1 Samuel 21+22


Last week we saw how Jonathan could not believe that his father, Saul, wanted to kill David. And so, David proposed a plan to make Saul’s intention’s clear; and it soon become apparent to Jonathan that David was right and that Saul wanted to kill David. And so, Jonathan and David said farewell to one another and David set off into hiding. And in the first of today’s chapters we read how David went from place to place, trying to hide from Saul who was determined to kill him. And, in fact, David will remain on the run until the end of 1 Samuel.

The two chapters today belong together and they mirror one another. Chapter 21 opens by telling us about David and the priest of Nob. And then we have the story of David when he pretended to be mad. And in chapter 22 we have the story of Saul who very much sounds like a mad man, because of his hatred for David. And then the chapter ends by telling us about Saul and the priest of Nob. So, these two chapters belong together and they mirror one another.

David and the priest

We’re told at the beginning of chapter 21 that David went to Nob, which is now the place where the tabernacle of the Lord was located and where all the priests lived. And he met this priest called Ahimelech, who trembled when he saw David. We’re not told why he trembled, but perhaps he suspected that something was wrong because David was alone.

And David tells this story about how Saul has sent him on a special, secret mission and how he intends to rendezvous with his men later. (There’s no indication in the text that there are other men with David. However, when the Lord Jesus mentions this story in the gospels, he refers to David’s companions (cf. Matt. 12:3)) David then asks the priest for some food. But there doesn’t appear to be any food available, apart from the consecrated bread. The priest is referring to what was called the Bread of Presence: twelve loaves of bread which were set on the gold table which was kept in the Holy Place in the tabernacle. Fresh bread was to be laid out in the tabernacle every Sabbath; and it was left there for the week. And at the end of the week, the priests could take the bread and eat it themselves. But since it was holy, only the priests could eat it and they could only eat it in a holy place.

So, that’s the only bread we have, says Ahimelech. But the priest is willing to give it to David, so long as his men have kept themselves from woman. The commentators discuss why the priest was willing to give this holy bread to David. And while it’s not entirely clear, the most likely explanation is that David persuaded the priest that he and his men were on a holy mission. And since they were on a holy mission, they should be allowed to eat the holy food.

In verse 8 David asks the priest for a weapon. We wonder what the priest made of David, who apparently was sent on a special, secret mission, but who didn’t bother to bring any food or any weapons with him. ‘What’s going on?’ he might have wondered. Whether the priest wondered about it or not, we don’t know, but we do know that he offered David the one weapon they had in the sanctuary, which was Goliath’s sword. The commentators suggest that the spoils of war were often deposited in the tabernacle after a victory. And so, that’s perhaps why the sword was kept there. And armed with Goliath’s sword and with the Bread of the Presence, David set off.

But notice the little detail in verse 7 which is easy to miss, but which will become important in the next chapter. We’re told in verse 7 that one of Saul’s servants was in Nob that day and he witnessed this conversation between David and the priest. The man’s name was Doeg the Edomite. Remember that name.

David’s ‘madness’

In verses 10 to 15 we read that David went to Gath. Gath was a Philistine city. In fact, it’s was where Goliath came from. And so, the decision to go to Gath strikes us as odd. But presumably David thought he would be safe from Saul there. After all, Saul was hardly likely to look for David among their enemies. And he presumably thought no one would recognise him. After all, there were no TVs in those days. There were no cameras. There was no instagram or facebook. So, very few people would know what David looked liked. However, David was recognised straightaway; and the Philistines who recognised him knew all about his reputation for killing tens of thousands of his enemies. In fact, they assumed David was the king of Israel. And so, it seemed as if David was done for. What should he do? He can’t run away, because presumably they had captured him. And he can’t fight, because presumably there were too many of them. So, what should he do? Well, he pretended to be mad, out of his mind. He made marks on the doors and he dribbled down his beard. And the king of Gath was taken in by his act; and he sent David away.

David at Adullam and Mizpah

After leaving Gath, David began to hide in the cave of Adullam. And look: his family came to him as did all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented. This motley crew gathered around him and he became their leader. This story always reminds me of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham in Sherwood Forest. And then we’re told that David took his parents to Moab, where they would be kept safe. You might remember that David’s great-grandmother was Ruth, who was from Moab. And so, there were perhaps family connections there and he hoped his parents would be kept safe. Meanwhile, this prophet called Gad told David to return to Judah. That’s where the Lord wanted him to be.

Saul’s ‘madness’

Well, in chapter 21 David pretended to be insane; and in chapter 22 Saul certainly behaves like a mad man. There he was, sitting under this tree at Gibeah, with his spear in his hand. Saul always seems to have a spear in his hand, reading to hurl it anyone who regards with suspicion. And he’s complaining to his officials, because he’s sure they’re all traitors who are conspiring against him. It’s a kind of paranoia, isn’t it? ‘None of you is concerned about me’, he says. ‘And none of you tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me.’ Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that his son, Jonathan, has incited David to attack Saul. But it’s all nonsense. David hasn’t been lying in wait for Saul. In fact, it’s the other way around, isn’t it? Saul has been lying in wait to attack David. He’s talking nonsense. It’s madness.

Saul and the priest

And that’s when Doeg the Edomite re-appears. And he tells Saul what he saw when David went to Nob. And Saul sent for Ahimelech the priest to ask him: ‘Why have you conspired against me?’ The priest tried to defend himself, because he didn’t do anything wrong. But Saul was not willing to listen. And he ordered his men to kill not just this one priest, but all the priests at Nob, because he said they had all sided with David. His men refused to raise their hand against the priest, but Doeg the Edomite was only too willing to do what the king wanted. And we’re told in verse 18 that on that day he killed 85 priests as well as all the men and women in Nob and the children and infants and the cattle and donkeys and sheep. He killed all of them, apart from one. One priest — named Abiathar — escaped and fled to David. And though Saul and Doeg did a very wicked thing, when they killed the people of Nob, what they did was in fact the fulfilment of God’s word, because hadn’t God said in chapter 2 that because Eli the priest did not remove his wicked sons from the priesthood, then he — the Lord — would remove all of Eli’s family from the priesthood? Back in chapter 2, the Lord announced that he would cut off all but one of Eli’s descendants. And so, although Saul and Doeg did a wicked thing, they were in fact carrying out the Lord’s judgment upon Eli.

Application 1

I said at the beginning that these two chapters belong together and they mirror one another. One is about David who is on the run; and the other is about Saul who ordered the execution of the priests.

David on the run foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ in his humiliation. Our Saviour is God the Son, who is equal in glory and honour and praise to the Father and the Spirit and is forever praised by angels in heaven. However, when the time had come, God the Son left the glory of heaven above and he came down to earth as one of us in order to do all that was necessary to deliver his people from their sin and misery and to give them eternal life. And on earth, he lived a life of sorrow and suffering, a life of trials and tribulation, a life of weakness and humiliation. ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests,’ he said, ‘but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ And so, during his time on earth, the Lord Jesus was like David, going from place to place, without a home of his own. And as he went from place to place, he was like David in that the weak and the poor and the outcasts and the sinners gathered around him. And just as Saul hated David and wanted to kill him, so there were many who hated the Lord Jesus and who wanted to have him killed. And whereas David pretended to be insane, some thought the Lord was insane, whereas others thought he was possessed by the Devil. And he was betrayed by a close companion and he was arrested and he was false accused and he was beaten and killed and buried in the ground. His life on earth was a life of sorrow and suffering, trials and tribulations, weakness and humiliation.

David on the run foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ in his humiliation. But, of course, when the time was right, David was going to be installed as king in place of Saul. He just had to wait for it. And after the suffering of our Saviour, who died to pay for the sins of his people, he was raised from the dead and exalted to heaven, where he was installed as king over all. And from his throne in heaven he proclaims salvation to all. And to all who believe in his name, and who yield their lives to him, he gives forgiveness and eternal life. No matter what you have done wrong, he promises to give forgiveness to all who believe in him so that God will remember your sins no more. And even though you deserve to be condemned and punished forever, he promises to give eternal life to all who believe in him so that you will live with God in glory forever.

And so, I say to you: If you have not already done so, now is the time to confess your sins to God and to ask him to forgive you for the sake of Christ who died for sinners. Ask him to give you the free gift of eternal life for the sake of Christ who was raised to give us life. And ask God to help you to live your life from now on for Christ the King.

Application 2

So, David on the run foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ in his humiliation. What about Saul and Doeg, these wicked men? One who ordered the execution of the priests; and the other who carried out his orders. Well, remember that Saul ordered the execution of the priests because it seemed to him that they had sided with David. And so, we can say that Saul and Doeg represent all the opposition which the church suffers because we have sided with Christ.

Those of you who look at the church’s Facebook page will have seen that I’ve started to post some of my old sermons on the internet. And I’ve already posted my sermons on Daniel and on 1 and 2 Thessalonians and on the book of Revelation. And in each of those books God reveals what it will be like for his people in these, the last days, in which we’re living. The last days began with the resurrection of Christ; and they will end when Christ the King comes again. And God has revealed that throughout the last days, the church will face opposition and persecution and trouble and trials, because in every generation there will be those who set themselves up against the Lord and his church and who will try to destroy the church. So Daniel wrote in Daniel 7 about a little horn, which symbolised every anti-christian power that rises up in the world to oppress God’s people. Paul in 2 Thessalonians wrote about the mystery of lawlessness which is at work in the world to persecute the church. And in the book of Revelation John wrote about a great beast from the sea who was given power to make war against the saints. And the point they’re all making is that in every generation God’s people can expect troubles and trials and sorrow and suffering from those who hate Christ and his church. And this will continue until Christ comes again.

And Saul and Doeg represent them, because the only reason Saul and Doeg killed the priests was because it seemed to them that the priests had sided with David. And because they hated David, they wanted to kill David and all who had sided with David.


God has revealed these things to us to teach us that the Christian life is a battle field. There are many who do not believe and who hate Christ and his church. And so, if ever you are called to suffer with Christ, do not be surprised by what is happening to you, because the Lord has warned you in his word that it would be like this. This is the way things are in these, the last days, in which we’re living, because there will always be those who hate Christ and his church.

But God has also revealed these things to us to comfort us. Just as the one remaining priest was able to run to David for help, so every believer is able to turn to Christ the King for his help against all the wicked schemes of the Devil and all who side with him against the church. And the Lord Jesus, from his throne in heaven, is watching over his people all of the time to help us. And he helps us by giving us the grace we need to endure all things and to persevere in the faith. He promises to keep his people always.

And God in his word reassures his people that in the end, in the end, the Devil and all who have sided with him, including every anti-christian power which rises up to oppose the church, will be destroyed. In Daniel, God revealed that the little horn will be destroyed. In 2 Thessalonians, God revealed that the mystery of lawlessness is under God’s authority and in the end will be destroyed by the splendour of Christ’s coming. And in Revelation, the beast from the sea, and every other beast that rises up against Christ and his church, will be cast into the lake of burning sulphur to be tormented day and night for ever and for ever. They will be destroyed on the day when Christ the King comes again in glory and with power to destroy his enemies and to gather his people. And his people — who have have trusted in him and who suffered with him — will reign with him for ever and for ever in the world to come.