III. David’s Anointing and History under Saul (1 Samuel 16:1–28:2)

16:1 Samuel’s grief over Saul’s failure was understandable. But apparently, God felt it had gone on for too long. He roused his elderly prophet to action, giving him the most important assignment of his ministry. He sent Samuel to the home of Jesse of Bethlehem because he had selected a king from his sons. Saul’s replacement was at hand.

21:7 The story takes a tragic turn here that will come to light later. This event at Nob was witnessed by Doeg the Edomite, chief of Saul’s shepherds. The Edomites were longtime enemies of Israel, and we learn later that this foreigner had no qualms about massacring God’s people. He was in Nob for an unexplained reason; he was detained before the Lord. He left immediately to report David’s presence at Nob (see 22:9-10).

21:8-10 David unintentionally implicated Ahimelech further in his escape by asking the priest to provide him with a weapon (21:8). Ahimelech had the perfect one, the sword of Goliath, which David had previously kept after defeating the Philistine (21:9; see 17:54). David took it and, feeling the heat, no longer felt safe anywhere in Israel.

Later, we’ll learn that David had a band of men with him in this scene that would eventually grow into a small army of about six hundred (see 23:13; Matt 12:1-4). Yet, militarily, they were no match for Saul and the armies of Israel. So, he and his men rode not just into the territory of their bitter enemies the Philistines, but into Gath, the hometown of Goliath, with David wearing the giant’s sword. Perhaps David hoped he could enter Gath without being recognized by King Achish (21:10).

21:11-15 The king’s servants, however, recognized David immediately, knew the song the Israelite women had been singing about him, and even referred to him as the king of the land [of Israel] (21:11). David knew his life was in danger, so he pretended to be insane, acting like a madman (21:12-13). The reason Achish didn’t kill David may have been because of an ancient superstition against killing an insane person based on the belief that insanity was a divine judgment not to be interfered with. David’s act worked as Achish sent him and his men packing (21:14-15).

22:1-5 Realizing there was no hiding place for him among the Philistines, David traveled to the cave of Adullam, located about twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem (22:1). When they learned of his whereabouts, David’s family joined him there, because their lives would also have been in danger from Saul. And, every man who was desperate, in debt, or discontented—that is, those whom we would call the disenfranchised or who had a gripe against the way Saul was running things—joined up with David (22:2). David then took his family to the king of Moab for protection (22:3); that was a good plan because Moab was the home of David’s great-grandmother Ruth (see Ruth 4:21-22). Then, David and his men went to a stronghold (22:4). But, even there, they weren’t safe. So, on the advice of the prophet Gad, the fugitives hid in a forest in the land of Judah (22:5).

22:6-10 Back in Gibeah, the paranoid Saul royally chewed out his own men for conspiring against him to protect David (22:6-8). Saul’s twisted charge that Jonathan was against him and that David was actually waiting in ambush for him shows how deranged and dangerous Saul had become (22:8). Doeg saw his chance to ingratiate himself with the king, so he reported what he had seen and heard at Nob (22:9-10; see 21:7). Doeg’s malice, combined with Saul’s paranoia, could produce nothing but calamity.

22:11-15 Saul’s reaction was tragically predictable. Ahimelech . . . and his father’s whole family were called to stand trial for treason (22:11-13). But, it was a kangaroo court. The king charged Ahimelech with conspiring with David and claimed that David was waiting in ambush to attack at any moment (22:13). Ahimelech made a valiant attempt to defend David’s honor and his own innocence. As far as Ahimelech was concerned, he had been merely following the orders of the king’s own son-in-law and bodyguard (22:14-15).

22:16-19 But Ahimelech’s explanation and justification didn’t matter. Saul had already made up his mind. Ahimelech was guilty by association. Saul condemned the priest and his family to death (21:16). Yet, Saul’s guards apparently still had enough fear of the Lord in them that they would not lift a hand to execute the priests of the Lord (22:17). Doeg the Edomite, however, had no such qualms. He not only killed all eighty-five priests at Nob, but he also massacred every person and animal in the town (22:18-19).

22:20-23 Only Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, escaped and fled to David to tell him what happened (22:20-21). Though these murders lay at the feet of Saul (who felt no remorse), David felt responsible for them (22:22). Abiathar stayed with David and would later serve in the priesthood when David became king (22:23).

The heading of Psalm 52 indicates that David wrote that psalm when he learned of Doeg’s treachery. David knew that God would be faithful to bring down this wicked man, so David trusted and praised God for his steadfast love (see Ps 52:5-9). His example is a reminder that, regardless of how bad things look, we are to worship. God is still on his throne, and he will ultimately right every wrong.

23:1 David did more than merely hide from Saul during his days as a fugitive. He was still a loyal son of Israel and member of the tribe of Judah. So, when the Philistines attacked the Judean town of Keilah, about three miles south of Adullam, David was concerned for his countrymen.

23:2-6 But first, David inquired of the Lord (23:2), no doubt using the ephod that Abiathar the priest had brought with him from Nob (23:6). This was the garment housing the Urim and Thummim, which the priest would use to determine an answer from the Lord. David got a “yes” from God, directing him to rescue Keilah (23:2). But, his men were afraid of fighting the Philistines while Saul was seeking to destroy them as well (23:3). So, David inquired again and got a second “yes” from the Lord. With this reassurance, David and his men were victorious in battle (23:4-5).

23:7-14 Even this victory did not give David rest. When word spread that Saul knew where David was and had gathered his army to march on Keilah and take him, David suspected that the people there would hand him over to Saul (23:7-12). Indeed, the people of Keilah probably knew what happened to the people of Nob (see 22:11-19), and they wanted no part of protecting David at such a cost. David consulted the Lord again through the ephod (23:9). To his credit, David didn’t want the blood of Keilah’s people on his conscience, and he knew Saul wouldn’t hesitate to slaughter them. When God revealed to him that Saul would attack and that the people of Keilah would hand him over, David and his men fled into to the wilderness strongholds (23:13-14).

23:15-16 David had to be at a low point in terms of morale. Even rescuing his own countrymen from enemies hadn’t provided him with relief or safety. But, it was at this point that God sent Jonathan to David and encouraged him in his faith in God (23:16). Similarly, when other believers are at spiritual low points, Christians are to be faithful Jonathans to them. This is what it is to love your neighbor as yourself.

23:17-18 Jonathan was confident that God would spare David and make him king over Israel. Jonathan was looking forward to serving as David’s second-in-command one day (23:17), but sadly, that would never happen. David and Jonathan renewed the cov-enant they had made previously and parted (23:18; see 18:3). This would be the last time these two friends would see one another.

23:19-23 David and his men were in a desolate wilderness place, but even there, they weren’t safe. The Ziphites, who lived in a town in the Judean wilderness near where David was hiding, were eager to betray him to Saul. Perhaps they wanted to ingratiate themselves with the king, or maybe they wanted to avoid being accused of knowing where David was and not telling. Regardless, they went to Saul at Gibeah with their news (23:19-20). Saul was pleased with the Ziphite informers and asked them to return and be his eyes and ears to report David’s whereabouts (23:21-23).

23:24-29 The Ziphite spies did their job so well that David and Saul were soon on the same mountain, with Saul just steps away from capturing him (23:26). But, by the providence of God, the Philistines sent a raiding party on Israel, and Saul had to give up the chase (23:27-28). Because of David’s heart-stopping escape, the site was named the Rock of Separation to commemorate God’s deliverance (23:28). But, David also knew better than to stay put. This respite allowed him to move to En-gedi, an oasis along the Dead Sea about thirty-five miles southeast of Jerusalem (23:29). There, David and his men hid in a cave, where he would soon prove his innocence once again.

24:1-3 By including the following incident at En-gedi, the author of 1 Samuel clearly intended to show that, even though David was God’s anointed choice as king, he refused to take the throne by violence but determined to wait on God’s timing. God has a plan for every believer’s life. The question is: Will you seek his will for you at any cost: or will you pursue it according to God’s agenda and timetable?

When Saul went to look for David at En-gedi, he entered a cave to relieve himself (24:2-3). In an almost humorous instance of God’s providence, Saul chose to do that in the very cave in which David was hiding. The tension couldn’t be thicker. Here was David’s opportunity. He could rid Israel of its corrupt king and assume his own rightful place on the throne.

24:4-7 But, instead of burying his knife in Saul’s back, David only cut off the corner of Saul’s robe (24:4). David’s conscience was so sensitive that even that act bothered him (24:5). In spite of his wickedness, Saul was still the Lord’s anointed (24:6), and David intended to leave him in the hands of the Lord.

24:8-10 When Saul left the cave, he was no doubt shocked to hear David’s voice calling to him and then to see him knelt low paying homage (24:8). Up until now, other people like Jonathan had spoken to Saul in David’s defense. But now, David had his own opportunity, and Saul stood speechless. David began with the obvious. If he had really wanted to harm Saul, he had just had the perfect opportunity to do it. He said, the Lord handed you over to me today in the cave (24:9-10). Though others had urged David to kill Saul, David demonstrated in the clearest way possible that he had no such intensions against the Lord’s anointed (24:10).

24:11-13 David affectionately called Saul his father—which was either a reminder that David was the king’s son-in-law or a reference to Saul as David’s king. Then, David produced the piece of robe to show Saul how close he had come to death. Saul had pursued David unjustly and sought his life, but David had mercifully spared Saul (24:11). If any vengeance were to be inflicted on Saul’s head, it would come from the hand of God himself, not David (24:12). David’s final appeal was to his weak position in comparison to Saul’s exalted status as king. In other words, he said, Saul wasn’t chasing a legitimate threat to his kingdom, but a poor man with a tiny band of misfits who couldn’t do him any harm (24:14).

24:16-21 David’s appeal seemed to work. Saul broke into tears (24:16). He said, You are more righteous than I, for you have done what is good to me though I have done what is evil to you (24:17). In the hearing of his troops and David’s men, Saul confessed his treachery and David’s innocence. The facts were plain to everyone. Therefore, Saul blessed David, admitted that David would be king one day, and asked David to pledge not to wipe out his family (24:19-21).

24:22 David swore to Saul that he would not, further cementing a promise he had already made to his son Jonathan (see 20:14-17). Interestingly, however, David did not return with Saul and his army to Gibeah. Instead he stayed in the stronghold (24:22). Clearly, David was not thoroughly convinced of the sincerity of Saul’s repentance—or at least that Saul’s sincerity would last. As the reader of 1 Samuel learns, David was wise to doubt the genuineness of Saul’s change of heart.

25:1 As chapter 25 opens, Israel is hit with a blow: Samuel died (25:1). The prophet who anointed Israel’s first king (Saul) and its future king (David) was no more. He was so revered that all Israel gathered at his home in Ramah to mourn for him (25:1). The last of Israel’s judges had filled a unique role.

25:2-8 David went to a place called Maon, the home of a wealthy man named Nabal and his wife, Abigail. She was as intelligent and beautiful as her husband was harsh and evil (25:2-3). Without being under obligation, David and his men provided protection for Nabal’s herds (25:7). So David sent ten young men to greet Nabal, asking that he might spare some food—whatever he thought fair for David and his men, in light of the safety they had provided for Nabal’s flocks and shepherds (25:5-8).

25:9-17 True to his nature, Nabal insulted David’s men and sent them away empty-handed (25:9-11). To David, such ingratitude and offense deserved vengeance (25:12-13). Thankfully, Nabal had a young servant who valued his own head enough to tell Abigail the whole story, including how David had protected the family’s herds and how Nabal had screamed at David’s messengers (25:14-16). Apparently, Nabal’s character was an open topic of discussion in the household because this servant didn’t hesitate in pointing it out to the lady of the house: He is such a worthless fool nobody can talk to him! (25:17).

25:18-22 Abigail knew her husband, so she knew that the servant was exactly right. In Hebrew, Nabal means “fool” or “stupid.” The name fit. Abigail had to act fast if she was to prevent a disaster from striking their home. Abigail collected a large supply of provisions and sent them ahead of her with a group of servants to meet David (25:18-19). She followed behind, ready to intercede for her household and for Nabal. She was as wise as Nabal was foolish, for David intended to kill every male in the household (25:22). If she didn’t intercede, innocent lives would be lost and David would come to regret his actions.

25:23-31 Abigail paid homage to David as to a king (25:23). She admitted that Nabal’s name matched his character. He was a worthless fool, and stupidity [was] all he [knew] (25:25). She then recalled the ways that God had shown favor to David and protected him from his enemies (25:28-29). Then, she urged David to forget Nabal and his petty offense (25:28). One day, David would be Israel’s king. On that day, there [would] not be remorse or a troubled conscience . . . because of needless bloodshed, if David restrained himself from revenge (25:31).

25:32-35 As far as David was concerned, Abigail was worth her weight in gold. Her discernment had spared her household and prevented David from shedding innocent blood. He blessed her, accepted her gifts, and sent her home in peace (25:33, 35).

Abigail is a perfect example of the “wife of noble character” discussed in Proverbs 31:10. She didn’t let her fool of a husband prevent her from fearing and obeying the Lord. She was a true kingdom woman. Soon, she would see “the reward of her labor” (Prov 31:31).

25:36-38 This story ends with a twist. Having saved the day, Abigail went home to find a drunken husband who had no idea how close to death he had come (25:36). When Nabal finally sobered up and Abigail told him everything, he had a stroke or heart attack—His heart died and he became a stone (25:37). He lingered for ten days before God struck Nabal dead in judgment (25:38).

25:39-44 When David heard of Nabal’s death, he took Abigail as his own wife (25:41-42). Though his action was clearly intended to honor this godly woman, David was already married (25:43-44). Polygamy was never God’s ideal for his people. And, in David’s case, polygamous marriage would result in horrific family dysfunction (including rape and murder among his children) that would bring him much grief.

26:1-4 In God’s providence, the treachery of the Ziphites brought Saul within David’s reach again (26:1). This was their second betrayal of David to Saul (see 23:19). In spite of his earlier repentance for unjustly pursuing David (see 24:16-21), Saul again brought his troops to catch David in his hiding place (26:2-3). Aware of Saul’s movements, David sent out a recon team that located Saul’s camp in the wilderness (26:4).

26:5-6 David approached Saul’s camp at night and got so close he could see the place where Saul and Abner . . . the commander of his army, were lying down (26:5). David had two men with him that night, including a soldier named Abishai, who would later become one of his mighty men (see 1 Chr 11:20-21). David suddenly got an idea that must have sounded suicidal: let’s sneak right into Saul’s camp. But, Abishai responded immediately, I’ll go with you (26:6).

26:7-11 Militarily speaking, two against three thousand didn’t make for a good plan. But, this was not a military operation. David made it clear to Abishai that he had no violent intent toward Saul (26:7-11). The author of 1 Samuel wanted us to know that the Lord was leading David on this midnight adventure to demonstrate again that, though he was the legitimate king of Israel, he was not a usurper. David would wait patiently for the Lord’s timing, holding to his conviction that it was not his place to strike the Lord’s anointed (26:9).

26:12-16 David took Saul’s spear and the water jug by his head. Possessing them would serve as evidence of David’s good will and Saul’s close brush with death. Taking them was possible because a deep sleep from the Lord came over Saul, Abner, and all of their army (26:12). Once David was again at a safe distance from the camp, he called out to Abner and Saul’s troops, ridiculing them for failing to protect their king (26:13-16). Abner must have felt as if his pockets had been picked when he awoke to find someone had gotten to the king without his even knowing it. David revealed that he had taken Saul’s gear right out from under Abner’s nose (26:16). The army commander was publicly humiliated and had nothing to say.

26:17-20 Saul, too, was humiliated. Once again, Saul was shown to be seeking the life of a man who bore him no ill will (see 24:1-22). David protested his innocence before the king (26:18). He called down a curse on those who were troubling him falsely and who had cut him off from worshiping the Lord within Israel (26:19). Finally, he emphasized how ridiculous Saul’s pursuit was, for David was nothing more than a single flea (26:20).

26:21-25 David’s actions and plea again seemed to hit home with Saul, who acknowledged his sin and realized that David could have killed him if he’d desired to. Saul admitted, I have been a fool! (26:21). (That’s putting it mildly.) Unfortunately, Saul would not reform his ways. There is no point in acknowledging your foolishness if you insist on continuing to walk a foolish road.

Saul promised, I will never harm you again (26:21). But, David had heard this promise before. After declaring his innocence before the Lord once again (26:22-24), David went on his way, and Saul returned home (26:25). Though there is no further record of Saul hunting David, this may be because David would soon leave Israel (see 27:4). Saul didn’t turn over a new leaf to live a God-honoring life, as we will soon see.

27:1-4 David was convinced that he wasn’t safe from Saul anywhere in Israel. So, for the second time, he took the drastic step of going to the land of the Philistines (27:1)—and right back to Achish . . . the king of Gath, no less (27:2; see 21:10-15). It’s hard to know what kind of reception David expected in enemy territory, but clearly he believed it couldn’t be any worse than the fugitive life he had been living. This risky move may make more sense when we remember that David was responsible for six hundred men and their families as well as his own—quite an entourage to try and provide for in a barren wilderness (27:3). With this move by David, Saul no longer searched for him (27:4).

27:5-6 By now, Achish and the Philistines had become convinced that David really was a mortal enemy of Saul and could never go back to Israel. This made him a potentially valuable ally in their never-ending war with the Israelites. So, King Achish let David settle among them, in the outlying city of Ziklag, located about thirteen miles north of Beersheba in the desert region of the Negev (27:5-6). Achish was making David his vassal, or servant, with David pledging his loyalty and putting him and his men at Achish’s service—or so the Philistine king thought.

27:7-11 David had other plans. He wanted to be away from Gath to be out from under the king’s close scrutiny so he could operate without being watched all the time. David used Ziklag as his headquarters for the next sixteen months, right up until the death of Saul (27:7). From there, David and his men carried out raids against various desert tribes that were enemies of Israel, including the nation’s bitter and ancient foes, the Amalekites (27:8). David made sure that no one survived these raids to go to Gath and report to Achish what he was really doing (27:11). When Achish inquired about David’s activities, he deceived the king by telling him that he was carrying out raids against his own people in Judah (27:10).

27:12–28:2 Achish bought the deception completely, thinking that because David had made himself repulsive to his people Israel, he would be Achish’s servant forever (27:12). As far as Achish was concerned, David and his men were now loyal comrades of the Philistines, who were obligated to fight with them against the Israelites. So, when the time came for the next battle between these two armies, Achish didn’t give David an option. He had to fight with the Philistines against Israel (28:1). David gave the answer Achish wanted to hear, and the Philistine king made David his permanent bodyguard (28:2). Then, like any good drama, the book of 1 Samuel leaves the reader in suspense as attention turns once again to King Saul.

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