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Israel’s Most Wanted

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Samuel 21–24

David’s experiences as he fled from Saul remind us that adversity and opposition can challenge our commitment to the Lord. But they also afford us opportunities to act in gracious, unexpected ways that will make a lasting impact for the Lord.


David is now Israel’s most wanted fugitive. He’s running for his life from King Saul. And sadly, David is going to fail to demonstrate trust in the Lord. 

The opening scene here in 1 Samuel 21 finds David deceiving the priest Ahimelech at the city of Nob, where the tabernacle now resides. He doesn’t want to reveal that he’s running from Saul, so he claims to be on a secret mission. Then he asks for food for him and his men. 

The priest gives David the old bread from the tabernacle, which has just been replaced with fresh bread. David then asks for weapons in verse 8:  

“Have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.”

That’s another lie. 

Ahimelech offers David the sword of Goliath. Apparently, ever since David had killed Goliath, the giant’s sword had been kept in the tabernacle. But now that David is on the run, he welcomes this sword and says in verse 9, “There is none like [this sword].”

Listen, David is slipping here in his fear. He’s going to trust the sword of Goliath instead of God. 

And things only get worse as David flees to the Philistine city of Gath, Goliath’s hometown. Verse 10 tells us David flees to “Achish the king of Gath,” and people there recognize him.

Now why in the world would David go to a Philistine city—Goliath’s hometown—carrying Goliath’s sword? We don’t know what he is thinking, other than that he knows Saul would never look for him there. 

Realizing now that he’s been recognized as Israel’s hero and his life is in danger, we’re told in verse 13:

[David] changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.

David is pretending to be out of his mind. And evidently, he is convincing because the king says in verse 15, “Do I lack madmen?” In other words, “I have enough insanity around me; I don’t need anymore.” 

So, instead of killing David, they let him go. Ultimately, beloved, it is God’s grace that allows David to escape. Let me make the point that trusting the Lord in the past does not mean you will automatically trust the Lord in the present. It’s a daily decision to trust and obey.

David flees to the cave of Adullam in chapter 22. He’s discouraged, defeated, and alone, but let me tell you this: here in this cave, God is at work. We read in verses 1-2: 

And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. . . . about four hundred men.

Part of God’s solution for David’s despair is to show him the desperate lives of other people so that his eyes are off himself and focused on others who need his encouragement and leadership. That’s an important principle for anyone who is disheartened by circumstances. 

Verse 3 gives an indication that David is again trusting the Lord. He takes his parents to Moab for protection—remember, David’s great-grandmother Ruth was a Moabite—and says to the king of Moab, “Let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me.” This is a great statement of faith. David is still hated and hunted by Saul, but he is willing to wait for whatever God chooses to do. 

King Saul, on the other hand, is wandering farther from God. His heart is so filled with hate and paranoia that here at the end of chapter 22, he kills all the priests of Nob, whom he accuses of conspiring against him.

Chapter 23 opens with trouble in the city of Keilah. Verse 1 informs us that the Philistines “are robbing the threshing floors.” After the Israelites have planted, harvested, and threshed the grain, Philistine raiding parties take it all away.

When David hears of this, he attacks the Philistines and liberates this city. There is little time to celebrate because Saul finds out and comes after David. Verse 13 tells us David slips out of town, and he and his men hide away “in the wilderness of Ziph” (verse 15). 

While David is hiding, his good friend Jonathan, the king’s son, pays him a visit. He says something really interesting to David here in verse 17: “You shall be king over Israel . . . Saul my father also knows this.”

That’s what this is all about. Saul will not surrender to the will of God for his life—or for David’s life.

It’s not long before the Ziphites betray David to King Saul, and the chase is on again. In chapter 24, we are told that David finds another hideout “in the wilderness of Engedi” (verse 1). One author describes this area as “an oasis in the desert wilderness, where there were . . . waterfalls, lush vegetation, and countless caves in the rocky limestone cliffs.” 

At this point, something unbelievable happens. Saul has chosen three thousand men to search for David. Frankly, David is surrounded, and he and his men are hiding. Then, if you can imagine it, verse 3 says, “There was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself.” In other words, he is alone and totally vulnerable.

He has no idea David and his men are hiding in this same cave. And the men are whispering to David, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand’” (verse 4). They are ready to start singing, “God is so good.” But instead, “David arose and [quietly] cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.” He’s supposed to take Saul’s life, not a piece of his robe!

Even more surprising is verse 5: “Afterward David’s heart struck him.” In other words, his conscience convicted him of doing even that much to King Saul.

Learn this from David: One mark of growing in grace is a sensitive conscience; even the smallest offense becomes a weight too heavy to carry for long without confessing. David feels guilty for even touching the king’s robe. 

However, David confronts Saul to prove his innocence. Look at verses 8-9:  

Afterward David . . . went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’?”

“Look, I’ve got a piece of your robe. I could have killed you.” 

David says, “There is no wrong or treason in my hands” (verse 11). The result is surprising:

Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.” (verse 16)

Saul realizes how close he came to dying, and he is overwhelmed. He admits his sinful heart and returns home. Saul’s repentant attitude will not last long, though; he will be chasing David again in a matter of weeks.

Beloved, - following the Lord does not guarantee an easy path; in fact, it just might guarantee opposition and persecution. Let’s respond with unexpected grace, as David did. Let’s make it clear we are trusting the Lord and that our lives are in His hands.

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