What or who do you turn to in trouble or hardship? Why?
1 Samuel #19. God as Refuge 1 Samuel Chapter 21
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The excitement, adventure and romance of David’s life are not over yet – not by a long shot. So I encourage you to take to hear the message of these true stories. When something grabs your attention, shocks you, or stirs your heart, pause and ask the Lord to speak to you through it. Pay attention to how the Lord is appealing to your heart through the life of David. I trust that you can and will continue to do that, even when we move through the text a little more pedantically.
We left David just after he made a daring midnight escape, assisted by his young wife. He fled to the tabernacle of the Lord, which was being kept at a place called Nob, outside of Jerusalem. In fact, Nob was probably located at the place we now call the Mount of Olives. We are so used to thinking of the biblical capital city of Israel as Jerusalem, but Jerusalem at this time was controlled by foreigners known as Jebusites. David, at the time of his escape, was in Saul’s home-town, Gibeah, which was north of Nob.
The logical thing for David to do first was to stop at his home in Bethlehem, just a few miles further on from Nob. There, it is certain that his family would supply him for a longer journey. However, by stopping at Nob, even though it was on the way, David probably delayed long enough for Saul’s men to get to Bethlehem before him – any reasonably smart person would assume that David would go there first. In other words, by stopping, David gave up his chance to go home and get certain help from people loyal to him by blood. So why did he go to Nob and give up that up?
We can certainly speculate about the answer to that question. He might have been afraid that Saul would punish his family. Even so, there is no reason Saul wouldn’t punish them anyway, because Saul could not have been sure that David had not, in fact, been to Bethlehem. Perhaps David was being cunning, and staying away from places he’d be expected. That’s definitely a possibility, but I think we can learn the real answer from the words of David himself.
1 O God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You.
I thirst for You;
my body faints for You
in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
to see Your strength and Your glory.
1 I am at rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from Him.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)
For David, God was his family. He was the most important family, and the most certain help in times of trouble. Even though David went far beyond most of his contemporaries in his relationship with God, we need to remember that in those days, worship was oriented at the tabernacle. The presence of God was believed to be most real there. And before the time of Jesus, there was something unique and special about the tabernacle (and later, the temple). And so David was faced with a choice. He could go into exile and hiding without ever seeing his family again, or without ever worshipping at the tabernacle again. He chose God over his family. He couldn’t stand the thought of leaving without spending one more time in the presence of God in a special way.
In addition, he saw the Lord as a very real help in times of trouble. And so he chose to seek whatever help he might get from the Lord, trusting in the Lord’s help even more than the certain assistance he would have received from his family. Besides what we know of David’s heart from the psalms, the confirmation is also given in the next chapter. In 1 Samuel 22:10 we learn that David “inquired of the Lord” while he was there.
From verse 2 onwards, David refers to companions who are with him. So apparently a few people loyal to him went along when he fled. If we read this in isolation, we might think that David was embellishing the story for Ahimelech, the chief priest. In fact, Jesus refers to this very incident, and confirms that David had some men with him.
Another thing we notice in this text is that David tells a lie. He claims to be on a mission for Saul. I’m ashamed to say that when I first read this, I excused this behavior, because after all, he was fleeing for his life. But David’s lie leads to an awful slaughter, later on. The priest Ahimelech, and almost his entire family, were later murdered by Saul for helping David. Now Ahimelech, had he known the truth, may still have chosen to help David. But in that case, his death would have been the result of his own choice. As it was, David, by his lie, made the choice that led to the tragedy later on. It may seem harsh to point out that David sinned here. But you see, David had the right to risk his own life. He did not have the right to deceive someone else into risking his own life, and the lives of his wife and children. He ought to have given Ahimelech that choice by telling him the truth.
The priest gives David and his men some of the holy bread. In the tabernacle, (and later, in the temple) there was a table that held twelve loaves of bread. This was called the “bread of the presence.” The twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel, sitting in the presence of the Lord. Each week, the priests baked twelve fresh loaves, and took the old ones off. Those old loaves were supposed to be eaten only be the priests and their families, since they were consecrated and considered holy. Ahimelech makes the choice to give some of this consecrated bread to David and his men. 1000 years later, Jesus officially approved this action. He taught that this incident demonstrates that the goal of worship activities is to bring us closer to God – not to serve empty religion and mindless tradition.
In addition to the bread, David obtains the sword of Goliath. Obviously, at some point, he had given it to the priests. This again shows us something about David’s heart. He never looked at his victory over the giant as his personal success. It was God’s victory, on behalf of the entire nation. So he placed the sword in the Lord’s sanctuary, so that all who worshiped could see a physical reminder of God’s power and grace and care for his people.
However, at this point his life, David needs a weapon. So he takes the sword back. It must have done the same thing for him that it did for the worshipers. It would have reminded him of how the Lord cared about him, and fought his battles for him.
After this David fled to the only place he thought he could be safe from Saul – to the Philistines. Once again, we are limited by writers who did not take the time or sheepskin for complete explanations about what happened, or what David could possibly have been thinking. It’s true that now David was Saul’s enemy. As the old saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy, is my friend.” And so he may have expected the Philistines to welcome him. In addition, war in those days was conducted very differently. There were often rules and even a kind of etiquette. It is possible that it would have been very bad form to kill an enemy when you met him away from the battle field; even more so if he came to your town of his own free will.
Even so, David seems to have overlooked the fact that he has killed thousands of Philistines in battle. Though they did not immediately kill or imprison him, the Philistine leaders felt pretty sour about their king welcoming the man who had killed so many of their soldiers and friends. They reminded the king of this, and David realizes that he is not in a good position. So he pretends to be insane until they let him wander off and escape once more.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this part of David’s tumultuous life is his attitude and heart through it all. It is true that he failed and gave in to fear by lying to Ahimelech. But through the rest of it, his heart remained steadfast, trusting in God alone for help. He wrote a psalm shortly after he escaped from the Philistines. Considering his circumstances, what he wrote is remarkable. Here is part of it:
1 I will praise the LORD at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will boast in the LORD; the humble will hear and be glad.
3 Proclaim Yahweh’s greatness with me; let us exalt His name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him from all his troubles.
7 The Angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.
8 Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him! 9 You who are His holy ones, fear Yahweh, for those who fear Him lack nothing. (Ps 34:1-9, HCSB)
Let’s listen to the Lord for what he would say to us through 1 Samuel 21. Consider some of these questions:
Where do you run to when you are in trouble? Who, or what do you see as your most reliable help in trouble? Is it to the Lord? If not, why not? Take heart from David’s example, and let it encourage you to consider the Lord your best and most certain help. Learn from David that seeking the Lord is even more important than any other kind of assistance you might find.
Maybe your temptation is to cave in to fear, like David did when he lied. His lie had awful consequences. We don’t get to know what would have happened if he had told Ahimelech the truth, but it could hardly have been any worse than what did happen. Maybe the Lord is calling you to be honest in a situation where honesty could ruin a relationship or at least get you in trouble. But before you do, remember the awful consequences to dishonesty.
And what reminds you of God’s power, grace and help given to you in the past? What can encourage you like Goliath’s sword encouraged David? Take a few minutes now to listen to the Lord.