David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him.
And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him almost four hundred men.
It was in the cave of Adullam that David gradually came to terms with himself, the things which were happening to him, and the will of God for his future. Rather symbolically, the cave was not a great distance from that place in the valley of Elah where he had slain the giant Goliath. That event had clearly demonstrated the power of God which overshadowed him; and now that things seemed to be going so differently, his thoughts must have returned to it again and again. But there in the quietness of that wilderness valley, David had again to think and pray and meditate. And he did so too. We know from the many Psalms which come down to us concerning that period of his life. (One can still follow the spiritual development of David through that period by reading Psalms 59, 7, 56, 34, 57, 52, 143, and 54 in that order.) For David, it was a period of comparative inactivity; but it was a period of much needed rest and refreshment also, through which he drew closer to his God. These things which had happened to him had to be understood and received in faith lest his soul should become permanently scarred with bitterness. There in the quiet wilderness it came as a healing balm.
Meanwhile, the exile of David was having its effect in Israel also. David had become far too prominent a figure merely to disappear from sight without it being noticed. Through the years, David had become a national hero, known and recognized by everyone. Even more, it was generally realized that his source of strength and courage was much more genuine than was king Saul’s. When the rumor began to circulate through the land, therefore, that Saul was determined to kill David, forcing him to flee for safety into the very borders of Philistia, the land was ripe for ferment. There were undoubtedly those who merely accepted the actions of the king as something which he had a right to do regardless of his motive: and there were those as always who received a certain sense of glee out of seeing a great hero fall. There were, no doubt, those who felt badly because of the injustice of the king but meekly accepted it in the end; and there were those whose sense of indignation was aroused and who would not be silent about it. It was this latter group which very quickly found itself in difficulty. Saul was not one to deal lightly with those who failed to support him. He had come a long way from the day when he had quietly forgiven those who failed to support him prior to the battle of Jabeshgilead, and he was now quite a different man. No sooner did a man dare to speak out in criticism of the king than the cruel hand of punishment was there to afflict him.
Among the very first to feel the heavy hand of Saul’s wrath were the members of David’s own family. They had actually had nothing at all to do with David’s actions while serving Saul, but that made little difference to the king. The fact of the matter was that David had not done anything either to merit the disfavor of Saul. His family was counted guilty merely because they were related to David. Neither did it make any difference that David’s family constituted the chief and most noble family in the city of Bethlehem. Hardly had the hatred of Saul against David come out into the open than the servants of Saul were to be found in Bethlehem, watching, asking and generally prying into every matter that had to do with the family of Jesse. Very evidently, they were looking for something upon the basis of which Jesse and his children could be blamed, while the servants of Saul neglected no opportunity to discourage everyone from giving any assistance or encouragement to the house of Jesse at all. It was not long before Jesse and all of his children realized that there could be no safety for them any longer in Israel as long as Saul was king; and gathering what possessions they could, they all fled to Adullam to live with David in the caves of the ground.
For David, it must have surely been a very encouraging thing to be joined in his exile by all of his father’s house. Through the years his older brothers had gradually become reconciled to the very evident fact that the youngest of them was ordained by God to fill a most important place. Now they were among the very first to join in support behind their exiled brother, and we may be sure that David appreciated it very much. Only with regards to his parents did David find a problem. They were old and the life of Adullam was rugged and uncertain. Once again, because there was no safety for them any more in Israel, David found himself forced to appeal to the heathen. This time it was the king of Moab to whom David addressed himself, asking, “Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me”; and the king of Moab, perhaps in memory of Ruth the Moabitess and grandmother of Jesse, granted them the requested refuge.
This, however, proved to be only the beginning. Throughout the land there were more who expressed their discontent with the actions of Saul, and the treatment they received was much the same until many of them had to flee to Adullam also. Each in turn was welcomed and room was made for all, with the result that soon all who were unsettled in the land, those without work and in debt, those who were rejected in their communities for whatever reason it might be began to drift down to Adullam. It was a rough, crude and motley throng that made up that wilderness community; but soon it numbered nearly four hundred and there was a joy and enthusiasm that permeated throughout, unmatched by anything else in Israel. Even more, the prophet Gad soon joined their number to teach the people and instruct them in the way of the Lord. They were poor; but they shared joyfully what little they had, and together singing the psalms that David wrote, they worshipped their God with pleasure.
At last the strength of David and his company had been built up sufficiently for them to begin to identify themselves more clearly with the nation to which they belonged. God appeared to Gad and commanded that they should leave Adullam, which bordered between Israel and Philistia and was often identified with the latter. He commanded that they should go rather into the wilderness of Juda. Thus it was that David moved to the forest of Hareth.
Meanwhile, Saul had become almost frantic because of his inability to do away with David. He felt the underlying ferment of the people, and wildly he lashed out at any one who questioned his actions toward David. It only made matters worse, until discontent was to be found everywhere. To Saul this meant treachery so that he no longer trusted anyone but his own family and his own tribe, while even here he suspected treason and was determined to weed it out. Thus it was that he called the men of Benjamin together and spoke to them saying, “Here, now, ye Benjaminites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds; that all of you have conspired against me, and there is none that sheweth me that my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you that is sorry for me, or sheweth unto me that my son hath stirred up my servant against me to lie in wait, as at this day?”
It was a crude and utterly wicked ploy on the part of Saul to arouse support and sympathy for his own cause. He knew as much as any one about the friendship that existed between Jonathan and David, yet he would fault the men of his own tribe because none of them had thought to come and tell him about it. Even more, it was his way of letting them know that nothing was more dear to him than the destruction of David, not even his own son. He wanted every one of them to tell him everything they knew that could be used against David, even if it reflected on his own children.
This was the opportunity that Doeg the Edomite was waiting for. He had been holding what he had seen at Nob until it could be turned to his own greatest advantage. Now the time had come. Quickly he stepped forward and spoke, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Abimelech the son of Ahitub. And he enquired of the LORD for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”
This was exactly the kind of information Saul wanted, not just because he wanted someone whom he could use as a demonstration of how determined he was to allow no one to give assistance to David, but it also gave him someone upon whom he could vent his frustration. Immediately he commanded that Abimelech and all of the priests of Nob should be brought before him for judgment. Into the presence of Saul they were brought and without asking any questions Saul made his accusation, “Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, in that thou hast given him bread, and a sword, and hast enquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?”
Abimelech was indignant. The utter injustice of Saul’s accusation was more than his sense of righteousness could endure. He, after all, was the priest of the Lord with as much right and authority in his position as Saul had in his. Moreover, his conscience was clear. David had come to him and told him exactly what he was doing; and there was very much more reason to trust the words of David than those of Saul. His answer was in reality a counter accusation, “And who is so faithful among all thy servants as David, which is the king’s son in law, and goeth at thy bidding, and is honourable in this house? Did I then begin to enquire of God for him? be it far from me: let not the king impute any thing unto his servant, nor to all the house of my father: for thy servant knew nothing of all this, less or more.”
Little did Abimelech realize, however, how full of hatred Saul was. His answer showed no respect for the office of Abimelech and no desire to find the way of truth and justice. In anguished fury he answered, “Thou shalt surely die, Abimelech, thou, and all thy father’s house.” Then, turning to his immediate servants and bodyguards, he said, “Turn, and slay the priest of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to me.”
A stunned silence fell upon the whole group of men standing there. These were Israelites and even the most irreligious of them had been raised in awe of the priesthood. Not one of them moved. They could not do it. But there was one there with no such inhibitions, Doeg the Edomite, and Saul knew it. To him Saul turned next and said, “Turn thou, and fall upon the priests.” It was undoubtedly the darkest hour in Saul’s reign. From priest to priest Doeg went unto all of forty five of them lay dead in their own blood. But even that was not enough. Next Doeg went to the city of Nob to enter the homes of the priest and to slay their wives and children. Of the whole family, only one understood what was happening in time to flee and save his own life. He was Abiathar, the son of Abimelech. He, too, made his way to David and reported to him what had happened.
It was a dark day for David too; for he was not without guilt in the whole matter. He had lied to Abimelech, and believing his lie, Abimelech had defended him before Saul. Tearfully, he said to Abiathar , “I knew it that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul: I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy father’s house. Abide thou with me, fear not: for he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life: but with me thou shalt be in safeguard.”