A view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

1 Samuel 20:1-42, 21:1-15

Saul intends to kill David
David to Ahimelek priest at Nob
Feigns insanity before Achish.

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There will be long Bible passages – try to involve several people as readers.

In chapter 19 we left Saul, naked and prostrate on the ground ‘He lay naked all that day and all that night.’

However this was not a conversion experience for Saul, but it did provided a brief period of respite for David and he quickly took advantage of it and returned to the palace.

Read 1 Samuel 20:1-11 (this passage is quite long – perhaps two people could share the reading – taking the roles of David and Jonathan.)

1 Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, ‘What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?’

2 ‘Never!’ Jonathan replied. ‘You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why should he hide this from me? It isn’t so!’

3 But David took an oath and said, ‘Your father knows very well that I have found favour in your eyes, and he has said to himself, “Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.” Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.’

4 Jonathan said to David, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.’

5 So David said, ‘Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. 6 If your father misses me at all, tell him, “David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his home town, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.” 7 If he says, “Very well,” then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. 8 As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?’

9 ‘Never!’ Jonathan said. ‘If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?’

10 David asked, ‘Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?’

11 ‘Come,’ Jonathan said, ‘let’s go out into the field.’ So they went there together.

Jonathan couldn’t believe that his father, the King, could behave so irrationally, or that he wouldn’t be told of his father’s intentions. Of course, having been the subject of several murder attempts himself, David knew differently. It may be that Saul’s recent encounter with God had changed him, but David couldn’t take that chance.

Simply being absent from a regular feast would be a good test to see if Saul’s attitude towards him had changed, but if he lost his temper again David would now know that he would have to flee for his own safety.

Read 1 Samuel 20:12-23 (this passage is quite long – perhaps several people could share the reading – but here it is only Jonathan talking.)

12 Then Jonathan said to David, ‘I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favourably disposed towards you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family – not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.’

16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.’ 17 And Jonathan made David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

18 Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, towards evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target.

21 Then I will send a boy and say, “Go, find the arrows.” If I say to him, “Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,” then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the boy, “Look, the arrows are beyond you,” then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. 23 And about the matter you and I discussed – remember, the Lord is witness between you and me for ever.’

Before we move on we need to look again at verses 14-17, and 23.

This seems to go beyond just promising to remain good friends.

What’s going on here?

(It appears that Jonathan realised that one day David would take the throne from Saul, and traditionally that would be a time to kill off all supporters of the old regime – including him and his family. As a son of Saul he would be an obvious target.)

From that time on, David remained hiding in the field, and Jonathan returned to the palace.

Read 1 Samuel 20:24-34 (this passage is quite long – perhaps several people could share the reading)

24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, ‘Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean – surely he is unclean.’ 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, ‘Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?’

28 Jonathan answered, ‘David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, “Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favour in your eyes, let me go to see my brothers.” That is why he has not come to the king’s table.’

30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!’

32 ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.

34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.

Obviously Saul was a useless spear thrower and Jonathan didn’t seem too concerned that this time it was aimed at him. But what did upset Jonathan? (v34)

Read 1 Samuel 20:35-42 (this passage is quite long – perhaps several people could share the reading)

35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, ‘Run and find the arrows I shoot.’ As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.

37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, ‘Isn’t the arrow beyond you?’ 38 Then he shouted, ‘Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!’ The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.)

40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, ‘Go, carry them back to town.’

41 After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together – but David wept the most.

42 Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants for ever.”’ Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

David was now truly on his own. No soldiers, no friends, and a king who wants him dead.

What can he do? Where can he go?

We have seen David the fearless warrior, but now we have to prepare ourselves for a David who is frightened, and who is prepared to lie as he relies on his own devices.

But be careful as we are quick to judge, rather we need to ask ourselves if we might also forget the Lord as we try to wriggle out of situations in our own strength. See too how one lie inevitably leads to more.

Read 1 Samuel 21:1

1 David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, ‘Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?’

Previously David had been able to go to Samuel: prophet, priest and Judge. Where could he now go? To the Tabernacle and the priests who guarded it.

But why should Ahimelek tremble?

Ahimelek was not stupid. He sensed there was something very wrong. David, the King’s son-in-law, commander of his armies, has arrived alone, tired, hungry and probably looking dishevelled.

Where was everyone?

Read 1 Samuel 21:2-7

2 David answered Ahimelek the priest, ‘The king sent me on a mission and said to me, “No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.” As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what have you to hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.’

4 But the priest answered David, ‘I don’t have any ordinary bread to hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here – provided the men have kept themselves from women.’

5 David replied, ‘Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!’ 6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.

7 Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.

In Exodus 25:30 and Leviticus 24:5-9 God instructed Moses that there must always be ‘Bread of the Presence’ or ‘Showbread’ continually present in the Tabernacle. It was consecrated bread, replaced every Sabbath, and could only be eaten by the Priests.

David has invented a secret mission. Next he had to invent a force of hungry ‘holy’ men.

Why is Doeg the Edomite mentioned here? Because the mere fact that he happened to be there ‘detained before the Lord’ would lead to the death of the Priests – but more on this in the next chapter.

Read 1 Samuel 21:8-9

8 David asked Ahimelek, ‘Don’t you have a spear or sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.’

9 The priest replied, ‘The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.’

David said, ‘There is none like it; give it to me.’

David hadn’t even been able to return to the palace to get his sword. But what a feeble lie he now added to the list!

And he was so desperate that he felt he needed to have a weapon to defend himself – even something so unwieldy as a massively heavy sword.

Where could he go? All the surrounding nations were at peace and would gladly turn David over to Saul – all that is except the Philistines with whom they were currently not at war!

In his desperation David now turned to his enemies for help; or perhaps he thought he could slip in unnoticed.

Read 1 Samuel 21:10

10 That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath.

Maybe not the best choice: Goliath came from Gath! But actually, in those days a defeated king may well be taken into the court of the victor as a trophy, or even as a form of insurance against possible reprisal attacks.

Read 1 Samuel 21:12-15

11 But the servants of Achish said to him, ‘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”?’

12 David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. 13 So he feigned insanity 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.

14 Achish said to his servants, ‘Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? 15 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?’

Perhaps it hadn’t been the wisest decision! And what had happened to David’s faith and trust in the Lord?

Interestingly it was at this point that David wrote Psalm 34.

(It is thought that the title ‘Ahimelech’ was similar to the title ‘Pharaoh’.)

1 Samuel 12 1 Samuel 14 NIV Copyright