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 had 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.
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. God wanted to be David’s refuge in this discouraging time.
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 consider how far he had come from a great victory to running around like a criminal, hiding in a cave.
c. The cave of Adullam: The title of Psalm 142 reads: A Contemplation of David. A prayer when he was in the cave. So, Psalm 142 described 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 cave of Adullam: 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 David with 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).
v. The LORD brought David into this place while he was still in the Adullam cave. We often 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 the Adullam cave.
So 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. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him: First, David’s family came to him. This is a precious gift from God because previously all David had was trouble and persecution from his father and his brothers (1 Samuel 16:11 and 1 Samuel 17:28). Now they join him at the Adullam cave.
b. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him: God called an unlikely and unique group to David in the Adullam cave. These were not the men David would have chosen for himself, but they were the ones God 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 the Adullam cave.
ii. These men were in debt. They hadn’t seen a lot of success in the past and were stung from their past failures. They had problems of their own, yet God called them to David at the Adullam cave.
iii. These men were discontented. The Hebrew word for discontented means 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 the Adullam cave.
iv. These men 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. The glory of these 400 is that they came to David in the cave.
v. “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 recognised their distress, their debt, and bankruptcy, and are conscious that they are utterly discontented. The sheer pressure of these frustrations drives them to the refuge of the blood of Christ that was shed for them.” (Redpath)
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. Four hundred men, and desperate men at that. This was a solid beginning to a rebel army if David wanted it. An unprincipled leader might make these 400 men into a gang of rebels or cutthroats, but David did not allow this to become a rebel army against King Saul.
ii. These men came to David in distress, in debt, and discontented, but they didn’t stay that way. 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: David was the one anointed by God to be the next king over Israel, and he became 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 so 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. David had his followers, and so does the Son of David, Jesus Christ. “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)
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, whatever battles he may face in the future.
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 would do.
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 dealings 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 counseled David to leave his own stronghold and to go back to the very stronghold of Saul. This probably wasn’t what David wanted to hear but he obeyed anyway. David had to learn to trust God in the midst of danger, not on the other side of danger.
i. “Hereby also God would exercise David’s faith, and wisdom, and courage; and so prepare him for the kingdom, and uphold and increase his reputation among the people.” (Poole)
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 them.
b. With a spear in his hand, and all his servants standing about him: When Saul had a spear in his hand, it usually meant he was going to try to hurt someone.
c. Will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards: Saul appealed 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 referred 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 called him by the humblest name he could 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 revolved around Saul. He became paranoid and whiny, and he led 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 Saul constructed elaborate conspiracies against him.
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: This man was last seen in 1 Samuel 21:7 in Nob, at the tabernacle at the same time David came there.
b. He inquired of the LORD for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath: Doeg implicated the priest Ahimelech as David’s accomplice. “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.”
i. Doeg was more than an ambitious man looking 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 answered Saul with the honesty of a man with a clear conscience. He simply and honestly said, “Let not the king impute anything to his servant.”
i. Saul continued in his reckless paranoia. He accused Ahimelech and David of conspiracy against him (you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse). He also thought that David was out to kill him (that he should rise against me, to lie in wait). Saul thought of himself as the victim, believing that David and Ahimelech were out to get him.
b. For your servant knew nothing of all this, little or much: Ahimelech told 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 was so unaware of the hatred Saul had for David that he praised David before the jealous king: “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David.” This was 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 all your father’s house: A man in the place of sin and rebellion Saul was in could not stand to see an innocent, guileless man like Ahimelech disagree with him. So, he commanded him to be murdered.
i. Saul was reluctant to kill the enemies of the LORD when he was commanded to (1 Samuel 15:9). But he wasn’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)
ii. “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)
b. The servants of the king would not lift their hands to strike the priests: To their credit, Saul’s servants feared God more than Saul and they 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. Doeg was detained before the LORD at the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21:7) but 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 showed 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 showed 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 showed 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 vulnerable 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 knew of the conflict between David and Saul, he could have chosen to stand with David and die with greater honor.
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.