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David’s Darkest Days

If you haven’t been with us for awhile, we are currently working our way through the book of 1 Samuel – specifically looking now at the life of David. For the past several weeks, we’ve been watching as the tension between King Saul and David has simmered, stewed, and has finally come to a boil! Ever since David became a war hero after slaying the Philistine giant, Goliath, Saul has grown increasingly jealous of David and has determined to kill him!

At first, Saul tried to keep it subtle – secretly plotting and scheming to have David killed in battle. But after that failed, Saul ramped up his efforts and is now actively and openly pursuing David – looking to capture him and put him to death.

Of course, David has been nothing but loyal to Saul the entire time. Throughout all of Saul’s subtle attempts to kill David, David has constantly given Saul the benefit of the doubt and has never raised a hand or even his voice against the king.

But it’s come to the point now that David has no choice but to flee from Saul. So last week we watched David say goodbye to his best friend Jonathan, and David heads off to begin his new life as a fugitive.

Jonathan returns to town and David… well, I’m not sure he knew where he was going to go. He couldn’t return home to his wife Michal  Saul had already accused his daughter of helping David escape once — so I’m sure Saul had men stationed to carefully watch his daughter’s house, so David couldn’t go there. He couldn’t return to his father’s family – I’m sure that’s the 2nd place Saul would look. So where does David go?

Well, let’s find out! 1 Samuel chapter 21, verse 1 tells us that….

“David went to the town of Nob to see Ahimelech the priest.”

1 Samuel 1:1a

As David tries to figure out where he should go to escape the grasp of Saul, he decides to make his first stop in the town of Nob. Nob was just outside of Jerusalem and was known as the city of the priests – likely because it was the current home of the tabernacle. Over the years, as a mobile tent, the tabernacle had moved from one town to another within Israel, but at this point in history, the tabernacle was located in Nob. And since the tabernacle was there, that’s also where the priest Ahimelech lived – and that’s who David wanted to see. Let’s read on…

 Ahimelech trembled when he saw him. “Why are you alone?” he asked. “Why is no one with you?” 1 Samuel 21:1b

David had obviously been there before on many occasions – no doubt visiting the tabernacle to make sacrifices and offerings to the Lord – likely alongside the King or with Jonathan or at the very least, with some of his other men. Someone like David, who was such a high ranking officer in the King’s service, would naturally be accompanied by several servants or other officials.

But of course, this time, David arrived alone – and this quickly raised many red flags for Ahimelech the priest. We see that Ahimelech was trembling in fear when he saw David arrive alone and immediately asked why no one was with him. This was obviously an unusual situation and Ahimelech feared that something was seriously wrong. Which of course, it was. But David was not about to let Ahimelech know what was really going on. Verse 2.

2 “The king has sent me on a private matter,” David said. “He told me not to tell anyone why I am here. I have told my men where to meet me later.”1 Samuel 21:1-2

David tried to calm Ahimelech’s fears by telling him that the reason he was alone was because he was on a secret mission from the king – which of course, was a bold-faced lie!

We don’t know exactly why David felt it necessary to tell such a lie. Some commentators feel that David was protecting Ahimelech so that no one could accuse of him of conspiring against the king. There’s no telling what King Saul might do to Ahimelech if it ever came out that he knowingly helped David as he escaped! Remember, Saul already tried to spear his son Jonathan for helping David escape – certainly Ahimelech would receive no less punishment. So perhaps David thought that ignorance was bliss for Ahimelech and so lied to him about why he was travelling alone.

And of course, the Bible doesn’t comment here on the rightness or the wrongness of David’s lie – that’s not the point of this story. But the Bible does speak clearly to the issue of lying throughout the other parts of the Bible. For example, Proverbs 12:22 tells us

22 The Lord detests lying lips,

    but he delights in those who tell the truth. Proverbs 12:22

And Psalm 5:6 says…

6 You will destroy those who tell lies.

    The Lord detests murderers and deceivers.

Psalm 5:6

God clearly has some strong feelings about those who make a habit of being deceptive. Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise to use because the Bible often refers to God Himself as being truth and as one who never lies. Deception is completely contrary to the nature of God. In fact, in contrast to God, Satan is called a liar and the father of lies. No wonder God detests lying lips!

As people who are created in the image of God – and even more specifically, as followers of Jesus who are being transformed into the character of God, we need to make every effort to practice speaking the truth. Deception is the language of our old nature, but truthfulness is the language of our new nature! Ephesians 4:21 instructs us:

21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.

Ephesians 4:21-25

Of course, this passage goes on to give several other examples as to how we are to live as new Creations in Christ – but I think it’s telling that being truthful is the first specific instruction in this passage for someone who is becoming like Christ. Deception is the language of our old nature, but truthfulness is the language of our new nature! 

So just as a challenging thought this morning, what language have you been speaking? To give some specific examples, what language do you speak on your tax forms? Is it the language of truthfulness or the language of deception? What language do you speak to your spouse? What language do you speak to your children? What language do you speak to your boss?

Let us speak the language of our new nature, and speak the language of truth.

But to get back to our story, after David offers Ahimelech this lie about why he’s come alone, he then goes on to ask for some supplies for his ‘secret mission’. David continues in Verse 3.

3 Now, what is there to eat? Give me five loaves of bread or anything else you have.”

4 “We don’t have any regular bread,” the priest replied. “But there is the holy bread, which you can have if your young men have not slept with any women recently.”

5 “Don’t worry,” David replied. “I never allow my men to be with women when we are on a campaign. And since they stay clean even on ordinary trips, how much more on this one!”

6 Since there was no other food available, the priest gave him the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle. It had just been replaced that day with fresh bread.1 Samuel 21:3-6

David knows that he has a long journey ahead of him as he flees to safety from Saul and so he asks Ahimelech for some bread. However, the only bread that was available was the special Bread of the Presence that was placed fresh on a golden table in the Tabernacle every Sabbath. This holy bread symbolized the continual and eternal fellowship between God and the people of Israel. You can think of it like God setting the table for the Israelites – inviting them into his presence and sharing a meal with them. That’s what this special bread symbolized.

And the rule was, that only the priest were allowed to eat this bread. Every week, when the fresh loaves were put out, the old loaves were taken away and could then be eaten by the priests. And of course, David was not a priest, so he technically shouldn’t have been allowed to eat this bread.

However, since David was in need and there was no other bread to give him, (and since David confirmed that he and his men were ceremonially clean), Ahimelech gave this special bread to David.

And again, our passage doesn’t comment on the rightness or wrongness of Ahimelech’s decision to give David this bread, although Jesus brings up this incident later on as he and his disciples pluck and eat some heads of grain and get accused of breaking the Sabbath by the Pharisees. We won’t get into that story this morning, but if you want to dive deeper into some challenging theological questions, you can read up on that yourself – that story is found in Matthew chapter 12.

But right or wrong, David is given the Bread of the Presence and then we get this interesting little comment in verse 12.

7 Now Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief herdsman, was there that day, having been detained before the Lord. 1 Samuel 21:7

 What’s most interesting about this verse is that this is all it says. Right in the middle of David’s conversation with Ahimelech, there’s just this one little verse that mentions that Doeg, Saul’s chief herdsman, was there that day. And then the conversation with Ahimelech continues and there is no mention of Doeg for the rest of the chapter!

It almost seems like a random fact – so why even bring it up!? Well, this is actually a very important fact – one that will have life changing ramifications for many, many people – including David and Ahimelech.  But we’re not going to see the impacts of that today in this chapter – we’ll get to that in chapter 22. So for now, just make a mental note in your head, that Doeg is there at the Tabernacle, witnessing this exchange between David and Ahimelech.

With that thought noted, the conversation continues in verse 8.

8 David asked Ahimelech, “Do you have a spear or sword? The king’s business was so urgent that I didn’t even have time to grab a weapon!”

9 “I only have the sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah,” the priest replied. “It is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. Take that if you want it, for there is nothing else here.”

“There is nothing like it!” David replied. “Give it to me!”

1 Samuel 21:8-9

David continues his untrue story about being on the king’s secret mission and asks for a weapon of some kind – since he did’t have time to grab one on the way out the door.

As it happens, Goliath’s sword happened to be at the Tabernacle. You might remember back when we went through the story of David & Goliath that at the end, it says how David brought Goliath’s head to Jerusalem – which was kinda weird, and would actually be a difficult thing to do since Jerusalem wasn’t even an Israelite city at that time! It wasn’t until years later that David would conquer the city of Jerusalem and take it from the Jebusites. So when it says that David took Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, it’s very likely that he actually took Goliath’s head (as well as his sword and perhaps some of his other belongings) to the Tabernacle at Nob (which was very near Jerusalem). David didn’t keep these things as trophies for himself, but brought them to the Tabernacle to honor the Lord.

But now, as David is in need of a weapon, Ahimelech invites him to take back Goliath’s sword – which David happily does.

And it’s at this point in the story that we’re beginning to realize that David really seems to be acting out of character. As we remember the bold, faith-filled David that killed the Philistine giant, and we compare that David to the David we see now…. Something seems amiss.

We’re use to seeing David as being so noble and brave – being filled with faith & trust in God – doing what’s right even when it’s hard.

But that doesn’t seem to be the David we’re seeing now. Now David is on the run from Saul, he’s lying to the priest, taking the holy bread from the Tabernacle that is not for him to eat, and he’s putting his trust in the weapons of his dead and defeated enemy.

What’s going on with David? Is his faith in God wavering? Has he determined, like Saul once did, that he’s got to take matters into his own hands? Has he forgotten to trust in Lord?

And maybe I’m reading this wrong – maybe this isn’t a crisis of faith for David. But look at what happens next. verse 10 tells us….

10 So David escaped from Saul and went to King Achish of Gath. 1 Samuel 21:10

Do you remember who grew up in Gath? Goliath! Gath is a Philistine city. King Achish is the leader of the primary enemies of Israel at this time. And David chooses to go there!

Now just think about this: David, the one who killed the Philistines champion, the one who sunk a stone into Goliath’s head and then lopped it off with his own sword, is now wandering into Goliath’s home town amongst all of Goliaths friends and family, with Goliath’s sword strapped to his side. What in the world is David thinking? Does he have some kind of death wish!?

Well, in David’s defence, quite often traitors and defectors were welcomed by the enemy. It’s quite likely that the Philistines would have gotten wind of Saul’s efforts to kill David and it wouldn’t be a crazy to imagine that David would be willing to flip sides. From that point of view, David could be an incredible asset to the Philistines! I mean, the Philistines knew full well what a  successful warrior David was, and if he was willing to fight on their side for once, that could be amazing!

But then again, it’s pretty hard to trust the guy who’s killed hundreds if not thousands of your people. And that was exactly the Philistines’ concern. Verse 11 says…

11 But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands,

    and David his ten thousands’?”

12 David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him.

1 Samuel 21:11-12

And here again, this seems very uncharacteristic of David. In fact, this is the only time in David’s life that we are told that he was very afraid. We don’t read that when he faced Goliath. We don’t read that when Saul was hunting him. But we read it now as he hides out in the Philistine city of Gath. He is afraid of what King Achish of Gath might to do him.

And I don’t want to read more into this story than what is there, but I just wonder if David is afraid now, because he has, for the moment, forgotten the faithfulness of God.

Remember, God has told David that he will one day be King of Israel. That can’t happen if David gets killed by King Achish! David would only have reason to be afraid if he either has forgotten or has begun to doubt the Word of the Lord.

And honestly, to look at David’s situation, I don’t think we could blame the guy. I mean, David has lost everything. He’s lost his position in the kingdom, he’s lost his wife, he’s lost his family, he’s lost his closest friend. Everything that he loves and everything that is familiar to him is gone! You can understand how David might conclude that maybe God had forgotten or abandoned him. 

But of course, God had not forgotten David or abandoned him. God had not made a mistake when he told David that he would be king. What God had said would come true – even though the circumstances to get there certainly didn’t look like what David imagined.

I’m sure David didn’t imagine that his journey to the throne of Israel would involve being hunted by Saul or hiding out among Goliath’s relatives. But yet, that’s exactly the path that God used.

And that’s a great reminder for us! Like David, sometimes we go through all kinds of difficult situations. We experience hurt and loss and incredible disappointment. And it’s very easy in those moments to think that God has forgotten us. Or that His promises have failed us. But in reality, those thoughts are so far from the true! God will never abandon us and his Word always comes true. Always! 

Certainly God will allow us to go down some difficult and unexpected paths, but He is always with us no matter what, and he will use those paths to get us to where we need to be. Like Romans 8:28 says…

28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

We can see that clearly in the life of David. God allowed David to go through a lot of terrible and difficult things – but God used all those to get David to where he needed to be. And that’s easy for us to see, 2000 years after the fact. Hindsight is always 20/20. But I imagine that if we tried to quote that verse to David as he hid out in Gath, he might have a hard time seeing God’s goodness and faithfulness in that moment.

In the same way, we probably can’t see God’s goodness and faithfulness in our moments of difficulties either. But that’s exactly why we have these stories in the Bible to show us and remind us that even when we can’t see how, God is always faithful. He is always present. And He is always working out our story for our good and his purposes.

As for David, in this moment, he doesn’t have the benefit of his own story to see the faithfulness of God. All he knows is that he’s in deep trouble in the Philistine city of Gath. So here’s what he does. It says in verse 13…

13 So [David] he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard.

14 Finally, King Achish said to his men, “Must you bring me a madman? 15 We already have enough of them around here! Why should I let someone like this be my guest?”

So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.

1 Samuel 21:13-22:1a

David figures if the King thinks he’s crazy, he can’t be much of a threat, right? Besides, David’s already lost everything else – why hang on to his dignity? He might as well lose that too! So in one of the lowest moment of his life, David pretends to be insane – acting like a madman, he goes around scratching on doors and drooling down his bread.

But his plan works. The king says he has enough crazies around, and he doesn’t need another one and so he sends David away. David then escapes from the Philistines to the cave of Adullam.

And while this is no doubt one of the lowest points in David’s life, unbeknownst to him, he was exactly where God needed him to be. It’s actually at this cave that David will begin to gather up his team of mighty men – men who would faithfully serve him for the rest of his life. But that’s getting ahead of our story. 

For now David is alone, discouraged and probably incredibly confused. Why was God allowing all of this to happen? How was he supposed to move forward from this?

Well, it seems that in David’s darkest days, he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord gave him strength. David actually wrote a psalm about this time – Psalm 34 – describing how he cried out to God in desperation and how the Lord heard him – he protected him and encouraged him. Let me read the first few verses of that Psalm…

1 I will praise the Lord at all times.

    I will constantly speak his praises.

2 I will boast only in the Lord;

    let all who are helpless take heart.

3 Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;

    let us exalt his name together.

4 I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.

    He freed me from all my fears.

5 Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;

    no shadow of shame will darken their faces.

6 In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;

    he saved me from all my troubles.

7 For the angel of the Lord is a guard;

    he surrounds and defends all who fear him.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good.

    Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

9 Fear the Lord, you his godly people,

    for those who fear him will have all they need.

10 Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry,

    but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:1-10

It’s hard to imagine that these are the words of a man who was hiding out in a cave, having lost friends, family, position, and even his dignity. But yet here he was – praising the Lord and proclaiming his goodness!

As David cried out to the Lord in his darkest hour, God heard him and answered him. He filled him with joy and gave him fresh hope.

And God does that for us too.

Maybe you feel like you’re one of your darkest hours. Maybe you feel like you’re alone in the Cave of Adullam? Or maybe like you’re in the city of Gath, surrounded by your enemies? Maybe you’ve experienced the loss of friends or family or even your dignity….

I don’t know what your situation is this morning, but I would encourage you along with David to “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!”

I don’t know how He’ll do it, but God has assured us that he will use this difficult path you’re on right now, to get you to where you need to be. He makes all things work together for good for those who love Him.

Cry out to him for help. Like David, pray to him in desperation. And the Lord will hear and answer your cries. He will be your refuge in this time of trouble.

Whether you’re alone in the cave of Adullam, or surrounded by your enemies in Gath, or whether your just going around scratching on doors and drooling down your beard – whatever your situation, you can trust in the promises of God.

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