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1 Samuel 21:1-24:22
Key Verse: 24:6

Thank God for teaching us the beautiful friendship between Jonathan and David. Their loving friendship was a covenant relationship (like a marriage vow), with each one discerning God’s will for them. They were faithful to each other based on their covenant in commitment to God. As for Jonathan it was giving up his right to the kingship as the crown prince of Israel and doing what is right breaking an unrighteous relationship with his father Saul in submission to the will of God. In this way Jonathan loved David as himself, and surely it was out of his love for God. Jonathan’s love for David reminds us the love of Christ who gave up heavenly glory and honour and came to this world and laid down his life for us to save us in the blood covenant and lift us up to heaven. He is our true, faithful and eternal friend. In Christ Jesus we may learn spiritual friendship. As for David, right after having a great victory over the Philistine champion Goliath and earning people’s high credit, his life was in danger close to death. According to the previous passage at least four times his life was endangered to be killed by Saul. Spiritually speaking it was God’s training for him in God’s great purpose. In today’s passage God’s training for him continues and David shows his right attitude at each time and grows in his faith in God, learning God’s heart, dependence on God, and the fear of God. According to Hebrews 12, God disciplines those whom he loves (Heb. 12:6). God’s training is an essential part in each Christian’s life. In this study may we learn right attitude toward God’s training for us and grow in our personal faith in him like David.

First, compassion and humiliation (21-22). After departing from Jonathan, David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he met him. Certainly Ahimelech never expected to encounter such a man as David, whom he had known as the most loyal servant to king Saul, the king’s son-in-law, captain of the king’s bodyguard and highly respected in the king’s house (22:14). And unusually David appeared alone. So Ahimelech trembled and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” David answered Ahimelech the priest, “The king charged me with a certain matter and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about your mission and your instructions.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loves of bread, or whatever you can find.” Here we can conjecture that David and his men were hungry. In fact, Jesus once reflected this event and said that they were hungry and in need (Mk 2:25; Mt 12:3; Lk 6:3). And David’s situation was so urgent that he did not bring his sword or any other weapon. In that situation David entered the house of God for help.

How did Ahimelech respond? The priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.” When David replied that his men had met the condition, the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the LORD and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away. According to the Leviticus (24:9), only priests could eat the consecrated bread. Surely both the priest Ahimelech and David knew the law. But Ahimelech inquired of the LORD and gave the bread to David, whom he must have been convinced that was right with God. Ahimelech was not legalistic. Later on Jesus did not condemn Ahimelech for not keeping the law. Rather he used this event to defend his disciples who ate some heads of grain and were accused of doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath by the Pharisees. And Jesus quoted the words of Hosea 6:6 to the Pharisees, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Ahimelech was the one who knew the spirit of the law, that is, God’s mercy (Mt 12:7). James 2:13 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” David must have been so thankful for the priest Ahimelech, his act of mercy and compassion.

However, the story concerning this event is not that simple. It furthers. Verse 7 says, “Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the LORD; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd.” In chapter 22 Doeg told this event to Saul to be recognized by Saul. Then Ahimelech and his father’s whole family were brought to the king. Most certainly Ahimelech could sense the life-threatening situation at that moment. However, when the king questioned about his conspiracy for giving David bread and a sword and inquiring of the LORD for him so that David rebelled against him, Ahimelech clearly defended David and himself. He did not try to undo what he had done. He answered the king, “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king’s son-in-law, captain of your body-guard and highly respected in your household? Was that day the first time I inquired of God for him? Of course not! Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair” (22:14-15). Ahimelech testified to David, his loyalty and integrity, and to the innocence of Ahimelech himself. His defence was a truthful and life-risking defence. In the end the whole family of Ahimelech’s father, eighty-five priests of the LORD were killed by Doeg the Edomite, and the whole town was destroyed. David came to know this tragic event through Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, who escaped and fled to David.

David must have been moved by the final moment of the life of Ahimelech, who defended him to the end, to the point of being killed. Yet, how could David digest such a horrible event, probably the most terrible event he experienced in his life up to that time. Surely many thoughts arose in his heart with anger toward Doeg the Edomite: “Why does God allow such an evil man and such an event to happen?” “Why such innocent blood be shed, the blood of so many priests of the LORD?” “Am I not the cause of the event?” “Where is my life going?” He could have been full of doubt for God’s love and his way of working. However, amazingly, later on he wrote a Psalm, Psalm 52 concerning this event and declared that God would surely bring down an evil man like Doeg to everlasting ruin and the righteous would have the final victory. And he confessed, “I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever” (52:8). In such a situation David trusted in God’s unfailing love and praised God. In this passage David said to Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, “I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family. Stay with me; don’t be afraid; the man who is seeking your life is seeking mine also. You will be safe with me.” Since then David took care of Abiathar, who served the LORD as priest in David’s kingdom. More than that David would never forget the mercy and love and sacrifice of the priest Ahimelech for him. This must have been a significant process in David’s life for him to be moulded into a man after God’s own heart.

When David fled from Saul, David even had to pretend to be insane in the land of Achish king of Gath and act like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate in a city and letting saliva run down his beard (In KJV, “scrabbling”, In MSG, “pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard”). And he was treated like one of madmen. Achish said to his servants, “Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?” As a part of his life David had to be humiliated. This was also God’s training for him. They say that without being humiliated one cannot know humiliation. And without knowing humiliation and learning humility, with only honour and recognition one cannot grow to be a man of God. We are reminded of Isaiah 53:3 concerning the suffering Messiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:10-13, “We are fools for Christ…Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” When we try to invite students to Bible study, tell about Christ Jesus to others or feed God’s sheep, we can be humiliated. But what a grace it is to be humiliated because of Jesus and learn the humility of Christ Jesus our Lord!

Also, when David escaped to a cave of Adullam, all those who are in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him. Later the numbered increased to six hundred (23:13). Humanly speaking he was a fugitive and had no secure place to live. He had no human security at all with no position and no possession. The people were all needy people, not necessary people to him. Yet, surprisingly David took care of them as a shepherd and leader for them in such a situation. It was the time for him to learn God’s compassionate heart, and so was the time of preparation for him to be the king, the shepherd king of one nation, Israel. Later on they became necessary and important people to build up the kingdom of David for God’s glory.

Second, dependence on God and the fear of God (23-24). 23:1 says, “When David was told, ‘Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors, he inquired of the LORD…” When David heard about the Philistines invading Keilah, his shepherd heart to help the people of Keilah arose. But he did not act right away. He inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” In the flow of 1 Samuel this seems to be the first time for David to inquire of the LORD. He must have learned this precious lesson of the importance of inquiring of the LORD through many experiences in life. The LORD answered him, ‘Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.’” However, David’s men were not willing to follow him for the battle. They said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistines!” David’s men were full of fear, probably after going through many dangers and knowing that the Philistines were their formidable enemy. God gave him a clear direction to go, attack and save, but his men opposed it. At this situation what could David do? He could have just followed his men’s opinion with understanding mind and sympathy for his men. However, at this time what he did was to once again inquire of the LORD, and again received a clear answer, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hands.” Then despite adversities David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. When he followed God’s direction absolutely in “once again prayer,” God gave him a great victory in saving the people. We need to learn “once again prayer,” that is, prayer that seeks to confirm God’s will, and follow God’s direction without compromise with total dependence on him.

Then now David confronted the situation that Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besige David and his men. Keilah was a town with gates and bars, perhaps having only one gateway in its wall. In MSG, “He’s in a walled city with locked gates, trapped!” So Saul was sure that David had imprisoned himself there and so he could be captured in the matter of time. In that situation David also prayed, “O LORD, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, God of Israel, tell you servant.” David’s prayer was earnest. The LORD said, “He will”, meaning that Saul would if David and his men stayed there. This was a partial answer. The LORD did not say about the citizens of Keilah. So again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” Probably this time he thought that the very people he saved from the Philistines would not surrender him. But the LORD said, “They will.” So David and his men about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there.

To be a man or woman of God, one should learn to depend on God in prayer. Prayer is the landmark of whether one is godly or humanistic. Saul never prayed sincerely, especially for God’s direction. He just followed his selfish desire. One clear distinction between David and Saul was prayer. Prayer is the expression of one’s commitment to God and trust in him. Without commitment to and trust in God, one cannot truly pray solely open to God. We should pray, being ready to follow any direction given by him, entrusting all the matters to God. When we pray we should not be deceived by our own desires. We should pray until God gives us a clear answer.

What David could do in his helpless situation was to pray. David was a man fully committed to God. God protected him absolutely. After escaping from Keilah, David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands. While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. Again his life was in danger. In that situation unexpectedly Jonathan came and helped him find strength in God. God gave him timely encouragement by sending Jonathan. Jonathan assured of David’s becoming king over Israel, and the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Such a friend is really precious.

After this the Ziphites wanted to hand David over to Saul. So Saul told them to bring definite and thorough information so that he might track him down. Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, and Saul and his men began the search. Saul with his men went into the desert of Maon, and were desperate in pursuit of David. Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. How could such a thing happen? This shows God’s invisible hand of absolute protection. Probably experiencing this, David wrote in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. Now the situation was quite opposite. What an opportunity! It seemed to be the moment David and his men had been waiting for. So the men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. David was really skillful and adventurous. How could he do that unnoticed to Saul who was relieving himself? Anyway it was likely that David almost fell into the temptation of his men to destroy Saul in a moment. Yet, afterward David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. This one event shows who David really was. He was the one who truly feared God. The fear of God was there in his heart at such a crucial moment. David was not an opportunist at all. From his viewpoint David was also the LORD’s anointed and Jonathan supported him. But he did not claim such things at all to rationalize his situation. He deeply recognized that Saul’s was the LORD’s anointed at that time regardless of poor integrity, David was a man who truly feared God and showed the fear of God spontaneously at such a critical time. I believe that this was the good fruit of God’s severe training until that time.

Saul left the cave and went his way. Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My Lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He testified to Saul. The point of this testimony was, “I had a chance to kill you in a cave but I didn’t. I did not life my hand against you, for you are my master and the LORD’s anointed. See here is the evidence of a corner of your robe I cut. My hand will not touch you. Again, my hand will not touch. I entrust the judgment to God.” This was the confessional testimony of the one who feared God. David truly feared God and obeyed God.

We remember Abraham, who was about to sacrifice his son Isaac according to God’s command. At that moment the angel of the LORD said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” And the angel of the LORD said, “…through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Ge 22:12, 18). While on earth our Lord Jesus offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to God the Father in his reverent submission (Heb. 5:7). And he obeyed God unto death on a cross.

After testifying to Saul about his innocence and his trust in God, David he added, “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea?” Why did David use such an expression? Who pursues a dead dog? A flea? Surely no one. A dead dog or a flea had no strength to fight. Since David did not use human method at all, he felt like being a dead dog or a flea at the pursuit of Saul with three thousand chosen men. Humanly speaking, the game was over. But David entrusted his cause to God, saying, “May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

At this Saul recognized David’s righteousness and his well treatment against Saul’s bad treatment, and David’s good deed and no evilness to kill him. And he confessed, “I know that you will surely be king over Israel and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.” And then he asked for David’s kindness, “Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.

May God help us to receive God’s training with a right attitude so that we can be the people who know God’s mercy and compassion and humility, and dependence on God. Most importantly may each one of us be the one who truly fears God and obeys him at crucial times.

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