Throughout the last few chapters we’ve seen David on the run from the murderous jealousy of Saul. And wonder of wonders to behold, we’ve seen God protect David time and time again. But even the best of men have their breaking point. When one has been in desperate times long enough there begins to grow in the heart a new desire, almost a kind of panic that yearns to escape from desperate times to live in peace once again. Such is David in our text today, and sadly such is David throughout the rest of this book. We not only see his patience, grace, and candor amid such suffering, we see despair, sin, and foolishness too. Thus, David stands out not only as a prime example to all Christians in all ages of how to and how to not act in suffering, but also stands out as a type or foreshadow of Christ, who will show greater grace underneath greater suffering. Well we’ve rejoiced when God has saved him from Saul, now we shall rejoice when God saves David from David.
David at Nob (21:1-9)
When we see David escape with Jonathan’s help and go to Nob (about 2 miles away) we see David in panic mode. As soon as he arrives Ahimelech the priest sees David, notices he’s alone, smells something off about it, and in v1 it says he ‘trembles.’ He trembled because David (the commander of the King’s army) doesn’t travel across the country alone, doesn’t leave home without provisions, and doesn’t leave home without his weapons. David, being a prized commander would have had all these things and a bodyguard with him. Something is surely off, but Ahimelech doesn’t know what. David then gives a flat out false (and flimsy) story in v2-3 saying he’s all alone with nothing because he’s on a secret mission from the king. At first glance his story seems convincing but the more you think about it, the more skeptical you become. A secret mission? Really? And the king sent you on this secret mission with no food or no weapons? Oh you do have others with you, but you’re meeting them later? We as the readers want to say at this point, ‘C’mon David, this is the excuse every 7 year old uses at one point or another to avoid telling their parents what they’re really up to.’ It’s almost as if David, in his panic, cannot think of anything better at the moment and just blurts out, ‘I’m on a secret mission, trust me.’
Ahimelech answers David and says in v4 that he doesn’t have any common bread, only holy bread for the priests and any who’ve kept themselves clean, and in v9 that he doesn’t have any weapons, only the sword of Goliath. David sticking to his story does say he (and his made up crew) have kept themselves clean so he can have the holy bread, and that he’ll gladly take the sword of Goliath, ‘…for there is none like it.’ As shady as these events are for David, they get even more shady in v7 when we find out there was an onlooker seeing all this take place. In v7 we find out Doeg the Edomite, the man in charge of Saul’s cattle, was there that day and was watching this interaction between David and Ahimelech. His presence increases the suspense in this scene dramatically. If there were a soundtrack to these events, it would be this moment, when the camera moves away from David and Ahimelech and revealed Doeg’s presence, that the music would change to a sinister tune, letting us know Doeg is a no good snitch who’s going to tell Saul everything he saw unfold.
The wrong question to ask of these 9 verses is ‘Why does David do this?’ It’s unhelpful to ask that because we don’t quite know enough to answer that question. We know David is panicked, we know he’s just lied, we know he’s still on the run, and we know this all looks very shady to Ahimelech, but that’s about all we know. More so, these 9 verses don’t justify or condemn David’s actions here, they just report what took place. The right question to ask is this: what is God up to in these verses? This is more answerable. We’ve seen David in panic mode here, and because of such panic we see him give a false and flimsy excuse for his actions, but even in the midst of David’s seeming sin and foolishness who is still providing for David? God is. David fled the royal palace with nothing and now he has holy bread and a sword with no comparison. Throughout his journey’s each time David ate that bread or looked at this sword it would have been a reminder of how much God had cared for him. His foolishness displays his unworthiness to receive help from God, yet he receives provision not because of his actions, but because God is gracious. So be reminded Church, because of our union with Christ can’t we say the same thing? If God provided for us only based on our actions, we’d all be out of luck. On our best and worst days alike, we receive provision from God despite who we are and what we’ve done, simply because He is gracious.
David at Gath (21:10-15)
A proper response to seeing David go to Gath is, ‘WHAT? WHY ON EARTH WOULD HE DO THAT?’ No cow willingly walks into the slaughter house, why would David choose to flee to Gath? Not only is Gath one of the most prominent cities of the Philistines, but it was the home of Goliath, the very giant whom David killed, who’s sword just happens to be in David’s possession at this very moment! Perhaps David though Achish would welcome Saul’s prized commander turned enemy into his own ranks, or perhaps David was thinking of doing some anonymous mercenary work for Achish. Whatever the reasoning was behind this decision, one thing is clear: that David risked going to his enemies, that Achish seemed to be his best option, shows how desperate he really was. Whatever David was hoping to do here quickly turned against him when he was recognized. In v11 we read that the servants of Achish knew who he was, did you notice what they call him in v11? ‘David the king of the land.’ It seems that everyone knew David was the true king of Israel except Saul. They not only knew who he was, they knew the song that made Saul so murderously jealous, and they also knew that most of the 10,000’s David had killed were their own countrymen. Psalm 56 (which David wrote after this event) and the phrase ‘in their hands’ in v13 seem to indicate that once David was recognized the Philistines captured him and threw him in jail. But while in the hands of the Philistines David in v12 grew fearful (or ‘sore afraid’) and turned into an actor and pretended to be mad and insane, marking up the doors of gates and drooling all over himself. Which caused Achish to conclude that this can’t be David and therefore allowed him to wander off because apparently he already had enough mad men around him.
We should not conclude after seeing such seeming recklessness in David that he was lucky to escape with his life. After leaving Gath, David processed what had occurred, wrote Psalm 56, and in it gave his conclusion of the whole matter. Rather than saying, ‘I was lucky’ David says in Psalm 56:10-11, 13, ‘In God, whose Word I praise, in the LORD, whose Word I praise, in God I trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?…You have delivered my soul from death, yes my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.’ So for David the whole scene in Gath wasn’t about luck, it was about God’s mercy despite his own foolishness.
Can’t you look back on your own life and see how God has done this with you too? I sure can. Whether studying the passage, looking into commentaries, writing sermons, or even in preaching them to you I’m acutely aware of one massive thing: my deficiency and God’s sufficiency. I am not enough for you as your pastor, my studying, writing, preaching, leading, and counseling isn’t enough for you, but somehow in the wisdom of God He has ordained that His Church be built through cracked pots. This is not only my own unique feelings, Paul felt the same way. Listen to how he says it in 1 Cor. 1:21, ‘For since, in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.’ Paul knew he was not enough, and will never be enough, but he also knew that it pleases God to build His Church, glorify His name, and save sinners, through the folly of what he preached. So as foolish as some of may seem to be, learn from David’s insanity here, from Paul’s example, and from my own, that despite what we are, God is more merciful to us than we could ever deserve.
David at Adullam (22:1-4)
After what had to be a quick escape out of Gath David goes to the cave of Adullam (12 miles away roughly). And when David gets there, his entire family comes to meet him as well as all those who were in distress, in debt, or bitter in soul. So here is David on the run, now with his family, and a rag-tag group of distressed and disenfranchised Israelites, which all together, v2 says, numbered 400 people. Before you think all 400 people were together in one cave, or that there was only cave in this region, Adullam (which means refuge or retreat) had many caves and all of them varied in size, some of whom, were larger than a hotel lobby or basketball court. David didn’t stay here long, v3 indicates that he went from here to Moab where he sought refuge for his parents until he knew ‘what God would do for him.’
Some of you surely are thinking, ‘Wait, is this another Gath like episode where David is merely acting our of panic?’ Though it may look like a bad place to seek refuge (after all, Moab and Israel don’t have the best of histories), there is more to David’s tie to Moab than meets the eye. When he does this, seeking refuge for his parents in Moab, we as readers cannot help but think of David’s great grandmother. Anyone remember who she was? Ruth, the Moabitess. Sure Israel and Moab may have a bad history, but the king of Moab cannot overlook that David has Moabite blood in his veins, and for this, he agrees and his parents find refuge from Saul in Moab. Little did Naomi know that her and Ruth’s actions at that time that God would be providing the security of their great grandson and his parents in a time of distress nearly century later. Again we learn much here. Not only does David prove to be an example to us in his eagerness to protect his aged parents from the assaults he has and will again face from Saul (children you should learn from this), we’re also reminded that God plans His protection for His people long beforehand. Long before David had a need of refuge in Moab, God worked through a young Moabite woman named Ruth to pave the way. Therefore every problem you’ve ever had, every problem you have now, and every problem you will have, God sovereignly has already provided an answer to. He does this not only for kings but for everyone whom He has elected, called, and saved through Jesus Christ.
David and Gad (22:5)
Our passage ends today on an encouraging note, at least for David, not so much for Saul. In 22:5 we see that David receives prophetic guidance from Gad the prophet. This is so important for where we are in 1 Samuel because this prophetic direction that David enjoyed, Saul no longer has. David had guidance in his distress, Saul didn’t. David had God’s help in danger, Saul didn’t. David had a divine word in his desperation, Saul didn’t. Saul had distress and desperation as well as silence from God, which ultimately makes Saul’s predicament so unbearable that he seeks divine counsel from a witch before his death. How much more is this true for us? Like David and Saul we all have our moments of distress, danger, and desperation – will we like David enjoy the privilege of having God’s voice through His Word near us at all times? Or will we like Saul reject the final revelation of God and pridefully bank on our own wisdom?
I’ve seen this too often. People come to me and want to talk about their troubles and despairing situations and I listen to them. My aim is the same each time: pointing them back to God’s Word. When the person who came to me for counseling listens to me and actually does sink into God’s Word their pit of despair doesn’t feel so despairing. But when the person who comes to me for counsel doesn’t listen to me and doesn’t sink into God’s Word their pit of despair feels even more despairing. To those who embrace God’s Word hope grows in the midst of the trial. But for those who turn away from God’s Word hope fades in the midst of a trial.
Think about where we’ve been today.
We’ve seen David in a desperate situation, in which David acted quite desperately, even foolishly at times. What was David to do when God’s providence seemed to run contrary to His promises? He had been anointed as king yet was getting further and further away from the throne. He should’ve trusted God, should’ve known that God would care for him rather than lie his way out of a jam, he should’ve been honest and laid his life in God’s hands rather than trying to resort to his own devices. When you think about this all he really had to do was look down at his belt. The sword of Goliath hanging off his belt was a reminder of God’s past and present grace to him, and from this reminder he would’ve gained faith in God’s future grace to come.
This is where this meets us today. We are often in desperation too, so what do we do when God’s providence seems to run contrary to His promises? Do we believe the lie that desperate times call for desperate measures, and take matters into our own hands to try and fix things? No. For Christians, desperate times call for Gospel measures. As David could have looked to the sword of Goliath or even the holy bread he’d been given as a reminder of God’s grace to him, so too we can look…at what?
At the Gospel, where the Trinitarian work of redemption completed all we need to be saved.
We can look at the Father: infinite in His wisdom, wondrous in His majesty, and perfect in His purpose. We can look at the Son: humble in His incarnation and death, exalted in His resurrection and ascension, and ever faithful in His intercession for us. And we can look at the Spirit enlightening in His illumination, consoling in His comfort, strengthening in His sanctifying support. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit beginning, sustaining, and finishing His glorious redemption, for us and be reminded here today: despite us.