David, the Original “Comeback Kid”

I Samuel 22


David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there (verse 1).

David’s family had figured out that they were in danger. Saul’s homicidal tendencies were no longer in question, and when people’s lives are at stake, they tend to pay attention to such facts.

All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.

From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, “Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?” (verses 2-3)

The main focus of much of First Samuel is hearing from God. At this point, David was out of touch with God. He could not tell what God was going to do, but he knew his parents were in danger, so he appealed to the king of Moab. Jesse’s grandmother was Ruth, a Moabitess, and David was appealing to the strength of this kinship, for though it was distant, it was all he had. His parents were certainly too old to be on the run.

David’s Path to Recovery

So he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him as long as David was in the stronghold.

But the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah.” So David left and went to the forest of Hereth (verses 4-5).

God had begun to speak to David again. God told him through the prophet Gad to do something typical of God’s nature: leave a stronghold. When David obeyed this word from the Lord that required trusting Him, he was on his way toward total recovery. He would soon again be the man we so admire.

David had been away from Michal’s influence almost long enough to be able to trust God rather than focusing on outward appearances. God’s timing is perfect. He will not tell us to do something He has not given us the faith to carry out.

Now Saul heard that David and his men had been discovered. And Saul, spear in hand, was seated under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, with all his officials standing around him (verse 6).

The paranoid Saul was still clinging to his spear, trying to keep his men close, lest they also desert him.

Saul said to them, “Listen, men of Benjamin! Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds?

“Is that why you have all conspired against me? No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse. None of you is concerned about me or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does today” (verses 7-8).

David was offering them all bribes? Saul’s men were conspiring against him? The fugitive David was lying in wait for him? Saul’s men were not stupid. They knew he was tormented by his unreasonable fears. Since this passage says that all of Saul’s officials were standing around him, we can presume that the Jonathan was there. Would he accuse Jonathan of homicidal treason to his face? Yes. In fact, he accused every man there of conspiracy to depose him! I believe this sealed Jonathan’s fate. He was mortally wounded by his father’s accusation. Not long after this, he perished at his father’s side, felled by false guilt, primarily because of what happened on this fateful day.

The tamarisk tree, mentioned in verse 6 above, has the peculiar ability to concentrate salt in its leaves. As the leaves fall off and are incorporated into the surrounding soil, the soil becomes increasingly salty. Salt is deadly to most other plants. Thus the tamarisk tree creates its own poverty, its own desert, and its own isolation. Saul was doing the same.

But Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s officials, said, “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelech son of Ahitub at Nob.

“Ahimelech inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

Then the king sent for the priest Ahimelech son of Ahitub and his father’s whole family, who were the priests at Nob, and they all came to the king.

Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.” “Yes, my lord,” he answered.

Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him, so that he has rebelled against me and lies in wait for me, as he does today?” (verses 9-13)

Notice that Doeg listed inquiring of God first and Saul listed it last. Saul knew in his heart that if a man inquires of God, and God gives him His council, he is on good terms with God. This was certainly bearing on Saul’s mind, for his whole purpose in inquiring of God was to be seen by men. Saul played down the fact that Ahimelech inquired of the Lord for David. Saul presumed that God had given David His council. This angered and embarrassed Saul. He, the king, was supposed to have more access to God through the high priest than anyone in the kingdom, but at no time had Saul ever inquired of God and gotten an answer!

Chapter 20 told us that David asked for a sword and for bread, but it did not mention that he inquired of God. We know he did because of what Doeg said and because the doomed Ahimelech confirmed it in the next verses.

Ahimelech answered the king, “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king’s son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard and highly respected in your household?

“Was that day the first time I inquired of God for him? Of course not! Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair” (verses 14-15).

Not only did Ahimelech confirm that he inquired of God for David, he made it plain that David had made a practice of going to the tabernacle for this very purpose.

When David inquired of God with the spirit of Saul on him, I don’t believe he got a response. Saulish David couldn’t hear from God any better than Saul. When David left the tabernacle he was more spiritually disoriented than ever. He went to Gath pretending to be a madman, which proved to be the most humiliating experience of his life. This was not the action of one who had just received the counsel of the Almighty. When he left Gath, he said he was still unable to learn what God would do for him.

More importantly, when he inquired of the Lord through Ahimelech, he was treating God like Saul treated God. David had selfish motives for inquiring of the Lord. He wanted to use God to get information with which he could save himself from supposed danger. He didn’t think God would notice that he knew that inquiring of the Lord in Doeg’s presence was greatly endangering Ahimelech and his family.

The greatest difference between the Saul heart and the David heart is as follows:

Saul’s inability to manipulate God made him pull into himself. Because his predetermined goal, or god, was the approval of his men, there was a fierce pain in his heart when he was humiliated by his efforts to gain their favor. Instead of repenting and throwing himself on the God he had offended, Saul recoiled in his soul from God. He  made Jehovah a lesser god than the approval of men. He did not trust the Lord to help him get what he wanted, so he withdrew from all trust in the Lord.

David found himself incredibly humiliated as well (the trip to Gath was a real low moment), but the rejection of men was not so sharp a pain to him. For him, the memory of the times he had spent in the presence of the Lord had “ruined” him in a good way. Though he found himself in the throes of the same demonic insanity Saul had suffered, when the heat of the battle cooled a little, his heart’s compass made him run instinctively to Yahweh.

But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelech, you and your father’s whole family.”

Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.” [Saul’s madness is between the lines: if David was fleeing, who was persecuting whom?] But the king’s officials were not willing to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord.

The king then ordered Doeg, “You turn and strike down the priests.” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod.

He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep (verses 16-19).

What Saul was unwilling to do to the demonized Amalekites and their livestock, he did with swiftness to the priests of the Lord, their families, and even their livestock.

At this point I need to branch off and describe something that is relevant here. Saul was promised that his kingdom would not endure because he “loved praise from men more than praise from God” (see John 12:43). We saw how this “love,” which was actually lust, gradually painted him into the corner of trying to exterminate the best and brightest hope for his kingdom—his son Jonathan. Eli, the high priest, was also promised that his family priesthood would not endure, and the reasons were similar to the reason for the curse on Saul’s dynasty. Read about it with me:

“‘Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.

‘The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man.

‘Every one of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grieve your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.

‘And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day.

‘I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always.

‘Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a crust of bread and plead, “Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat”‘” (I Samuel 2:29-36).

Eli refused to discipline his sons. God promised that the result of this would be the end of his family’s priesthood. This kind of promise is more commonly called a curse. A curse from God is a prophecy of the realities that are present at the moment and how they will manifest themselves destructively in the future. Let’s see if we can discern the mechanics of how this curse worked itself out:

Eli spoiled his sons.

Then he was given the opportunity to raise Samuel, but since he had not repented, he raised Samuel the way he had raised his sons.

Because of Samuel’s heart, he did not turn out like Eli’s sons, but he learned his fathering skills from Eli. Consequently, Samuel’s sons turned out like Eli’s sons—corrupt.

Samuel dealt with his sons’ corruption very poorly. Apparently he tried to placate them by installing them as judges, though anyone could have seen this was a very foolish decision.

As a result, the people asked for a king. Judges were not supposed to name their sons as their successors. This was supposed to be the difference between judges and kings.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel.

The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.

But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.

They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (I Samuel 8:1-5).

Far from restraining his adult sons, Samuel tried to make them judges.

Because of this, the people gave in to their sinful desire for a king.

Since they insisted on having a fleshly king in their own timing, they got a carnal king while the spiritual king was still a boy.

The carnal king acted carnally, seeking man’s praise instead of God’s. He then was told that there was another king waiting in the wings.

“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.

“But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (I Samuel 13:13-14).

Saul was insanely jealous of anyone who might be his rival or befriended his rival. His rival had to flee for help to the priests, the descendants of Eli.

The jealous king slaughtered the descendants of Eli, who helped his rival, thus fulfilling the curse on Eli’s house. Thus we see that God’s curses prophesy the result of sin that is not dealt with

Let’s return to our main story line in First Samuel 22:


But Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub, escaped and fled to join David. He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord.

Then David said to Abiathar: “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.

“Stay with me; don’t be afraid; the man who is seeking your life is seeking mine also. You will be safe with me” (verses 20-23).

Our old David is back! He was the only person on earth who knew he was partly responsible for the massacre at Nob, and yet he confessed it openly. Saul would not admit his wrongdoing even with the world’s foremost prophet rebuking him to his face.

David was aware that he was an accessory to murder, and yet he was not overwhelmed by guilt. David knew his loving God very well. He felt so safe that he freely offered asylum to a wanted man, Abiathar.

Yes, David was making a major comeback!