I Samuel 21
DAVID’S FLIGHT TO NOB
SUBSEQUENTLY TO THE PHILISTINES
David’s Flight to Nob (vs. 1-9)
1 “Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech
was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art
thou alone, and no man with thee?” Then came David to Nob. Nob means
knoll or hill, and apparently
was situated a little to the north of
in his reign, after it had remained for twenty years in the house of
Abinadab; and as eighty-five priests wearing an ephod were murdered there
by Doeg at Saul’s command (ch. 22:18-19), it is plain that the
worship of Jehovah had been restored by him with something of its old
splendor. And this agrees with Saul’s character. At the commencement of
his reign we find Ahiah with him as high priest, and even when he fell his
excuse was the necessity for performing the public rites of religion (ch.15:15).
But with him the king’s will was first, the will of Jehovah second; and
while he restores God’s public worship as part of the glory of
his reign, he ruthlessly puts the priests with their wives and families to
death when he supposes that they have given aid to his enemy. Ahimelech
was afraid at the meeting of David. More literally, “went trembling to
meet David.” Ahiah, described as high priest in ch.14:3, was
either dead or, more probably, was a younger brother, who, while
Ahimelech remained with the ark, acted as high priest at the camp for Saul,
especially in consulting God for him by means of the ephod with the
breastplate. Why art thou alone? Nevertheless, in Mark 2:26 our
Lord speaks of those “who were with David,” and the “young men” are
mentioned in vs. 4-5. While David went alone to consult Ahimelech, that
his visit might be kept quite secret, he had taken a few of his servants with
him, and had left them somewhere in the neighborhood, or even, more
probably, had instructed some one to meet him with such men as he could
collect. The arrival of the king’s son-in-law without an escort would
naturally strike the high priest as strange, and therefore as alarming.
2 “And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath
commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man
know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I
have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such
and such a place.” The king hath commanded me a business. This pretence
of a private commission from the king was a mere invention, but his
“appointing his servants to meet him at such and such a place” was
probably the exact truth. After parting with Jonathan, David probably did
not venture to show himself at home, but, while Saul still supposed him to
few of his most faithful men, and await him with them at some fit place.
Meanwhile alone he sets out on his flight, and, having as yet no settled
plan, goes to Nob, because it was out of the way
of the road to
whither Saul would send to arrest him. Naturally such a visit would seem
strange to Ahimelech; but David needed food and arms, and probably
counsel; and but for the chance of the presence of Doeg, no harm might
have ensued. As it was, this visit of David completed the ruin of Eli’s
The Sins of Good Men (v. 2)
Some of the most eminent servants of God mentioned in the Bible fell into
grievous sins. This has often been to some a ground of objection to the
Bible, and to others a subject of perplexity. But there is little reason for
either. Consider it in relation to:
wholly free from sin there would have been much more reason for doubt or
perplexity concerning its truth than now exists; for its representation of them:
Ø Proves the impartiality of the writers, who record the failings of good
men as well as their excellencies, concealing nothing. It shows that the
sacred writers were influenced by the highest principles, and even guided
by a higher wisdom than their own. (II Peter 1:19-21)
Ø Accords with the results of observation and experience, which teach:
o that men are sinful,
o that those who are unquestionably good men are liable to fall, and
o that the most eminently pious are not perfect.
Much of the Bible is chiefly a faithful picture of human nature, which
(both without and under the power of Divine grace) is essentially the same
in all ages.
Ø Confirms the doctrines it contains, such as:
o that man is fallen, sinful, and helpless;
o that his elevation, righteousness, and strength ARE OF GOD,
o that he can attain these blessings only through faith and prayer
o that he can continue to possess them only by the same means; and
o that when he ceases to rely on Divine strength HE UTTERLY
notwithstanding their sins. Is He, therefore, unholy, unjust, or partial? Let it
Ø That their sins were not sanctioned by Him.
Ø That they were forbidden by Him.
Ø That they were punished by Him.
Ø That they were forgiven only when repented of.
Ø That they were in some cases mercifully borne with for a time because
of the good which He saw in His servants, and in order to the ultimate
removal of the evil.
Ø That if such endurance of some things in them appears strange to us,
under the higher light and grace vouchsafed, there are probably some
things in ourselves, the evil of which we scarcely perceive, but which
will appear hereafter in a different light to others.
Ø That the principle on which God deals with the individual and the race
is that of a gradual education, the aim of which is that we should be
“holy as He is holy.” (Leviticus 11:45)
and persistent transgression they could not have been held in honor or
regarded as really good (I John 3:6); but though their sins may not be
excused, their names are worthy of being had in everlasting
remembrance, because of:
Ø The surpassing virtues which distinguished their character.
Ø The main current of their life — so contrary to isolated instances of
Ø Their deep sorrow for sin, their lofty aspirations after holiness, and
their sure progress toward perfection THROUGH JESUS CHRIST!
some directions. But, on the other hand, it has been, as it must be when the
subject is rightly viewed, beneficial in:
Ø Making others more watchful against falling. If such eminent
servants of God fell, much more may we. (I Corinthians 10:12)
Ø Preventing despair when they have fallen. If those who fell could be
restored, SO CAN WE!
Ø Teaching them to look to Jesus Christ as the one perfect example,
(I recommend three Spurgeon sermons from Isaiah 45:
o Life for a Look,
o Sovereignty and Salvation,
o The Life Look
this website – CY – 2016), the only propitiation for our sins, the
all-sufficient source of “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification,
and redemption.” (I Corinthians 1:30) “Nothing can be an excuse
or apology for sin; yet by God’s mercy it may be turned to account, and
made to produce the opposite to itself. To some men’s errors the world
has been indebted for their richest lessons and ripest fruit… . To the
lamentable lapse, the penitence and the punishment of David, we
owe some of the most subduing, the most spiritually instructive and
consolatory of his psalms — psalms that have taught despair
TO TRUST, and have turned the heart of flint into a fountain of tears”
3 “Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of
bread in mine hand, or what there is present. 4 And the priest answered
David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there
is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from
women.” What is under thine hand? This does not mean that
Ahimelech was himself carrying the shewbread out of the tabernacle, but
simply, “What hast thou? The sense of the whole verse is, “Now, therefore,
what hast thou at hand? Give me five loaves, or whatever there may be.”
Ahimelech answers, “There is no common bread at hand.” I have no
ordinary food; there is only hallowed bread, that is, the shewbread, which,
after remaining in Jehovah’s presence from sabbath to sabbath, was then to
be eaten by the priests in the holy place (Leviticus 24:8-9). As
Ahimelech could not venture to refuse David’s request, he asks if his
attendants are at least ceremonially clean, as in that case the urgency of the
king’s business might excuse the breach of the letter of the commandment.
Our Lord in Matthew 12:3 cites this as a case in which the inward spirit
of the law was kept, and the violation of its literal precept thereby justified.
5 “And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth
women have been kept from us about these three days, since I
came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread
is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in
the vessel. 6 So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread
there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot
bread in the day when it was taken away.” About these three days since
I came out. This exactly agrees with the time during which David had lain
concealed (ch. 20:24, 27, 35), and explains the hunger under which he was
suffering, as he had no doubt taken with him only food sufficient for his immediate
wants, he wishes, however, the high priest to believe that he had been engaged
with his men during this time on public business, whereas they had been at
home and some of them possibly were unclean. The whole chapter sets
David before us in a very humiliating light. Just as some books of Homer
are styled “the prowess” of some hero, so this chapter might be called
David’s degradation. The determined hatred of Saul seems to have thrown
him off his balance, and it was not till he got among the
wherein was the
vessels of the young men. Their scrips, in which they would carry the
bread, and their baggage generally. The bread is in a manner common,
etc. The word bread is supplied by the translators, to give some sense to
this most difficult passage. Literally translated, the two last clauses are,
“And the way is profane, although it be sanctified today in the vessel.”
Among the numerous interpretations of these words the following seems
the best: “And though our journey be not connected with a religious
object, yet it (the bread) will be kept holy in the vessel (in which it will be
carried).” There is no difficulty in supplying bread in the last clause, as the
shewbread was the subject of the conversation, and a nominative is
constantly supplied by the mind from the principal matter that is occupying
the thoughts of the speakers. David’s argument, therefore, is that both his
attendants and their wallets were free from legal defilement, and that
though their expedition was on some secular business, yet that at all events
the bread would be secure from pollution. The shewbread that was taken
from before Jehovah. The Talmud (‘Menach.,’ 92, 2) points out that this
bread was not newly taken out of the sanctuary, but, as the last clause
shows, had been removed on some previous day. As after a week’s
exposure it was stale and dry, the priests, we are told, ate but little of it,
and the rest was left (see Talmud, ‘Tract. Yom.,’ 39, 1). It also points out
that, had such violations of the Levitical law been common, so much
importance would not have been attached to this incident.
The Letter and The Spirit (vs. 3-6)
“So the priest gave him hallowed bread” (v. 6). More than half a century
elapsed since the destruction of
family of Eli had greatly increased, so that eighty-five priests now dwelt at
Nob, where the tabernacle (and possibly the ark – ch. 7:1) had
been placed. But the condition of the priesthood was very different from
what it once was. The spiritual power of the nation lay in the “company of
the prophets;” and Saul, rejected of God and ruling according to his own
will, “assumed the power of giving the high priest orders at all times
through his messengers (v. 2); so far had the theocracy sunk
from that state in which the people used to stand before the tabernacle to
receive THE SOLE BEHESTS OF JEHOVAH, THEIR KING, through the
prophet and priest” (Smith, ‘O.T. History’). Nevertheless Ahimelech (Ahiah,
ch. 14:36) appears to have been a man of high character (ch. 22:14-15); and when
David, in his necessity, requested “five loaves,” he gave them to him from the
shewbread which had just been removed from the holy place. He may have
been influenced by sympathy with David’s character and position (of which
he could not fail to know something), as well as by compassion for his need
and by loyalty to the king, or by the advice of Abiathar (his son and successor,
afterwards friend and companion of David — ch. 22:20-23; I Kings 2:26; and
removed from the priesthood by Solomon, giving place to Zadok, of the
elder branch of the Aaronic family). The shewbread (literally, “bread of the
presence”) “set forth
producing the fruit of good works” (see Fairbairn, ‘Typology,’ 2:324), and
was permitted to be eaten only by the priests (Leviticus 24:9); but he
departed, with some reserve (v. 4), from the strict letter in observance of
the spirit of the law. And our Lord “selected this act of Ahimelech as the
one incident in David’s life on which to bestow his especial commendation,
because it contained — however tremulously and guardedly expressed —
the great evangelical truth that the ceremonial law, however rigid, must
give way before the claims of suffering humanity” (
belong particular customs, maxims, rules, rites, and ceremonies; to the
latter, general principles, and essential moral and spiritual obligations. As a
simple illustration — Christ said to his disciples, “Ye also ought to wash
one another’s feet” (John 13:14-15 - here is the rule); “Love one another
(ibid. v. 34 - here is the principle).
Ø The letter rests upon the spirit as its foundation. The whole Mosaic law,
as law (moral, ceremonial, political), was a “letter” based upon great
principles, springing directly out of the relation of God to men — granite
foundations on which more recent strata rest, and which often crop
through them into distinct view (Leviticus 18:18; Deuteronomy 6:5).
“There is a ‘letter’ and ‘spirit’ in everything. Every statement, every
law, every institution is the form of an essence, the body of a soul, the
instrument of a power. These two things are quite distinct — they may be
quite different” (A.J. Morris, ‘Christ the Spirit of Christianity’).
Ø The letter is a means to an end, the spirit is the end itself. The shew
bread was set apart for a particular purpose, and permitted to be eaten only
by the priests, in order to represent and promote the consecration, good
works, and true welfare of the whole people. So “the sabbath was made for
man” (Mark 2:27).
Ø The letter is restricted in its application to certain persons, places, and
times; the spirit is universal and abiding.
Ø The letter (as such) is in its requirement outward, formal, mechanical,
and in its effect conservative, constraining, and preparatory; the spirit
necessarily demands thoughtfulness, affection, moral choice, and is
productive of liberty, energy, perfection. “The words that I speak unto
you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).
essentially so; it is not always so when men imagine it to be, as, e.g., when
it is a restraint only upon their selfish convenience and sinful propensities.
The fact that it is such a restraint shows that they still need the discipline of
the law and the letter. If they were truly spiritual and free it would not be
felt. But generally:
Ø When it is applied to cases not contemplated by it, — to inappropriate
times and circumstances, — and when it hinders rather than promotes its
Ø More particularly when it prevents the meeting of the real and urgent
necessities of men, and the accomplishment of their true welfare:
o the satisfaction of hunger, the removal of sickness,
o the preservation of life,
o the salvation of the soul (Matthew 12:1, 12).
On this principle David “entered into the house of God, and did eat the
Ø When it is opposed to the proper exercise of benevolence. On this
principle Ahimelech gave him the bread, and our Lord acted (Luke
6:10). “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).
Ø When it hinders the highest service of God. In all such instances the
strict observance of the letter “works mischief and misery, and not only
kills, but kills the spirit itself from which it came” (II Corinthians 3:6).
should not be despised or arbitrarily set aside; but the lower obligation (in
so far as the “letter” is obligatory) ought to be secondary and subservient,
and give place to the higher. And we learn that:
Ø In the order of God’s dealings with men it was necessary that the
dispensation of the letter should be superseded by that of THE SPIRIT!.
This incident affords a glimpse of their predominant elements. “The law
was like a book of first lessons — lessons for children. Christianity is like
a book for men.”
Ø In the Christian dispensation what is ceremonial, regulative, temporary
(however important) must be deemed of less consequence than what is
moral, essential, enduring; and devotion to the former should be surpassed
by devotion to the latter. Unduly to exalt external rites or special forms of
worship is to return to the bondage of the letter; whilst zealously to
contend about them without brotherly love and charity is to lose the
substance for the sake of shadows. “Redeemed and sanctified man stands
no longer under the disciplinary form of the law, but stands above and
controls the form of the requirement” (Erdmann). He is a king and priest.
“Pure religion” (literally, outward ceremonial service), etc. (James 1:27).
It is charity and purity.
Ø In the individual life — renewed and sanctified — the chief endeavor
should ever be to “live in the spirit,” and exhibit “charity out of a pure
heart” (I Timothy 1:5).
“I’m apt to think the man
That could surround the sum of things, and spy
The heart of God and secrets of His empire,
Would speak but love; with him the bright result
Would change the hue of intermediate scenes
And make one thing of all theology.”
Ø In everything CHRIST MUST BE REGARDED AS SUPREME,
the perfect embodiment and only source of the spirit, REDEEMER,
LORD, “is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11; II Corinthians 3:17-18).
The Letter of the Law Violated (v. 6)
How did David, being neither priest nor Levite, venture to eat the presence
bread from the sanctuary? How did Ahimelech venture to give it to him?
fallen into a pit might be lifted out on the sabbath, notwithstanding the
commandment to do no manner of work on the seventh day. The need of
the poor animal, and the mercy due to it in its mishap, were justification
enough for a breach of the letter of the law. When the disciples of Christ,
walking with him along the edge of a cornfield, pulled some ears to relieve
their hunger, they were blameless, for what they did was expressly
permitted by the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 23:25). But they did it on
the sabbath, and this the Pharisees challenged as unlawful. The Lord Jesus,
however, held it quite lawful. It was necessary that His followers should
relieve their hunger and recoup their strength, and the greater object must
be put above the less. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the
sabbath.” Our Lord brought out this truth into stronger relief than any
other Jewish teacher had done; but it was not new doctrine. We see that
while the Mosaic ritual was in the full force of its obligation the priest at
Nob felt warranted to suspend one of its most minute regulations in order
to relieve pressing human want. Perhaps the tendency in modem Churches
is to take too much liberty with rules and ordinances of religion under pleas
of necessity which are little more than pleas of convenience or self-will.
But there is a golden mean between rigidity and laxity; and it must be left
to the judgment and conscience of those who fear the Lord to determine
for their own guidance what does or does not constitute a sufficient ground
for setting aside regulations or restrictions which are ordinarily entitled to
respect. Yet it is only the letter of the law, or the minutiae of religious
observance, that may be thus dealt with. There are supreme obligations
which not even a question of life and death may overrule.
Ø Nehemiah would not flee into the temple to save his life when his duty
was to build up
Ø Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not worship the
golden image at
Ø nor would Daniel desist from prayer to Jehovah to escape the lions’ den.
Ø Paul insisted on his right of protection as a Roman citizen, but he would
not for a moment compromise or conceal the gospel to evade persecution.
No bonds or afflictions moved him; neither did he count his life dear to himself,
so that he might finish his course with joy. It is true that not all the followers
of Christ have had such fortitude. In days of persecution some faltered and
apostatized, excusing themselves under a plea of necessity. They could not
suffer; they dared not to die. But the noble army of martyrs consists of
those who felt it the supreme necessity to be true to conscience, to the
truth of the gospel, and the Christ of God. Not everything, then, must yield
to necessity. David thought his hunger a sufficient warrant for taking from
the priest’s hand the sacred bread; but when Goliath blasphemed the God
dear to him as the glory of God and the honor and safety of His people.
MEANING OF PRIESTHOOD IN
a hereditary order, wearing a distinctive dress, and having special provision
made by statute for their position and maintenance. But they were never
intended to be a caste of holy intercessors standing between God and an
unholy nation. Neither they nor the Levites, their assistants, were isolated
from the common life of their countrymen, as by separate charter of
privilege or vows of celibacy. They were just the concentrated expression
of the truth that all
nation.” The rule was that the priests only should eat the bread which was
withdrawn weekly from the table in the sanctuary; but it was no breach of
the essence and spirit of the law if other Israelites, faithful to God, should
on an emergency eat of this bread. David was as truly a servant of Jehovah
as Ahimelech. Though all the Lord’s people never were prophets, they
always were, and now are, priests. Knowing this, David took and ate; not
at all in a willful mood, like Esau in his ravenous hunger eating Jacob’s
pottage, but with reverential feeling and a good conscience, under sanction
of the fact that he was one of a priestly nation, and with confidence that
God would not condemn him for exceeding in such a strait the letter of the
law, so long as he honored and obeyed its spirit. The leaders and rulers of
the Church, according to the New Testament, are not sacerdots (clergy)
invested with a mystic sanctity and entrusted with a religious monopoly. They
are simply the intensified expression of the holy calling of all the members of
Christ, all the children of God. All these have a right to worship in the
holiest; and as all of them may offer spiritual sacrifices, so all may “eat of
the holy things.” Order, indeed, is needful in the Church, and no man may
assume a leading place or charge therein until duly called and appointed to
the same. If David had for a light cause, or frequently, taken the presence
bread, it would have been a sign of irreverence or arrogance. And in like
manner if a Christian not entrusted with office in any constituted Church
pushes forward when there is no emergency, and assumes to lead the
Divine service, or to appoint or conduct the observance of the Lord’s
Supper, he steps out of his place, and may be designated “unruly.” But
there are places and occasions which do not admit of the usual regulations
being observed; and in such cases a private or unofficial Christian may take
upon himself any religious function rather than that any soul should suffer
damage, and this under the general principle that all Christians form a
“royal priesthood.” The teaching of this passage is against religious
pedantry and ecclesiastical hauteur (arrogance). Count form subordinate to life.
Value order, and reverence ordinances that are really of God. Play no “fantastic
tricks” with sacred things “before high heaven;” but do not reduce religion
to a question of meats and drinks, and do not count any one a serious
offender who in a strait has violated prescription or usage. One who breaks
the letter of the law may keep the law itself better than another who knows
nothing but the letter. We are called to liberty; not licence, indeed, but
order and liberty. If we are true to God and to our consciences we need
not dread that, for a formality or an informality, Christ will cast us off. The
Son of man is Lord of the sabbath and of the table, “Minister of the
sanctuary and the true tabernacle” (Hebrews 8:2), Lord of all the ordinances
that are binding on his followers. And there is a freedom — not from order,
but in God’s order — with which the Son of man, being Son of God,
HAS MADE HIS PEOPLE FREE!
7 “Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day,
detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg, an Edomite,
the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.”
David’s visit to Nob had probably been dictated simply by a
desire to get food while a few attendants were being collected for him, and
under ordinary circumstances would have remained unknown to Saul.
Unfortunately there chanced to be a person present there who informed the
king of it, and brought a second terrible catastrophe upon the house of Eli
(see on ch. 2:33); by working too upon his jealousy he caused
Saul to commit a crime which sets him before us as a hateful and
remorseless tyrant. This man was Doeg, an Edomite, who had, it seems,
long been in Saul’s service, as he was his chief herdsman. According to the
Septuagint he had charge of the king’s mules, but the other versions agree
with the Hebrew. As herds would form the main part of Saul’s wealth, his
chief herdsman would be a person of importance. He was detained before
Jehovah. I.e. shut up in close seclusion within the precincts of the
tabernacle, either for some vow, or for purification, or perhaps as
suspected of leprosy (Leviticus 13:4), or, as some think, as a proselyte.
Ephrem Syrus thinks he had committed some trespass, and was detained
till he had offered the appointed sacrifice. David at once felt that Doeg’s
presence boded much ill (ch. 22:22), and it probably was the
cause of his taking the rash resolution to flee for refuge to
Weakness in Embarrassment (vs. 1-7)
The facts are:
1. Arriving at Nob, David quiets the suspicions of Ahimelech by stating
that he was on the king’s secret business.
2. On this ground he asks for and obtains hallowed bread to appease his
hunger, and the sword of Goliath.
3. Doeg the Edomite, being detained there that day, is observant of David’s
Hitherto David had held position as an officer in Saul’s household or in the army,
and therefore, despite Saul’s private jealousy, had a right to the respect and
protection of every man. Henceforth loyalty to Saul meant death to David.
Therefore the paternal home at
were reasons for not compromising Samuel with any appearance of open revolt.
To a devout mind it was natural under these circumstances to flee to the sanctuary,
and there seek solace and aid. The narrative relates how good and evil were
blended in the conduct of the man of God at this critical juncture, and it suggests
for consideration several important truths.
appease his hunger, and the priest in charge at first objected to the request
on the plea that it was contrary to the ceremonial law to give it to him. The
fact that David, a devout and reasonable man, ventured to ask for it,
combined with his argument on the priest’s own ceremonial principles (v. 5),
shows that he perceived the existence of a law which rose above the
ceremonial. Some would perhaps regard David’s action as typical of the
prerogatives of the real King and Priest of Zion, and even interpret his
statement about the “king’s business” as a spiritual enigma, pointing to the
“Father’s business” which Christ was commissioned to accomplish
(Luke 2:49; John 17:4-9). But, at all events, it is certain that our
Saviour regarded David’s request and the response of the priest as
indicative of the subordination of a lower to a higher law (Mark 2:24-28).
To save and sustain the life of a man, though a fugitive, was more
important than the observance of a ritual. This subordination of law runs
through all things, till we come up to the highest — that of supreme love
of God. Health, and even life, may have to be set aside for the assertion of
a moral principle. Hence the paradox (Matthew 10:39). Class
distinctions, official relations, domestic claims, and private rights may be,
in seasons of extreme national peril, entirely ignored for the maintenance of
public safety. On this principle it is that attention to the affairs of this life,
though right and good, is to yield to the higher obligation of regard to
eternal things; and deference to self — one of the most important of laws
— must give way when Christ claims submission to His yoke, the
submission of love. Thus it could be shown how entirely in harmony with
the scientific principle of interaction and subordination of laws is the
cardinal teaching of the gospel.
was great, and not unlike what many fall into when called to high service
for God. He was evidently under the impression that he was being led by
God to some service for
17:26, 45; 19:18-24; 20:13-15). At the same time he had neither the
will nor the thought to rise in revolt, nor would Samuel or Jesse encourage
it; yet, without home, friend, or covering, whither could he flee, and what
do? To aid him would be deemed by the enraged king as treason. Under
these circumstances, as a devout man, he naturally fled from his hiding
place to the sanctuary at Nob. But the considerations which hindered him
from compromising Samuel, Jesse, and Jonathan also operated with him to
save Ahimelech from the cruel suspicion of Saul. Hence, for covering the
priest as well as for saving life, he fabricated the falsehood.
Ø God’s service and approval afford us no exemption from
embarrassment. No man was ever more truly called to service and more
distinctly approved than was David, and it is difficult to find in history a
case of more undeserved and painful embarrassment. The Psalms,
especially 7., 10., 13., 35., 52., 54., reveal how keenly he felt his position.
Those who think that the service of God is free from cares and trials know
little of history and life. The Apostle Paul had his full share, though chief of
apostles (II Corinthians 11:23-28). The purifying fires are easily kindled in
this world. There are materials for them in:
o domestic affairs,
o business, and
o the developments of private experience.
Ø The causes of weakness in embarrassment are often traceable. If we
fall, as did David, it is because of either:
o Partial consideration of the facts of our position. We may dwell too
much on the difficulties, too little on the Unseen Hand. Peter looked
at the waves, and not at Christ, and then began to sink (Matthew 14:30).
“Man does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
o Physical exhaustion conduces to this partial consideration, and also
renders the action of the mind less steady. David was suffering
mentally by the recent suspense, parting from his friend, and long
abstinence from food. The inception of many a sin takes place when
the flesh is literally weak. Our Saviour recognises this (Matthew
o Education may have impaired our moral perception in reference to
some actions. Custom does in one age tolerate what in another is
abominated. Good men have bought and sold slaves. In David’s time
the tongue that lied for bread may have committed only a venial
o There may be too much inventiveness in seeking an outlet from
embarrassment. It is possible to think and scheme too much, not
leaving to God that which in our desperate need always belongs
to Him. In this state of mind evil suggestions are sure to arise,
and they lay hold of the spirit just in proportion as, in extreme
self-reliance, we lose trust in God. Our Saviour seems to have this
in view in Matthew 6:25-34.
o It is possible that amidst the pressure of life we do not keep near
enough to God. Possibly David had been too hurried and worried by
the purely human aspect of affairs to have strengthened his faith by
fellowship with God. The soul, as in the case of Peter, is weak if it
fasts too long, as is the body when bread fails.
was present, and David’s conduct was noted. Little sympathy had this
proselyte with the lofty aspirations of the “anointed;” great his pleasure in
revealing to Saul anything gratifying to his wicked malice. The lesson is
obvious. The servants of God live in the midst of a “perverse generation”
(Philippians 2:15), and any inconsistencies, in their conduct are sure to
be used against them. Some men take unusual delight in detecting the
frailties of professing Christians, as though these were an excuse for
their own habits. Deeds which attract no attention in other men become
conspicuous in Christians, because of the utter contrast with their holy
profession (I Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:4-8).
many of the circumstances of David’s life at this period and those of our
Saviour’s. David, the anointed, was destined to work out a great issue for
despised, persecuted, unsustained openly by any in authority, without food,
shelter, and visible means of defense, and, moreover, exposed to strong
temptations arising out of his sorrows. And so the “Anointed of the Lord,”
later on, kept for a long while the purpose of his life in his own heart, and
only by degrees unfolded it to men. He also was despised and rejected of
men; unrecognized by the authorities; cruelly persecuted, being charged
with motives and intentions most base; not knowing “where to lay his
head;” without means of defense against physical injury; and not
unacquainted with hunger and weariness. No wonder if the Psalms which
assert the “righteousness” of David (Acts 2:29-31; II Peter 1:21)
shadow forth the “righteousness” of the “Holy One” (Acts 2:27) and
His more glorious triumph. But the contrast is manifest. David in poverty
and distress trusts in God, but not perfectly. He proves his frailty in
common with all others. He knows the shame and bitterness of sin. Not so
the Christ. He would have no recourse to expedients for obtaining bread or
relief from apprehension (Matthew 4:2-4; 26:38-39, 50). “Of the
people there was none with him.” “He trod the winepress alone.” But in all
things He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” In the
deepest sense, therefore, do we see the appropriateness of the reference of
the Psalms to Him in all ascriptions of right and dominion by virtue of
purity and righteousness (Psalm 24:3-10). Not in David, but in Christ is
the solution of the grandest language of the Psalms. How impossible of
solution are the problems when men eliminate the inspiration of the
Holy Ghost from the Old Testament!
It should be laid down as a rigid rule that no embarrassment, no perils from men,
should ever justify even the thought of deception or wrong. The prime consideration
in times of peril is to commit our way to God, and be willing if need be to suffer and
die. We are justly indebted even to the failures of good men; for, out of the bitter
review of their sins, they have borne testimony to the value of righteousness and the
blessedness of trusting in God. Hence many of the Psalms.
8 “And David said unto Ahimelech, And is there not here under thine
hand spear or sword? for I have neither brought my sword nor my
weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.
9 And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom
thou slewest in the
cloth behind the ephod: if thou wilt take that, take it: for there is no
other save that here. And David said, There is none like that; give
it me.” Is there not here under thine hand spear or sword? The
sight of Doeg made David feel how helpless he was in case of attack, and
he excuses his request for weapons by saying that he had left home
unarmed because of the urgeney of the king’s business. The whole matter
must have seemed very suspicious to Ahimelech, but he was powerless,
and answers that the only weapon in the sanctuary was David’s own votive
offering, the sword of Goliath, carefully deposited in a place of honor
behind the ephod with the Urim and Thummim, and wrapped in a cloth
for its protection. As the word is used in Isaiah 9:5 of military attire, it
may mean Goliath’s war mantle, but more probably it was a covering to
preserve it from rust and damp. In ch. 17:54 it is said that
Goliath’s armour became David’s private property, and nothing could be
more natural than that he should thus lay up the sword in the tabernacle, as
a thank offering to God. He now takes it with pleasure, saying, There is
none like that; for it was a memorial of his greatest achievement, and
might be the presage of good fortune again.
Deceit (vs. 1-8)
1. As in the outward life, so in the inward experience of men great
exaltation is often followed by great depression. Whilst David was with
Samuel and the prophets his faith in God appears to have been strong, and
it was justified by the extraordinary manner in which he was preserved. But
soon afterwards (some events which are not recorded having taken place in
the interval) he was in mortal fear for his life, and resorted to an unworthy
pretext in order to obtain an assurance of safety, and now took another
false step. “There seems ground for suspecting that from the time of his
parting with Jonathan — if not, indeed, from the time of his leaving Naioth
— David had lost some of his trust in God” (Kitto).
2. The intention to deceive constitutes the essence of lying. Truth is the
representation of things as they are, and it may be departed from in many
ways without such an intention. But veracity is always obligatory. Even if
intentional deception be ever justifiable, as some have supposed, it clearly
was not in the case of David. The sacred historian records the fact without
approval, and without comment, except as the mention of its disastrous
consequences may be so regarded (ch. 22:2). “Whoso thinketh
that there is any kind of lie which is not sin deceiveth himself” (Augustine).
3. The amount of guilt involved in lying depends upon its circumstances,
nature, and motives. The forms which it assumes are endlessly varied
(direct, equivocation, suppression of truth, for advantage, pious frauds,
malicious, etc.); but that which is marked by hatred and malice is the most
reprehensible. This element was absent from the deception practiced by
David. The age in which he lived, too, was one in which a “lie of necessity”
was deemed comparatively venial; and it was borne with, though not
approved, by the “God of truth” (who is abundant therein! Exodus 34:6 – CY –
2016), until men should be trained to a higher moral state. Concerning deceit
Ø The pressure of circumstances. When David presented himself alone
before the high priest at the commencement of the sabbath (the evening of
Friday) he was pressed by hunger and fear, and thereby tempted to invent a
falsehood. If he had steadfastly set his face against the temptation his need
would probably have been met in some other way. There is, strictly
speaking, no such thing as a lie of necessity. A man may die of necessity,
but not lie.
Ø The promise of advantage. He thought that no harm could possibly
come of his deceit. But how little do men know, when they enter upon a
false way, to what end it may lead!
Ø The possession of a natural tendency or susceptibility to such a
temptation. There was in him (notwithstanding he abhorred lying from his
heart) “a natural disposition which rendered him peculiarly open to this
temptation: a quick, impulsive genius fertile in conceiving, and a versatile
cleverness skilful in coloring things different from the actual fact. And
does it not read a most striking lesson to those who are in any way
constituted?” (J. Wright, ‘David, King of
“Ever to the truth
Which but the semblance of a falsehood wears
A man, if possible, should bar his lip,
Since, although blameless, he incurs reproach”
Ø It is a violation of the bond by which society is held together. Without
confidence in each other’s truthfulness men could not live together in social
union. It is a sin against the justice and the love which we owe to our
neighbor. What the apostle says with reference to the Christian community
applies to all: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth to
his neighbor: for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).
Ø It is contrary to the dictates of an enlightened conscience.
Ø It is prohibited and condemned by the word of truth. “Ye shall not lie
one to another” (Leviticus 19:11). “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy
lips from speaking guile” (Psalm 34:13; 119:29; Proverbs 12:22;
Colossians 3:9; Revelation 21:8). “Lying is a base, unworthy vice; a
vice that one of the ancients portrays in the most odious colors, when he
says that ‘it is to manifest a contempt of God, and withal a fear of man.’ It
is not possible more excellently to represent the horror, baseness, and
irregularity of it; for what can a man imagine more hateful and
contemptible than to be a coward toward men and valiant against his
Little did David think of seeing Doeg the Edomite detained (literally, shut
up) in the tabernacle, to witness his deception with quick eyes and ears,
and ready to reveal it with a tongue “like a sharp razor, working
deceitfully” (Psalm 52:2). But:
Ø However cautious men may be in practicing deceit, they can never
calculate upon all the means by which it may be discovered. “A bird of the
air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter”
Ø Even its temporary success often leads to inquiry and discovery (ch. 22:6).
Ø God, before whom “all things are naked and open” (Hebrews 4:13) causes
the whole course of things to work together for its exposure (II Samuel 12:12),
in order to teach men to avoid “the way of lying,” and “speak the truth in
their heart.” It was through the operation of his providence that Doeg was
there that day. Human history and individual life afford innumerable
instances of the exposure of deceit in unexpected ways (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
“Lie not; but let thy heart be true to God,
Thy tongue to it, thy actions to them both.
Dare to be true! Nothing can need a lie;
The fault that needs it most grows two thereby”
Ø In those who deceive — by their moral deterioration, encouragement in
deception when they are successful, and filling them sooner or later with
bitter regret (ch. 22:22).
Ø In those who are deceived, to an extent which cannot be anticipated.
Ø In other men, by lessening their confidence in one another, and giving
“occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (II Samuel 12:14).
Ø That we may not “do evil that good may come.” (Romans 3:8)
Ø To judge charitably of others, inasmuch as we know not the strength of
their temptations. (“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth
take heed lest he fall.” - I Corinthians 10:12))
Ø To watch against the least approach to deception in ourselves.
Ø To seek preservation from it by firmly trusting IN GOD!
DAVID SEEKS REFUGE WITH THE KING OF
10 “And David arose and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the
was a most untoward circumstance; and though David could never have
anticipated that Saul would visit upon the priests the unwitting assistance
they had given him with such barbarous ferocity, yet he must have felt sure
that an active pursuit would be at once instituted against himself. He
therefore took a most unwise and precipitate step, but one which clearly
shows the greatness of the danger to which he was exposed. For he flees to
Achish, king of
mouth of the
Abimelech in the title of Psalm 34., written by David in grateful
commemoration of his escape, that being the official title of the kings of
Title. Psalm of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech;
who drove him away, and he departed. Of this transaction, which reflects
no credit upon David's memory, we have a brief account in I Samuel 21:1-
15. Although the gratitude of the psalmist prompted him thankfully to
record the goodness of the Lord in vouchsafing an undeserved deliverance,
yet he weaves none of the incidents of the escape into the narrative, but
dwells only on the grand fact of his being heard in the hour of peril. We
may learn from his example not to parade our sins before others, as certain
vainglorious professors are wont to do who seem as proud of their sins as
the fool with singular dexterity, but he was not so real a fool as to sing of
his own exploits of folly. In the original, the title does not teach us that the
psalmist composed this poem at the time of his escape from Achish, the
king or Abimelech of Gath, but that it is intended to commemorate that
event, and was suggested by it. It is well to mark our mercies with well
carved memorials. God deserves our best handiwork. David in view of the
special peril from which he was rescued, was at great pains with this Psalm,
and wrote it with considerable regularity, in almost exact accordance with
the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This is the second alphabetical Psalm,
the twenty-fifth being the first. (Excerpt from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David
on Psalm 34)
It has been objected that nothing could be more improbable than
that David, the conqueror of Goliath, should seek refuge with a Philistine
lord, and that this is nothing more than a popular tale, which has grown out
of the real fact recorded in ch. 27. But when men are in desperate straits
they take wild resolutions, and this meeting with Doeg, just after he had
broken down with grief (ch. 20:41), evidently put David to his
wits’ end. As, moreover, Saul was degenerating into a cruel tyrant,
desertions may have become not uncommon, and though only three or four
years can have elapsed since the battle of Elah, as David was only about
twenty-four years of age at Saul’s death, yet the change from a boyish
stripling to a bearded man was enough to make it possible that David might
not be recognized. As for Goliath’s sword, we have seen that it was not
remarkable for its size, and was probably of the ordinary pattern imported
from Saul, the great enemy of the Philistines; for as a deserter never
received pardon or mercy, he must now use his prowess to the very utmost
against Saul. Finally, the historical truth of the narrative is vouched for by
Psalm 34., and the details are all different from those in ch. 27. David there
is a powerful chieftain with a large following of trained soldiers, and feels
so secure that he takes his wives with him; he asks for some place in which
to reside, and occupies himself in continual forays. Here he is in the utmost
distress, has no trained band of soldiers, and goes well nigh mad with
mental anguish. And this is in exact keeping with that extreme excitement
to which David was a prey in his last interview with Jonathan (ch. 20:41);
and only in his first grief at Saul’s cruel bitterness would his mind have been
so affected, and his conduct so rash.
The Sword of Goliath (vs. 8-10)
“There is none like that; give it me” (v. 9). When David slew Goliath “he
put his armor in his tent” (“the ancient word for dwelling”). But he
appears to have afterwards deposited his sword in the tabernacle at Nob as
a sacred relic, dedicatory offering, memorial, and sign; and on seeking for
means of defense during his flight “from the face of Saul” (v. 10) it was
still there, carefully “wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod,” and was
handed over to him by the priest. It was of special significance for him, and
(as other memorials often do to others) it must have spoken to him with an
almost oracular voice in the way of:
Ø In the gaining of a notable victory over the enemies of the Lord and His
Ø At a time of imminent peril and utmost extremity.
Ø Through faith “in the name of the Lord of hosts.” David’s deliverance,
as he then acknowledged, was accomplished not by the sling and stone,
nor yet by the sword, but by the Lord on whom he relied; and he much
needed to be reminded of it now.
Ø In His service, in conflict with His enemies and obedience to His
directions, the Lord is with His servants. They are not “alone” (r. 1), but
He is on their side (Psalm 118:6). In the greatest extremity, when ordinary
means seem unavailing, He is able to deliver them by those which are
Ø The confidence which they place in Him He never disappoints. “Fear
not.” “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.”
(ibid. v. 9)
he was about to take the daring step of leaving his people and seeking shelter
with the Philistines, and eagerly grasped the weapon as an omen of the
success of his scheme. But if he had reflected it would surely have taught
Ø There is no safety for a servant of God in dependence upon or in alliance
with his enemies. None might be like “the Sword of Goliath” when used in
“the Lord’s battles,” but in no other.
Ø His own wisdom and strength avail nothing “without the Lord.” And he
was now evidently venturing on an erroneous and presumptuous course, in
which he had no assurance of Divine guidance and help.
Ø The weapon which has been powerful by faith is powerless without it,
and may even be turned against him who employs it. Ancient memorials,
institutions, methods are valueless apart from the spirit which they
represent. It is probable that David was discovered in the native place of
Goliath by the sword he bore; and the next thing we hear is that he and the
renowned weapon he so highly prized were in the hands of the Philistines.
11 “And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the
king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances,
saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?
12 And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of
Achish the king of
use the title of king in a very general way. Thus Achish, though really a seren
(see on ch. 5:11), is called king of
regards David than that he was
Goliath’s challenge he had undertaken what in old time was regarded as the
king’s especial duty. Did they not sing one to another of him in dances?
The Hebrew method of singing was by choruses, who sang and danced in
turns to the music of their tambours (see on ch. 18:7). David
evidently had hoped not to be recognized, but to be admitted to serve as a
soldier, or in some other capacity, without many questions being asked. As
we find an Edomite in Saul’s service, Cushites, Maachathites, and other
foreigners in the employment of David, there was probably much of this
desertion of one service for another, especially as kings in those days had
absolute authority and their displeasure was death.
13 “And he changed his behavior before them, and feigned himself mad in their
hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon
his beard.” He changed his behavior. The same word is used in the title
of Psalm 34. Literally it means “his taste,” and, like the Latin word
sapientia, is derived from the action of the palate, and so from the faculty
of discriminating flavors it came to signify the power of discrimination
generally. Thus “to change his taste” means to act as if he had lost the
power of distinguishing between objects. Feigned himself mad. Literally,
“he roamed hither and thither” restlessly and in terror. In their hands. I.e.
before them, in their presence. Scrabbled on the doors of the gate. The
Vulgate and Septuagint read drummed upon them. Literally the verb means
“to make the mark of a Tau,” the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and
which anciently was in the form of a cross. The gate, on the leaves of
which David scrawled, was probably that of the court or waiting room, in
which the servants of Achish passed their time when in attendance upon
him. Possibly David had witnessed these symptoms of madness in Saul’s
case during his fits of insanity. The idea of some of the older
commentators, that David really for a time went out of his mind, is
opposed to the general sense of the narrative.
14 “Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad:
wherefore then have ye brought him to me? 15 Have I need of mad men,
that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence?
shall this fellow come into my house?” The man is mad. Achish supposes that
David’s madness was real, and “drove him away” (Psalm 34., title). Here we have
only his contemptuous words, declaring that he had madmen enough of his own,
and needed no more. As madmen were looked upon in old time as
possessed by the Deity, and therefore as persons who must not be
interfered with, they probably presumed upon the liberty granted them, and
gave much annoyance. In my presence. Rather, “against me.” Achish
feared personal injury. Shall this fellow come into my house? A strong
negative taking the form of a question. It means, David shall not enter into
my service (compare Psalm 34., title). The whole psalm bears witness to the
deep perturbation of David’s spirit, and helps to explain his strange conduct.
Uncertain Light (vs. 10-15)
The facts are:
1. In continued fear
of Saul, David flees to the king of
2. Being recognised as the conqueror of Goliath, he fears the
3. To escape vengeance he feigns madness.
4. Achish the king thereupon refuses to have him in his service.
There is no evidence that David received any Divine direction through the high
priest, but the reverse (ch. 22:15). He appears to have been left to the
exercise of his own judgment as to a future place of refuge. To be alone,
unable to remain in one’s own land, a hunted fugitive, on religious principle
averse to resistance by sword or concerted revolt (ch. 24:6), with no guide
but such as the judgment unhinged by conflicting thoughts could afford —
this was certainly being “desolate” and “afflicted.” The result was
a determination to seek shelter among the enemies of his God and country,
a step most perilous, and of very doubtful character, and which involved
farther recourse to a most humiliating expedient.
APPARENTLY LEFT TO THEIR OWN USE OF PREVIOUS
TEACHING, which they find difficult to apply to new and dangerous
circumstances. David was placed in great peril, with no other guidance
than what his own spirit might gather from a consideration of his calling by
Samuel, and the general signs of God’s past favor. There is, as a rule, a
difficulty to the inexperienced in applying general principles to novel
conditions; and under the physical and mental exhaustion of this crisis
David found it hard to extract from the past sufficient light to guide his
present steps. He walked in comparative darkness. “Thou hast laid me in
the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps” (Psalm 88:6). The supposition
that it is reserved only to the deliberately wicked to walk in darkness is not
correct. The present life of the righteous in a sinful world is one of
discipline, in which they both reap some of the fruits of former
imperfections and become trained to higher service. Our Christian course is
a campaign in which dark nights of watching and groping and trembling are
to be expected as well as bright days of onslaught and victory. The degree
of clearness in which the pillar of fire and cloud may stand before us may
be affected by our disordered vision — the result of imperfect health; or
distraction, or sheer exhaustion. The disciples of Christ, during those dark
and dreadful hours of His passion and death, were left to the guidance and
cheer of such of the truths as He had taught them in the days of prosperity
as their judgment might deem appropriate to their present need. To the
young man from home, tossed and torn by the adversities of life, unable to
find means of sustenance, and destitute of friends, there is left the lessons
of his childhood and such truth as may have been gathered from a brief
experience of life. In his agitation he sees no clear light. A “horror of great
darkness” comes over the soul (Genesis 15:12), and the servant of God asks
why his God is so “far from helping” him (Psalm 22:1).
JUDGMENT AT SUCH TIMES, MAY COMMIT THEMSELVES TO
INCREASING DANGERS AND HUMILIATING DEVICES. Exercising
his judgment both on his present circumstances and his past experience of
God’s dealings with him, David thought he saw amidst the gloom a hand
thither,” and no light led elsewhere. Men would say he did the best under
the circumstances, and in all sincerity of purpose. Nevertheless, the step
was a false one, apart from his motive, both in itself and in its results. For it
was shocking for a pious Hebrew — the assertor of the “name of the
Lord” (ch. 17:45), and the victor of Elah — to enter the abode and seek
the service of the “uncircumcised Philistine,” and the event proved that
safety was not secured, but was so imperiled as to suggest the adoption of
a most humiliating expedient. Oh, the bitter anguish of those who, having
lived in the light of God’s countenance, find themselves sinking deeper and
deeper into helplessness and sorrow! Thus may it be with us all in our
“dark and cloudy day.” (Ezekiel 34:12) Every new step we take only makes
our path more painful, and taxes more severely our ingenuity. Peter’s
“following afar off” led him amidst scoffing men and women, and their words
(ch. 21:11; compare Matthew 26:58, 69-75) made a demand on his ingenuity
more serious in its success than David’s feigned madness. And this has
been the experience of multitudes. There are two great dangers of the
“hour of darkness” which David’s experience indicates.
Ø The danger of causing scandal among the enemies of religion. If the
servants of Achish suspected David of the low cunning (v. 11) which
seeks to slay by stealth, then his brave, chivalrous character as a defender
of the honor of Jehovah’s name (ch. 17:45) is gone; and if they
regard him as a fugitive fleeing from his king and country, then he reveals
to the “uncircumcised” the woes and troubles of the people of God. It is a
sacred duty in all our times of adversity to avoid whatever would cause
irreligious men to think that we can do their base deeds, and not to expose
to the eye of the unsympathetic the internal sorrows of the
Ø The danger of appearing to be what we are not. It may have been a
harmless and successful device to simulate madness; but self-respect was
gone, and a “more excellent way” of escape might have been sought of
God. This is the great peril of us all both in prosperity and adversity. The
guise under which the simulation appears is varied:
o an appearance of wealth covers real poverty;
o a geniality of manner is adopted when real aversion lies in the heart;
o a pretence of ill health secures escape from obligations;
o ambiguous words and evasions are employed to suggest our
ignorance of matters when we know them well.
To be real, to be known to be just what we are, is the only safe and wise
course for a true Christian.
CANNOT BE APPRECIATED AT THE TIME. David was doubtless
confounded at the providence that should have him “anointed” to a special
service and yet allow him to be hunted as an outcast. He saw not the good
of being bereft of friend and counselor. But God deals with His servants in
view of their actual need and the future service they are to render.
Unchecked prosperity might have been the greatest curse to such a young
man. We do not know what subtle dangers were lurking in his heart, and
how necessary it was to cause him to feel his utter helplessness when left to
himself. Facts prove that out of this bitter experience he rose a more
devout, and humble, and trustful man, and was thereby enabled to be a
better king, and to enrich the world forever with psalms expressive of the
deepest experience of the human soul. Time is essential to the
interpretation of the ways of God. The cruel wrongs of Joseph and the
anguish of Jacob proved among the good things of life. The forty years
trial in the desert was a blessing to
seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth
the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are
thereby.” (Hebrews 12:11), but history proves how blessed it is!
The absolute trust expressed in the Psalms could only have been stated by
one who had been very poor, desolate, and afflicted. Even the life of the
Apostle Peter was the better for the bitterness and shame of his deed.
Many on earth can say that they are grateful for their adversities, for
Ø they have got nearer to God,
Ø have found Christ’s love more precious, and
Ø have set their affections more intently on things unseen and eternal.
Who can adequately praise the unsearchable wisdom and love that
can thus turn our darkness into light, and convert our sorrows into joys,
and even build up holy characters out of the ruins of our own actions and
follies? (Romans 11:33-36).
The Fear of Man (vs. 10-15)
“And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid” (v. 12).
The fear of man is not always sinful. As in certain cases, and within certain
limits, the approbation of others is a natural and proper object of desire, so
the disapprobation of others is a like object of dread; and it often restrains
from temptation and impels to virtuous conduct. But it is sinful when it
exists where it ought not, or in an undue measure; when it hinders us from
doing right lest we should incur their displeasure, or incites us to do wrong
in order to avoid it. Such fear has often possessed the servants of God
(Genesis 12:12; here ch. 16:2; Matthew 26:72). It was felt by David when he
fled from Saul; and still more when recognized by the servants of Achish,
inevitable death he feigned madness, and his dissimulation (though no more
reprehensible than the stratagems which many others have devised in great
straits) was unworthy of his high character. Notice:
Ø Distrust of Divine protection, which he had already exhibited. If he had
not, to some extent, “cast away his confidence,” (Hebrews 10:35: "
which hath great recompense of reward.") he would hardly have come
now, deprived of “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16) he became
victim to a fear as great as the courage he had formerly displayed.
Ø The failure of worldly policy, which, through lack of faith, he had
adopted. Like Peter, he went whither he was not called to go; and when
his folly and presumption were suddenly revealed he was overwhelmed
with dismay. His failure was, in its ultimate result, good; for, although
he had no intention of turning his sword against his people, it prevented
further entanglements arising out of his relation with his enemies,
humbled him, and constrained him to cry to God for deliverance. It is
better for a good man to be driven forth from the wicked in contempt
than to be retained amongst them in honour.
Ø The presence of personal danger; doubtless great, but exaggerated, as
it always is, by fear. He that seeketh his life shall lose it. How common
is the fear of man, arising from similar causes, in social, political, and
with Saul may possibly have suggested the device; which, moreover, was
not an inappropriate expression of his inward agitation and misery. Fear:
Ø Fills the mind with distracting anxiety and distress. He whose faith fails
is no longer himself. He is driven hither and thither, like a ship upon the
open sea (Luke 12:29; James 1:6).
Ø Incites to the adoption of deceitful expedients. “The fear of man
bringeth a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).
Ø Exposes to ignominious contempt (v. 15). “Signally did David show
on this occasion that he possessed two of the powers most essential to
genius — powers without which he could never have become the great
poet he was — the power of observation and the power of imitation. He
must previously have noticed with artistic accuracy all the disgusting
details of madness; and now he is able to reproduce them with a startling
fidelity. And in the possession of these powers we may, I think, find not an
excuse for, but certainly an explanation of, that tendency to deceit, which
otherwise it would be hard to account for in so holy a person. When a man
finds it an easy and pleasurable exercise of ability to throw himself into
existences alien to his own, he is tempted to a course of unreality and
consequent untruthfulness which can hardly be conceived by a more
self-bound nature. But if genius has its greater temptations, it also has
greater strength to resist them. And the more godlike a genius is, the more
unworthy and humiliating are its lapses. What more debasing sight can be
than that which David presented in the king’s palace at
Fingers which have struck the celestial lyre now scribble on the doors of
the gate. From lips which have poured forth divinest song now drops the
slaver of madness. The soul which has delighted in communion with God
now emulates the riot of a fiend. And all this not brought on by the stroke
of Heaven, which awes us while it saddens, but devised by a faithless craft”
Ø The overruling goodness of God, which often delivers His servants from
the snares they have made for themselves, and sometimes mercifully
controls their devices to that end; and (as we learn from the psalms which
refer to the event) in connection with:
o Earnest prayer for HIS HELP, and,
o Restored confidence in HIS PRESENCE and FAVOR.
Faith is the antidote of fear.
“The following is an approximation to the chronological order of the eight
psalms which are assigned by their inscriptions to the time of David’s
by Saul: 7. (
(Delitzsch). See also the inscriptions of Psalm 63, and 18.
Psalm 56, ‘The prayer of a fugitive’ (see inscription - I recommend the study
of these on this website - they are taken from Charles Haddon Spurgeon's
Treasury of David - CY - 2016)
“Be gracious unto me, O God...
In the day that I fear, in thee do I put my trust,
In God do I praise His word.
In God have I put my trust; I do not fear.
What can flesh do unto me.
(vs. 1, 4, 9, 12).
Psalm 34., ‘Thanksgiving for deliverance’ (see inscription):
“I will bless Jehovah at all times ....
I sought Jehovah, and He answered me,
And out of all my fears did He deliver me.
This afflicted one cried, and Jehovah heard,
And saved him out of all his troubles”
(vs. l, 3, 7, 12-16).
“When David sang these two songs God’s grace had already dried his
tears. Their fundamental tone is thanksgiving for favor and deliverance.
But he who has an eye, therefore, will observe that they are still wet with
tears, and cannot fail to see in the singer’s outpourings of heart the
sorrowfulest recollections of former sins and errors” (Krummacher).
The Hero Unheroic (vs. 8-15)
HAVE STIRRED ALL THE HEROIC ELEMENT IN HIM AND
RESTORED HIS FALTERING FAITH. Had he forgotten that the sword
of Goliath was in custody of the priests? Or did he remember it, and was it
for a sight and a grasp of this mighty weapon that he longed? Who can tell?
The priest reminded him of the day when, with that very sword, he
beheaded the prostrate giant in the
sent a thrill through David’s heart, and touched some chord of shame. Why
was he now so much afraid? Why could he not trust the Lord who had
saved him in that dreadful combat to protect him now? He was all
eagerness to have the sword in his hand again — “There is none like it;
give it me.” It may have been too ponderous for a man of ordinary size and
strength to wield with any freedom, but its associations and memories
made it more to David than many weapons of war. He ought to have been
of good cheer when in one day he got both bread and sword out of the
sanctuary. Is not this suggestive of a way of help and encouragement for all
who know the Lord? In new emergencies let them recall past deliverances.
As Matthew Henry says, “experiences are great encouragements.” The
God who helped us in some past time of need is able to help us again. The
grace which gained one victory is strong enough to gain another. But:
The courage which must have leaped up in David’s breast at the sight and
touch of Goliath’s sword soon ebbed away. His mood of despondency
returned as he neared the frontier, and he relapsed into shifts unworthy
both of his past and of his future. It must be owned that his position was
very critical. To cross the western frontier was to expose himself to
suspicion and criticism in
Philistines. He was between two fires: enraged Saul behind him, and before
him the king of
humiliation and death of the great champion of
latter of these risks actually threatened him, David, always quick to scent
danger, perceived his extreme predicament; and, equally quick in
suggestion and resource, fell on an ingenious plan to save his life. It was
not dignified — it was not worthy of a devout and upright man; but it was
clever and successful. David had often seen Saul in his frenzy, and knew
how to counterfeit the symptoms. So he feigned insanity, and was allowed
to leave the Philistine town unmolested, and to escape to his native land.
(Illustrate from the stories of Ulysses and of Lucius Junius Brutus.) What
may pass without censure in heathen Greeks and Romans may not so pass
in a Hebrew like David, who knew the true God; and though we should not
judge severely the action of a man under imminent mortal peril, we are
disappointed to see the son of Jesse betake himself to stratagem and deceit.
We are vexed to find the hero unheroic, the saint unsaintly. But:
FEELING IN DAVID’S MIND. Two of his psalms are said to refer to this
time of trouble at
definite allusion to the events related here, but we see no reason to
disregard the old tradition embodied in its title, which refers its origin to
the time of David’s narrow escape from the Philistines. Not that he
composed it on the spur of the moment, for the elaborate acrostic structure
of the ode forbids that supposition. But the sweet singer, recalling his
escape, recalled the devout feeling which it awakened. He did not
introduce into his song any of the actual incidents at
have felt that, so far as his own behavior was concerned, the incidents
were not worthy of celebration; but he recorded his experience of Divine
succor for the consolation of others in their extremity, ending with
“Jehovah redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in
him shall be desolate.” The other psalm to which we allude is the fifty-sixth.
This, too, is ascribed to “David when the Philistines laid hold on him
his hope of deliverance really lay. God knew his wanderings and regarded
his tears; and thoughts of God were in David’s heart even when he was
playing the part of a maniac to delude the Philistines. “In God I put my
trust: I am not afraid: what can man do unto me?” We do not palliate
anything in David’s conduct at Nob or at
servant of God. We must go to the great Son of David to learn a faultless
morality, so that no guile may proceed out of our mouths, and we may use
no pretexts to gain our objects, but count the keeping of a good conscience
superior to all considerations of comfort and even of life, and have no fear
of them who can kill the body, “but are not able to kill the soul.” (Luke
4-5) But the Psalms come in well to prevent our doing David any injustice.
All through this painful passage of his life — in his flight, his grief, his
mortal peril — his heart was crying out for God. So he was saved out of
the hands of enemies. Goliath could not hurt him, nor Saul, nor Achish
either. Not that God sanctioned any shift or subterfuge; but God heard him,
and saved him out of all his distresses.
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