This chapter begins with a funeral and ends with a marriage. But plenty happened in between.
Samuel died. David moved again after Samuel’s funeral. Perhaps he thought that this momentous occasion could have pushed Saul to be afraid and crazy again (well more crazy than usual).
I have been wondering how David survived on the run. This time his men had protected the herds and shepherds of Nabal, and he asked for a share in the feast that accompanied sheep shearing. It seems like a protection racket, yet David and his men helped without a deal in advance and David’s request is gentle. He asks that they might share in the celebration in whatever way seems fair to Nabal.
Nabal was foolish and said no as well as insulting David and his men. David responded in anger and on the way to Nabal’s home, he made a rash promise to destroy Nabal and his family. But Nabal’s wife, Abigail intervened. Not only did she provide a banquet for David’s men but she also prevented David from carrying out his promise.
Abigail was brave and clever in the way she gave David every reason not to kill Nabal, but David should get some credit too. He had made the promise to kill Nabal with his men around him, to back down now could have been seen as cowardice. Other men might have felt that they had to keep their word. But David listens to Abigail and blesses her for preventing him from killing Nabal in vengeful anger. So David and his men took the food, Nabal died within a week from shock when Abigail told him the story and David then married Abigail. Almost a fairytale ending.
Abigail predicted that anyone who opposed David would ultimately be dealt with by God. David acknowledged both her strength in stopping him and God’s protection over him, when he heard of Nabal’s death. But what interested me more was that Abigail knew David would be king. Suddenly I wondered, how many people in Israel knew that David had been anointed by Samuel? We have read that Jonathan knew David would be king – did David tell him he had been anointed? Or had people just assumed that David would be king next – which would be a bit weird since Jonathan had proved himself an able leader and warrior, and people must have known David and Jonathan were close?
Either it was more common knowledge at the time than I had assumed, or Abigail and maybe Jonathan (and others?) had been given insight by God. Both are equally possible. But it does add to the potential for chaos in the country in the wake of Samuel’s death, that more and more people think David will be king. Two anointed kings running around playing hide and seek cannot have been best for Israel..
Saul came back from dealing with the Philistines to continue hunting David in En Gedi. He brought 3 companies of men to find David and his 600 men.
During the campaign Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. David and his men were in that cave. David crept forward and cut a piece off Saul’s robe. He then prevented his men from attacking Saul because he felt to guilty for raising his weapon against God’s anointed king.
David waited until Saul was a good way off before he came out the cave and shouted to Saul about the incident. He begged Saul not to waste his time hunting David because he wasn’t a rebel and he wasn’t worth Saul, the king’s, time. Saul wept and blessed David. He also declared that he knew David would be king but begged David not to wipe his family out. David promised not to do so and the two men went there separate ways.
I wonder what the two sets of warriors thought that day of their leaders? David’s men definitely thought he should have killed Saul when they had him at their mercy, Saul’s men probably felt a bit silly that David had got to close to him but also perhaps angry that Saul had dragged them off on this hunt and then given up in sobs!
Once again Saul sees things very clearly and knows that God favours David. Instead of turning to God now, whilst Samuel was still alive, he begs David’s mercy on his family. Maybe Saul is scared that if he repents God will accept him but only if he turns the kingdom over to David? Or maybe Saul believes his own press – God has anointed him and therefore he will remain king until his death. He does not ask David for mercy for himself – either he believes David would not kill him or he believes God is still protecting him. Whatever Saul really thought, it was a passing moment of clarity in his madness brought on by insecurity combined with power.
Whilst David was hiding God told him to go and save the people of Keilah from the Philistines. His men found this a bit strange but God and David insisted, so they set off and beat the Philistines decisively. Abiathar had collected the Ephod and joined David in the city of Keilah.
David heard that Saul was heading to capture him in the city so he checked the situation with God. God confirmed that Saul was coming and that the city would hand David over (so much for being grateful for his help!). David left the city. His army had grown from 400 to 600 by now.
Jonathan managed to meet up with David in Horesh. They renewed their covenant, Jonathan reminded David that he would be king one day and that God would keep him safe.
David is once again, betrayed by locals, this time the Ziphites told Saul where he was hiding. David moved further into the desert and Saul pursued him. Just as Saul was close to capturing David, Saul was called away to fight the Philistines and David moved into the caves of En Gedi.
Of course the Philistines would be attacking at this time, they had to know that Saul was distracted by his hunt for David from his focus on his country and this had the added bonus that he was without his best commander and warrior too. Whilst David never challenged Saul, his mere survival weakened the kingship of Saul and the nation of Israel. It is therefore understandable that whenever he could help his people, like in the case of Keilah, he did so regardless of the consequences or thanks he received. However he only did so after consulting God, so he was not racing around the countryside demonstrating what a great warrior he was to cause harm to Saul’s reputation. David was following God’s instructions even when he had every excuse to simply remain in hiding and not draw attention to himself.
A wise man once told me that what God required of me was to do whatever He gave me to do each day. Simple advice which is hard to follow; firstly I have to make sure I am listening to God in the midst of my busyness. David always found time to listen to God and worship Him.
David left Gath and hid in the Cave of Adullam, where he was joined by his family and a variety of other people. He requested the king of Moab for asylum for his parents before leaving again. Time and time again people from all walks of life (including kings) gave David sanctuary, whether this was because he was a renowned warrior, or a person known to follow God’s heart it is not always clear.
The man who helped David because he was a great warrior and honourable man was Ahimelech the priest. However Saul saw this as treachery – and commanded his death and that of his entire community. When Saul’s own men would not kill the priest, Doeg the Edomite (who had told the king about Ahimelech helping David) lead the slaughter of everyone and everything in Nob. Only one of Ahimelech’s sons – Abiathar – survived and ran to David. David admitted that it was his fault Ahimelech was dead and promised to take care of Abiathar.
Saul’s craziness was getting worse. His rants included anyone who knew that Jonathan and David were friends, but seem to extend to anyone within his grasp at the time. The Israelites were living the consequences of demanding a king and getting one who did not know God. Whilst some gravitated to David, many remained loyal to Saul. Those with David might have become dissatisfied with him too, since he repeated avoided attacking Saul. David acknowledged that Saul was God’s anointed and God was the only one who could deal with Saul. For people seeing how crazy Saul was and how wise and measured David was, it probably caused further division in the nation.
In Chapter 21, David started being on the run from Saul. He stopped at the temple and was given bread and Goliath’s sword by the priest who believed he was on a mission for Saul. He ran to Gath and was recognised. In order to escape, David pretended to be crazy and escaped once again.
So began the third phase of David’s life. First he was a shepherd and then he was a hero working for Saul, at this stage he became the renegade on the run. It would have been easy for David to have given up on God at this stage. Yet David never did. David made many other mistakes in his life, but his faith and trust in God remained.
So often Joseph is held up as a man whose dreams from God came true after many years of loss. David’s loss was similar – he was crowned king and then carried on being a shepherd, he killed Goliath and made an enemy of Saul, with every success it must have seemed he was moving further away from God’s promise. Yet he did not rebel directly against Saul and challenge him – he waited on God and God’s timing.
How easy do we find it to be this faithful and patient on God’s promises? Do you sometimes think you misheard God? David could have thought Samuel had lost the plot when he anointed him? Do you think it is up to you to find a new way to achieve God’s plan? Sarah tried that and caused millenia of trouble.
We have many Psalms written by David to show us his way from despair to peace was always through God. Many of David’s psalms were written during this time when he was on the run – looking to survive and be useful to God even when Saul was hunting him.
Jonathan and David had already become friends and in this chapter it is recorded that they made a covenant as friends before God. Jonathan risked his father’s wrath, which included Saul trying to kill him too, for David’s safety. Jonathan was committed to David’s safety and David trusted Jonathan with his life – David even said to Jonathan that if he was wrong Jonathan could kill him.
I have found that it is easier to build friendships which include a shared commitment to God. It doesn’t mean that everyone who is a Christian is someone I find easy to get a long with! It means that with some people there is an added strength in the friendship because God is there too.
However, how many of your friends, Christian or not, would you risk your life for? Jesus requires that we love our enemies, but are we even capable of loving our friends to the extent that we would die for them? I don’t know how far God could push me on this one, but I do know that my closest friends are those to whom I can speak honestly knowing that they don’t doubt my faith in God and they also happen to like me. Sometimes I need someone to remind me of God’s love or His promises which I have forgotten, and a true friend does this in a way that does not feel like they are correcting me. They are merely sharing the truth to comfort me.
My truest friends are people who I may not speak to for ages because of life being so busy, but we can pick up where we left off with no ill feeling just delight in each other’s company.
David and Jonathan wept when they left each other at the end of this chapter because they knew it was unlikely for them to have many more moments of simply being in each other’s company. Jonathan leaves David with these words:
“Go in peace! The two of us have vowed friendship in God’s name, saying, ‘God will be the bond between me and you, and between my children and your children forever.” (The Message)