David: From Nob to Gath and Thence to Adullam

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The sword of Goliath came into David's hands a second time, but under very different circumstances from the first, When he took it from Goliath, his absolute confidence in the Lord and his self-devotion to the interests of His people distinguished him above all; and it was a time of blessing for Israel though of brief duration. Saul became jealous of him, and no means were left untried to bring about his destruction. His perils, his escapes, and the exercises of his soul because of them we have traced up to his flight to Nob, to the tabernacle, where he hoped to get help. In this he was not disappointed, though Ahimelech, the high priest, was troubled at his coming and by the manner of it. David's wants were now very pressing. Persecuted, defenseless, hungry, and weary, he turned to the minister of the sanctuary for supplies. Who more suited to meet his need and to afford him comfort in this moment of extreme difficulty and peril? Yes, fair in appearance as this flight to the tabernacle for help was, it was not a true seeking of the Lord, for David stooped to artifice to gain his end. He deceived Ahimelech by specious answers to his inquiries; and though his wants were met, his guile, indirectly at least, brought destruction on the innocent, and bitter anguish to his own soul (1 Sam. 22:2222And 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. (1 Samuel 22:22)).
In the house of God, however, he found nothing but grace. The order of that house was set aside in his favor; he ate the shewbread which it was not lawful for him to eat but only for the priests, and he received from behind the ephod the sword of Goliath. He was fed, he was armed, and he would have been directed; but even this ministry failed, as we shall see, to impart confidence in the Lord. From Matt. 12:3, 43But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; 4How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? (Matthew 12:3‑4), we learn that David's circumstances at this time were typical of the deeper sorrows of the rejected Messiah and of the remnant attached to Him; and hence we think that the shewbread and the sword of Goliath may have a typical meaning also, pointing to the all-important ministry, so needed by the soul, of the true bread to nourish and the sword of death, no longer our dread, but for us, when used unsparingly against all within and around that hinders obedience to the will of God (Rom. 6:1111Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11), Col. 3:55Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: (Colossians 3:5)). As David said, “There is none like it; give it me.”
Yet, instructive as the ministry of Ahimelech might have proved, the fact remains that David learned more of God when in the hands of the Philistines than when in the tabernacle; and how true it is now, that saints often learn more of Christ in suffering and distress than from the pulpit. Yet thanks be to God for true ministry. Can we however shut our eyes to the truth that when David was simply depending on the Lord and in confident assurance of his favor, the lion, the bear, and even Goliath, presented no difficulty to him? Young as he was, he met them all as the common work of the life of faith, and he did the greatest service when, in appearance, he was most defenseless. Now, after being ministered to abundantly, through fear of Saul he fled at once to Achish the Philistine, the king of Gath.
What a challenge this ought to be to us! Upon what is our soul really depending? Ordinances and ministry, the best provisions of the sanctuary, can be no substitute for personal trust in God. They may even draw off the spirit from the consciousness of its own inherent weakness, and thus hinder the good they ought to prove. There is no deception more subtle. The Corinthians had the best ministry, they came behind in no gifts; yet for them even more than for others was the warning needed, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
What can David do with Goliath's sword in Gath? Would he even dare to show it? Association with the world and looking to it for protection too often lead to subjection to it. The title of Psa. 56 implies that this was his case, “The Philistines took him in Gath.” Thus, after all that Ahimelech had risked for him and had ministered to him, his unbelief brought him into greater difficulties than those from which he fled. He confesses this in the Psalm:—
“Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; All the day long he fighting oppresseth me.”
His distress, more effectual than ministry, cast him upon the mercy of God, and not in vain. Brought into His presence, his faith revived: he became like the David of early days. What now was the estimate of his troubles? He saw at once the utter impotency of man, of whom he had lately been in such abject fear.
“What can flesh do unto me"?
“What can man do unto me”?
“What time I am afraid
I will trust in thee.”
If such was man, what had he learned of the Lord? That He was most compassionate, most merciful, entering into all his sorrows and with a perfect knowledge of them. Rarely was David's harp attuned to a sweeter note than is found here.
“Thou tellest my wanderings:
Put thou my tears into thy bottle:
Are they not in thy book”?
And it is to be noted, that it is when in distress the soul values the word of God. The bed of suffering is very different from the study chair. There the heart has but little sympathy with questions as to the credit of the holy scriptures. Surely David had but little when he sung
“In God will I praise his word,
In the LORD will I praise his word.”
The time of his deliverance drew near, but the way of it must he the entire withering of the flesh. The conqueror in the valley of Elah now “scrabbled on the door of the gate and let his spittle fall down on his beard,” feigning madness to save his life.; yet even in this low estate his faith failed not
“When I cry unto thee, then shall my enemies turn back;
THIS I KNOW; for God is for me.”
The closing prayer of the psalm is very expressive of the need of a soul who, running his own course, has had a fall and fears another.
“Thou hast delivered my soul from death;
Wilt thou not deliver my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God
In the light of the living?”
It has been said, “Oh! the luxury of prayer.” This history may tell us that nothing can deprive a believer of it.
Returning to the land, of which even the Philistines owned he was the king, David's heart is again drawn to the people of the land, whatever treatment he may receive at the hand of their leader. Because of Saul he is still a fugitive and we find him after leaving Gath in the cave of Adullam. There his own family come to him for protection, being no longer safe in Bethlehem: and others, to the number of four hundred, men of no reputation— “in distress,” “in debt” and “bitter of soul” (1 Sam. 22) it is a change in his position. The Lord had been leading him into greater confidence in Himself, and would now train him for future rule in Israel and for delivering the people from their enemies. We must turn to 1 Chron. 11:10-4710These also are the chief of the mighty men whom David had, who strengthened themselves with him in his kingdom, and with all Israel, to make him king, according to the word of the Lord concerning Israel. 11And this is the number of the mighty men whom David had; Jashobeam, an Hachmonite, the chief of the captains: he lifted up his spear against three hundred slain by him at one time. 12And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, who was one of the three mighties. 13He was with David at Pas-dammim, and there the Philistines were gathered together to battle, where was a parcel of ground full of barley; and the people fled from before the Philistines. 14And they set themselves in the midst of that parcel, and delivered it, and slew the Philistines; and the Lord saved them by a great deliverance. 15Now three of the thirty captains went down to the rock to David, into the cave of Adullam; and the host of the Philistines encamped in the valley of Rephaim. 16And David was then in the hold, and the Philistines' garrison was then at Bethlehem. 17And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, that is at the gate! 18And the three brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: but David would not drink of it, but poured it out to the Lord, 19And said, My God forbid it me, that I should do this thing: shall I drink the blood of these men that have put their lives in jeopardy? for with the jeopardy of their lives they brought it. Therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mightiest. 20And Abishai the brother of Joab, he was chief of the three: for lifting up his spear against three hundred, he slew them, and had a name among the three. 21Of the three, he was more honorable than the two; for he was their captain: howbeit he attained not to the first three. 22Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done many acts; he slew two lionlike men of Moab: also he went down and slew a lion in a pit in a snowy day. 23And he slew an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits high; and in the Egyptian's hand was a spear like a weaver's beam; and he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian's hand, and slew him with his own spear. 24These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and had the name among the three mighties. 25Behold, he was honorable among the thirty, but attained not to the first three: and David set him over his guard. 26Also the valiant men of the armies were, Asahel the brother of Joab, Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, 27Shammoth the Harorite, Helez the Pelonite, 28Ira the son of Ikkesh the Tekoite, Abiezer the Antothite, 29Sibbecai the Hushathite, Ilai the Ahohite, 30Maharai the Netophathite, Heled the son of Baanah the Netophathite, 31Ithai the son of Ribai of Gibeah, that pertained to the children of Benjamin, Benaiah the Pirathonite, 32Hurai of the brooks of Gaash, Abiel the Arbathite, 33Azmaveth the Baharumite, Eliahba the Shaalbonite, 34The sons of Hashem the Gizonite, Jonathan the son of Shage the Hararite, 35Ahiam the son of Sacar the Hararite, Eliphal the son of Ur, 36Hepher the Mecherathite, Ahijah the Pelonite, 37Hezro the Carmelite, Naarai the son of Ezbai, 38Joel the brother of Nathan, Mibhar the son of Haggeri, 39Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai the Berothite, the armorbearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, 40Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, 41Uriah the Hittite, Zabad the son of Ahlai, 42Adina the son of Shiza the Reubenite, a captain of the Reubenites, and thirty with him, 43Hanan the son of Maachah, and Joshaphat the Mithnite, 44Uzzia the Ashterathite, Shama and Jehiel the sons of Hothan the Aroerite, 45Jediael the son of Shimri, and Joha his brother, the Tizite, 46Eliel the Mahavite, and Jeribai, and Joshaviah, the sons of Elnaam, and Ithmah the Moabite, 47Eliel, and Obed, and Jasiel the Mesobaite. (1 Chronicles 11:10‑47), to understand the true worth of this little band gathered to David in the cave, and to Psa. 34, to learn his state of soul at the time he received it. Saul evidently knew that he now had followers and openly sneered at his abject condition. “Will the son of Jesse,” he said to his courtiers, “give everyone of you fields and vineyards?” David truly had none, but it would be difficult to find a happier man than he, then or now. The first words of his song are
“I will bless the LORD at all times,
His praise shall be continually in my mouth.”
The Spirit of Christ, Who in Gath had drawn out his desires after God when in tears (Psa. 56.) now that he is delivered from all his fears completes his joy. Saul's nature craved for fields and vineyards; David's, by grace, for the Lord Himself. He had learned more of Him in his affliction than he had ever learned before; and full of praise he would teach others the secret of his joy, His own heart when sorely distressed had found rest, and he could therefore tell others where to find it also. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart.” It is a beautiful Psalm. If in affliction we have turned to it, we can readily picture its effects on the outcasts in the cave of Adullam. David surely shared his joy with them, as in the overruling goodness of God, he has done with many since. Verse 6 is the experience of one poorer than David. Concerning such portions we may well adopt the words of the beloved author of “Meditations on the Psalms.” “The strings of David's harp are the strings of Christ's heart; and when they are touched, we should be still. There should be something of the deep silence of those who listen to distant music; for the melodies of that heart are far enough away from this coarse and noisy world.”