David’s Flight – 1 Samuel 21–22

Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 21-22

David Flees from Saul (21:1–9)

Upon learning from Jonathan that, indeed, it was Saul’s intent to kill him, David fled from the royal court in Gibeah and came to Nob, which was a city where many priests dwelt (cf. 1 Sam. 22:19). Apparently David discerned that the wisest course of action, and the best stewardship of his life, was to leave Saul’s presence. The city of Nob was two miles southeast of Gibeah and a mile northeast of Jerusalem. Since David soon fled to Gath, some 20 miles southwest of Gibeah, it seems that his reason for going to Nob was for supplies. We learn that Ahimelech was priest at this time. This is the first mention of Ahimelech in the book of 1 Samuel. He was apparently a great grandson of Eli and brother of Ahijah (cf. 1 Sam. 14:3). Since Eli and his lineage had been rejected by God (cf. 1 Sam. 2:30–36), Ahimelech is mentioned by name to clue reader into expecting trouble to unfold in the narrative.

When asked by Ahimelech the reason for his visit, David tells a story about having been sent on an urgent mission by Saul. When David asked for bread, he learned that only the holy bread was present. This was bread that was consecrated by the priests for use in the Tabernacle (cf. Exod. 25:30). According to Lev. 24:5–9, this bread was usually to eaten by the priests; yet, after praying (cf. 1 Sam. 22:10), Ahimelech gave David the holy bread. Clearly, Ahimelech determined the duty to show mercy trumped the ceremonial regulations regarding the holy bread. Lest we think this was sinful, note that Jesus later confirmed the correctness of Ahimelech’s actions (cf. Mark 2:23–28). We also learn that when David asked for a weapon, Ahimelech provided him with the sword David had used to behead Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17:51). It is unclear why the sword was stored here, but perhaps it was a reminder of deliverance.

David Flee to Gath (21:10–22:5)

Upon leaving Nob, surprisingly David fled to Gath in Philistia. This was quite bold for David, as he marched into the territory of the enemies of Israel carrying the very sword he had used to slay Goliath, the hometown hero of Gath. Since David was seeking refuge from Saul, perhaps Philistia seemed like the best option. In any event, when all of the Philistines did not receive David, he was forced to feign madness in order to be allowed to flee once again. The text reports that David fled 10 miles southeast of Gath into the cave of Adullam. While here David’s family, who would have been in a precarious position given David’s status as an outlaw, joined him. A group of 400 men, united by various distressing situations, also joined David. David would turn this band of malcontents into an army that would later grow to 600 men (cf. 1 Sam. 23:13). The text reports that David would flee again to Moab, and then again back to Judah.

Saul Murders the Priests (22:6–23)

At 1 Sam. 22:6 we learn that Saul soon heard of David and his gathered men. In a fit of rage, apparently with a spear in his hand, Saul accused his servants of being in league with David. Saul’s spiritual and mental instability are on full display as he accuses David of plotting to kill him (cf. 1 Sam. 22:8, 13). Of course, David would twice refuse to kill Saul in the ensuing chapters. When Saul reminds his servants about the money and power he can provide, Doeg the Edomite volunteers that he had seen David receive provisions from Ahimelech. When Saul summons Ahimelech, Saul immediately accuses him of conspiring with David. Ahimelech, who was apparently unaware of David and Saul’s fractured relationship, denied the conspiracy charges and even defended David’s position and character before Saul. Ahimelech’s protest, however, did not sway King Saul.

1 Sam. 22:16–23 records the execution of Ahimelech, his priestly family, and the destruction of the city of Nob. Interestingly, Saul’s servants would not kill the priests; yet, Doeg the Edomite, and presumably his associates, carried out Saul’s command. The death of Ahimelech and the priests, however unjust and tragic, was a fulfillment of God’s earlier curse upon Eli and his house (cf. 1 Sam. 2:31). It is ironic that Saul was deposed by God for sinfully refusing to destroy God’s enemies, the Amalekites. Yet, Saul sinfully chose to destroy the priests of God and their families. The only descendant of Eli left alive was Abiathar who would serve David as a priest, but eventually be exiled from the priesthood by Solomon for his role in seeking to depose David (cf. 1 Kings 2:26–27). At this time, Abiathar fled to David, who offered to keep him safe, as they have a common enemy.

Application Questions:

  1. Was David correct in his decision to flee from Saul’s royal court in Gibeah? When faced with trials, how do we decide when it’s best to fight and when it’s best to flee?
  2. Ahimelech showed great hospitality to David. To whom are we to show hospitality (cf. Luke 14:13; Rom. 12:13, 20; Heb. 13:2)?
  3. Was David wrong to deceive Ahimelech about the nature of his visit? Was David wrong to ask for provisions, knowing that one of Saul’s men was present?
  4. Do you think David’s flight to Gath was a wise decision? Note that David would flee to Philistine territory again at 1 Sam. 27:1–28:2.
  5. Do you think Doeg the Edomite knew what would happen to Ahimelech as a result of him informing Saul of his assisting David (cf. Ps. 52)?