The trials of David continue to unfold as he hides from King Saul in caves and forests (22:1-5). In chapter 22 a turn of events reveals the type of man David was:
“So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it, they went down there to him. 2 Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.” (Vv.1-2)
There was a quality of character and leadership that David possessed that even in the worst of times his brothers (who once despised him) came to him for direction and hope. David gathered unto himself (I think by God’s doing) people that were also like him: distressed, indebted and discontented. How ironic that David would be surrounded by people who could relate to his plight, but it seems that God will often do that for us so that we don’t lose heart in the battles of life.
Saul’s madness once again manifests as he has the priests of Nob killed because they helped David in his hour of need. When Ahimelech inquires of Saul and recounts David’s faithfulness it only leads to his death (22:11-19):
“11 Then the king sent someone to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s household, the priests who were in Nob; and all of them came to the king. 12 Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” 13 Saul then said to him, “Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, so that he would rise up against me by lying in ambush as it is this day?” 14 Then Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, even the king’s son-in-law, who is captain over your guard, and is honored in your house? 15 Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any of the household of my father, for your servant knows nothing at all of this whole affair.” 16 But the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s household!” 17 And the king said to the guards who were attending him, “Turn around and put the priests of the Lord to death, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was fleeing and did not reveal it to me.” But the servants of the king were not willing to put forth their hands to attack the priests of the Lord. 18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 And he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep he struck with the edge of the sword.”
This type of madness reveals not only that God had taken the kingdom from Saul but also that his thirst for righteous blood demanded to be satisfied. Even though David is fleeing from Saul, he nevertheless makes time to ask God whether or not to help Keilah from being plundered by the Philistines (23:1-12). The term for prayer used here is “David inquired of the LORD” as to which actions to take.
The text does not say to us that God used an audible voice, but what else could it be when the text reads, “And the LORD answered…and the LORD said” when speaking to David? Assuredly, David was clear and acted accordingly. This was intercessory prayer. Ironically, the very people David rescued here from the Philistines would be the same people that would turn him over to King Saul given the opportunity.
What we see here is that David asks for direction from God concerning battle strategy and it’s granted, David asks if a people will either betray him or protect him and God answers him. When sovereigns inquire of the LORD, answers often come. What Saul however does not seem to get is that unless the LORD deliver David into his hands, he won’t be successful.
Perhaps the most revealing account between these two kings is where Saul’s thirst for David’s blood remains unquenched, but David stays his opportunity to kill Saul (24:1-9). David knew he had done nothing wrong toward Saul but he also knew that God is the one who exalts leaders and removes them ultimately. The text reads;
10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the Lord had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’
The difference between David and Saul: the latter is merciless and mad; the former is merciful and sober. When rulers reject God’s ways, they meander in a degree of madness that blinds their judgment. This section ends with Saul’s confession and plea to David which are moving and sobering:
20 Now, behold, I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand. 21 So now swear to me by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s household.” 22 David swore to Saul. And Saul went to his home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
Saul’s confession reveals that he knew what he was doing was wrong but he couldn’t help himself (again, I think it’s because God’s favor was no longer on him). Nevertheless, he pleads for David to be gracious to his house in spite of Saul’s wickedness and his request is granted. This love/hate relationship is somewhat sick but also reveals the human condition that even when our enemies desire our harm, we can by God’s spirit truly bless them. David’s dealings with Saul instruct believers on how to trust God with our enemies and treat them nevertheless with mercy. Astounding!