4. David Flees from Saul (1 Samuel 21-23)

Audio (35:12)

James J. Tissot, 'David in the Wilderness of Ziph'(1896-1902) gouache on board, Jewish Museum, New York.
James J. Tissot, 'David in the Wilderness of Ziph' (1896-1902) gouache on board, Jewish Museum, New York. Larger Image.

Put yourself in David's sandals for a moment. The king whom David honors seeks to kill him. Saul will stop at nothing -- even at sacred boundaries! When David seeks sanctuary with Israel's revered prophet Samuel, Saul no longer fears God. Except for God's intervention, Saul would have killed David in Samuel's very home (19:18-24).

Jonathan, his dearest friend, can no longer associate with him. In fact, David's very presence puts others is danger -- as we'll soon see (22:6-19).

David is on his own, a fugitive, running for his life. Yes, God will be with him during this time -- abundantly -- but David is just learning to walk with the Lord. David is desperate and without resources to make an escape.

David Visits the Tabernacle at Nob (21:1)

The first leg of David's flight is to the tabernacle of the Lord at Nob, probably about two miles from his hideout with Samuel.

Since Joshua and for 300 years, Shiloh[76] had been the location of the tabernacle (Joshua 18:1). Here, the boy Samuel had been raised under Eli the high priest. But when the ark was lost and Eli's sons were killed (1 Samuel 4-7), Shiloh was abandoned and apparently destroyed (Psalm 78:60; Jeremiah 7:4, 12-15; 26:6).

Map: The Priests of Nob.
Map: The Priests of Nob. Larger map.

The tabernacle, the center of Yahweh worship, has moved to Nob[77] -- even though the ark is no longer within it. Nob is "the town of the priests" (22:19) where the Bread of the Presence (showbread) is put before the Lord weekly (21:6), as prescribed in the Torah (Leviticus 24:5-9). The high priest's ephod is also here containing the Urim and Thummim used to inquire of the Lord (1 Samuel 21:9).

The high priest may well have been aware of Saul's attempt to capture David at nearby Naioth, so he is afraid when he sees David by himself. If Ahimelech knowingly assists a fugitive, Saul is likely to kill him, so David makes up a story about a sudden secret mission that the king has sent him on in order to protect the priest. Is this deliberate deception? Perhaps, but David may be referring to the mission that King Yahweh is sending him on as the anointed of the Lord.[78] (For a more thorough discussion, see Appendix 6. Considering David's Deceit.)

David Is Given Holy Bread (21:3-6)

David requests food. The only food Ahimelech has to give him is some consecrated showbread, some loaves of the Bread of the Presence, that had been before the Lord in the tabernacle the previous week. It is holy, and normally only eaten by the priests themselves (Leviticus 24:5-9). Ahimelech does his due diligence to protect the holiness of the bread by asking David if his men are ritually clean -- specifically, if they have had sex that would make them ritually unclean until evening (Leviticus 15:16-18; Exodus 19:15; 1 Corinthians 7:5). David assures him that he and his men are ritually clean and Ahimelech gives him some bread.

Jesus cites this incident when he is questioned about eating grain on the Sabbath.

"'Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest,[79] he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.' Then he said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.'" (Mark 2:25-28)

The Pharisees had criticized his disciples for plucking some grain heads to munch on as they walked through a wheat field -- in itself entirely legal in Jesus' day. But because this took place on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were classifying this as "harvesting," which was "work." Jesus cites this incident as if to say to the legalistic Pharisees: The Bible itself gives examples of flexibility in interpreting the rules. If the great David was allowed to eat of the holy bread, how much more the Son of Man!

The Sword of Goliath -- and Dark Foreshadowing (21:7-9)

David asks Ahimelech if there are any weapons available. It turns out that the sword of Goliath is "wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod" -- perhaps to preserve it in Yahweh's presence as a token of God's great victory over the Philistines that day. He gives it to David.

But David's presence has not gone undetected. The narrator records:

"Now one of Saul's servants was there that day, detained before the LORD; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul's head shepherd." (21:7)

Doeg, one of Saul's servants is there, "detained before the LORD," perhaps for some punishment or penance -- we're not sure.[80] Doeg is not an Israelite, but probably a captive from Saul's campaign against Edom (14:47). Later, Doeg reports this incident to Saul, with dire consequences (22:6-19)!

David Feigns Insanity before Achish of Gath (21:10-15)

David doesn't linger at Nob. He flees west to one of the main Philistine cities for protection. It wasn't uncommon for a fugitive to seek refuge with his pursuer's enemy, so David appeals for asylum from Achish, king of Gath.[81]

Indeed, Achish grants David asylum. All is well until members of Achish's court begin to recall who David really is -- an arch enemy of the Philistines, the man who in his youth had killed Gath's own champion, Goliath (17:4).

"Isn't this David, the king of the land? Isn't he the one they sing about in their dances:
    'Saul has slain his thousands,
    and David his tens of thousands'?" (21:11)

At this point, David realizes that he is in grave danger! But he is resourceful:

"He pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard" (21:13)

David's ruse works! (See Appendix 6. Considering David's Deceit.) Achish concludes that he must be insane rather than a threat. I love Achish's retort to his courtiers' insistent requests to bring David before the king for questioning:

"Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?'" (21:15)

Achish is happy to be rid of him -- and David is happy to escape with his life. He travels a few miles east to Adullam.

David Gathers 400 Men at the Cave of Adullam (22:1-4)

Adullam (which means "refuge") was a Canaanite city, east of Gath, west of Bethlehem. Close by was a hill that was fortified and known for its caves, some of them quite large.[82]

By now, Saul is beginning to threaten anyone related to David -- including his family in Bethlehem. Saul is crazy with rage and they fear for their lives. So when they hear that David has found a place to hide, they go to join him. For example, David's brothers and sisters and their children join David at Adullam. Three of David's nephews, the sons of his sister Zeruiah, turn out to be outstanding warriors in their own right -- Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Since David is one of the youngest sons of his father, these nephews may by fairly close to his age.

The family members are not alone in seeking refuge with David.

"All those who were in distress[83] or in debt[84] or discontented[85] gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him." (22:2)

Map: David's Sojourn in the Wilderness. 1 Samuel 21-23.

Map: David's Sojourn in the Wilderness. 1 Samuel 21-23. Larger map.

David begins to attract others whom Saul is pursuing -- those who owe money being hounded for repayment, rebels who want to overthrow Saul, and probably a few bandits who are wanted for various crimes. Many have a price on their head. Can you imagine trying to unite and lead such a motley crew? Whatever leadership skills David has developed so far are tested and honed here!!

James J. Tissot, 'David's Valiant Men'(1896-1902) gouache on board, Jewish Museum, New York.

James J. Tissot, 'David's Valiant Men' (1896-1902) gouache on board, Jewish Museum, New York. Larger image.

 "Day after day men came to help David, until he had a great army, like the army of God." (1 Chronicles 12:22)

David has become a powerful warlord with his own private army[86] -- and the responsibility to feed them and their families!

Q1. (1 Samuel 22:2) Why were David's men attracted to him? What did they have in common? What kind of men were these? What difficulties do you think David probably had in leading them?

David's Mighty Men (2 Samuel 23:8-39 = 1 Chronicles 11:10-47)

Here is where we ought to mention some of the legendary warriors who become part of David's band -- the Three and the Thirty! Towards the end of 2 Samuel the narrator names and recounts some of the exploits of these mighty men, but we'll examine them here instead of in Lesson 13. You can almost hear the whispered stories of their exploits as told around flickering campfires.

The Three (2 Samuel 23:8-12)

  1. Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite, chief of the Three. "He raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter" (2 Samuel 23:8).
  2. Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. "The men of Israel retreated, but he stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword" (2 Samuel 23:9-10).
  3. Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. "Israel's troops fled from [the Philistines], but Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down" (2 Samuel 23:11-12).

Leaders (2 Samuel 23:18-23)

  • Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah was chief of the Three. "He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed" (2 Samuel 23:18). As mentioned above, Joab and Abishai are David's nephews.
  • Benaiah son of Jehoiada from Kabzeel, in charge of his bodyguard. "He struck down two of Moab's best men. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down a huge Egyptian ... and killed him with his own spear." (2 Samuel 23:20-21)

The Thirty (2 Samuel 23:24-39)

Here's the list:

  1. Asahel the brother of Joab
  2. Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem
  3. Shammah the Harodite
  4. Elika the Harodite
  5. Helez the Paltite
  6. Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa
  7. Abiezer from Anathoth
  8. Mebunnai the Hushathite
  9. Zalmon the Ahohite
  10. Maharai the Netophathite
  11. Heled son of Baanah the Netophathite
  12. Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah in Benjamin
  13. Benaiah the Pirathonite
  14. Hiddai from the ravines of Gaash
  15. Abi-Albon the Arbathite
  16. Azmaveth the Barhumite
  17. Eliahba the Shaalbonite,
  18. The sons of Jashan,
  19. Jonathan son of Shammah the Hararite
  20. Ahiam son of Sharar the Hararite
  21. Eliphelet son of Ahasbai the Maacathite
  22. Eliam son of Ahithophel the Gilonite
  23. Hezro the Carmelite
  24. Paarai the Arbite
  25. Igal son of Nathan from Zobah the son of Hagri
  26. Zelek the Ammonite
  27. Naharai the Beerothite, the armor-bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah,
  28. Ira the Ithrite
  29. Gareb the Ithrite
  30. Uriah the Hittite

These men forge a bond with David in difficult times by their bravery and endurance. When David becomes king, they receive high places in the army.

The last-named mighty warrior is Uriah the Hittite, who is killed at David's command as the cover-up for David's affair with his wife, Bathsheba, while he is away at war (2 Samuel 11). So much for loyalty!

Part of this warrior lore is a story from the time that David was in the stronghold[87] at the cave of Adullam. David had spoken aloud of his wish for "a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem." He never imagined that any would take him seriously. But the Three, at great risk to their lives, broke through Philistine lines, got the water, and brought it back. When David realized what they had done,

"He refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the LORD. 'Far be it from me, O LORD, to do this!' he said. 'Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?'" (2 Samuel 23:16b-17)

It is the stuff of legend!

David Flees to the Wilderness of Judah (1 Samuel 22:3-5)

After a look at David's mighty men in 2 Samuel 23, we go back to the sequence in 1 Samuel again.

The caves at Adullam are still vulnerable to Saul's army. So David and his army find another stronghold,[88] perhaps in the wilderness of Judah. While in that region, David goes to Moab, east of the Dead Sea, and leaves his aging parents in the care of the king of Moab.

The prophet Gad is apparently part of David's band at this time -- probably one of the ways David is able to hear God's voice when he inquires of the Lord. Gad tells him: "'Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah.' So David left and went to the forest of Hereth."[89] God is watching out for David.

Saul Questions the Benjamites' Loyalty (22:6-10)

Though Saul knows where David is, he can't seem to capture him. He is paranoid and accuses his tribesmen, the Benjamites, of conspiracy -- of keeping him in the dark about Jonathan's covenant with David.

This accusation prompts Doeg the Edomite to tell Saul -- belatedly -- that he had seen David getting help from the high priest Ahimelech (21:1-9). Doeg says:

"Ahimelech inquired of the LORD for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine." (22:10)

Saul Destroys the Priests of Nob (22:11-19)

Saul now suspects all the priests of conspiring with his enemy David -- even though they didn't know anything about David's flight at the time. He summons Ahimelech the high priest, who protests his innocence. Saul doesn't believe him and orders his guards to kill all the priests. They are unwilling "to raise a hand to strike the priests of the LORD" (22:17b). So Saul orders Doeg the Edomite -- who isn't a true Israelite or believer in Yahweh -- to kill them. The narrator reports the sad story:

"So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep." (22:18-19)

Saul utterly annihilates all the priests and their entire town! He is so out of control that he will kill Yahweh's own consecrated servants!

This mass murder severely damages Saul's ability to lead. He has lost any moral high ground among his people. And he loses his ability to seek God's will through the Urim and Thummim, which the priests possess.  Now Saul has to make decisions blind. Since he can no longer inquire of the Lord, he ultimately turns to sorcery, the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28).

Abiathar the Priest Flees to David (22:20-23)

But one priest escapes the slaughter.

"Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub, escaped and fled to join David.... Now Abiathar son of Ahimelech had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah." (22:20)

When David learns about Saul's slaughter, he is heartsick and feels that it is his fault. He invites the high priest's son, Abiathar,[90] to stay with him for his own safety. But there is another important benefit of Abiathar's presence -- the ephod.

The ephod is part of the high priest's garments that include the Urim and Thummim, apparently lots used to determine God's will when David inquires of Yahweh.[91] David now has the ability to seek God's will about key decisions. In addition, both David and the prophet Gad possess a prophetic gift to hear from God (2 Samuel 23:1-2). David is led by the Lord, while Saul acts in the dark. Out of tragedy, God brings light.

Inquiring of the Lord regarding Keilah (23:1-12)

Immediately, David needs to inquire of the Lord. Philistine raiders are attacking the walled Judean city of Keilah,[92] just south of the Cave of Adullam, and stealing their crops right at harvest time.

"2 [David] inquired of the LORD, saying, 'Shall I go and attack these Philistines?' The LORD answered him, 'Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.'3 But David's men said to him, 'Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!'4 Once again David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD answered him, 'Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.'" (23:2-4)

 "Inquire" is shāʾal, "ask, inquire," in particular, asking God for guidance.[93] Notice that in this instance, the answers David receives are "yes" or "no." This probably represents the use of the Urim and Thummim. These seem to be a pair of lots that can answer: yes, no, and maybe. Though we don't know for sure, you can easily imagine a pair of lots, each marked with "yes" on one side and "no" on the other. If, when the lots are cast, they both come up the same, the answer is clear. But if they come up with different answers, then the answer is not clear.

The Lord confirms to David that he should attack the marauding Philistines at Keilah and he does so successfully, saving the town.

David's men stay at Keilah for a time, but David realizes that he is vulnerable there. Saul can lay siege to the city and capture him. So he inquires of the Lord again and receives the answer that the citizens of Keilah will indeed surrender him to Saul rather than resist Saul's siege. David moves on.

"So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there." (23:13)

Being able to consult the Lord is vital to David's security so that he can remain in God's will.

Q2. (1 Samuel 22:20-23:12) What did Abiathar and the ephod have to do with "inquiring of the Lord?" Why did David inquire of the Lord? What huge advantage does the person have who seeks God's will before acting? How can you find God's will at key points in your life?

Hiding in the Wilderness of Ziph (23:14a)

"David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands." (23:14a)

David has sought refuge with the prophet Samuel and the king of Gath. He has hidden in caves and cities, but he isn't safe anywhere. Saul's spies are everywhere, reporting on his every movement. And so David turns to the Judean desert for his own survival.

When we think of desert, the endless sands of the Sahara may come to mind, but this doesn't describe the kind of desert you find in Judah. Arid, rocky, and rugged are better descriptors. The desert is a dry place, where water is not easily found. It is barren and can be terrifying, lonely, with a solitude that can be frightening.

If you were to draw an east-west cross-section of Judah through Hebron, on the west you find the coastal plain where the Philistines live. Then, going east, you come to the lower hills, the Shepelah, where Judean towns are being threatened by Philistine encroachment. Then you come to the hill country, a north-south ridge upon which you find major Judean cities such as Hebron and Jerusalem. Farther east -- between the ridge and the Dead Sea -- is the Judean desert, extending to an escarpment which drops precipitously down to the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley. It is cut by many rocky, dry wadis and steep canyons.

The Judean desert receives only four inches of rain a year due to the rain shadow effect of the ridge of mountains. When the wilderness does receive rain, however, the desert blossoms -- for a short time. But somehow, amidst the scrub, sheep and goats can be grazed and find sustenance in the desert.

In the Judean wilderness, David can find safety. It is rugged country where a guerilla force might sustain itself, but an regular army couldn't last long. Its rocky formations provide tremendous protection against attack. Indeed, in some of his psalms, David draws a parallel between God's protection and these wilderness fortresses:

"Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Free me from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge." (Psalm 31:2-4)

Here's another psalm from this period that recalls some of the high rocks in which David and his band hide from Saul:

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies....
With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall....
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he enables me to stand on the heights. (Psalm 18:1-3, 29, 33)

While the Judean Desert is the term for the whole area, our text refers more precisely to the Desert of Ziph (23:25) and the Desert of Maon (23:25). These would be the wilderness areas to the east of the cities named. Ziph is probably to be identified with Tell Ziph, about 5 miles southeast of Hebron, while Maon is the modern Khirbet Ma`în, about 4-1/2 miles south of Ziph.

I can hardly imagine how a band of 600 men and their families could survive in the Judean wilderness. They suffer often from hunger and thirst. Psalm 63 is "a psalm of David when he was in the desert of Judah." You can see hints here and there of his struggle.

"1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water....
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me." (Psalm 63:1, 4-8)

Some scholars have suggested that David made living forcing wealthy men like Nabal to pay "protection money,"[94] but this speculation isn't supported by the Scripture. Such a policy certainly wouldn't have endeared him to his Judean tribe members -- who later anoint him as king.[95] Some families may have gone home -- if they were able -- during this period. No doubt David did receive help from sympathetic people. We just don't know how David's men all survived; probably some didn't.

Jonathan Encourages David at Horesh (23:14-18)

Fear has driven David into the desert: "Day after day Saul searched for him,"  (23:14a). To say that David was afraid is not the same as to suggest that he was not courageous. Fear and courage coexist.

But God even cares about our anxieties! In this case, God sends Jonathan to encourage David. He is at Horesh, an unknown area in the desert east of Ziph.[96] Saul is after him, and Jonathan -- perhaps travelling with his father's army -- comes to find him. David's men let him pass because of David's affection for the king's son -- and because of the covenant of peace David has with Jonathan. The narrator records that Jonathan "helped him find strength in God" (23:16). Observe Jonathan's words:

"Don't be afraid. My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this." (23:17)

They renew their covenant before Yahweh before Jonathan returns home.

Q3. (1 Samuel 23:14-18) Why does Jonathan visit David in the wilderness? What risk is there for David? What risk is there for Jonathan? What do you think it meant to David? Have you ever received a visit from a friend when you needed it most?

Saul Nearly Captures David in the Judean Wilderness (23:19-28)

But our popular hero is not loved by all -- even the inhabitants of Ziph from his own tribe of Judah. They send a delegation to Saul's capital to report David's exact location -- "in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hakilah, south of Jeshimon" (23:19).[97]

David then moves a few miles south to the desert of Maon. Saul is hot on David's trail in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

"Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul." (23:26)

But just as they are about to capture David, a messenger reports to Saul about a Philistine raid. He is forced to break off his pursuit to defend his country against the Philistines. The Lord's timing is exquisite.

Now David travels to the "strongholds of En Gedi," the impenetrable rock formations overlooking the oasis of En Gedi (23:29). We'll discuss more about his time in En Gedi in Lesson 5.

Historical Ascriptions of the Psalms of David

David is closely identified with worship music in the Bible (Amos 6:5). He sang to calm his sheep on the hillsides and for King Saul in his palace (1 Samuel 16:14-23; 18:10-11), accompanying himself on a lyre or harp. He is called "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2 Samuel 23:1), with 73 psalms attributed to him -- nearly half of the Book of Psalms. Several of these contain ascriptions that tell us on what occasion he wrote the psalm. Here are some of them, placed in approximately chronological order.

1 Samuel 19:11

Psalm 59. "When Saul had sent men to watch David's house in order to kill him."


Psalm 56. "When the Philistines had seized him in Gath."


Psalm 34. "When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left." A beautiful acrostic psalm.


Psalm 52. "When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him, 'David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.'"


Psalm 57. "When he had fled from Saul into the cave."


Psalm 142. "When he was in the cave."

22:5; 23:14-16, 23f

Psalm 63. "When he was in the Desert of Judah."


Psalm 54. "When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, 'Is not David hiding among us?'"

Chapter 22

Psalm 18. "He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul."

2 Samuel 8:13-14

Psalm 60. "When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt."


Psalm 51. "When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba."

Chapter 15

Psalm 3. "When he fled from his son Absalom."

Q4. (Psalms 18, 34, 54, 56, 58, 59, 142) In these ascriptions to these psalms, how many celebrate happy occasions? How many arise from struggles? What does this tell you about David's relationship with God? What does this tell you about his faith during trials? Which is your favorite among these psalms? Why?

Lessons for Disciples

What do we learn from these chapters that we can apply to our own lives? Several things.

  1. Provision. God provides for his servants, even in times of desperate need, as David found bread and a sword in the house of the Lord.
  2. God's fashioning. Every great person has times of seeming failure, as well as times of success and adulation. Don't judge too soon that God has forgotten you. He is molding you into a finely-crafted instrument that he can use in his work.
  3. Leaders. Leaders tend to attract followers when they are struggling as well as when they're on top, as David gathered a band of mighty men in the wilderness. Look for a person that people are following and you'll find a leader.
  4. Learning. Times of struggle are often when you learn the most and do your best work. Don't discount the difficulties you face in your wilderness as wasted time.
  5. Guidance. The ability to seek God's will is a very precious gift. David had this in the presence of the Urim and the Thummim, the company of a prophet, and his own prophetic gift. You can find God's will if you seek him with all your heart, since, if you're a Christian, you possess the Holy Spirit of God who connects you with the very mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).
  6. Betrayal. Even people you have helped may well betray you, as the residents of Keilah and Ziph will betray David. You will meet disappointment. But don't despair! You have an unshakable Rock, the Lord your God. He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)!
  7. Praise. We are to praise God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), as David did in many of his Wilderness-era psalms. Our joy is in the Lord himself, not in whether everything is going well or not.

Wilderness times are terribly difficult. They strip us down to the essentials and test us to the very core so that we know what is really important. Several times in the Bible we see God using the desert to refine his people. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days. The Apostle Paul spent 3 years. David's time is one of refining and connecting firmly to the Rock of Israel.

Life of David, Discipleship Lessons in 1 and 2 Samuel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as a book in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

Have you been through a wilderness experience? Are you going through one right now? God has not forsaken you. He loves you like he loved David. He is with you in the wilderness, and he is using this time to mold you into a new person. Embrace Him. This time will pass. But when you come out of your wilderness, you'll be better prepared for the future God will unfold before you. God is working out his plan in you.


Lord, you know what we're going through, what we've been through. It seems so very hard! But we are confident that you are the God of the wilderness as well as the God of prosperous times. We can count on you. You will be to us a Refuge, a Fortress, a Shade by day and Shield by night. Thank you, O Lord. Give us strength! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father's household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him." (1 Samuel 22:1-2)

"Once again David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD answered him, 'Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.' ... (Now Abiathar son of Ahimelech had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.)" (1 Samuel 23:4, 6)

"David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands." (1 Samuel 23:14)

[76] Shiloh has been identified with the present Khirbet Seilun.

[77] We're not exactly sure where Nob is, though it may be just north of Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:28-32), perhaps at Bahurim or the Mount of Olives, or further north near Tell Shuafat.

[78] Bergen (1 and 2 Samuel, p. 221) cites several scriptures to show the likelihood that David is referring to King Yahweh (1 Samuel 8:7; 12:12), as he does in the Psalms (5:2; 20:9; 24:7-10; 29:10; 68:24; 145:1).

[79] Abiathar was Ahimelech's son, who may have served as high priest alongside his father. He is more famous than his father, since he served David as priest. That's probably why Jesus refers to him here.

[80] Berger, 1 and 2 Samuel, p. 223; Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, p. 138.

[81] The location of Gath has been greatly debated. While five different sites have been suggested, "current excavations at Tell es-Safi and the geopolitical context of Gath in the Biblical narrative make Tell es-Safi the probably site of the ancient city, and this identification retains widespread support among most archaeologists and biblical scholars" (Steven M. Ortiz, "Gath," DOTHB 305).

[82] Aid-el-ma (Hurvat Adulam) is probably the location of Adullam, about 2-1/2 miles (4 km) south of the Valley of Elah, and about 20 miles (32 km) west from Bethlehem. At this place is a hill some 450 feet (140 meters) high pierced with numerous caverns, some of them large enough to hold 200 or 300 men (William S. LaSor, "Adullam," ISBE 1:98).

[83] "Distress" is māṣôq, "straitness, straits, stress," from ṣûq, "constrain, bring into straits, press upon," similar to the Arabic for "be narrow, be tight" (BDB 848).

[84] "Debt" is nāshâ, "lend on interest or usury, be a creditor" (TWOT #1424).

[85] "Discontented" is mārâ, "bitter, bitterness" (BDB 606).

[86] Old Testament historian John Bright (A History of Israel (Fourth edition; Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), p. 193.) probably overstates it when he says: "For some time David pursued a precarious existence as a bandit chief, playing both ends against the middle, striking the Philistines as opportunity offered, dodging continually to escape the clutches of Saul, and meanwhile supporting himself by extracting 'protection' from wealthy citizens who could afford it (1 Samuel 25:7-8, 15-16)."

[87] The "stronghold" in 2 Samuel 23:14 is probably different than the one referred to in 1 Samuel 22:4, since the area seems to be nearer to Bethlehem than a location in the Judean wilderness. "Stronghold" (NIV, NRSV), "hold" (KJV) is a generic word, not a place name. Meṣûdâ means "fastness, stronghold" (BDB 845). 1 Samuel 22:4-5; 24:22; 2 Samuel 5:17; 23:14; 1 Chronicles 11:16. Jerusalem is referred to as "the fortress of Zion" in 2 Samuel 5:7.

[88] The location of "the stronghold" (NIV, NRSV), "the hold" (KJV) isn't clear. The Hebrew word is meṣûdâ.  There is no consensus among scholars regarding the location. It is probably not the cave of Adullam. It could be a location in Moab, or perhaps Masada. We just don't know.

[89] The exact location of the Forest of Hereth eludes us. For details, see William S. LaSor, "Hereth, Forest of," ISBE 2:687.

[90] See Appendix 1. Genealogy of the Priesthood.

[91] See Ralph F. Wilson, "Inquiring of the Lord," Paraclete, Fall 1986, pp. 23-26.

[92] Keilah is the modern Khirbet Qîlā, about 8 miles northwest of Hebron.

[93] R. Laird Harris, shāʾal, TWOT #2303.

[94] Klein (1 Samuel, p. 246) says, that David asked for provisions "as payment for the protection he had provided Nabal's shepherds."

[95] Baldwin (1 and 2 Samuel, p. 147) believes that David limited himself to extorting only the rich in Judah who oppressed the poor. Even Nabal's servants didn't like him (25:17).

[96] "Horesh" (NIV, NRSV), "wood" (KJV) is ḥōresh, which may mean "wood" or "wooded height" (BDB 362), though some associate it with Khirbet Khoreisa, about 2 miles south of Ziph (Klein, 1 Samuel, p. 231).

[97] We don't know the location referred to. Jeshimon is a more general word referring to the barren eastern part of the Judean mountains stretching toward the Dead Sea. "This desolate region of waterless land and soft chalky hills with numerous caves has been throughout history a refuge for fugitives, outlaws, and those who withdrew from society" (J. Franklin Prewitt, "Jeshimon," ISBE 2:1032-1033).

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