David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father's house heard it, they went down thither to him.1 Samuel 22:1. To the cave of Adullam — Which was a strong hold in the tribe of Judah, 1 Chronicles 11:15; Joshua 15:35. This place, fortified by nature, is so fitted for the security of persons in distress, according to Dr. Delaney, that it hath frequently given a refuge from the Turks to the Christians, who fled thither with their families, flocks, and herds. As it was in the tribe of Judah, and David belonged to that tribe, he might, perhaps, flee to it in hopes of finding some friends in those parts. And his brethren, &c., went down thither to him — Either to comfort him, or to secure themselves from the fury of Saul, who, they thought, might probably wreak upon them his hatred to David.
And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.1 Samuel 22:2. Every one that was in distress — אישׁ מצוק, ish matsok, the man straitened or oppressed. And every one that was in debt — אשׁר לו נשׁאasher lo noshee, the man that had a creditor. Probably poor debtors, whom their creditors were obliged to spare, Exodus 22:25. And others, whose lands and goods their creditors might seize when their persons were with David. It must be observed that the Jews frequently used their debtors with great severity, (see Nehemiah 5:5,) taking forcible possession of their lands and vineyards, and bringing their children into bondage. Every one that was discontented — Hebrew, מר נפשׁMark nephesh, the man bitter of soul, aggrieved in his mind, made uneasy and discontented, “probably,” says Dr. Dodd, “with Saul’s tyrannical government, and his implacable persecution of David, who, by this time, must have been well known to have been the intended successor of Saul.” It does not appear, from this description, that these were men of abandoned characters and profligate principles, as some have thought, who joined themselves to David purposely to cheat their creditors, and for the sake of the plunder they were in hopes of getting under him. Indeed, had this been the case, David would not have been able to have kept them under that strict order and discipline under which we find he did keep them, but we should have read of their plundering, and murdering, and committing other outrages. Nor would they have continued with him so long, and abode with him in dreary forests, destitute of most of the conveniences and comforts of life; or have followed him whithersoever he was disposed to lead them. This is not the temper or behaviour of men of profligate principles. And, therefore, there is reason to conclude, that they were persons who were brought into distress and poverty by other causes, such as, in the course of divine providence, are frequently permitted to afflict the best of men, for their trial, humiliation, or correction. But if they were not virtuous when they resorted to David, that they became so by his discipline, influence, and example, is sufficiently evident from their subsequent behaviour. And he became a captain over them — Being forced to take this course in his own defence, that he might not be suddenly surprised. But David did not take these men into his service, till by information from Jonathan, and by many other certain proofs, it evidently appeared that his life was in imminent danger. And then he neither assaulted any place with them, nor sought for an occasion to fight, but avoided it by seeking for secret and secure places of retreat, sometimes in the deserts, sometimes, in foreign nations, always taking care not to hurt his countrymen, and never allowing his men to make incursions upon any but the enemies of Israel.
And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me.1 Samuel 22:3. David went from thence to Mizpeh — For the Moabites were at difference with Saul, 1 Samuel 14:47. Let my father and my mother be with you — David, perhaps, the rather hoped for this kindness to be shown to his aged parents, who were not able to travel up and down, as he was likely to be obliged to do, because he was descended from Ruth, a Moabitess. The filial tenderness of David here deserves our admiration, who makes it his first care to fix his parents in a place of safety and ease, not being able to bear their being exposed to the dangers and hardships which the necessity of his affairs obliged him to undergo. His address to the king manifests his great tenderness to his parents, and his entire submission to the will of God. Till I know what God will do for me — He expresses his hopes very modestly, as one that had entirely cast himself upon God, and committed his way to him, trusting not in his own arts or arms, but in the wisdom, power, and goodness of God.
And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold.1 Samuel 22:4. All the while David was in the hold — In holds; the singular number being put for the plural, as is frequent; that is, as long as David was forced to go from place to place, and from hold to hold, to secure himself; for it concerned David especially to secure his father, and he did doubtless secure him for all that time; and not only while he was in the hold of Mizpeh, or of Adullam, which was but a little while.
And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth.1 Samuel 22:5. The Prophet Gad said unto David — We read nothing of this prophet before; and it is likely God raised him up at this time, on purpose for the support and direction of David. Abide not in the hold — That is, do not shut up thyself here; for he did not merely intend any particular strong place, where David might now be, but in general all those places where he kept himself concealed. Get thee into the land of Judah — As one that confides in God, and in the uprightness of his intentions. Go, show thyself to the people, that thou mayest publicly put in thy claim to the kingdom after Saul’s death; and that thy friends may be invited and encouraged to appear in thy behalf. Hereby also God would exercise David’s faith, wisdom, and courage, and so prepare him for the kingdom.
When Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men that were with him, (now Saul abode in Gibeah under a tree in Ramah, having his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing about him;)1 Samuel 22:6-8. Having his spear in his hand — It seems, as an ensign of majesty, for in old times kings carried a spear instead of a sceptre. Ye Benjamites — You that are of my own tribe and kindred, from whom David designs to translate the kingdom to another tribe. Will he distribute profits and preferments among you Benjamites, as I have done? Will he not rather prefer those of his own tribe before you? That all of you have conspired against me — To conceal David’s designs from me, if not to assist him in them. See the nature of jealousy, and its arts of flattering and wheedling to extort discoveries of things which have no existence! That my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse — He suspects Jonathan had made a league with David, but did not certainly know it, much less what the league was. His jealousy even carried him so far as to make him suspect that Jonathan not only sided with David, but had encouraged him to take up arms, and to appear openly, as having many friends and supporters. For since Saul threw the javelin at Jonathan, it is likely the latter had absented himself from court, or did not appear so frequently, or looked discontented when he came into his father’s presence.
Then Saul said unto his servants that stood about him, Hear now, ye Benjamites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds;
That all of you have conspired against me, and there is none that sheweth me that my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you that is sorry for me, or sheweth unto me that my son hath stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?
Then answered Doeg the Edomite, which was set over the servants of Saul, and said, 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 victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.1 Samuel 22:10. He inquired of the Lord for him — Some think Doeg slandered Ahimelech in this, because we read nothing of it in the foregoing chapter; and David in the Psalms speaks of his false tongue. But whether or not, he was guilty of great wickedness in concealing part of the truth, which in this case he ought to have declared, for Ahimelech’s just defence; namely, the artifice whereby David had deceived him, making him believe that he was going on the king’s business; so that the service which Ahimelech did to David was designed in honour of Saul. And gave him victuals, &c. — Very innocently, as Doeg very well knew. But he represented these as acts whereby Ahimelech had aided and abetted David in a conspiracy; which are the lies that David lays to his charge, nothing being further from the truth.
Then the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father's house, the priests that were in Nob: and they came all of them to the king.1 Samuel 22:11. The king sent to call Ahimelech and all his father’s house —
The priests of the house of Eli, whom God had threatened to cut off, chap. 1 Samuel 2:31; and which threatening, by a strange chain of providences, was now about to be fulfilled.
And Saul said, Hear now, thou son of Ahitub. And he answered, Here I am, my lord.
And Saul said unto him, Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, in that thou hast given him bread, and a sword, and hast inquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?
Then Ahimelech answered the king, and said, And who is so faithful among all thy servants as David, which is the king's son in law, and goeth at thy bidding, and is honourable in thine house?1 Samuel 22:14. Ahimelech said, Who is so faithful, &c. — Or, rather, Who was so faithful, &c.; for it cannot be supposed, after Saul had just accused David of a conspiracy against him, that the high-priest would say he was then faithful. His apology, which sufficiently shows his innocence as to the things of which Saul accuses him, is, that since David had been held by all to be a most loyal subject, as well as a person of great honour, and in high favour with the king, having married his daughter, what could he think but that David was sent by the king, as he said he was, upon some business of public concern? Thus he does not take upon him to determine the difference between Saul and David, nor affirm what David now was; but only declares what David had formerly been, and what he was still, for any thing he knew to the contrary.
Did I then begin to inquire of God for him? be it far from me: let not the king impute any thing unto his servant, nor to all the house of my father: for thy servant knew nothing of all this, less or more.1 Samuel 22:15. Did I then begin to inquire of God for him? — These words do not necessarily imply that Ahimelech had inquired of God for David. Doeg indeed charged him with doing it, but as the sacred historian has made no mention of any such thing, it is probable that he charged him falsely and maliciously, and with a view to heighten the king’s resentment against the priests. Ahimelech’s words may be very naturally so interpreted, as Dr. Dodd has observed, as to imply an absolute denial of the charge. “Did I then begin to inquire of God for him? Be it far from me. I never did it before, nor did I begin to do it now.” The verb החל, hechel, (from חלל, chelel,) which we render begin, is frequently a mere expletive, denoting not the first beginning of an action, but the action itself, as begun and finished. “This vindication was honest and sufficient; but what was the effect of it? A resolution worthy the tyrant that made it.” — Chandler. Thy servant knew nothing of all this — Of any design against thee.
And the king said, Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou, and all thy father's house.1 Samuel 22:16-17. Thou shalt surely die, thou and all thy father’s house — A cruel resolution; for what had the rest of the priests done to deserve such a bloody execution? The servants of the king would not, &c. — In this, undoubtedly, they were praiseworthy; but had been more so had they courageously taken the part of these innocent persons, and remonstrated to Saul against his cruelty, as contrary to all the laws of God and man. And if their reasons and prayers had proved ineffectual, they should have treated this command as the dictate of Saul’s melancholy or evil spirit, and have given the priests some opportunity to escape out of his hands, instead of standing tamely to see them fall, contrary to all laws, divine or human, by the hands of a ruffian, the minister of a tyrant’s cruelty.
And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him, Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the LORD.
And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod.1 Samuel 22:18. Doeg the Edomite turned and fell upon the priests — The country of Doeg is very properly here mentioned, and again repeated, to wipe off the stain of this butchery from the Israelitish nation, and to show why he was so ready to do it; because he was one of that nation which had an implacable hatred against all Israelites, and against the priests of the Lord. And slew on that day fourscore and five persons — “The massacre of these innocent men was so outrageous, so bloody, and so horrible, that it paints the character of Saul in the blackest colours, and exposes him as a warning, not only to tyrannical monarchs, but likewise to private persons, who give a loose to the instigations of jealous suspicions and intemperate wrath.” — Chandler. That did wear a linen ephod — That is, ministered unto the Lord; but we are not to understand by the ephod such a garment as the high-priest wore, for this is distinguished from the high-priest’s ephod by the matter of it, which was merely linen. The priests had probably all put on this habit, on account of appearing before the king.
And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.1 Samuel 22:19. Both men and women, children and sucklings — In all the life of Saul there is no wickedness to be compared to this. He appears now to be wholly under the power of that evil spirit which had long tormented him. And this destruction could not but go to the heart of every pious Israelite, and make them wish a thousand times they had been content with the government of Samuel. Josephus, in relating this, reflects on the depravity of human nature, which, when it is in a private station, often strictly and willingly confines itself within the bounds of right and justice; but when it has gained an uncontrollable power, thinks it has a right to trample upon all laws, as well divine as human. We ought therefore to pray, as Justin Martyr says, that kings and rulers, together with a royal power, may be found having a sober mind. Or, as Le Clerc observes, we ought never to put such a power into any persons’ hands as to enable them to trample upon all laws and the common rights of mankind. Whether the Israelites assisted in the execution upon the inhabitants of Nob, does not appear; or whether it was performed by Doeg the Edomite, and the rest of Saul’s hirelings. But it was sufficiently shameful to the Israelites that they did not even stand up to prevent such a cruel massacre.
And one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David.1 Samuel 22:20. Abiathar escaped and fled after David — He, by his father’s death, was now high-priest, and is the person referred to Mark 2:26, where we find him described by an office which he did not bear till after the event alluded to, Ahimelech, as we have seen, being high-priest when David took the show-bread.
In what has been just related we have a remarkable instance of God’s turning the worst devices of the wicked to the purposes of his providence; for in all this was fulfilled the threatening denounced by the Lord against the house of Eli; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not; see 1 Samuel 2:31; and 1 Samuel 3:13.
And Abiathar shewed David that Saul had slain the LORD'S priests.
And David said unto Abiathar, I knew it that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul: I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy father's house.
Abide thou with me, fear not: for he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life: but with me thou shalt be in safeguard.