A. David at Adullam cave.
1. (1a) David’s distress at Adullam.
David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam.
a. David therefore departed from there: David has been through a lot. He had the high of immediate fame, a recent marriage, dangers from the Philistines, repeated attempts on his life, and a heartbreaking farewell from everyday life to live as a fugitive for who knows how long. Then, David had a brief but intense period of backsliding, a dramatic turn to the Lord and deliverance from a life-threatening situation.
i. As David left Gath, he praised God with the exaltation we read in Psalm 34. David was pumped! But after that exhilaration wore off, he had a serious problem to consider: what do I do now?
b. Escaped to the cave of Adullam: This was David’s place of refuge. He couldn’t go to his house, he couldn’t go to the palace, he couldn’t go to Samuel, he couldn’t go to Jonathan, he couldn’t go to the house of the Lord, and he couldn’t go to the ungodly. But he could go to a humble cave and find refuge.
i. The name Adullam means refuge, but the cave wasn’t to be David’s refuge. The Lord wanted to be David’s refuge in this time of discouragement.
ii. Most archaeologists believe that the Cave of Adullam was not too far from the place where David defeated Goliath, in the hills of Judah. David couldn’t help but think, “Boy, I’ve come a long way from the Valley of Elah! From a great victory to running around like a criminal, hiding in a cave.”
c. The title of Psalm 142 reads A Contemplation of David. A prayer when he was in the cave. So, Psalm 142 describes David’s discouraged heart: I cry out to the Lord with my voice; with my voice to the Lord I make my supplication. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path. In the way in which I walk they have secretly set a snare for me. Look on my right hand and see, for there is no one who acknowledges me; refuge has failed me; no one cares for my soul. (Psalm 142:1-4)
d. The title of Psalm 57 reads A Michtam of David when he fled from Saul into the cave. Psalm 57 describes David as the Lord strengthened him in the cave and prepared him for what was next.
i. Psalm 57 shows David with a humble heart: Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! (Psalm 57:1)
ii. Psalm 57 shows David with a prayerful heart: I will cry out to God Most High, to God who performs all things for me. (Psalm 57:2)
iii. Psalm 57 shows David with a realistic heart: My soul is among lions . . . they have prepared a net for my steps. (Psalm 57:4, 6)
iv. Psalm 57 shows a heart of trusting praise to the Lord: I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations . . . Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Your glory be above all the earth. (Psalm 57:9, 5, 11)
e. The Lord brought David into this place while He was still in Adullam cave. Many times we think we have to get out of the cave until we can have the heart David had in Psalm 57. But we can have it now, no matter what our circumstances.
2. (1b-2) Others come to David at Adullam cave.
And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.
a. First, David’s family came to him. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. This is a precious gift from God, because previously all David had was trouble and persecution from his father and his brothers. Now, they join him at Adullam cave.
i. In 1 Samuel 16:11, David’s father thought so little of him that he was not even invited to the family dinner with the prophet Samuel. In 1 Samuel 17:28, David’s brother unjustly accused and criticized David. So David’s family had seemed to mostly be against them, but now they are for him. What a blessing to David!
b. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him: What a group! God called an unlikely and unique group to David in Adullam cave. These were not the men that David would have chosen for himself, but they were the ones called to him.
i. These men were in distress. Their own lives weren’t easy or together. They had problems of their own, yet God called them to David at Adullam cave.
ii. These men were in debt. They hadn’t seen a lot of success in the past, and smarted from their past failures. They had problems of their own, yet God called them to David at Adullam cave.
iii. These men were discontented. The Hebrew for discontented is bitter of soul. They knew the bitterness of life, and they were not satisfied with their lives or with King Saul. They wanted something different, and something better, and God called them to David at Adullam cave.
iv. It was only those who were sick of the reign of Saul who came to David. Those who prospered under the wicked king were comfortable with him. These men had to make conscious choice: who will lead me? Will I be a man of Saul or a man of David? Who will be my king? These 400 men sensed that David was the rightful king, and that Saul was just a pretender to the throne.
v. These all came to David when he was down and out, hunted and despised. Once David came to the throne, there were a lot of people who wanted to be around him. But the glory of these 400 is that they came to David in the cave.
c. So he became captain over them: This was not a mob. This was a team that needed a leader, and David became captain over them. God doesn’t work through mobs. He works through called men and women, but He also calls others to stand with and support those men and women.
i. These men came to David in distress, in debt, and discontented, but they didn’t stay that way. “It is very possible that these several disaffected and exceptionable characters might at first have supposed that David, unjustly persecuted, would be glad to avail himself of their assistance that he might revenge himself upon Saul, and so they in the mean time might profit by plunder, [and so forth]. But if this were their design they were greatly disappointed, for David never made any improper use of them.” (Clarke)
ii. David made them into the kind of men described in 1 Chronicles 12:8: Mighty men of valor, men trained for battle, who could handle the shield and spear, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as gazelles on the mountains.
d. And there were about four hundred men with him: When David was down and discouraged in Adullam Cave, God brought people around him to strengthen him in the work. David was the one anointed by God to be the next king over Israel, and Israel’s greatest earthly king; but just as much as God called David, God called these four hundred to come beside David.
i. Each principle is important. The principle that God leads through a called and anointed man is important. When an ark had to be built, God didn’t call 400 men. When Israel needed deliverance from Egypt, God didn’t call a committee. Over and over again in the Scriptures, God’s work is led by a called and anointed man.
ii. At the same time, the principle that God rarely calls that man to work alone is important. David needed these 400 men, even if he never thought he did before. They are just as called and anointed as David is, but they are called and anointed to follow and support David, and he is called and anointed to lead them.
iii. Four hundred men, and desperate men at that. This was a solid beginning to a rebel army, if David wanted it to be that. An unprincipled leader might make these 400 men into a gang of rebels or cutthroats, but David would never allow this to become a rebel army against King Saul.
e. David had his followers, and so does the Son of David, Jesus Christ.
i. “Do you see the truth of which this Old Testament story is so graphic a picture? Just as in David’s day, there is a King in exile who is gathering around Him a company of people who are in distress, in debt, and discontented. He is training and preparing them for the day when He shall come to reign.” (Redpath)
ii. “These are the kind of men who came to David: distressed, bankrupt, dissatisfied. These are the kind of people who come to Christ, and they are the only people who come to Him, for they have recognized their distress, their debt, and bankruptcy, and are conscious that they are utterly discontented. The sheer pressures of these frustrations drives them to the refuge of the blood of Christ that was shed for them.” (Redpath)
3. (3-4) David cares for his parents.
Then David went from there to Mizpah of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and mother come here with you, till I know what God will do for me.” So he brought them before the king of Moab, and they dwelt with him all the time that David was in the stronghold.
a. He said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and mother come here with you.” David took his parents to Moab because his great-grandmother Ruth was a Moabite (Ruth 4:18-22, 1:4). He wanted his parents to be safe in whatever battles he may face in the future.
i. This shows wonderful love and obedience on the part of David. First, it shows a wonderful love. He cared for his parents when he had plenty of problems of his own. We sometimes think that when we are going through trials, we have a license to be unloving and selfish, but David shows that we can and must care about others instead of becoming self-focused in times of trial. Secondly, it shows a wonderful obedience. Even though David did not have a problem-free home life, he knew he was still obligated to obey the fifth commandment: Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12).
b. Till I know what God will do for me: David doesn’t know the whole story. He knew he was called and anointed to be the next king of Israel. But he had no idea how God would get him there. David had to trust and obey when he didn’t know what God will do for me, and here he is doing it.
4. (5) David hears from the prophet Gad.
Now the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go to the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.
a. Now the prophet Gad said to David: David enjoyed support and aid from the prophets. Saul’s dealing with the prophets (such as Samuel) was almost always negative, because Saul resisted the word of God. David received God’s word.
b. Go to the land of Judah: Gad counsels David to leave his own stronghold, and to go back to the very stronghold of Saul. This probably wasn’t what David really wanted to hear, but he obeyed anyway. David had to learn to trust God in the midst of the danger, not on the other side of the danger!
i. One reason why God wanted David in Judah was so that he could do some good. David may have thought he would just wait out the years until Saul died, isolated in the wilderness. But God wants us to be active. “God is a pure act, and he willeth that all his should be active, ‘and run with patience the race that is set before them.” (Trapp)
B. Saul murders the priests.
1. (6-8) Feeling sorry for himself, Saul accuses his aides of treason.
When Saul heard that David and the men who were with him had been discovered; now Saul was staying in Gibeah under a tamarisk tree in Ramah, with his spear in his hand, and all his servants standing about him; then Saul said to his servants who stood about him, “Hear now, you Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands and captains of hundreds? All of you have conspired against me, and there is no one who reveals to me that my son has made a covenant with the son of Jesse; and there is not one of you who is sorry for me or reveals to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as it is this day.”
a. David and the men who were with him had been discovered: When it was just David hiding out from Saul, he could remain hidden for a long time. But you can’t hide 400 men. When David came back into Judah, Saul’s network of informants quickly discovered where he was.
b. With a spear in his hand, and all his servants standing about him: We’ve seen Saul in this place before! When Saul has a spear in his hand, it usually means that he is going to try to hurt someone.
c. Will the son of Jesse give everyone of you fields and vineyards: Saul appeals to the truly worst in these men, asking them if a man from Judah will favor the tribe of Benjamin with riches and promotions.
i. Also, notice how Saul refers to David: the son of Jesse. He didn’t say, “The Man Who Killed Goliath,” or “The Man Who Killed 200 Philistines,” or “The Man Anointed by God.” Saul knew that David came from a family of simple farmers, so he calls him by the humblest name he can think of - the son of Jesse.
d. All of you have conspired against me . . . there is not one of you who is sorry for me: In his fleshly, self-focused world, everything revolves around Saul. He becomes paranoid and whines, and he leads through guilt and accusation.
e. My son has stirred up my servant against me: Jonathan never did any such thing, but Saul could not accept the truth that David and Jonathan were in the right, and he was in the wrong. So he constructs elaborate conspiracies against him. This is a trap for any leader who feels under attack!
2. (9-10) Doeg reports on Ahimelech and David to King Saul.
Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who was set over the servants of Saul, and said, “I saw the son of Jesse going to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. And he inquired of the Lord for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”
a. Doeg the Edomite was last seen in 1 Samuel 21:7, where he was in Nob, at the tabernacle at the same time David came there. 1 Samuel 21:7 says that Doeg was detained before the Lord there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he was honoring or really worshipping the Lord. He probably was simply fulfilling a ceremonial obligation connected to his employment to the king of Israel.
b. Doeg implicates the priest Ahimelech as David’s accomplice. He inquired of the Lord for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath. “Look at all the help Ahimelech gave David! Surely, they are working together against you Saul, and Ahimelech probably knows exactly where David is and where he is going!”
c. Doeg was more than an ambitious man looking for any opportunity to promote himself. He also knew how to divert Saul’s anger and suspicion from his own staff to the priests.
3. (11-15) Saul accuses Ahimelech of conspiracy with David.
So the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s house, the priests who were in Nob. And they all came to the king. And Saul said, “Hear now, son of Ahitub!” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” Then Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, in that you have given him bread and a sword, and have inquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as it is this day?” So Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, who is the king’s son-in-law, who goes at your bidding, and is honorable in your house? Did I then begin to inquire of God for him? Far be it from me! Let not the king impute anything to his servant, or to any in the house of my father. For your servant knew nothing of all this, little or much.”
a. Here I am, my lord: Ahimelech answers Saul with the honesty of a man with a clear conscience. He simply and honestly says, “Let not the king impute anything to his servant.”
i. For his part, Saul continues in his reckless paranoia. Not only does he accuse Ahimelech and David of conspiracy against him (you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse), but he also thinks that David is out to kill him (that he should rise against me, to lie in wait). Saul thinks of himself as the victim! In his mind, David and Ahimelech are out to get him!
b. For your servant knew nothing of all this, little or much: Ahimelech is telling the exact truth. When David came to Ahimelech, the priest questioned him carefully (Why are you alone, and no one is with you, 1 Samuel 21:1). Instead of telling Ahimelech the truth, David lied to him. This put Ahimelech in a very vulnerable position.
i. Ahimelech is so unaware of the hatred Saul has for David that he praises David before the jealous king: And who among all your servants is as faithful as David. This is because David told Ahimelech that he was on Saul’s bidding when he was really running for his life (1 Samuel 21:2).
4. (16-19) Saul commands the execution of the priests and their families, and Doeg the Edomite carries it out.
And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house!” Then the king said to the guards who stood about him, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled and did not tell it to me.” But the servants of the king would not lift their hands to strike the priests of the Lord. And the king said to Doeg, “You turn and kill the priests!” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck the priests, and killed on that day eighty-five men who wore a linen ephod. Also Nob, the city of the priests, he struck with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and nursing infants, oxen and donkeys and sheep; with the edge of the sword.
a. “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and your father’s house!” Any man in the place of sin and rebellion Saul is in can’t stand to see an innocent, guileless man like Ahimelech not in agreement with him. So, he commands him to be murdered.
i. This command shows Saul is going faster and faster down the decline away from the Lord. He had tried to kill David many times before, and had even tried to kill his own son. But now he commands the death of complete bystanders to the problem. He commands the death of priests of the Lord. And he commands the death of their families.
ii. Saul was reluctant to kill the enemies of the Lord when he was commanded to (1 Samuel 15:9). But here he isn’t reluctant to murder the priests of the Lord in cold blood. Saul is clearly going off the deep end. “His anger was bent against the Lord himself, for taking away his kingdom, and giving it to another: and because he could not come at the Lord, therefore he wreaketh his rage upon his priests.” (Trapp)
iii. “This is one of the worst acts in the life of Saul; his malice was implacable, and his wrath was cruel, and there is no motive of justice or policy by which such a barbarous act can be justified.” (Clarke) “A bloody sentence, harshly pronounced and as rashly executed, without any pause or deliberation, without any remorse or regret. This was the worst act that ever Saul did.” (Trapp)
iv. “What a warning is here that we should not yield to the first intrusion of evil, lest the thought should lead to the act, and repeated acts to the habit, and habits congeal to character, and character become set in destiny!” (Meyer)
b. The servants of the king would not lift their hands to strike the priests of the Lord. To their credit, Saul’s servants feared God more than Saul, and refused to murder the priests.
c. So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck the priests: Doeg, who was not a Jew, but an Edomite, didn’t hesitate to murder the priests and their families. Apparently, when Doeg was detained before the Lord at the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21:7), it didn’t change his heart at all.
5. (20-23) David protects Abiathar, the only survivor of Ahimelech’s family.
Now one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the Lord’s priests. So David said to Abiathar, “I knew that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have caused the death of all the persons of your father’s house. Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.”
a. I knew that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul: David showed how he felt about this in Psalm 52, which says in its title A Contemplation of David when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, and said to him, “David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.”
i. In Psalm 52, David shows his outrage against Doeg: Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? Your tongue devises destruction, like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. You love evil more than good, lying rather than speaking righteousness. You love all devouring words, you deceitful tongue. (Psalm 52:1a, 2-4)
ii. In Psalm 52, David shows his confidence in God’s judgments: God shall likewise destroy you forever; He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place, and uproot you from the land of the living. (Psalm 52:5)
iii. In Psalm 52, David shows his focus on the Lord: But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. I will praise You forever, because You have done it; and in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it is good. (Psalm 52:8-9)
b. I have caused the death of all the persons of your father’s house: David meant this in two ways. In the greater way, it was David’s mere presence with Ahimelech that made him guilty before Saul, and there really wasn’t anything David or anyone could do about that. In the lesser way, David’s lying to Ahimelech made the priest more vulnerable than ever before Saul.
i. David’s lies did not directly kill Ahimelech and the other priests. But at the very least, he kept Ahimelech from dying with greater honor. If Ahimelech would have known of the conflict between David and Saul, he could have chosen to stand with David, and die with greater honor. Any way you slice it, David’s lies came to no good.
ii. We know from both 1 Samuel and the Psalms that David turned his heart back to the Lord and asked forgiveness after his lies to Ahimelech. David was restored, but there was still bad fruit to come of the lies, and now David sees and tastes that bad fruit.
c. With me you shall be safe: David could not do anything about the priests who were already murdered. He confessed his guilt in the matter, and sought forgiveness from the Lord. Now, all he can do is minister to the need in front of him - Abiathar, the surviving priest.
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission