Purpose of this lesson: to emphasize that attacking a special friendship did not alter David's attitude toward God or control him as a person. He refused to react to hatred by hating.
Though David was confident of King Saul's intent, Jonathan likely was not confident. Not until Jonathan's message would the matter be certain. Nor could the urgency of the moment be determined prior to Jonathan's news. Remember, these were not times of cans, plastic, or vacuum packaging. In times when almost everything was prepared from basic ingredients for immediate consumption, there was not a lot of preparation that could be made. One often prepared when he or she knew an existing need.
(1) David and Jonathan disagreed concerning King Saul's intent to kill David. However, their disagreement did not threaten their friendship relationship. (2) This was a traumatic, confusing time for both David and Jonathan. Each had to confront unbelievable realities. David's fleeing from Saul would involve major transitions for David. It is difficult for a person to believe he or she needs to make major transitions, and it is difficult for the person in actuality to make those transitions. Humans always find themselves hoping it will be unnecessary to make a major transition. The author gave a brief account of what must have been a major ordeal for both men.
When Jonathan informed David of his father's intention to kill David, both David and Jonathan knew David needed to leave the area immediately (1 Samuel 20:41,42). David left so quickly that he had neither provisions nor weapon.
Remember, immediately prior to this incident David's wife, Michal, saved David's life from King Saul's murderous intent (1 Samuel 19:11-17). David fled to the only place he felt any sense of security and safety--to Samuel at Ramah. Samuel was a revered leader in Israel even as an old man. Evidently the need for David to flee escalated quickly by their time frame and standards. David's options likely were limited by the power and influence of the King. Angering the people who controlled the power was dangerous, thus David's options increasingly would be limited. Anyone who was close to or knew Saul knew David had fallen from the status of trusted ally to the status of feared enemy. It was not physically healthy to aid the enemy of the King! Ahimelech proved that was truth even if the aid was given in ignorance of the King's anger!
The chronology of the recorded events in David's flight from King Saul is difficult to determine. Not all of the "whats," "whens," and "whys" can be determined. Rather than trying to reconcile all the events and happenings, your attention is directed to (1) the significance to David of the happening and (2) the effect of the happening on David. It is in noting David's reactions that you will understand the core reasons for David being a man after God's own heart. In noting these things you will see the things in David's character that appealed to God.
The events of 1 Samuel 21 give rise to a number of questions that the material does not answer. What is the chronological order of the recorded events? Why did Ahimelech give David the Bread of Presence (an incident Jesus' referred to in order to declare to the Pharisees they did not take into account everything--Matthew 12:1-8, especially note verses 3 and 4). Is either Abiathar or Ahimelech a priestly title at that time? Why was Doeg "detained before the Lord" at Nob, and what did that mean? Did David take Goliath's sword to Goliath's home town (Gath)? The entire class period could be spent trying to answer such questions with speculation. As far as the author of this material is concerned, that would be a pointless effort because it would not deal with the concern of the author of 1 Samuel. Focusing on David's reactions to traumatic events provides insights into the reasons David had a special relationship with God, and that understanding is of great value to anyone who wishes to be a person of faith.
As a general context for these events, note several things. (1) David, prior to his flight from King Saul, was an important military figure in Saul's government. (2) With David's flight from King Saul, David went from the height of influence and power in Israel to the depths of humiliation. (3) The land in which the women sang David's praises for his military victories against the Philistines became a place in which David was no longer safe. (4) King Saul confronted a dual problem: (a) the necessity of continuing to press his war with the Philistines; (b) the desire to pursue David as an enemy. Securing his position in Israel depended on Saul's victory over the Philistines and Saul's killing David. Thus Saul was not able to devote himself exclusively to one objective.
Help the class have a general context for the events. David's flight from King Saul did not occur in a vacuum. This was just one event of significance occurring at the moment. The Philistine conflict was very much alive at that moment and truly dangerous. If the King did not make sound choices, the tensions of that moment could quickly cost him his life. Of major concern to King Saul was maintaining his position as Israel's king, and doing such involved more than a single concern.
As David fled from Gibeah of Benjamin (Saul's home), he moved toward the southwest increasing the distance between him and Saul. As he left the territory of Benjamin, he passed by the city of Nob. Since the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines, Nob became the new city of the priests. The fact that the bread of presence was displayed there could indicate that at this time the tabernacle was located there. This city was near the area David left.
Nob was the city (we likely would call it a village) in which Israel's priests lived at that time. It seems to be the site of national worship at that time. It was located between Gibeah, King Saul's home, and Jerusalem--likely close to Jerusalem. Do remember at this time there was neither royal residence nor Jewish temple in Jerusalem. The royal residence for the king would not be built there until David's reign as King. The temple would not be built there until Solomon's reign as king.
Ahimelech the priest was visibly concerned that David was alone. It was customary for David to be leading a group of men. What was the significance of David being alone? David tried to reassure Ahimelech by declaring he was on a secret mission for the King. The men that commonly accompanied him would meet him at another place. Because the situation apparently arose suddenly, David needed food. Could Ahimelech provide him anything?
Ahimelech's physical reaction to David's appearance alone indicates the events of this visit were unusual. Perhaps Ahimelech knew the King distrusted David. Perhaps he realized it was a "no win situation." David tried to protect Ahimelech from accusations that Ahimelech favored David over Saul by the responses he gave Ahimelech.
The only bread Ahimelech had available was the holy bread--the 12 loaves that were replaced weekly to represent Israel's 12 tribes before God (Leviticus 24:5-9). This bread was to be eaten only by the priests. Ahimelech offered David this bread if his men had not had sexual intercourse. David assured Ahimelech that his warriors had not had intercourse (apparently this was a prerequisite for preparing for battle in Israel's military).
This is a difficult passage (verses 5 and 6) both to grasp in the Hebrew or to translate into English. Evidently Israelite soldiers were expected to abstain from sexual intercourse prior to a battle.
Having received the bread (five loaves, verse 3), David next asked for a weapon. The only weapon there was Goliath's sword (which David brought there as was customary), so David took Goliath's sword to arm himself.
It was customary for a soldier who achieved a significant victory to place a battle trophy before his God. David's victory over Goliath would qualify for this practice. (David gave Goliath's sword to the priests for this purpose). The point of this practice was to declare the superiority of your God over the God of your enemy (remember the events of 1 Samuel 4 and 5?).
Watching this entire incident was a man named Doeg, an Edomite. [Edomites were not Israelites (descendants of Jacob). They were descendants of Esau, Jacob's twin brother.] Why Doeg, an important servant in the King's service, was "detained before the Lord" at Nob is a source of considerable discussion. In the events to follow, the important matter is not "why" he was there, but the fact that he was there and witnessed Ahimelech's gift of bread and a sword to David.
Doeg will be a primary figure in an important future event. This informs us of how Doeg knew what happened.
The situation was so dangerous that David fled to the Philistines to the home town of Goliath. David, who had killed so many Philistine warriors beginning with Goliath, must flee the territory of Israel in an attempt to seek security among the Philistines. Some of the King's servants recognized David, partially were correct in their identification, thought David was Israel's king, wanted David arrested, and made David realize his enormous danger. When David understood the seriousness of his predicament, he "disguised his sanity." He pretended to be insane. He marked on the doors of the gate (likely the King's area). He drooled saliva down his beard.
The danger from King Saul had to be severe for David to flee to a city controlled by the Philistines. Remember, their combat was what we would call "hand to hand" contact. Though they had no capability of making or sharing pictures, David likeness would be known to the Philistines (1) by virtue of his victory over Goliath and (2) by the nature of combat at that time. David's battle success against the Philistines assured his notoriety among the Philistine people.
His insanity ploy worked! Achish, the Philistine King of Gath, had no desire to arrest David. This allowed David to escape Gath and continue his flight from Saul.
There was no way for David to "hide who he was" while in Gath. His only hope was to destroy the King's interest in him. If the King believed David was insane, David quickly lost his value as a prisoner.
For Thought and Discussion
The response will depend on the view and values of each student. Listen and use the information shared by the class to increase the interest of the class.
They realized David needed to leave the area if he were to preserve his life.
He left so quickly that he had neither food nor weapon.
The intent is to direct the class and teacher away from speculation about the answers to difficult inquiries and toward David's actions that provide insights into David's character and his love of God. The point is not that David was the perfect person who never made mistakes. The point is that David depended on God even when he made mistakes.
The Philistines destroyed Shiloh.
Ahimelech was concerned that David was alone.
It was a secret (and seemingly sudden) mission given to him by the King.
David first requested food. Ahimelech would provide some of the Bread of Presence to David's men if they had not had sexual intercourse recently.
David's second request was for a weapon.
Doeg, an Edomite, witnessed this incident.
David fled to the Philistine city of Gath.
David escaped Gath by pretending to be insane.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 5
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