David meets Achish
After David fled from Saul he was understandably confused, wondering what this bizarre treatment at the hands of Saul could mean, yet knowing the prophet Samuel had anointed him several years before to be king of Israel. But, for now, he was forced to flee from the man who currently occupied the throne and, as he wanders in the hill country, we see that he has a great deal of maturing to do before he will be ready to occupy the throne of Israel as a wise and obedient servant king for God. Chapter 21 informs us that he arrived at Nob, the city of the priests, situated a few miles to the north and east of Jerusalem (and a few miles south of Gibeah, Saul's hometown), and after leaving his wife and home his first encounter was with Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech had heard about the military exploits of David and he came trembling, wondering what David wanted with him. We can be fairly certain that Ahimelech knew that Saul hated David and had on occasion tried to kill him but, rather than finding out if the priest knew this to be true, we find that David resorted to a lie rather than trusting anyone with the truth, and so he claimed (v21): "The king has commissioned me with a matter." Tragically we read, in chapter 22, verse 18, that this lie of David's later caused the death of Ahimelech and his entire family, just as we saw that the careless commitment of Joshua to the Gibeonites, many centuries before, resulted in the suffering (2 Samuel 21v1-6) of many innocent people more than 400 years later.
David also gave his need of provisions as a reason for his visit and, carrying on with his deception, he told Ahimelech that he needed some bread. The only bread the priest had on hand was sacred bread, the showbread, which was normally eaten only by the priests but, if David and his men have not been rendered ceremonially unclean by sexual relations with women, the priest would give five loaves of the consecrated bread to David. David assured him that this was the case and the priest gave David the sacred bread, but as he did so, Doeg the Edomite ("chief of Saul's shepherds") was looking on with great interest. It would not be long before Doeg reported what he had seen to Saul, bringing death to almost every soul in the city of Nob (cf. 22:6-23). Ahimelech also helped David by giving him food and the sword of Goliath which had been kept wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod in the area where the priest lived.
David next course of action is truly amazing, for he flees from Israel to the land of the Philistines leaving the people of God for the enemies of God and arrives in Gath, one of the five major Philistine cities, seeking protection and sanctuary. We think that he must surely be aware that this was also the hometown of Goliath (17:23) whom he had killed! To make matters worse, David was carrying Goliath's sword (verses 8-9) which would make us think that he either careless, crazy, or desperate - or is being mightily protected by God despite himself. When David is forced to seek sanctuary among his enemies this tells us much about his "friend," Saul. This is but another confirmation of the hostility, even insanity, of Saul. Things are desperate indeed!
We assume that David hoped he would not be recognized in the abode of Achish, the king of Gath, and that he might find sanctuary there, for it was usual for kings to take in political refugees from nearby nations (cf. 1 Kings 11:40; 2 Kings 25:27-30). If they were given sanctuary they might become grateful allies, if not loyal subjects. These refugees would be a kind of trophy, a living testimony to the military dominance and power of the host nation. But Achish never gets to consider this as a possibility, for some of the Philistines examined David's appearance and said (21:111), "Isn't this the one about whom they sang 'Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?"' They had obviously heard the song which had been created because of David's victory over their own armies and, not too surprisingly, some of them may even have had a close up view of this handsome Israelite warrior at some time, perhaps before fleeing from him in close hand-to-hand combat. When David realized that they recognized him his fear of Achish caused him to act in an incredible manner, one more suitable to the actions of his closer foe, Saul! Knowing that, in those times, a person who was insane was considered to be holy or possessed by spirits and the superstitious people did not wish to harm a "chosen servant of the gods," David decided to feign madness. Such was the awe in which these people were held that we find that, even in many of the royal courts, insane people were kept as a kind of "good-luck charm," or to ward off evil spirits. David would have realized this and played the madman before Achish by scribbling and scratching on the city gates and allowing saliva to run out of the corner of his mouth onto his beard as he muttered incoherently. The disguise would do nothing for David's reputation as a warrior-king, and it takes us aback as we read it in our day, but it had a practical effectiveness in the presence of the Philistines, for Achish said (v14-151):
Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me? Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?
The Philistine king certainly didn't want a madman in his house and they drove him away so that (22:1) we are informed that David "escaped to the cave Adullam." David escaped with his life, but not with his dignity. If he arrived as a feared warrior, greater even than Goliath, he left as a lunatic. When David's brothers and his father's household learned where he was they came to join him in the cave Adullam, which was about fifteen miles southwest of Bethlehem and approximately fifteen miles east of Gath, where Achish dwelt, but far enough to be safe from him and safe from King Saul as well and therefore a perfect hideout. The superscription of Psalm 57, which is part of the inspired Psalm, informs us that it was written by David when he fled from Saul in the cave (v1-101):
"Be merciful unto me O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. (v4) My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. (v6) They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. (v7) My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. (v10) For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds.
David remained firm in his faith and continued to praise and honour His God who protected him from his enemies who laid a snare for him. After his family joined him, chapter 22:2 informs us further, all those who were in debt, discontented, or in distress, gathered to him there, about four hundred men. Perhaps these men, like our Lord's disciples, hope for a new king and a new kingdom which will overthrow the old? They, like David's family, may have sensed that if the faithful warrior servant David can be regarded as Saul's enemy, they are not safe either. This seems to be a safe assumption, based upon the fate of the priests (see chapter 22). Others follow, those in distress, in debt, or out of favour with Saul. David was effectively the "Robin Hood" of the Old Testament and many who would be considered by others to be "the rabble" of the land gathered themselves to him. He became captain over a dis-jointed bunch of men from various backgrounds but, eventually, he would mould this mob of malcontents into a formidable fighting force led, despite David's failings, by the Living God.
David went from Adullam to Mizpeh of Moab and crossed the Jordan and said to the king of Moab (22:3-41), "Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me" and so we read that "they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the stronghold." This stronghold was En-gedi, situated west of the Dead Sea, and David did not want his parents endangered by being with him, for when Saul found out that David was organizing a small army he would certainly consider it as an attempt at a military coup, and so David left his honoured parents with the king of Moab. We remember that Ruth, David's great-grandmother, was a Moabite woman (cf. Ruth 1:4; 4:13-17) and this may have inclined the King of Moab to grant David's request.
Other texts of Scripture make it very clear that this is not "good luck," and David's deliverance is not the result of his cunning, for this is divine deliverance and while David escapes from Nob to Gath, the priests and their families are not so fortunate. Reading the Psalms gives us a clearer view of the situation and, for example, the historical background of Psalm 52 is Doeg's report to Saul that he had seen David at Nob, while Psalms 34 and 56 were written during David's time at Gath. Psalms 57 and 142 were written while David hides out in the cave of Adullam. These psalms were David's reflections and considered conclusions about what really happened here in I Samuel and he clearly recognised that God alone is the One who saves.2 Consequently, He is the One to whom we must cry for deliverance (34:4-7; 57:1-3; 142) and the One whom we must praise for delivering us. It may not always look as though God is the one responsible for delivering, but all deliverance is from Him. On the surface, many would not see God as David's Deliverer when He spares him at Gath, but Psalm 34 makes it very clear that David's deliverance is from the Lord in our text. God rescues David in a way that humbles him greatly. God is not out to bolster David's ego but is out to save David in a way that humbles him and causes him to turn to Him for deliverance. One of the hardest lessons for the believer to learn is that God often has to humble us first so that we will see how desperate our circumstances are, and only then will we humbly cry out to Him for deliverance.
(Continued on page 546)