But the servants of Achish said to him, "Is this not David, the king of the land? Did they not sing about him in their dances, saying: 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands'?"
1 Samuel 21:10-15. (GATH)Genesis 12:12; Exodus 30:11, 22; 1 Samuel 16:2; Matthew 26:72). It was felt by David when he fled from Saul; and still more when recognised by the servants of Achish, king of Gath, and brought before him. To avoid what appeared to him inevitable death he feigned madness, and his dissimulation (though no more reprehensible than the stratagems which many others have devised in great straits) was unworthy of his high character. Notice -
I. ITS PRINCIPAL CAUSES.
1. Distrust of Divine protection, which he had already exhibited. If he had not, to some extent, "cast away his confidence," he would hardly have come to Gath at all; for God could assuredly protect him in his own]and. And now, deprived of "the shield of faith," he became victim to a fear as great as the courage he had formerly displayed.
2. The failure of worldly policy, which, through lack of faith, he had adopted. Like Peter, he went whither he was not called to go; and when his folly and presumption were suddenly revealed he was overwhelmed with dismay. His failure was, in its ultimate result, good; for, although he had no intention of turning his sword against his people, it prevented further entanglements arising out of his relation with his enemies, humbled him, and constrained him to cry to God for deliverance. It is better for a good man to be driven forth from the wicked in contempt than to be retained amongst them in honour.
3. The presence of personal danger; doubtless great, but exaggerated, as it always is, by fear. He that seeketh his life shall lose it. How common is the fear of man, arising from similar causes, in social, political, and religious life!
II. ITS INJURIOUS iNFLUENCE (ver. 13). The intercourse of David with Saul may possibly have suggested the device; which, moreover, was not an inappropriate expression of his inward agitation and misery. Fear -
1. Fills the mind with distracting anxiety and distress. He whose faith fails is no longer himself. He is driven hither and thither, like a ship upon the open sea (Luke 12:29).
2. Incites to the adoption of deceitful expedients. "The fear of man bringeth a snare" (Proverbs 29:25).
3. Exposes to ignominious contempt (ver. 15). "Signally did David show on this occasion that he possessed two of the powers most essential to genius - powers without which he could never have become the great poet he was - the power of observation and the power of imitation. He must previously have noticed with artistic accuracy all the disgusting details of madness; and now he is able to reproduce them with a startling fidelity. And in the possession of these powers we may, I think, find not an excuse for, but certainly an explanation of, that tendency to deceit, which otherwise it would be hard to account for in so holy a person. When a man finds it an easy and pleasurable exercise of ability to throw himself into existences alien to his own, he is tempted to a course of unreality and consequent untruthfulness which can hardly be conceived by a more self-bound nature. But if genius has its greater temptations, it also has greater strength to resist them. And the more godlike a genius is, the more unworthy and humiliating are its lapses. What more debasing sight can be imagined than that which David presented in the king's palace at Gath! Fingers which have struck the celestial lyre now scribble on the doors of the gate. From lips which have poured forth divinest song now drops the slaver of madness. The soul which has delighted in communion with God now emulates the riot of a fiend. And all this not brought on by the stroke of Heaven, which awes us while it saddens, but devised by a faithless craft" (J. Wright).
III. ITS EFFECTUAL REMOVAL by -
1. The overruling goodness of God, which often delivers his servants from the snares they have made for themselves, and sometimes mercifully controls their devices to that end; and (as we learn from the psalms which refer to the event) in connection with -
2. Earnest prayer for his kelp, and -
3. Restored confidence in his presence and favour. Faith is the antidote of fear. The following is an approximation to the chronological order of the eight psalms which are assigned by their inscriptions to the time of David's persecution by Saul: 7. (Cush) 59., 56., 34., 52., 57., 142., 54. (Delitzsch). See also the inscriptions of Psalm 63, and 18. Psalm 56, 'The prayer of a fugitive' (see inscription): -
"Be gracious unto me, O God...
"I will bless Jehovah at all times ....
Then came David to Nob.
I. THE STEPS OF DAVID'S DECLENSION. The first sign of what was impending was his remark to Jonathan, that there was but a step between himself and death (1 Samuel 20:3). Evidently his faith was beginning to falter; for nothing could have been more definite than the Divine assurances that he was to be king. The winds and waves were more daunting than the promise of God was inspiring. Perchance David relied too absolutely on what he had received, and neglected the daily renewal of the heavenly unction (John 1:33, 34; 1 John 3:24). Next he adopted a subterfuge, which was not worthy of him, nor of his great and mighty Friend. Late in the afternoon of the day preceding the weekly Sabbath, the king's son-in-law arrived, with a mere handful of followers, at the little town of Nob, situated among the hills about five miles to the south of Gibeah. Probably the great annual convocations had fallen into disuse, and the path to the simple sanctuary was only trodden by occasional visitors, such as Doeg, who came to pay their vows, or be cleansed from ceremonial pollution. There was, evidently, no attempt made to prepare for large numbers; the hard fare of the priests only just sufficed for them, and the presence of two or three additional strangers completely overbalanced the slender supply; there were not five loaves of common bread to spare. It was necessary to answer the questions, and allay the suspicions of the priest; and David did this by pleading the urgency of the mission on which his royal master had sent him. But a chill struck to his heart whilst making these excuses to the simpleminded priest, and enlisting his willing cooperation in the matter of provisions and arms, as he saw the dark visage of Doeg, the Edomite, "the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul." He knew that the whole story would be mercilessly retailed to the vindictive and vengeful monarch. Ten miles beyond lay the proud Philistine city of Gath, which at that time had sent its champion forth in all the pride of his stature and strength. What worse fate could await him at Gath than that which threatened him each hour he lingered within the limits of Judah! He therefore resolved to make the plunge. Not a little to his dismay, and perhaps on account of Goliath's sword hanging at his belt he was instantly recognised; and the servants of Achish recalled the refrain, which had already awoke the jealousy of Saul. He was instantly regarded with hatred, as having slain his ten thousands. He saved himself by descending to the unworthy subterfuge of counterfeiting the behaviour of a madman.
II. THE PSALM OF THE SILENT DOVE. At first sight we are startled with the apparently irreconcilable discrepancy between the scenes we have just described and the 56th Psalm, the inscription of which associates it with them. Closer inspection will reveal many resemblances between the singer's circumstances and his touching words. First stanza (1-4). — He turns to God from man; to the Divine mercy from the serried ranks of his foes, who, surging around him, threaten to engulf and swallow him up. Thus he climbs up out of the weltering waves, his feet on a rock, a new song in his mouth, the burden of which is, "I will not be afraid." Second Stanza (5-9). — Again, he is in the depths. The returning wave has sucked him back. His boast changed to a moan, his challenge to complaint. Yet as we condole, we hear the voice of faith again ringing out the positive assurance, "I know that God is for me," and again the old refrain comes back. Third Stanza (10-13). — There is no further relapse. His heart is fixed, fruiting the Lord; the vows of God are upon his head. And now, as once again he regains the sunny uplands, which he had so shamefully renounced in his flight from Gibeah to Nob, from Nob to Gath, from Gath to feigned insanity, he is sure that henceforth he will walk before God in the light of life. Truth, purity, joy, shall be the vesture of his soul.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES TO AHIMELECH. A child of God may be forgiven and restored, yet the consequences of his sin may involve sufferings to many innocent lives. So it was in this instance. Doeg took the opportunity of ingratiating himself in the royal favour, by narrating what he had seen at Nob. He carefully withheld the unsuspecting innocence and ignorance of the priest, and so told the tale as to make it appear that he and his house were accomplices with David's action, and perhaps bent on helping David to gain supreme power. By one ruthless act, the entire priestly community was exterminated. There was but one survivor, for Abiathar escaped, carrying the ephod in his hands; and one day, to his horror, David beheld the disheveled, blood-besmeared form of the priest, as he sped breathless and panic-stricken up the valley of Elah, to find shelter with the outlaw band in the Cave of Adullam. We shall hear of him again. Meanwhile, let children of God beware! Sin is bitter to the conscience of the sinner and in its consequences upon others.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
PeopleAchish, Ahimelech, David, Doeg, Elah, Goliath, Saul
PlacesGath, Nob, Valley of Elah
TopicsAchish, Dances, David, Didn't, Isn't, Saul, Saying, Servants, Sing, Slain, Tens, Thousands
Outline1. David at Nob obtains Ahimelech's hallowed bread
7. Doeg is present
8. David takes Goliath's sword
10. David at Gath feigns himself insane
Dictionary of Bible Themes1 Samuel 21:11
1656 numbers, combinations
LibraryHistorical Criticism of Mediæval Amplifications.
But along with the genuine and trustworthy matter, the compiler has embodied much that is unattested and in many cases inherently improbable, and even some things that are demonstrably untrue. i. The Miraculous Details.--To the category of the improbable--the fiction of hagiology or the growth of myth--belong the miracles so freely ascribed to Ephraim and the miraculous events represented as attending on his career. It is noteworthy that Ephraim himself, though no doubt he believed that he was …
Ephraim the Syrian—Hymns and Homilies of Ephraim the Syrian
The Exile Continued.
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