David Escapes (22:1-23)
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. In our last lesson we noted how the anointed is gathering the outcasts to himself. I want to look at this in the other direction now. Imagine what David is going through. Would you go to him while he is living in this cave, running for his life? It is not a logical choice except for this: David is the anointed and we must follow and support the anointed. David takes his followers and his parents to a stronghold in Moab. But a prophet comes to David and tell him to go back to Judah and to not remain in the stronghold (22:5). The anointed cannot stay where it is safe. God sends David back into the danger where Saul is looking for him.
Saul is continued to be pictured as completely unhinged at this point. He declares that all of his servants have conspired against him and that David is trying to kill him by the help of his son (22:8). Doeg the Edomite tells Saul that he saw David at Nob with the priest Ahimelech. Ahimelech gave David provisions, a sword, and inquired of the Lord for him. Remember that David noticed Doeg there and was concerned about him because he was someone who was on Saul’s side. This is why David spoke as if Saul had sent him on this secret mission. It becomes clear to Doeg that this is not true. So he tells Saul all that he saw. So Saul summons Ahimelech and all the priests at Nob to come to him. He asks Ahimelech why he has conspired against him. Ahimelech makes a reasonable defense. David is your faithful servant, your son-in-law, captain over your bodyguard, and honored in your house (22:14). He has inquired of the Lord for David on many occasions (22:15). How would he know that David is no longer with Saul or that he has turned against Saul? In short, why would he question David at all? But Saul does not care. He orders Ahimelech and his family to be killed as well as all the priests of Lord who have come from Nob (22:16-17). He says that they were all part of this conspiracy. But Saul’s servants refuse to do this. They know not to strike down the priests of God. So Saul tells Doeg the Edomite to do it and he does. He killed 85 priests along with men, women, children, infants, and animals of Nob. He slaughters them all and only one son of Ahimelech escapes (22:18-20). This is a vicious extermination by Doeg. Ahimelech’s son runs to David and tells him that Saul had all the priests of the Lord killed. David tells Ahimelech’s son, Abiathar, that he knew that Doeg would go back to Saul when he came to Nob that day. David bears responsibility for what has happened and tells Abiathar to stay with him and he will protect him (22:21-23).
Now it is important to note something here before we can move forward. Ahimelech is the grandson of Phinehas, one of Eli’s wicked sons. Remember what was prophesied concern Eli and his household. God was going to completely cut off Eli’s offspring with a violent death (1 Samuel 2:31,33). This evil act by Doeg at Saul’s command actually fulfills the prophecy God made against Eli and his descendants. Oddly enough, Saul has done at Nob what he failed to do to the Amalekites: complete destruction.
David Saves and Is Saved (23:1-29)
At this time, the Philistines mount an attack against Keilah. This is another Israelite town near the border between Philistia and Israel. David asks the Lord if he should go up and attack these Philistines. The Lord responds for David to go ask those Philistines and save Keilah. But David’s men are afraid. They say that they are afraid regarding Saul’s army in Judah. We are even more afraid to go fight the Philistines! (23:3). So David inquires of the Lord again and the Lord gives the same response. The Lord is with David and the Lord is answering David. So David and his men attack the Philistines at Keilah and struck them down with a heavy blow.
Now observe how Saul looks at this. He hears that David is in Keilah. But he does not see that God is with David who is giving Israel victory. He thinks that God has given David into his hand (23:7). So Saul gets his whole army to go to Keilah to attack David and his men. David knew this was a risk because this battle would reveal to Saul where he is at. So he calls for Abiathar to bring the ephod to inquire of the Lord. David calls out to the Lord in verses 10-12. David asks if Saul is going to come to Keilah and if the people will turn him over to Saul. The Lord answers that Saul is coming and that the people of Keilah will betray David and give him and his men over to Saul. David and his men make a run for it and end up in the wilderness of Ziph (23:14). Listen to the end of verse 14. “And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.” Saul is hunting for David but God is not going to let Saul find him.
Jonathan goes out to David while he is in the wilderness. It is important to see that Saul cannot find David because of the Lord while Jonathan can find David because of the Lord. Jonathan goes to David and encourages David’s faith. Jonathan tells David to not be afraid because Saul is not going to find you, you will be the next king over Israel, and I will be by your side (23:17).
Just as it seems like this encouragement will help David, the people in the wilderness of Ziph go to Saul and tell Saul where David is hiding. So we see even more Israelites betraying David, his own people that he is anointed by the Lord to rule over. He tells them to go get the exact location of David and we will be there shortly. Saul and his men are closing in on David, pursuing them to the wilderness of Maon (23:25). In verse 26 Saul has them. David is on one side of the mountain and Saul and his men are on the other side of the mountain. Look at the end of verse 26. Just as Saul was closing in on David to capture him and his men, a messenger comes to Saul and tell him to hurry and come back because the Philistines have started raids on Israel. So Saul and his men leave the mountain and go fight against the Philistines. So the mountain was now called the Rock of Escape. God rescues David from this betrayal and from the hand of Saul.
Pictures of the Anointed
We have been seeing throughout our study of this book that we are being given glimpses of the what the Christ will experience when God sends him to save the world. First, we see that the anointed will be sent into trials. When David appears to be safe in a stronghold in Moab, God through a prophet sends him back to Judah to continue to go through his ordeals. We see a similar picture with Jesus in Matthew 4:1 where we are told that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. We are going to see this happen with David now and in the next three chapters where he must go into the wilderness for his trials. Second, we see another amazing picture of the anointed. When the anointed comes, a town will be exterminated by an Edomite. David’s arrival in Nob causes Doeg the Edomite to wipe out the inhabitants of the town. When Jesus is born in Bethlehem, an Edomite named Herod, decrees the slaughter of all the male children two years and under in Bethlehem and in all that region. Third, the anointed will be recognized as king by Gentiles but not by Israel. We see David acknowledged as the king when he is in Gath (21:11). This is amazing considering Saul is king. But the Philistines say that David is king. But the people of Keilah and people of Ziph do not see David as king and turn him over to Saul. This leads to the fourth picture of the anointed. The anointed will be betrayed but God will rescue him. Both the people of Keilah and Ziph betray David to Saul. But God rescues David both times. Christ will be betrayed by his own disciple, Judas. But God will rescue him from death through the resurrection from the dead. Finally, the anointed will be man of troubles and sorrows. All we will see with David is the constant struggles and troubles in his life. Recall what Isaiah prophesied about the Christ.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:3 NIV)
God will fulfill his purposes through the hands of wicked people. Peter declared this in his sermon after Jesus’ resurrection.
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:23–24 ESV)
God was the one who delivered Jesus up to be killed by wicked people. God was the one who led David into the wilderness to suffer as the Lord’s anointed. All of this is a picture from God about his great salvation so that he would receive the glory.
The Faith To Follow The Anointed
Another important picture we are seeing in this passage is the need to have faith to follow the anointed. Jonathan risked great danger to his own life and sacrificed his right to the throne to follow David, the Lord’s anointed. The outcasts and downtrodden leave where they are living to come to the anointed to live in a cave and have to fight against Saul and his armies, as well as against the Philistines. The outcasts have the faith to follow the anointed to a cave and to follow him into battle. We see Ahimelech has the faith to help David and it costs him his life. All that we are seeing in these two chapters is the danger involved in following the anointed. Think about how we see this for the disciples of Jesus. They experienced great danger to follow Jesus. They gave up their jobs to follow Jesus. They gave up their families to follow Jesus. They gave up their lives to preach Jesus. They gave everything, disregarding the danger, to follow Jesus. It takes great faith to be a follower of the anointed. Listen to what the apostle Paul said as he tried to encourage Timothy.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:12–13 ESV)
Listen to what Paul told the churches as he preached to them.
After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21–22 CSB)
There is nothing easy about following Jesus, the anointed. It is through many difficulties that we follow Jesus and enter his kingdom. We cannot be like Saul who is resisting and rejecting God’s plan. Saul continually resists God’s purpose and outcome. He is looking for another way to maintain his life and remain with God. But it cannot happen. In the same way, we cannot try to protect our lives and remain with God. Jesus said that whoever tries to save his life will lose it. Only those who will give their lives completely for the Lord will save their lives (Luke 9:24). We cannot resist the will of the Lord. So will we have the faith to follow Jesus, the anointed, on whatever road he takes us down?