We are journeying through a series of sermons titled “The United Church - A Study of Ancient Israel”. These messages focus upon the roughly 120 year period from Israel’s original founding as a united nation until its separation into 2 distinct kingdoms. This took place from approximately 1050 BC to 930 BC.
As we read last week, the relationship between King Saul and his servant David had become hopelessly broken. It had deteriorated far past the point of rescue. Jonathan finally said goodbye to his dear friend, and David ran from Saul’s presence. For the next 10 years of his life, from roughly age 20 to age 30, David would be a fugitive. His flight would take him to various locations throughout southern Israel (Judah), into the neighboring nation of Moab, and even into the hated land of Philistia (including the Negev Desert).
During this phase of his life, David wrote several psalms. Some of these were general in nature and others were specific to his present circumstances. Most of David’s psalms do not provide any background information or context, but some of them (13 to be exact) do. It seems likely that Psalms 52, 54, 56, 57, and 63 were all written either during or about things that happened during the years when David was a fugitive. There may be other psalms besides these that would go in this category but remain unidentified. In all, David is credited with writing approximately 75 (or half) of the Psalms.
Today’s message covers 7 chapters in the Bible. It could easily be broken down into several segments, but for the purposes of this series we will combine this content into a single sermon. As such, I will have to summarize the events that took place during this time period. I urge you, as always, to take some time to read these passages in Scripture rather than just taking my word for it. My sermons are never intended to take the place of actually reading God’s Word. They are given to supplement or provide commentary for your daily Bible reading.
I. ON THE RUN (1 Samuel 21-22)
After saying farewell to Jonathan, likely near the king’s house in Gibeah, David escaped to the priestly city of Nob. This town was near Jerusalem and may have been the location of the Ark of the Covenant. Nevertheless, David arrived without any supplies or weapons for his journey. He urged the priests to help him. Because he did not have any regular bread to offer, Ahimelech gave David some of the consecrated bread that had been used in the synagogue. He also gave David the sword of the slain Philistine giant Goliath which had apparently been stored there. While David was hiding at Nob, he was seen by one of Saul’s servants - a man named Doeg.
David decided to journey into the country of Philistia, hoping to find refuge in the city of Gath. However, when he arrived he was not welcomed. King Achish’s servants recognized David as a valiant Israelite warrior. Fearing for his life, David pretended as if he was insane. King Achish thought that David was crazy and opted not to kill him. However, the king did ask David to depart from his presence.
David travelled to the caves of Adullam and hid himself inside. While there, many people including some of his family members, came to join him. In just a short span of time, David developed a following of about 400 men. From there, David and his supporters proceeded to the land of Moab, east of the Dead Sea, and stayed at Mizpah. Because the king of Moab was an enemy of King Saul, David figured they’d accept him. Sure enough, David found refuge in Moab for awhile. Eventually however, David sensed that God was calling him to return to Israel (the land of Judah). So David left his parents in Moab and went back. He and his men concealed themselves in the forest of Hereth.
Meanwhile, Saul’s servant Doeg reported to the king that he’d seen David while in the city of Nob. Even worse, Doeg told Saul that the priests there had given David food and supplies. The angry king summoned the priests of Nob and had all 85 of them killed. He also had his men destroy the city itself. One of the priest’s sons - Abiathar - escaped and fled to David and his men. He told David what had happened, and then joined the group.
II. A NARROW ESCAPE (1 Samuel 23-24)
While hiding in the forest, David learned that the Philistines had attacked the nearby city of Keilah. Risking exposure, David and his men left the forest and came to the rescue. When King Saul heard that David had delivered the people of Keilah he summoned men to go find him. Before they arrived, David retreated to the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul’s men searched desperately but were unable to find the elusive David.
Somehow Jonathan learned that David was located at Horesh. He went to meet secretly with his dear and forbidden friend. Sometime after their meeting, the locals sent word to King Saul that David was hiding among them. Saul and his men were dispatched to the area, while David ventured south to Maon. Saul’s men circled around one side of a mountain as David narrowly escaped on the other side. Just as it seemed that David would be captured, word came to King Saul that the Philistines had invaded. Saul broke off his pursuit in order to go confront the Philistines and David’s troop withdrew to Engedi.
After dealing with the Philistine threat, Saul again renewed his search and came to the region of Engedi where David had fled. On one particular occasion, the king ordered his men to stop while he went to use the bathroom. Saul entered a cave to relieve himself, not knowing that David was hidden inside. While he was “doing his business”, David quietly snuck up behind Saul and cut off a piece of his robe. After Saul left the cave and had gone away a short distance, David came out and shouted that he could have easily killed the king but chose not to. He held up the piece of cloth as proof. King Saul acknowledged that David was an honorable man and promised not pursue him any longer. The king and his men departed.
III. FINDING REFUGE (1 Samuel 25-27)
Sadly, news spread throughout Israel that the great prophet Samuel had died and been buried at Ramah. David and his men returned to the Wilderness of Paran, in the vicinity of Maon where they had stayed previously. While there, David’s company provided protection for several shepherds who worked for a wealthy businessman named Nabal. One day David sent a few messengers to Nabal to ask for provisions. Nabal treated them scornfully and sent them away empty-handed. David became angry at Nabal and decided to take action. Nabal’s wife Abigail learned of David’s plan and intervened on behalf of her husband. After listening to her pleas, David chose not to kill Nabal. However, a few days later Nabal died anyway. The new widow Abigail married David, thereby becoming his third wife. Michal, David’s first wife, was no longer with him but had been taken away by her father Saul sometime previously.
As they’d done once before, the citizens of Ziph alerted King Saul that David was again abiding in the area. Saul violated his truce agreement, gathered a small army of 3,000, and pursued David into the wilderness. One night, while Saul’s men were sleeping soundly, David and a friend quietly snuck into their camp. David tiptoed to the place where King Saul was sleeping. Rather than killing him in his sleep, David took Saul’s spear and left. After putting a safe distance between himself and the camp, David shouted loudly and woke the sleeping soldiers up. He displayed Saul’s spear and claimed that he could have easily killed the king yet again, but chose not to. Once more, Saul realized that David was a righteous man. The king apologized for chasing after him, and returned to his home in Gibeah.
David had heard Saul’s empty promises to leave him alone before, and decided to return to the land of the Philistines where he’d be safe. He arrived in the city of Gath, where Achish was still ruling as king. This time David did not have to pretend to be insane, because the Philistines now recognized that he was no longer siding with Israel. King Achish gave the city of Ziklag to David as a home. David and his men fought mightily on behalf of the Philistines, securing many victories in the Negev desert and elsewhere. David lived comfortably in Philistia for almost a year and a half.
David spent 10 years of his life running and hiding from the deranged King Saul. During this time, David had a few opportunities to kill the king. Instead, David repeatedly showed favor toward Saul and spared his life. Even though he was an enemy, David respected King Saul because he was God’s chosen leader. Perhaps in today’s highly charged political climate, we would be wise to show respect and civility to our leaders even if we don’t necessarily agree with their actions. David trusted in God’s protection more than he feared Saul’s jealousy.
There are numerous lessons to be found in these chapters, but we will conclude this morning by considering the big picture. In these passages David was on the run. He was trying to escape from someone or something that feverishly pursued him. Have you ever been there? Have you ever sensed Satan nipping at your heels and worried because you felt as if you were only one step ahead of him? Would you like to stop running once and for all? If you’ve never done so before, today you can find refuge by placing your heart and life in the mighty hands of Jesus.