1 Samuel 21–25: Hated & Hunted

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 15: Tuesday

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?”
1 Samuel 22:14 LSB

Tuesday’s Bible reading of 1 Samuel 21–25, finds David fleeing for his life from Saul. As you read notice the many places David had to escape, and notice those who stood by him, and notice those who betrayed him. Also, look carefully to see how David’s character and his relationship with God is revealed in these chapters.

David goes first to Ahimelech, a priest, who gives him bread and Goliath’s sword. In a foreshadowing of events to come, Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds, was there at the time, and saw what happened. David next goes to Achish king of Gath, but fearing again for his life, he fakes insanity and leaves.

So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it and went down there to him. Then everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter of soul, gathered to him; and he became a commander over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him. 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.”
1 Samuel 22:1–3 LSB

Remember Ruth, a Moabitess, was David’s great-grandmother, and his father’s grandmother. Gleason Archer conjectures:

“The fact that David was descended from a Moabitess would furnish a ready explanation for his seeking refuge with the king of Moab during the time he was being pursued by Saul.”1

After being warned by the prophet Gad, David leaves Adullam and goes to Judah. Notice how many times he has to move from place to place. He cannot safely settle.

Saul’s hatred knows no bounds. After he hears from Doeg the Edomite that David had received help from the priest, Ahimelech, Saul has Ahimelech, along with 84 other priests, killed, and then has all of the people and livestock in Nob, the city of the priests, slaughtered.

David hears the people of Keilah are under attack by the Philistines. He seeks God’s gui­dance, and God tells him to go and fight. David then takes his men and delivers Keilah. Saul again hears news of David. David again seek’s God’s guidance, and God warns him to flee because the peopl of Keilah would turn him over to Saul.

And David stayed in the wilderness in the strongholds and remained in the hill country in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand. Then David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. Now David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. So Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David at Horesh and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father will not find you, and you will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you; and Saul my father knows that also.”
So the two of them cut a covenant before Yahweh; and David stayed at Horesh while Jonathan went to his house.
1 Samuel 23:14–18 LSB

Jonathan continues as David’s faithful friend. On the other hand, the people of Ziph send word to Saul that David is hiding there. Saul pursues him, and has David and his men surrounded. In this desperate situation God delivers David when, in His providential timing, Saul hears the Philistines are attacking and leaves. D. F. Payne notes, “One can readily see that Saul’s irrational deter­mination to kill David played right into the Philistine hands.”2 In His sovereignty, God uses the devices of men for His own purpose, to save David.


David flees yet again, this time to the wilderness of Engedi. Payne writes it is “on the shores of the Dead Sea, has fresh water flowing through it, but lies in a very barren region.”3

After fighting the Philistines, Saul returns to his pursuit of David. It is at this point that David has a chance to kill Saul when Saul comes into the cave where David and his men are hiding.

Then the men of David said to him, “Behold, this is the day of which Yahweh said to you, ‘Behold, I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good in your eyes.’” Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul’s robe secretly.
And it happened afterward that David’s heart struck him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe. So he said to his men, “Far be it from me because of Yahweh that I should do this thing to my lord, the anointed of Yahweh, to send forth my hand against him, since he is the anointed of Yahweh.”
And David tore his men to pieces with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. And Saul arose, left the cave, and went on his way.
1 Samuel 24:4–7 LSB

David would have been familiar with Deuteronomy 32:35, in which God says that vengeance is His. Here again, he shows his trust in God, his dependence on God, and his submission to God in God’s commands and in God’s timing.

After Saul leaves the cave, David calls after him, prostrates himself in extreme humility, and shows him proof that he had held Saul’s life in his hands, but had not killed him.

“May Yahweh judge between you and me, and may Yahweh avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you.”
1 Samuel 22:12 LSB

In one of his few moments of acknowledgment of his deeds, Saul weeps and tells David that David is more righteous than him and that he has acted wickedly.

Samuel’s death is recorded in chapter 25, as are David’s dealings with Nabal and Abigail. Abigail’s wisdom defuses David’s fury at Nabal’s crass and ungrateful refusal to help David and his men, and she prevents David from slaughtering Nabal and his household. David recognizes what he has been kept from doing:

Then David said to Abigail, “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from saving myself by my own hand. Nevertheless, as Yahweh, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from harming you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely there would not have been left to Nabal until the morning light as much as one male.”
1 Samuel 25:32–34 LSB

The crises of 1 Samuel 21–25, are the backdrop of many of David’s psalms. In these intense and life-threatening events we see who David is in his character and in his dependence on God. Two of his psalms have superscriptions about being in a cave: Psalm 57, “When he fled from Saul in the cave,” and Psalm 142, “When he was in the cave.”

As to David writing while he was on the run, Derek Kidner explains:

“In general, we may find it hard to understand how a polished work of art, such as the acrostic Psalm 34, could come into being in a life-and-death emergency; or we my notice that the thought of such psalms often ranges further afield than the named situation itself. To both these points it may of course be enough to reply that we are dealing with no ordinary talent, and, further, of divine inspiration, both of which are highly relevant factors; but since God does not gratuitously multiply miracles, the truth may be that it was the nucleus of the psalm—some germinal phrase or sequence—which came to David in the crisis itself, to be developed later as he pondered and re-lived the incident. A further point of growth can occasionally be seen, as in the last two verses of Psalm 51, when David’s experience was appropriated as Israel’s own, and their prayer or praise was grafted on to his—a response which provides an object-lesson to subsequent users of the Psalter.”4

Kidner titles, Psalm 57, “Saved to Sing.”

“The end of the psalm’s heading gives the setting of this song as ‘in the cave’; and we can sense the same realistic but adventurous spirit, spurred instead of cowed by danger, in the psalm as in the story. This is the David who could say ‘there is but a step between me and death’ (1 Sa. 20:3), yet win the initiative from his pursuer and still keep humble faith with God (1 Sa. 24:1–15).”5

Alec Motyer writes:

“The psalm marks a night passed in the cave: going to bed (4); waking up (8). The title places David ‘in the cave’ but David places himself ‘in you…in the shadow of your wings’ (1), a very different shaded place!”6

Kidner titles Psalm 142, “Hemmed In.”

“The title in the text makes this a companion piece to Psalm 57 by the note, ‘when he was in the cave’; and together the two psalms give us some idea of the fluctuating state of David’s emotions in the ordeal. Psalm 57 is bold and animated, almost enjoying the situation for the certainty of its triumphant outcome. In the present psalm the strain of being hated and hunted in almost too much, and faith is at full stretch. But this faith is undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”7

Motyer writes that Psalm 142 is,

“Well-entitled a ‘prayer’. Psalm 142 is in fact a threefold prayer (verses 1–3a, 3b–5, 6–7), each specifying a distinct aspect of need and a distinct understanding of Yahweh…

“If the cave is Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1) David has already tried escaping to his home (1 Samuel 19:11), to Samuel (1 Samuel 19:18), to Nob (1 Samuel 21:1) and to Gath (1 Samuel 21:10) without success. Adullam marked the low ebb is his fortunes, but also (1 Samuel 22:2) a real turning point in his pathway.”8

Motyer translates Psalm 142:1 as:

With my voice to Yahweh I shout out:
with my voice to Yahweh I appeal for grace.
Psalm 142:1 AM9

He comments:

“‘Scream’ is what David feels, ‘grace’ is what he seeks. ‘Scream’ indicates human need; ‘grace’ divine response. ‘Scream’ is where prayer starts; ‘grace’ is where it reaches.”10

In David’s life and in David’s psalms, God shows us His grace writ large. May He encourage you through His Word to bring your needs to Him in whatever dire situations you may be in, and look to Him for grace and help.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
En Gedi: probably Small David’s Fall and landscape around Ein Gedi (En Gedi). Jan Helebrant. (CC0 1.0). Public Domain Dedication.
1Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody Press, Chicago IL: 1966, 1974) 281.
2,3D. F. Payne, “1 Samuel,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 300, 300.
4,5Derek Kidner, Psalm 1–72 (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1973) 44, 205.
7Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150, (Inter-Varsity Press: Leiscester, England: 1975) 472473.
6,8,9,10Alec Motyer, Psalms By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Ross-shire, Scotland, U.K. 2016) 150, 404–405, 403, 404.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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