felt that David should replace Saul as the leader of Israel. Some were fleeing from oppressive creditors. Others were seeking refuge from the injustice of Saul’s law. Discontent, prompted by many causes, was driving hundreds of men to join David because he was considered an outcast and an underdog of great ability whom they wanted as a leader (I Sam 22:2).
“This can’t go on,” David told his family and his trusted men. “It’s a miracle that Saul hasn’t been here with an army before this. We must pack up and move out of here as soon as possible. We will take as many as possible of the people with us, even though a few of them are thieves and murderers and want to use me and my trained men for protection. I’ll pick about four hundred men who are of good character, strongest and best trained. Then we’ll leaves.”
One day soon afterward David and his four hundred chosen men, along with their families, quickly packed and moved off to the southeast. The first day’s hike into and over the mountains was so difficult that most of the unwelcome and less ambitious dropped out. David’s aging parents had the advantage of riding on donkeys. To avoid being trapped by Saul’s army, David sent scouts and runners in all directions, to warn him of approaching danger.
Next night the band hid in a deep ravine and moved on-again when daylight arrived. After a few more periods of resting and hiding, the marchers rounded the southern end of the Dead Sea and arrived at a ranger of low mountains fringing the southeast coast of the Dead Sea. Moving to the top of the range, they encamped at an ancient stronghold called Mizpeh. This spot was so difficult to reach that it was about the safest place they could go to near Canaan.
Leaving most of his men and their families at this hideout, David traveled with his family and a few soldiers a few miles further eastward to the capital of the nation of Moab, where he asked for an audience with the king (I Sam. 22:3).The king was puzzled as to why a prominent Israelite leader should be coming to visit him. He couldn’t help realizing that bit of his nations’ history about 280 years previously when another leading Israelite had come to bring gift to Eglon, who had been the Moabite ruler and Israel’s oppressor at that time. Ehud, the visiting Israelite judge, had planted a dagger deep in Eglon’[s belly (Judges 3:12-26).
Nevertheless, the king of Moab graciously welcomed David. He was aware that the young Israelite had earned the reputation of being an honest and dependable man as well as a valiant one.
“I am aware that you consider it strange that I should seek a favor from the leader of a nation that has long been an enemy of Israel,” David addressed the Moabite king. “Possibly you know, through your private sources of information, that I’m trying to escape being killed by Saul’s men. Even my father and mother have been threatened with death, but they escaped and are here with me now. They are very old and aren’t safe anywhere in Canaan, so I’ve brought them here to ask you to give them refuge till I see how God will settle this matter between Saul and me” (I Sam. 22:4).
“Ruth, who long ago married your great grandfather Boaz, was also an ancestor of mine,” the Moabite king finally spoke after an interval of thoughtful staring at David. “You and I are related, and I am not exactly displeased with that relationship. Bring your parents to me, and I shall see that they are well cared for.”
After making certain that his mother and father were comfortable housed, and after expressing his thanks to the king of Moab, David hastily returned to the four hundred men he had left at the hideout. There he stayed for a time, probably for several; weeks or months. There were upland meadows to feed their small flocks and herds. Also, clean game was temporarily plentiful in the high ride country to help keep everyone in good health.
But is wasn’t God’s will that David should indefinitely remain hidden. Otherwise, Saul might have continued on and on as Israel’s leader, and the people would be inclined to think of David as one who had given up because of fear or guilt.
One day it was made known to him, through the prophet Gad, who was close to God, that God didn’t want him to stay away any longer, and that he should return to the territory of Judah and camp in a forest region of Hareth a few miles southwest of Hebron. David obediently, but secretly, returned with his four hundred men to the designated place in his homeland (I Sam. 22:5).
By this time Saul was in a growing state of irritation because of David’s disappearance. He was hopeful that David was dead, but he knew that he couldn’t rest until proof was brought to him. He offered generous rewards for such proof, but all he received were increasing rumors that David was still alive. However, no one could or would say where was. This was maddening to Saul, who realized more and more that he was contending with an element of people who were in sympathy with David.
Shortly after David’s return to the territory of Judah, a report came to Saul that David was hiding in a wooded area between Jerusalem and the Philistine city of Gath. Saul knew that this might be nothing more than false information meant to send him off in the wrong direction. But he was so excited that he ordered a number of officers and aides to assemble before him in a field near Ramah. Here Saul and a detachment of soldiers were camped, ready to go after David as soon as they learned his whereabouts. There Saul reprimanded him men for a supposed lack of loyalty to him.
“Listen, you men of Benjamin!” Saul angrily shouted from within the shade of a tree. “Have any of you ever heard of a thing known as devotion? If you have, probably you’re saving it for David. Do you think David will present you with the choice fields, orchards and vineyards of this country, besides putting each one of you in command of hundreds or even thousands of men as I have done! Is there a one among you who has harbored some deep concern for me, or have you all schemed with my son Jonathan, to lead me into trouble with my enemy, David” (I Sam. 22:6-8)?
Saul’s men stood around in embarrassed silence, realizing that their leader was in one of his reasonless moods, and that his emotional charges were generally groundless. Among those present was Doeg, Saul’s chief herdsman, an Edomite, a descendant of Jacob’s twin brother, Esau (Gen. 25:19-26; 36:1, 8). Doeg the Edomite saw an opportunity to please his leader, though at the same time he was taking a great risk in offering delayed information.
“I would have reported this sooner to you sir,” Doeg said after stepping before Saul, “but I was never quite sure that I could believe my own eyes. Weeks ago, when I was in the tabernacle at Nob, I saw the priest, Ahimelech, giving bread to a man who could have been none other than David. Later, I saw the priest give him the sword of Goliath” (I Sam. 22:9-10).
“You tell me now!” muttered Saul heatedly.
For a few moments Doeg felt that all of Saul’s wrath would be directed to him. Then the Israelite leader turned away from him and loudly ordered soldiers to hurry to Nob and bring Ahimelech and all his family of priests to Gibeah. Not many hours later these people were herded into Saul’s presence.
“Why have you plotted against me by giving food and a weapon to David, my enemy?” Saul demanded of Ahimelech.
“I wasn’t aware that David was your enemy,” Ahimelech answered. “I’ve always thought of him as obedient, loyal and honorable. I trust that you don’t feel that I or anyone else with me is responsible for any trouble you are having with David.”
“Don’t try to squirm out of this!” Saul growled at the priest. “I know that you plotted with David, as have many others, to dethrone me! You are guilty of treason, and the penalty for treason is death!”
Before the astonished priest could say another word in his defense, Saul ordered nearby infantrymen to surround Ahimelech and all those who had been brought with him.
“Kill every one of them here and now!” Saul commanded.
Some of the soldiers reluctantly moved up at the first part of the command, but the order to kill the priest was too much for them. They feared their leader, but they feared God more. Saul’s face grew livid as he glowered at his soldiers. It was all he could do to conquer a savage urge to rush in among them with the spear he clutched (I Sam. 22:11-17).
As Saul gazed angrily about, he realized that his chief herdsman, Doeg was among the onlookers who had come to Gibeah, With Doeg were several of his underlings, all armed.
“Doeg!” Saul thundered. “If you want to live to hold your positon, step up here with your men and slaughter everyone who has been brought from Nob!”
Doeg instantly reasoned that if he failed to obey, Saul would do away with him. Besides, he wasn’t an Israelite, and the priests didn’t mean too much to him. He jerked his sword out of its scabbard, nodded to his men and all of them rushed to slash down Ahimelech and all those who had accompanied him. Saul’s men looked on in dismay while the Edomites accomplished their grisly task, but none of them had the courage to interfere.
Little did Saul and Doeg realize that their hideous crime was the fulfillment of prophecy, God had warned Eli the priest that his family, even in succeeding generation, would suffer greatly for his having defiled the priesthood (I Sam. 2:12-17; 2:22-36).
Later, as Saul shamelessly surveyed 85 dead priest and the dead of most of Ahimelech’s family, another barbarous thought entered his mind (I Sam. 22:18).
“You have done well,” he told Doeg, “but this isn’t the end of the matter. I want to show what will happened even to the cities, towns and villages where Israelites dwell who are disloyal to me. Go up to Nob with your men and kill every person you find there, no matter how young or how old! Besides, I want you to destroy all livestock! Leave nothing alive.
“But there are about 300 people left in that town sir,” Doeg pointed out. “Most of them would escape before my few men could reach them.”
“Then pick up more men on the way!” Saul commanded. “I’ll supply you with extra weapons, and you do the rest! I’ll make it worth your trouble.”
That night Doeg, his men and some lawless, money-baited recruits crept silently into the unwalled town of Nob.