I Samuel 22






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 (‘Ant.,’ 6:12, 3), which formed one of a

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

Philistia to Hebron, runs down northwards past Keilah and Hareth, dividing

the low hills of the Shephelah from the rocky mountains of Judah. Eight

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 from Gath,

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 Bethlehem, broke through

them to bring David water from the well there (II Samuel 23:13-17). As

Bethlehem was thus held by the Philistines, there was double reason for the

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 Beersheba as

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 Gath to the cave of Adullam marks a fresh starting

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 the kingdom of God, and the

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 Bethlehem (II Samuel 23:13-14), “and

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

Bethlehem (II Samuel 23:16), many of those whose names are recorded in

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 Judah, under Amasai, on whom “the Spirit came,

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

surpassing ability.


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”



  • DEVOTED TO THE SERVICE OF GOD. The effect of persecution

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

of the kingdom of God upon earth.


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

later days.


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).



The Cave of Adullam (vs. 1-2)


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 cave of Adullam.


  • THE CAPTAIN OF THE REFUGEES. No question arises here

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 over Israel was unique. The people had

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 Israel to his place of refuge. These must not be

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 Galilee the people were

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

of Nazareth, raising no standard of revolt, indeed refusing to be made a

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 Mount Gilboa. The only hope

of Israel thenceforth was with and in the despised and rejected One who

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 cave of Adullam? Not 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.


  • THE POSITION OF SEPARATION. When is it justified? David and

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 Spain or Italy, to worship with some small

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 cave of Adullam. Those men did not lift

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 centers at Rome, there is something of that

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 of Moab: and he said unto the

king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and

be with you, till I know what God will do for me.  4  And he brought them

before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David

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 Moab on the east of the Dead

Sea, and probably in the mountains of Abarim or Pisgah. Here David

placed his father and mother under the care of the king of Moab. They had

fled from Bethlehem under the combined fear of Saul and the Philistines,

but were too old to bear the fatigues of David’s life. He therefore asks for

a refuge for them with the king of Moab, probably on the ground that

Jesse’s grandmother, Ruth, was a Moabitess. But as Saul had waged war

on Moab (ch.14:47), the king was probably glad to help one

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

in the land of Moab, but up to the time when David was settled in Hebron.

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:


  • NEEDFUL. In early life we need the care of parents, in old age that of



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 Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab

shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.”   (Jeremiah 35:18-19).

Jesus Christ Himself (John 19:26).


  • EXEMPLARY in the way in which it was displayed.


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.




  • To children. Be kind to your parents, though you no longer need their care,

if you  would not have your children be unkind to you.


  • To parents. Seek to gain the respect and affection of your children, and

teach them to honor God, if you would have them to honor you.


  • To all. Be not like those of whom the heavenly Father said of old, “I

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:


  • UNCERTAINTY about the events of the future — new positions,

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,

inasmuch as:


Ø      Neither is of any avail.

Ø      The Father has reserved the times and the seasons “in His own power”

(Acts 1:7).

Ø      And He has done so wisely and for our good. “The veil that hides the

future is woven by the hand of mercy.”


  • CONFIDENCE in the care of God. “My times are in thy hand”

(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”



  • READINESS for whatever may take place.


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 the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into

the forest of Hareth.”  The prophet Gad. This sudden appearance of the prophet

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 land of Moab.

Had David done so he probably would never have become king.  By

remaining in Judah, and protecting the people from the Philistines, which

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 Judah, but all Israel. In the

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 Ramah. The forest of Hareth. Or, rather,

Hereth. “This lay on the edge of the mountain chain (of Hebron), where

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 from Gath, takes refuge in the cave of Adullam.

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 Moab permission for them to dwell at Mizpeh.

4. On being advised by the prophet Gad, he returns to Judah.


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:


  1. David,
  2. his adherents,
  3. his parents, and
  4. the seer.


The teaching of the passage may be arranged by making each of

these in succession the prominent figure.


  • PRUDENCE IN DIFFICULTY. The line of action taken by David after

his escape from the dangers of Gath is a remarkable instance of prudence,

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 Providence may bring to us, to

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.


  • UNSATISFACTORY ADHERENTS. The men who flocked to David

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 Israel, and the increasingly irritable and impulsive

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



  • FILIAL PIETY. Amidst the gravest anxieties of his life David

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.


  • OPPORTUNE COUNSEL. During the long season of darkness David

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 Gath; he showed prudence at Adullam; and now in the land of

Moab, where perhaps he mourned in being so far from the sanctuary of

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.”

(John 14:18)


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 Moab, and with whom he may have become

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 Israel, which would have been

opposed to his calling to be king of Israel, but also that he might learn to

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).


  • CALLING TO UNEXPECTED DUTY; unexpected, inasmuch as, not



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

thee into the land of Judah (into the very presence of a deadly foe).

“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.”


  • COMPLIED WITH IN A RIGHT MANNER. “And David departed:”


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 Israel

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.’)





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 England, but requires a warmer climate to

develope into a tree. In Spain beautiful specimens may be seen, as for

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 Israel together

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

Benjamite attendants.

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 United States and

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)




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 Israel. A prudent act for purposes of self-defense against

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

America today is, by a segment of society, retaliation against innocent

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 kingdom of God of

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

alien to Israel, maliciously added fuel to the raging evils of the unhappy

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

than David.



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

spiritual in Israel was at this time the most formidable, though not

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

Philistines destroyed Shiloh. But they were enemies, and provoked by 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:


  • MORBID SELFISHNESS. By constantly directing his thoughts toward

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

king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which

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.”


  • FLAGRANT INJUSTICE (vs. 9-16). The people desired a king that

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).


  • PERSISTENT WILFULNESS (v. 17). “Never was the command of

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.


  • ATROCIOUS CRUELTY (vs. 18-19). Impelled by the same self-will

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).


  • IMPIOUS REBELLION. In destroying the servants of God for

imaginary rebellion against himself Saul was guilty of real rebellion against

the Divine King of Israel. More fully than ever he renewed a conflict which

could end only in his defeat. “Woe to him that striveth with his Maker.”

(Isaiah 45:9)




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 Israel the

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:


  • A HEARTLESS WORSHIPPER; “detained before Jehovah” (ch. 21:7).

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)


  • A MALICIOUS INFORMER (vs. 9-10). His immediate purpose in

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).


  • A RUTHLESS EXECUTIONER (vs. 18-19). What others, whose

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 Israel. The command of the king could not relieve him of

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”

(Stephen, ‘Lect;. on the Hist. of France’).


  • A RETRIBUTORY INSTRUMENT (see last homily). When the great

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.





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.




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 Rome realized the truth of our Saviour’s words

concerning the judgment due to impenitent Jerusalem (Matthew 23:34-38;

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.




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 Israel (ch. 10:19-24), must have

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

in the United States, but a person’s religion can because of believing

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.




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 Bethlehem; but though they no doubt were

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:


  • ENDURE PERSECUTION FOR HIS SAKE. “He that seeketh my life

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).


  • MUST ABIDE IN HIS FELLOWSHIP. “Abide thou with me.”


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.


  • SAUL AND HIS MAD TYRANNY. How much allowance may be

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 Israel put to death on his

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

Rome showed a similar reluctance to sign a legal sentence of death on a

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

gods of Rome; and that though Nero had a great teacher in Seneca, Saul

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.


  • DOEG AND HIS RUTHLESS SWORD. Cruel masters make cruel

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

of Israel which filled the descendants of Esau, and took a malicious

pleasure in widening the gulf between Saul and David and slaying the

priests of Israel’s God. With his own hand he cut them down, when 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.


  • AHIMELECH IN HIS INTEGRITY. How fine the contrast between

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.


  • DAVID AND HIS SELF-REPROACH. News of this massacre must

have shocked all thoughtful men in Israel, and deepened the distrust with

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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