THE BOOK OF 1 SAMUEL
Lesson 7: Chapters 19-21
The Flight of David
Throughout the trials and triumphs of David's life, he had confidence in Your guiding presence and Your sovereignty over his life. Give us that same confidence in You, Lord. The confidence to trust You, the confidence to submit to Your divine authority when we have sinned, and the confidence to trust in Your mercy when we seek Your forgiveness or experience hardship. David was not a perfect man, but he loved You with all his heart and for that reason You forgave his sins and made him the ancestral father of the Redeemer-Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Send Your Spirit to guide us in our study of David's path to kingship. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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But true martyrs
are such as those of whom the Lord says, "Blessed are those who are persecuted
for righteousness sake." It is not, therefore, those who suffer persecution
for their unrighteousness and for the divisions which they impiously introduce
into Christian unity, but those who suffer for righteousness' sake that are
St. Augustine, The Correction of the Donatists, 2.9
David is handsome, musical, intelligent, loyal, brave, and resourceful on the battlefield. He seems to be loved by nearly everyone who knows him with the exception of King Saul, and his greatest asset is that he loves and is loved by God. But David is not naive; he is wise beyond his years and politically astute. He knows what destiny God has planned for him and, guided by Yahweh's Spirit, he will do what is necessary to submit to that destiny even to the point of putting his own life in danger. In his turbulent relationship with King Saul, David exemplifies a true martyr in that he is someone who is persecuted for righteousness' sake. The next three chapters in this lesson record the intense drama that engulfs the lives of King Saul, Saul's children Jonathan and Michal, and Saul's son-in-law, David.
Chapter 19: Saul's Hatred of David
blood will not be shed in the country which Yahweh your God is going to give
you as your heritage; otherwise you would incur blood-guilt.
1 Samuel 19:1-7 ~ Jonathan Intercedes for David.
1 Saul let his son Jonathan and all his servants know of his intention to kill David. But Jonathan, Saul's son, held David in great affection; 2 and Jonathan warned David, "My father Saul is looking for a way to kill you, so be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding, stay out of sight. 3 I shall go out and keep my father company in the countryside where you will be, and shall talk to my father about you; I shall see what the situation is and then tell you."
4 Jonathan spoke highly of David to Saul his father and said, "The king should not harm [not commit a sin with regard to] his servant David; far from harming you [sinning against you], what he has done has been greatly to your advantage. 5 He took his life in his hands, he killed the Philistine, and Yahweh brought about a great victory of all Israel. You saw for yourself. How pleased you were! Why then [commit a] sin against innocent blood by killing David for no reason?" 6 Saul was impressed by Jonathan's words. Saul swore, "As Yahweh lives, I will not kill him." 7 Jonathan called David and told him all this. Jonathan then brought him to Saul, and David remained in attendance as before.
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 764; Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, page 491.
Saul goes from being afraid of David (18:12-14) to hating him. Saul has probably come to the conclusion that David is the man Samuel spoke of as the one God has chosen instead of Saul to be king of Israel (15:28). Saul has already attempted to kill David with a spear (18:11) and then attempted to arrange for David to be killed on the battlefield (18:17-25), and now Saul admits to his courtiers that he has every intention of killing David. Saul's public announcement in 19:1 is not only a significant split between Saul and David but now Jonathan is placed in the middle between his father and his friend.
Question: In our lesson we become witnesses to the
free-will test of three men: Saul, Jonathan, and David. What are the choices
these three men have that will impact their lives and their relationships with
Question: How does Jonathan intervene to save
David and his father?
Answer: Jonathan offers to act as mediator. He sends David into hiding and then attempts to reason with his father to persuade him not to kill David.
It is interesting that Jonathan refers to Saul as "my father" three times in verses 2-3. However, when he speaks to Saul he does not speak as son to father but as subject to king in verse 4. In the literal Hebrew translation, Jonathan uses the word "sin" three times in verses 4 (twice) and in verse 5. The words "commit a sin" both begin and end Jonathan's appeal to his father. Notice the repetition of "threes" in chapters 19-21:
Question: What is Jonathan's argument that Saul
should not kill David? Take into consideration the repetition of the word
Answer: In the repetition of the word "sin," Jonathan emphasizes that Saul will gravely sin if he kills an innocent man who has not sinned but who "took his life in his hands" (risked his life), "fought the Philistine" (Goliath), and through whom "Yahweh brought about a great victory" to Israel (verse 4-5).
To "commit a sin against innocent blood" (verse 5b) by incurring "blood guilt" violated the fifth commandment (also see Dt 19:10; 21:8-9; 27:25). Later the beautiful Abigail will tell David if he commits bloodguilt it will be a burden for him when he becomes king (1 Sam 25:30-31).
Question: What is the result of Jonathan's
Answer: Saul listens to Jonathan and swears by Yahweh's name that he will not kill David.
1 Samuel 19:8-10 ~ Saul's Second Attempt on David's
8 War broke out again and David sallied out to fight the Philistines; he inflicted a great defeat on them and they fled before him. 9 An evil spirit from Yahweh came over Saul while he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand; David was playing the harp. 10 Saul tried to pin David to the wall with his spear, but he avoided Saul's thrust and the spear struck the wall. David fled and made good his escape.
After his talk with Saul, Jonathan feels the issue is settled because his father has listened to reason and has taken a solemn oath in God's divine name not to harm David. However, Jonathan has failed to take into consideration that a mentally ill person is not ultimately moved by reason but by emotion. Saul is temporarily moved by the emotion of Jonathan's argument, but his expressed emotional resolve not to harm David will not last. For a second time, Saul attempts to kill David and again David evades the attack and escapes.
Question: David would be justified in defending
himself. Why didn't he just take up Saul's spear and kill his enemy? What is
the lesson for us?
Answer: That David did not feel justified in killing Saul speaks to David character. Saul is not only David's king to whom he owes his loyalty but Saul is also David's father-in-law who is God's anointed kingly representative. David will not kill the man God has placed on the throne of Israel. The lesson for us is to seek God's will and the way of righteousness in all things even if it contrary to our self-interest and could mean suffering and persecution.
David will have two occasions where he could kill Saul but he will resist and will continue to place his life and his destiny in God's hands. David will not place himself on the throne of Israel; he will leave the when and where of that event in God's hands.
1 Samuel 19:11-17 ~ David's Escape from Saul's
Fortress at Gibeah
11 That same night Saul sent agents to watch David's house, intending to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David's wife, warned him, "If you do not escape tonight you will be a dead man tomorrow!" 12 Michal then let David down through the window, and he made off, took to flight and so escaped. 13 Michal then took a domestic image, laid it on the bed, put a tress of goats' hair at the head of the bed and put a cover over it. 14 When Saul sent the agents to arrest David, she said, "He is ill." 15 Saul sent the agents back to see David, with the words, "Bring him to me on his bed, for me to kill him!" 16 So in the agents went, and there in bed was the image, with the tress of goats' hair on its head! 17 Saul then said to Michal, "Why have you deceived me like this and let my enemy go, and so make his escape?" Michal replied to Saul, "He said, Let me go, or I shall kill you!'"
Saul's daughter Michal is the second member of the royal
family to protect David. Michal, like her brother Jonathan, is also confronted
with the choice between loyalty to her father and loyalty to her husband David.
She risks her life to help David escape by letting him climb down from the
upper window of their house to avoid the king's agents who were watching to
prevent David from leaving and with instruction to capture and kill him.
Question: This is one of three times when God's agents are helped to escape from an enemy by climbing down from a height. Can you name all three occasions?
In order to give David more time to escape, Michal took a household idol and a patch of goat's hair to make it appear that David was sleeping in bed. It seems that Saul's household did not strictly observe the first of the Ten Commandments that prohibited the possession and worship of idols. The Hebrew term teraphim in verse 13 usually refers to small household idols that were symbols of good luck, but this idol was obviously large enough to make someone believe a person was in the bed.(1)
Question: When confronted by her father, what
excuse did Michal give for helping David escape? What was her real reason?
Answer: When confronted by Saul, Michal says that self-preservation prompted her to help her husband escape, but the real reason was that she, like Jonathan, acted out of love for David.
1 Samuel 19:18-24 ~ Events at Ramah
18 David, having fled and made his escape, went to Samuel at Ramah and told him exactly how Saul had treated him; he and Samuel went and lived in the huts. 19 Word was brought to Saul, "David is in the huts at Ramah." 20 Saul accordingly sent agents to capture David; when they saw the community of prophets prophesying, and Samuel there as their leader, the spirit of God came over Saul's agents, and they too fell into frenzy [they too prophesied]. 21 When Saul was told of this, he sent other agents, and they too fell into frenzy [prophesied]; Saul then sent a third group of agents, and they fell into frenzy [prophesied] too. 22 He then went to Ramah himself and, arriving at the large storage-well at Seku, asked, "Where are Samuel and David?" And someone said, "Why, they are in the huts at Ramah!" 23 Making his way from there to the huts at Ramah, the spirit of God came over him too, and he went along in a frenzy [prophesying] until he arrived at the huts at Ramah. 24 He too stripped off his clothes and he too fell into a frenzy [prophesied] in Samuel's presence, then collapsed naked on the ground for the rest of that day and all night. Hence the saying: Is Saul one of the prophets too?
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 765-66; underlining added for emphasis.
David went north to find Samuel at Ramah instead of south to his family in Bethlehem. Ramah was only about an hour walk from Gibeah while Bethlehem was ten miles away. Samuel is living at Ramah with a community of prophets (like Elijah, Elisha and possibly Isaiah in 2 Kng 2:7; 4:38-44; 9:1; Is 8:16). Notice the threefold repetition in the story of the three groups of agents who went to Ramah to arrest David (verses 20 and 21), and the repetition of the forms of the word "to prophesy" that appears six times in verses 20 twice, 21 twice, 23 and 24 in the Hebrew text.
Saul sent his agents after David but when they arrived at Ramah, God intervened and sent them into a frenzy of prophesizing. The same thing happens to a second and third group of agents sent to capture David and finally to Saul himself. When Saul arrives, he stops at the storage well outside the city. It is probably a communal cistern for collecting rain water and it may have been where the young women were going who Saul met coming out of the gate at Ramah when he first went looking for Samuel (9:11). As Saul makes his way into Ramah to find David and Samuel, God intervenes and God's Spirit sends Saul into a frenzy of prophesizing like his three groups of agents.
In verse 24 the saying "Is Saul one of the prophets too?" recalls the events in 10:10-12 when Saul was given this same experience as a "sign" that God had chosen him to be king and the same saying 10:12. In the earlier event the experience is positive, but here the reference that comes after Saul's rejection is negative which is evident from Saul's disgraceful behavior as he tears off his clothes and lies naked on the ground and out of control before the community for the rest of the day and all night.
Chapter 20: Jonathan Helps David Escape
beginning of each of your months you will offer a burnt offering to Yahweh: two
young bulls, one ram and seven yearling lambs, without blemish; for each bull a
cereal offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; for
each ram, a cereal offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with
oil; for each lamb, a cereal offering of one-tenth of fine flour mixed with
oil: as a burnt offering as a pleasing smell, as food burnt for Yahweh. The
accompanying libations will be of half a hin of wine for a bull, one-third of a
him for a ram and one-quarter of a hin for a lamb. This will be the monthly
burnt offering, month after month, every month of the year. In addition to the
perpetual burnt offering [ olat ha-tamid], a goat will be offered to Yahweh, as
a sacrifice for sin, with its accompanying libation.
The olat ha-tamid was the daily communal burnt offering of an unblemished male lamb in a morning and afternoon liturgical service (see Num 28:4-8). All other sacrifices were offered in addition to the olat ha-tamid, also simply referred to as "the Tamid."
1 Samuel 20:1-4 ~ David Consults Jonathan
1 Fleeing from the huts at Ramah, David went and confronted Jonathan, "What have I done, what is my guilt, how have I wronged your father, for him to want to take my life?" 2 He replied, "You must not think of that! You are not going to die. My father, you see, does nothing, important or unimportant, without confiding in me, so why should my father hide this from me? 3 It is not true." In reply, David swore, "Your father knows very well that I enjoy your favor, and thinks, 'Jonathan must not know about this or he will be upset.' But, as Yahweh lives and as you yourself live, there is only a step between me and death." 4 At which, Jonathan said to David, "Whatever you think best, I will certainly do for you."
Don't miss the emotional intensity of the exchange between David and Jonathan as David asks three rhetorical questions in verse 1:
Look for the equally emotional echo of these questions repeated by Jonathan to Saul in 20:32.
In verse 2 Jonathan expresses the belief that the matter
of his father's hostility toward David has been settled.
Question: What argument does Jonathan offer to David to support his belief that David is no longer in danger? What is David's counter argument?
Answer: Jonathan says that he is his father's closest confidant and he would know if Saul still planned to kill David. David replies that Saul is now hiding his plans from Jonathan because he knows Jonathan favors David.
1 Samuel 20:3b-4 ~ But, as Yahweh lives and as you
yourself live, there is only a step between me and death." 4 At which, Jonathan said to David, "Whatever
you think best, I will certainly do for you."
David is both frustrated and very agitated as he swears to Jonathan: But, as Yahweh lives and as you yourself live...; it is a double formula oath. See the first half of the formula oath in 14:39 where Saul swears that he intends to kill Jonathan, and see the same double oath in 25:26 (sworn by Abigal); 2 Kng 2:2, 4, 6 (sworn three times by Elisha to Elijah) and 4:30 (the Shunem woman to Elisha). Jonathan will swear a similar oath formula to David "by Yahweh, God of Israel!" In 20:12. David uses the double oath formula to emotionally swear in Yahweh's name his belief in Saul's evil intentions, and Jonathan then agrees to do whatever he can to help David.
1 Samuel 20:5-17 ~ The Plan Part I
5 David replied, "Look, tomorrow is New Moon and I ought to sit at table with the king, but you must let me go and hide in the countryside until the evening. 6 If your father notices my absence, you must say, David insistently asked me for permission to hurry over to Bethlehem, his home town, because they are holding the annual sacrifice [feast] there for the whole clan." 7 If he says, 'Very well,' your servant is safe, but if he flies into a rage, you may be sure that he has some evil plan. 8 Show your servant faithful love [hesed], since you have bound your servant to you by a pact [covenant] in Yahweh's name. But if I am guilty, then kill me yourself, why take me to your father?" 9 Jonathan replied, "Perish the thought! If I knew for sure that my father was determined to do you a mischief, would I not have told you?" 10 David then said to Jonathan, "Who will let me know if your father gives you a harsh answer?" 11 Jonathan then said to David, "Come on, let us go out into the country," and the pair of them went out into the country. 12 Jonathan then said to David, "by Yahweh, God of Israel! I shall sound my father this time tomorrow; if all is well for David and I do not then send and inform you, 13 may Yahweh bring unnamable ills to Jonathan and worse ones too! If my father intends to do you a mischief, I shall tell you so and let you get away, so that you can be safe. And may Yahweh be with you as he used to be with my father! 14 If I am still alive, show your servant faithful love [hesed]; if I die, 15 never withdraw [cutoff] your faithful love [hesed] from my family. When Yahweh has exterminated [cutoff] every enemy of David's from the face of the earth, 16 do not let Jonathan's name be exterminated [cutoff] with Saul's family, or may Yahweh call David to account!" 17 Jonathan then renewed his oath [cut (a covenant) with the house of] to David, since he loved him like his very soul.
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, pages 767-68. Notice the word play between to "cutoff" and "to cut" a covanent in verses 15-17
According to the Law of the Sinai Covenant, there was a twice daily liturgical sacrifice at the Sanctuary, and also weekly (Sabbath), monthly, yearly and periodic communal holy days with prescribed sacrifices. The Israelites were to keep to a lunar calendar with the feast of the New Moon marking the first day of the new month and with prescribed sacrifices to be offered at the Sanctuary during the morning liturgy of the Tamid sacrifice (Num 10:10; 28:11-15; Amos 8:5). The feast of the New Moon was a joyous occasion celebrated in villages across Israel with the blowing of horns and communal feasts. As the king's son-in-law, David is expected to celebrate with the royal family, but attending the feast would only provide an opportunity for Saul to kill David. Jonathan says it will be the New Moon feast "tomorrow" because the next day began at sunset of what we would consider to be the same day.
Question: What is the plan David suggests?
Answer: Jonathan will tell his father that David has his permission to attend a clan feast in Bethlehem. If Saul flies into a rage they will know that he intended to kill David.
1 Samuel 20:8 ~ David says: "Show your servant
faithful love [hesed], since you have bound your servant to you by a pact
[covenant] in Yahweh's name. But if I am guilty, then kill me yourself, why
take me to your father?"
David reminds Jonathan of the covenant they swore to each other in Yahweh's name (1 Sam 18:3) and asks Jonathan to honor that covenant love and loyalty. But, David adds, if he is guilty then kill him now. It is suggestion to which Jonathan responds in horror (verse 9).
When David asks how Jonathan will warn him if his life is in danger, Jonathan suggests they leave his home and go into the countryside where they will have privacy. Jonathan is probably worried that a servant may hear their conversation. When they are alone in the field, Jonathan then swears by God's divine name (similar to the first part of the formula oath in 20:3b) to David that he will test his father's intentions concerning David.
Question: By what self-curse does Jonathan bind
himself in Yahweh's name?
Answer: Jonathan will be under divine judgment if he fails to tell David if he is safe or if he is in danger and must escape.
1 Samuel 20:13b ~ And may Yahweh be with you as
he used to be with my father!
The blessing that Jonathan asks of Yahweh on David is very telling. It shows that he realizes that David is now God's choice as his father was once favored by God and asks that God's spirit will remain with David, unlike his father. "May Yahweh be with you" also expresses the central themes of 1 Samuel which addresses God's holy sovereignty over salvation history (which includes the reversal of destiny) and the theme of kingship in God's Divine Plan. Therefore, spoken by Jonathan, the statement it is more than a statement of friendship. It is a statement of loyalty from Saul's heir to the kingship that he willingly gives up his claim to the throne to the man whose destiny is controlled by God and who God has chosen to replace his father as Israel's king. This is a verbal commitment by Saul's heir of the transition of authority from Saul to David.
1 Samuel 20:14-17 ~ If
I am still alive, show your servant faithful love [hesed]; if I die, 15 never withdraw [cutoff] your faithful love [hesed]
from my family. When Yahweh has exterminated [cutoff] every enemy of David's from the
face of the earth, 16 do not let
Jonathan's name be exterminated [cutoff] with Saul's family, or may Yahweh call David to
account!" 17 Jonathan then renewed
his oath [cut (a covenant) with the house of] to David, since he loved him like
his very soul.
In verse 8 David reminded Jonathan of their covenant oath; now Jonathan reminds David and implores him to do "hesed;" to act with faithful covenant love toward Jonathan's family if he should die. Jonathan's love for David isn't just a fondness of friendship; there is the suggestion of a loyalty to God's chosen. The statement that Jonathan "loved him like his very soul" can be compared to the loyalty given by the vassals of King Esarhaddon in Assyrian records to his son and heir Ashurbanipal: "If you do not love the crown prince designate Ashurbanipal, son of your lord Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, as you do your own lives..." (from the Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon, article 24 , page 536, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament, edited by James Pritchard, 3rd edition, Princeton University Press, 1969). In verse 17 Jonathan renewed his covenant oath with David. It may be that Jonathan had a premonition that he would not survive the struggle between David and his father and he wanted David to swear to protect his child. Yahweh is witness to the renewed covenant and David will be held accountable to God if he fails to fulfill his part of the covenant concerning the protection of Jonathan's family.
1 Samuel 20:18-23 ~ The Plan Part II
18 Jonathan then said to David, "Tomorrow is New Moon; your absence will be noticed, since your place will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow [the third day] your absence will be very marked, and you must go to the place where you hid on the day of the deed, and stay beside that mound [near the stone Ezel]. 20 For my part, the day after tomorrow [on the third day] I shall shoot three arrows in that direction, as though at a target. 21 I shall then send a servant to go and find the arrows. If I say to him, 'The arrows are this side of you, get them,' come out, since all will be well for you and nothing the matter, as sure as Yahweh lives. 22 But if I say to him, 'The arrows are ahead of you,' then be off, for Yahweh himself will be sending you away. 23 And as regards the agreement [covenant] we made, you and I, why, Yahweh is witness between us forever.'"
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 768-69.
The "day of the deed" (verse 19) probably refers to the day of the feast when Jonathan will put his plan into motion and it is hoped that Saul will reveal his true intentions. David's hiding place was probably and prominent memorial stone set up to remember some historical event (see Josh 4:20-21). The Hebrew word ezel means "departure" and is therefore a fitting place for David to await his fate.
1 Samuel 20:20 ~ For
my part, the day after tomorrow [the third day] I shall shoot three arrows in
that direction, as though at a target.
Notice the repetition of the number three. In Sacred Scripture it is a number that usually symbolizes something important, especially some important event in God's divine plan.
Question: What is Jonathan's plan to inform David
of what he has discovered about his father's intentions?
Answer: If it is safe for David to reveal himself, Jonathan will shoot the arrows close in. If however David is in danger and should leave, Jonathan will shoot the arrows farther down the field and will send this servant out into the field to find them.
The number three (three arrows and three days) may be significant; perhaps symbolizing that David's change in status from honored hero and son-in-law in the royal family to outcast is part of God's Divine Plan.
1 Samuel 20:23 ~ And as regards the agreement
[covenant] we made, you and I, why, Yahweh is witness between us forever.'
David reminded Jonathan of the sworn covenant between them in verse 8 that bound them in the loyalty of covenant love, and now Jonathan reminds David of their covenant of loyalty and love to which Yahweh is witness between them forever (as he did earlier in verse 16).
1 Samuel 20:24-31 ~ Jonathan discovers Saul's
24 So David hid in the country; New Moon came and the king sat down to his meal. He sat in his usual place with his back to the wall, 25 Jonathan sat facing him and Abner sat next to Saul; but David's place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, thinking, "It is sheer chance; he is unclean." 27 On the day after New Moon, the second day, David's place was still empty. 28 Saul said to his son Jonathan, "Why did not the son of Jesse come to the meal either yesterday or today?" 29 Jonathan answered Saul, "David insistently asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 'Please let me go,' he said, 'for we are holding the clan sacrifice [feast] in the town and my brothers have ordered me to attend. So now, if I enjoy your favor, let me get away and see my brothers.' That is why he has not come to the king's table." 30 Saul flew into a rage with Jonathan and said, "Son of a rebellious slut! Don't I know that you side with the son of Jesse to your own shame and your mother's dishonor [your mother's nakedness]? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on earth, neither you nor your royal rights are secure. Now have him fetched and brought to me; he deserves to die for he is a son of death. 32 Jonathan retorted to his father Saul, "Why should he die? What has he done?" 33 But Saul brandished his spear at him to strike him, and Jonathan realized that his father was determined that David should die. 34 Hot with anger, Jonathan got up from the table and ate nothing on the second day of the month, being upset about David and because his father had insulted him.
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 770.
The royal family gathers to celebrate the New Moon feast. Abner is included because he is not only Saul's general but Saul's nephew and therefore a member of the royal family. At first Saul is not disturbed by David's absence. He assumes that David has become ritually unclean and therefore cannot attend the meal on the first night. Notice that Saul takes the strategic position at the table with his back against the wall where he cannot be ambushed from behind. Does he fear that David will attempt to assassinate him? Notice that Saul does not use David's name but only calls him "son of Jesse" three times.
1 Samuel 20:26 ~ Saul
said nothing that day, thinking, "It is sheer chance; he is unclean."
Those who participated in the feast of the New Moon had to be ritually clean, as in all the sacred feasts of the liturgical calendar, including the Passover meal. Ritual uncleanliness could arise from a number of activities in daily life that are listed in the Holiness Code in Leviticus chapters 11-15. Such uncleanness (with the exception of contamination by a corpse) was lifted by sundown after ritually bathing. This is why Saul will be greatly disturbed that David is not present on the next day for the meal. Most feast day meals occurred at noon. The Passover meal which took place at sundown was the exception. We know that the New Moon feast took place during the day because if it had occurred after sundown Saul would have expected David to have become ritually cleansed and fit to attend the meal.
1 Samuel 20:27 ~ On the day after New Moon, the second
day, David's place was still empty.
A New Moon feast could last for two days of feasting because the new moon could not be observed in the evening of the first day of the month in certain months, which appears to be the case in our narrative (Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, page 505).
1 Samuel 20:27b-29 ~ Saul
said to his son Jonathan, "Why did not the son of Jesse come to the meal either
yesterday or today?" 29 Jonathan
answered Saul, "David insistently asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem.
'Please let me go,' he said, 'for we are holding the clan sacrifice [feast] in
the town and my brothers have ordered me to attend. So now, if I enjoy your
favor, let me get away and see my brothers.' That is why he has not come to
the king's table."
As was the plan, when Saul inquires about David's absence, Jonathan gives the excuse that he gave David permission to attend an annual clan feast in Bethlehem because his presence was demanded by his elder brothers. As the youngest brother, David's elder brothers had authority over him.
Question: What is Saul's reaction and what proof is offered of Saul's attitude toward David that Jonathan found hard to accept earlier?
Answer: Saul flew into a rage and clearly reveals his intentions to kill David.
1 Samuel 20:30-31 ~ Saul flew into a rage with
Jonathan and said, "Son of a rebellious slut! Don't I know that you side with
the son of Jesse to your own shame and your mother's dishonor [your mother's
nakedness]? 31 As long as the son
of Jesse lives on earth, neither you nor your royal rights are secure. Now
have him fetched and brought to me; he deserves to die [for he is a son of
Jonathan's behavior is incomprehensible to Saul. David stands in the way of Jonathan's kingship and yet Jonathan in siding with "the son of Jesse." Saul's insults in verse 30 are not directed at Jonathan's mother but at Jonathan who Saul accuses of not being a "true son" because of his friendship with David. Saul swears an oath to kill "the son of Jesse," saying Now have him fetched and brought to me; for he is a son of death (literal translation). Personifying "Death," Saul is saying that he has sworn a covenant with death for David's life. It is "Death" who is Saul's witness to his oath.
Question: With what can Saul's covenant oath with death
be compared and contrasted? See 18:3; 20:14-17, 42.
Answer: His oath can be seen in contrast to the oath David and Jonathan swore in which they pledged their covenant love and loyalty to each other and David's covenant promise to protect Jonathan's descendants. Their oaths, however, were sworn in Yahweh's Divine Name and with Yahweh as their witness.
It appears that Saul fully believes that David is the man
Samuel spoke of who is chosen by God to be the next king (15:28).
Question: What point does Saul make about David concerning Jonathan and his heirs succeeding Saul as king of Israel?
Answer: He tries to appeal to Jonathan's self-interest in telling him as long as David lives Jonathan's succession rights are not secure.
1 Samuel 20:32-34 ~ Jonathan
retorted to his father Saul, "Why should he die? What has he done?" 33 But Saul brandished his spear at him to
strike him, and Jonathan realized that his father was determined that David
should die. 34 Hot with anger,
Jonathan got up from the table and ate nothing on the second day of the month,
being upset about David and because his father had insulted him.
Jonathan's angry challenge to Saul concerning David: "Why should he die? What has he done?" is an echo of David's frustrated challenge to Jonathan concerning Saul's hatred for him in 20:1 where David cried out: "What have I done, what is my guilt, how have I wronged your father, for him to want to take my life?" When Saul's response is to threaten Jonathan with his spear, Jonathan leaves the banquet, realizing that further discussion is useless and that David is correct in his assessment that Saul intends to kill him.
1 Samuel 20:35-21:1 ~ Jonathan warns David
35 Next morning, Jonathan went out into the country at the time agreed with David, taking a young servant with him. 36 He said to his servant, "Run and find the arrows which I am going to shoot," and the servant ran while Jonathan shot an arrow ahead of him. 37 When the servant reached the spot to which Jonathan had shot the arrow, Jonathan shouted after him, "Is not the arrow ahead of you?" 38 Again Jonathan shouted after the servant, "Quick! Hurry, do not stand around." Jonathan's servant picked up the arrow and brought it back to his master. 39 The servant suspected nothing; only Jonathan and David knew what was meant. 40 Jonathan then gave his weapons to his servant and said, "Go and carry them to the town." 41 As soon as the servant had gone, David stood up beside the mound [the stone of Ezel], threw himself to them ground, prostrating himself three times. They then embraced each other, both weeping copiously. 42 Jonathan then said to David, "Go in peace. And as regards the oath that both of us have sworn by the name of Yahweh, may Yahweh be witness between you and me, between your descendants and mine forever."
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 770.
Acting in accord with the plan Jonathan and David made
(20:11-13), Jonathan takes a servant into the field and pretends to be engaged
in archery practice. David is hiding behind the memorial stone waiting for the
signal that it is either safe for him to show himself and return home or that
he must leave to escape from Saul's wrath by going into exile.
Question: What signal does Jonathan give?
Answer: He gives the signal that David must go into exile.
1 Samuel 20:41 ~ As
soon as the servant had gone, David stood up beside the mound [the stone of
Ezel], threw himself to them ground, prostrating himself three times. They then
embraced each other, both weeping copiously.
They agreed that David should immediately leave when receiving the news that his life is in danger from Saul; however, David decides to risk capture by embracing his friend one last time.
Question: Why is it significant that David prostrates himself before Jonathan three times?
Answer: David is demonstrating his faithful allegiance to Jonathan as his lord who is still the crown prince of Israel.
1 Samuel 20:42 ~ Jonathan then said to David, "Go in
peace. And as regards the oath that both of us have sworn by the name of
Yahweh, may Yahweh be witness between you and me, between your descendants and
The two young men part as friends with Jonathan reminding David of the oath of loyalty they swore to one another that includes David's promise to show the same covenant love to Jonathan's descendants. It is an oath that David will dutifully keep.
Chapter 21: David the Outcast
1 Samuel 21:1-10/20:42b-21:9 ~ David and the Priests
1 David then got up and left, and Jonathan went back to the town. 2 David then went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech came out trembling to meet David and said, "Why are you alone? Why is nobody with you?" 3 David replied to Ahimelech the priest, "The king has given me an order and said to me, 'Do not let anyone know anything about the mission on which I am sending you, or about the order which I have given you.' I have arranged to meet the guards at such and such a place. 4 Meanwhile, if you have five loaves of bread to hand, give them to me, or whatever there is." 5 The priest replied to David, "I have no ordinary bread to hand; there are only consecrated loaves of permanent offering, provided that the men have kept themselves from women?" 6 David replied to the priest, "Certainly, women have been forbidden to us, as always when I set off on a campaign. The men's things are clean. Though this is a profane journey, they are certainly clean today as far as their things are concerned." 7 The priest then gave him what had been consecrated, for the only bread there were the loaves of permanent offering, which is taken out of Yahweh's presence, to be replaced by warm bread on the day when it is removed. 8 Now one of Saul's servants happened to be there that day, detained in Yahweh's presence; his name was Doeg the Edomite and he was the strongest of Saul's shepherds. 9 David then said to Ahimelech, "Have you no spear or sword here to hand? I did not bring either my sword or my weapons with me, because the king's business was urgent." 10 The priest replied, "The sword of Goliath the Philistine whom you killed in the Valley of the Terebinth is here, wrapped in a piece of clothing behind the ephod; if you care to take it, do so, for that is the only one here." David said, "There is nothing like that one; give it to me."
Hastily leaving Gibeah without food or weapons, David travels south about two or three miles to Nob, a city in the territory of Benjamin known as "the city of the priests" and where Yahweh's Sanctuary is now located since the destruction at Shiloh (1 Sam 22:19; Is 10:27-32; Neh 11:31-35).
1 Samuel 21:2 ~ David then went to Nob, to Ahimelech
the priest. Ahimelech came out trembling to meet David and said, "Why are you
alone? Why is nobody with you?"
Ahimelech is the chief priest of the Sanctuary at Nob. He is the son of Ahitub, the grandson of the former High Priest Eli, and the brother of the current High Priest Ahijah who Saul keeps with him at Gibeah (1 Sam 14:3). The question is why does Ahimelech come out "trembling" to meet David? It is the same Hebrew word found in 1 Samuel 16:4 when the village elders of Bethlehem came out "trembling" to meet Samuel. Is the priest's fear because he has heard from his brother that Saul has threatened to kill David and he is fearful of what will happen to him if he gives assistance to David? Ahimelech immediately asks why David is alone. It was unusual that a commander who is also the king's son-in-law should be unaccompanied. There were many reasons why David might come to the Sanctuary. He could be making a private pilgrimage to offer sacrifice or he might come to seek ritual purification. The chief priests also acted as public health officials if someone had a rash that might be identified as contagious. Such a condition required the inspection by a priest, purification and quarantine for a period of time, followed by a second inspection before the person could be pronounced "clean" (Lev 13-14). However, because of his status, David would have come with attendants.
Question: What excuse does David give for coming
alone to the Sanctuary? Is his excuse believable and what request does he
Answer: David's excuse for coming alone is that he is on a secret mission for the king. He requests five loaves of bread for food. David's excuse does not seem to be believable. Why would he go on a mission for the king without provisions and without weapons?
David's lie is meant to protect the priests at Nob from being accused of knowingly helping the king's enemy. If Ahimelech knows that Saul hates David, he probably has also guessed that David is the man God has chosen to replace Saul. Perhaps David's thinly disguised fiction is meant to let Ahimelech feel save in giving David assistance because he can truthfully swear that David told him he needed help for the king's mission.
Question: The priest accepts David's explanation,
but what bread does he tell David that he can offer and why is this bread
significant? What does Ahimelech's offer suggest about the day of the week
David's visit occurred? See Ex 25:23; 37:10-15; Lev 24:5-9 and 1 Sam 21:7.
Answer: The only bread that is available is the holy bread called the "Bread of the Presence (of God)" that is on the golden table in the Sanctuary's Holy Place. These are the twelve loaves of bread that are newly placed in the Holy Place on the golden table every Sabbath. The week old loaves are only to be eaten by the priests when the new loaves replace them; therefore the day of David's visit has to be the Sabbath (Saturday).
The literal translation of the "Bread of the Presence" (lehem
happanim) is the "Bread of the Face (of God)," plural.
Question: Ahimelech offers David five of the twelve loaves of the Bread of the Presence but on what condition?
Answer: David and any of his men who might eat the holy bread must be ritually pure which includes having abstained from sexual contact.
Sexual intimacy with one's wife was good, but chastity was holy. See for example Exodus 19:10-15 where the Israelites are instructed to wash themselves and their clothes and to refrain from sexual contact in order to purify themselves for their meeting with God. Israelite soldiers who served God as His holy warriors were to also observe the rules of ritual purity in consecrating themselves for battle (Josh 3:5). David assures the priest that his men always observe the holiness laws (see 2 Sam 11:11). It is significant that Ahimelech makes an exception to the law concerning the eating of the holy bread that is reserved only for the priestly descendants of Aaron. Ahimelech judges that in this case mercy is more important than ritual law.(2)
1 Samuel 21:8 ~ Now
one of Saul's servants happened to be there that day, detained in Yahweh's
presence; his name was Doeg the Edomite and he was the strongest of Saul's
The Edomite servant of Saul who was "detained in Yahweh's presence" is probably Saul's spy sent to Nob to keep an eye on the chief priests and to report back to Saul if anything unusual is said of anything unusual occurs. As we will see in next week's lesson, Doeg will be responsible for bringing about a tragedy.
1 Samuel 21:9-10 ~ David then said to Ahimelech, "Have
you no spear or sword here to hand? I did not bring either my sword or my
weapons with me, because the king's business was urgent." 10 The priest replied, "The sword of Goliath the
Philistine whom you killed in the Valley of the Terebinth is here, wrapped in a
piece of clothing behind the ephod; if you care to take it, do so, for that is
the only one here." David said, "There is nothing like that one; give it to
Ahimelech, who seems to have completely accepted David's excuse, or that he has decided to help David and plead ignorance if challenged by Saul, does not even question that David has come without a weapon. He offers David the sword of Goliath that was being kept at the Sanctuary probably as a relic. Here the word ephod is used in the generic sense to mean something associated with the Sanctuary. David accepts the weapon that he won in mortal combat a few years earlier. Not only have Saul's children assisted David in his escape but now the religious establishment of Saul's kingdom is also involved in preserving David's life.
1 Samuel 21:11-16/10-15 ~ David's audience with King
Achish of Gath
11 David journeyed on and that day fled out of Saul's reach, going to Achish king of Gath. 12 Achish's servants said to him, "Is not this David, the king of the country? Was it not said of him that they sang as they danced: Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands?" 13 David pondered on these words and became very frightened of Achish king of Gath. 14 When their eyes were on him, he played the madman and, when they held him, he feigned lunacy. He drummed his feet on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. 15 Achish said to his servants, "You can see that this man is mad. Why bring him to me? 16 Have I not enough madmen, without your bringing me this one to weary me with his antics? Is he to join my household?"
David is an outcast. He can't go to his family in
Bethlehem because that is the next place Saul will look for him after Ramah,
and taking refuge with his family could cause their deaths. In his desperation
David may have been thinking of the ancient saying: "The enemy of my enemy is
my friend." As soon as he left Nob, David fled to the west, seeking refuge in
the nearest Philistine city of Gath that was about twenty-three miles
west-southwest from Nob.
Question: Where have you heard the city of Gath mentioned earlier? See 1 Sam 17:4-7, 48-51.
Answer: Gath was the home of the Philistine champion Goliath who David killed in mortal combat.
1 Samuel 21:12-13 ~ Achish's
servants said to him, "Is not this David, the king of the country? Was it not
said of him that they sang as they danced: Saul has killed his thousands, and
David his tens of thousands?" 13 David
pondered on these words and became very frightened of Achish king of Gath.
David enters the presence of Achish the king of Gath.(3) The Philistines know that Saul is king of Israel but they recognize David and are commenting on his tremendous popularity with the people and assume that he is probably a chieftain/ruler among the Israelites. David may have intended to take on an assumed name to seek sanctuary with the Philistines, but now that they have recognized him, David discerns that he is in grave danger.
Question: What does David do to protect himself?
Answer: He cleverly feigns madness.
Believing David's act, the Philistines do not detain him and David escapes. The incident is humorous but it also depicts David's desperate condition. David is alone and without a friend except for his God. This was probably one of the lowest points in David's life, and yet we do not hear that the icy fingers of despair gripped him, nor does the inspired writer record that he railed against God in what appears to be a hopeless situation. David trusted God in his darkest hour and put those feelings into the beautiful poetry of the psalms that are attributed to him, like the 23rd Psalm that is a perfect expression of David's experiences in this dark period of his life.
Psalm 23: A Psalm
The LORD [Yahweh] is my shepherd, I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD [Yahweh] forever.
RSV Catholic edition
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: Michal lied to her father to save David's life, Jonathan lied to his father about David's absence from the feast to learn about Saul's intentions concerning David, and David lied to the priest Ahimelech in an attempt not to put the priest's life in jeopardy. During WWII Christians, including nuns and priests, hid Jewish men, women, and children and lied to the Nazi's about their whereabouts. Is there a time when a lie is necessary or acceptable? What are the circumstances in which a lie might be necessary and are confession and reconciliation still required? See CCC 2482-84.
Question: Compare and contrast the lives of Saul and David. How was God's providence at work in the lives of these two men?
|Saul is the son of a wealthy man of the tribe of Benjamin.||David is born in Bethlehem into the humble family of Jesse a descendant of Ruth and Boaz of the tribe of Judah.|
|Saul is his father's heir.||David is Jesse's eighth son and a shepherd.|
|Saul's destiny is changed while looking for his father's lost donkeys with a servant.||David's destiny is changed when he is called in from herding his father's sheep.|
|Samuel anoints Saul king of Israel as an adult.||Samuel anoints David king of Israel when still a boy.|
|Saul's first campaigns against Israel's enemies are successful.||Young David becomes a musician at Saul's court.|
|Saul disobeys Samuel and makes a presumptuous sacrifice resulting in the judgment of the loss of his dynasty.||David kills Goliath and becomes a commander in Saul's army. God is with David.|
|Saul makes a foolish vow and attempts to kill his son Jonathan.||David makes a covenant of friendship with Saul's son Jonathan.|
|Saul disobeys God's command concerning the Amalekites and loses his fellowship with God.||David marries Saul's daughter.|
|Saul becomes mentally unstable and tries to kill David.||David escapes Saul and becomes an outlaw.|
|Saul massacres the priests at Nob.||The priests of Nob help David and his men.|
|Saul seeks help from a medium and receives a prediction of doom.||David has the opportunity to kill Saul but refuses to kill one who is the anointed of God and king of Israel.|
defeated in battle with the Philistines, his sons are all killed, and he
He probably reigned 20 years.
becomes King of Judah and 7 years later King of Israel. He reigns 40 years.
David unites the political and religious center of Israel by moving the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
|Saul's dynasty ends with the death of his remaining son Ishbaal.||David's dynasty is eternal and continues through his heir Jesus Christ.|
1. In Genesis 31:19, 32-35 Rachel stole her father's household idols. Those idols were small enough for her to hide by sitting on the saddlebag that contained them. Later Jacob will demand that members of his household give up all such idols (Gen 35:2-4).
2. Jesus, when criticized by the Pharisees for allowing His disciples to pick and eat grain on the Sabbath, will cite this decision by Ahimelech in Matthew 12:1-8 (also see Mk 2:23-28 and Lk 6:1-5). In that passage Jesus names Ahimelech's son Abiathar as the high priest, but that is a warning to the chief priests and Pharisees and not an error. Ahimelech's son Abiathar will support David when he is king and David will make him the high priest, but Abiathar will not acknowledge David's son Solomon as king and will be part of a rebellion against Solomon. Abiathar is like the chief priests and Pharisees who acknowledge Yahweh as their divine king (the Father) but refuse to acknowledge Jesus (the Son) as their divine king. For his sin of disloyalty, Abiathar will lose his status as Israel's high priestly authority in favor of the chief priest Zadok just as the chief priests and Pharisees, in their refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the divine Messiah and in their rebellion against Him, will lose their status as the religious authority and will be replaced by the Apostles and their successors.
3. The name of Achish King of Gath, like the name Goliath, is not Semitic and may belong to an originally Aegean-West Anatolian onomasticon. The name is believed to have been found in a list of what are described as Cretan names on an Egyptian school writing board from the Eighteenth Dynasty in Egypt (McCarter, 1 Samuel, page 356).
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