Introduction: Chapters 21 through 29 of 1 Samuel mark the time when David lived as a refugee with enemies in every direction. As one commentator observes: “These nine chapters depict David’s ‘wilderness experience.’ As Israel’s wilderness experience followed an exodus from a foreign king, so David’s followed an exodus from a king ‘such as all the other nations have.’ And as the wilderness for Israel preceded possession of the Promised Land, so for David it preceded possession of a promised kingdom. Furthermore, during this wilderness period David experienced events that in crucial ways paralleled those of the Israelites following their expulsion from Egypt – pursuit by the armed forces of the king they were fleeing, a hostile encounter with the Midianites, an attempted foray into Moab, and yet the Lord’s protection against all human foes. These connections between David’s life and the Israelites’ experiences recorded in the Torah not only magnify the story of David to one of epic proportions, but they also create the expectation that the Lord would ultimately give David the fulfillment of all the good promises made to him.” (Robert Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, The New American Commentary, Vol. 7, B&H Publishing Group (1996) p. 220). Like the Jews, God took David into the wilderness to test him, to mold him, and prepare him. Also like the Jews, David stumbled when God brought him into the wilderness. But David repented and learned from his errors. Many of the mistakes that David makes in these chapters form his inspiration for future psalms to God.
From God’s deliverance of David (and also the Jews), God reveals seven lessons on living in the wilderness of life with all its dangers. These include seeking: (1) refuge in Him; (2) His provision; (3) His protection from the devil; (4) His protection from your enemies; (5) His guidance; (6) His deliverance; and (7) the praise that you should offer Him for your deliverance.
First, David sought refuge from Saul in the house of God with the high priest Ahimelech. Yet, when pressed about the reasons for his visit, David lied to the high priest. From this, God reveals that He wants you to seek refuge in Him and (unlike what David did) fully trust Him when you are living in the wilderness. Second, David came to the house of God looking for the bread of life to sustain him on his journey. From this, God reveals that He wants you to seek His provision when you are in the wilderness. Third, an evil servant of Saul spied on David and the high priest. He would later stand as an accuser against both David and the high priest before Saul. He acted like the accuser of the brethren, Satan. From this, God reveals that He wants you to seek His deliverance from Satan, who acts as your accuser. Fourth, David came to the house of God looking for a physical weapon to protect himself when he should have trusted in God for his protection. From this, God reveals that He wants you to seek His protection from your enemies in the wilderness. Fifth, David fled to the stronghold of his enemy where Goliath came from instead of turning to God for guidance. David later wrote a psalm stating that he would make God’s Word the light unto his feet. From this, God reveals that He wants you to seek His guidance when you are in the wilderness. Sixth, David became filled with fear when his enemies seized him in Goliath’s hometown. David later wrote a psalm stating that he would trust in God for his deliverance. From this, God reveals that He wants you to seek His deliverance when you are in the wilderness. Finally, through God’s grace, David escaped from an enemy king after he feigned insanity. David later recognized God’s grace in his deliverance by writing a psalm of praise. God also wants you to praise Him for His undeserved grace in delivering you.
David seeks refuge in the house of God, yet then falters in his honesty. After fleeing from Saul, David sought refuge with the high priest Ahimelech in the city of Nob. But when pressed about the reasons for his visit, David deceived his host: “1 Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, ‘Why are you alone and no one with you?’ 2 David said to Ahimelech the priest, ‘The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’” (1 Sam. 21:1-2). “David, in distress, fled to the tabernacle of God. It is great comfort in a day of trouble, that we have a God to go to, to whom we may open our cases, and from whom we may ask and expect direction.” (Matthew Henry on 1 Sam. 21).1 Yet, David’s good intentions fell apart once the high priest inquired why the king’s son-in-law and famous military commander was there alone, presumably also in a haggard condition. The high priest might have also heard that Saul’s men came for David while David was with the prophets at Naioth (1 Sam. 19:19-24). Out of fear and a lack of faith, David then lied about the reasons for his visit. He falsely claimed that the king had sent him on a secret mission. He also falsely claimed that he had come with other men. His lies would later cost the lives of all of the people in the town of Nob (1 Sam. 22:19). It would be easy to dismiss David as just another fearful liar like Saul. Yet, unlike Saul, David later repented and learned from his mistakes in the wilderness. Moreover, in sign of humility, he turned nearly every mistake in this chapter into a psalm for others to sing.
David misled the high priest Ahimelech regarding for his visit Nob2
Let Jesus be your refuge in the wilderness. It is in Jesus that we “have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” (Heb. 6:18). “The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble;” (Ps. 9:9). “Each will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry country, like the shade of a huge rock in a parched land.” (Is. 32:2). No one can replace the refuge that Jesus offers. But He frequently uses His believers as the instruments of His refuge. If His love is in you, He wants you to be a refuge to those in need: ‘“naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’” (Matt. 25:36). Jesus asks us: “And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt. 5:47). Have you made yourself available like Samuel, Jonathan, and now Ahimelech to a person in need like David?
Ask God to guard your tongue from evil. In psalm 39, David wrote for the choir a psalm to forever record the need for God to muzzle his mouth from wicked words: “For the choir director, for Jeduthun. A Psalm of David. I said, ‘I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.’” (Ps. 39:1). “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Ps. 141:3). “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Ps. 34:13). “Teach me, and I will be silent; and show me how I have erred.” (Job 6:24). “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” (Ja. 1:26; 1 Pet. 3:10). Most people say evil things at times. Will you ask God to guard your tongue from evil?
Accept God’s testing in the wilderness as He exposes your sins and molds you. God repeatedly tested the Jews in the wilderness to show them where their hearts were evil. “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Dt. 8:2). David also recorded in a psalm how God tested his heart out of love to expose his hidden sins: “You have tried my heart; You have visited me by night; You have tested me and You find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.” (Ps. 17:3). David then wrote another psalm where he encouraged God to search his heart for other sins: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts;” (Ps. 139:23). “Examine me, O LORD, and try me; test my mind and my heart.” (Ps. 26:2). David’s willingness to accept testing and correction was what made him “a man after His own heart,” (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Will you invite God’s testing and correction?
David seeks provision in the house of God. David fled from Saul in such a hurry that he had no food. He was hungry and he needed food for his journey. Thus, he asked the high priest for any food that he could provide: “3 Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.’ 4 The priest answered David and said, ‘There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.’ 5 David answered the priest and said to him, ‘Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?’ 6 So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away.” (1 Sam. 21:3-6). David asked for “five loaves of bread.” (1 Sam. 21:3). In the Bible, five is the number associated with God’s grace. Jesus, our High Priest, later also used “fives loaves” of bread to feed the masses who came to Him (Lk. 9:16). It was normal to give food to persons on a journey (e.g., Gen. 18:3-8; 19:3; Jdgs. 19:20-21). The high priest who helped David, however, faced a dilemma. He only had consecrated bread that was normally given to the priests (Lev. 24:9). The bread, however, was at least a day old and had already been replaced from God’s communion table with fresh bread. Would he give his old food meant for the priests to help a hungry man? Or, would he become legalistic and turn away a hungry man? Although not stated here, the next chapter records that the high priest stopped and sought out God’s guidance in prayer. “He inquired of the LORD for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” (1 Sam. 22:10). Jesus directed the high priest to help his brother in need.
God’s Law was meant to protect and never harm others. In the context of the Jews’ misuse of the Sabbath, Jesus used this incident to explain how God’s Law always had exceptions if following the Law would cause harm to another: “And He said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”’ (Mk. 2:25-26; Matt. 12:3-5; Lk. 6:2-4). Believers should not ignore the wisdom and protections that God offers through His Law. Yet, on the other hand, believers should never misuse the Law to ignore others in need.
Jesus provides for His people in the wilderness of life. The bread that the high priest gave to David in fact symbolized the provision that God offers to all His people in need. He required the priests to prepare 12 loaves of fresh bread each day: “5 Then you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it; two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. 6 You shall set them in two rows, six to a row, on the pure gold table before the Lord.” (Lev. 24:5-6). The priests then placed the “shewbread” on a table in front of the Holy of Holies (Lev. 24:6; Ex. 25:30). The number 12 symbolized God’s perfect government. The 12 loaves also symbolized His provision through His appointed leaders. In the wilderness, He provided manna and quail after the Jews grumbled (Ex. 16:1-8). He later again provided meat when the Jews grew tired of manna (Nu. 11:4-6, 32-33). He transformed the waters of Marah to provide drinking water (Ex. 15:22-27). He made water come out from a rock at Horeb (Ex. 17:6). He also caused the waters to gush out of a rock at Meribah (Nu. 20:10-11; Ps. 81:16; 106:41; Isa. 48:21). He also guided the Jews by a pillar of light by day and by night (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). He even protected the Jews’ feet from swelling (Dt. 8:4). The bread also symbolized Jesus. He is our spiritual manna, the bread of life: “Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, always give us this bread.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I present myself as the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’” (Jo. 6:34-35; Matt. 6:31). “‘I constitute the bread that came down out of heaven.’” (Jo. 3:41). He was also the “Word” that “became flesh.” (Jo. 1:1, 14). Like the oil, the wheat had to be beaten to create the flour. To be our bread of life, He was also beaten and then crucified at the cross (Jo. 19:1, 16). As symbolized by the 12 loaves, He also promises to feed everyone who seeks after Him (Matt. 6:25-34). Are you asking Jesus to provide for you?
Be an Ahimelech to someone else in need. Like the high priest Ahimelech, God wants to use you as His instrument to provide for others in need. Every believer today is part of Jesus’ “royal priesthood.” (1 Pet. 2:9). Like Ahimelech, you are expected to be a priest and serve others. Moreover, you are commanded to be a generous giver (Ex. 36:2-7; 2 Cor. 9:6, 8-14). This can include serving others, providing them with comfort, praying for them, and tithing so that the Church can provide for others in need. If you hold back your tithes, you sin against God. ‘“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” (Mal. 3:8-10). Like Ahimelech, are you helping others in need with your time, talent, and treasure?
Be holy when seeking God’s fellowship. Although God wanted the Jews to allow others to eat the priests’ bread when in need, Hedid not dispense with the separate requirement that the person treat the bread of God as holy: “9 It shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the Lord’s offerings by fire, his portion forever.” (Lev. 24:9; Ex. 19:4; 25:8; 24:9-11). This holy “Shalom meal” was an act of fellowship that kept the priests in peace and communion with God. Thus, the priest asked that David verify that he had not slept with a woman (1 Sam. 21:4). Sleeping with a spouse was not an evil act. But a person who engaged in relations with their spouse was still ceremonially unclean until nightfall. “If a man lies with a woman so that there is a seminal emission, they shall both bathe in water and be unclean until evening.” (Lev 15:18; Ex. 19:15). David was married and had been with a woman. But he had not seen his wife for some time. Thus, he was ceremonially clean and able to have communion. The Tabernacle and the rules for ceremonial cleanness that came with it no longer exist. God, however, still wants you to be holy when you approach Him seeking His fellowship. ‘“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.’” (Lev. 11:44(a); 11:45; 19:2; Ex. 22:31; 1 Pet. 1:16). Are you trying to stay holy to maintain His fellowship?
Treat the bread of communion that Christ offers as holy as well. The Shalom offering symbolized a believer who was in peaceful fellowship with the Lord. It is not a temporary condition. It instead is a state of being. This offering was the only offering that was voluntary. It was also the only offering where the believer could eat a part of the sacrifice. It symbolized a higher walk with God. The Jews shared this Shalom meal in His presence out of devotion, not obligation. God in turn brought them peace. Today, Christians make “spiritual sacrifices,” not physical ones (1 Pet. 2:5). Christ’s death ripped the Temple “veil” and gave us direct access to God through Christ (Matt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38). But our “access” to God does not automatically mean that we have “fellowship” with Him (Rev. 3:20). An example of a saved believer who is not in fellowship with God is a believer trapped in addiction, rebellion, stress, or a lack of faith. Thus, atonement is merely the first step to finding fellowship with God. Christ also offered to believers the joy of spiritual intimacy with Him, symbolized by dining together with Him, like the Shalom offering: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:20). Jesus offered this so that we could find both fellowship and peace through Him (Jo. 16:33). One of the reasons to take communion on a “frequent” basis is to remind believers of the need to constantly seek out fellowship with Jesus (Lk. 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-34). Your future wedding in heaven to Jesus will also be celebrated through a great feast (Rev. 19:9). Sadly, many believers have been led to believe that being saved is the end all be all of being a Christian. But it is only the first step in a person’s walk with Jesus. If you want true peace and fellowship with Him, you must accept His knock on the door of your heart. “For He Himself is our peace . . .” (Eph. 2:14). When you take Jesus’ communion bread are you asking Him to purify you and provide you with His full love and fellowship that He died to provide for you?
Saul’s evil representative spies on David and later reports him to Saul. While David sought refuge in God’s household, Saul’s evil representative was there to spy on him and later make accusations against the high priest. “7 Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord; and his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds.” (1 Sam. 21:7). Saul had previously fought and defeated the people of Edom (1 Sam 14:47). Doeg betrayed his own people to serve Saul for money as his chief shepherd. But he also had no love for the Jews. Although not recorded here, David later lamented to Ahimelech’s son Abiather that he knew that he brought a death sentence to Ahimelech and his household when he saw Doeg. “Then David said to Abiathar, ‘I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father’s household.’” (1 Sam. 22:22). Doeg was David’s accuser and the accuser of the brethren of faith. Satan is the “accuser of our brethren.” (Rev. 12:10). Thus, Doeg acted as Satan’s representative.
Pray for God’s deliverance from evil. David later lamented Doeg’s evil pride against God’s people in a psalm: “For the choir director. A Maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul and said to him, ‘David has come to the house of Ahimelech.’ Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The lovingkindness of God endures all day long.” (Ps. 52:1). David trusted God in the face of attacks from evil people like Doeg: “But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever.” (Ps. 52:8). As part of the model prayer, Jesus also urges every believer to pray for deliverance from the evil one. “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” (Matt. 6:13). “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” (Jo. 17:15). “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 Jo. 5:19). Like Doeg, the accuser of the brethren is constantly watching you to make charges against you. Are you turning to Jesus each day to seek deliverance for yourself and others from the evil one?
David seeks physical instead of spiritual weapons for his protection. After receiving provision, David then turned to the high priest for protection and asked for a weapon: “8 David said to Ahimelech, ‘Now is there not a spear or a sword on hand? For I brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s matter was urgent.’ 9 Then the priest said, ‘The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you would take it for yourself, take it. For there is no other except it here.’ And David said, ‘There is none like it; give it to me.’” (1 Sam. 21:8-9). Here, David again sinned when he lied about the reasons for his request for a weapon. The king’s only business was to kill David. Saul had not sent David on any mission at all. David won Goliath’s weapon because of His faith in God. He did not win this weapon with lies or his wit. He also would not be delivered through his lies or this weapon. By relying upon Goliath’s weapon he would soon place himself in further trouble as others used it to identify him as the man who killed Goliath. “David can have the sword of Goliath in his arsenal but he would be better equipped if he had the faith that killed Goliath.” (David Guzik on 1 Sam. 21).3
Arent de Gelder (1645-1727) “Ahimelech giving Goliath’s sword to David” (painting 1680)4
Seek refuge in God and He will be a shield against your enemies. God had previously delivered David without any weapons. On three occasions, He protected David from Saul’s spear attacks when David had no weapon at all. He also protected David against Goliath’s attack with a giant spear with only a sling and rocks (1 Sam. 17:7). He also protected David in his many battles against the Philistines. He promises to be a shield to all who submit to Him: “He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” (2 Sam. 22:31; Prov. 30:5). When you are in need of protection will you submit to God and trust Him to be a shield against your enemies?
David fled into the wilderness without seeking God’s guidance. Having taken the sword of Goliath, David then made the foolish decision to flee to the home of his enemy: “10 Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath.” (1 Sam. 21:10). Goliath’s town of Gath (1 Sam. 17:4). He also knew that Gath was a stronghold of the enemy. After he killed Goliath, he fought the Philistines to the edge of Gath (1 Sam. 17:51-52). In a sign of desperation and with nowhere else to turn, he sought refuge with his enemy. In that time period, it was not uncommon for kings to take in political refugees from surrounding nations (e.g., 1 Kgs. 11:40; 2 Kgs. 25:27-30). But David could not find protection through either lies or the weapons of the flesh, like Goliath’s sword. Nor could he trust his own understanding. In Gath, he also could not find refuge as a wanted man. Only through God’s guidance could he escape.
David sought refuge with the Philistine King Achish of Gath5
When you seek Him, the Holy Spirit will also guide you. David relied upon what seemed right in his heart in seeking refuge with his enemies. But believers are warned not to rely upon their own understanding. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). The heart is also deceitful. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Prov. 28:26). “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). After making this mistake, David later recorded in a psalm that he would turn to God’s Word to guide his path: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). The Holy Spirit will help you to remember the Word and apply it in your life. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26, 16; 15:26; 16:13). Are you reading the Word and praying for the Spirit to guide you?
The Philistines capture David and he becomes filled with fear. Once David was exposed as the man who killed the home-town hero of Goliath, he became overcome with fear being in Goliath’s hometown: “11 But the servants of Achish said to him, ‘Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?’ 12 David took these words to heart and greatly feared Achish king of Gath.” (1 Sam. 21:11-12). Psalm 56 adds to this account by revealing that the Philistines captured David after he arrived in Gath. By carrying Goliath’s highly distinctive sword, David likely gave himself away. The Philistines also knew of the prophetic song that identified David as a king who would surpass Saul in the number of Philistines that he would kill (1 Sam. 18:6-7). Saul recognized from this prophecy that David was a threat. The Philistines also recognized from this prophecy that David was a threat. For the first time, David understood his destiny and the reasons why Saul was trying to kill him. God had ordained him to be king. But David would need to learn that he could not be king by trusting in his might.
David’s psalm of deliverance from his enemies. Through his mistake here, David wrote a separate psalm recording how he turned to God for deliverance and not be afraid after the Philistines captured him in Gath: “ . . . A Mikhtam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath. Be gracious to me, O God, for man has trampled upon me; fighting all day long he oppresses me. My foes have trampled upon me all day long, for they are many who fight proudly against me. When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me? . . . They attack, they lurk, they watch my steps, as they have waited to take my life.” (Ps. 56:1-4, 6). “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; set me securely on high away from those who rise up against me.” (Ps. 59:1). “He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.” (Ps. 18:17). “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.” (Ps. 13:7). “Psalm 56 shows that the slide that started on the road from Jonathan and continued on into Gath is now stopped. David is on higher ground again. This was the difference between David and Saul. Both of them slipped but Saul kept sliding, while David turned back to the LORD.” (David Guzik on 1 Sam. 21).6 Like David, God wants you to learn from your mistakes and seek God’s deliverance from your enemies.
God will deliver you from your enemies when you turn to Him. Like David, God delivered the Jews from their captures with His mighty arm: “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” (Ex. 6:6). “Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten.”’ (Ex. 13:3). “for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Dt. 20:4). As the Jews learned in the wilderness, there was no enemy that God could not defeat. Will you trust Him?
David humiliates himself to escape from his Philistine captors. Once David realized where his sins had led him, he escaped not through his might. Instead, God delivered him when David humbled himself: “13 So he disguised his sanity before them, and acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, ‘Behold, you see the man behaving as a madman. Why do you bring him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this one to act the madman in my presence? Shall this one come into my house?’” (1 Sam. 21:13-15). David convinced his captures that he posed no threat by pretending to be a madman with saliva dripping down his beard. King Achish then believed that David was too pathetic a person to pose a threat to him. David’s feigned insanity provided an important contrast with Saul: “David took upon himself the trappings of insanity to hide his sanity; Saul surrounded himself with the trappings of sanity to cloak his insanity.” (Bergen at p. 224).
David feigned insanity before the Philistine King Achish7
God delivers the humble. God does not want you to be deceitful. But David’s humility when captured allowed God to deliver him. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,” (1 Pet. 5:6). “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Ja. 4:10). “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14). Do you turn to God for help in humility?
David’s psalm of praise for his undesired deliverance after feigning madness. David also praised God in a later psalm for his deliverance: “A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed. I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the LORD; the humble will hear it and rejoice.” (Ps. 34:1-2). David could not boast that he deserved to be delivered. His lies and deceit were not from God, and God would never have approved of his actions. Thus, God delivered him through mercy and grace.
Give thanks for your deliverance as well. Like David, God wants you to give thanks for the many times that He has delivered you from illness, sadness, defeat, fear, or an enemy: “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18). “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Eph. 5:20). Have you thanked God for His grace in delivering you?
Give thanks that God’s grace is big enough to deliver any sinner. In this chapter, David acted like Abraham. Both lied foolishly out of fear. Both foolishly sought refuge from an enemy when they faced danger. Both also had to deliver both through God’s grace (Gen. 12:17-20). If God could forgive their many sins here, give thanks that He can deliver you from your sins as well. “Many like to think of David as a real man. I believe our text portrays him as a real man. He does not always think or do the spiritual thing. He has a heart for God, but he also has feet of clay. David seeks refuge from Ahimelech, yet admits that he knows better. He admits that he is to blame for the deaths of the priests and their families (22:22). He flees to Philistia, looking to his enemies for sanctuary, rather than to God. He then flees to Moab, where a prophet must tell him to go home. David does not do everything right. He is a real man, not a caricature, and not a mythical creation of some author’s mind. It is often because of David’s failures that we are encouraged and given hope, for he was a man “with a nature like ours.” God deals graciously with us as He did with David.” (Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh “18. A Man Without a Country (1 Samuel 21:1-22:4)”).8
Praise God in your suffering because your suffering is likely for His greater good. God allowed David to suffer in the wilderness so that he would learn to cling to Him and trust Him. God also wanted to humble David so that he would not become prideful when God later exalted him. He did the exact same thing for the Jews when they wandered helplessly. Just as God allowed David and the Jews to suffer for His greater good, He also allows you to suffer for His greater good as well. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28). Just as David later praised God in his suffering, so should you. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (Ja. 1:2-3). The only exception to this rule is if you have brought suffering upon yourself because of your sins. Yet, even in the case of sin, your suffering serves God’s greater purpose if it brings you to repentance. If you are suffering, sing God’s praises as a witness. He may be molding you for something great. If you complain to others, what kind of a witness are you?
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