<< Part 3 David, exiled from King Saul's court with a price on his head, flees for his life into the wilderness. Constantly on the move from cave to cave to avoid capture, David is sought out by others who are distraught with Saul's government. Even Jonathan, Saul's son, makes a personal and political covenant with David. David finds himself forced into a guerrilla movement far different from those we are familiar with today. Rather than fighting against the government of Saul, David seeks to protect himself from that government while fighting the enemies of Israel because Saul is too busy seeking David's death to fight them! David, in this strange political situation, even finds himself in league with the king of Gath, whose Philistine champion, Goliath, he had so recently and dramatically slain!
David and Jonathan, Saul's son, met in secret in Naioth where David had fled for his life. "What have I done? Why is your father so determined to kill me?" David demanded of Jonathan. "That's not true! It just isn't so! My father tells me everything, and surely he wouldn't hide this from me!" exploded Jonathan. "Jonathan, you know better than that — your father hides his intent from you because he knows of our friendship. Believe me, I am just a step away from death!" David reasoned. With no further argument, Jonathan then offered to do whatever he could to aid David. In a complicated plan resembling a subplot of a modern spy thriller, David and Jonathan work out a scheme to determine once and for all Saul's true intent towards David. Jonathan's aid to David was not an act of mere friendship, but one which carried political overtones affecting the entire nation of Israel. The plan was sealed with a powerful oath, a vow, a covenant. Jonathan was heir to the throne of his father. David was a popular figure in the eyes of the nation. Saul had been told by Samuel that God had rejected him from being king of Israel. Saul sought to maintain and expand his power, and to ensure it for his son Jonathan. All this and much more was common knowledge. Many knew David had been chosen to replace Saul, and many were in favor of revolution, confrontation, and force to make the change. Knowing all this, and being personally convinced of David's destiny, Jonathan told David: "I promise by the Lord God of Israel that about this time tomorrow, or the next day at the latest, I will talk to my father about you and let you know at once how he feels about you. If he is angry and wants you killed, then may the Lord kill me if I don't tell you, so you can escape and live. May the Lord be with you as he used to be with my father. [Jonathan recognized that Saul was no longer in God's favor.] And remember, you must demonstrate the love and kindness of the Lord not only to me during my own lifetime, but also to my children after the Lord has destroyed all of your enemies." (Jonathan wished to forge a treaty, as it were, to ensure that no political purge of the family of Saul would be part of David's policy once he was in power.) "So Jonathan made a covenant with the family of David [binding on the family of David who would succeed him on the throne of Israel], and David swore to it with a terrible curse against himself and his descendants, should he be unfaithful to his promise. But Jonathan made David swear to it again, this time by his love for him, for he loved him as much as he loved himself' (I Sam. 20:12-17, The Living Bible). Secure in the knowledge that his own life and the lives of his family were safe in the future, Jonathan left to perform his part of the contract.
The Terrible Truth
Back at the court of Saul, Jonathan joined his father in a new moon celebration with many other dignitaries. Jonathan sat opposite his father; Abner sat beside Saul; David's seat was empty! "Why isn't David here?" demanded Saul of Jonathan. Obviously Saul knew that Jonathan knew where David was! "He asked me if he could go to Bethlehem to take part in a family celebration... so I told him to go ahead," Jonathan lied. "Saul boiled with rage.... 'Do you think I don't know that you want this son of a nobody to be king in your place, shaming yourself and your mother? As long as that fellow is alive, you'll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!'" "But why?" Jonathan simply countered his father. At this response, Saul picked up his spear, hurled it at his own son with intent to kill him — and the terrible truth was realized by Jonathan: Saul did want David dead! In a fierce anger of his own, Jonathan immediately left the table, and next morning, as they had agreed, Jonathan sought out David to tell him the painful truth David already knew. They both sadly shook hands, weeping openly at the circumstances both realized would follow. "At last Jonathan said to David, 'Cheer up, for we have entrusted each other and each other's children into God's hands forever.' So they parted, David going away and Jonathan returning to the city" (I Sam. 20:18-42). A political enemy of the king, with a death sentence from him even the king's own son now believed, David fled again. He had no weapons with which to defend himself. His family would soon be in jeopardy of their lives, and he must make some arrangements for their safety. He had no political allies of any power except Jonathan. David felt he had to get some kind of organization together to' counter threats of the enemies of Israel on all sides. Saul was unable to protect Israel because he was too busy, and tied up too much of his army, in attempts to kill David. David had no plan to seize the throne. He was trusting God to lead him, but he had to be ready when God opened the doors for him. Ahimelech, who was residing in the city of Nob, was the priest in charge after Samuel. David went to Nob first, but kept his counsel to himself. By the time he reached the city, he was famished. Asked by the priest why he was there, David lied, telling Ahimelech that he was on a private mission for the king and could not reveal to anyone why he was there. The priest replied to David's request for food by offering him the "bread of the presence" that was placed in the Tabernacle. Though this was not lawful for him to do, in David's extreme necessity he consumed it and gave it to his men; and Jesus exonerated him from guilt (see Matthew 12:3-4, Mark 2:25-26, Luke 6:3-4). The fact that no other food was available shows the extent to which the true worship of God had degenerated under Saul. The problem of lack of weapons was solved when the priest offered David Goliath's own sword (which belonged to David anyway). It should have seemed strange that a seasoned warrior like David would be out on the king's business and have left his own sword behind! But then, what do priests know of these things? Unfortunately, Doeg the Edomite, Saul's chief herdsman, was there to observe all that happened. David left in a hurry, fearing Saul's men would not be far behind. Oddly, he went to Achish, king of Gath, the city of Goliath, to seek asylum, but the king's officers didn't much appreciate having the hero of Israel in their midst. They asked: "Isn't he the top leader of Israel? Isn't he the one people honor at their dances, singing, 'Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands'?" David was in trouble. To escape he feigned insanity: He scratched at doors like a dog; he let the spittle run down his beard; he mumbled incoherently. It worked. David escaped Gath and went to live in a cave in Adullam.
At the cave, his brothers and other relatives joined him. Then still others, disillusioned by Saul's actions, joined David.' Eventually, he had a force of about 400 men. They became a highly mobile, well-trained and equipped company of troops who could defend themselves and fend off the enemies of Israel. David solved the problem of his family's safety (mainly just his father and mother, since his brothers were with him) by requesting and obtaining permission of the king of Moab for political asylum for them until the conflict between him and Saul was settled. A prophet of God named Gad came to the cave of Adullam where David was encamped. His message from God to David was for him to leave the cave and return to the land of Judah. David obeyed. But Saul soon learned of the move through his informers. As usual he was livid. He accused his own officers of laxity in their pursuit of David. He turned the tables and in a classic case of irony accused his son Jonathan of encouraging and abetting David to come and kill him! Everyone was hiding the truth from him, he raged! Then Doeg the Edomite saw that this was the moment to tell Saul what he saw when David was at Nob. He accused the high priest of aiding and abetting fugitive David. In a superstate of agitation, Saul summoned Ahimelech, his family and all the other priests at Nob. In fear and trepidation they presented themselves before the king. "Why have you and David conspired against me? You gave him food, a sword and advice from God! You encouraged him to revolt against me, to attack the king!" Ahimelech attempted to defend himself against these crimes of high treason: "But, your majesty — David, the most faithful of your servants, captain of your own bodyguard, your own son-in-law, and a highly popular hero in all Israel, has come to me many times for advice, and as the king's advisor I have given him deference and hospitality, as I did this time. I know nothing of any plot and think it highly unfair to be accused in this matter."
The facts enraged the king further: "You will die for this, Ahimelech! You! Your entire family! And all these priests who are obviously in this conspiracy with you! Guards! Kill them all!" But just as his men had before refused to slay Jonathan his son when Saul had foolishly condemned him to death for eating honey on a fast day he had decreed, the soldiers refused to slay harmless priests. Infused with purple hate, Saul turned to Doeg, the accuser and informer: "Do it, Doeg!" And Doeg did! Although the soldiers would not slay the priests themselves, they did not prevent Doeg from slaughtering 85 priests of God. Then Doeg, in his zeal to please Saul, went to Nob and finished the job, killing the families of all these priests, men, women, children, babies, even oxen, donkeys and sheep. Only one son of Ahimelech escaped, Abiathar, who fled to David. David, learning of the priest pogrom from Abiathar, the one survivor, wept bitterly, accused himself of being the cause of it, and offered the young priest his personal protection: "Any harm to you will come over my dead body!" Then David went off privately in sorrow and wrote what we read today in Psalm 52. Physically, mentally, psychologically exhausted — but spiritually refreshed — David waited for unknown events yet to come.