Introduction: This chapter marks another low point in Saul’s life. David was forced to flee from him to a cave. After trying to kill David and Jonathan, Saul then murdered the high priest and 84 other innocent priests because they unknowingly provided aid to David. From this tragic story, God reveals several additional lessons for living in the wilderness. These include: (1) placing your trust in Him; (2) loving others; (3) obedience to Him; (4) seeking His deliverance; (5) seeking His forgiveness; (6) seeking His salvation; and (7) providing His comfort to others.
First, having lost everything and having no place to go, David was forced to find refuge in a cave. From this, God reveals that He wants you to place your trust in Him when you are attacked in the wilderness. Second, God sent David’s family and 400 other men without hope to find shelter with David. David showed love and care for all of them. From this, God reveals that He wants you to show love to others the same way He shows love to you. Third, David was obedient to God’s commandment that he care for his parents. He was also obedient to God’s direction by obeying the prophet Gad’s directive to return to Judah. From this, God reveals that He wants you to obey His Word and His direction in the wilderness. Fourth, Saul and his evil Edomite servant worked together to kill the high priest and to try to kill David. David prayed for deliverance. The evil one also conspires to seek your destruction. God also wants you to pray for your deliverance. Fifth, Saul broke several laws in ordering the execution of the priests. Yet, he never sought God’s forgiveness. All have broken God’s Law and fallen short. Unlike Saul, God wants you to repent of your sins and forgive others who hurt you. Sixth, Saul and his Edomite servant ultimately killed 85 priests, their wives, their children, and their animals. Like the priests, your death could come at any moment. God wants you to turn to Him for your salvation. You will one day die a physical death. Yet, your eternal salvation in Jesus can never be taken away. Finally, God gave David comfort in the wilderness through others. David obeyed God’s Spirit by using the comfort he received to comfort others. Like David, God wants you to comfort others in need the same way that He has comforted you in your times of need.
David finds refuge in a cave and cries out to God for comfort. After escaping from both Saul and the Philistines, David had nowhere else to hide except for a cave called Adullam. “1 So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam;” (1 Sam. 2:1(a)). David had lost everything he knew, including his wife, his friends, his royal status, his military command, and his freedoms. He could not find refuge in any Jewish town or amongst the Philistines. He was the most wanted man anywhere he went. Even worse, he had done nothing to deserve this status. Yet, he still had God as his refuge. The cave of Adullam, which means “refuge”, was located in the territory of Judah. It symbolized the refuge that God offers when the entire world turns against you.
David’s flight from Saul and the Philistines to the cave of Adullam1
Presumed cave of cave of Adullam in Israel2
Seek God as your refuge in times of need. Like his other experiences in the wilderness, this was a time when God molded David. In a later psalm, David recorded for others how he cried out to God for help at this low point in his life: “Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer. I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; I make supplication with my voice to the Lord. 2 I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. 3 When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. 4 Look to the right and see; for there is no one who regards me; there is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul. 5 I cried out to You, O Lord; I said, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. 6 Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low; deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me. 7 Bring my soul out of prison, so that I may give thanks to Your name; the righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me.”’ (Ps. 142:1-7). Like David, will you cry out to God in times of need?
Let Jesus be your refuge in the wilderness. Jesus is called the chief shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), the good shepherd (Jo. 10:11), and the great shepherd (Heb. 13:20). It is in Him 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). Have you turned to Jesus as your refuge when it seems that everyone is set against you?
David offers refuge to first his family and then those in need. As a Spirit-led leader, David did not just wallow in his own sadness. Instead, like Joseph, he received God’s comfort by comforting others in need. This initially included his family. The number in need grew to 400: “and when his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it, they went down there to him. 2 Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.” (1 Sam. 22:1(b)-2). David’s family had no desire to leave their flocks of sheep and their home to live in a cave. But David’s status also made them potential enemies of the state in Saul’s eyes. Thus, they also had to flee for their lives. The others who joined David would have been like the ones who followed after Jesus. They were rejected by society. They were likely sinners who indebted themselves and could not repay their debts. Others might have been fugitives from the law. The exact number of 400 refugees symbolized God’s testing. Would David focus on his own needs? Or, would he become the shepherd to God’s sheep. He chose the latter path. By doing so, God prepared and molded him to be king.
In his time of need, David provided refuge to others in need3
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cared for the sinners and the broken-hearted. David’s role as leader of the rejected members of society foreshadowed Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners;” (Is. 61:1; Lk. 4:18). “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matt. 11:5). Jesus wants you to follow His example.
Be a shepherd to all those who come to you, even those who have hurt you. David was not always treated with the highest level of respect in his family. When the prophet Samuel asked David’s father to meet with his sons, his father did not invite David. David’s older brother later chided David for coming to the battlefield where Goliath taunted the Jews (1 Sam. 16:11; 17:28). David could have turned his back on his family the way they had turned their backs on him. But he instead forgave his family and offered them shelter. Like David, God wants you to be a source of refuge to others. 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). Samuel, Jonathan, and Ahimelech had provided for David in the wilderness. It was now David’s turn. Like David, have you made yourself available to a person in need?
Show love to the broken hearted. A good shepherd cares for all the sheep under his or her watch. David cared for all the broken-hearted that God sent to him. He also “became captain over them.” (1 Sam. 22:2). This means that he loved them as he cared for them. The Bible later records that he transformed these 400 men into mighty men of valor (1 Chr. 12:8). Jesus is the true light of the world (Jo. 8:12). Yet, His light is now inside every believer through the Holy Spirit. Thus, every believer has to fulfill the role of being Jesus’ light to the rest of the world (Matt. 5:14). Like David, God wants you to be a light to others by showing love to those in society who are weak, old, widowed, orphans, broken hearted, or those who cannot defend themselves: “learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17; Micah 6:8; Matt. 23:23; Ps. 82:3). Like David, are you showing love to others in need?
David is obedient to God’s call to provide for parents and then return to Israel. As a shepherd, David found a place of shelter for his parents in Moab. But he then responded to God’s calling to return to Israel to fulfill God’s calling for him: “3 And David went from there to Mizpah of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, ‘Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you until I know what God will do for me.’ 4 Then he left them with the king of Moab; and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold. 5 The prophet Gad said to David, ‘Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.’ So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.” (1 Sam. 22:3-5). Moab was the only place where David felt he could provide shelter to his older parents. David’s great-grandmother Ruth was a Moabite (Ruth 1:4; 4:13-22). The king of Moab was apparently receptive to providing shelter to one of his own. David could have stayed there as well. But he would soon learn that it was against God’s Law for him to bind Israel with the Moabites (Dt. 23:2-6). Unlike Saul, David listened and obeyed God. He obeyed God’s call to return, even though that placed him at risk.
Be responsive to God’s call to honor your parents by providing for them. David did not need a special direction from God to provide for his older parents. God already gave that command to David with the Fifth Commandment. “Honor your father and your mother, . . .” (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16). Part of “honoring” a parent is providing for a parent in times of infirmity, poverty, or old age. Through His example, Jesus showed us that we should make provisions to care for our parents in their old age, even when we are not present to help them: “But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple [John], “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” (Jo. 19:25-27). Like David, will you provide for your parents when they are in need?
Be responsive to God’s direction and calling in your life. God had previously appointed Samuel with the role of guiding Saul as king. Here, God had raised up the prophet Gad to serve a similar role with David. Unlike Saul, David listened to the prophet’s advice and followed it. He could have said that he would return to Israel when he felt it was safe or when the time was right. He remained obedient to God’s direction, even in the face of danger. God would in turn protect David as David followed His guidance. God hid David and his 400 men in the forest of Hereth. This was considered a dangerous place (2 Sam. 18:8). Here, Saul and his men could not easily enter. The forest of Hereth would become David's refuge. Like David, God wants you to obey His direction and calling.
Be obedient to God’s Word, even if you don’t fully understand the reasons behind it. The prophet Gad sent David into the territory of his own tribe of Judah. David could not have understood at the time the reasons for this specific guidance. It was close to Saul’s center of power and an easy place for his army to quickly reach. But the tribe of Judah would later be the first tribe to accept David as king (2 Sam. 2:4). Staying in a foreign land also would not allow him to fulfill God’s calling as the future king of Israel. Like David, God wants you to show your love to Him through your obedience. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (Jo. 15:10; Matt. 19:17). “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). Will you obey God Word, even if society has come to reject it or if you don’t fully understand it?
God will give wisdom to those who seek Him in prayer. If you diligently seek God’s will in prayer, He also promises to give you wisdom: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” (Ps. 51:6). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). Are you seeking God’s wisdom and His direction in all that you do?
Saul turned on his own people with the aid of Doeg the Edomite accuser. Saul became so consumed with jealousy and paranoia that he believed that his family and men had all turned upon him. His men were stunned and had no response. But Doeg the Edomite was more than ready to sow divisions between Saul and the high priest Ahimelech: “6 Then Saul heard that David and the men who were with him had been discovered. Now Saul was sitting in Gibeah, under the tamarisk tree on the height with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing around him. 7 Saul said to his servants who stood around him, ‘Hear now, O Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse also give to all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? 8 For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day.’ 9 Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing by the servants of Saul, said, ‘I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. 10 He inquired of the Lord for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.’” (1 Sam. 22:6-10). Saul’s words showed that he had not united Israel with leaders from the 12 tribes in his leadership circle. Instead, his words showed that he had surrounded himself with only people from his tribe of Benjamin. He then tried to manipulate their emotions by warning that a leader from another tribe, like David from the tribe of Judah, would not give them the same spoils of power. He also tried to manipulate their feelings about their hero David by calling him the son of Jesse as opposed to their former commander. He had become so warped in his thinking that he tried to kill his own son with his spear for allegedly conspiring with David. He also had deluded himself into thinking that Jonathan had hired David to kill him. None of Saul’s leaders were ready to stand up against David. But the Edomite Doeg was an opportunist. He had no love for the Jews, who had attacked Edom. By turning Saul against the high priest, he could obtain revenge by sowing divisions amongst the Jews. He also could gain power and influence within Saul’s court as a trusted advisor.
Like Doeg, the evil one seeks your destruction. When David previously sought refuge in God’s household, Saul’s evil representative was there to spy on him (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. 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. David later lamented Doeg’s evil pride against God’s people in a psalm (Ps. 52:1). But David trusted God in the face of attacks from evil people like Doeg (Ps. 52:8). As part of the model prayer, Jesus also urges every believer to pray for deliverance from the evil one (Matt. 6:13; Jo. 17:15; 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 from evil?
Pray for deliverance from the evil one. Like his other wilderness experiences, Saul’s pursuit of David caused him to cry out to God for deliverance: “1 Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. 2 I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me. 3 He will send from heaven and save me; He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Selah. God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth. 4 My soul is among lions; I must lie among those who breathe forth fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows and their tongue a sharp sword.” (Ps. 57:1-4). Like David, will you cry out for deliverance when others attack you?
Saul broke God’s Law by sentencing the high priest to death without a trial. Just as Saul had accused his own men of conspiring with David, he laid the same false charges against the high priest. David had concealed his actions from the high priest. Thus, the high priest was innocent. Saul then broke the Law by sentencing the high priest to death without a trial. “11 Then the king sent someone to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s household, the priests who were in Nob; and all of them came to the king. 12 Saul said, ‘Listen now, son of Ahitub.’ And he answered, ‘Here I am, my lord.’ 13 Saul then said to him, ‘Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, so that he would rise up against me by lying in ambush as it is this day?’ 14 Then Ahimelech answered the king and said, ‘And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, even the king’s son-in-law, who is captain over your guard, and is honored in your house? 15 Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any of the household of my father, for your servant knows nothing at all of this whole affair.’ 16 But the king said, ‘You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s household!’ ” (1 Sam. 22:11-16). The high priest knew that something was not right with David’s prior visit. Thus, he asked David to explain why he was alone (1 Sam. 21:1). In response, David lied about the reasons for his visit and the reasons for his requests. The high priest could not have broken any law if he was deceived as to the reasons for David’s visit. Thus, the high priest truthfully processed his innocence. He was so unaware of Saul’s jealousy and hatred toward David, that he defended David’s character to the king (1 Sam. 21:2). If the high priest had wanted to do so, he could have blamed David for deceiving him. Instead of preaching the need for Saul to forgive David, Ahimelech led by his own example.
Saul’s sins of pride and refusing to submit to God. Saul’s interaction with the high priest showed the growing pride and hatred in his life. He referred to both David and the high priest by their parents, not by their titles. He also showed that he was unwilling to be corrected by the high priest. Solomon warned: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:18). Saul’s pride led to his destruction.
Saul’s seven deadly sins in sentencing the high priest to death. Saul committed several deadly sins in issuing his death sentence. First, Saul acted out of vengeance when vengeance belongs to God alone (Dt. 32:35; Ps. 94:1-2, 16, 23; Ro. 12:17, 19). Second, the punishment had to be proportional to the crime (Ex. 21:22-24; Lev. 24:18-22). Capital punishment typically required murder or some other similar crime (e.g., Lev. 24:17). Unintentional aid to a fugitive was not a capital offense. Even if these were a crime, the other priests and the women and children in the community did not deserve to die. Third, God limited capital punishment to circumstances where two or more witnesses existed: “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.” (Nu. 35:30; Dt. 17:6). Fourth, the high priest was entitled to a trial by an impartial jury. “[T]hen the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the blood avenger according to these ordinances. . .” (Nu. 35:24-35). This also required an unbiased judge (Lev. 19:15; Ex. 23:8; Dt. 16:19; 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:17-19). Sixth, to protect against perjury, each witness had to testify outside the presence of the other, and each witness had to be thoroughly cross-examined (Dt. 19:16-20; 5:20; Ex. 20:16). Finally, Saul was to take direction from the high priest. “And the man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.” (Dt. 17:12). For breaking all these laws, it was Saul who deserved death.
Study the Word to learn of your sins and repent when God exposes your sins. Saul might have avoided some of his sins if he feared God and studied His Word. But Saul was blinded to his sins because he did not fear God or study His Word. Paul exhorts you not to make the same mistake as many churches do in ignoring the Old Testament. Paul encourages you to study the Law so that your sins become known to you (Ro. 3:20; 7:7). You should then repent of your sins once they become known to you. God can then forgive you and cleanse you for His holy use (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 5:23; Mk 1:15; Acts 3:18; Eph. 1:7; 1 Jo. 1:9). Are you reading the Word to expose and repent of your sins?
Forgive others so that God can forgive you. Saul needed to forgive others who had allegedly hurt his pride. If someone sins against you, Jesus says that you must forgive that person “up to seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18:22). If a believer does not forgive another believer, God will not forgive the believer: ‘“I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:32-35). Have you refused to forgive someone who has hurt you?
The Edomite carries out Saul’s death sentence on the high priest. Saul tried in vain to have the Jews kill the high priest. When they would not submit to this sin, Saul turned to the Edomite to kill the high priest. Even worse, Saul then let him murder the other priests who had not even been accused of a crime: “17 And the king said to the guards who were attending him, ‘Turn around and put the priests of the Lord to death, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was fleeing and did not reveal it to me.’ But the servants of the king were not willing to put forth their hands to attack the priests of the Lord. 18 Then the king said to Doeg, ‘You turn around and attack the priests.’ And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 And he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep he struck with the edge of the sword.” (1 Sam. 22:17-19). Saul was willing to kill his own people. But he hesitated when God directed him to kill the Jews’ enemies. He refused to kill the Amalekites and their king when God directed him to do so through Samuel (1 Sam. 15:9). When he first formed an army, he sent most of the troops home in the hopes that he would not provoke a fight (1 Sam. 13:2). Saul, however, was willing to kill David and even his own son Jonathan. Now, Saul had his servant murder the high priest, 84 other innocent priests, women, children, and animals.
Saul directed Doeg to murder the high priest for helping David4
Doeg then murdered 84 other priests and family members who did not help David5
The foreshadow of Satan’s attack upon Christ and the Church. One commentator observes: “Saul is a prototype of the antichrists who have come and who will come, resisting God and His Messiah, Jesus Christ. Herod is one such antichrist (see Matt. 2). The scribes and Pharisees are another example of antichrists (see Matt. 27:18; Mk. 15:10; Jo. 15:10; Jo. 11:47-48.). As Saul joins forces with Doeg, a Gentile, in his attempt to do away with David’s threat to his throne, the Jewish leaders joined forces with the Gentiles to execute Christ. David is a prototype of Christ, who is rejected and resisted because he is to become God’s king. Ahimelech is a prototype of all those who suffer and die for associating with Jesus Christ, as he died for his association with David.” (Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, 19. “Saul Loses His Grip” (1 Samuel 22:5-23:14)).6
Salvation comes through Jesus Christ’s name. Satan’s use of people like Saul and Doeg to kill the members of God’s Church shows that everyone is in need of salvation. Belief in the name of Jesus Christ alone brings salvation (Jo. 1:12; 3:16). He is the “door” leading to salvation for those who believe in Him (Jo. 10:7). He is also the “truth” and the “way” (Jo. 14:6). Have you given thanks that no matter what Satan may do on Earth, he can never take away your eternal salvation?
David provides comfort to the only surviving son of the high priest. When David learned of Saul’s actions, he showed regret to Ahimelech’s sole surviving son Abiathar. He then comforted Abiathar and offered him shelter and protection: “20 But one son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21 Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 22 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. 23 Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life, for you are safe with me.’” (1 Sam. 22:20-23). David was a sinner. He lied to gain the high priest’s help. The high priest might have helped David and even fled with him. But the priest was left off guard when Saul accused him of treason. David’s actions contributed to the high priest’s death. But what made him different from Saul was that he repented of his actions. His sorrow formed the inspiration for psalm 52. David further did more than express sorrow. He sought to care for Abiathar by offering him both comfort and shelter.
Find comfort that God is in control, even when evil seems to be winning. Even when it seemed that Saul was winning the battle by butchering the priests, God was in control. He twice pronounced judgment upon the priesthood of Eli (1 Sam. 2:27-34; 3:11-14). God fulfilled the first part of this prophecy when Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died on the same day (1 Sam. 2:34; 4:11). Deog’s killing of all but one of the remaining sons of the priesthood fulfilled another part of this prophecy (1 Sam. 2:33). This prophecy was again fulfilled in the days of King Solomon when God took the priesthood away from the line that went through Abiathar (1 Kgs. 2:27, 35). These verses show that God is always in control, even if it seems that Satan is winning.
Comfort one another the way God comforts you. Just as God provided David comfort, He expected David to pay that comfort forward to others in need: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18). “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13; 10:25). Like David, are you encouraging others?