Expositor's Bible Commentary
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.CHAPTER XXIX.
DAVID AT ADULLAM, MIZPEH, AND HARETH.
1 Samuel 22:1-23.
THE cave of Adullam, to which David fled on leaving Gath, has been placed in various localities even in modern times; but as the Palestine Exploration authorities have placed the town in the valley of Elah, we may regard it as settled that the cave lay there, not far indeed from the place where David had had his encounter with Goliath. It was a humble dwelling for a king's son-in-law, nor could David have thought of needing it on the memorable day when he did such wonders with his sling and stone. These "dens and caves of the earth" - effects of great convulsions in some remote period of its history - what service have they often rendered to the hunted and oppressed! How many a devout saint, of whom the world was not worthy, has blessed God for their shelter! With how much purer devotion and loftier fellowship, with how much more sublime and noble exercises of the human spirit have many of them been associated, than some of the proudest and costliest temples that have been reared in name - often little more - to the service of God!
If David at first was somewhat an object of jealousy to his own family in this the day of his trials they showed a different spirit, "When his brethren and all his father's house heard of it, they went down thither to him." As the proverb says, "Blood is thicker than water," and often adversity draws families together between whom prosperity has been like a wedge. If our relations are prospering while we are poor, we think of them as if they had moved away from us; but when their fortunes are broken, and the world turns its back on them, we get closer, our sympathy revives. We think all the better of David's family that when they heard of his outlaw condition they all went down to him. Besides these, "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." The account here given of the circumstances of this band is not very flattering, but there are two things connected with it to be borne in mind: in the first place, that the kind of men who usually choose the soldier's calling are not your men of plodding industry, but men who shrink from monotonous labour; and, in the second place, that under the absolute rule of Saul there might be many very worthy persons in debt and discontented and in distress, men who had come into that condition because they were not so ready to cringe to despotism as their ruler desired. Mixed and motley therefore though David's troop may have been, it was far from contemptible; and their adherence was fitted greatly to encourage him, because it showed that public feeling was with him, that his cause was not looked on as desperate, that his standard was one to which it was deemed safe and hopeful to resort.
But if, at the first glance, the troop appeared somewhat disreputable, it was soon joined by two men, the one a prophet, the other a priest, whose adherence must have brought to it a great accession of moral weight. The prophet was Gad (1 Samuel 22:5), who next to Samuel seems to have stood highest in the nation as a man of God, a man of holy counsel, and elevated, heavenly character. His open adherence to David (which seems to be implied in ver. 5) must have had the best effects both on David himself and on the people at large. It must have been a great blessing to David to have such a man as Gad beside him; for, with all his personal piety, he seems to have required a godly minister at his side. No man derived more benefit from the communion of saints, or was more apt to suffer for want of it; for, as we have seen, he had begun to decline in spirituality when he left Samuel at Naioth, and still more when he was parted from Jonathan. When Gad joined him, David must have felt that he was sent to him from the Lord, and could not but be full of gratitude for so conspicuous an answer to his prayers. It would seem that Gad remained in close relation to David to the close of his life. It was he that came from the Lord to offer him his choice between three forms of chastisement after his offence in numbering the people; and from the fact of his being called "David's seer" (2 Samuel 24:11) we conclude that he and David were intimately associated. It was he also that instructed David to buy the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, and thus to consecrate to God a spot with which, to the very end of time, the most hallowed thoughts must always be connected.
The other eminent person that joined David about this time was Abiathar the priest. But before adverting to this, we must follow the thread of the narrative and especially note the tragedy that occurred at Nob, the city of the priests.
From the mode of life which David had to follow and the difficulty of obtaining subsistence for his troop at one place for any length of time, he was obliged to make frequent changes. On leaving the cave of Adullam, which was near the western border of the tribe of Judah, he traversed the whole breadth of that tribe, and crossing the Jordan, came to the territories of Moab. He was concerned for the safety of his father and mother, knowing too well the temper of Eastern kings, and how they thirsted for the blood, not only of their rivals, but of all their relations. He feared that they would not be let alone at Bethlehem or in any other part of Saul's kingdom. But what led him to think of the king of Moab? Perhaps a tender remembrance of his ancestress Ruth, the damsel from Moab, who had been so eminent for her devotion to her mother-in-law. Might there not be found in the king of Moab somewhat of a like disposition, that would look with pity on an old man and woman driven from their home, not indeed, like Naomi, by famine, but by what was even worse, the shameful ingratitude and murderous fury of a wicked king? If such was David's hope, it was not without success; his father and his mother dwelt with the king of Moab all the time that David was in the hold.
But it was not God's purpose that David should lurk in a foreign land. The prophet Gad directed him to return to the land of Judah. It was within the boundaries of that tribe, accordingly, that the rest of David's exile was spent, with the exception of the time at the very end when he again resorted to Philistine territory. His first hiding-place was the forest of Hareth.
While David was here, Saul, encamped in military state at Gibeah, delivered an extraordinary speech to the men of his own tribe. "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 showeth 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 that showeth me that my son hath stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?" It would have been difficult for any other man to condense so much that was vile in spirit into the dimensions of a little speech like this. It begins with a base appeal to the cupidity of his countrymen, the Benjamites, among whom he was probably in the habit of distributing the possessions of his enemies, as, for instance, the Gibeonites, who dwelt near him, and whom he slew, contrary to the covenant made with them by Joshua (2 Samuel 21:2). It accuses his people of having conspired against him, because they had not spoken to him of the friendship of his son with David, although that fact must have been notorious. It accuses the noble Jonathan of having stirred up David against Saul, while neither Jonathan nor David had ever lifted a little finger against him, and both the one and the other might have been trusted to serve him with unflinching fidelity if he had only given them a fair chance. It indicates that nothing would be more agreeable to Saul than any information about David or these connected with him that would give him an excuse for some deed of overwhelming vengeance. Did ever man draw his own portrait in viler colours than Saul in this speech?
There was one bosom - let us hope only one - in which it awoke a response. It was that of Doeg the Edomite. He told the story of what he had seen at Nob, adding thereto the unfounded statement that Ahimelech had inquired of the Lord for David. Ahimelech and the whole college of priests were accordingly sent for, and they came. The charge brought against him was a very offensive one; in so far, it was a statement of facts, but of facts placed in an odious light, of facts coloured with a design which Ahimelech never entertained. Oh, how many an innocent man has suffered in this way! Even in courts of justice, by pleaders whose interest is on the other side, and some- times by judges (like Jeffreys) steeped in hatred and prejudice, how often have acts that were quite innocent been put to the account of treason, or put to the account of malice, or cunningly forged into a chain, indicating a deliberate design to injure another! It can never be too earnestly insisted on that to be just to a man you must not merely ascertain the real facts of his case, but you must put the facts in their true light, and not colour them with prejudices of your own or with suppositions which the man repudiates.
The conduct of Ahimelech was manly and straight- forward, but indiscreet. He admitted the facts, with the exception of the statement that he had inquired of the Lord for David. He vindicated right manfully the faithful, noble services of David, services that ought to have excluded the very idea of treason or conspiracy. He protested that he knew nothing of any ground the king had against David, or of any cause that could have led him to believe that in helping him he was offending Saul. But just because Ahimelech's defense was so true and so complete, it was most offensive to Saul. What is there a despot likes worse to hear than that he is entirely in the wrong? What words irritate him so much as those which prove the entire innocence of someone with whom he is angry? Saul was angry both with David and with Ahimelech. Ahimelech had the great misfortune to prove to him that in both cases there was no shadow of ground for his anger. In proportion as Saul's reason should have been satisfied, his temper was excited. What an uncontrollable condition that temper must have been in when the death of Ahimelech was decreed, and all his father's house! We do not wonder that no one could be found in his bodyguard to execute the order. Did this not stagger and sober the king? Far from it. His fit of rage was so hot and imperious that he would not be baulked. Turning to Doeg, he commanded him to fall on the priests. And this vile man had the brutality to execute the order, and to plunge his sword into the heart of fourscore and five unarmed persons that wore the garments which even in heathen nations usually secured protection and safety. And as if it were not enough to kill the men, their city, Nob, was utterly destroyed. Men and women, children and sucklings, oxen and asses and sheep- a thorough massacre was made of them all. Had Nob been a city of warriors that had resisted the king's armies with haughty insolence, harassed them by sorties, entrapped them by stratagems, and exasperated them by hideous cruelty to their prisoners, but at last been overpowered, it could not have had a more terrible doom. And had Saul never committed any other crime, this would have been enough to separate him from the Lord forever, and to bring down on him the horrors of the night at Endor and of the day that followed on Mount Gilboa.
This cruel and sacrilegious murder must have told against Saul and his cause with prodigious effect. There could not have been a single priest or Levite throughout the kingdom whose blood would not boil at the news of the massacre, and whose sympathies would not be enlisted, more or less, on behalf of David, now openly proclaimed by Saul as his rival, and probably known to have been anointed by Samuel as his successor. Not only the priests and Levites, but every right-minded man throughout the land would share in this feeling, and many a prayer would be offered for David that God would protect him, and spare him to be a blessing to his country. The very presence in his camp of Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, who escaped the massacre, with his ephod, - an official means of consulting God in all cases of difficulty,- would be a visible proof to his followers and to the community at large, that God was on his side. And when the solemn rites of the national worship were performed in his camp, and when, at each turn of public affairs, the high priest was seen in communication with Jehovah, the feeling could not fail to gain strength that David's cause was the cause of God, and the cause of the country, and that, in due time, his patient sufferings and his noble services would be crowned with the due reward.
But if the news of the massacre would tend on the whole to improve David's position with the people, it must have occasioned a terrible pang to David himself. There was, indeed, one point of view in which something of the kind was to be looked for. Long ago, it had been foretold to Eli, when he tolerated so calmly the scandalous wickedness of his sons, "Behold, the days come that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father's house, but there shall not be an old man in thine house. And thou shalt see an enemy in My habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thy house forever." Ahimelech was a grandson of Eli, and the other massacred priests were probably of Eli's blood. Here, then, at last, was the fulfillment of the sentence announced to Eli; doomed as his house had been, their subsistence for years back was of the nature of a respite; and here, at length, was the catastrophe that had been so distinctly foretold.
That consideration, however, would not be much, if any, consolation to David. If the falsehood which he had told to Ahimelech was really dictated by a desire to save the high priest from conscious implication with his affairs - with the condition of one who was now an outlaw and a fugitive, it had failed most terribly of the desire defect. The issue of the lie only served to place David's duplicity in a more odious light. There is one thing in David, when he received the information, that we cannot but admire - his readiness to take to himself his full share of blame. "I have occasioned the death of all thy father's house." And more than that, he did not even protest that it was impossible to have foreseen what was going to happen. For at the very time when he was practicing the falsehood on Ahimelech, he owns that he had a presentiment of mischief to follow. "I knew it that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul." Nor did he excuse himself on the ground that the massacre was the fulfillment of the longstanding sentence on Eli's house He knew well that that circumstance in no degree lessened his own guilt, or the guilt of Doeg and Saul. Though God may use men's wicked passions to bring about His purposes, that in no degree lessens the guilt of these passions. It seems as if David never could have forgiven himself his share in this dreadful business. And what a warning this conveys to us! Are you not sometimes tempted to think that sin to you is not a very serious matter, because you will get forgiveness for it, the atoning work of the Saviour will cleanse you from its guilt? Be it so; but what if your sin has involved others, and if no atoning blood has been sprinkled on them? What of the youth whom your careless example first led to drink, and who died a miserable drunkard? What of the clerk whom you instructed to tell a lie? What of the companion of your sensuality whom you drove nearer to hell? Alas, alas! sin is like a network, the ramifications of which go out on the right hand and on the left, and when we break God's law, we cannot tell what the consequences to others may be! And how can we be ever comforted if we have been the occasion of ruin to any? It seems as if the burden of that feeling could never be borne; as if the only way of escape were, to be put out of existence altogether!
The superscription of the fifty-second Psalm bears - "Maschil of David; when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, David is come to the house of Ahimelech." There is not much in this title to recommend it, as the information that was given by Doeg to Saul is not stated accurately. We might have expected, too, that if Doeg was alone in the Psalmist's eye, the atrocious slaughter of the priests would have had a share of reprobation, as well as the sharp, calumnious, mischievous tongue which is the chief object of denunciation. And though Doeg, as the chief of Saul's bondmen, might be a rich man, that position would hardly have entitled him to be called a mighty man, nor to assume the swaggering tone of independence here ascribed to him. Whoever was really the object of denunciation in this psalm, seems however to have belonged to the same class with Doeg, in respect of his wicked tongue and love of mischief. It is indeed a wretched character that is delineated: the Psalmist's enemy is at once mischievous and mighty; and not only is he mischievous, but he boasts himself in it. He is shameless and without conscience, bent on doing all the evil that he can. Let him only have a chance of bringing a railing accusation against God's servants, and he does it with delight. But his conduct is senseless as it is wicked. God is unchangeably good, and His goodness is a sure defense to His servants against all the calumnious devices of the greatest and strongest of men. It is the tongue of this evil man that is his instrument of mischief. It is utterly unscrupulous, sharp as a razor, cunning, devouring. A liar is a serious enemy, one who is utterly unprincipled, clever withal, and who trains him- self with great skill to do mischief with his tongue. It is painful to be at the mercy of a calumniator who does not launch against you a clumsy and incredible calumny, but one that has an element of probability in it, only fearfully distorted. Especially when the calumniator is one that deviseth mischief, who loves evil more than good, to whom truth is too tame to be cared for, who delights in falsehood because it is more piquant, more exciting. To those who have learned to regard it as the great business of life to spread light, order, peace, and joy, such men appear to be monsters, and indeed they are; but it is a painful experience to lie at their mercy.
To this class belonged Doeg, a monster in human form, to whom it was no distress, but apparently a congenial employment, to murder in cold blood a very hecatomb of men consecrated to the service of God. No doubt it would appall David to think that such a man was now leagued with Saul as his bitter and implacable enemy. But his faith saw him in the same prostrate position in which his faith had seen Goliath. Men cannot defy God in vain. Men dare net defy that truth and that mercy which are attributes of God. "God shall likewise destroy thee for ever: He shall take thee .away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling-place, and root thee out of the land of the living. The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him."
What became of Doeg we do not know. The historian does not introduce his name again. Before David came to power, he had probably received his doom. Had he still survived, we should have been likely again to fall in with his name. The Jews have a tradition that he was Saul's armour-bearer at the battle of Gilboa, and that the sword by which he and his master fell, was no other than that which had slain the priests of the Lord. As for the truth of this we cannot say. But even supposing that no special judgment befell him, we cannot fancy him as other than a most miserable man. With such a heart and such a tongue, with the load of a guilty life lying heavy on his soul, and that life crowned by such an infamous proceeding as the massacre of the priests, we cannot think of him as one who enjoyed life, but as a man of surly and gloomy nature, to whom life grew darker and darker, till it was extinguished in some miserable ending. In contrast with such a career, how bright and how much to be desired was David's anticipated future: - "I am like a green olive-tree in the house of my God: I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. I will praise Thy name for ever, because Thou hast done it: and I will wait on Thy name, for it is good before Thy saints."
"Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about."