The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.
For a few days David felt himself sustained by the faith of Jonathan. As Jonathan spoke to him, it seemed that God came close to him again in love. Even Jonathan’s parting words had held their thrill when he said, ” Go in peace, for as much as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, the LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed forever.” But no sooner did he turn away from this dear friend than David felt the darkness closing in again. He was alone, all alone in the world, and didn’t know where he could turn. Where could he go? He had tried Samuel in Ramah, and that hadn’t worked. He had appealed to his friend Jonathan, and all that Jonathan was able to do was to commit him to the keeping of God. Now what was left? There was only one place that David could think of, the tabernacle presently staked out at Nob near Jerusalem. He didn’t really know why he should go there. It had nothing very concrete to offer to a fugitive from the king. It was just that there was no other place to go either. This was the only place left which somehow in his mind identified itself with safety and promise. In some manner David gave notification to his personal servants to come with him, and then, slowly, almost half-heartedly, he made his way toward Nob.
David had entered one of the most critical testing periods of his life. Before this he had always lived in comparative security. It was true that he had often been exposed to the dangers of battle, but this had not frightened him and he had always had friends and admirers to whom he could return for assurance and encouragement. Even when Saul had first turned against him it had not been like this. It had pained and troubled him to taste the dissatisfaction of the king; but he had been able to read in the eyes of almost everyone that their sympathies were with him, and he had really believed that, if only he would persevere in the right, this evil also could be overcome. But it hadn’t worked out that way. The harder he had tried to do the right, the more hopeless it had seemed to become: and now it had reached the point where he was about to give up. Even his determination to follow the right had dimmed. Already there had been something unnaturally desperate about his statement to Jonathan when first meeting him, “There is but a step between me and death.” Jonathan had felt this, and even he had not dared to refuse to go along with David’s plan to feel out his father by means of a lie. And now that the meeting with Jonathan had not really helped to drive away his gloom, David’s usual determination to do the right was even weaker still.
It had to be this way. This was God’s testing-time for David. God’s will for David was not that he should be a mere warrior in Israel’s army; he was ordained to be king, a leader in Israel who would go forth in the name of the Lord. But for this one lesson had to be learned — namely, that he who leads in the name of the Lord has to go on alone with no one to strengthen him but His God. There can be no returning to the comfort of admirers and friends; there can be no reliance upon the encouragement of any fellow man; he who leads in righteousness can only trust in God. This David had to learn. It was a hard lesson; and, because David was but a man, there was sure to be faltering on the way. But, even while he felt so much alone in this hour of darkness, the grace of God was with him, bringing him slowly to the light.
David himself, of course, realized nothing of this at the time. He felt only completely alone and forsaken. It seemed that he had no one to rely upon but himself and his own ingenuity, and it was not enough.
In this state of discouragement, David approached the tabernacle at Nob, while in his heart there remained only a faint hope that somehow here he might find some guidance or at least some encouragement to go on. Always he had found welcome in the tabernacle, and surely here in the house of God some safety could be found, at least until he had opportunity to rest and think the situation through. Leaving his servants outside, David entered the court of the tabernacle alone, and, no sooner had he done so than it was evident that there was no welcome even here for him any longer. In the court stood Abimelech the priest, and over his face a look of shock, even dismay, at the appearance of David.
Abimelech, of course, was not unfamiliar with the deteriorating relationship between David and Saul. Everyone knew, it was the talk of the day. And, if David was now coming in flight from Saul as he had come to Ramah before, it foreboded no good for the tabernacle and the priest; for the king in his anger would not be far behind. Moreover, the fact that David was standing there now all alone in itself seem to indicate that everything was not right. David was no stranger to the tabernacle; he came there often. But that was usually with a group of soldiers for prayer before a battle or for thanksgiving and cleansing after one; and now for him to stand there all alone was strangely out of place. It frightened the priest, and his face showed it. Even more was this so because at the very time Doeg, the Edomite and favored servant of Saul was there also. He shouldn’t have been, to be sure. As an Edomite he had no place in the tabernacle of Saul. But he was an intimate of the king, and Saul liked all of his friends to take part in the ceremonies of Israel often without regard to the details of the law. The priest had not the courage to refuse him. But now he could be sure that Doeg would be watching closely every action of the priest with regard to David, and it would not be long before all would be repeated in the ears of the king. Anxiously he queried David, “Why art thou alone, and no man with thee?”
David sensed the situation almost immediately. The question of the priest pierced into his heart like a cruel taunt. As welcomed as he had been in the past, even here in the house of God no one was going to go out of his way to help him. It was as though the last outpost of righteousness had turned against him; and, with a feeling of almost reckless abandonment, he decided that the only thing he could do was to try to lie his way out of the predicament. Quickly he turned to Abimelech and said, “The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place. Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present.”
Abimelech was relieved; for he knew David well and in his mind it was quite unimaginable that anything that David said would not be absolutely true. He answered, “There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.” In another day, such as with the Jews of Jesus time (Matt. 12:3,4) this would have been thought quite unthinkable. But this was another day and the details of ceremonial law were not pressed that closely. The priest was satisfied if only David and his men were ceremonially clean.
To this David was quick to agree by answering, “Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.” The exact line of reasoning here is rather difficult to follow; but the general idea appears to have been that because of the need of the occasion and the worthiness of their need, it was quite proper to bypass the strict demands of the ceremonial law — a line of reasoning of which Jesus later approved. (Matt. 12)
Accordinly the bread was given David, and yet David had another need which had to be filled. So he went on to ask further, “And is there not here under thine hand spear or sword? For I have neither brought my sword nor my weapons with be, because the king’s business required haste.” Since the time that he had escaped from the window of his own home, David had traveled alone and without weapons; but now it was become evident that there was no safety for him any longer in Israel. He would have to leave the country and shift for himself.
As David perhaps expected, Abimelech replied, ” The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod: of thou wilt take that, take it: for there is no other save here.”
This sword was undoubtedly large and awkward for a normal man to handle. But David was a man also of exceptional strength and evidently considered himself able to use it, for he replied, ” There is none like that; give it me.” And with that, David left the tabernacle.
Never had David felt so forsaken as now. No matter where he turned no one could or would help him. In his own nation, among his own friends, amid those for who had had so often endangered his own life, there was no place of safety to be found. Slowly the bitterness seeped into his soul until he determined that he would be better off in the hands of his enemies than his own friends. He would go and give himself into the hands of the Philistines just to demonstrate for all to see that they would treat him better than did his own people.
So it was that David presented himself at the gate of Achish the king of Gath. The people were confounded, for there is an unwritten supposition among almost all peoples that a person who presents himself peaceably should not be molested. But this was David; and even as he was brought before Achish, he could hear them saying, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain thousands, and David his ten thousands?” It appeared that even the Philistines had deducted already that he was ordained to become the next king of Israel, and surely then his life was not safe either. Once again he felt the need of falling back on subterfuge to keep himself safe. To make it appear as though he had lost reason, he began to scratch at the door and let spittle fall from his mouth as though he were mad.
Achish, however, would not take David seriously. It was almost as though he saw through David’s pretense and sarcastically answered, “Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought this fellow to play mad man in my presence? Shall this fellow come into me house?” He saw that David’s madness was only a pretense; but he also scorned taking him captive under such circumstances and drove him out of the city.
David was left no place to go but into the wilderness to dwell among the caves of the rocks. There he went and found the cave of Adullam in which he could live, and where he could spend many days and weeks thinking upon the way of the Lord. There once again he learned to call upon the Lord and slowly but surely came to the light; for it was there, we are told, that he wrote the words of Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles….”