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.
Verse 1. - The cave Adullam. According to Josephus this was situated near a city of the same name ('Ant.,' 6:12, 3), which formed one of a group of fifteen in the Shephelah (see on 1 Samuel 17:1), and its site has now been recovered by Mr. Conder (see 'Tent Work,' 2:156-160). "The great valley," he says, "of Elah, which forms the highway from Philistia to Hebron, runs down northwards past Keilah and Hareth, dividing the low hills of the Shephelah from the rocky mountains of Judah. Eight miles from the valley head stands Shochoh,... and two and a half miles south of this is a very large and ancient terebinth." This stands on "the west side of the vale, just where a small tributary ravine joins the main valley; and on the south of this ravine is a high rounded hill, almost isolated by valleys, and covered with ruins, a natural fortress," the site of the city Adullam. David's cave, he considers, would not be one of the larger caverns, as these are seldom used for habitations; but "the sides of the tributary valley are lined with rows of caves, and these we found inhabited, and full of flocks and herds; but still more interesting was the discovery of a separate cave on the hill itself, a low, smoke-blackened burrow, which was the home of a single family. We could not but suppose, as we entered this gloomy abode, that our feet were standing in the very footprints of the shepherd king, who here, encamped between the Philistines and the Jews, covered the line of advance on the cornfields of Keilah, and was but three miles distant from the thickets of Hareth." After describing the fine view from this hill, which is about 500 feet high, he adds, "There is ample room to have accommodated David's 400 men in the caves, and they are, as we have seen, still inhabited." Thus then David's cave was one of many in the Terebinth valley and the ravine opening into it, and was not far from Gath, though over the border. Here his brethren and all his father's house joined him through fear of Saul. Among these would be Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, his cousins; and we learn how great was the love and enthusiasm which David was able to inspire among them from the feat of the three heroes, of whom Abishai was one, who, while he was in the cave of Adullam, and a garrison of the Philistines at Bethlehem, broke through them to bring David water from the well there (2 Samuel 23:13-17). As Bethlehem was thus held by the Philistines, there was double reason for the flight of Jesse's family; and it is a proof how thoroughly Saul's government had broken down that, while Samuel could maintain a son at Beersheba as judge (1 Samuel 8:24 Saul was unable to defend places so much more distant from the Philistine border.
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 about four hundred men.
Verse 2. - Everyone that was in distress,... in debt, or discontented (Hebrew, bitter of soul), gathered themselves unto him. Had Saul's government been just and upright David would have had no followers; but he never rose above the level of a soldier, had developed all that arbitrariness which military command fosters in self-willed minds, and seems entirely unaware of its being his duty to attend to the righteous administration of the law. The Israelites had in him the very king they had desired, but they found that a brave general might at home be a ruthless tyrant. Debt was one of the worst evils of ancient times. The rate of usury was so exorbitant that a loan was sure to end in utter ruin, and not only the debtor, but his children might be made slaves to repay the debt (2 Kings 4:1). It was one of the first duties of an upright governor to enforce the Mosaic law against usury (Leviticus 25:36); but all such cares Saul despised, and there were probably many in the land impoverished by Saul's own exactions and favouritism (ver. 7), and made bitter of soul by his cruelty and injustice. All such were glad to join in what seemed to them the banner of revolt. Afterwards at Ziklag David was joined by nobler followers (see on 1 Samuel 27:6). With David we may compare Jephthah's case in the old days of anarchy (Judges 11:3-6), and note that bad government leads to lawlessness just as surely as no government.
And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me.
Verses 3, 4. - David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab. The position of this place is unknown, but as the word means a watch tower, it was no doubt some beacon hill in the highlands of Moab on the east of the Dead Sea, and probably in the mountains of Abarim or Pisgah. Here David placed his father and mother under the care of the king of Moab. They had fled from Bethlehem under the combined fear of Saul and the Philistines, but were too old to bear the fatigues of David's life. He therefore asks for a refuge for them with the king of Moab, probably on the ground that Jesse's grandmother, Ruth, was a Moabitess. But as Saul had waged war on Moab (1 Samuel 14:47), the king was probably glad to help one who would keep Saul employed at home. The language of David is remarkable, and is literally, "Let, I pray, my father and my mother come forth with you" (pl.); but no better interpretation has been suggested than that in the A.V.: "Let them come forth, i.e. from the hold in Mizpeh, to be or dwell with you." While David was in the hold. Not merely that in the land of Moab, but up to the time when David was settled in Hebron. During all this period David was wandering from one natural fortress to another. Till I know what God will do for (or to) me. These words show that David had recovered his composure, and was willing calmly to leave everything to the wise disposal of God.
And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold.
And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth.
Verse 5. - The prophet Gad. This sudden appearance of the prophet suggests Stahelin's question, How came he among such people? But, in the first place, David's followers were not all of the sort described in ver. 2; and, next, this must be regarded as a declaration of the prophetic order in his favour. As we have a summary of David's proceedings in ver. 4, extending over some time, during which the massacre of the priests at Nob took place, we may well suppose that Saul had alienated from him the minds of all religious people, and that Gad, probably by Samuel's command, came to be David's counsellor. The advice he gives is most important - Abide not in the hold. I.e. do not remain in the land of Moab. Had David done so he probably would never have become king. By remaining in Judah, and protecting the people from the Philistines, which Saul could no longer do, David grew in reputation and power, and from the list of those who joined him at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:1-22) it is evident not only that such was the case, but that there was a strong enthusiasm for him throughout not merely Judah, but all Israel. In the happier times which followed Gad became David's seer (2 Samuel 24:11), was God's messenger to punish David for numbering the people (ibid. ver. 13), and finally wrote a history of his life (1 Chronicles 29:29). As he thus survived David, he must have been a young man when he joined him, and possibly had been a companion of David in the prophetic schools at Naioth in Ramah. The forest of Hareth. Or, rather, Hereth. "This lay on the edge of the mountain chain (of Hebron), where Kharas now stands, surrounded by the thickets which properly represent the Hebrew yar, a word wrongly supposed to mean a woodland of timber trees" (Conder, 'Tent Work,' 2:88). Yar is translated forest here. Hereth was about three miles from Adullam (see on ver. 1). MASSACRE OF THE PRIESTS AT NOB (vers. 6-19).
When Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men that were with him, (now Saul abode in Gibeah under a tree in Ramah, having his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing about him;)
Verse 6. - When Saul heard that David was discovered. Hebrew, "was known." The meaning is easy enough, though rendered obscure by the involved translation of the A.V., and is as follows: When Saul heard that there was information concerning David and his men, he held a solemn council, in which we see how simple was the dignity of his court, but how great the ferocity to which he was now a prey. There is no parenthesis, but the account of Saul taking his seat, surrounded by his officers, follows directly upon the narration of the fact that news of David had reached him, and should be translated thus: "And Saul takes his seat in Gibeah under the tamarisk tree on the height, holding his javelin (as a sceptre) in his hand, and all his officers stand in order by him." For Saul's fondness for trees see ch. 14:2; but at a time when there were no large buildings a branching tree formed a fit place for a numerous meeting. A tree. Really a tamarisk tree, which "sometimes reaches such a size as to afford dense shade .... It is a very graceful tree, with long feathery branches and tufts, closely clad with the minutest of leaves, and surmounted in spring with spikes of beautiful pink blossom" (Tristram, 'Nat. Hist. of Bible,' p. 357). It grows abundantly on the seashore of England, but requires a warmer climate to develope into a tree. In Spain beautiful specimens may be seen, as for instance at Pampeluna. In Ramah. Conder (Handbook) thinks that Gibeah was the name of a district, which included Ramah; others take the word in its original signification, and render "on the height." Standing. The word means that they took each their proper posts around him (See on 1 Samuel 10:23; 12:7, 16; 17:16). Saul was holding a formal court, to decide what steps should be taken now that David had openly revolted from him.
Then Saul said unto his servants that stood about him, Hear now, ye Benjamites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds;
Verses 7, 8. - Ye Benjamites. Saul had evidently failed in blending the twelve tribes into one nation. He had begun well, and his great feat of delivering Jabesh Gilead by summoning the militia of all Israel together must have given them something of a corporate feeling, and taught them their power when united. Yet now we find him isolated, and this address to his officers seems to show that he had aggrandised his own tribe at the expense of the rest. Moreover, he appeals to the worst passions of these men, and asks whether they can expect David to continue this favouritism, which had given them riches and all posts of power. And then he turns upon them, and fiercely accuses them of banding together in a conspiracy against him, to conceal from him the private understanding which existed between his own son and his enemy. Hath made a league. Hebrew, "hath cut." This use of the formal phrase forsaking a covenant seems to show that Saul was at length aware of the solemn bond of friendship entered into by Jonathan with David. To lie in wait. To Saul's mind, diseased with that suspicion which is the scourge of tyrants, David is secretly plotting his murder. As at this day. I.e. as today is manifest (see ver. 13).
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?
Then answered Doeg the Edomite, which was set over the servants of Saul, and said, I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub.
Verses 9, 10. - Doeg the Edomite, which was set over the servants of Saul. This translation is entirely wrong, nor would Saul's Benjamites have endured to have an Edomite set over them. The verb is that used in ver. 6, and refers simply to Doeg's place in the circle of attendants standing round Saul. The words mean, "Doeg the Edomite, who stood there with the servants of Saul." As chief herdsman he was present as a person of some importance, but far below "the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds." I saw the son of Jesse, etc. As Saul was in a dangerous state of excite. sent, bordering on insanity, Doeg's statement was probably made with the evil intent of turning the king's suspicions from the courtiers to the priests. His assertion that the high priest enquired of Jehovah for David was possibly true (see on ver. 15).
And he inquired of the LORD for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.
Then the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father's house, the priests that were in Nob: and they came all of them to the king.
Verses 11-13. - All his father's house. Doeg's suggestion that the priests were David's allies at once arouses all Saul's worst passions. As if he had determined from the first upon the massacre of the whole body, he sends not merely for Ahimelech, but forevery priest at Nob. Shortly afterwards they arrived, for Nob was close to Gibeah, and Saul himself arraigns them before the court for treason, and recapitulates the three points mentioned by Doeg as conclusive proofs of their guilt.
And Saul said, Hear now, thou son of Ahitub. And he answered, Here I am, my lord.
And Saul said unto him, Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, in that thou hast given him bread, and a sword, and hast inquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?
Then Ahimelech answered the king, and said, 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 thine house?
Verses 14-16. - Ahimelech's answers are those of an innocent man who had supposed that what he did was a matter of course. But his enumeration of David's privileges of rank and station probably only embittered the king. In his eyes David was of all Saul s officers the most faithful, both trusty and trusted (see on 1 Samuel 2:35). He was, moreover, the king's son-in-law; but the next words, he goeth at thy bidding, more probably mean, "has admission to thy audience," i.e. is thy privy councillor, with the right of entering unbidden the royal presence (comp. 2 Samuel 23:23, margin; 1 Chronicles 11:25). Did I then begin to enquire of God for him? Though the meaning of these words is disputed, yet there seems no sufficient reason for taking them in any other than their natural sense. It was probably usual to consult God by the Urim and Thummim on all matters of importance, and David, as a high officer of Saul's court, must often have done so before starting on such expeditions as are referred to in 1 Samuel 18:13. But the Bible is singularly reticent in such matters, and it is only incidentally that we learn how fully the Mosaic law entered into the daily life of the people. But for this frightful crime we should not even have known that Saul had brought the ark into his own neighbourhood, and restored the services of the sanctuary. But just as he took care to have Ahiah in attendance upon him in war, so we cannot doubt but that his main object in placing the priests at Nob was to have the benefit of the Divine counsel in his wars. It would be quite unreasonable to suppose that such consultations required the king's personal attendance. Thy servant knew nothing of all this, less or more. Whatever Ahimelech had done had been in perfect good faith, and though David's conduct must have seemed to him suspicious, yet there was nothing that would have justified him in acting differently. Nevertheless, in spite of his transparent innocence, Saul orders the slaughter not only of God's high priest, but of the whole body of the priesthood whom he had placed at Nob, and now had summoned for this ferocious purpose into his presence.
Did I then begin to inquire 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.
And the king said, Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou, and all thy father's house.
And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him, Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the LORD.
Verses 17-19. - Footmen. Hebrew, "runners." They were the men who ran by the side of the king's horse or chariot as his escort (see on 1 Samuel 8:11). In constant training, they were capable of maintaining a great speed for a very long time. Here they were present at the king's council as his bodyguard, but when commanded to commit this horrid deed not one of them stirred from his place. Saul might have seen by this that he was alienating the hearts of all right minded men from him; but, unabashed, he next orders Doeg to slay the priests, and he, aided probably by his servants, slew in that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. The fact that they were thus clad in their official dress added not to the wickedness, but to the impiety of this revolting act. And, not satisfied with thus wreaking his rage on innocent men, he next destroyed the city of the priests, barbarously massacring their whole families, both men and women, children and sucklings, and even their oxen, asses, and sheep, as if Nob was a city placed under the ban. It is a deed in strange contrast with the pretended mercy that spared Agag and the best of the Amaleklte spoil on the pretext of religion. Only once before had so terrible a calamity befallen the descendants of Aaron, and that was when the Philistines destroyed Shiloh. But they were enemies, and provoked by the people bringing the ark to the battle, and even then women and children escaped. It was left to the anointed king, who had himself settled the priests at Nob and restored Jehovah's worship there, to perpetrate an act unparalleled in Jewish history for its barbarity. Nor was it an act of barbarity only, but also of insane and wanton stupidity. The heart of every thoughtful person must now have turned away in horror from the king whom they had desired; and no wonder that when, two or three years afterwards, war came Saul found himself a king without an army, and fell into that deep, despondent melancholy which drove him, in need of some human sympathy, to seek it from a reputed witch. ESCAPE OF ABIATHAR TO DAVID (vers. 20-23).
And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod.
And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.
And one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David.
Verses 20-23. - Abiathar escaped. Probably he was left in charge of the sanctuary when Ahimelech and the rest were summoned into the king's presence, and on news being brought of Saul's violence, at once made his escape, Naturally, as representing a family who, though originally Saul's friends, had suffered so much for David, he was kindly received, and a friendship commenced which lasted all David's life; but, taking at last Adonijah's side, he was deprived by Solomon of the high priesthood, and sent into honourable banishment at Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26). On hearing of the terrible tragedy from which Abiathar had escaped, David, with characteristic tenderness of conscience, accuses himself of being the cause of all this bloodshed. Perhaps he felt that when he saw Doeg at Nob he ought at once to have gone away, without implicating Ahimelech in his cause; but he could never have imagined that Saul would have treated innocent men so barbarously, and may have supposed that their sacred character as well as their guiltlessness would have secured them from more than temporary displeasure. David now warmly promises Abiathar safety and friendship, and possibly the inversion of the natural order, he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life (where the my and thy are transposed by the Septuagint in one of its usual improvements of the Hebrew text), is meant to express this entire oneness and close union henceforward of the two friends. As to the question when and where Abiathar joined David, see on 1 Samuel 23:6.
And Abiathar shewed David that Saul had slain the LORD'S priests.
And David said unto 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.