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


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

A. David’s Anointing and Service to Saul (16:1-23)

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.

16:2-5 Samuel was afraid of Saul’s reaction because of the king’s suspicious nature and violent temper (16:2). But, God told Samuel to go to Bethlehem to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and to invite Jesse to join him (16:2-3). Ironically, the elders of Bethlehem trembled with fear at the sight of Samuel, perhaps expecting him to deliver some message of judgment (16:4). But, Samuel put their minds at ease and called everyone to a sacrifice (16:5).

16:6-7 As soon as he looked at Jesse’s sons, Samuel began sizing them up. He may have recalled that when Saul was identified as king of Israel he “stood a head taller than anyone else” (10:23). It certainly seems Sam-uel had physical characteristics in mind when he just looked at Jesse’s firstborn Eliab and said, “Certainly the Lord’s anointed one is here” (16:6). But, as Samuel would find out, God’s selection wasn’t based on physical appearance or stature. People tend to see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart (16:7).

16:8-12 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel. Each time, the Lord said in effect, “Pass that one up” (16:8-10). But, when the youngest son, who was out tending the sheep, was finally brought before Samuel, the Lord said,Anoint him, for he is the one” (16:11-12). The purpose of David’s selection and anointing is clear to us because we know the whole story. But importantly, the text doesn’t tell us whether Samuel revealed to Jesse and his sons exactly what he was doing to David that day. They knew that David was being anointed in some ritual way, but they may not have known why.

16:13 Though his father and brothers could see the external anointing happening, they couldn’t view the inner reality taking place: the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully on David from that day forward. Suddenly, David was not just a man after God’s own heart (see 13:14), but was filled with the Holy Spirit. Not only was that the right combination for the king of God’s people, it’s also the right combination for any kingdom citizen.

In time, King David would be remembered as one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. Notably, David’s great-grandmother Rahab was a Canaanite (which indicates that she was of a dark-skinned lineage). David’s grandmother was Ruth, a Moabite, from a people who were Canaanites as well, of African descent. Thus, David, one of the heroes of the faith, hailed from mixed Jewish and Hamitic ancestry (see Gen 10:6) and stands as a leader of whom blacks can be proud to call our own.

16:14-23 Though the Spirit of God was with David in a powerful way (16:13), God withdrew his Spirit from Saul and appointed an evil spirit . . . to torment him (16:14). This spirit was most likely a demon sovereignly appointed by God to trouble Saul mentally and emotionally, demonstrating God’s power over Satan and his kingdom. God used this both to highlight Saul’s utter rejection as king, and to bring David providentially into the royal court (16:15-19). Saul liked David so much that he became the king’s armor-bearer, as well as the court musician to soothe the king and bring relief from the evil spirit (16:20-23). That this problem came from God lets the reader know again that God was in control of Saul’s demise and David’s eventual rise to the throne.

In response to the way God used Satan’s kingdom to terrorize Saul, Saul should have responded with repentance for his rebellious acts against the gracious God who had made him king. He needed to turn back to the Lord, asking him to lift his hand of judgment. But sadly, the discipline of God never resulted in repentance from Saul.

Interestingly, these verses also illustrate the warning Samuel had given to the Israelites when they first demanded a king, telling them that the king would press their sons into his service (16:19, 22; see 8:11-12), with the clear implication that there was nothing they could do about it. Saul loved David and said that David had found favor with him (16:21-22). Unfortunately, as David continued to obey God and began to receive honor in the eyes of the Israelites, he would quickly lose Saul’s good opinion.

B. David’s Defeat of Goliath (17:1-58)

17:1-11 Once again, Saul and the Israelite army faced off against their archenemies, the Philistines (17:1-2). As the rival troops were squaring off this time, the Philistine champion named Goliath appeared in the ravine between them (17:3-4). The description of his size (nine feet, nine inches tall), armor, and weapons emphasizes the terror his appearance struck in the hearts of Saul and his soldiers (17:4-7, 11). He was without question a horrifying sight.

Goliath stood and shouted his dare for a one-on-one, winner-take-all contest against any Israelite (17:8-9). Goliath declared, I defy the ranks of Israel, a challenge to which the king of Israel responded with silence (17:10-11). But, Goliath wasn’t merely defying Israel and their king; he was defying Israel’s God. Though this would be clear to David when he heard the giant’s arrogant words (17:26), King Saul was so terrified that he missed it (17:11).

Your level of fear can reveal your closeness to God. In general, the more you are afraid, the farther you are from God; the less you are afraid, the closer you are to God. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Saul was singled out in verse 11 by the author for at least two reasons. First, he was Israel’s leader, their king and commander. If he lost his courage and confidence, the rest of his army would lose heart, too. The second reason is that Saul stood head and shoulders above all the people—he was Israel’s champion, the logical choice to represent Israel and go fight Goliath. But, he wanted no part of the action.

17:12-15 The stage was set for David’s providential visit to the battle line. His father, Jesse, sent him with provisions for his three oldest brothers who were serving in Saul’s army. Though David was officially in Saul’s service (16:22), he went back and forth to help care for his father’s flock because Jesse was already an old man (17:12, 15).

17:16-22 The Philistine giant had been issuing his challenge morning and evening for forty days (17:16). Apparently, the Israelite army had been marching out to its battle formation each of these days, shouting their battle cry in hopes that Goliath would give up and they could just get on with a conventional battle (17:20).

17:23-27 Goliath came forward again and again, and the Israelites retreated in terror again and again (17:23-24). But, when David heard the Philistine’s challenge (17:23), he stood his ground, looked around, and saw that he was alone in his convictions. So, he decided to do something about the situation. David learned that the king had offered a reward for the man who would defeat Goliath; he’d promised to give his own daughter to him in marriage (17:25-27). But, David was more concerned about removing Israel’s disgrace at the hands of an uncircumcised Philistine, who was defying the armies of the living God, than he was by the prize (17:26).

Where the rest of the army saw a terrifying warrior, David saw an “uncircumcised” opponent—that is, someone who was not a part of God’s covenant community and, therefore, not under God’s covering. In spite of Goliath’s size, he lacked the authority and power to which David had access as a covenant member.

17:28-31 David’s inquiry provoked the anger of his oldest brother Eliab (17:28). It’s possible that Eliab was jealous of David’s anointing at the hands of Samuel the prophet (see commentary on 16:8-12). But, it’s clear that Eliab despised his baby brother as a cocky kid who was showing off and neglecting his duties (17:28). The funny thing is that David’s hint that he wasn’t afraid of Goliath didn’t bother any of the other soldiers. They were more than happy to tell Saul about him and potentially get themselves off the hook (17:31).

17:32-40 At first, when David declared his intent to mop up the battlefield with Goliath, Saul attempted to discourage the young man from throwing his life away (17:32-33). But, David explained how he had repeatedly killed lions and bears that had threatened his sheep and that the Lord had rescued him every time (17:34-36). David was full of courage, zealous to protect those under his care, and bursting with trust in his covenant God. So, Saul tried to arm David, but the armor was too cumbersome (17:38-39). Instead, David went to war armed with his sling and a few smooth stones and the Creator of the universe on his side (17:40).

17:41-44 When the Philistine saw David, he was thoroughly unimpressed with the youth (17:41-42). Then, he threatened to feed him to the wild beasts and cursed David by his gods (17:43-44). Little did Goliath know that his own taunts had put him under a curse by the only true God (see Gen 12:3).

17:45-47 The giant’s threats meant nothing to David, and neither did the Philistine’s weapons. This young shepherd confidently faced perhaps the world’s most menacing warrior ever with the greatest weapon: I come against you in the name of the Lord of Armies, the God of the ranks of Israel—you have defied him (17:45). In other words, he said, “You’ve insulted the one true God. And he’s mad.” In the end, it would be the Philistines—not David—who became food for the wild creatures (17:46).

Don’t miss the youth’s bold declaration: the battle is the Lord’s. He will hand you over to us (17:47). No obstacle is too large and no circumstance is too menacing when you realize that God is sovereign over all.

17:48-52 Goliath, who stood for all that was evil, was a terrifying presence. But, like our enemy, Satan (see 1 Pet 5:8), Goliath was a toothless lion despite his roaring because David was fighting in the Lord’s name and strength. In the end, it was no contest. As thousands watched, David slung his stone and Goliath toppled (17:49-50). Then, the future king took the Philistine’s own sword and cut off his head (17:51). That sight was enough for the Philistine army. They turned tail and ran, with the Israelites in hot pursuit (17:51-52).

17:53-58 David kept Goliath’s weapons for himself and carried the Philistine’s head around for a while (17:54, 57). In this trophy, we have a glimpse of what God promised that his Messiah would do to the serpent, the devil: “He will strike your head” (Gen 3:15). As David vanquished the giant, so Christ, the Son of David, will vanquish all his enemies. The chapter ends with Saul seeking to find out the name of David’s father so he could properly reward the family of Jesse of Bethlehem (17:58; see 17:25).

The defeat of Goliath was another huge turning point in Israel’s history. Saul had failed miserably as king. But, the stories recorded in the rest of 1 Samuel show the wisdom of God’s sovereign choice of David to succeed him.

C. David’s Service in Saul’s Court (18:1–20:42)

18:1-5 The person who loved David the most was Saul’s oldest son and heir, Jonathan. We don’t know when Jonathan realized that David, not he, would be Israel’s next king (see 20:14-15). But, even in these early days, he fully supported David by making a covenant of close friendship with him (18:3). If Jonathan did not yet know that God had rejected his father, the events in the chapters that follow would make it abundantly clear.

The fact that Saul kept David with him from the day he defeated Goliath means that David became a permanent leader in the army (18:2). Saul could see that David was a capable and courageous warrior and that the whole army was in awe of him. So, he put David in command of the fighting men. This pleased everyone because God was making David successful in everything (18:5).

18:6-9 Because he had put David in command and sent him to war, one would expect Saul to be pleased with David’s success, too. And surely he was pleased—until the people started praising David as more successful than he. The women of Israel sang, Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands (18:6-7). And, at the refrain, the fire of Saul’s jealousy was ignited: David had been given more credit. So, while the people of Israel admired and loved David, Saul hated him from that day on (18:8-9). The king let his pride take over, ultimately fulfilling the truth of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.”

Saul wrongly assumed that David was seeking an opportunity to seize the throne (18:8). But, nothing could be further from the truth. David was God’s man and was living in God’s timing. God had elevated him from the sheep pasture, and David was determined to leave his destiny in God’s hands. In the years to come, he would show tremendous restraint in honoring Saul as “the Lord’s anointed” even when Saul was trying to kill him (see 24:1-22).

18:10-16 The next day, God confirmed the sinful path Saul had chosen by sending his appointed evil spirit to torment Saul so powerfully that he began to rave and tried to kill David twice (18:10-11). By now, Saul had recognized that the Lord was with David, and it filled the king with fear (18:12). So, Saul sent David off to battle. David’s success and popularity skyrocketed (18:13-16).

18:17-19 Saul tried another course of action to get rid of David. He vowed to give David his daughter Merab for a wife, if [he would] be a warrior for [Saul] and fight the Lord’s battles (18:17). Because Saul had already reneged on his promise to give his daughter in marriage to the warrior who killed Goliath (see 17:25), it’s not surprising to learn that he still had no intention of making David his son-in-law. Instead, he expected the Philistines to kill him in battle first (18:17). David humbly objected to the offer, not thinking himself worthy of being related to the king (18:18). But, when it was time to give his daughter to David, Saul broke his word and gave her to another man (18:19).

The more honorable David acted, the more treacherous Saul became. Sometimes, living righteously and being determined to follow God leads the furnace of contempt and rejection to become even hotter. It doesn’t guarantee ease.

18:20-30 When Saul learned that his daughter Michal loved David, he devised another plan (18:20). He believed that she would become a trap for him (18:21), because of the bride-price he intended to demand for her hand in marriage—a hundred dead Philistines (18:25). Though in his humility David was again reluctant to become the king’s son-in-law (18:22-23), he was willing to do it if it meant another opportunity to defeat the Lord’s enemies (18:26). When David returned with twice the number of required Philistine trophies, Saul had no choice but to give Michal to him (18:27). The wretched king continued to poison himself with his own bitterness of heart, watching David’s star rise as his own faded (18:28-30).

19:1-8 Having tried and failed twice to kill David himself, and having failed to have David die at the hands of the Philistines, Saul took a more direct approach. He ordered his son Jonathan and all his servants to kill David (19:1)—no tricks, no subtlety, just a straight order. Jonathan told David to hide while he talked with his father to see if he truly intended to have him murdered on sight (19:2-3). Jonathan’s defense of David was passionate and apparently hit home with Saul during one of his saner moments (19:4-6). He knew Jonathan was right, so the king swore an oath in God’s name that David would not be harmed (19:6). Jonathan believed his father’s vow, and David believed Jonathan, so David came back to the court in Saul’s hometown of Gibeah. All of Israel benefited from his military leadership (19:7-8).

19:9-17 Soon, that evil spirit sent from the Lord came on Saul again, revealing Saul’s lack of genuine repentance and his murderous heart (19:9-10). After another attempt on his life, David knew he would never be safe in Saul’s presence, oath or not. When he ran to his home that night to hide, Saul sent agents to David’s house with the order to kill him (19:11). But, with Michal’s deception of her wicked father, David escaped (19:11-17).

19:18-24 David was desperate, so he departed for the only place where he knew he would be welcome—the home of Samuel at Ramah (19:18). When Saul got word of it, he sent his death squad there for David, but then an amazing scene unfolded. Three teams of Saul’s agents arrived, but were overcome with a spirit of prophecy, which some commentators believe was a power that immobilized them so they could not harm David (19:19-21). When Saul finally went himself, he experienced the same phenomenon, causing him to collapse (20:22-24). Once again, Saul had failed to eradicate David. And, once again, as a result of divine intervention, it was clear that the Lord was with David. Yet, Saul refused to repent.

20:1-4 David fled back to Jonathan in despair and frustration (20:1). Jonathan was evidently unaware that his father had sent death squads to hunt down David. It was too much for Jonathan to take in because he still believed in Saul’s oath not to harm David (20:2; see 19:6). But, David suggested the real reason Saul had kept his plans from his son: he knew that Jonathan would be grieved (20:3). This insight jarred Jonathan with the reality of the situation, and he was ready to help his treasured friend in any way (20:4).

20:5-9 An opportunity presented itself to test Saul’s mood toward David. The New Moon was a festival that involved special meals, which David would be expected to attend at Saul’s table because he was a member of the king’s court. But, David devised a plan whereby he would hide for the two nights of the festivities (20:5). Meanwhile, Jonathan would say David had been asked to come to Bethlehem for an annual sacrifice with his whole clan (20:6). David and Jonathan agreed that Saul’s reaction to David’s absence would tell them if David would ever be safe again in Saul’s service (20:7). David concluded the plan by urging Jonathan to just kill him if he was indeed guilty of any wrongdoing—a suggestion that Jonathan dismissed immediately (20:8-9).

20:10-23 Jonathan came up with a plan to alert David about his father’s reaction. The plan, laid out in 20:11-23, was very simple. The key verses are 14–16, in which Jonathan expressed to David his awareness that David would not only live, but also inherit the kingdom from Saul someday and see all of his enemies obliterated. There is an element of sadness in Jonathan’s words: if I die, don’t ever withdraw your kindness from my household (20:14-15). By this point, Jonathan clearly understood that his father was under God’s judgment. Though he was the king’s son, Jonathan knew he would not be king himself. But, instead of expressing jealousy and rage like his father, he loved David as he loved himself (20:17). He submitted himself to God’s will and pledged loyalty to the future king.

20:24-34 Jonathan went to the first night of the celebration (20:25). Saul gave David a pass, assuming there was a ceremonial reason for his absence (20:25-26). But, the next night, Jonathan’s answer threw Saul into such an uncontrollable rage that he cursed his son (20:27-30). Saul was furious and thought that Jonathan couldn’t see what was so obvious: David posed a huge threat to Jonathan’s succession to the throne (20:31). What Saul didn’t know was that Jonathan and David had already settled that issue. So, although Saul was king, his son far surpassed him as a kingdom man.

20:35-42 There could no longer be any question in Jonathan’s mind about Saul’s evil intentions toward David. There was nothing left to do but put the plan into effect with the bad news that David would have to become a fugitive. David bid a tearful goodbye to his beloved friend (20:41). Jonathan blessed David and reminded him of the covenant the two had made before God: The Lord will be a witness between you and me and between my offspring and your offspring forever (20:42; see 18:3).

D. David’s Fugitive Years (21:1–28:2)

21:1 Suddenly cut off from family and friends, David was a true fugitive. He left Jonathan at Gibeah and fled south to Nob, a priestly sanctuary about one mile north of Jerusalem. The priest Ahimelech was apparently suspicious when he saw that David was alone, so he was afraid.

21:2-6 David lied to the priest by telling him that he and his men were on a secret mission for Saul (21:2). He asked that Ahimelech provide them with sustenance—bread or whatever [could] be found (21:3). Ahimelech had nothing on hand but the consecrated bread, the “Bread of the Presence” that was set apart and could only be eaten by the priests (21:4; see Exod 25:30; Lev 24:5-9). He gave David the day-old consecrated bread that had been removed and replaced with fresh bread (21:6).

The Bread of the Presence was holy and intended for the priests only, but this was an extraordinary circumstance. David was God’s chosen future king, who was undergoing unjust persecution and fleeing for his life. So, as long as David and anyone traveling with him met the ceremonial requirements specified by Ahimelech (21:4-5), it was acceptable nourishment. Jesus made this clear to the Pharisees when they criticized Jesus’s disciples about picking and eating grain on the Sabbath (see Matt 12:1-8). Jesus compared his disciples’ actions to those of David eating the consecrated bread that was technically not lawful to eat. An overly strict interpretation of the law of Moses would have caused the needy to go hungry.

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.