We have been studying 1 and 2 Samuel and seeing pictures of the anointed and how God is going to save the world. In 1 Samuel 20-21 we will see David experience all kinds of difficulties and the pursuit of Saul intensifies. As we read we are going to consider two teaching pictures as we move through each chapter. First, we are being shown a picture of what the anointed must endure. God is showing that his anointed must go through suffering and difficulty before finally ascending to the throne. Second, we are being challenged to have the faith to follow the anointed. For all that the anointed one, David, experiences, we are going to see who will follow him in spite of his sufferings. Open your copies of God’s word to 1 Samuel 20 and let us begin looking at these pictures.
David and Jonathan’s Clarity (20:1-42)
Chapter 20 begins with a discussion between David and Saul’s son, Jonathan. David tells Jonathan that Saul is trying to kill him. Jonathan disagrees because his father tells him everything. Remember that Jonathan was able to have Saul make an oath to not kill David. Jonathan tells David that Saul has not changed his mind because, if he had, he would have told me (20:2). But David says that Saul is keeping this from Jonathan because he knows that Jonathan is friends with David (20:4). So David has a plan. Tomorrow is a feast with Saul and his officers and David is supposed to be there. David is going to not come to the feast. When Saul asks where David is at, Jonathan is to tell him that David asked permission to go to Bethlehem but the annual sacrifice for his clan (20:5-6). If Saul is good with this, then they will know David is safe. But if Saul is angry, then they will know that Saul is trying to harm David (20:7). David even says that if Jonathan is on Saul’s side and deceiving him in this, then just kill me now rather than letting Saul do it (20:8). Jonathan denies this and tells David that he will tell David if he knows that Saul is trying to kill him. So the question is how is Jonathan going to communicate this information to David? The plan is devised that David will be far in a field. Jonathan will shoot three arrows. If he shouts out to the one who is retrieving the arrows in the field that the arrows are to the side of him, then it is safe for David. But if he shouts out that the arrows have gone past him, then it is not safe for David and he needs to run away.
With the plan in place, the feast begins but David is not there. But Saul says nothing on the first day of the feast. But on the second day of the feast, David is not there again. So Saul asks Jonathan where David is. Jonathan says that David went to Bethlehem for the annual feast with his clan. Look at 1 Samuel 20:30. We see that Saul gets angry at Jonathan, calling him the son of a perverse, rebellious woman. He knows that Jonathan has sided with David. Look at what Saul knows in verse 31. As long as the son of Jesse (speaking of David in a derogatory way) lives, you and your kingdom will not be established. So go get him and bring him here so he can die. Saul tells Jonathan that Jonathan will not be king if David lives. Saul is angry with God’s plan. Jonathan argues with Saul in verse 32. What has David done? Why should he die? Saul takes his spear and throws it at Jonathan who was sitting across the table from him. Now it becomes clear to Jonathan that Saul was determined to kill David at all costs. The next morning Jonathan goes into the field and sends the boy to retrieve them. He shoots an arrow beyond the boy. Then Jonathan shouts out to the boy that the arrow is beyond him, indicating to David that David cannot return and Saul is determined to kill him. Jonathan provides more information in verse 38 yelling to the boy, but actually to David who is listening, “Hurry! Be quick! Do not stay!” The boy retrieves the arrows and sends the boy away. Jonathan now risks his own life and goes out to David. David bows to the ground before Jonathan but Jonathan tells David to go in peace. We have an oath between us. With this, David goes on the run and Jonathan returns to the city.
David Supported (21:1-22:5)
We need chapter 20 to understand these next few chapters regarding Saul and David. David must hide in the wilderness. David is a fugitive from Saul and those who are Saul’s supporters. He comes to the town of Nob where Ahimelech the priest is serving. Ahimelech comes out to David trembling, not understanding why David has come there alone. David tells him that Saul has sent him on a secret mission and his men are to meet David at a secret location. David asks if he has any food. The priest says that the only bread there is the holy bread but they can have five loaves of it. Now it is important to understand what is happening here, which is explained in verse 6. The priests would place hot, fresh bread in the presence of the Lord and remove the prior bread which was for the priests to eat (Leviticus 24:5-9). It is this replaced bread that is to only be for the priests to eat once the bread for the Lord has been placed in the Lord’s presence. So the priest is not taking from God’s portion but from the portion God said was to only be for the priests to eat. Ahimelech is not flippant about this for he is concerned about God’s holiness. Thus, he asks about the holiness of David and his men. Ahimelech determines that this bread is necessary for the life of David and his men.
Now verse 7 explains why David is being secretive and telling a story to Ahimeleck. Doeg the Edomite was there and he is the chief of Saul’s herdsman. David has to be careful what he says because Doeg is listening and is clearly on Saul’s side. David asks if Ahimeleck has a spear or sword because he left in such haste to fulfill the king’s command that he left his weapons behind. The priest says he has the sword of Goliath that David used against him. The last time we saw this sword is in David’s tent after his victory. We can assume that David at some point gave it to the priests of Nob to hold for him. So David takes this sword with him, all the while Doeg is listening to this.
Since Doeg has seen this, David must continue his escape from Saul. David goes to Achish, the king of Gath. It is interesting to see that the servants of Achish acknowledge David as the king of the land and the one who struck down ten thousands of Philistines. So the Philistines are rightly fearful to see David come to them since he is constantly victorious against them. So David pretends to be insane while in their presence because they are afraid of him. Staying in Gath is not going to be a solution for David. Chapter 22 opens with David leaving Gath and hiding in a cave in Adullam, which is just inside of Israel’s borders. David’s family hears that he is in the cave and his family comes to him (22:1). Listen to verse 2. Everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gather to David and he became commander over them, about 400 men.
The rest of these events and their consequences will have to be held to next week’s lesson. But we need the time to cover the many pictures of the anointed in this passage as well as consider what this all means for our lives today.
The Controversy of the Anointed
What David does here has become a controversial discussion especially because Jesus uses this event as vindication for what he is doing on the Sabbath. In Mark 2:23-28 Jesus and his disciples are going through the field on the Sabbath plucking heads of grain. The Pharisees see this and declare that what the disciples are doing is unlawful on the Sabbath. Jesus’ explanation is given in verses 25-28.
25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:25–28 ESV)
Now it is important that do not read Jesus saying that he has broken the law of Moses just like David did. This would not be a defense at all but agreeing to the charge of the Pharisees. We cannot have Jesus breaking the law of Moses and declare his the sinless Son of God. Jesus did not break the Sabbath. His proof is to look at David in this incident because Jesus did not break the law either. This is the point: David did not break the law and neither has Jesus. How did David not break the law? Jesus makes it clear that it was unlawful for David to do what he did. Only the priests were to eat the bread that was removed from the Lord’s presence. The answer is very simple: they were hungry. David and his men were hungry and in need of food. Jesus’ and his disciples were hungry and in need of food. The law was not put into place so as to harm people. The law was not put into place so that the hungry could not eat. This is why Jesus says in verse 27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Ahimelech judged the law rightly and gave David and his men bread though, under normal circumstances, this would have been unlawful.
We understand this idea and have illustrated it before in our Christian walk. We understand that if we were driving to the church building for worship and we saw a horrific accident in front of us where we could help someone who was injured, we would not drive by and neglect that person but what do what is right in that moment. We understand that if someone came to your door with a weapon to harm your family and you told this assailant that your family is not home, that you would be justified in doing so. You would not say, “I cannot tell a lie, my family is hiding in that bedroom right over there.” This is the point Jesus is making about himself and about David. The law was not given by God to cause direct harm to a person. Ahimelich was right to give the bread to David. Jesus’ disciples are not sinning by plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath. David can receive this bread because the preservation of life is greater than maintaining the bread laws.
Further, David can receive this bread because he is the anointed. Jesus applies this to himself also in verse 28. “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” The preservation of the anointed is according to God’s law. Psalm 2 as well as many other passages declare this. David is the Lord’s anointed and his preservation is critical. This is why we see Jonathan sacrifice himself and his family for David. In the same way, Jesus is the Lord’s anointed and his preservation is critical. As the anointed, Jesus is greater than the law. A way to see is to think about our presidents. Are they breaking the law when the car they are in runs all the red lights on the way to its destination? No, because the president is greater than this law. The law was not made to stop him. The superiority of the anointed is the other key point Jesus makes and therefore he and his disciples are not breaking the law of Moses. David was not breaking the law either because he was the Lord’s anointed.
Pictures of the Anointed
The other important point of 1 Samuel 20-21 is to see more pictures of the anointed. Throughout our studies we are noting how this book is showing how God is going to save the world through his anointed when Jesus comes. Let us notice some of these pictures as shown through David. First, the anointed will be endangered and have his life regularly threatened. Therefore when we see Jesus having his life threatened by the Jewish leadership, we know to expect that. It is a portrait of what the Lord’s anointed must go through. Second, the anointed will be on the run and unable to rest. Recall that Jesus declares that he does not have a home. In fact, Jesus says that foxes have holes and birds have nests but he does not have such a place of rest (Matthew 8:20). Third, the anointed will have to leave Israel for protection and refuge. We see this immediately in the life of Jesus that when the life of Jesus is threatened, Joseph and Mary take Jesus out of Israel as Herod seeks to kill him. This is just another picture of the anointed. Fourth, some will consider the anointed to be insane. You might be surprised to know that the people who thought Jesus was insane was actually his own family (Mark 3:21). This is another picture of the anointed. Finally, and the most important picture to what we have seen in the anointed in these two chapters is that the anointed will gather to him the downtrodden and outcasts and lead them. David does not gather the elite or those who possess status or are regarded as important. Rather, the ones who come to him are the distressed, the indebted, and the discontented.
Friends, this is our greatest hope. Jesus calls those who are distressed. Jesus calls those who are poor and indebted. Jesus calls those who are discontented with this life. Hopefully, if we are honest about our lives we would realize that all of us fall into one or many of these categories. In Mark 1:32-34 we see people with sicknesses, diseases, and demons come to Jesus and are healed. The apostle Paul argues that Christ has not called the wise, powerful, and noble but those who are weak to come to him (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). James says that God declared the poor of the world to be rich toward God (James 2:5). Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1-2).
We have the king we need in Jesus because he calls you in all your distress to come to him. He calls you in your pain to come to him. He calls you in whatever condition you find yourself in today to come to him. Jesus was an outcast and he calls the outcasts. Jesus was distressed and he calls the distressed to him. Jesus went through suffering and distress so that you can come to him in hope that he understands and can help you.