1 Samuel 21-22 (Week 11) Deception, grace, and protection

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When I was young, I remember asking my dad if it’s ok to lie if a “bad guy” is trying to get you or if I was in a situation I felt unsafe in. Though I'm now an adult, I still struggle sometimes wondering if there is such a thing as an "acceptable" time to fib. Writing it out, makes me realize that No. How could there be...right? Isn't it all about trust? Do we trust the Lord enough to help us through these hard situations?

(I'd love to know your thoughts as we dive in to this week's study)

What does this have to do with this week’s study of 1 Samuel? As we learned last week in chapters 19-20, King Saul’s extreme jealousy of David forced the former shepherd to run for his life. This week, we’ll learn what tactics David used as this well known warrior hid himself and kept him safe from harm.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary says this about the interaction:

David told Ahimelech a gross untruth. What shall we say to this? The Scripture does not conceal it, and we dare not justify it; it was ill done, and proved of bad consequence; for it occasioned the death of the priests of the Lord.
David thought upon it afterward with regret. David had great faith and courage, yet both failed him; he fell thus foully through fear and cowardice, and owing to the weakness of his faith. Had he trusted God aright, he would not have used such a sorry, sinful shift for his own preservation. It is written, not for us to do the like, no, not in the greatest straits, but for our warning. 

Because David was unarmed and finding food and shelter was a top priority, rushing the two miles (3 km) to the city of Nob was a perfect choice for the now fugitive. Ahimeleck was likely Eli’s (the priest who raised Samuel) great grandson and the brother of Ahijah, the man who took over as Saul’s spiritual advisor after Samuel stepped down and withdrew his blessing. Because of Ahimeleck’s brother was priest to the very king he was running from, David was unsure where his allegiance lay.

After being asked why he was alone, David made up a story about being on a top secret mission for the king and he was meeting the rest of his men nearby after securing food. His lie may have come from feeling unsure if he could trust the priest or possibly because he hoped to keep him safe from suspicion surrounding assisting a known rebel. Either way, it was enough to eliminate Ahimeleck’s suspicion and though he had no food to offer David but holy bread, Ahimeleck gave what he had. Inquiring as to whether David and his men were ceremonially clean and abstaining in sex during their mission wasn’t really the point because he technically shouldn’t have given the Bread of Presence to anyone who was not a priest.

But Ahimeleck was a man of compassion, generosity, and kindness. He was a man who saw the bigger picture. Generations later, Jesus even references this gracious priest (in Matthew 12:3-7) and praises the him for having good judgement in understanding the need to put mercy before ceremonial law.

Feigning an excuse that the king’s business was so urgent, he left too quickly to grab his own sword, David also asks if the priest has a spear or sword to give.

And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.” (1 Samuel 21:9 . ESV)

Note: Read 1 Samuel 21:7 and see how this random seeming detail becomes a very important piece of information as we get into chapter 22.

David left that very day and traveled about 30 miles (50 km) to see Achish, king of Gath. David was likely hoping he could live incognito and hide his true identity (holding Goliath’s sword, no less!) in the very land the giant was from. Perhaps he hoped to get a job as a servant, or even a mercenary and fight alongside the very men he’d spent years fighting against. Whatever his intent, it was immediately foiled as the king’s servants told him (21:10-11),

“Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances,

‘Saul has struck down his thousands,
    and David his ten thousands’?” 

Realizing they somehow thing David is the king of Israel, he panics and pretends to be insane right there in front of the king and his men. Saliva running down his beard, he behaved as a madman so effectively that Achish asks why the servants brought this insane person to him inside his home.

Two times David deceived in order to keep himself safe. Is this sort of deception and lying wrong? Does it show lack of trust that God will keep him safe or does it show David is perceptive, savvy, and quick to think outside the box in times of danger? The writer of the text doesn’t share opinion or answers with us and we are instead left to decide ourselves.

With a sigh of relief that he convinced King Achish of his insanity, David sets off again to a place he knows will keep him safe for awhile. The caves of Adullam (which translates to “caves of refuge”) were in Judah, halfway between Gath and Bethlehem and were known to be fortified, providing a natural shelter for anyone needing a hiding place. As great of a hiding spot as it was, not only his family found him there, but so did others who were dissatisfied – vagrants, trouble makers, and others who were discontent with Saul’s leadership. The group grew to about 400 men and David led them all.

Realizing if King Saul was out to kill him, the likelihood of his family also being in danger was at the forefront of his thoughts. Traveling to Moab, David asked the king if his mother and father could take shelter within his kingdom until he knew what God’s plan was. After parting with his parents, David took the advice of a prophet, fleeing to the forest of Hereth.

If you’ll remember the little note about how Doeg the Edomite (Saul’s shepherd) was detained in Nob, the next course of events will be of no surprise to you. Saul comes across knowledge that David and his men had been discovered, enflaming his jealousy. Exploding at all his officials standing around him, Saul wants to know why the officials, commanders, and soldiers are all conspiring against him. Screaming at them all, Saul wants to know why no one tells him anything and why no one told him about the friendship between his own son and David.

The shepherd, hearing the king’s hysterics, told Saul what he witnessed when he was in Nob  and about the exchange between Ahimelech and David. Sending for Ahimalech, Saul confronted the priest in assisting David the Fugitive. Answering the king however, the man said:

14 Which of your servants, good king, is so faithful as David? Isn’t he the king’s son-in-law, the captain of your guard? Hasn’t he always been quick to do the king’s bidding and honored in the king’s household?

15 Is this the first time I have inquired of God for David? Of course not! Do not, O king, imagine that I, your servant, or anyone in my family has intended wrong against the king, for we know next to nothing about your affairs.
— (1 Samuel 22:14-15 . The Voice)

Not even beginning to consider what the priest had said, King Saul orders Ahimalech and his whole family to be killed. Commanding his men go one step further, he tells the guards at his side to kill all the priests at Nob for siding with David. Standing their ground however, the guards refused to lay a hand of the men of God.

The king then ordered Doeg…

18 Carry out my orders. Turn around, and kill these priests.

So Doeg the Edomite attacked them. That day he turned and killed 85 men who wore the priestly linen garment. 19 Then he went after Nob, the city of the priests, with his sword and utterly destroyed everything he found there—all the men, women, children, and infants. Doeg even turned his blade against the oxen, donkeys, and sheep.

20 Only Abiathar, son of Ahimelech, son of Ahitub, escaped, and he fled to David for protection. 21 He informed David that Saul had massacred the priests of the Eternal.

(David to Abiathar): 22 I knew, when I saw Doeg the Edomite that day, that he would certainly tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of every person in your family. 23 Stay here with me, and don’t be afraid. The one who seeks my life also seeks yours; you will certainly be safe with me.
— (1 Samuel 22:18-23 . The Voice)

As we continue on next week, we’ll learn that though David will go to many lengths to save himself, he spares Saul’s life…unwilling to lay a hand on God’s chosen king.

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I can't wait to continue on next week!



P.S all these gorgeous photos are courtesy of the lovely Sarah Johns + Something Styled. Follow her on IG and FB!