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David’s Compassion – Saul’s Paranoia

Last week, as we continued our study of 1 Samuel, we read about some of David’s darkest days. He had just fled from King Saul – leaving behind his friends and family – and was heading out to try to make sense of this new life as a fugitive.

His first stop was to visit Ahimelech the priest at the tabernacle – not to make sacrifices or offerings this time – but to gather supplies for the long journey ahead into exile. Ahimelech, of course had no idea that David was fleeing from Saul – and David made certain not to tell him. In fact, David outright lied about why he was even there – making up some story about being on a secret mission from the king. 

But Ahimelech helped David in every way that he could, giving him the Bread of the Presence from the tabernacle (that was really only supposed to be eaten by the priest) as well as giving him the sword of Goliath that David had brought there some years earlier.

From there, David went to seek refuge in the Philistine city of Gath – the hometown of Goliath! Certainly the last place anyone would expect David to go! And at first, it seemed that the Philistine King Achish might welcome David as a defector, but the other Philistine officials did not think that was such a wise idea. After all, David was pretty much enemy #1 for the Philistines. Why should they trust him?

Well, once David got wind of what the Philistine officials were saying, he feared for his life and decided to pretend he was crazy – scratching on the doorways and drooling down his beard! When King Achish saw David’s bizarre behaviour, he sent him away (saying that he had more than enough madmen already!)

At that point, David fled to the cave of Adullum – where, according to Psalm 34, David cried out in desperation to the Lord for help.

Of course, God heard his prayers and answered him. Through it all, God protected and was with David, and was working out all things for good.

But of course, in the moment, David had a hard time seeing that. As he fled from Saul, and as he fled from Gath, and as he hid out in the cave of Adullam, he felt alone, forgotten, friendless, and helpless. They were some of David’s darkest days.

But as we begin chapter 22 today, we’ll see that David’s dark days will begin to get a little brighter.

Chapter 22 opens with David escaping from Gath and hiding out in the cave of Adullam. He arrives alone, as we’ve mentioned before, but it’s not long before he gets some company. So let’s read what happens. It says in verse 1 of 1 Samuel chapter 22:

So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there. Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men. 

Later David went to Mizpeh in Moab, where he asked the king, “Please allow my father and mother to live here with you until I know what God is going to do for me.” So David’s parents stayed in Moab with the king during the entire time David was living in his stronghold.1 Samuel 22:1-4

So not long after David arrives at this cave of Adullam, soon a wide variety of people begin showing up.

First of all, we see that all of David’s brothers and relatives come to join him. And that’s almost a little surprising because David hasn’t always had a great relationship with the rest of his family. You’ll remember that when David was a kid, he was overlooked and forgotten about entirely as when Samuel invited their family to join him for a sacrifice. Everybody went but David was left with the sheep! Later on when he was a teenager and he showed up to visit his brothers at the battlefield, he was blasted by his older brother for being proud, deceitful, and selfish. So in the few glimpses we’ve seen of David’s family dynamics, we haven’t seem much evidence of support for David from his family.

But those glimpses did happen several years ago. Things may have changed over time as David grew to become a highly respected and successful commander in Saul’s army. Family relationships do tend to mature over time. So it could be that they’ve come to offer David their loyal support as his family. 

The other possibility for why they’ve decided to come to David now is that Saul’s quest to capture David has threatened their lives as well! 

If Saul is willing to kill his own family to get to David, he most certainly would be willing to kill David’s family! And so it could be that all of David’s family have come to him at this cave now because they too are fleeing for their lives!

Verse 3 & 4 seem to support that as David asks the King of Moab to keep and protect his parents while David tries to figure out what God is doing in all this! David must assume that their lives are in danger as long as Saul is hunting him, and so he makes a plan to keep them safely out of Saul’s reach in Moab.

But whether David’s brothers are just offering their loyal support as family or whether they too are fleeing for their lives, either way, it certainly makes sense that all of David’s relatives come to join him at the cave of Adullam.

But what about all these other people? Verse 2 tells us that “others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men.”

For some reason, a whole pile of seemingly random people are somehow drawn to David. These men are described as being either in debt, in trouble, or in some other way discontent. Or as the ESV translation puts it ‘bitter of soul’. These guys have obviously had some bitter experiences in life. Perhaps they have experienced failures or tragedies, maybe they are outcasts for whatever reason. It kinda seems they are just a rag-tag bunch of misfits – but they are drawn to David (and apparently welcomed by him) and before long, David is leading this group of about 400 men.

Now why these people are all drawn to David, we’re not really sure. Perhaps David is naturally inclined to care about these types of folks. After all, being the youngest of eight brothers, he knew what it was like to be overlooked, to be ignored, to be left behind. And now that Saul is so determined to kill him, he certainly knows what it’s like to be in trouble, to feel helpless, and to feel alone.

And so perhaps David naturally is inclined to help those in similar situations. It’s interesting how God always uses our past experiences (as difficult and as painful as they may be sometimes) to prepare us for what’s ahead – to prepare us to help others who are going though the same thing. It’s one of the ways that God uses the bad things in our life for good. Our experiences uniquely qualify us to help others who are going through similar things.

Certainly David is now uniquely qualified to offer compassion and empathy and leadership to this rag-tag group of misfits because he knows what its like to be them! So perhaps that’s one reason why God gathers these men to David.

That certainly fits with our understanding of the compassion of God. Repeatedly throughout the Scripture, we’re told and we can see that the heart of God is towards those who are most vulnerable. Just for example, Deuteronomy 10:18 says…

“He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing.”

Deuteronomy 10:18

In Isaiah, the Lord instructs us:

“Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;

    lighten the burden of those who work for you.

Let the oppressed go free,

    and remove the chains that bind people.

7 Share your food with the hungry,

    and give shelter to the homeless.

Give clothes to those who need them,

    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.”

Isaiah 58:6b-7

Clearly, God cares deeply about the weak and the wounded – those in trouble, those in debt, those who are discontent or bitter of soul…. And he wants us to do the same. James 1:27 tells us that…

27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27

We are most acting like God when we care for the most vulnerable. Feeding the hungry, welcoming the refugee, befriending the lonely, caring for the wounded and sick… That’s true religion right there.

And that’s exactly what David was doing. As this rag-tag group of men came to David, David welcoming them and cared for them. He gave them a place to belong and provided leadership for them.

And of course, David didn’t know it at the time, but his investment in these men would be well worth the effort. In fact, as I mentioned last week, it’s from this group of 400 that David’s inner circle of mighty men emerges. These are David’s most loyal friends and valiant warriors and they stick with him for the rest of his life.

But that all came about because David had compassion on them in their time of distress. What a great encouragement for us to do likewise for those around us in need.

Well, we don’t know how long David stayed at this cave of Adullam, hiding from Saul and his group growing in numbers, but the next verse tells us that the Lord was ready for David to move on. Verse 5 says:

5 One day the prophet Gad told David, “Leave the stronghold and return to the land of Judah.” So David went to the forest of Hereth.

1 Samuel 22:5

The cave of Adullam was located very near the border of Philistine territory at the time – probably a good choice for hiding out from Saul because Saul wouldn’t want to show up at the Philistine border with a large army to chase after David – that could quickly be misinterpreted by the Philistines as a potential attack on them. So it was probably a pretty safe location for David to be. But really, the safest place for David is where ever God told him to be, and so David obeys the Lord’s instructions through the prophet Gad, and takes his men to the forest of Hereth.

And it’s at this point in the story, that the focus shifts back to King Saul for a few moments. Have a look at verse 6.

6 The news of his arrival in Judah soon reached Saul. At the time, the king was sitting beneath the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, holding his spear and surrounded by his officers.

7 “Listen here, you men of Benjamin!” Saul shouted to his officers when he heard the news. “Has that son of Jesse promised every one of you fields and vineyards? Has he promised to make you all generals and captains in his army? 8 Is that why you have conspired against me? For not one of you told me when my own son made a solemn pact with the son of Jesse. You’re not even sorry for me. Think of it! My own son—encouraging him to kill me, as he is trying to do this very day!”

1 Samuel 22:6-8

Saul’s paranoia has reached ultimate levels! His suspicions and accusations run rampant…

Even in the little details of this story, we can see that he is enveloped in fear and distrusted – even of those closest to him. For example, when the news of David’s arrival in Judah reaches Saul, Saul is sitting under a tree in his hometown, surrounded by all of his officers, and he’s holding a spear! Why does the King need to keep a tight grip on his weapon of choice when he is resting under a tree at home – surrounded by his faithful and loyal men? 

Saul obviously doesn’t feel safe anywhere or with anyone! He doesn’t even trust his inner circle of officers! He makes that clear in verse 7. He accuses them of treason and conspiracy against him! He proclaims that David must have promised them fields and vineyards and offered them high positions in his army if they would turn against Saul.

And of course, none of this is true! And even less true is his accusation against his son Jonathan! He claims that Jonathan was encouraging David to kill Saul! How delusional can you get? 

No one was trying to kill Saul! Not David and certainly not Jonathan! Saul has absolutely lost his mind!

And it’s at this point that we are re-introduced to a character we met in the last chapter – Doeg the Edomite – Saul’s chief herdsman. You’ll remember that he happened to be at the Tabernacle when David got those supplies from the priest Ahimelech. Well, he’s back with King Saul now and verse 9 says:

9 Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing there with Saul’s men, spoke up. “When I was at Nob,” he said, “I saw the son of Jesse talking to the priest, Ahimelech son of Ahitub. 10 Ahimelech consulted the Lord for him. Then he gave him food and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

1 Samuel 22:9-10

I find the timing of Doeg’s revelation to be rather odd. This incident with David and Ahimelech happened quite some time ago now – probably weeks or even months ago. I mean, since then, David had gone to Gath, pretended to be crazy, had gone to the Cave at Adullam, gathered a following of about 400 people, and has now moved camp to the forest of Hereth! So why is Doeg bringing this all up now? This might have been useful information weeks or months ago, but it’s pretty old news at this point.

Well, I would guess that Doeg brings this all up now because he is trying to save his own skin! Doeg obviously wants to prove his loyalty to King Saul or at least shift the king’s accusations onto someone else! He doesn’t want to be accused of conspiring against the king – so he throws Ahimelech the priest under the bus – making it sound like Ahimelech and David had been plotting and scheming all along!

And his plan seems to work. King Saul seems eager to buy into this conspiracy theory and so we read in verse 11.

11 King Saul immediately sent for Ahimelech and all his family, who served as priests at Nob. 12 When they arrived, Saul shouted at him, “Listen to me, you son of Ahitub!”

“What is it, my king?” Ahimelech asked.

13 “Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me?” Saul demanded. “Why did you give him food and a sword? Why have you consulted God for him? Why have you encouraged him to kill me, as he is trying to do this very day?”

1 Samuel 22:11-13

Saul continues his barrage of accusations and demands to know why Ahimelech has conspired against him. Saul even accuses Ahimelech of encouraging David to kill him – just like he accused Jonathan of doing. But Ahimelech responds in verse 14.

14 “But sir,” Ahimelech replied, “is anyone among all your servants as faithful as David, your son-in-law? Why, he is the captain of your bodyguard and a highly honored member of your household! 15 This was certainly not the first time I had consulted God for him! May the king not accuse me and my family in this matter, for I knew nothing at all of any plot against you.”

1 Samuel 22:14-15

To his credit, Ahimelech has a very graceful answer for Saul. He doesn’t blame David for lying to him (which he certainly could have.) Instead, he simply reminds Saul once again of how faithful and loyal David has been to him. But of course, Saul is in no mood to listen to the truth. He’s so wrapped up in his conspiracy theories that it doesn’t matter what Ahimelech might say. His mind is already made up and so we read in verse 16.

16 “You will surely die, Ahimelech, along with your entire family!” the king shouted. 17 And he ordered his bodyguards, “Kill these priests of the Lord, for they are allies and conspirators with David! They knew he was running away from me, but they didn’t tell me!” But Saul’s men refused to kill the Lord’s priests.

1 Samuel 22:16-17

It seems that Saul’s men had the good sense enough to know that Saul had lost it. The truth was obvious to them and they were not about to murder innocent men – much less the priests of the Lord.

And that really should have been a warning signal to Saul. These bodyguards were Saul’s most trusted men – Saul trust them with his life! And so if they are all saying “Saul, you’re wrong.” Saul really would have been wise to listen to them. But I guess in Saul’s mind, no one could be trusted anymore… No one except maybe Doeg. And so in verse 18 we read:

18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You do it.” So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. 19 Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats.

1 Samuel 22:18-19

What a horrific act! At Saul’s command, Doeg murders Ahimelech, and the other 84 priests in his family. And if that wasn’t enough, he then went to the town of Nob and proceeded to murder all of the priest families – killing men and women, children and babies – and even their cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. Only one man escaped. Verse 20 tells us:

20 Only Abiathar, one of the sons of Ahimelech, escaped and fled to David. 21 When he told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord, 22 David exclaimed, “I knew it! When I saw Doeg the Edomite there that day, I knew he was sure to tell Saul. Now I have caused the death of all your father’s family. 23 Stay here with me, and don’t be afraid. I will protect you with my own life, for the same person wants to kill us both.”

1 Samuel 22:20-23

And so the chapter ends as it began – with David taking under his wing those who are in trouble or distressed or bitter of soul. With all of Abithar’s family wiped out – and Doeg eager to kill him as well, David invites Abiathar to stay with him and promises to protect him with his own life. David again shows compassion and cares for the most vulnerable.

And that’s probably a good point to end on for this morning. In the next chapter we’re going to see that David continues to show compassion to those in need – coming to the rescue of an Israelite town that had been attacked by the Philistines. It seems that even when David himself is in trouble, he continues to be more concerned about others than he does himself.

And of course, that’s exactly what the Bible teaches us to do. Philippians 2:3 says…

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4 ESV

No where do we see a greater contrast between Saul and David than in this verse. Saul is driven by pride and selfishness – putting his personal interests ahead of everyone else’s – even to the point of murdering innocent men!

But David continues to act out of humility, caring for the down-and-outers, even though he has plenty of problems of his own. He continues to look out for the interests of others.

And really, this a great picture of what Jesus did for you and I. Jesus cared for us – the down-and-outers – the ones in trouble or distress, the ones bitter of soul. He put our interests ahead of his own, and he died on a cross so that we could experience true life.

That passage in Philippians continues: 

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,

    he did not think of equality with God

    as something to cling to.

7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

    he took the humble position of a slave

    and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

8  he humbled himself in obedience to God

    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor

    and gave him the name above all other names,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

Jesus is the ultimate example in putting the interests of others ahead of his own. Romans 5:8 tells us that:

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV

While we were friendless and alone, hopeless and helpless, Christ died for us. The God of the universe paid for our sin and has invited us to join his family and to be with him forever.

What a privilege we have! What a blessing the Lord has given to us! I am so thankful that Jesus Christ cared for me. And you need to know that He cares for you too. He loves you like crazy and wants to spend eternity with you.

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