Our reading today begins with David on the run from Saul. As we saw in Psalms 11 and 59, David has committed no wrong, yet Saul seeks his life. David comes to Jonathan and asks him why his father is after him (20:1). Jonathan reassures David that he is on his side, and believes that Saul will disclose his plans to him (v. 2 – see 19:1). Yet David fears that his father knows how close they are, and will keep his plans from Jonathan (v. 3). So David and Jonathan come up with a way for Jonathan to feel Saul out (vv. 4-23). Note the humility of David, referring to himself as “your servant” to the son of the king (v. 7, 8). In verses 13-15, Jonathan recognizes that God is giving the kingdom to David. In verse 23, Jonathan swears his loyalty to David.
We see in verse 26 that Saul assumes David is ceremonially unclean and therefore could not celebrate the new moon (see Num 28:11-15 for the celebration of the New Moon). In verse 27, Saul asks Jonathan where David is. He is unable to even speak his name, but instead calls him “the son of Jesse” (also in v. 30). Saul is so angry at Jonathan’s friendship with David that he insults his mother (v. 30). Saul, too, knows that God is giving the kingdom to David. Saul points out the obvious: that if David lives, Jonathan never inherits the throne (v. 31). In response, Jonathan demands to know what David has done wrong (v. 32). We see Jonathan’s heart: he is more concerned with what is right than with himself. And we see the opposite heart in Saul, who tries to kill his own son in an outburst of anger (v. 33).
So Jonathan honors his vow of loyalty to David, and signals David to run for his life (v. 37), telling him to make haste (v. 38). The scene is a touching one, with the friends weeping together, knowing that David cannot return until Saul is dead (v. 41). Jonathan knows that this is the only possible outcome, and reminds David that, when he is king, he has vowed to treat Jonathan and his family well (v. 42). In the ancient world, when a king was deposed, the incoming king would kill the previous kings whole family (as we’ll see later in the books of Kings) to remove any previously rightful heir, avoiding any dispute about who is the true king. David will be a different kind of king, though.
Chapter 21 begins David’s life as a fugitive. His first stop is Nob, which is where the priests resided (see 22:19). When the priest asks questions, David tells him that he is on a special task at the kings command (21:2). He tells him to keep it a secret, because David knows that both he and the priests would be in danger if anyone knew he was here. David asks for food (v. 3), but is told the only food is the bread that God commanded be set apart for the priests (v. 4). That means this is likely a Sabbath day (see Lev 24:5-9). The priest, however, is very willing to share it as long as David and his fictional men are ceremonially clean. David’s “how much more today” seems to confirm that this is a Sabbath day. This event is referred to by Jesus when He and His disciples are challenged by the Pharisees for picking grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees turned the Sabbath regulations into cold, outward acts, and Jesus tells them they are missing the point of the Sabbath. Thankfully for David, Ahimelech the priest understood the Sabbath.
In verse 7, we see that one of Saul’s servants, Doeg, saw what transpired. Note first that this servant was not an Israelite, but an Edomite. Note also that he was “detained before the Lord,” which means that he was likely completing some cleansing sacrifice after being unclean. We will see in the next chapter that this religiosity is feigned. David fled in such haste that he took no weapons with him. Providentially, the sword with which David won his greatest victory was with the priests (v. 9). David takes the sword and makes a bold move by fleeing to the Philistine city of Gath (Goliath’s hometown!) to hide from Saul (v. 10). Note that the Philistines, knowing of his victory against Goliath and hearing of his many military exploits, think that David must already be king in Israel (v. 11)! David plays the part of a madman so as not to be attacked by the people of Gath (v. 13).
Psalm 34 is believed to have been written by David after fleeing to Gath, and providentially being rejected by them without being killed. We have seen the humility of David throughout the narrative in 1 Samuel, even though he has been anointed as king by God. As we see here, this is because his boast is in God alone (34:2 – see 2 Cor 10:17). This is the key to humility. David praises God for being a God Who hears the prayers of His people, and answers those prayers (v. 4, 6). David seeks the Lord (v. 4), looks to the Lord (v. 5), and fears the Lord (v. 7). And He has been delivered by God time and time again. Therefore, God is his refuge (v. 8), a common theme in the Davidic Psalms. David again sings of fearing and seeking God (vv. 9-10). Regardless of his earthly circumstances, David has obeyed God and sought to do good. This is the fear of the Lord (vv. 11-14). God judges the wicked (v. 16), but His providence guards the righteous (v. 15) and He hears their prayers (v. 15, 17). Again, it is the humble who are saved (v. 18). And this does not mean that they will not suffer in the world (v. 19), but they will ultimately be redeemed and never condemned (v. 22).
Psalm 56 is also believed to have been written following the events of 1 Samuel 21. In this Psalm, David focuses on that earthly suffering he sings of in Psalm 34:19. God wants us to give Him our troubles in prayer. And David has troubles! Just imagine: the greatest prophet in Israel comes to your home and tells you that you are to be king. The king’s son pledges his allegiance to you. You have already won a great victory for your people and they very clearly want you as their king. And yet you are on the run from a mad man.
David must have felt like the attacks just don’t end (56:1). The prideful seem to oppress the humble (v. 2). All David has is God (v. 3). Note that just because David’s fear is the Lord (Psalm 34:7, 9, 11), that does not mean that he is never afraid of earthly circumstances (56:3), but he never loses his trust in God (v. 4). We have all felt what David feels here. He is afraid, but when he focuses on God, he is not (see Psalm 34:4). And when we get our eyes off of God and back onto our circumstances, we again become afraid.
In verses 5-6 David recounts what Saul has done to him. And he knows that ultimately, He Who judges rightly will not forget his sin (v. 7). David knows that God has been with him every step of the way (v. 8), like He is with all who believe. God is for us; who can be against us (vv. 9-11)? Note the refrain of verse 4 and 11. We all need to remind ourselves of this over and over and over again! And David ends with thanksgiving to God because, despite his outward circumstances, God has preserved his life, and is with Him (vv. 12-13). God is with you, my friend!