I Samuel 22
COMMENCEMENT OF DAVID’S LIFE AS AN OUTLAW
1 “David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam:
and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went
down thither to him.” The cave Adullam. According to Josephus this was
situated near a
city of the same name (‘
group of fifteen in the Shephelah (see on ch.17:1), and its site
has now been recovered by Mr. Conder (see ‘Tent Work,’ 2:156-160).
“The great valley,” he says, “of Elah, which forms the highway from
the low hills of the Shephelah
from the rocky mountains of
miles from the valley head stands Shochoh,… and two and a half miles
south of this is a very large and ancient terebinth.” This stands on “the west
side of the vale, just where a small tributary ravine joins the main valley;
and on the south of this ravine is a high rounded hill, almost isolated by
valleys, and covered with ruins, a natural fortress,” the site of the city
Adullam. David’s cave, he considers, would not be one of the larger
caverns, as these are seldom used for habitations; but “the sides of the
tributary valley are lined with rows of caves, and these we found inhabited,
and full of flocks and herds; but still more interesting was the discovery of
a separate cave on the hill itself, a low, smoke-blackened burrow, which
was the home of a single family. We could not but suppose, as we entered
this gloomy abode, that our feet were standing in the very footprints of the
shepherd king, who here, encamped between the Philistines and the Jews,
covered the line of advance on the cornfields of Keilah, and was but three
miles distant from the thickets of Hareth.” After describing the fine view
from this hill, which is about 500 feet high, he adds, “There is ample room
to have accommodated David’s 400 men in the caves, and they are, as we
have seen, still inhabited.” Thus then David’s cave was one of many in the
Terebinth valley and the ravine opening into it, and was not far
though over the border. Here his brethren and all his father’s house
joined him through fear of Saul. Among these would be Joab, Abishai, and
Asahel, his cousins; and we learn how great was the love and enthusiasm
which David was able to inspire among them from the feat of the three
heroes, of whom Abishai was one, who, while he was in the cave of
Adullam, and a garrison of the Philistines at
them to bring David water from the well there (II Samuel 23:13-17). As
flight of Jesse’s family; and it is a proof how thoroughly Saul’s government
had broken down that, while Samuel could maintain a son at
judge (ch. 8:24 Saul was unable to defend places so much more distant from
the Philistine border.
2 “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt,
and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto
him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him
Everyone that was in distress,… in debt, or discontented about four hundred
men.” (Hebrew, bitter of soul), gathered themselves unto him. Had Saul’s
government been just and upright David would have had no followers; but
he never rose above the level of a soldier, had developed all that
arbitrariness which military command fosters in self-willed minds, and
seems entirely unaware of its being his duty to attend to the righteous
administration of the law. The Israelites had in him the very king they had
desired, but they found that a brave general might at home be a ruthless
tyrant. Debt was one of the worst evils of ancient times. The rate of usury
was so exorbitant that a loan was sure to end in utter ruin, and not only the
debtor, but his children might be made slaves to repay the debt (II Kings 4:1).
It was one of the first duties of an upright governor to enforce
the Mosaic law against usury (Leviticus 25:36); but all such cares Saul
despised, and there were probably many in the land impoverished by Saul’s
own exactions and favouritism (v. 7), and made bitter of soul by his
cruelty and injustice. All such were glad to join in what seemed to them the
banner of revolt. Afterwards at Ziklag David was joined by nobler
followers (see on ch. 27:6). With David we may compare Jephthah’s case
in the old days of anarchy (Judges 11:3-6), and note that bad government
leads to lawlessness just as surely as no government.
David’s Refuge and Following (vs. 1-2)
David’s escape from
point in his career. Henceforth he led the life of an independent outlaw at
the head of a band of armed men. He was openly and continually
persecuted by Saul, under the illusion that he was aiming at the crown,
although he neither rebelled nor encouraged rebellion against his authority.
He was thereby kept prominently before the minds of the people, and must
have fixed the attention of the most observant and devout upon him, as, in
contrast to Saul (whose government became more and more arbitrary,
inefficient, and ungodly), the man who alone was worthy to be “captain
over the Lord’s inheritance;” and the experience through which he passed
served to prepare him for his destination. “This very period of his deepest
sufferings becomes the decisive turning point of his whole history, at which
it enters upon a true upward course, thence to rise ever higher and higher;
while his real destiny, viz., to rule, is now for the first time not only
foreshadowed, but already begun, though only on the smallest scale; and
the clearest proof that this actually is his destiny is found in the fact that he
begins to work it out without consciously exerting himself to do so”
(Ewald). He may be considered as representing, in some respects, the good
man under persecution, and as:
which the servants of God have been threatened in every age.
Ø Underneath the personal and ostensible grounds of such violence lie the
opposition of “the
kingdom of darkness” to
enmity of the evil heart against righteousness and goodness. David was
“the representative of the theocratic principle for which he suffers and
endures; Saul of the anti-theocratic principle.” Like Moses, David bore
“the reproach of Christ,” who was in him and suffered with him (Acts 9:4;
Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 11:26, 32-38).
Ø It is limited in its power, and is always ultimately defeated. “Be not
afraid of them that kill the body......but I will forewarn you whom
ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power
to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him!”” (Luke 12:4).
Ø God Himself is the Refuge of the persecuted, and provides varied,
wonderful, and effectual means for their deliverance. “Thou art my refuge”
(Psalm 142:5). “Thou hast delivered my soul from death,” etc.
(Psalm 56:13). The operation of Divine providence was displayed in a
remarkable manner in the preservation of David throughout the whole
course of his persecution by Saul.
brethren and all his father’s house,” endangered by Saul’s jealousy as well
as by the Philistine garrison at
every one that was in distress” (outwardly impoverished and harassed),
“and in debt” (to avaricious usurers, and not necessarily through any fault
of his own), “and discontented” (inwardly embittered and dissatisfied with
the existing state of things), owing to bad government. “Surely oppression
maketh a wise man mad” (Ecclesiastes 7:7), and incites and justifies the
adoption of a course which, under other circumstances, would be highly
culpable. They did not gather to David in vain.
Ø Sympathy with suffering is usually felt in an eminent degree by those
who have themselves suffered (Hebrews 2:18).
Ø It is always shown, when it is genuine, in practical effort for its
alleviation (II Corinthians 1:4).
Ø It generally produces in those toward whom it is shown a peculiarly
strong and enduring attachment. “Pain is the deepest thing we have in our
nature, and union through pain has always seemed more real and more holy
than any other” (A.H. Hallam). “I do not know where a better home could
have been provided for David than among those men in distress, in debt, in
discontent. If it behoved a ruler to know the heart of his subjects, their
sorrows, their wrongs, their crimes, — to know them and to sympathize
with them, — this was surely as precious a part of his schooling as the
solitude of his boyhood, or as any relations he had with men who had
never faced the misery of the world, and never had any motive to quarrel
with its laws. Through oppression, confusion, lawlessness he was learning
the eternal, essential righteousness of God” (Maurice).
captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men” —
afterwards six hundred (ch. 23:13); including his nephews, Abishai (ch. 26:6),
Joab, Asahel, and Amasa, Ahimelech the Hittite, the “three mighty men” who
“broke through the host of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of
the list of David’s heroes (I Chronicles 11:10-47), Gadites “whose faces were
like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains,”
Benjamites and men of
and he said, Thine are we,” etc.; “for thy God helpeth thee” (ibid. ch.12:8-18).
Some of them possessed, perhaps, little religious principle, and were ready
for any adventurous enterprise; but most of them were young, free, noble
spirits, resenting the tyranny of Saul, and sympathizing with all that was
best in the nation — “the unconscious materials out of which a new world
was to be formed.” David’s leadership was:
Ø Exercised by virtue of his peculiar position, eminent godliness, and
Ø Accepted by them voluntarily, and followed with fidelity and enthusiasm.
Ø Contributed to their discipline, improvement (Psalm 34:11), and
future service against the common enemy, as well as his own moral force
and power of organization and rule. “The effect of such a life on his
spiritual nature was to deepen his unconditional dependence on God; by
the alternations of heat and cold, fear and hope, danger and safety, to
temper his soul and make it flexible, tough, and bright as steel. It evolved
the qualities of a leader of men, teaching him command and forbearance,
promptitude and patience, valor and gentleness. It won for him a name as
a founder of a nation, and it gathered around him a force of men devoted
to him by an enthusiastic attachment, bred by long years of common
dangers and the hearty friendships of many a march by day and nightly
encampment round the glimmering campfires beneath the lucid stars”
on a good man is to cause him to draw nigh to God in:
Ø Renewed confidence and hope.
Ø Intense desire for the manifestation of His glory in “bringing the
wickedness of the wicked to an end and establishing the just”
(Psalm 7:9). He wishes above all things and strives for the setting up
Ø Earnest prayers and thanksgivings, such as are expressed in the “cave
songs” of David. Psalm 142., ‘A cry of the persecuted to God’ (see
inscription below taken from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David):
TITLE. Maschil of David. This Maschil is written for our instruction. It
teaches us principally by example how to order our prayer in times of
distress. Such instruction is among the most needful, practical, and
effectual parts of our spiritual education. He who has learned how to pray
has been taught the most useful of the arts and sciences. The disciples said
unto the Son of David, "Lord, teach, us to pray" (Luke 11:1-4); and here
David gives us a valuable lesson by recording his own experience as to
supplication from beneath a cloud.
A Prayer when he was in the cave. He was in one of his many lurking
places, either Engedi, Adullam, or some other lone cavern wherein he
could conceal himself from Saul and his blood hounds. Caves make good
closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of
devotion. Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he
might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his
SUBJECT. There can be little doubt that this song dates from the days
when Saul was sorely persecuting David, and David himself was in soul
trouble, probably produced by that weakness of faith which led him to
associate with heathen princes. His fortunes were evidently at their lowest,
and, what was worse, his repute had fearfully fallen; yet he displayed a true
faith in God, to whom he made known his pressing sorrows. The gloom of
the cave is over the psalm, and yet as if standing at the mouth of it the
prophet poet sees a bright light a little beyond.
“With my voice to Jehovah do I cry,
With my voice to Jehovah do I make supplication.
Deliver me from my persecutors,
For they are stronger than I.”
Psalm 57, ‘Trusting in the protection of God’ (see inscription below
taken from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David):
TITLE. To the Chief Musician. So glad a song as this becomes ere it
closes, should be in the keeping of the most skilled of all the temple
minstrels. Altaschith, i.e., DESTROY NOT. This petition is a very
sententious prayer, as full as it is brief, and well worthy to be the motto for
a sacred song. David had said, "destroy not, "in reference to Saul, when he
had him in his power, and now he takes pleasure in employing the same
words in supplication to God. We may infer from the spirit of the Lord's
prayer, that the Lord will spare us as we spare our foes. There are four of
these "Destroy not" Psalms, namely, the 57th, 58th, 59th, and 75th. In all
of them there is a distinct declaration of the destruction of the wicked and
the preservation of the righteous, and they all have probably a reference to
the overthrow of the Jews, on account of their persecution of the great Son
of David: they will endure heavy chastisement, but concerning them it is
written in the divine decree, "Destroy them not." Michtam of David. For
quality this Psalm is called golden, or a secret, and it well deserves the
name. We may read the words and yet not know the secret joy of David,
which he has locked up in his golden casket. When he fled from Saul in the
cave. This is a song from the bowels of the earth, and, like Jonah's prayer
from the bottom of the sea, it has a taste of the place. The poet is in the
shadow of the cave at first, but he comes to the cavern's mouth at last, and
sings in the sweet fresh air, with his eye on the heavens, watching joyously
the clouds floating therein.
“Be gracious unto me, O God, be gracious unto me,
For in thee hath my soul found refuge;
And in the shadow of thy wings will I find refuge
Until the destruction passeth by.
Be thou exalted above the heavens, O God,
Thy glory above all the earth.”
“When his companions in arms were carousing or asleep, he sat by his lamp
in some still retreat, or ‘considered the heavens’ as they spread above him,
or meditated on the law, or engaged in prayer, or held intimate communion
with God, and composed and wrote (though he thought not so) what shall
sound in the Church and echo through the world to all time” (Binney).
David knew well that he could nevermore live in safety at the court of
Saul. He would not raise a hand against his king and father-in-law, but he
would not place himself again within his reach. Better a free life even in
deserts and caves of the earth than a life in constant peril in ceiled houses.
Behold him then in the
respecting the right of revolt against a perverse, tyrannical king. We
entirely believe in such a right, because the king exists for the good of the
people, not the people for the service of the king. We have no misgiving as
to the right of the British nation to rid itself of King James II, or that of the
people in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies to drive away King Francis II.
But the case of Saul’s royalty
chosen him by acclamation, and there was no proof as yet that the mass of
the people wished to dethrone him. Even if they had so wished, David was
not the man to lead their revolt; for it was one of the tests of his fitness for
the succession that he should not snatch at the honor to which he was
destined, but wait the evolution of the Divine purpose, recognizing God
only as the true and absolute King of Israel. Therefore, what he did at this
period was simply for preservation of himself and his relatives. The times
were “out of joint,” and he had no protection of law or civil order against
the mad suspicions of the king. So he took refuge in a cavern, waiting for
God and hoping in His word. The hero raised no standard of revolt, and
drew no followers by prospect of plunder or revenge. Yet he did draw
hundreds of the men of
likened to the riotous and desperate followers of Catiline, or even to the
“empty persons” who attached themselves to Jephthah (Judges 11:2). Doubtless
there may have been among the young men some who were more adventurous
than devout, and cared for their leader’s sword and spear more than for his
psalms; but they were in general young men of patriotic temper who had
suffered damage through the misrule of the time, and found the public
disorder and tyranny intolerable. They turned their wistful eyes towards
one who had borne himself wisely in the station he had occupied, and from
whom they hoped for a just and prudent administration of public affairs.
There are parallels to this position in the history of other nations; but most
worthy of our thought is the parallel of the great Son of David, our Lord
Jesus Christ. When he was a
young man in
distressed under their rulers. The civil government was oppressive; the
religious surveillance by the chief priests and elders was worse. Heavy
burdens were imposed without pity, and grievous abuses of power and
office were committed. The eyes of many had failed them, looking long for
a deliverer who should be the Consolation of Israel. Then appeared Jesus
king by the voice of the multitude, while Himself under the evident
displeasure of the authorities, and exposed to frequent risks of arrest and
death. But to Him followers repaired, and they were welcome. Jesus called
to Him the laboring and heavy laden. He had powerful attraction for all
who were distressed. And from the day when He took up a position apart
from the rulers of the Jews, though He headed no movement of resistance,
it became more and more obvious that those rulers had lost the favor of
Jehovah, and had nothing before them but thickening disaster and a final
collapse of their power like
that of Saul on
had been born in David’s city and of David’s line. So it is still. It is Jesus
Christ, as rejected of men, humbled, crucified, who appeals to human
hearts. Who will go out to Him, “without the camp, bearing his reproach”?
(Hebrews 13:13) Who will repair to him at the
proud, nor the thoughtless, nor the self-satisfied; but the distressed, the
ruined, and the bereaved will go; and over such He is willing to be Captain.
Let them come to Him, and his life is thenceforward bound up with theirs,
and theirs with His. With Him they are “in safeguard” till the end of the
tribulation; and when the King appears in His great power these will appear
with Him in glory; the trials of Adullam more than recompensed by the joys
of New Jerusalem.
his followers went apart from the common life of their countrymen, and
renounced all idea of rendering service or occupying any post of honor
under Saul. Jesus Christ and His disciples broke with the course of the
Jewish and Galilean world in which they lived, and took up a position quite
aloof from the priests, elders, and scribes. What is the duty of modern
Christians towards the society around them? Are they to come out and be
separate? Some persons have almost a craze for separation, and support it
on this story of Adullam. They hold it to be the duty of Christians to stand
aloof from all the existing order of things, and all the plans and occupations
of society; to accept no office in the State, and be subject to the powers
that be only in the sense in which David continued subject to Saul; and to
come out from all organized historical Churches, on the ground that they
contain worldly elements and principles, and are therefore impure and
ready to perish. All this seems to us extravagant in theory and uncharitable
in spirit. Separation from evil does not mean alienation from every place
and every institution in which a fault can be found. For good men to hold
aloof from public affairs is simply to play into the hands of evil doers; and
to separate from every Church that has a faulty element in it is to
disintegrate Christian society, and miserably embitter it in the process. But
we must hold the balance true. It may be one’s duty to separate himself
from institutions of both Church and State under which he was born. As to
civil institutions, this is plain enough. As to ecclesiastical relations, there
are critical times when, as it was right for Israelites to separate from Saul
and go over to David, so it has been and is right for Christians to withdraw
from positions which they could not correct or amend, and go over to
some simpler and purer expression of their faith and hope. On this ground
we justify without hesitation the erection of reformed Churches in the
sixteenth century apart from the unreformed. The Papal system had a long
trial, and was found wanting. Such men as Wickliffe, Savonarola, and Huss
tried to correct its errors and rouse a new spirit within its pale, just as
David played on his harp to cure the mania of King Saul. It was labor
lost. That which was evil grew worse. The tyranny which hung over
Western Christendom became intolerable. Then they did wisely and well
who threw off the yoke and began afresh, with:
Ø the word of God for their directory, and
Ø the Son of God, who became Son of David, for their Captain.
On the same ground we justify those who now a days break away
from the same Papal infallible, and therefore incurable, system to join or to
organize a reformed Church. And we add that those who do so in a Roman
Catholic country, like
evangelical congregation in a hall, mocked and despised, show a courage
not at all inferior to that of the four hundred who defied the power of Saul,
and flocked around David in the
their swords against Saul. David did not desire them to do so. He saw
something still to honor in that king, and knew that the throne would be
vacated without any assistance from him. So, in that system of infatuation
and spiritual tyranny which
common Christianity which we must reverence, and against which we may
not fight. While we expose its errors, let us always acknowledge whatever of
the truth of God it contains, and be patient. Ultimately that system must perish.
As the Philistines, and not the followers of David, made an end of Saul, so
the democratic infidelity, not the reformed Church, is likely to make an end
of the Papacy, and all the religious delusion and oppression of the Latin
Church. Happy they who are in a fellowship which gives them direct access
to the Lord Jesus, and has in Him the living center and the joy of all. O
Saviour, draw us to thyself, and be thou a Captain over us!
3 “And David went thence to Mizpeh
be with you, till I know what God will do for me. 4 And he brought them
before the king
was in the hold.” David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab. The position of
this place is unknown, but as the word means a watch tower, it was no
doubt some beacon hill in the highlands of
Sea, and probably in the mountains of Abarim or Pisgah. Here David
placed his father and mother under the care of the king of
but were too old to bear the fatigues of David’s life. He therefore asks for
a refuge for them with the king of
Jesse’s grandmother, Ruth, was a Moabitess. But as Saul had waged war
who would keep Saul employed at home. The language of David is
remarkable, and is literally, “Let, I pray, my father and my mother come
forth with you” (pl.); but no better interpretation has been suggested than
that in the Authorized Version: “Let them come forth, i.e. from the hold in
Mizpeh, to be or dwell with you.” While David was in the hold. Not merely that
During all this period David was wandering from one natural fortress to
another. Till I know what God will do for (or to) me. These words show
that David had recovered his composure, and was willing calmly to leave
everything to the wise disposal of God.
Filial Kindness (vs. 3-4)
To honor parents is the earliest obligation of life, the foundation of human
duties and a stepping stone to Divine. It applies to children not only when
they dwell at home and depend on their parents, but also when they leave
home and become independent of them. The manner in which it should be
shown in the latter case differs in some respects from that in the former;
but such kindness as David exhibited towards his aged father and mother
ought never to be neglected. It was:
Ø Bodily weakness and failing health often render parents dependent for
physical comforts and even necessaries (Genesis 47:12).
Ø Increasing loneliness makes them desirous of the cheering presence and
company of their children; and much pain is naturally given by lack of
respect, affection, confidence, and gentle ministrations.
Ø Special emergencies, like those here alluded to, sometimes demand
unusual efforts for their safety and happiness. Their condition appeals to
the tenderest and best feelings of the heart, though, alas, it sometimes
appeals in vain.
Ø Arising out of natural relationship, the duties of which on the part of
children, however imperfectly they may have been fulfilled on the part of
parents, cannot be cancelled.
Ø Required by the claims of gratitude for innumerable benefits received.
Ø Enjoined by the Divine word in many precepts to which great promises
are annexed. “The fifth commandment is the center of all the others; for
upwards it is the point of departure for Divine, and downwards for human
duties” (Ephesians 6:1). “Despise not thy mother when she is old”
(Proverbs 23:22). “God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and
thy mother” (Matthew 15:4-9). “Let them learn first to show (filial)
reverence to their own household, and to requite their parents,”
(I Timothy 5:4).
Ø Commended by the example of the good. “Because ye have obeyed the
commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and
done according unto all that he hath commanded you: Therefore thus
saith the Lord of hosts, the God of
shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.” (Jeremiah 35:18-19).
Jesus Christ Himself (John 19:26).
Ø Thoughtful, affectionate, and tender.
Ø Self-denying and self-sacrificing, with much effort and risk, and as was
best suited to the circumstances of the case.
Ø Religious: “Till I know what God will do to me;” where there is a
recognition of His will as supreme, faith in His wise and gracious disposal
(Psalm 27:10), and hope of His enabling him to see again his parents,
from whom he parted with regret, and provide for their permanent welfare.
if you would not have your children be unkind to you.
teach them to honor God, if you would have them to honor you.
have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against
me” (Isaiah 1:2).
Awaiting the Future (v. 4)
“Till I know what God will do to me.” There are times when our thoughts
naturally turn toward the future: the commencement of a fresh enterprise
or a new season, suspense in sickness, the approach of critical events,
especially when they lie beyond our control or even our probable
conjecture. At such times this is the appropriate language of a good man.
He awaits it in:
opportunities, advantages, trials, duties. “We know not with what we must
serve the Lord until we come thither” (Exodus 10:26). “Ye have not
passed this way heretofore” (Joshua 3:4), and cannot tell what may
befall you therein. “Shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it.”
(Job 3:5) But the good man is not distracted by curiosity or anxiety,
Ø Neither is of any avail.
Ø The Father has reserved the times and the seasons “in His own power”
Ø And He has done so wisely and for our good. “The veil that hides the
future is woven by the hand of mercy.”
(Psalm 31:15). “I will cry unto God that performeth all things for me”
(ibid. ch. 57:2). Such confidence respects:
Ø His perfect knowledge, almighty power, and supreme control of all
things, including the thoughts and purposes of men (ch. 19:23).
Ø His individual observation.
Ø His beneficent operation. “Being well assured of the justice of his cause
as contrasted with the insane persecutions of Saul, David confidently
hoped that God would bring his flight to an end” (Keil).
“O Lord, how happy should we be,
If we could cast our care on thee,
If we from self could rest,
And feel at heart that One above,
In perfect wisdom, perfect love,
Is working for the best”
Ø By watchful attention to every indication of the will of God, looking out
for it as a watchman for the dawn of the morning. “I will stand upon my
watch,” etc. (Habakkuk 2:1).
Ø By cherishing a spirit of humble submissiveness to what He may think fit
to do and fixed determination to do what He may require.
Ø By faithful fulfillment of the plain and immediate duty of the present
time. “Let my father and mother come forth” (from the hold in Mizpeh)
“and be with you, till I know what God will do for me.” Doing our duty
is the best preparation for the events and duties of the future.
5 “And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart,
and get thee into
suggests Stahelin’s question, How came he among such people? But, in the
first place, David’s followers were not all of the sort described in v. 2;
and, next, this must be regarded as a declaration of the prophetic order in
his favor. As we have a summary of David’s proceedings in v. 4,
extending over some time, during which the massacre of the priests at Nob
took place, we may well suppose that Saul had alienated from him the
minds of all religious people, and that Gad, probably by Samuel’s
command, came to be David’s counselor. The advice he gives is most
important — Abide not in the hold. I.e. do not
remain in the
Had David done so he probably would never have become king. By
Saul could no longer do, David grew in reputation and power, and from
the list of those who joined him at Ziklag (I Chronicles 12:1-22) it is
evident not only that such was the case, but that there was a strong
enthusiasm for him throughout not merely
happier times which followed Gad became David’s seer (II Samuel
24:11), was God’s messenger to punish David for numbering the people
(ibid. v. 13), and finally wrote a history of his life (I Chronicles
29:29). As he thus survived David, he must have been a young man when
he joined him, and possibly had been a companion of David in the
prophetic schools at Naioth in
Hereth. “This lay on the edge of the mountain chain (of
Kharas now stands, surrounded by the thickets which properly represent
the Hebrew yar, a word wrongly supposed to mean a woodland of timber
trees” (Conder, ‘Tent Work,’ 2:88). Yar is translated forest here. Hereth
was about three miles from Adullam (see on v. 1).
Difficult Circumstances (vs. 1-5)
The facts are:
1. David, escaping
2. Here he is joined by his kindred and a miscellaneous band of men, over
whom he exercises authority as captain.
3. Anxious for the comfort of his father and mother, he desires and obtains
of the king of
4. On being advised by
the prophet Gad, he returns to
This section covers the conduct of David up to the point when the “walking in
darkness” terminated in a merciful Divine intervention. Four leading
characters are here set before us:
The teaching of the passage may be arranged by making each of
these in succession the prominent figure.
his escape from the dangers of
when regard is had to the utterly hopeless condition to which he was
apparently reduced, and that no light was afforded him from any prophetic
source. Lonely and hunted, he sought an impregnable cave for shelter,
abstaining from any publicity to attract men into revolt against Saul. Being,
apart from his choice, surrounded by men who for various private reasons
were in sympathy with him, he simply organized them for defense in case
of need. Knowing the peril of parents advancing in years, he sought out a
place of safety where they would be free from possibility of annoyance. To
secure this, and also to betake himself as far as possible from collision with
Saul, he availed himself of the advantage of a kinship through Ruth, and
yet, after having made the best disposition of affairs his judgment could
suggest, he at once yielded to the superior wisdom of the prophet of God.
In all this we get traces of the qualities which subsequently made David a
wise king. Herein are lines of conduct worthy of our imitation amidst the
perplexities which sometimes fall to our lot in private, domestic, and public
life. Amidst the fears and gloom of our position let us cherish that faith in
God’s purpose concerning us which, in spite of fears and sorrows,
underlies all David’s procedure (Psalms 7 and 24), and then exercise our best
judgment on the avoidance of evil, the discharge of daily duty, and the
measures most conducive to the end in view. To avoid all occasions of
annoyance, to avail ourselves of
such aid as
lay hold of and control any unsatisfactory surroundings so as to divest
them of possible mischief and convert them into useful agents, to see to it
that others shall not if possible come to grief by being associated with our
movements, to go on steadily awaiting God’s time for action, and to
welcome any clear intimations of His will, however contrary to our own
arrangements — this will prove our wisdom.
were of miscellaneous characters, and were swayed by diverse motives; not
such perhaps as David would have chosen. The manifestly unjust treatment
of the young deliverer of
temper of the king, accompanied with misgovernment in matters of detail,
could not but make brave and chivalrous men “discontented;” and it was
no wonder if at such a time many were brought to poverty. It is certain,
however, that many of them did not enter into the lofty spiritual aims of
David, and, in so far as their principles were not identical with his, they
were a questionable support. Yet the fact is instructive.. Persons of high
character and lofty aims exercise an attractive influence over many who
cannot enter fully into their conceptions. The assertors of great principles
do sometimes find adherents very inferior to themselves. The adherents of
a just cause are not always to be credited with an intelligent appreciation of
its nature. It is therefore wrong to judge leaders of important movements
by the crude notions and imperfect character of their followers. In the case
of our Saviour it was the force of His personal character that drew disciples
of diverse tastes and degrees of intelligence around him. But just as David
disciplined and educated his followers till they became valiant, loyal men in
the kingdom I Chronicles 11), so Christ in due time endowed His
disciples with power to enter into the spirit of His mission. Neither in the
Church nor in social and political affairs can we dispense with men who,
though drawn to leaders, are not yet in perfect harmony of intelligence and
manifested concern for the welfare of his parents. Indeed all his private and
public movements for a time seem to have been subordinated to securing
their freedom from danger and distress. If ever a man could plead inability
he could just then. This tenderness of character is very prominent in his
entire life. Filial piety is strongly enjoined in the Bible. The “commandment
with promise” relates to duty to parents. Our Saviour’s example is
conspicuous (Luke 2:50-52; John 19:26-27). It is impossible to lay
claim to religion without this love, care, tender interest, self-denial, and
reverence for parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). There are manifold ways in
which it may be displayed: by sympathy in sorrow and sickness, by
reverence and affection in health, by deference to their wishes whenever
consistent with holiness and right, by forecasting their needs and providing
for them, by insuring support and comfort in old age, and by the cherished
love which ever causes them to thank God for the gift of children.
had groped his way from place to place, exercising his judgment, and
doubtless lifting up his heart for more light. He stumbled at Nob; he fell
into a net at
God, he is remembered on high, and the prophet Gad brings to him the first
Divine and official communication he, as far as we can learn, ever received.
This circumstance was full of meaning. The prophetic order was
recognizing him. The dayspring had come. Henceforth he was to be
instructed more openly in the way in which he should go (vs. 20-23;
ch. 23:2). There is, also, a limit to our seasons of darkness. We have not a
prophet Gad; but when patience has had her “perfect work” (James 1:4),
and discipline has brought us nearer to God, a “more sure word of prophecy,”
which “shineth as a light in a dark place” (II Peter 1:19), will make clear to
us the perfect will of God. Like as Christ found an end to the “hour of
darkness,” so all who share in His sorrows will find darkness made light
before them. The resurrection morn was an end to the gloom and
uncertainty of the apostles. Many an anxious soul, troubled with dark
doubts and on the borders of despair, has found at last a light which has
turned doubt into confidence and made the path of submission to Christ the
path of joy. “I will not leave you comfortless, but will come unto you.”
The experience of the Church in all ages justifies faith in the guidance of
God when we have work to do for Him.
A Summons to Duty (v. 5)
The prophet Gad was probably sent at the instance of Samuel to David,
who was now “in the hold” in
acquainted at Ramah. His message was important in relation to the future
course of David (v. 3). “According to the counsels of God he was not to
seek for refuge outside the land; not only that he might not be estranged
from his fatherland and the people of
opposed to his calling to be king of
trust entirely in the Lord as his ONLY REFUGE AND FORTRESS.” (Keil).
There was also a special reason why he should be recalled in the incursions of
the Philistines, which Saul failed to repel (ch. 23:1). And the message furnished a
test of his obedience to the will of God as declared by the prophets. “Immediately
he conferred not with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:16) but did as he was directed,
and thereby afforded an instructive example to others. Consider the message as:
us, contained in the Scriptures of truth.”
Ø It speaks with authority.
Ø It speaks plainly, “in divers manners” (Hebrews 1:1), according to
our need, and “for our good always.”
Ø It speaks in the reading of the Scriptures, in the voice of preachers and
teachers, parents and friends, in the recollections of the memory, and often
comes to the heart and conscience with peculiar force. “Believe his
prophets, so shall ye prosper” (II Chronicles 20:20).
Ø It is such as we should not naturally have supposed.
Ø It differs from the course which we have chosen for ourselves. “Abide
not in the hold.”
Ø It requires us to meet unusual difficulties and dangers. “Depart, and get
“Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither
again?” (John 11:8-10; Luke 9:51).
“Do thy duty; that is best;
Leave unto thy Lord the rest.”
Ø Without question, like a good soldier at the word of command.
Ø Without hesitation or delay.
Ø Without fear. How different was it with Saul! (ch. 13:11; 15:11).
“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose
his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25).
Ø Safety; for he was “kept by the power of God.”
Ø Usefulness; for he “saved the inhabitants of Keilah” (ch.23:5).
Ø Honor; for he was more fully recognized as the
true defender of
against their enemies, and his heroic band was largely increased (ibid. v. 13).
“Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost, wear
The Godhead’s most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens through thee are fresh and strong.
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give,
And in the light of truth thy bondman let me live.”
(Wordsworth, ‘Ode to Duty.’)
MASSACRE OF THE PRIESTS AT NOB (vs. 6-19)
6 “When Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men that
were with him, (now Saul abode in Gibeah under a tree in Ramah,
having his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing
about him;”) When Saul heard that David was discovered. Hebrew, “was
known.” The meaning is easy enough, though rendered obscure by the
involved translation of the Authorized Version, and is as follows: When Saul
heard that there was information concerning David and his men, he held a solemn
council, in which we see how simple was the dignity of his court, but how
great the ferocity to which he was now a prey. There is no parenthesis, but
the account of Saul taking his seat, surrounded by his officers, follows
directly upon the narration of the fact that news of David had reached him,
and should be translated thus: “And Saul takes his seat in Gibeah under the
tamarisk tree on the height, holding his javelin (as a scepter) in his hand,
and all his officers stand in order by him.” For Saul’s fondness for trees see
ch. 14:2; but at a time when there were no large buildings a branching tree
formed a fit place for a numerous meeting. A tree. Really a tamarisk tree,
which “sometimes reaches such a size as to afford dense shade .... It is a
very graceful tree, with long feathery branches and tufts, closely clad with
the minutest of leaves, and surmounted in spring with spikes of beautiful
pink blossom” (Tristram, ‘Nat. Hist. of Bible,’ p. 357). It grows
abundantly on the seashore of
develope into a tree. In
instance at Pampeluna. In Ramah. Conder (Handbook) thinks that Gibeah
was the name of a district, which included Ramah; others take the word in
its original signification, and render “on the height.” Standing. The word
means that they took each their proper posts around him (See ch. 10:23; 12:7, 16;
17:16). Saul was holding a formal court, to decide what steps should be taken
now that David had openly revolted from him.
7 “Then Saul said unto his servants that stood about him, Hear now, ye
Benjamites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards,
and make you all captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds;
8 That all of you have conspired against me, and there is none that
sheweth me that my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse,
and there is none of you that is sorry for me, or sheweth unto me
that my son hath stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as
at this day?” Ye Benjamites. Saul had evidently failed in blending the
twelve tribes into one nation. He had begun well, and his great feat of
delivering Jabesh Gilead by summoning
the militia of all
must have given them something of a corporate feeling, and taught them
their power when united. Yet now we find him isolated, and this address to
his officers seems to show that he had aggrandized his own tribe at the
expense of the rest. Moreover, he appeals to the worst passions of these
men, and asks whether they can expect David to continue this favoritism,
which had given them riches and all posts of power. And then he turns
upon them, and fiercely accuses them of banding together in a conspiracy
against him, to conceal from him the private understanding which existed
between his own son and his enemy. Hath made a league. Hebrew, “hath
cut.” This use of the formal phrase forsaking a covenant seems to show
that Saul was at length aware of the solemn bond of friendship entered into
by Jonathan with David. To lie in wait. To Saul’s mind, diseased with that
suspicion which is the scourge of tyrants, David is secretly plotting his
murder. As at this day. I.e. as today is manifest (see v. 13).
9 “Then answered Doeg the Edomite, which was set over the servants of Saul,
and said, I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub.
10 And he enquired of the LORD for him, and gave him victuals, and
gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” Doeg the Edomite, which was
set over the servants of Saul. This translation is entirely wrong, nor would Saul’s
Benjamites have endured to have an Edomite set over them. The verb is that used
in v. 6, and refers simply to Doeg’s place in the circle of attendants standing round
Saul. The words mean, “Doeg the Edomite, who stood there with the
servants of Saul.” As chief herdsman he was present as a person of some
importance, but far below “the captains of thousands and the captains of
hundreds.” I saw the son of Jesse, etc. As Saul was in a dangerous state of
excitement, bordering on insanity, Doeg’s statement was probably made
with the evil intent of turning the king’s suspicions from the courtiers to
the priests. His assertion that the high priest enquired of Jehovah for
David was possibly true (see on v. 15).
11 “Then the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub,
and all his father’s house, the priests that were in Nob: and they
came all of them to the king. 12 And Saul said, Hear now, thou son of
Ahitub. And he answered, Here I am, my Lord. 13 And Saul said unto him,
Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, in that thou
hast given him bread, and a sword, and hast enquired of God for him, that
he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?” All his father’s house.
Doeg’s suggestion that the priests were David’s allies at once arouses all Saul’s
worst passions. As if he had determined from the first upon the massacre of the
whole body, he sends not merely for Ahimelech, but forevery priest at Nob.
Shortly afterwards they arrived, for Nob was close to Gibeah, and Saul himself
arraigns them before the court for treason, and recapitulates the three points
mentioned by Doeg as conclusive proofs of their guilt.
14 “Then Ahimelech answered the king, and said, And who is so
faithful among all thy servants as David, which is the king’s son in
law, and goeth at thy bidding, and is honorable in thine house?
15 Did I then begin to enquire of God for him? be it far from me: let
not the king impute any thing unto his servant, nor to all the house
of my father: for thy servant knew nothing of all this, less or more.
16 And the king said, Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou, and all
thy father’s house.” Ahimelech’s answers are those of an innocent man who
had supposed that what he did was a matter of course. But his enumeration
of David’s privileges of rank and station probably only embittered the king.
In his eyes David was of all Saul s officers the most faithful, both trusty
and trusted (see on ch. 2:35). He was, moreover, the king’s son-in-
law; but the next words, he goeth at thy bidding, more probably mean,
“has admission to thy audience,” i.e. is thy privy councilor, with the right
of entering unbidden the royal presence (compare II Samuel 23:23,
margin; I Chronicles 11:25). Did I then begin to enquire of God for
him? Though the meaning of these words is disputed, yet there seems no
sufficient reason for taking them in any other than their natural sense. It
was probably usual to consult God by the Urim and Thummim on all
matters of importance, and David, as a high officer of Saul’s court, must
often have done so before starting on such expeditions as are referred to in
ch. 18:13. But the Bible is singularly reticent in such matters, and
it is only incidentally that we learn how fully the Mosaic law entered into
the daily life of the people. But for this frightful crime we should not even
have known that Saul had brought the ark into his own neighborhood,
and restored the services of the sanctuary. But just as he took care to have
Ahiah in attendance upon him in war, so we cannot doubt but that his main
object in placing the priests at Nob was to have the benefit of the Divine
counsel in his wars. It would be quite unreasonable to suppose that such
consultations required the king’s personal attendance. Thy servant knew
nothing of all this, less or more. Whatever Ahimelech had done had been in
perfect good faith, and though David’s conduct must have seemed to him
suspicious, yet there was nothing that would have justified him in acting
differently. Nevertheless, in spite of his transparent innocence, Saul orders
the slaughter not only of God’s high priest, but of the whole body of the
priesthood whom he had placed at Nob, and now had summoned for this
ferocious purpose into his presence.
Resistance to God’s Purposes (vs. 6-16)
The facts are:
1. Saul, hearing at Gibeah of David’s movements, makes an appeal to his
2. He insinuates the existence of secret designs against himself, connivance
at David’s supposed purpose, and lack of pity for his condition.
3. Thereupon Doeg the Edomite relates what he saw at Nob, and makes
the statement that the high priest inquired of the Lord for David.
4. Saul sends for Ahimelech and charges him with conspiracy.
5. Notwithstanding the high priest’s denial of the charge, and his
conviction of David’s innocence, Saul condemns him and his house to
The conduct of Saul is increasingly devoid of reason, and this gradual failure
of intelligence has its root in moral decay. (This explains legalization of
abortion, gay marriage, and other asinine issues in the
the world today! – CY – 2016) The key to his infatuation is to be found in the
obstinate impenitence of his heart in relation to the sins of his probationary
career, and the consequent fight of his entire nature against the settled purposes
of God (ch. 12:24-25; 13:11-14; 15:26-29). The events recorded in the section
before us reveal a more fatal advance in this course of MENTAL and MORAL
DANGERS. Had Saul with penitent spirit bowed to the will of God, as
expressed in ch. 15:26-29, and at once retired into private life,
the rest of his days might have been at least devout and quiet. But,
persisting in rebellion, he soon saw in the innocent son of Jesse a personal
enemy. And the resistance to God’s purposes which induced personal envy
and ill will prompted also to open deeds of violence, and these deeds,
designed by the perverted judgment to negative the Divine decree (Ibid.),
had the triple effect of:
Ø cementing the bond between David and Jonathan,
Ø developing the sympathy of the prophets and of all
just men with the persecuted one, and
Ø of making David the leader of a band of 400 men.
Thus the very devices of a guilty, hardened heart to prevent the fulfillment of
the purposes of God were conducive to a reverse issue. Saul’s dangers multiplied
just as he sought their removal. The only safe course for guilty men, guilty
churches and nations, is to bow at once before God, and place themselves
unreservedly at His mercy. The laws of providence are in incessant movement
toward the realization of God’s purpose against sin. Every effort to set them
aside, or to avoid their inevitable issue, only tends to multiply the agencies by
which they at last shall be vindicated. The man who, having committed secret
sin, seeks, in the exercise of an impenitent spirit, to cover it up, or brave it out,
creates by every thought of his mind a new cord by which he is bound fast to
his fate. (“...them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were
with a cart rope.” - Isaiah 5:18) Nations that seek to ward off the judgments
due to past sins by guilty acts for strengthening their position in the world,
rather than by sincere repentance and newness of life, are only heaping up
wrath for the day of wrath. (Romans 2:5) Penitence, submission,
righteousness, these are the “way everlasting.” Practical godliness is the
soundest philosophy for individuals and communities. (I say “reasonable”
– CY – 2016)
FEARS OUT OF SLIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES. (Compare the warning
against disobedience in Leviticus 26:17, 36, “the sound of a shaken leaf shall
chase them” – CY – 2016) Three circumstances were the occasion of much
fear to Saul:
Ø the existence of David,
Ø his friendship with Jonathan, and
Ø his holding a cave with 400 men.
External events are to us what the medium through which we view them
makes them appear to be, and this medium is often the creation of our moral
nature. With all his daring resistance to the purposes of God, Saul could
not lose the consciousness that he was a guilty man, that the judgment
pronounced was just, and that, in spite of all wishes, hopes, and efforts to
the contrary, THE DREADED DOOM WILL COME! In such a state of mind
he saw messengers of justice and supplanters of his position where others saw
only blessings to
cruel persecution became to him a formidable attack on his throne. The
secrets of a holy friendship were the plottings of unfaithful men, and the
want of sympathy on the part of upright men with his malicious designs
against an honorable man and public benefactor, he construed into
conspiracy against himself. This tendency of the mind to clothe all things
with its own moral coloring is universal. As the holy and the wise see
occasions for joy and confidence in everything except the sins of men and
their natural effects, so the guilty and foolish see occasions for trouble and
fear in what to others is the expression of goodness and of righteousness. It
is a slight circumstance for a policeman to walk the street, but there are
men who quail at the sight. (One of the most unreasonable problems facing
policemen, who are upholding the law! - CY – 2016) The bare mention of
a name or incidental reference to a transaction will cause agitation in the
minds of evil doers. The appearance among men of the holy Saviour caused
trembling in the heart of the guilty Herod (Matthew 2:3; 14:1-3). A man like
Saul carries within him all the elements of A HELL! Small things become
instruments of self-inflicted torture. In such a moral mood a man becomes
an Ishmaelite indeed by reason of the quickness of his fears and the
strength of his suspicions. If, beyond this life, this state of mind is
intensified in the wicked by the complete dominion of sin and absence of
present mitigations, it is not difficult to conceive the imperfection of
language to indicate the future of the lost.
SELF-CREATED DIFFICULTIES. The circumstances which caused fear
to Saul were the product of his transgression; for had he not disobeyed
there would have been no need for a David to be brought out from the
sheepfold as a conqueror of Goliath and chosen supplanter of his line, and
hence no suspicious friendship and no cave of Adullam; but now that the
fears bred of these circumstances were heavily upon him, the old resistance
to God manifests itself in fresh contrivances to extricate himself from
trouble. He addresses the leading men of Benjamin, seeking for loyal
support. He works on the feeling of clanship. He appeals to their lust for
promotion and wealth. He claims their pity in his sorrows, and suggests
that they, as loyal men, should avoid the suspicion of conniving at a
conspiracy between his son and the son of Jesse. There is here a strange
blending of hardihood and cowardice, defiance of God’s will and sense of
weakness, distrust of his friends and hope of assistance from them — a fair
index of the mental confusion out of which spring all devices for warding
off the certain doom which the guilty conscience sees to be approaching.
Generally very much energy and skill are spent by men in seeking to avert
the necessary consequences of their past lives. No mental operation is
more universal than that which associates evil consequences, remote or
near, with wrong doing. But a guilty man’s repugnance to suffering,
combined with a determined spirit of rebellion against the moral order,
induces an incessant strain of energy and skill to evade the inevitable. It is
possible for men to look on Saul’s appeals to Benjamites, and his
stratagems for nullifying the words of Samuel (ch.15:28-29), as
vain and foolish as would be an attempt to prevent the action of the law of
gravity, while in their own sphere they may be pursuing a similar course.
All who live in hopes of a future blessedness while not laying a foundation
for it in purity of nature and personal fellowship with Christ are practically
like Saul; for no law is more unchangeable than that the pure in heart alone
can see God. History relates how men of abandoned lives have, in later
years, under a dread of future consequences, become precise in formal acts
of worship, and bountiful in use of wealth, without the slightest perception
of the need of a radical love of holiness, hoping by such external means to
break open the door that bars
the entrance into the
whatever defileth. A salvation from uneasiness and pain men are eager for,
not a salvation which consists in holiness of nature and joy in God.
GOD. It is probable that the more sober of the Benjamites had begun to
distrust their king, and although they may not have known all his dread
secret (ch.15:28-29), they could not but see that he had lost the
moral support of Samuel, and was bent on a reckless course in hunting the
life of David. But one man was ready to strengthen his hate and urge him
on in the fatal conflict. Doeg the Edomite, a man of low spiritual tastes, an
king. There are several suggestive items in this brief account of the dark
deed of Doeg.
Ø He was not a true Israelite. By education, habit, and taste he could not
have sympathy with the lofty, Messianic aims of o David or a Samuel. He
is the type of a formal professor, who bears the name, but has none of the
spirit, of the true religion.
Ø He had material interests at stake in the continued reign of Saul (ch. 21:7;
22:9). The psalm supposed to refer to him represents him as
bent on the acquisition of wealth (Psalm 52). He is the ideal of a man
whose main thought is business, and who therefore forms a judgment of
religious, social, and political claims according to their presumed bearing
on worldly advancement.
Ø He was cruelly cool in his plans and conduct. The simulated tone of
ingenuousness in his reference to what he had seen at Nob, his abstention
from personal invective, and the matter of fact way in which he welded his
lie about the priest inquiring of the Lord for David with the other part of
the story, reveal a cruelly cool scheme for destroying one whose pure life
and lofty aspirations must have mirrored too painfully his own vileness.
The readiness with which he could subsequently shed the blood of God’s
priests fully bears out all the severe language of Psalm 52. He reminds us
of the many vile men who, under cloak of attachment to a religion too pure
for them, pursue this cruel course, seeking to heap up treasure by any
means, and ready by word or deed to blight fair reputations and pander to
the passions of the powerful. It only requires a little knowledge of the facts
of David’s life to enable every just and pure mind to sympathize with his
strong denunciation of such men (Psalm 35:4-9; 52:2-5; 57:4; 58:4-11).
There are affinities of evil. Sauls yearn for Doegs, and Doegs are ever
ready to blend interest with the Sauls. Satan is not the only one lying in
wait to destroy the poor and needy. Hand joins hand in wickedness, and
base heart encourages base heart in the mad endeavor to destroy a greater
SACRED THINGS. Bad men are often checked in their antagonism to
God’s purposes by the wholesome influence on their remaining religious
instincts of spiritual institutions and characters. The priesthood was revered
by Saul at one time. The spiritual power had been prominent in his
installation to the kingdom. All the influence of early Hebrew training
conspired to make him look up with reverence to the high priest as in some
sense the representative of all that is holy and Divine. Common prudence,
religious prepossessions, every sentiment of tenderness and awe ought to
have discounted the assertion of Doeg in the presence of the high priest’s
emphatic demal of having inquired of the Lord for David. It was therefore
an evidence of the utter suppression of all that hitherto had acted as a
beneficial restraint when in the desperate violence of his strife with God,
Saul dared to sentence the innocent high priest to death. He now sank to a
deeper deep. The spiritual powers became the object of his deadly hate.
The warfare must now be urged against the most sacred things of God.
Facilis descensus Averni. Spiritual deterioration is nearly complete when
men set themselves in antagonism to the institutions of religion. It argues
a terrible power of evil when a soul can accept the suggestions of bad
characters and cast aside all the reverence fostered by years of education
and discipline. Yet there is a reason in the madness; for, no doubt, as the
conspicuously active, force against Saul’s permanence in the kingdom, so it
is the spiritual, as embodied in a pure Christianity, which bars the way most
surely to the permanent prosperity of the man who persistently lives in
impenitence, and, therefore, from his mistaken point of view, it is essential
if possible to doom it to destruction. It is the old tragedy again when men,
for love of their own sinful will, trample underfoot the Son of God, and
count the “blood of the covenant an unholy thing” (Hebrews 10:29).
The bold defiance of religion is too often simply an effort to cast away the
cords of a holy restraint (Psalm 2:3).
Ø Remembering how much all our judgments are colored by our
imperfect moral state, we should pray much that God would open our eyes
to see things in His light and lead us in the “way everlasting.”
Ø History and personal experience should teach us that the shortest and
indeed only way to extricate ourselves from difficulties induced by our
sins is to shun every evil way and submit ourselves entirely to God.
Ø One of the best safeguards against the dangerous allurements of wealth
and the love of worldly power is a lofty spiritual aspiration — sympathy
with the Lord’s Anointed.
Ø It is in vain to spend arguments on men who in self-abandonment to
their sinful will seek to destroy the institutions of religion; for it is not a
question of reason, but of perverted, degraded nature.
17 “And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him, Turn,
and slay the priests of the LORD: because their hand also is with
David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to
me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to
fall upon the priests of the LORD. 18 And the king said to Doeg,
Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and
he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons
that did wear a linen ephod. 19 And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he
with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings,
and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.” Footmen. Hebrew,
“runners.” They were the men who ran by the side of the king’s horse or chariot
as his escort (see on ch. 8:11). In constant training, they were capable of maintaining
a great speed for a very long time. Here they were present at the king’s
council as his bodyguard, but when commanded to commit this horrid deed
not one of them stirred from his place. Saul might have seen by this that he
was alienating the hearts of all right minded men from him; but, unabashed,
he next orders Doeg to slay the priests, and he, aided probably by his
servants, slew in that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a
linen ephod. The fact that they were thus clad in their official dress added
not to the wickedness, but to the impiety of this revolting act. And, not
satisfied with thus wreaking his rage on innocent men, he next destroyed
the city of the priests, barbarously massacring their whole families, both
men and women, children and sucklings, and even their oxen, asses, and
sheep, as if Nob was a city placed under the ban. It is a deed in strange
contrast with the pretended mercy that spared Agag and the best of the
Amaleklte spoil on the pretext of religion. Only once before had so terrible
a calamity befallen the descendants of Aaron, and that was when the
people bringing the ark to the battle, and even then women and children
escaped. It was left to the anointed king, who had himself settled the
priests at Nob and restored Jehovah’s worship there, to perpetrate an act
unparalleled in Jewish history for its barbarity. Nor was it an act of
barbarity only, but also of insane and wanton stupidity. The heart of every
thoughtful person must now have turned away in horror from the king
whom they had desired; and no wonder that when, two or three years
afterwards, war came Saul found himself a king without an army, and fell
into that deep, despondent melancholy which drove him, in need of some
human sympathy, to seek it from a reputed witch.
The Tyranny of Saul (vs. 6-19)
With his spear-scepter in his hand, Saul, now considerably past the
meridian of life, sat in the midst of his council of officers and magnates,
under the tamarisk tree on the height, in Gibeah. The description of what
took place in this assembly — “a kind of parliament in the open air” —
casts a lurid light upon his character and rule. In it we see:
1. The fulfillment of the prediction of Samuel concerning the course which
would be pursued by a king such as the people desired (ch. 8:11-18).
2. The moral deterioration of Saul since the day when they shouted “God
save the king” in Mizpeh (ch. 10:24), and “made him king before
the Lord in Gilgal” (ch. 11:15); and even since his rejection (ch. 15:26).
3. The working out of the law of retribution in their chastisement through
the king chosen by themselves and reflecting their own sin. The early
brilliance of his reign had been long overcast, and the thunderstorm was
approaching. Saul had ceased to be a servant of Jehovah. His government
was the reverse of what it ought to have been. Although it had respect to
the outward forms of religion, and displayed much zeal against irreligious
practices, yet it did not really recognize the invisible King of Israel, obey
His will, or observe “the manner of the kingdom” which had been ordained
of old (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and formally recorded as a permanent
law and testimony (ch. 10:25). It was essentially anti-theocratic.
The true theocracy was represented by Samuel and the prophets at Ramah,
and David and his band at Adullam; and through them (in the wonderful
working of Divine providence) the nation would be raised to power and
glory, and the purposes of God concerning it accomplished. His character
and rule were marked by:
himself, instead of toward God and His people, Saul had come to think of
nothing else but his own safety, power, and honor. Selfishness appears in:
Ø Pride and vainglory. Of this he had previously exhibited unmistakable
signs (ch. 15:12). Yet it was expressly required that his heart should not
be “lifted up above his brethren” (Deuteronomy 17:20).
Ø The use of power for personal ends. In contrast to charity, it seeketh its
own. (I Corinthians 13:5) The king exists for the good of the people, not
the people for the glory of the king. “Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh
hath said, My river is my own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezekiel 29:3).
Ø The neglect of the performance of duty to others. Unlike Samuel, when
he was judge, Saul had evidently, in his concern for himself, omitted to
maintain law and order (v. 2), and even to resist the encroachments of
the Philistines; against whom he had formerly rendered signal service.
Ø Partisanship. He placed men of his own tribe in the chief offices of
state, and this would not be conducive to the unity of the nation. “Hear
now, ye Benjamites.”
Ø Mercenariness. He sought to attach them to his interest by the lowest
motives. “He boasts that he has given fields and vineyards to all his
Benjamite servants and accomplices; and what he gave to them he must
have taken away from others” (Hengstenberg). His reign was oppressive,
as it had been predicted.
Ø Suspicion of disloyalty, and reproach for want of gratitude and
sympathy. “All of you have conspired against me,” etc. A man is apt to
suspect in others the evil which exists in his own heart.
Ø Falsehood. Having heard that a number of men had gathered around
David, he said, “My son hath stirred up my servant against me,” etc.
“There is herein a twofold false accusation: as to David, that he was lying
in wait to take his throne and his life; and as to Jonathan, that he was the
cause of this insurrectionary and insidious conduct of David.”
he might judge them (ch. 8:20). But Saul abused his judicial office by:
Ø Receiving and relying upon insufficient testimony. The law required the
evidence of at least two witnesses; but he was satisfied with the
information of one of his creatures — Doeg the Edomite.
Ø A prejudiced prejudgment of the guilt of the accused. He sent for
Ahimelech “and all his father’s house,” having already resolved,
apparently, upon their destruction.
Ø Utter disregard of the plainest proofs of innocence. The priest gave his
evidence in a dignified, simple, and straightforward manner. In what he had
done he was fully justified. And he had not done all that was attributed to
him. “The force of the word begin lies in this, that it would have been his
first act of allegiance to David and defection from Saul. This he strenuously
repudiates” (Speaker’s Commentary) He was ignorant of any treason in
others, guiltless of it himself, and had done no wrong.
Ø A rash, precipitate, revengeful, and disproportionate sentence. “Thou
shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou, and all thy father’s house” (v. 16).
a prince more barbarously given, never was the command of a prince more
honorably disobeyed” (Matthew Henry). “We ought to obey God rather than
man.” (Acts 5:29) The besetting sin of Saul received another check; and
another merciful warning was given him, which should have made him pause
and desist from his evil purpose. But, blinded by passion, and probably
thinking (being turned aside by a deceived heart) that his course was justifiable,
he heeded it not, outraged the public conscience, as expressed in the refusal of
his own bodyguard, and gave the order for immediate execution to one of
his vilest servants and accomplices. Wicked men generally find appropriate
instruments for the accomplishment of their wickedness.
as formerly led him to spare Agag, he not only destroyed eighty-five
“priests of the Lord,” but also gave to the sword “the city of priests, both
men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep;”
nor was he, as in his attack upon the prophets, restrained by the hand of God.
Ø In fulfilling their own purposes evil men often unconsciously execute the
predicted and righteous judgments of Heaven (ch. 2:31-36; 3:11-14,
especially v. 12 – “In that day I will perform against Eli all things
which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will
also make an end.”).
Ø Those judgments, though startling in their immediate occasion, are
connected with their main cause. If the house of Eli had not been reduced
to a dependent and despised condition by notorious transgression, Saul
would hardly have dared to commit this act.
Ø The evil which men do lives after them in its effects, and one generation
suffers for the preceding (Exodus 20:5).
Ø Although men in doing wrong may execute the will of God, they are
responsible for their own acts, and must sooner or later suffer the penalty
due to them. Saul’s reckless cruelty alienated the best of his subjects and
hastened his doom. This was not the only instance in which it was
displayed (see II Samuel 21:1-6).
imaginary rebellion against himself Saul was guilty of real rebellion against
the Divine King
could end only in his defeat. “Woe to him that striveth with his Maker.”
1. How vast is the mischief which self-will works in the world!
2. How base do men sometimes become under its dominion!
3. How fearfully is the possession of power frequently misused!
4. “How unsearchable are God’s judgments, and His ways past finding
out!” (Romans 11:33)
Doeg the Edomite (vs. 18-19)
Wicked men, especially when they occupy positions of authority and
possess wealth and influence, attract to themselves others of like character,
and become more wicked by association with them. Of the latter Doeg the
Edomite was one. He belonged to a people between whom and
bitterest enmity existed. But he had apparently become a proselyte, and,
being a man of some ability, was made overseer of the herdsmen of Saul
and one of his council. His real character seems to have been perceived by
David before he fled from court (v. 22); and it is very probable that he
gave secret information to the king of what took place at the tabernacle at
Nob previous to bearing open testimony in the council. He was:
Whatever may have been the reason of his detention, there can be
no doubt that he was present in the sacred place either unwillingly
and by constraint, or offering a formal and hypocritical worship. “He
concealed his heathen heart under Israelitish forms.” He was more
observant of the conduct of others in the house of God than careful to
correct his own. He cherished “a wicked mind,” and perhaps revolved
therein how he could turn what he saw to his own advantage, or employ it
for the gratification of his hatred and enmity. All who join in the outward
forms of worship do not “lift up holy hands without wrath and
doubting.” (I Timothy 8)
giving information may have been to avert the reproaches of the king from
his courtiers; but he must have known what its effect would be with
respect to the high priest, and doubtless deliberately aimed at producing it.
He also appears to have gone beyond the truth; perchance supposing that
when he saw the priest take “the sword of Goliath” from behind the ephod,
he used the latter for the purpose of “inquiring of the Lord.” “Thou lovest
evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Thou
lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue” (Psalm 52:3-4).
consciences were not hardened, refused to do he willingly and readily
accomplished, and probably found therein a gratification of the enmity of
his race against
his responsibility for his deed of blood. “Louis XIV., who had sanctioned
the Dragonades, died declaring to the cardinals Rohan and Bissy, and to his
confessor, that, being himself altogether ignorant of ecclesiastical
questions, he had acted under their guidance and as their agent in all that
he had done against the Jansenists or the Protestant heretics, and on those
his spiritual advisers he devolved the responsibility to the supreme Judge”
on the Hist. of
wickedness of men like Doeg is considered, it is not surprising that David
(living under the former dispensation) should predict and desire their due
punishment as public enemies; “not in a spirit of revenge, but rather in a
spirit of zeal for the glory of God, desire for the vindication of right, and
regard for the peace and purity of society” (‘Expositor,’ 4:56), as he does
in Psalm 52, “The punishment of an evil tongue” (see inscription): —
“Why boastest thou thyself in wickedness, O mighty man?
The mercy of God endureth continually.
Destruction doth thy tongue devise,
Like a sharp razor, working guile.
Thus then God will smite thee down forever.
He will seize thee and pluck thee out of thy tent,
And root thee out of the land of the living.”
Other psalms have been supposed by some to refer to Doeg and the
massacre of the priests, viz., 17, 3., 64, 109, 140.
ESCAPE OF ABIATHAR TO DAVID (vs. 20-23)
20 “And one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar,
escaped, and fled after David. 21 And Abiathar shewed David that Saul
had slain the LORD’s priests. 22 And David said unto Abiathar, I knew it
that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul:
I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy father’s house.
23 Abide thou with me, fear not: for he that seeketh my life seeketh
thy life: but with me thou shalt be in safeguard.” Abiathar escaped. Probably
he was left in charge of the sanctuary when Ahimelech and the rest were summoned
into the king’s presence, and on news being brought of Saul’s violence, at once
made his escape, Naturally, as representing a family who, though originally Saul’s
friends, had suffered so much for David, he was kindly received, and a
friendship commenced which lasted all David’s life; but, taking at last
Adonijah’s side, he was deprived by Solomon of the high priesthood, and
sent into honorable banishment at Anathoth (I Kings 2:26). On
hearing of the terrible tragedy from which Abiathar had escaped, David,
with characteristic tenderness of conscience, accuses himself of being the
cause of all this bloodshed. Perhaps he felt that when he saw Doeg at Nob
he ought at once to have gone away, without implicating Ahimelech in his
cause; but he could never have imagined that Saul would have treated
innocent men so barbarously, and may have supposed that their sacred
character as well as their guiltlessness would have secured them from more
than temporary displeasure. David now warmly promises Abiathar safety
and friendship, and possibly the inversion of the natural order, he that
seeketh my life seeketh thy life (where the my and thy are transposed by
the Septuagint in one of its usual improvements of the Hebrew text), is
meant to express this entire oneness and close union henceforward of the
two friends. As to the question when and where Abiathar joined David, see
on ch. 23:6.
The Tragedy at Nob (vs. 17-23)
The facts are:
1. Saul commands his guards to slay the priests of Nob, but they refuse.
2. Thereupon he commands Doeg to effect their death, who slays eighty-five
priests, and procures the destruction of the entire city.
3. Abiathar, escaping to David, makes known to him what has happened.
4. David perceives that his presence at Nob was the occasion of this sad
calamity, and admits that he feared the course Doeg would take.
5. He encourages Abiathar to remain with him, and assures him of safety.
This section sets forth Saul’s conduct in the darkest characters, and brings
out a turn in the course of events of great consequence to David, while at
the same time illustrating several important truths.
FULFILLING DIVINE PREDICTIONS OF JUDGMENT. It had been
declared as a judgment on the house of Eli that terrible things should befall
his descendants (ch. 2:31-36; 3:11-14). In the fearful destruction
at Nob this prediction was partly fulfilled. The sins of Saul brought on
retribution for the sins of Eli and his sons. In this we have an instance of
frequent occurrence in human history, both of nations and individuals. The
savage ambition of
concerning the judgment due to
Luke 21:20-24). The untruthful conduct of Jacob was most severely
chastised by the lying tongues of his sons who conspired against
his favorite Joseph; just as now the judgment due to a parent for
irreligious example in the home is often realized in the open vices of his
children, which perhaps ruin his health and fortune. In all these cases we
have to distinguish between the just purpose of God to visit sin by future
retribution, and the free action of the men who are the means of bringing it
to pass. Had pestilence, or plagues, or earthquakes been more in the line of
natural order just then, these would have conserved the Divine purpose.
But man’s sinful action, free, responsible, was the agency used, thus
illustrating the statement which sometimes perplexes superficial students
of the Bible — “the wicked, which is thy sword” (Psalm 17:13). The
metaphysical question, involved in this conjunction of a righteous
retribution with the free agency of man in the perpetration of crimes for
which alone they are responsible, may be beyond present solution, but the
fact is plain. Philosophical difficulties are inherent in common facts, and are
not peculiar to theological truth.
THAN POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CONSIDERATIONS. We need not
be surprised that Saul’s Hebrew guards declined to obey his command to
slay the “priests of the Lord.” No doubt strong reasons were present to
prove their loyalty to their king. Not only is loyalty a first principle of
action with good subjects, but the fact that he was of their own tribe, and
had been their choice out of all
made them anxious to sustain his authority against all comers. Even the
very weaknesses of a monarch will induce some men to put down with
strong hand all charged with conspiracy against him, whether or not the
charge be fully established. Yet these men had been wont to recognize a
higher authority than Saul’s. They belonged to a race whose vocation in
the world was of God. All the sanctities of religious worship and ritual, all
the rich instruction of their marvelous history, strengthened and purified
the instinct that leads man to fear God. To them the high priest and his
subordinates were representatives of a sacred order, the exponents of a
spiritual power, and it would therefore be violence to all that was sacred,
inexpressible, and most influential in their nature were they, out of loyalty
to the king or from tribal considerations, to touch the “priests of the Lord.”
The religious instincts of men are a great power. They not only prompt to
actions more or less good according to the degree of enlightenment, but
we cannot calculate the vast benefits resulting to mankind by their
restraining power. (Thus the great error of those proponents of keeping
the state separate from the influences of religion – i.e. The state cannot
keep a person from murdering another as is evidenced in current events
the commandment “Thou shalt not kill!” – CY – 2016) The fact is worthy
of much study, and the wide world furnishes ample illustrations of its
importance. On the nation, the family, and the individual it acts as a
conservator of good and a represser of much that would destroy. It is often
the only barrier against the tide of passion and ignorance. The wise know
how to appeal to it and turn it to their own uses. It is this in men, among other
things, which renders null and void all efforts to exterminate Christianity.
Men may call reverence for sacred persons and offices superstition, and in
extravagant forms the term is fitly applied, yet it is the indication of a
governing influence in human affairs superior to all the advances of
civilization. MAN MUST BE REMADE (John 3:7) if his life is
permanently to be regulated by any principles or opinions at variance
with the natural religiousness of his spirit.
WITH SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES TO OTHERS. It can scarcely be
charged on David that he was guilty of sin in visiting the tabernacle at Nob,
seeking there food and shelter, though it may have been an indiscretion.
The false representation by reason of which Ahimelech was induced to give
him bread and a sword was the real wrong. On a wider survey of facts, and
with a more just estimate of the risks of compromising the officials of the
sanctuary, he would probably have sought food in some other quarter, or
have cried out to God for special deliverance. As it was, his device of being
on Saul’s business was evidently intended to save the high priest from the
political sin of aiding one outlawed by the king. But his good motives were
entirely useless because the overt act was witnessed by an enemy, who,
David felt sure, would put on it a construction inconsistent with his own
wishes and the knowledge of the high priest. His conduct, therefore, pure
in intentions and fenced with precaution, did compromise a band of
innocent men, and was, owing to the wickedness of the parties he had to
contend with, and not to the natural justice of the case, the occasion of the
fearful slaughter of the priests and entire population of the city. The guilt
of the slaughter rested on Saul; the occasion for the exercise of the
murderous malice was unwittingly created by David. With a sorrowful
heart he admits the great woe to have had its origin incidentally in his own
action. It is a truism that every action carries with it consequences into the
future, in which we ourselves and others are concerned. One of the effects
of our action is to prompt the action of other men, or to modify the course
which otherwise they would have taken. And as the interests of many may
depend not on what we do directly, but on the conduct of others whom we
directly affect, it is obvious that it is often possible for us to perform deeds
or pursue courses which shall give occasion for other men to perpetrate
great wrongs on those we would gladly shield. In that case we are not
responsible for their crimes or follies, but we are responsible for any
indiscretions which may have given plausible ground for their procedure,
or have rendered it possible. But it is only where indiscretions are possible
that blame really rests. The wise men from the East, inquiring with all
simplicity of purpose for the newborn king, were the occasion of the
slaughter of the children of
pained, if ever they knew the fact, they were not guilty of any wrong. We
cannot always refuse to act because evil men exist. Indiscretion is
chargeable where a knowledge of facts and of the probable uses men will
make of our deeds is presumably possible. The practical bearing of the
risks attendant on our actions is to induce extreme caution, to awaken
watchfulness, lest by our well intentioned deeds we should compromise
others, or give an appearance of reason for wicked men to manifest their
wickedness. In the memory of many a man there are records of deeds
unwise and out of season, which have left a fatal mark on the world in spite
of subsequent efforts of wisdom and goodness. Like David men can say, “I
have occasioned” all this.
conflict waged by Saul was, as we have seen, really against the decree of
God, but its ostensible object was a plot on the part of David against the
throne. Whatever fears Saul may have had concerning Samuel’s sympathy
with David, there was no public ground for them in any positive action
taken by the prophet in concert with David. What he dreaded most of all
was the open espousal of David’s cause by the spiritual power; for the
priesthood had immense influence with the people. It was to crush out by
one terrible blow any supposed concert that he caused the slaughter at
Nob; and it is instructive to observe how this very attempt to deprive
David of the official support of the spiritual power really put it on his side.
The deeds of bad men are never complete enough for insuring a final
triumph; some oversight, some weakness, some so called accident gives
occasion for the ultimate frustration of their purpose. By some chance, as
men say, Abiathar escaped and went over to David. Saul fell into the pit he
had prepared for David (Psalm 52:6). There is now a Christian
spiritual power, and the truth thus exemplified is especially seen in the
great conflict of men against it. The same interests in higher form are still
in conflict with opposing forces. Every effort to subvert or crush out the
kingdom of God, though it should be a great “slaughter” either of bodies
or of characters, develops more life, leads to closer union, throws the
Church more on the power and guidance of God, and so prepares the way
for a new movement of a higher spiritual character before which the
powers of evil must yield. Give time, and the spiritual will triumph.
In the frequent historical illustrations of the impossibility of men
crushing out the spiritual power, whether in Jewish or Christian form, we
see a prophecy of the time when Christ shall have “put down all rule and all
authority and power” (I Corinthians 15:24).
Conscience (vs. 20-22)
Conscience is the consciousness a man has of himself in relation to the
standard of right which he recognizes. It is at once a judgment of his
conformity or otherwise to that standard, and a corresponding feeling of
approval or disapproval. It is the crowning faculty of the soul. “The
whole world is under a solemn economy of government and judgment. A
mighty spirit of judgment is in sovereign exercise over all; discerning,
estimating, approving or condemning. And it is the office of conscience to
recognise THIS AUTHORITY and to represent it in the soul. It communicates
with something mysteriously great without the soul, and above it, and
everywhere. It is the sense (more explicit or obscure) of standing in
judgment before the Almighty” (J. Foster). Its operation appears in what is
here said of David as:
1. Uttering a warning against sin. “I knew it that day,” etc. Conscience is
not only reflective, but prospective in its operations. The sight of Doeg led
him to see and feel that the course which he was about to take in deceiving
Ahimelech was wrong, and would be productive of evil consequences. But
under the pressure of urgent need he neglected the premonition.
2. Inflicting remorse on account of sin. “I am guilty as to every soul (life)
of the house of thy father.” The information he received called his
conscience into the highest activity. He judged himself strictly. He felt his
sin deeply. And most gladly would he recall the evil he had done if he
could. But that was impossible. “The lie had gone forth from him; and
having done so, it was no longer under his control, but would go on
producing its diabolical fruits” (W.M. Taylor).
3. Constraining to the confession of sin. He did not (as Saul had done)
seek to conceal or palliate his transgression, but freely and fully
acknowledged it, renounced it, and sought its forgiveness (Psalm 32:5).
4. Inciting to reparation for sin. “Abide thou with me,” etc. It was little
that he could do for this purpose: but what was in his power he did. It is
evident that, notwithstanding he had yielded to temptation, he possessed a
tender conscience (Acts 24:16). “And wouldst thou be faithful to that
work which God hath appointed thee to do in this world for His name?
Then make much of a trembling heart and conscience; for although the
word be the line and rule whereby we must govern and order all our
actions, yet a breaking heart and tender conscience is of absolute necessity
for so doing. A hard heart can do nothing with the word of Jesus Christ.
Keep then thy conscience awake with wrath and grace, with heaven and
hell. But let .grace and heaven bear sway” (Bunyan).
“O clear conscience and upright!
How doth a little failing wound thee sore.”
The Defender of the Persecuted (v. 23)
As David afforded protection to Abiathar, so Christ affords protection to
those who betake themselves to Him. This is not a mere resemblance, but is
directly involved in that (his royal office) wherein David was a type or
Divine foreshadowing of “the King of kings.” They:
seeketh thy life.” They do so:
Ø Because of their union with Him, and partaking of His life and
righteousness, to which “this present evil world” is opposed.
Ø Because of their love to Him, which will not suffer them to leave Him,
or be unfaithful to Him for the sake of gaining the favor of the world.
Ø Because it has been thus ordained. “Unto you it is given in behalf
of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
(Philippians 1:29). “With persecutions” (Mark 10:30), which are an
occasion of spiritual blessing (Matthew 5:10).
Ø By unwavering reliance upon Him (John 15:4-7; I John 2:28).
Ø By intimate communion with Him.
Ø By constant obedience to him.
thou art in safe guard.” “David spoke thus in the firm belief that the Lord
would deliver him from his foe and give him the kingdom” (Keil). Christ
has “all power in heaven and in earth,” and he will assuredly be “a hiding
place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.” (Isaiah 32:2)
Ø Because of His love to them.
Ø Because of His regard for His kingdom, to which they belong, and
which they represent.
Ø Because of his express and faithful promise. “Fear not.” If the worst
that can befall them should happen, even then
“Thou, Saviour, art their charmed Bower,
Their magic Ring, their Rock, their Tower.
Massacre and Safeguard (vs. 18-23)
The tragic interest of this passage groups itself about four men:
(1) the furious king;
(2) the cruel officer;
(3) the innocent priest;
(4) the self-reproaching hero.
made for actual insanity in the king God only knows. But it must not be
forgotten that the disorder of his mind was largely due to his own
indulgence of fierce and arrogant passions, and his willful refusal to obey
the commands of the Lord and the guidance of his prophet. He had now
become quite furious in his jealousy of David and in his suspicion of all
around him as plotting his downfall. Unable to capture David, he turned
fiercely on those whom he supposed to be aiding and abetting him in
rebellion; and the homicidal mania which he had already betrayed in hurling
his javelin at David, and even at Jonathan, now broke out against the
innocent priests. When one begins to indulge a bad passion, how little he
can tell the length to which it may carry him! We remember how Saul at
the outset of his reign would
not have a man in
account. (ch. 11:12-13) But now he had no pity on the innocent. Nothing can
be more shocking than the hardness of heart which disregarded the noble
defense of the priests against unjust accusation, and condemned them and their
families to immediate death. By this Saul forfeits all claim to our sympathy.
He is a bloodstained tyrant. Nero on his accession to the imperial dignity at
criminal, and yet broke forth into horrid cruelty at the age of seventeen.
Saul was not so precocious in cruelty, and seems to have been free from
other vices that made Nero infamous. But it should be considered, on the
other hand, that Saul had knowledge of Jehovah, while Nero knew only the
had a still greater in Samuel. There is no palliation of his conduct
admissible unless on the plea of disease of the brain — an excuse which
may also be advanced in behalf of such wretches as Antiochus Epiphanes
and the Emperor Caligula. The lesson of admonition is that WICKEDNESS
HAS GREAT ABYSSES unseen at first. Let us:
Ø stop short at the beginnings of evil.
Ø check our peril,
Ø calm our anger,
Ø correct our suspicions,
Ø hold back our hasty javelin;
for if one loses self-control and a good conscience there is hardly
any depth of injustice and infatuation to which one may not fall.
servants. Tyrants never lack convenient instruments. Caligula, Nero, and
Domitian had favorites and freedmen ready to stimulate their jealous
passions and carry out their merciless commands. At Saul’s elbow stood
such a wretch, Doeg the Edomite. The repeated mention of this officer’s
extraction seems to imply that he was actuated by the hereditary jealousy
pleasure in widening the gulf between Saul and David and slaying the
Israelite officers shrank from the bloody deed; and no doubt it was he who
executed the inhuman sentence against the women and children at Nob,
and smote the very “oxen, asses, and sheep with the edge of the sword.”
Doeg has had many followers in those who have with fiendish relish
tortured and slain the servants of our Lord and of His Christ. And indeed all
who, without raising the hand of violence, take part with malicious purpose
against servants of God, who misrepresent them and stab their reputations,,
are of one spirit with this Edomite whose memory is cursed.
the calm bearing of the chief priest on the one hand, and the unreasoning
fury of Saul and truculent temper of Doeg on the other! How
straightforward was the vindication of Ahimelech! If Saul had not been
blind with passion he must have seen its transparent truth and noble
candor. When it became known through the land that Ahimelech and the
priests had been killed by the king’s order on a mere suspicion of
disaffection which was false, a thrill of horror must; have run through many
bosoms, and those who feared the Lord must have had sore misgiving that
he had forsaken His people and His land. Under such mishaps in later times
similar fears have been awakened. Indeed men have been tempted to
question whether there be any God of righteousness and truth actually
governing the world; for the virtuous suffer, the innocent are crushed,
might overrules right, victory seems to be to the proud and not the lowly.
It is useless to deny that there are strange defeats of goodness and truth,
and that blows fall on heads that seem least to deserve them. All that we
can do is to cleave to our belief, firm on its own grounds, that God is, and
to say that the calamities complained of have His permission for some good
ends in His far reaching purpose. At all events we can go no further into the
mystery on a survey of this present life. BUT THERE IS ANOTHER and in
it lies the abundant recompense for present wrongs. It seems strange that a life
so precious as that of Paul should have been assailed, bruised, and finally
taken by violence for no crime, but for the name of Jesus. But Paul himself
has given us some clue to the compensation: “our light affliction, which is
but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight
of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the
things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal;
but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:17-18)
Ahimelech and the priests, we may be sure, though they suffered
not directly for Christ, but on account of His human ancestor, lost nothing,
but gained much, by forfeiting their lives in innocence.
have shocked all thoughtful men
which Saul was now regarded. David, when he heard of it, felt, besides
horror and indignation, a bitter pang of self-reproach. It was he who had
played on the simplicity of the priests at Nob, and so had given occasion to
Doeg to accuse them. Would that he had gone without bread, whatever the
consequence to himself, rather than have exposed so many innocent
persons to such a cruel fate! And now the horrid deed was done, and quite
past remedy. What a lesson against crafty strokes and plausible pretexts!
One may gain his point at the time by such devices, but after consequences
little expected may fall on some innocent head; and surely there is no sting
so sharp in the conscience of an honorable man as the feeling that, for his
own safety or interest, he has misled his own friends, and unwittingly
brought disaster on them. We can believe that David, on hearing what
Abiathar told him, was bowed down with shame such as he never yet had
needed to feel. In this respect he failed to typify Christ. Our Lord had no
self-reproach to bear. He never had recourse to subterfuge, and no guile
was found in his mouth. Those who have suffered for His sake have not
been led into the risk of death unwittingly. It was of some comfort to
David that he could give protection to Abiathar. “He that seeketh my life
seeketh thy life.” We have a common enemy. Thy life is in peril on my
account; therefore stay with me; “thou shalt be in safeguard.” Here we do
seem to hear the voice of Christ in a figure. “If the world hate you, ye
know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the
world would love his own: but because ye are not of this world, but I
have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is n ot greater
than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you; if
they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”(John 15:18-20).
Our Lord gives His people safeguard with Himself. “Abide in me.”
(ibid. v. 4) “Continue in my love.” (ibid. v. 9) Such words are dear to
mourners. As David gave to Abiathar immediate and sympathetic attention,
so the Son of David hearkens at once to those who repair to Him with the
tale of their mishap and grief. He will take them all under the guarantee of
His faithful safeguard. Whatever solace it is possible to have in this world
THEY HAVE who abide WITH HIM! And no one can pluck them out
of HIS HAND! (ibid. ch. 10:28)
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