Christian Churches of God
Saul Tries to Kill David
(Edition 1.0 20060819-20060819)
Saul told his son Jonathan and all his attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him. David has an opportunity to take revenge on Saul but he does not lift his hand against the Lord’s Anointed. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 89-92 of The Bible Story Volume IV by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
Saul Tries to Kill David
We continue on here with the story of Saul and David from paper (No. CB89).
Saul plots to get rid of David
Meanwhile, Saul had a growing fear, dislike and envy of David. It was increasingly clear to him that God was protecting David, and that he was destined to become Israel's next king. Regardless of what he thought God might do to him, Saul made it known to his servants, aides and officers that they should kill David whenever an opportunity came that would make the killing appear as an accident. He even made this an order to his son Jonathan, who respected and admired David. Saul should have realised that his son's friendship with David would mean that Jonathan would warn David that his life was in danger.
Jonathan did warn David that his father was looking for a chance to kill him. "Be on your guard tomorrow morning: go into hiding and stay there. I will stand with my father in the field where you are and I will speak to him about you”, Jonathan said (1Sam. 19:1-3, NIV).
Jonathan spoke well of David to his father and said, "Surely you wouldn't want to be responsible for the death of a valiant young man who has been so loyal to you – who killed Goliath after he had taunted your army for forty days. Why would you want to kill an innocent man?”
"You are right, my son," Saul finally spoke. “As surely as the Lord lives I promise you that David shall remain alive."
Jonathan told David what his father had said. David was later received in Saul's household as though everyone had always been the best of friends (vv. 4-7).
Shortly afterward the Philistines began another series of attacks on the Israelites. As usual, because of careful planning, brilliant battle strategy and brave leadership, David's troops were so successful in driving back the Philistines that David was again hailed as a national hero.
Once more Saul was consumed with envy. He was overcome by the evil spirit that had troubled his mind so often in the past when he had lost control of his emotions. He was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand, while David was playing the harp. Saul tried to pin him to the wall but David eluded him and the spear went into the wall. Once again David made his escape (vv. 8-10).
But Saul sent his men to David’s house to keep watch and then kill him in the morning. David’s wife warned him to escape that night because in the morning he would be killed. So Michal let David down through a window and he escaped (vv. 11-12).
Shortly afterward when Saul’s men came to capture David, Michal said, "My husband is ill".
Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them to bring him on his bed so he (Saul) might kill him. When they returned and glanced at the silent figure in bed, they discovered, to their embarrassment, that David wasn't there. Michal had cleverly arranged some objects under the blankets to give the appearance of a person in bed, thus giving her husband more time for escape (vv. 13-16).
Saul said to Michal, "What kind of a daughter are you to deliberately let my enemy escape?" he fumed.
Michal didn't know what to say, so in fear of her father she lied: "I had to let him go; he threatened me" (v. 17).
David reports to Samuel
Shortly after his escape, David arrived at Samuel's residence in Ramah. He related to the prophet all that had recently taken place between him and Saul.
Then David and Samuel went to Naioth, in Ramah. Saul soon heard of David’s whereabouts and sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul’s men and they also prophesied (vv. 18-20).
Saul was told about it and sent more men, and they too prophesied. When Saul heard what had happened to the second contingent, he sent a third, only to be advised later that they also prophesied. So Saul left for Ramah himself and went to the great cistern at Secu and asked the whereabouts of David and Samuel.
So when Saul went to Naioth the Spirit of the Lord came upon him also and he walked along prophesying. Saul removed his robes and prophesied in Samuel’s presence. Then he stayed a day and a night with Samuel in a worshipful, friendly mood, not realising that God had caused this attitude so that David could freely escape again (vv. 21-24).
David and Jonathan
David fled from Naioth at Ramah and hurried to visit Jonathan to try to find out why Saul was so eager to kill him.
"I'm sure he doesn't really want to kill you, for he always tells me what he’s going to do. Surely he would not hide something like this from me", Jonathan said (1Sam. 20:1-2).
"Of course you don’t know about it” David said. “Your father knows about our friendship and he would not want to tell you and so hurt you. The truth is that I am only a step away from death!”
“Tell me what I can do”, said Jonathan.
David replied, “Tomorrow it will be the New Moon, and I'll be expected to be present at the monthly feast. Your father will undoubtedly ask you where I am. Tell him that I've gone to be with my parents because of a special annual family meeting. If he is satisfied by that explanation, and isn't concerned because I'm absent, it will mean that I am wrong in believing that he wants me dead. But if he becomes angry when he learns I'm miles away, then you'll know that I am right because he will be so upset when he learns that I am safe from him."
"If I have spoken in such a manner that I have made myself out to be your father's enemy, then remain loyal to your father and protect him by running your sword through me!"
Jonathan replied, "Believe me, if I find that my father is truly scheming to take your life, I'll make every effort to inform you at once" (vv. 3-9).
"You won't be able to inform me if your father watches you closely," David said.
Jonathan led David out into an open field where they could be sure that no one would be listening to their conversation. There, Jonathan asked God to witness that he would do what was best for David. He probably realised by this time that David would succeed his father as Israel's leader. Jonathan asked David to promise him that he and his descendants would always be considered David's close and loyal friends. David was pleased to make the promise. He realised that Jonathan was willing to give up the prospect of becoming the next king of Israel. At Saul's death, under ordinary circumstances, Saul's son would naturally come into leadership (vv. 10-17).
Then Jonathan said, “Yes, you will be missed tomorrow when your place at the table is empty. The day after tomorrow, towards evening, go to the place where you hid before and wait by the stone of Ezel. I will come out and shoot three arrows in front of the pile as though I were shooting at a target. Then I’ll send a boy to bring the arrows back.
If I shout to him, “The arrows are on this side of you”, then you will know that my father is friendly toward you, and that you should return at once. If I shout to the boy, “The arrows are beyond you”, then you will know that it's God's warning to you to leave here immediately. Whatever happens, I trust that we'll always be the kind of friends who are guided by our God" (vv. 18-23).
Next day, when Saul and his court sat down to eat as was customary at the New Moon which was the beginning of the lunar months of God's calendar, Saul immediately noticed that David's chair was empty. He said nothing about it, nor did anyone else mention the matter. He thought perhaps that David was ceremonially impure.
The following day when David's chair was empty again Saul asked Jonathan, "Why hasn't David been here to eat with us these last two days?"
"David's people are observing a special annual family meeting," Jonathan replied. "His brother demanded that he be there so I told him to go ahead. The meeting with his family was very important to him."
By the time Jonathan had finished speaking, Saul's face had coloured with rage. He lunged to his feet and stared angrily down at his son.
"You offspring of a lawless woman!" he shouted. "Why have you become so friendly with David? Don't you realise that he is scheming to take the throne of Israel away from me? If I die, you'll never become king if you continue to be taken in by his evil plans. Go find him and bring him here so that he can be executed" (vv. 24-31).
"Why should he be executed?" Jonathan demanded as he stood up to squarely face his father. "Exactly what has he done to cause you to be so unreasonably angry?"
Jonathan's words sent Saul into an even greater rage. He hurled his spear at Jonathan, intending to kill him. Jonathan finally realised that his father really meant it when he said David must die. He knew that his father was capable of any rash move, and quickly leapt aside to escape what otherwise would have been instant death (vv. 32-33.)
Now it was Jonathan's turn to be angry, but with much more reason. He left the table in fierce anger and refused to eat all day, for he was hurt by his father’s shameful behaviour towards David (v. 34).
Next morning, as agreed, Jonathan went out into the field and took a young boy with him to collect his arrows. Jonathan told the boy to start running so he could find the arrows as he shot them. So, as the boy ran Jonathan shot an arrow beyond him but when he had reached it Jonathan shouted, “The arrow is still ahead of you, hurry and don’t wait”.
Jonathan knew that if David could hear him he would understand that he meant David should get away without delay.
So the boy quickly gathered up the arrows and ran back to his master. Then Jonathan told the boy to take his bow and arrows and go back to the city (vv. 35-40).
As soon as he had gone David came out from where he had been hiding. The men spoke only briefly to each other, knowing that they shouldn't risk being seen together, and that it was very dangerous for David to be seen under any circumstances. David fell on the ground before Jonathan, three times weeping. Both were moved to tears because they had to part, perhaps never to see each other again.
Jonathan told David to cheer up because they had made a covenant together and they would always be friends (vv. 41-42).
Three days after he had parted from Jonathan, David arrived with his men at the place called Nob. Hungry and weary David and his men sought out the place where priests were carrying on their duties before the Ark of God. David knew the head priest, Ahimelech, and came by himself to Ahimelech's door. When the priest saw who it was, he wondered why such a prominent Israelite should show up alone.
“Why are you alone?” Ahimelech asked (1Sam. 21:1).
David didn't want to tell the priest that he was running from Saul, so he quickly invented an explanation he hoped would be accepted. He was so intent on getting out of the country that he inclined to rely on his wits, in this case, instead of God, and so he lied.
"Saul has sent me on a mission," David told Ahimelech. "He wants no one to know about it, and I'm asking you to tell no one that you have seen me here. I have men with me on this mission, but they are waiting elsewhere. We would appreciate anything you can spare – especially bread. Five loaves would be a great help to us."
"We don't have any ordinary bread on hand," Ahimelech said. "We have loaves of bread from yesterday's shew-bread offering, but only we priests are to eat that.”
David said that the men had been kept from women, and the vessels were holy to have food in common as if it were sanctified.
So, since there was no other food available, the priest gave David the holy bread. It has been replaced that day with fresh bread (vv. 2-5).
It was not lawful for David to eat the shew-bread. However, it was given to him and his men to symbolise that the elect (or saints) of God would become elohim (or gods) at the resurrection, just like Messiah who is the first-born from the dead.
[As it turned out, Doeg, Saul's chief herdsman, was also there at this time for ceremonial purification.]
David then asked the Ahimelech if he had a sword. "We were sent in such a hurry on our mission that I had no time to get weapons for myself," David told the priest.
Ahimelech replied, "I have the sword of Goliath, the Philistine whom you killed in the valley of Elah. If you have need of the sword, you surely would be the one most entitled to it."
David said, "It is a very fine sword and I have great need of it" (vv. 6-9).
Then David hurried on, as he was fearful of Saul. He went to King Achish of Gath. But the king’s officers were not happy to see David there.
"Isn’t this the man who was proclaimed a great hero in Israel, and was given more credit for victory over us than even the king of Israel received?" they asked.
David heard these comments and was afraid of what King Achish might do to him so he pretended to be insane. He scratched on doors and let his spittle flow down his beard (vv. 10-13).
Finally the king said to his men, "Whoever this man is, get him out of here! Why does anyone assume that I need maniacs to entertain me? We already have enough of them around here."
"Take him outside the gates and see that he doesn't get back through them", Achish called to the departing guards. "I'll not provide food and shelter for the madman!" (vv. 14-15).
David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam, where his brothers and other relatives joined him. Then others also began coming – those who were in debt, or distress, or discontented. They gathered around David and he became the leader of about four hundred men (1Sam. 22:1-2).
Later, David went to Mizpeh in Moab to ask permission of the king for his father and mother to live there under royal protection until David knew what God was going to do for him. (They stayed in Moab during the entire period when David was living in the cave.)
One day it was made known to him, through the prophet Gad, who was close to God, that God didn't want him to stay away any longer, and that he should return to the territory of Judah. David obediently left and went to the forest of Hereth (vv. 4-5).
By this time Saul was in a growing state of irritation because of David's disappearance. He was hopeful that David was dead, but he knew that he couldn't rest until proof was brought to him. However, he received increasing rumours that David was still alive.
Shortly after David's return to the territory of Judah, a report came to Saul that David was hiding in a wooded area between Jerusalem and the Philistine city of Gath. At the time Saul was in Gibeah sitting under an oak tree playing with his spear, surrounded by his officers.
"Listen, you men of Benjamin!" Saul angrily shouted. "Have any of you ever heard of a thing known as loyalty? Do you think David will present you with the choice fields, orchards and vineyards of this country, besides putting each one of you in command of hundreds or even thousands of men as I have done! Is there one among you who has some deep concern for me, or have you all schemed with my son, Jonathan, to lead me into trouble with my enemy, David?" (vv. 6-8).
Then Doeg, the Edomite, saw an opportunity to please his leader, though at the same time he was taking a great risk in offering delayed information.
"When I was in the Tabernacle at Nob, I saw the priest, Ahimelech, giving bread to a man who could have been none other than David. Later, I saw the priest give him the sword of Goliath" (vv. 9-10).
The Israelite leader turned away from him and loudly ordered soldiers to hurry to Nob and bring Ahimelech and all his family of priests to Gibeah. Not many hours later these people were herded into Saul's presence.
"Why have you plotted against me by giving food and a weapon to David, my enemy?" Saul demanded of Ahimelech.
"Is there anyone among your servants who is as faithful as David your son-in-law?" Ahimelech asked. “He is the captain of your bodyguard and a highly honoured member of your household. This is not the first time I have consulted God for him. It is not fair of you to accuse me and my family in this matter, for we knew nothing of any plot against you.”
Before the astonished priest could say another word in his defence, Saul ordered his bodyguards to surround Ahimelech and all those who had been brought with him. "Kill every one of them here and now!" Saul commanded (vv. 11-17).
But the soldiers refused to harm the priests. Then the king said to Doeg, “Do it”.
So Doeg turned on them and killed them, eighty-five priests in all, all wearing their priestly robes. Then he went to Nob, the city of the priests, and killed the priests’ families, and also all the oxen, donkeys and sheep.
Only one man was known to have escaped the carnage. He was Abiathar, one of Ahimelech's sons who hadn't been taken to Gibeah to be slain with the other priests because he wasn't in Nob at the time. Somehow Abiathar learned where David was hiding and fled there to relate what had happened (vv. 18-20).
"When I was in Nob I well remember Doeg staring at me," David told Abiathar, "and I knew that there would be trouble as soon as he reported my being there to Saul. If I hadn't been so careless as to be seen by him, probably this terrible thing wouldn't have happened. I can't tell you how miserable I feel about it, but at least I can promise you refuge with us. My men and I will guard you with our lives" (vv. 21-23).
One day a report came to David that the Philistines were making occasional attacks on the town of Keilah in Judah. They were robbing the Israelites there of their autumn (fall) harvest of grain. David didn't feel inclined to idly stand by with his little army while this was taking place. He wanted to help. But before doing anything about the matter he prayed about it, asking if God would allow him to undertake such a perilous task.
“Go, to Keilah”, the Lord told David.
But David’s men were afraid and did not want to go to fight the Philistine army. "We are in enough danger hiding here in the forest," they pointed out respectfully to their leader. "If we go to Keilah we'll be exposing ourselves to Saul as well as the Philistines."
Once more David prayed, and the Lord again replied, “Go down to Keilah, for I will help you conquer the Philistines.”
Since David had been anointed and set aside to become king, he had a responsibility to protect Israel.
When David told this to his soldiers, they
went to Keilah and slaughtered the Philistines and took their cattle, and so
the people there were saved. Abiathar the priest went with
David, taking his ephod in order to get answers for David from the Lord (1Sam. 23:1-7).
Saul soon learned that David was at Keilah so he mobilised his entire army to march there and capture David and his men. But David learned of Saul’s plan and told Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod and to ask the Lord what he should do.
David asked the Lord if the men of Keilah would surrender him to Saul and if Saul would actually come.
The Lord answered, “He will come and the men of Keilah will betray you” (vv. 8-12).
Jonathan still a friend
So David and his men left Keilah and began roaming the countryside. Since Saul heard that David had escaped he did not go there after all. David now lived in the wilderness caves of Ziph.
One day near Horesh David received news that Saul was on his way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. Saul was continually hunting for David but the Lord did not let him find David. Jonathan now went to find David. He met him at Horesh and encouraged him (vv. 13-16).
"Don't be discouraged," Jonathan advised David during the conversation that followed. "My father won't succeed in destroying you, no matter how stubbornly he keeps on trying. I realise that you will be the next leader of Israel, and so does he, but his consuming envy prevents him from giving in. Just keep away from him, and with God's help this time of troublesome hiding will soon come to an end."
Having brought hope and comfort to David, Jonathan departed and returned home to Gibeah. Jonathan wasn't a traitor to his father. He was actually helping Saul by preventing him from harming David (vv. 17-18).
But now the men of Ziph went to Saul and betrayed David.
"If you'll follow us," they told Saul, "we'll lead you right to David's camp and even catch him for you."
"Well!" Saul exclaimed a little bitterly. "At long last people show up who want to help me! Go back and find out more about his movements and his possible hiding places in that area. When I know more about these things, I'll go after him. Meanwhile, I have no intention of chasing him all over Judah" (vv. 19-23).
The men of Ziph returned to their homes. But when David heard that Saul was on his way to Ziph, he and his men went even further into the wilderness. Saul later learned of this, and followed them there. He and David were now on opposite sides of the mountain.
When David found out that Saul's army was very close, he tried to escape. But God didn't intend that David would be captured. Just then a messenger arrived to inform Saul that the Philistine troops were raiding Israel again.
Annoyed and disappointed, Saul gave the order for his men to stop the chase and return to fight the Philistines. When David learned that Saul's army had departed, he and his men went to live in the caves of Engedi (vv. 27-29).
David spares Saul’s life
After Saul returned from his battle with the invading Philistines, he was told of David's latest place of hiding. Taking three thousand of his best-trained soldiers, he moved quickly into David's hiding area, stubbornly intent on searching every cave and ravine for his son-in-law.
At one point in the difficult search, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. As it happened David and his men were hiding far back in that very cave.
David’s men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said He could give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.”
Motioning to his men to stay where they were, David crept unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1Sam. 24:1-4).
Afterwards David’s conscience bothered him. "I should not have done it”, David said. God ordained Saul as our king, and it was wrong of me to do anything to him – even to cause him embarrassment."
Then his men understood what he meant, and said no more to him about killing Saul. And Saul left the cave and went on his way (vv. 5-7).
Then David went out of the cave and ran after Saul. "My Lord the King", he shouted. Saul turned to see who had addressed him. David bowed his forehead to the ground for a few seconds.
“Why have you listened to certain men who have told you that I am your enemy?" David loudly addressed Saul. "Today God caused you to go into this cave where I have been hiding, and I could easily have taken your life. Some of my men urged me to kill you, but I told them that I couldn't do such a thing because God had ordained you the ruler of Israel. Look at your robe. I could have slashed you as I slashed off this part of your garment I'm holding. Doesn't this prove that I have no intention of doing away with you, even though you have been hunting for my life?"
"Why do you go to such trouble to try to take my life?" David continued. "God knows that I haven't schemed to kill you, so what is your reason for being here with your soldiers? Your cause is really no greater than it would be if you were looking for a dead dog or pursuing a flea. Surely God isn't pleased, because He knows that envy has made you this way."
“May the Lord judge as to which of us is right and punish whichever one of us is guilty. He is my defender and he will rescue me from your power” (vv. 8-15).
"Are you really David, my son-in-law?" asked Saul a little suspiciously. Then he began to cry. He said to David, “You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil. You have proved that you aren't my enemy by not taking my life, even though God gave you the opportunity. Any other man in your place would have surely killed me. I trust that God will reward you for your goodness. David, I am aware that you are to become the next king of Israel. I want you to promise me now that you will do nothing to cut off my name in Israel, and that you won't destroy those of my family who come after me."
So David solemnly promised what Saul requested, whereupon the king promptly left. As David watched the men depart, he knew that Saul would continue to trouble him in spite of his expressions of regret (vv. 16-22).
A few days later word came that Samuel had died. David was very grieved, but he knew it would be unwise to attend the funeral because Samuel's death would cause Saul to feel freer to do away with David.
This Bible story continues in the paper David, Nabal and Abigail (No. CB91).