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1 Samuel 20-22

Supplemental notes for the Daily Bible Study Bible Reading Plan

by Wayne Blank

1 Samuel Chapter 20

Bible History has numerous examples of how a son can be a grossly inferior leader, compared to his father e.g. Hophni and Phinehas were corrupt, while their father Eli was not; Solomon had good diplomatic skills that greatly benefited Israel, while his son Rehoboam was an arrogant bully who produced The Division Of Israel. But the opposite could also prove true. Jonathan was well-balanced emotionally and politically, while his father Saul was a deeply disturbed man whose poor leadership of Israel would have eventually destroyed the nation.

Saul's Spear Jonathan had been promised by his father Saul that he would stop trying to kill David: "Saul hearkened to the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore, "As The Lord lives, he shall not be put to death." (1 Samuel 19:6 RSV). For that reason, Jonathan at first refused to believe it when David told him that it had happened again, and again, and again.

"Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, "What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?"

And he said to him, "Far from it! You shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me; and why should my father hide this from me? It is not so."

But David replied, "Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes; and he thinks, 'Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.' But truly, as The Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death." (1 Samuel 20:1-3 RSV)

Jonathan then tested his father's word. The result was not only the truth that Saul was indeed seeking to kill David, but Saul lost his temper so badly that he even tried to kill Jonathan with a spear, just as he had done with David.

"Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and fetch him to me, for he shall surely die."

Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, "Why should he be put to death? What has he done?" But Saul cast his spear at him to smite him; so Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death." (1 Samuel 20:30-33 RSV)

Jonathan then secretly met with David to confirm the truth about Saul for the last time.

"Then Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of The Lord, saying, 'The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.'"

And he rose and departed; and Jonathan went into the city." (1 Samuel 20:42 RSV)

1 Samuel Chapter 21

David was now living the life of a fugitive. It was a bizarre situation; the king that David had served, and had always been loyal to, was trying to kill him, while the surrounding territories where David was forced to flee were controlled by the enemies of Israel that David had fought against, for Saul. Making his vulnerability even worse, David had been forced to flee without supplies or weapons.

Sword David arrived at Nob, a city of priests near Jerusalem, and asked for help from the high priest there. He innocently helped David because of David's reputation as a loyal man of Israel, under King Saul. David was given the replaced bread of the Presence (see the Fact Finder question below), as well as Goliath's sword that David had taken in battle.

"So the priest gave him the holy bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before The Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away." (1 Samuel 21:6 RSV)

"And David said to Ahimelech, "And have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business required haste." And the priest said, "The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here." And David said, "There is none like that; give it to me." (1 Samuel 21:8-9 RSV)

A herdsman of Saul, Doeg the Edomite, witnessed the priest's assistance to David.

"Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before The Lord; his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul's herdsmen." (1 Samuel 21:7 RSV)

David then fled into Philistine territory, where he found himself in as much danger as at home in Judah.

"And David rose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath [see Gath of the Philistines]. And the servants of Achish said to him, "Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands'?" And David took these words to heart, and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath." (1 Samuel 21:10-12 RSV)

1 Samuel Chapter 22

David then continued his search for a safe place. Although he didn't find one, David did manage to gather together a few hundred disgruntled and marginally-outlawed men who were willing to help defend him. His rag-tag band of warriors would form the beginning of a new army.


"David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. And every one who was in distress, and every one who was in debt, and every one who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became captain over them. And there were with him about four hundred men." (1 Samuel 22:1-2 RSV)

David then crossed into Moab, but returned back into Judah.

"And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, "Pray let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me." And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold. Then the prophet Gad said to David, "Do not remain in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah." So David departed, and went into the forest of Hereth." (1 Samuel 22:3-5 RSV)

In the meantime, Saul was actively hunting David. He wasn't getting much information about David's present wherabouts, but he did learn, from Doeg the Edomite, that David had received help from the unwitting priest at Nob.

"And Saul said to his servants who stood about him, "Hear now, you Benjaminites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, that all of you have conspired against me? No one discloses to me when my son makes a league with the son of Jesse, none of you is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day."

Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, "I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, and he inquired of The Lord for him, and gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine." (1 Samuel 22:7-10 RSV)

Saul then questioned Ahimelech about his helping David. The high priest answered truthfully, and innocently. Ahimelech had done nothing wrong.

"Then Ahimelech answered the king, "And who among all your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king's son-in-law, and captain over your bodyguard, and honored in your house? Is today the first time that I have inquired of God for him? No! Let not the king impute anything to his servant or to all the house of my father; for your servant has known nothing of all this, much or little." (1 Samuel 22:14-15 RSV)

Saul's bizarre behavior prevailed again. He ordered the murder of the high priest and all of the lesser Levites at Nob. The unlawful order was refused by the law-abiding members of Saul's forces, but Doeg the Edomite committed the massacre that Saul wanted - 85 Levites and the entire city "he put to the sword; both men and women, children and sucklings, oxen, asses and sheep, he put to the sword." Only one survivor, one of the sons of Ahimelech, escaped and fled to David.

"And the king said to the guard who stood about him, "Turn and kill the priests of The Lord; because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled, and did not disclose it to me." But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of The Lord.

Then the king said to Doeg, "You turn and fall upon the priests." And Doeg the Edomite turned and fell upon the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both men and women, children and sucklings, oxen, asses and sheep, he put to the sword.

But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David." (1 Samuel 22:17-20 RSV)

Fact Finder: What was the symbolic purpose of "the bread of the Presence"?
See also Bread of the Presence

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