Saul doubted and feared. David trusted and listened. Which one are you like?
1 Samuel 22:3-23
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The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart. We have already seen why on several occasions. He trusted the Lord to do battle with Goliath. Later he gave Goliath’s sword to the priests, because he saw it as God’s victory, not his own. David ran not to his family, but to the Lord when he was in trouble. His orientation was toward God, and all his hope and trust were in the Lord.
But this does not mean that David was perfect. Most of probably know about his major sins in connection with Bathsheba and her husband. But that wasn’t the only time he screwed up, and it certainly wasn’t the first. Two weeks ago we looked at 1 Samuel chapter 21, and saw that even though David ran to the Lord when he was in trouble, he gave in to fear and lied to the priest Ahimelech. Now in chapter 22, we see the horrible results of that lie.
Before we get to that, however, I want to point out some unrelated positive things. At this point, David was in the cave with some of his relatives, and number of other desperate men. It is unclear whether his parents had also joined him there or not. In any case, he knew his parents were likely to be in danger from Saul, and he could not expose them to the kind of harsh conditions that he would have to bear for the foreseeable future. So he took his parents to the kingdom of Moab.
There are two special things about this action. First, is the relationship David’s family had with the Kingdom of Moab. The book of Ruth is a short history (four chapters) of David’s great-grandmother Ruth. She was the grandmother of David’s father, Jesse, and it is possible that she was alive during the first part of Jesse’s life. It is a sweet story about a family that went through hard times, but still trusted in the Lord. It shows us that David came from a family of people who had a heart for God. But the important thing here is that Ruth was originally from Moab. So David did not just randomly dump his parents on the first foreign dignity he could find. He took them to people who were actually relatives, albeit distant ones.
Second, this highlights something we don’t talk about much in modern western society. Both Old and New Testaments are clear that we have a responsibility to take care of our families, and even particularly, the elderly members.
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn to fulfill their duty toward their own household and so repay their parents what is owed them. For this is what pleases God. (1Tim 5:4, NET)
If any believing woman has widows in her family, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows. (1Tim 5:16, HCSB)
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1Tim 5:8, ESV)
David took his responsibility to his family seriously. He could have said, “Look Ma and Pa, I’m just really busy these days. I’m trying not to get killed, I have this band of men to lead, I am God’s chosen instrument in this generation, and oh, by the way, I have a kingdom to win.” Those things might have easily been more pressing than taking care of his parents. But he didn’t feel right doing anything else until he knew that they were safe and well cared for. We sometimes forget that both retirement and social security are relatively new developments. In all of history until about 50 years ago, elderly people did not have these. Instead, they had children. Where I grew up in Papua New Guinea, it is still that way. When someone gets too old or infirm to provide for themselves, their family takes care of them. It may have to be that way again in America before too long. That isn’t the end of the world. It worked pretty well for most of human history. And David managed it, even in his precarious situation. I hope my kids are reading this.
When David leaves his parents there, his words to the king of Moab are very humble: “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, until I know what God will do with me.” He is not arrogant. Even though he knows Samuel anointed him as God’s chosen instrument, and to be the next king, David does not presume upon God. He humbly admits that he is in a pretty uncertain situation. I think this is also important because sometimes we read the Bible and we think faith was easy for the people that we read about. But this shows that David felt he had no guarantee of how his life would turn out, or even if he would survive the next few weeks. It is easy in hindsight to see how powerfully God worked in his life. It seems inevitable to us, reading it three thousand years later. But when David lived it, he had no more reason to trust God than you and I do today. He had no special guarantee. This should help us to have confidence that God is still working in our lives, even when we, like David, can’t be sure how things will turn out.
Now, it appears that he stayed there in Moab for a time. In fact, it says that David himself took care of his parents (they lived with him) while he was “in the stronghold.” Then the prophet Gad (this is the first time we’ve heard of him) says, “Don’t stay in the stronghold, but return to Judah.” It can be confusing, but obviously then, the “stronghold” doesn’t mean the cave, but rather, the stronghold of the king of Moab. “Judah” means the area belonging to the tribe of Judah in southern Israel.
The presence of this prophet is interesting. Samuel the prophet was Saul’s advisor for a time, but Saul never really listened to him. Finally, they parted ways forever. At this point Samuel is very elderly indeed, and would have been unable to live the hard life David was living. So the Lord sent David another prophet – this man named Gad. Fittingly enough, Gad appears to have been one of those original desperate, in-debt malcontented men that joined David. But the Lord has gifted him to speak prophetically into David’s life. And unlike Saul, David listened and immediately responded to the Lord. This wasn’t necessarily an easy choice to make. The Lord was telling David to go back to Israel, where he would be in danger from Saul. David wasn’t going to fight Saul or any Israelites, yet he was supposed to go there and remain in danger. Even so, David didn’t hesitate.
Meanwhile, we get a glimpse into what is happening with Saul. Saul has completely given himself over to hatred and jealousy of David. He verbally abuses his own son Jonathan, as well as his men, accusing them of conspiring against him. He thinks David has bribed them with promises of land and military commands. You can see that Saul has moved from insecurity to almost full blown paranoia.
It is at this time, through Saul, that David’s lie to the priest brings forth its terrible fruit. Doeg, the man from the region of Edom (not a true Israelite) speaks up. He tells Saul what he saw and heard when David came to the sanctuary at Nob. He mentions that not only did David get bread, and the sword of Goliath, but Ahimelech the priest “inquired of the Lord” for David. “Inquiring of the Lord” at the very least meant a brief worship service and then use of the Urim and Thummim (– the “holy dice,” so to speak). It may have included a more thorough time of worship, and a sacrifice. So here is our proof that David went there not only for physical help, but to hear from God and worship in his presence.
Saul summons Ahimelech (the high priest) and all the priests of Nob. He confronts Ahimelech, who protests his innocence. He knew nothing of the rift between David and Saul, because David had lied to him. It may well be that he would have helped David anyway, but David never gave him the chance to do so honestly. Ahimelech freely admits that helped David, and reminds Saul that David has always faithfully served the king – indeed he has been Saul’s most faithful and potent warrior. In a way, I think when Ahimelech confronted Saul with the truth that Saul is being unjust to both David and to himself, he sealed his own fate.
Saul rages, and orders his bodyguards to kill Ahimelech and all the high priests. They balk. This is an abomination. Even Saul’s faithful followers know that he is ordering a horrible murder. I picture Saul screaming and raging, and then Doeg, who is not an Israelite, and who is cunning and ambitious, does the deed. He murders 85 priests that day. He continues on afterwards, and directs the murder of all of their families and the destruction of the village at Nob. With eighty-five men, plus their wives and children Saul, through Doeg and Doeg’s men, murdered two-hundred people or more.
However, they missed one. Abiathar, son of Ahimelech escaped, and he took his priestly garment (called an “ephod”) with him. He fled to David and told him what happened.
Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew that Doeg the Edomite was there that day and that he was sure to report to Saul. I myself am responsible for the lives of everyone in your father’s family. (1Sam 22:22, HCSB)
David’s response is remarkable. Saul is the one who ordered the murder of the priests. Doeg is the one who carried it out and did the actual killing, probably assisted by some underlings. But David says, “this was my fault. I am responsible for the loss of those lives.”
You see David had a heart that God loved. It wasn’t because David was perfect. He lied when he was running from Saul. But he was open, willing, humble and even repentant. When Samuel confronted Saul about the sins he committed, Saul’s response was always something like: well I had to do it. Circumstances demanded it. I was losing men.” David could easily have said, “I had to lie to save my life.” He might have said, “It was an extreme situation, calling for extreme measure. Besides, I’m not the one who killed them. But instead, his response is: “I was responsible for this great tragedy.”
This is not to say that David was blind to the evil of Saul and Doeg. At this time he wrote Psalm 52, in which he castigates the evil of Doeg, and by implication, Saul. In David’s eyes, their biggest sin is this:
Here is the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, taking refuge in his destructive behavior. (Psalm 52:7)
What is even more amazing is what David wrote next. Remember he is still hiding in fear of his life. Remember, he had no more reason to trust the Lord than you and I do.
But I am like a flourishing olive tree in the house of God; I trust God’s faithful love forever.
I will praise you forever for what you have don. In the presence of your faithful people, I will put my hope in your name, for it is good. (Psalm 52:8)
As always, the Lord brings some good out of every terrible situation. David is his chosen servant. Now David has both a prophet and a priest to worship with him, and give him godly counsel. And unlike Saul, David humbly and willingly receives what God says through them.
Now what does all this mean for us today?
Maybe you need to hear the specific practical advice that you should take care of your family, and even your parents when they are unable to take care of themselves.
Perhaps you face the temptation that Saul had, to let your insecurity rule you. Do your fears drive away the people you love, or cause them harm? I doubt anyone reading this has committed murder on the scale that Saul perpetrated that day. Even so, the difference between faith and doubt is huge, and matters a great deal. Without trust in the Lord, if we trust only in ourselves, like Saul, we are doomed to hurt those around us. See how much better it is to be like David and put your trust in the Lord alone.
Like David with Gad and Abiathar, do you have godly spiritual advisors who listen to the Lord and have permission to speak honestly into your life? If not, ask the Lord to send you a few.
There is one last thing. Last time we talked about the concept that in the Old Testament we find people or events that remind us of Jesus, or show us what Jesus is like, or what following him is like. There is another one this week. More than two hundred people lost their lives for helping David. So today and throughout all history, people around the world have been persecuted and killed for following Jesus. It is a reminder that we should pray for those who are persecuted today, and also that we should be ready to make a choice between our own life and our obedience to Jesus.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about all this right now.