The Bible Story
Volume 4, Chapters 90-99
David's Faith Wavers
SAUL and some of his troops had come to Naioth in Ramah. Their intention was to capture David at Samuel's college.
But God made it easy for David to escape by causing a changed and devout state of mind to come over Saul and his men, insomuch that the Israelite leader and his soldiers joined in sacred services and spent many hours at the college in friendly fellowship. (I Samuel 19:18-24.)
Jonathan -- a True Friend
David safely returned to his home to happily surprise his wife, who had been released after having been arrested by some of Saul's soldiers. David hurried to visit Jonathan to try to find out why Saul was so eager to kill him.
"My father falls into a bad mood whenever he has one of those terrible periods of depression," Jonathan told David. "But he doesn't stay that way long. I'm sure he doesn't really want to kill you when he is in his right mind. If he had planned to do away with you, surely I would know about it." (I Samuel 20:1-2.)
"Most of your father's plotting against me has taken place during his sanest hours," David said. "And he doesn't always confide in you, as you'll find out soon when you'll have serious trouble with him because of me. Even tomorrow this could happen. It will be the new moon, and I'll be expected to be present at the monthly feast. Your father will undoubtedly ask you where I am. Tell him that I've gone to be with my parents because of a special annual family meeting. If he is satisfied by that explanation, and isn't perturbed because I'm absent, it will mean that I am wrong in believing that he wants me dead. But if he becomes angry when he learns I'm miles away, then you'll know that I am right because he will be so upset when he learns that I am safe from him."
"I don't understand how you can be so certain," Jonathan commented, shaking his head. "When my father returns from Naioth you'll probably find him friendly."
"Perhaps I've made too many harsh remarks about your father," David said apologetically. "If I have spoken in such a manner that I have made myself out to be your father's enemy, then remain loyal to your father and protect him by running your sword through me!"
"You're becoming a bit dramatic in this matter, David," Jonathan grinned. "Believe me, if I find that my father is truly scheming to take your life, I'll make every effort to inform you at once." (I Samuel 20:39)
"You won't be able to inform me if your father watches you closely," David said.
For an answer, Jonathan led David out into a broad, open field where they could be sure that no one would be listening to their conversation. There Jonathan asked God to witness that he would do what was best for David. He had a feeling that David would succeed his father as Israel's leader, and he asked David to promise him that Jonathan and his descendants would always be considered David's close and loyal friends. David was pleased to make the promise. He realized that Jonathan was willing to give up the prospect of becoming the next king of Israel. At Saul's death, under ordinary circumstances, Saul's son would naturally come into leadership. (I Samuel 20:10-17.)
"After my father returns, we must use strategy in contacting each other," Jonathan told David. "Go visit your family if you wish, but come back in three days and hide among those boulders over there. I'll come out just three days from now for archery practice. After shooting three arrows, I'll send a boy to bring them back. If I shout to him, 'The arrows are on this side of you,' then you will know that my father is friendly toward you, and that you should return at once. If I shout to the boy, 'The arrows are beyond you,' then you will know that it's God's warning to you to leave here immediately. Whatever happens, I trust that we'll always be the kind of friends who are guided by our God." (I Samuel 20:18-23.)
Next day, when Saul and his court sat down to eat as was customary at the beginning of the lunar months of God's calendar, Saul immediately noticed that David's chair was empty. He said nothing about it, nor did anyone else mention the matter. He could only hope that something fatal had happened to David, and that he would never see him again.
The following day there was another special meal. Again David's chair was empty. Though it was one of only four chairs at the main table -- for Saul, Jonathan, Saul's commander-in-chief Abner and David -- no one spoke of David because of realizing that Saul would be irritated by the mere mention of the name. A sudden question from Saul brought a hush to the spirited conversation around the main table.
"Why hasn't David been here to eat with us these last two days?" he asked Jonathan, making every effort to sound casual while he was being consumed with a gnawing curiosity.
"David's people are observing a special annual family meeting," Jonathan replied, also striving to be casual. "You weren't here when he wanted to go, so he asked me for leave. I knew that you surely wouldn't deny his going for a visit to his parents' home near Bethlehem. The meeting with his family was very important to him."
By the time Jonathan had finished speaking, Saul's face had colored with rage. He lunged to his feet and stared angrily down at his son.
"You offspring of a lawless woman!" he shouted. "Why have you become so friendly with David? Don't you realize that he is scheming to take the throne of Israel away from me? If I die, you'll never become king if you continue to be taken in by his evil plans! Go find him and bring him here so that he can be executed!" (I Samuel 20:24-31.)
"Why should he be executed?" Jonathan demanded as he stood up to squarely face his father. "Exactly what has he done to cause you to be so unreasonably angry?"
Jonathan's words sent Saul into an even greater rage. He whirled to seize his javelin, a short spear, which was leaning against the wall. With great force he threw it, intending to run it through his son. Jonathan knew that his father was capable of any rash move, and deftly leaped aside to escape what otherwise would have been instant death. (I Samuel 20:32-33.)
Now it was Jonathan's turn to be angry, but with much more reason. He strode out of the building, leaving shocked members of the court and dinner guests glancing in fear and embarrassment at Israel's leader, who was trembling with wrath because David had obviously escaped and because his son would not share his feelings in the matter. (Verse 34.)
"Rush men to Bethlehem to seize David if he is at his parents' home there!" Saul growled at Abner, his commander-in-chief.
Several hours later, mounted soldiers returned to report that David was not at his parents' home, and that neither his parents nor his wife could give any information about where he had gone.
"He could be floating down the Euphrates River by now!" Saul exclaimed sourly. "On the other hand, he could be trying to throw us off his trail by hiding in or near Gibeah. Search the whole town for him!"
Next morning Jonathan took his archery equipment and went with a boy out into the boulder-strewn field where he presumed David was hiding under some thicket. He shot two arrows at a target he had set up, and motioned for the boy to go after them. As the lad ran, Jonathan sent another arrow far beyond the target.
"My third arrow is far beyond the other two!" Jonathan shouted to the boy. "Hurry and find it! We don't have much time today for practice!"
Jonathan knew that if David could hear him he would understand that he meant David should get away without delay. He carefully but casually looked around as he walked slowly among the boulders and bushes, but saw no sign of his friend. He had to cease searching when the young helper ran up to him.
"Here are your three arrows, sir!" the boy panted. "Good work!' Jonathan praised him. "That will be all for today because I have remembered other things I must do. Take my bow and my quiver of arrows back to my quarters, and I'll pay you later today for a full morning's work." (I Samuel 20:35-40.)
As soon as the jubilant boy had departed, Jonathan was happily startled to see David squirm out of some bushes and hurry toward him. David bowed respectfully three times, inasmuch as he regarded Jonathan worthy of the full respect one should show to a prince, even though the two young men were close friends. They spoke only briefly to each other, knowing that they shouldn't risk being seen together, and that it is very dangerous for David to be seen under any circumstances. Both were moved to tears because they had to part, perhaps never to see each other again.
"Hurry away from here before someone sees you!" Jonathan warned. "Remember our pledge that we shall always be friends, and may God protect you!" (I Samuel 20:41-42.)
Help from the Priests
With a final wave David disappeared among the bushes and boulders. Jonathan walked back to the streets of Gibeah to pass groups of soldiers moving from building to building in a frantic search for David.
Moving stealthily southward into the land of Judah by night, David came to the homes of several men who had been his trusted soldiers. There he received food and lodging. Because of their special devotion to David, some of the men joined him in his escape journey so that they might help protect him from those who would be hoping to capture or kill David and earn the rewards Saul was offering. David and his men then headed northwestward.
Three days after he had parted from Jonathan, David arrived with his men at the place called Nob, in the city of Kirjath-jearim, about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. It was here that the ark rested many years after it was returned by the Philistines -- until David became king. (I Samuel 7:1-2; I Chronicles 13:5-7.)
Hungry and weary when they arrived at Nob, David and his men sought out the place where priests were carrying on their duties before the ark of God. David knew the head priest, Ahimelech, and came by himself to Ahimelech's door. When the priest saw who it was, he wondered why such a prominent Israelite should show up at night alone.
"Welcome to this place," Ahimelech greeted David, "but where are your aides? Surely a man of your renown in Israel is not traveling about without attendants." (I Samuel 21:1.)
David didn't want to tell the priest that he was running from Saul, so he quickly invented an explanation he hoped would be accepted. He was so intent on getting out of the country that he inclined to rely on his wits, in this case, instead of God.
"Saul has sent me on a secret mission," David told Ahimelech in a low voice. "He wants no one to know about it, and I'm asking you to tell no one that you have seen me here. I have men with me on this mission, but they are waiting elsewhere. We are traveling light and rapidly, moving through the country seeking food when we are hungry. We would appreciate anything you can spare -- especially bread. Five loaves would be a great help to us."
"We don't have that much ordinary bread on hand," Ahimelech said. "We have many loaves of bread from yesterday's shew-bread offering, but only we priests are to eat that. However -- perhaps it wouldn't be wrong to give some sacred bread to men who need it to keep alive, provided they have been conducting themselves as godly men."
"My men and I have been hiding for the last three days so that we wouldn't be recognized," David explained. "There hasn't been much opportunity for them to be the kind of rogues you have in mind. And besides, the bread is in a manner common because the day on which it was sacrificed has ended." (I Samuel 21:2-5.)
Ahimelech seemed satisfied. He asked one of the many priests there under his leadership to bring bread for David, who stood off to one side so that he wouldn't be noticed by anyone at the sanctuary. One man, however, having come to the place earlier for a purification ceremony, took notice of David.
In the Enemy's Land
That man was Doeg, Saul's chief herdsman, an Edomite who was in charge of many men who worked on the Israelite leader's cattle ranches. Just then a priest appeared with the bread for David, who took it and hurried out with only the briefest of thanks. Doeg stared after him.
"That man leaving looks just like David, Saul's son-in-law!" he exclaimed to Ahimelech. "What could he be doing here by himself?"
"They say that most everyone has a double," the priest shrugged, being careful to be honest and at the same time trying to protect David. "This man came in desperate need of food. Would David have to do that at a place like this? This man has a short beard, and David is known to be always shaven."
Doeg left without saying anything about the matter, but the priest could tell by his shrewd expression that the herdsman was about convinced that the man was David. A little later Ahimelech was surprised to find David at the door again.
David wanted to leave hurriedly, but couldn't. "We were sent in such a hurry on our mission that I had no time to get weapons for myself," David told the priest. "We need weapons for defense. Do you have any you could let us have?"
"We have no use for arms here," Ahimelech pointed out, "but the sword of Goliath has been brought here as a reminder to worshippers that God delivered our people again from the Philistines through you. If you have need of the sword, you surely would be the one most entitled to it."
"It is a very heavy weapon, as I well know," David said. "But it is a very fine sword and I have great need of it." (I Samuel 21:6-9.)
After obtaining the sword, David returned to his hiding companions, who were still munching on the bread he had brought them earlier. When they saw that he was carrying Goliath's sword, they were greatly impressed by it, but they felt that it had little value as a weapon because it was so burdensome.
"I have a reason for carrying it," David disclosed to them. "Saul would never think of looking for us in the Philistine city of Gath. We'll go there without danger of being jailed or killed because the sight of this sword should command plenty of respect for us from the people of Goliath's home town. And very likely the king of Gath will befriend us since Saul now seeks my life."
David's men were dismayed at the plan. They remained with him until they reached Gath at Philistia. Then they told him that it would be a risk of life to enter the city.
"I won't ask you to go with me." David told them. "Stay here out of sight and wait to see what happens. If I don't send for you within a day, you'll know that I've been wrong in this matter."
Attired in his best clothes, and with his sprouting beard neatly trimmed, David strode up to the gate of Gath with Goliath's sword over one shoulder. Soon he had attracted a crowd of onlookers, including some city magistrates. To these David announced that he would like to be taken to Achish, the king of Gath. The magistrates knew that the king would be curious to see the bearer of Goliath's sword, and soon David was presented to Achish. Just as the king was beginning to ask questions, one of his officers who recognized David apologetically and excitedly broke in.
"Sir, this man is the Israelite David who killed our champion, Goliath!" the officer declared. "Don't you recall how he was proclaimed a great hero in Israel, and was given more credit for victory over us than even the king of Israel received?"
"This is the man?" Achish muttered, scowling slightly. Achish's scowl was one of curiosity rather than of anger. The king had no intention of harming his visitor, but David thought that his expression and actions indicated that he was about to order his guards to seize him and put him to death. (I Samuel 21:10-12.) Under the pressure of being sought by Saul, David had lately resorted to deceitful means, but in this situation he almost outdid himself. He was so filled with fear that he could think of only one thing that might save him. He fell to the floor and began to writhe and drool as though mad!
Bible Story Book Index
DAVID had come to the Philistine city of Gath to escape being killed by Saul's soldiers. He hoped the Philistine king would befriend him. Because he carried Goliath's sword, he was able to gain an audience with Achish, the ruler. Achish intended to treat him civilly, but his manner was a bit gruff. Believing that Achish was about to order his death, David sought a quick way to save himself. He began to act insanely. (I Samuel 21:10-13.)
Achish and the members of his court stared. Then the king settled back in his chair as his mouth tightened and his brows furrowed in irritation.
"Whoever this man is, get him out of here!" he commanded, vigorously waving both arms. "I want an explanation from the ones who brought him here! Why does anyone assume that I need maniacs to entertain me?"
Guards rushed at David to seize him and carry him from the room.
>From Palace to Cave!
"Take him outside the gates and see that he doesn't get back through them!" Achish called to the departing guards. "I'll not provide food and shelter for the madman!" (I Samuel 21:14-15.)
While he was being dragged through the streets David continued to pretend that he was crazy by struggling madly and muttering senseless phrases. As he was taken outside the walls he snatched up a sharp stone and made a long scratch on the planks of the gate.
Disgusted with his actions, the guards yanked David off his feet, tossed him into a nearby clump of short bushes and retraced their steps, banging the massive gates shut behind them.
As soon as he was alone, David scrambled out of the bushes and trudged off to where his men were faithfully waiting. Not wanting to add to his embarrassment, they said nothing as he walked up to them.
"Obviously I was wrong to think that I could stay in Gath," David said to them. "But who can say for certain that God had no part in this? Possibly he directed us here so that we would escape being discovered in some other place."
"If we must return to Canaan, I have a suggestion, sir," one of the men spoke up. "There are many pits and caves in the limestone area a few miles east of here across the plain at the base of the mountains. If we could reach one of the more obscure caves, we might be able to hide there for a long time."
David welcomed this idea. At the risk of being seen as they crossed the broad plain, they hurried to the nearby Judean mountains, where they found a good-sized cave, at Adullam, on a steep western slope close to a spring. It was a hideout that afforded them a good view of the surrounding territory, though it couldn't be seen very well from a distance.
The Oppressed Look to David In the next few days it became increasingly difficult to obtain food. Deer were scarce in that area. And David wasn't in the habit of eating squirrels or rabbits because he knew that God had told the ancient Israelites that people shouldn't eat rodents. (Leviticus 11.) A few clean birds and wild goats downed by arrows were about all the men had to eat. Although he didn't want even his family to know where he was, David finally, in desperation, chose one of his men to go to Bethlehem to obtain food from Jesse, his father.
About three days later one of David's group excitedly reported that a party was approaching from the north. David ordered his men to spread out and hide in various spots so that they couldn't be surrounded in the event the approaching figures turned out to be one of Saul's searching parties.
Suddenly David realized that the oncoming group included his father, mother, his brothers' and sisters' families and the man he had sent after food! He leaped out of his place of concealment and ran down the slope to happily embrace them. (I Samuel 22:1.)
"Why are you here?" he anxiously asked. "Saul has been threatening your family and friends," explained the man who had gone after food. "They insisted that I tell them your whereabouts so that they could join you to escape the death that Saul promised them soon unless they should tell where you are. Saul thinks they have been hiding you, and his men have searched their homes many times."
Several persons had come besides David's family, but each one brought his share of food, clothing and practical utensils. And most had managed to bring a few animals. Working together, the little band of people soon turned the cave and some nearby smaller caverns into a fairly livable area.
David hoped that his family hadn't been followed, but later that day several men were seen approaching from the north. Everyone went into hiding, but the oncoming figures had already seen people near the cave, and boldly kept drawing nearer. At a signal from David, his men rushed out and closed in on the newcomers, who made no move to resist.
"We're friends!" one of them declared. "We're not Saul's soldiers or spies, but oppressed people like yourselves. We followed David's family here at a distance because we guessed that they would be going to join him. We have come along to help make up an army for David! We are helpless without his leadership."
These well-equipped soldiers were obviously sincere. David recognized at least one of them as formerly being among his troops. After questioning them, he was satisfied that it was safe to welcome them to camp in nearby caves. Obviously, word of David's whereabouts had leaked out.
This was only the beginning of visitors. In the next few days all kinds of people arrived, though it was a mystery how they all learned where David was hiding. Some came because they felt that David should replace Saul as the leader of Israel. Some were fleeing from oppressive creditors. Others were seeking refuge from the injustice of Saul's law. Discontent, prompted by many causes, was driving hundreds of men to join David because he was considered an outcast and an underdog of great ability whom they wanted as a leader. (I Samuel 22:2.)
"This can't go on," David told his family and his trusted men. "It's a miracle that Saul hasn't been here with an army before this. We must pack up and Move out of here as soon as possible. We will take as many as possible of the people with us, even though a few of them are thieves and murderers and want to use me and my trained men for protection. I'll pick about four hundred men who are of good character, strongest and best trained. Then we'll leave."
One day soon afterward David and his four hundred chosen men, along with their families, quickly packed and moved off to the southeast. The first day's hike into and over the mountains was so difficult that most of the unwelcome and less ambitious dropped out. David's aging parents had the advantage of riding on donkeys. To avoid being trapped by Saul's army, David sent scouts and runners in all directions, to warn him of approaching danger.
Refuge Among the Gentiles
Next night the band hid in a deep ravine and moved on again when daylight arrived. After a few more periods of resting and hiding, the marchers rounded the southern end of the Dead Sea and arrived at a range of low mountains fringing the southeast coast of the Dead Sea. Moving to the top of the range, they encamped at an ancient stronghold called Mizpeh. This spot was so difficult to reach that it was about the safest place they could go to near Canaan.
Leaving most of his men and their families at this hideout, David traveled with his family and a few soldiers a few miles further eastward to the capital of the nation of Moab, where he asked for an audience with the king. (I Samuel 22:3.) The king was puzzled as to why a prominent Israelite leader should be coming to visit him. He couldn't help recalling that bit of his nation's history about 280 years previously when another leading Israelite had come to bring gifts to Eglon, who had been the Moabite ruler and Israel's oppressor at that time. Ehud, the visiting Israelite judge, had planted a dagger deep in Eglon's belly. (Judges
Nevertheless, the king of Moab graciously welcomed David. He was aware that the young Israelite had earned the reputation of being an honest and dependable man as well as a valiant one.
"I am aware that you consider it strange that I should seek a favor from the leader of a nation that has long been an enemy of Israel," David addressed the Moabite king. "Possibly you know, through your private sources of information, that I'm trying to escape being killed by Saul's men. Even my father and mother have been threatened with death, but they escaped and are here with me now. They are very old and aren't safe anywhere in Canaan, so I've brought them here to ask you to give them refuge till I see how God will settle this matter between Saul and me." (I Samuel 22:4.)
"Ruth, who long ago married your great grandfather Boaz, was also an ancestor of mine," the Moabite king finally spoke after an interval of thoughtful staring at David. "You and I are related, and I am not exactly displeased with that relationship. Bring your parents to me, and I shall see that they are well cared for."
After making certain that his mother and father were comfortably housed, and after expressing his thanks to the king of Moab, David hastily returned to the four hundred men he had left at the hideout. There he stayed for a time, probably for several weeks or months. There were upland meadows to feed their small flocks and herds. Also, clean game was temporarily plentiful in this high ridge country to help keep everyone in good health.
But it wasn't God's will that David should indefinitely remain hidden. Otherwise, Saul might have continued on and on as Israel's leader, and the people would be inclined to think of David as one who had given up because of fear or guilt.
One day it was made known to him, through the prophet Gad, who was close to God, that God didn't want him to stay away any longer, and that he should return to the territory of Judah and camp in a forested region of Hareth a few miles southwest of Hebron. David obediently, but secretly, returned with his four hundred men to the designated place in his homeland. (I Samuel 22:5.)
Ruled by Emotions
By this time Saul was in a growing state of irritation because of David's disappearance. He was hopeful that David was dead, but he knew that he couldn't rest until proof was brought to him. He offered generous rewards for such proof, but all he received were increasing rumors that David was still alive. However, no one could or would say where he was. This was maddening to Saul, who realized more and more that he was contending with an element of people who were in sympathy with David.
Shortly after David's return to the territory of Judah, a report came to Saul that David was hiding in a wooded area between Jerusalem and the Philistine city of Gath. Saul knew that this might be nothing more than false information meant to send him off in the wrong direction. But he was so excited that he ordered a number of officers and aides to assemble before him in a field near Ramah. Here Saul and a detachment of soldiers were camped, ready to go after David as soon as they learned his whereabouts. There Saul reprimanded his men for a supposed lack of loyalty to him.
"Listen, you men of Benjamin!" Saul angrily shouted from within the shade of a tree. "Have any of you ever heard of a thing known as devotion? If you have, probably you're saving it for David. Do you think David will present you with the choice fields, orchards and vineyards of this country, besides putting each one of you in command of hundreds or even thousands of men as I have done! Is there a one among you who has harbored some deep concern for me, or have you all schemed with my son, Jonathan, to lead me into trouble with my enemy, David?" (I Samuel 22:6-8.)
Saul's men stood around in embarrassed silence, realizing that their leader was in one of his reasonless moods, and that his emotional charges were generally groundless. Among those present was Doeg, Saul's chief herdsman, an Edomite, a descendant of Jacob's twin brother, Esau. (Genesis 25:19-26; Genesis 36:1, 8.) Doeg the Edomite saw an opportunity to please his leader, though at the same time he was taking a great risk in offering delayed information.
"I would have reported this sooner to you, sir," Doeg said after stepping before Saul, "but I was never quite sure that I could believe my own eyes. Weeks ago, when I was in the tabernacle at Nob, I saw the priest, Ahimelech, giving bread to a man who could have been none other than David. Later, I saw the priest give him the sword of Goliath." (I Samuel 22:9-10.)
"You tell me now!" muttered Saul heatedly. For a few moments Doeg felt that all of Saul's wrath would be directed to him. Then the Israelite leader turned away from him and loudly ordered soldiers to hurry to Nob and bring Ahimelech and all his family of priests to Gibeah. Not many hours later these people were herded into Saul's presence.
"Why have you plotted against me by giving food and a weapon to David, my enemy?" Saul demanded of Ahimelech.
Crime of Saul and Doeg
"I wasn't aware that David was your enemy," Ahimelech answered. "I've always thought of him as obedient, loyal and honorable. I trust that you don't feel that I or anyone else with me is responsible for any trouble you are having with David."
"Don't try to squirm out of this!" Saul growled at the priest. "I know that you plotted with David, as have many others, to dethrone me! You are guilty of treason, and the penalty for treason is death!"
Before the astonished priest could say another word in his defense, Saul ordered nearby infantrymen to surround Ahimelech and all those who had been brought with him. "Kill every one of them here and now!" Saul commanded.
Some of the soldiers reluctantly moved up at the first part of the command, but the order to kill the priests was too much for them. They feared their leader, but they feared God more. Saul's face grew livid as he glowered at his soldiers. It was all he could do to conquer a savage urge to rush in among them with the spear he clutched. (I Samuel 22:11-17.)
As Saul gazed angrily about, he realized that his chief herdsman, Doeg, was among the onlookers who had come to Gibeah. With Doeg were several of his underlings, all armed.
"Doeg!" Saul thundered. "If you want to live to hold your position, step up here with your men and slaughter everyone who has been brought from Nob!"
Doeg instantly reasoned that if he failed to obey, Saul would do away with him. He jerked his sword out of its scabbard, nodded to his men and all of them rushed to slash down Ahimelech and all those who had accompanied him. Saul's men looked on in dismay while the Edomites accomplished their grisly task, but none of them had the courage to interfere.
Little did Saul and Doeg realize that their hideous crime was the fulfillment of prophecy. God had warned Eli the priest that his family, even in succeeding generations, would suffer greatly for his having defiled the priesthood. (I Samuel 22:18; I Samuel 2:22-36.)
Later, as Saul shamelessly surveyed eighty-five dead priests and the dead of most of Ahimelech's family, another barbarous thought entered his mind.
"You have done well," he told Doeg, "but this isn't the end of the matter. I want to show what will happen even to the cities, towns and villages where Israelites dwell who are disloyal to me. Go up to Nob with your men and kill every person you find there, no matter how young or how old! Besides, I want you to destroy all livestock! Leave nothing alive!"
"But there are about three hundred people left in that town, sir," Doeg pointed out. "Most of them would escape before my few men could reach them."
"Then pick up more men on the way!" Saul commanded. "I'll supply you with extra weapons, and you do the rest! I'll make it worth your trouble."
That night Doeg, his men and some lawless, money-baited recruits crept silently into the unwalled town of Nob.
Bible Story Book Index
David Vagabond King!
TO TRY to impress on Israel that death would befall anyone who gave aid to David, Saul ordered the execution of the priests of Nob, although only Ahimelech, the high priest, had helped David. Saul then sent the executioners, led by Doeg the Edomite, to kill all the other people in the little priestly town. (I Samuel 22:18-19.)
Slaughter Without Pity
Doeg and the men arrived at night to quickly fall on the unsuspecting families of the slain priests in their homes. After they had cruelly disposed of the people, Doeg's servants and other hired assassins slaughtered all the livestock in or near the town.
Only one man was known to have escaped the barbarous carnage. He was Abiathar, one of Ahimelech's sons who hadn't been taken to Gibeah to be slain with the other priests because he wasn't in Nob at the time. Somehow Abiathar learned where David was hiding and fled there, with sacred objects and vestments, to relate what had happened. (I Samuel 22:20; 23:6.)
"When I was in Nob I well remember Doeg staring at me," David told Abiathar, "and I knew that there would be trouble as soon as he reported my being there to Saul. If I hadn't been so careless as to be seen by him, probably this terrible thing wouldn't have happened. I can't tell you how miserable I feel about it, but at least I can promise you refuge with us. My men and I will guard you with our lives." (I Samuel 22:21-23.)
Shortly before Abiathar joined David, a report had come that the Philistines were making occasional attacks on the town of Keilah in Judah not far from the forest of Hareth. They were robbing the Israelites there of their fall harvest of grain. David didn't feel inclined to idly stand by with his little army while this was taking place. He wanted to help. But before doing anything about the matter he prayed about it, asking if the God of Israel would allow him to undertake such a perilous task.
By some means -- possibly through Abiathar -- David learned that God would permit him to take his men to defend Keilah. But when David informed them of what he intended to do, they showed very little enthusiasm.
"We are in enough danger hiding here in the forest," they pointed out respectfully to their leader. "If we go to Keilah we'll be exposing ourselves to Saul as well as the Philistines. We could end up between two armies and be wiped out."
The men weren't refusing to go, but they felt that they would be so outnumbered and outmaneuvered that the effort would be in vain. Once more David prayed, this time asking the Eternal to help him -- something he probably should have done in the first place. God made it known to him that He would make it possible for David and his men to succeed. When David told this to his soldiers, who by then numbered about six hundred, their attitude changed so much that they became eager to go after the enemy. (I Samuel 23:1-4.)
David Rescues the Helpless
Keilah was a walled town where the inhabitants could live in comparative safety, but the threshing floors were outside the walls. After the grain threshers had come out and worked a while, Philistines hiding in nearby grain fields would attack the workers, seize the grain and rush away. The marauders would also take any grazing livestock they could catch.
As David and his men cautiously topped a rise on their march to Keilah, they saw the walled town in the distance. But something more interesting was much closer. Camped in a ravine out of sight of Keilah was the company of Philistines responsible for making the hit-and-run attacks!
There wasn't time to make any special preparations for a charge, because Philistine lookouts, stationed at high spots on both sides of the ravines, had already seen the approaching Israelites and were shouting an alarm. David quickly separated his company into two parts and sent them racing down the steep sides of the ravine to block the Philistines from escaping at either end. Bottled up almost before they could move, the hundreds of enemy troops fell before the confident Israelites in a bloody battle that didn't last very long. (I Samuel 23:5.)
Some of David's men carried the stolen grain back to Keilah. Others herded back the livestock. The inhabitants of Keilah were spared from what otherwise would have been a long period of hunger, followed by an eventual attack by the enemy that would have destroyed them and their town. In spite of the help they had been given, they seemed a bit backward in allowing David and his men to come into Keilah. It was plain to David that they were fearful of what Saul would think.
It wasn't long before Saul learned what had happened. He welcomed the news that David and his men were staying in Keilah. This meant that Saul had only to surround the town with his army and close in at will with catapults, battering rams and a vastly superior number of soldiers. It didn't matter very much to Saul if he had to destroy a whole town of Israelites in order to get David.
Realizing that he and his men (weren't exactly welcome, David asked Abiathar, who had accompanied him, to inquire of God if the people of the town would turn against him (if Saul should besiege Keilah. The answer from God was that the people would do anything to save themselves and their town from an attack by Saul. David didn't wait for Saul's army to show up. He wisely left to avoid unnecessary trouble, taking his men southwestward to camp in a forested, mountainous region at Ziph, south of the city of Hebron in Judah. This was just a few miles east of David's old hiding place in the forest of Hareth. (I Samuel 23:7-15.)
Just as Saul set out for Keilah with an army of thousands, he learned that David and his men had left the town. There was no way of knowing, at the time, where he had gone, and Saul was furious. He sent bands of men into most parts of Judah, but they were unsuccessful in finding the elusive young Israelite.
Jonathan Still a Friend
A few days after departing from Keilah, David was informed that a small group of men was approaching the camp. David sent men to ambush the group and bring the prisoners to him. To his astonishment he found that his soldiers had brought in his friend Jonathan with a few trusted bodyguards. (I Samuel 23:16.)
David was very happy to see Jonathan, who had carefully slipped out of sight of his father's spies to bring encouragement to his friend to whom he had pledged loyalty. (I Samuel 20:42.)
"Don't be discouraged," Jonathan advised David during a long conversation that followed his arrival in the wood. "My father won't succeed in destroying you, no matter how stubbornly he keeps on trying. I realize that you will be the next leader of Israel, and so does he, but his consuming envy prevents him from giving in. Just keep away from him, and with God's help this time of troublesome hiding will soon come to an end."
Having brought hope and comfort to David, Jonathan departed a few hours later to return home to Gibeah by a devious route so that Saul's informers wouldn't have a correct clue as to where he had been. Jonathan wasn't a traitor to his father. He was actually helping Saul by preventing him from harming David. (I Samuel 23:17-18.)
The movements of David and his small army were observed by several people who lived in the rugged region south of Hebron. Hoping to gain a reward by making a report, they went to Saul with their information.
"If you'll follow us," they told Saul, "we'll lead you right to David's camp!"
"Well!" Saul exclaimed a little bitterly. "At long last people show up who want to help me! May God bless you for your efforts. But I'll need more information before I take my army off in pursuit of that crafty fellow again. By the time we would get there, he would probably be elsewhere. Go back and find out more about his movements and his possible hiding places in that area. When I know more about these things, I'll go after him. Meanwhile, I have no intention of chasing him all over Judah." (I Samuel 23:19-23.)
The disappointed informers returned to their homes without the rich rewards they thought they would receive. They had to be satisfied with relatively minor tokens from their king. Their reports would really have been of little value to Saul, because David and his men had already moved south a few miles along a mountain ridge. Saul later learned of this, and though he had said that he wouldn't pursue David by risking a futile march, he ordered his army off to the south.
When David found out that Saul's army was very close, he hid his men on the most obscure side of a mountain. Informers then told Saul where David had gone, and Saul rushed in pursuit to that particular mountain, but no one was in sight on the side he approached.
"If that foxy rebel is near this mountain," Saul observed, "then he must be on the other side. If that's the way it is, then we'll out fox him by dividing forces and swinging around both shoulders of the mountain!" (I Samuel 23:24-26.)
If Saul's orders had been carried out, David's army would have been trapped between two companies of soldiers. But God didn't intend that such a thing should happen. Just as the troops were about to start out to encompass the mountain from two directions, a messenger arrived to inform Saul that Philistine troops were pouring into Canaan from the west.
Vexed and disappointed, Saul gave the order for his men to rejoin in one company and set off to the northwest to contact the enemy. If he had known for certain that his quarry was on the other side of the mountain, he undoubtedly would have ignored the Philistines, for a time, in order to at last overtake and destroy David. (I Samuel 23:27-28.)
David Spares Saul
When David learned that Saul's army had departed, he led his men northeastward to hide in caves in rough country close to the west shore of the Dead Sea. (I Samuel 23:29.) Several days later, after Saul had succeeded in chasing the invading Philistines back to the west, he was told of David's latest place of concealment. Taking three thousand of his best trained soldiers, he moved quickly into David's hiding area, stubbornly intent on searching every cave and ravine for his son-in-law.
At one point in the difficult search among hot boulders and gulches, Saul became so weary that he told his officers that he wanted to lie down in some cool spot and refresh himself with a few minutes of sleep. Some of his aides went inside a nearby cave that appeared to be rather small, and having satisfied themselves that it was a safe place, they suggested Saul rest there. Saul went inside by himself, leaving the main body of his troops resting in shaded spots while some of his officers and aides sprawled out not far from the mouth of the cave.
Soon the Israelite king fell into a deep sleep that would have been impossible if he had known that David was so close. The cave was much larger than his light-blinded aides had estimated. It cut far back into the cliff, and in its dark recesses David and some of his soldiers were silently observing Saul!
"This is unbelievable!" some of them exclaimed to their leader. "You have spent months escaping from him, and now he stumbles into your power. Surely God has made this possible so that at last you will be able to treat him as he wishes to treat you!"
Motioning to his men to stay where they were, David walked quietly toward the mouth of the cave and gazed down on the man who had caused him so much trouble. With his sword he could have put an instant end to his persecutor. Instead, he stooped down and used his sword to carefully slice off the lower part of Saul's robe. (I Samuel 24:1-4.)
"If that's all you're going to do to him," some of David's men angrily exclaimed as he returned to them, "then let us take care of the matter properly!"
"No!" was David's firm but quiet answer as he looked thoughtfully at the piece of cloth. "Suddenly I feel that I have done a childish thing. After all, God ordained Saul as our king, and it was wrong of me to do anything to him -- even to cause him embarrassment."
Then men understood what he meant, and said no more to him about punishing Saul, although most of them would have welcomed the opportunity to vengefully whack the king over the head with a spear. They watched in bitter silence as Saul roused himself, stretched, got to his feet and walked out of the cave. (I Samuel 24:5-7.)
Abruptly David broke away from his men and ran after him. "King Saul!" he shouted. Saul turned to see who had addressed him, but he failed to recognize David, who fell to his knees and bowed his forehead to the ground for a few seconds.
Why have you listened to certain men who have told you that I am your enemy?" David loudly addressed Saul. "Today God caused you to go into this cave where I have been hiding, and I could easily have taken your life. Some of my men urged me to kill you, but I told them that I couldn't do such a thing because God had ordained you the ruler of Israel. Look at your robe. I could have slashed you as I slashed off this part of your garment I'm holding. Doesn't this prove that I have no intention of doing away with you?"
Saul looked down at his robe, and for the first time noticed that part of it was missing. He stared back at the piece David held, seemingly too perplexed or surprised to say anything. Behind him his men had leaped up for action, and were poised to rush at David. Saul glanced back and held up a hand to restrain them.
"Why do you go to such trouble to try to take my life?" David continued. "God knows that I haven't schemed to kill you, so what is your reason for being here with your soldiers? Your cause is really no greater than it would be if you were looking for a dead dog or pursuing a flea. Surely God isn't pleased, because He knows that envy has made you this way!"
Not until then did Saul begin to recognize David, who had become stronger and quite tanned. (I Samuel 24:8-15.)
"Are you really David, my son-in-law?" queried Saul a little suspiciously.
"I am David," was the answer. "You are a better man than I am!" Saul muttered, breaking into tears. "I have treated you miserably and you have behaved toward me without hatred or revenge. You have proved that you aren't my enemy by not taking my life, even though God gave you the opportunity. Any other man in your place would have surely killed me. I trust that God will reward you for your goodness. David, I am aware that you are to become the next king of Israel. I want you to promise me now that you will do nothing to cut off my name in Israel, and that you won't destroy those of my family who come after me."
This was an odd time for Saul to ask favors, what with David having just acted as he did, and with Saul's men ready to lunge at David. Saul's unpredictable behavior was probably due, to some extent, to his fears and confusion of mind, which resulted from being under an influence that troubled him with fits of depression.
David solemnly promised what Saul requested, whereupon the king promptly left. As David watched the men depart, he knew that Saul would continue to trouble him in spite of his expressions of regret. (I Samuel 24:16-22.)
A few days later word came that Samuel had died. David was very grieved, but he knew it would be unwise to attend the funeral because Samuel's death would cause Saul to feel freer to do away with David.
Bible Story Book Index
Vengeance or Repentance?
A GREAT number of Israelites from all over Canaan came to attend Samuel's funeral at Ramah, where the old prophet was buried with appropriate honors. (I Samuel 25:1.)
David wasn't among those who attended. He knew that he would be risking his life to go where Saul was. Instead, he moved his men on southward to the Paran Desert, farther away from Ramah and Gibeah. There his small army moved from place to place, not staying in one spot very long because of the necessity of obtaining food as well as the need to keep Saul guessing David's location.
The Shepherds' Friend
Food wasn't always easy to get. Much of it consisted of wild game, but there were necessities that had to be acquired through other people. David sent bands of mounted men to help farmers with their crops, sheepherders with their flocks and cattlemen with their herds, obtaining food and supplies for their services. Often those services entailed offering protection from Arabs who plundered for a living. One group of David's men came upon a small number of herdsmen who were looking after an unusually large flock of sheep, and who were in constant fear of attacks. The herdsmen were relieved and thankful when they learned that it was David's men who had come to them.
"If you are afraid of Arab raids, we'll stay with you until you take your sheep back to the owner," the head of David's group told the herdsmen.
In the days that followed, the small group of David's soldiers successfully drove away several bands of Arabs who never expected that they would meet professional fighting men. Many sheep probably would have been lost if the defenders hadn't been there. When finally the herdsmen took the flock back to the town of Carmel in south Judah for shearing, David's men went on the drive with them for further protection. Then they returned south to where most of their fellow soldiers were camped.
The owner of the protected flock was a man named Nabal. He owned several thousand sheep and goats, and was considered wealthy for a man of that time and region. Regardless of his possessions and his beautiful and intelligent wife, Nabal was a sullen, unfriendly, ill-tempered man whose main interest was in increasing his wealth. (I Samuel 25:2-3.)
When it was reported to David how Nabal's sheep had been saved from marauders, he picked ten of his men to go to Carmel to remind Nabal what had happened, and to diplomatically ask for a modest reward for sparing him such a great loss.
The ten men were very courteous to Nabal. They carefully explained that he would have fewer sheep to shear if their fellow soldiers hadn't been on hand to protect the flock. Of course Nabal had already heard the story from his men, but he didn't wish to admit it. (I Samuel 25:4-9.)
The King of Selfishness
"You say you were sent from some fellow by the name of David, who is the son of Jesse?" Nabal questioned them sarcastically, trying to create the impression that he had never heard of such men. "Who are David and Jesse? Am I supposed to know them? And why should I believe that you have been sent by this David? There are many hungry servants on the move who have run away from their master. Why have you come to me?"
"Our leader is the one who killed Goliath, the Philistine giant," the spokesman for the ten men patiently explained. "He is in need of food for his soldiers, and he feels that you might be willing to help him in return for the favor a few of his men did for you in saving your sheep."
"Ah! Now it comes out!" Nabal scoffed. "You're hoping to talk me out of the bread, water and fresh mutton I have to furnish for my shearers! Well, I don't know you, and I'm not giving anything to strangers!" (I Samuel 25:10-11.)
"Our leader will be so disappointed in you that probably he'll be back with us to see you again," said one of David's men.
This remark enraged Nabal, who forgot for the moment that he wasn't supposed to know who David was.
"Tell your beggarly David that if he comes around here I'll have King Saul and his army here to meet him!" he stormed. "Now get out of here before I set all my herdsmen and shearers on you!"
David wasn't pleased when he heard of Nabal's attitude, and he decided that the unsociable rancher needed a lesson in courtesy. Leaving two hundred men to guard the camp, he led the other four hundred on a march back to Carmel.
One of Nabal's herdsmen was afraid that something like this would happen. He went to Abigail, Nabal's wife, and told her how angry and disdainful her husband had been with David's men.
"His stubbornness and ill temper could lead to trouble," the herdsman explained. "He refuses to acknowledge what David's men did to save his sheep, though they were like a walled fortress around us. But Nabal says he doesn't believe that wandering outlaws could be honest or helpful. His rudeness and insulting manner could result in David showing up here with enough troops to take over the whole ranch!" (I Samuel 25:12-17.)
Fearing what David might do, Abigail decided to try to meet him before he could reach Carmel. While her husband was busy overseeing the sheepshearing, she had some of her servants load donkeys with food, and sent the servants and the loaded animals off on the main trail leading southward. They didn't carry enough provisions to feed a small army. But Abigail hoped there would be enough to show appreciation for what David's men had done. There were two hundred loaves of bread, two goatskins of wine, five dressed sheep, at least ten gallons of parched corn, a hundred large clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs.
Abigail watched until the servants and animals were safely at a distance, and then mounted a donkey and set out after them. She caught up with them on the other side of a hill that commanded a far view of the region to the south. From there, to both her relief and anxiety, she saw hundreds of men approaching across the semi-arid, rolling plain! (I Samuel 25:18-20.)
The Way of a Good Woman
David's anger, kindled by Nabal's churlish conduct, was out of control almost from the moment he had commanded two thirds of his army to follow him to Carmel. He had made it known to his officers that he wouldn't leave a man alive at Nabal's ranch, thus temporarily lowering himself, by a vengeful state of mind, below Nabal's level of character. By the time he was nearing Carmel he calmed down a little, and began to reconsider his cruel purpose.
Just then Abigail appeared. She hurried ahead of her servants, dismounted from her donkey and bowed her head to the ground before David, who preceded his men by a few yards.
"I know why you are here, sir," she said to David. "I am Nabal's wife, and I can understand how you must feel toward him because of how he has treated your men. He is one who is by nature unsociable, and who can't communicate with others without troubling them. If you will allow me to speak on, I would like to make an apology for him."
"Your husband must account for his own shortcomings and make his own apologies,' David solemnly informed Abigail, "but I am interested in what you have to say."
"Thank you, sir," Abigail continued. "I didn't know about how your men were insulted by my husband until a servant reported it to me. Now it is my desire to try to make amends by bringing this gift of food here on these donkeys. It isn't much, but I trust that it will help you realize that we are thankful for what your men have done. I hope that it will help remind you, if you are planning to destroy my husband and his men, that it isn't according to your usual fair way of settling matters. For your
sake, as well as ours, I trust that you will be merciful to us. I know that your life lately is a perilous one because of being constantly pursued. You are pressed to deal harshly with your enemies, but I know also that God must be your real protection against those who oppose you. One day soon you will be king of Israel. I hope that you won't have to recall how you and your men took the lives of my husband and his men for the mere sake of vengeance. If I am able now to persuade you to be merciful, and if God is pleased by it, please remember, when you are king, that I was a help to you." (I Samuel 25:21-31.)
David was both surprised and pleased by Abigail's understanding words, sincerity and beauty. Here was reason enough to call off the expedition. The gallant move was understood by David's men.
"May God bless you for meeting me here," David cordially addressed Abigail. "I'm happy that I've heard what you have to say to cause me to realize how rash I've been in this matter. If it weren't for your efforts to divert me from my purpose, my soldiers would probably be punishing all the men on your ranch by now. And thank you for bringing food to us. We greatly appreciate it. I shall not forget you for this great favor." (Verses 32-34.)
The End of an Ingrate
David's men happily accepted the proffered and needed food while David and Abigail continued in conversation. David told her to return in peace to her home, and promised that he would take his men back to their camp. He parted from her with obvious reluctance, having been suddenly and strongly impressed by her appearance and personality. (I Samuel 25:35.)
When Abigail returned home with her servants, she found it filled with sheepherders and their women. Because this was the season of his main income, Nabal had been drinking most of the day. By evening he was in a somewhat drunken condition. But with him it was in some ways an improvement in his character, inasmuch as he became happier, more generous and more sociable. As a result, he invited all his workers and their wives and various other women to a party that turned out to be unusually boisterous.
Abigail said nothing that night about David to her husband. Next morning, when he had recovered his full facilities, she informed him of how close he had come to losing his ranch and his life.
"If I had been only a half hour late in what I did, you wouldn't be here listening to me now," Abigail explained.
At first Nabal wouldn't believe his wife, but after he questioned the servants who accompanied her to meet David, he became so emotionally upset that he became very ill. His fears, frustrations and gnawing hatreds were too much for his heart, and he died about ten days later. (I Samuel 25:36-38.)
When David heard of Nabal's death, he knew that it all had come about through God's planning. He was very thankful that he had been spared from carrying out his own rash plan of vengeance.
One of David's many disappointments during his time of banishment was to learn that Michal, his wife, had been given by Saul in marriage to another man. It wasn't unexpected, therefore, that David should allow himself to become more and more interested in Abigail. A few weeks after her husband's death he sent several of his ablest soldiers to Carmel with a message for the young woman. Abigail was pleased to receive them, but she was disappointed because David wasn't with them.
"We're here to take you back to our camp," one of the soldiers told her. "David wants to marry you."
The startled Abigail was both elated and distressed. Although this blunt, assumption-type proposal was common in those times, Abigail would have been much happier if David could have come in person to ask her to be his wife. She was for a moment tempted to ask why David should take it for granted that she would agree to marry him, but she controlled herself because such an attitude might have appeared too arrogant for a woman -- and because she wanted to marry David.
"I am pleased and honored that your leader has sent for me," she told the soldiers as she bowed her head to the ground. "Let me instruct my servants, and then allow me to wash your feet."
Abigail's willingness to be so humble as to wash her guests' feet was sufficient. David's men declined with thanks because they knew their leader wouldn't approve. They patiently settled down to what they thought would be a wait of several hours, but were surprised not much later when Abigail emerged from her quarters with five handmaids carrying clothes and supplies. The six women mounted burros and departed with the soldiers for David's camp.
There David and Abigail were married, and there was a great celebration. Abigail had appointed one of her most trusted and capable men to supervise her sheep ranch in her absence, but she returned to it from time to time. Later, when David and his men moved northward to a rugged region not far south of Hebron, Abigail probably spent most of her time on her property, which undoubtedly furnished much food for David's small army. (I Samuel 25:39-42.)
The Bible mentions another marriage of David to a woman named Ahinoam, but when the marriage took place isn't indicated. Perhaps the two marriages overlapped, as it was not uncommon back then to have more than one wife at a time. (I Samuel 25:43-44.) David had to learn the hard way that having more than one wife at a time was not God's way.
When the inhabitants of the country south of Hebron saw David returning to their territory, they again sent men to Saul to report what was going on. This time Saul didn't delay as he had before when informed of David's presence there. He chose three thousand of his best soldiers to go after David's six hundred, unaware that David's lookouts watched him come into the area, and saw where his troops camped the first night out. (I Samuel 26:1-4.)
David Is Still Merciful
When David learned where Saul was, he came to a spot before dusk where he could look down on Saul's camp. After determining how he might reach Saul's rest area, he asked for someone to volunteer to go with him. Abishai, one of his nephews (I Chronicles 2:13-16), offered to go, and the two men quietly crept to the trench where Saul slept with a few of his officers, including Abner, the commander-in-chief. (I Samuel 26:5-7.)
"There he is!" Abishai whispered to David. "God has given you this chance to destroy the king of Israel!"
"I have no desire to destroy him," David whispered back. "Then let me do it for you,' Abishai pleaded. "I'll run my spear into him with such force that no other blow will be necessary to do away with him instantly."
"No!" David said, seizing Abishai's arm. "Saul was ordained by God to be king of Israel. If you kill him, God will surely punish you. If Saul is to die, let God take him. His time will come, and probably in battle with the Philistines. For now, let's be content to take his spear and his canteen."
David and Abishai successfully left Saul's camp and returned to the hill where the other men waited. The daring feat of getting in and out of the camp was possible only because God caused Saul and his men to fall into a deep sleep. (I Samuel 26:8-12.)
Just before sunrise David shouted loudly down to the three thousand slumbering men. His voice carried strongly on the quiet morning air, awakening Saul's army like a call to arms.
"You there, Abner!" David yelled to the commander-in-chief as soon as he could dimly see figures moving about. "Answer me, so that I'll know you're listening!"
"This is the commander-in-chief!" Abner shouted back. "Who is it that dares disturb the king?"
"You have the reputation of being the bravest and most alert officer in the Israelite army!" David yelled. "Then why weren't you on your toes last night? Why did you allow some intruder to get so near Saul that he could have killed the king while he slept?"
"What are you talking about?" Abner indignantly roared back. "There were no intruders in this camp last night!"
"Denying a fact makes you even more guilty!" David went on needling the officer, who was growing angrier and more puzzled. "For trying to hide your carelessness, the king could have you executed! Explain, if you can, what happened to Saul's spear and canteen!" (I Samuel 26:13-16.)
Aides scrambled madly to try to find the spear and canteen which Saul hadn't realized were missing till the moment David mentioned them. Abner stared perplexedly at Saul, who stared in bewilderment at the small hole in the ground where he knew he had jammed his spear before he had gone to sleep. He began to realize that something had been going on that was making his fighting force look ridiculous.
Bible Story Book Index
Life Among the Philistines
HAVING taken Saul's spear and canteen while the Israelite king was sleeping with his encamped army, David stood on the top of a hill and loudly lampooned Saul's chief officer for not watching over his leader. (I Samuel 26:5-16.)
When it was discovered that Saul's spear and canteen were missing, the officers and guards were greatly embarrassed. Finally Saul recognized the voice from the hill, and realized that somehow David had again managed to get near him when he was asleep.
"This is Saul!" the king boomed out. "Are you David, my son-in-law?"
"I am, sir!" David shouted back. "Please tell me why you and your soldiers are out looking for me again. What have I done to cause you to desire to kill me? If it is God who sent you after me, why hasn't He put me into your hands? You know that God would accept an offering if I had committed an offense against you. If men have talked you into this chase, a curse should be on them for causing me to have to stay away from the tabernacle and go to live among heathen.
"You have pursued me as a hunter who runs after a partridge in the mountains, throwing sticks at the weary bird every time it flies up from a hiding place. You remind me of one who keeps slapping at a hopping flea. And what will you gain if you succeed in shedding my blood before God, who sees all?" (I Samuel 26:17-20.)
Saul stood with his head down. Once more he was made painfully aware of the futility, expense and shamefulness of this ridiculous, drawn-out pursuit. His soldiers stood at attention, waiting for orders to storm up the hill or surround it with bands of nimble archers. After an awkward silence Saul look up at the hill.
"I have been unwise and vengeful!" he shouted to David. "Come back to Gibeah, and I'll see that no harm comes to you, inasmuch as you kept me from harm last night!"
"Then here is your spear -- and your canteen!" David answered, holding them aloft. "Send a man after them! As for what has happened here, God will deal with each of us according to what each of us has done! He made it possible last night for me to take your life, but I couldn't do it because He at one time ordained you as the king of Israel! As I spared you, so do I trust that God will spare me from trouble and death!"
"I, too, hope that you will receive God's protection and blessings!" Saul shouted back in a friendly tone that must have puzzled those of his soldiers who didn't know him very well. "I believe that you shall one day become Israel's ruler, and a successful one!"
David chose to say no more. For a while he dispiritedly watched Saul's army prepare to return to Gibeah, and then he went back to his men. He was weary of being pursued. In spite of what Saul had said in a time of momentary repentance, he knew that Saul wouldn't let up for long. He wanted to go to a place where he wouldn't constantly be hunted, and where the authorities wouldn't be too unfriendly (I Samuel 26:21-25.)
Although the king of the Philistine city of Gath had put David out of his city when he had previously sought refuge there, David believed that if he returned to Philistia with an impressive number of soldiers, he might be welcomed, especially inasmuch as foreign rulers now regarded him as a strong enemy of the king of Israel.
Refuge Among the Heathen
David sent representatives to Achish, the ruler of Gath, to ask if he could move into Philistia with his band. Achish sent back word that David and those with him would be welcome in Gath. It was obvious that Achish would probably expect a return of the favor by making use of David's well-trained troops. Nevertheless, David and his men and relatives moved into Gath. Included were his two wives, Abigail and Ahinoam. Many of the soldiers had wives, and all these women went with their husbands.
Reports of this state of affairs soon came to Saul. He was angered because David had gone where it wasn't safe to pursue him. Saul's only comforting thought was that the Philistines might do away with David because he was their natural enemy. The Israelite king knew that he would have to patiently wait and see how matters turned out. (I Samuel 27:1-4.)
Having established the news that he was safe in one of Philistia's strongest cities, and being anxious to get away from the Philistines' pagan practices as soon as possible, David asked Achish if it would be feasible for him and his soldiers and families to go to some small country town to live. David pointed out that it wasn't right that strangers should dwell in a royal Philistine city for very long, because the people of Philistia wouldn't understand.
Achish agreed. There was an old walled town called Ziklag, on the border between Philistia and Judah, that was in need of skilled soldiers for the benefit of the Philistines.
"Take your people there and occupy the place," Achish told David. "All I'll require in return is that you defend that area of the border from the enemies of Philistia, no matter who they are." (I Samuel 27:5-6.)
After David and the people with him were settled at Ziklag, which was about twenty-five miles south of Gath, David began taking his men on forays in the area to the south, against the tribes who had invaded Israel in previous years. Saul's victory over the Amalekites in that region years previously had broken what remained of their nation into a few wandering bands of Arabs. These had increased in numbers, and were raising herds and flocks at the edge of the desert that extended into the Sinai peninsula.
Every time David attacked one of these groups, all the people were killed. Then the livestock was seized and taken up to Ziklag because David and his men were in great need of more livestock, having had to eat many of their food animals while they were hiding from Saul in the mountains.
Although God had instructed the Israelites to destroy most of the heathen tribes in and close to Canaan (Exodus 23:20-25; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; I Samuel 15:1-3), David's main reason for doing away with the desert people was to prevent information of his raids to the south getting to Achish, who presumed that the forays were against Israelite ranches and towns.
Meanwhile, more men who didn't feel Saul was fair in many matters came to Ziklag to join David. They were well-trained, powerful soldiers from Benjamin, Judah and Gad. A great part of them were clan chiefs and military leaders. All of them were helpful and necessary additions to David's army.
Suspicious Philistine Lords
The bloody raids on the desert tribes continued for several months. Once in a while some of the captured cattle, donkeys, camels and sheep would be herded into Gath, much to the satisfaction of Achish. At such times he would ask where the animals were rounded up, and David would explain that they came from various places in the south part of Judah, so that Achish would be led to believe that David had taken them from Israelites. Gath's ruler was more and more pleased with this state of affairs, never guessing that David was deceiving him. He considered David a traitor to Israel, and one who had such a hatred for his own people that he would long remain a great help to the Philistines. (I Samuel 27:8-12.)
In this matter David was far from honest. Possibly he was inspired by God to take measures to preserve himself and those with him, but his words and actions were too extreme to indicate that God was backing him up in all that he did.
David had been in Philistia for well over a year (I Samuel 27:7) when Achish confided in him that the leaders of the nation were planning an attack against Israel with their combined armies.
"Of course your men will join my men to go with the troops that will very soon rally from all parts of Philistia,' Achish told David.
"You can look forward to my soldiers fighting hard against the enemy," was David's answer.
David didn't promise allegiance to Philistia by that remark. The king of Gath assumed that David was talking about the enemy of Philistia, whereas he was really referring to the enemy of Israel.
"I want the very best of your men as my bodyguards," Achish announced enthusiastically, "and I want you to be their captain for as long as you choose to be!" (I Samuel 28:1-2.)
Shortly afterward the Philistine armies began to move off to the north close to the east coast of the Great Sea, boldly going through the territories of Dan and Ephraim into western Manasseh to a spot near the southern end of the valley of Jezreel. (I Samuel 28:4.) This level expanse had been the site of fierce warfare years previously, between the Israelites and the inhabitants of northwestern Canaan. (Joshua 11:1-12.)
Achish's soldiers were the last to move out of Philistia. It wasn't until days later that it became known to all the rulers of Philistia that the famous David of Israel was among their ranks. They sent word to Achish that they didn't approve of this, whereupon Achish replied that David had always been loyal to him, and that there was no reason to distrust him. This reply angered the other leaders, and they demanded that David be sent home with his men, lest they be plotting to attack the rear ranks of the Philistine troops to gain favor with Saul. (I Samuel 29:2-5.)
Although he was disappointed in losing David and his men, Achish had to agree to the demands of his fellow kings. Whether David was really disappointed or relieved isn't indicated in the Bible, though to Achish he gave the impression that he was disappointed. The rear troops were already camped for rest after the third day of march. David and his men stayed that night, and started back for Ziklag next morning as the Philistines moved into battle positions. (I Samuel 29:6-11.)
As David moved southward with his company, he saw a band of men following in the distance. Curious as to the identity of the men and why they trailed behind, David halted his troops and alertly waited for the band to catch up. It turned out to be made up of military officers from Manasseh, who preferred to be in David's growing army rather than in Saul's.
Tragedy at Home
Three days later, as the Israelite troops came within sight of their fortress home, they noticed smoke floating up from inside the stone walls. Weary as they were from marching, they excitedly ran the rest of the way. To their surprise and horror, they found that the inside of the fortress had been burned and that their wives and children were gone!
Frantically they pawed through the rubble, but there wasn't even a dead person to be found. Cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys had been taken, as well as food, clothing and other things of value. All else that was burnable had been consumed by fire. Even the barns, sheds and corrals outside Ziklag had been burned. There was no clue to point to the identity of the spoilers. But their trail led southward. From the jumble of tracks of people and animals, it was obvious that more than a small group of men had been required to take all the women, children and all the animals. But who were these mysterious men? And where had they gone with their captives?
Not knowing what to do to rescue their families, David and his men fell into a miserable state of depression and sorrow. Some sat silently in dejection, but most loudly wept with grief until they were nearly exhausted.
David's distress turned out to be greater than that of any of his men when he learned that some of them blamed him for the situation, and even mentioned stoning him to death. His followers were devoted to him, but the calamity of losing their families temporarily caused them to be seized by a wild desire for revenge, and David was the only object they could find. (I Samuel 30:1-6.)
David couldn't decide if pursuit would be worthwhile. Having had a head start, the invaders could easily have dispersed in several directions, leaving the Israelites searching for weeks or months all over the Sinai peninsula.
David had to look to God for the answer. Abiathar the priest still accompanied the soldiers, and David requested him to pray about the matter, asking God if they should pursue the Amalekites. David prayed also. God made it known to them that the Amalekites should be pursued. To David's relief and joy, God also predicted what would happen. The Israelites would overtake the Amalekites and recover all that had been taken by them!
When David disclosed the message to his men, they were greatly encouraged. They set out with enthusiasm prompted by the desire to rescue their families, but many of them soon lost their little remaining energy because they had lately done so much marching. By the time they had trotted a few more miles, some were too weary to ford a stream, called the Brook Besor, that rushed toward the Great Sea through the deep gully.
"You who are too tired to cross should stay here by this stream," David told his men. Two hundred men stayed behind. (I Samuel 30:7-10.)
God Supplies a Guide
As it developed, David and his remaining four hundred men had only a few more miles to go. A young man was found lying in a nearby field. He was so weak that he couldn't at first tell who he was, but after being given water, bread, figs and raisins, he was soon able to talk.
"The Amalekites burned your town and took your families," he informed the Israelites. "As soon as they learned that the Philistine soldiers had gone north, they came up from the desert to attack Philistine towns. Then they moved eastward into southern Judah, taking everything they could find and burning what they left behind. Yours was the last town they attacked before starting back."
"If you are one of them, why did you stay here?" David asked.
"I am not an Amalekite," the man answered. "I am an Egyptian who fell into the hands of a desert band when I was a boy. I have been a servant ever since. I was brought here to help in the raids, but became ill. My master left me here three days ago with nothing to eat or drink."
"Do you know where the Amalekites are now?" David asked. "I know which route they took, but they would kill me if they found out that I told you," the Egyptian replied. "I'll tell you only if you will swear by your God that you won't kill me and that you won't take me back to my master." (I Samuel 30:11-15.)
"We have no intention of killing you or taking you back to your master," David firmly told the Egyptian.
Dusk was coming on when they came over a rise to see the well lighted camp of their enemies in a wide hollow below. Confident that David and his men and the soldiers of Philistia were far away, the Amalekites had started celebrating their successful raids before reaching their home territory. Even from where they stood, the Israelites could plainly see that their enemies were happily eating, drinking, singing and dancing.
"Spread out behind the surrounding rises and encircle them!" David instructed his men. "As soon as you're well positioned, wave to me. I'll give the signal for attack!"
When the Israelites rushed down on them from all directions a few minutes later, the Amalekites were so surprised that they had little opportunity to prepare to defend themselves. A great part of them lost their lives by that first onslaught of David and his men, but during the hours of darkness that followed, about four hundred Amalekites managed to escape on camels. All during the night and until evening of the next day the Amalekites struggled to beat off David's soldiers. They would hide behind knolls and then leap out to attack Israelites who came looking for them. After hours of such skirmishes David's men finally wiped out the last stubborn resisters. Then came the joyful rescue of the women and children and others who had been taken from Ziklag. David found his two wives safe and well. Other Israelites wives and their children were discovered to be unharmed by their abductors. (I Samuel 30:16-19.)
David Rules Wisely
When the Israelites turned back to the north, it was with all that had been stolen in both Judah and Philistia by the Amalekites except what had been eaten. Before they reached the stream where two hundred of David's men had been left behind, those men saw them approaching, and excitedly waved and shouted greetings to them. Those who had grumbled because these men had stayed behind began to complain again. This time it had to do with how the recovered property should be distributed.
"Probably these lazy ones will expect a share of what we are bringing back," they observed. "They shouldn't receive a part of what they have failed to fight for."
"They'll receive their share," David sharply informed the grumblers. "At least they watched over the heavy supplies we left with them so that we could travel faster. Those who are left behind in war should receive their just share, and I'll do my best to see that it always will be that way in Israel." (I Samuel 30:20-25.)
After arriving at Ziklag, part of David's men set to work rebuilding the town. David shortly sent out orders to the towns of southern Judah that had been raided by the Amalekites. These men determined from the residents what had been taken from them, then later returned with what had been taken or things of equal value. And from among the livestock and other property the Amalekites had taken from the Philistines, David afterward sent valuable presents to those friends in Judah who had helped him and his men during their long ordeal of running from Saul. (I Samuel 30:26-31.)
Meanwhile, the Philistines had arrived by the thousands to camp at the west end of the valley of Jezreel. Thousands of Israelite soldiers had come to take up a stand on the east end of the valley near Mt. Gilboa. (I Samuel 28:1-4.) Saul was greatly troubled when he saw the superior numbers of the Philistines. All he could think about was certain defeat. In this time of growing desperation he fearfully looked to God for help.
"Be merciful to the army of Israel!" Saul pleaded in prayer. "Make it known to me what should be done to defeat the enemy!"
Saul hoped that God would answer through a vision or dream, but there was no answer. There was no priest through whom God could be contacted. (I Samuel 28:5-6.)
Saul could think of only one other possibility. Although in the past he had made great efforts to drive wizards, sorcerers, magicians and mediums out of Israel, he was now confronted with what he thought was the necessity of making use of such a person. If he had turned to God in a spirit of repentance, God wouldn't have remained silent.
"Find me a woman who can contact the spirit world!" Saul commanded some of his officers.
Astonished at their leader's request, the officers told him of a sorceress who secretly practiced her forbidden pursuit near a town called Endor a few miles to the north. (I Samuel 28:7.)
"We have heard that this woman has great and mysterious powers," they said. "She is known as the witch of Endor, the one who talks with the dead!"
Bible Story Book Index
"The King is Dead!"
FACED by an army of thousands of Philistines, Saul was desperately anxious to know how to escape what appeared to be certain defeat of Israel's forces. (I Samuel 28:1-6.) Having received no signs from God, he decided to go to a certain sorceress, a woman who reportedly could talk with the dead. He knew that it was wrong to have anything to do with people who had evil powers, but he was so fearful of the Philistines that he was willing to resort to anyone for advice.
Saul Breaks His Own Law!
Not wishing it to be generally known what he was doing, Saul chose only two of his officers to accompany him to the woman who was known as the witch of Endor. Dressed in ordinary clothes so that they wouldn't be recognized, they went by night northward to Mt. Tabor and the town of Endor. At the lonely home of the sorceress Saul was introduced only as one who desired to get in touch with the spirit of a dead friend.
"Who told you that I could help you in such a thing?" the woman asked, suspiciously scrutinizing the three of them. "Don't you know that Saul has driven out of Canaan those who deal with the spirit realm? I could be put to death if a rumor were to start that I am a sorceress!"
"We know that you are," one of Saul's men said. "You will be well rewarded for doing as this man asks, and no harm will come to you because of it. But if you refuse, we'll see that Saul sends men here to end your life!"
The witch, by no means an ugly old hag, stared in fear at the men, and especially at the very tall one who kept his face half hidden with a scarf.
"Come in," she said. "Tell me what you want me to do." "Don't be afraid of us," Saul said. "I promise that no harm will come to you if you will bring the spirit of Samuel, the late judge of Israel, up from the dead!" (I Samuel 28:7-11.)
The woman was startled at this request, but she took them to a dimly lighted back room of her home and went through the pretentious motions and incantations that were mostly to impress those present. She knew that Samuel was dead and couldn't appear in any form, but it was her craft to contact demons who would produce illusions and voices to satisfy people who believed the ancient fable that dead people can travel about in spirit form and manifest themselves to live human beings. This pagan concept is still widely believed today even among people who term themselves Christians, although the Bible plainly states that the dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and that the earliest resurrection of true Christians is to eternal life as spirit beings will not be until Christ returns to Earth. (Revelation 20.) Saul must have known that the dead don't communicate with the living, but he was desperate enough to try anything.
"I feel that someone in the spirit world is about to appear!" the woman droned as she sat as though in a trance.
Suddenly she gave a wild shriek and leaped out of her chair. Gazing fearfully into a dark corner of the room, she backed slowly away.
"Now I know that you are King Saul!" she shouted, pointing at Saul. "Why have you tried to fool me?" (I Samuel 28:12.)
"I wanted my visit here to remain a secret," Saul explained. "I have no intention of driving you out or killing you because you deal with spirits. Now tell me how you knew me, and what you saw that frightened you."
A Spirit Imposter
"A voice told me who you are, and at the same moment I saw someone come up out of the Earth who seemed to be like a god or a judge!" the sorceress answered. "I was startled because I didn't expect anything like that. He was a stately elderly man with gleaming white hair, and he had on a beautiful mantle of the kind worn by men of high rank!"
"Then it was Samuel!" Saul exclaimed excitedly. "Can you cause him to appear so that I can see him, too?"
The woman mumbled something. Almost immediately the form of an elderly man began to materialize in patches of gray light against the dark wall. When Saul saw the increasingly glowing eyes staring at him, he shakily dropped to his knees and bowed his head to the floor while his two officers cringed in a corner. (I Samuel 28:13-14.)
"Why have you caused me the trouble of coming up from my peaceful grave, Saul?" a quavery voice called out.
Saul was even more aghast when he heard the voice that was a weak but misleading imitation of Samuel's. Although he had come to try to contact Samuel, it was difficult for Saul to believe that he was actually in touch with the old prophet. Finally he managed to reply to the strangely wavering form.
"I'm calling on you because the Philistines threaten to conquer my army and take over all Israel," Saul hastily explained to the spirit imposter. "I've asked God what to do, but He hasn't answered me in any way. I had to turn to you to advise me how to save the nation from the enemy."
"If God has refused to help you, why do you look to me?" the voice of the glowing figure asked. "By now you should understand that rulership of the kingdom of Israel has been taken from you and will be given to David, the man you have troubled so long. This is because you disobeyed God in many matters, including your refusal to destroy all the Amalekites and their belongings."
"You told me that long ago," Saul broke in impatiently, "but I am still king of Israel. I want to know what I should do to defeat the Philistines."
"You won't defeat the Philistines," the voice continued. "Tomorrow will be the day of battle, and tomorrow you and your three sons will be killed and join me in the state of the dead!"
This shocking statement was too much for Saul, who was already in a weakened condition. He collapsed on the floor even before the glowing figure had faded into darkness. His officers leaped to him. (I Samuel 28:15-20.)
"He hasn't eaten anything for a whole day," one of them said. "He needs food."
"Let me get you something," the woman suggested to Saul as she knelt down by him. "I did as you told me. Now do as I respectfully ask you, and rest while I prepare something for you to eat. Otherwise you won't have strength to leave here."
The Spirit of Despair
"I don't want anything to eat," Saul muttered. "After what I saw and heard, food is the least of my interests."
"But the woman is right, sir. Let her bring food for you," the officers pleaded. "Otherwise you might fail to make it back to camp, and the Philistines could attack at any time!"
"All right! All right!" Saul murmured in a voice that carried both dejection and impatience. The message from that spirit had sapped Saul's will and determination.
Saul's men helped him to bed. While the fatigued man rested, the sorceress worked swiftly in slaughtering and dressing a calf. As the meat cooked over hot coals, she also prepared unleavened bread and baked it. One might think that all this would require several hours, but many people in those times were very skilled in hastily preparing meat dishes all the way from the live animal, so the three men didn't have to wait a long time for the hot bread and steaming meat. (I Samuel 28:21-25.)
Strengthened by the food, Saul was soon able to depart with his officers to return to the Israelite camp near Mt. Gilboa before dawn. Even though he had been told that he and his three sons would be killed within only a few hours, he began to hope that the statement wasn't true. He reasoned that the dead couldn't come to life in spirit form, and that all he saw and heard was an illusion and sound somehow created by the sorceress. Of course, the figure he saw wasn't that of Samuel, physical or spiritual. Samuel was dead and buried about sixty miles away, and wouldn't become conscious until more than three thousand years later when he will be resurrected to meet Christ when the Son of God returns from heaven to begin ruling the people on Earth. (Hebrews 11:32-35; I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:14-17.) The sorceress had not created an illusion by her own powers, but she had wrongly contacted evil spirits who were able to impersonate Samuel. All this, however, was under the control of someone else -- the leader of evil spirits, or demons, who are sometimes referred to as fallen angels. That leader is Satan. But Satan cannot do anything that God does not allow him and his evil spirits to do. (Job 1:8-12.)
God uses His obedient angels for many wondrous purposes. But He also allows the fallen ones, or evil spirits, to promote or carry out certain designs, inasmuch as they are in utter fear of their Creator. Satan and his demons ordinarily go their own evil way, just as many human beings do, but God limits their powers and exerts control over them whenever He decides that it's necessary.
Because Saul looked to evil spirits for advice, God allowed a demon to inform Saul that he would die within a few hours. God doesn't want human beings to seek contact with evil spirits. (Deuteronomy 18:9-13.) Nevertheless, there are people even in these days, called mediums, who claim that they have the power to get in touch with the dead. They cleverly cause illusions and sounds through natural means. They can't contact the dead, but as in Saul's case, they are inviting evil spirits to contact them.
Weary from the exertions and concerns of the past hours, Saul sank into a troubled sleep as soon as he reached his quarters at Mt. Gilboa, but his rest didn't last long. The dreaded alarm finally was sounded that the valley of Jezreel was filled with thousands of Philistines approaching from the west! (I Samuel 29:1.)
His Last Battle
Saul felt more like running than fighting, but he knew that he had to be an example to his soldiers. Within minutes he was marching with his three sons in the foremost ranks of the Israelites as they left Mt. Gilboa to meet the enemy. By this time David had been sent back home by the Philistine lords. As the two armies neared each other, the front ranks of each prepared to hurl waves of spears on command. Before the word was given to the Israelite spearmen, a cloud of arrows hissed up from the secondary ranks of the Philistines and showered down on the foremost Israelites. It was a deadly surprise for Saul and his men, who had no way of knowing that a throng of strong archers were hidden behind the enemy spearsmen.
Israelites fell by the scores before they could throw their spears. Then another cloud of arrows came down on them, killing or wounding many more men. This was followed by a murderous wave of spears, and chaos swiftly developed among the Israelite troops. Their thinned front ranks began to retreat, thereby blocking the oncoming soldiers. Within minutes the whole Israelite army was moving back toward Mt. Gilboa with the Philistines in pursuit. (I Samuel 31:1.)
When the Israelites reached the slopes of the mountains, they turned to battle their pursuers, but there was faint hope of holding out against superior numbers. It was then that Saul felt a burning pain in one shoulder. Furiously he jerked out the arrow that was embedded there, opening a lethal flow of blood down across his chest.
"I don't want it to be said that I was killed by a Philistine!" Saul shouted to his armor-bearer. "Run me through with your sword before one of these heathen gets to me!"
His armor-bearer shrank from the order. He couldn't bear the thought of killing his master and king, even in mercy. He also knew that if any of the Israelites should see him kill Saul, they wouldn't believe that Saul had requested it.
"I can't do such a thing," the armor-bearer shouted back above the din of the battle.
"I'm losing too much blood to live much longer!" Saul muttered. "Put an end to me now!"
The armor-bearer shook his head and backed away. In spite of the wound, Saul leaped forward, snatched his sword from him, slipped the hilt to the ground and lunged downward on the upright point. The seven-foot Saul weighed close to three hundred pounds, and his falling weight caused the sword to pierce deep into his body.
Overrun by Heathen
The surprised attendant immediately yanked his sword out of Saul, but the Israelite leader was already dead. Glancing up, he saw with further dismay that Saul's three sons were sprawled on the ground, and that their slayers were closing in on him and Saul's remaining officers. Realizing that there was no chance to fight his way free, Saul's armor-bearer did as Saul had done and lunged to his death on his sword. (I Samuel 31:2-6.)
Those of Saul's army who escaped the Philistines raced off the east. Some even went so far as to cross the Jordan River. When the Israelites who lived in this area south of the Sea of Chinnereth saw the scattered troops hurrying to the east, they assumed that the Philistines would soon be invading the land. They fled in terror along behind the soldiers. The sight of fleeing soldiers, and homeless old men, women and children struck fear into the inhabitants of several towns on both sides of the Jordan. The result was a growing exodus eastward across the territory of Gad and into that of Manasseh. Pursuing Philistines later seized the abandoned towns and took up residence in them. Because Israel had forsaken God's right ways, they no longer had His protection.
The day after the battle, Philistine soldiers set out to strip the dead Israelites of their weapons and valuables. They removed the armor from the bodies of Saul and his three sons, and cut off their heads. The armor was sent to Philistia to show that there had been a great victory over Israel. The heads were taken to be displayed in the temples of Dagon, the most revered god of the Philistines. The headless bodies were fastened to the wall of the town of Beth-shan, an Israelite habitation taken over by the Philistines. (I Samuel 31:7-10.)
Across the Jordan River southeast from Beth-shan was the town of Jabesh-gilead in the territory of Gad. Saul's first outstanding deed as leader of Israel, years previously, was to conscript an army and rescue the people of Jabesh-gilead from the soldiers of Nahash, king of the Ammonites. (I Samuel 11:1-11.) Since then the inhabitants of that town had greatly loved and respected Saul. When they learned what the Philistines had done to the remains of Saul and his sons, the more courageous men of Jabesh-gilead decided that something should be done about it.
Moving westward by night across the Jordan River and the twelve miles to Beth-shan, the armed company of determined Israelites quietly crept close to their objective. Well after midnight they craftily closed in on one guard after another, hastily removed the bodies of Saul and his three sons from the wall and slipped away to return to Jabesh-gilead before dawn.
It wasn't an Israelite custom to burn bodies, but the men of Jabesh-gilead didn't want the Philistines to recover what had been taken from that wall of Beth-shan. After the remains had been burned, the bones were buried under a tree. Satisfied that they had done their best to save their former king from further desecration by their enemies, the devoted men of Jabesh-gilead paid their last respects by fasting for seven days. (I Samuel 31:11-13.)
Thus the unpredictable Saul came to his end. Under his leadership Israel had both good and bad times, but if he had continued from his early kingship to be obedient to God, probably he would have lasted for many more years during which Israel would have prospered in safety. Israel's welfare wasn't completely determined by the conduct of its ruler. But, since the people follow a leader, if a ruler obeys God's laws, the people are more obedient. And obedience to God's ways always leads to happiness, prosperity and protection. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14.)
After David and his men had returned from slaughtering the Amalekites, they set about repairing the burned parts of the fortress city of Ziklag. Three days after they had begun the task, a weary-looking stranger approached from the north and asked to speak to David. His clothes were torn and dirt was on his head -- a sign of mourning in those times. After being directed to David, the young man fell to his knees and bowed his head to the ground. (II Samuel 1:1-2.)
"Stand and tell me where you're from," David said. "I've come from the camp of the Israelites near Mt. Gilboa," was the reply. "The Philistines have demolished it! Their numbers were superior, and they had thousands of archers who quickly felled a great part of the Israelite army. Most of the Israelites turned back and fled to the east. The Philistines chased and slaughtered many more. Saul and his three sons are among the dead."
David was shocked by that news. He regretted to hear that Saul, his enemy, was dead (Proverbs 24:17), and he was saddened to learn that Jonathan, his close friend, had been killed. Tragic as these events were, the report that the Philistines had triumphed was much more painful. It meant that all of Israel might soon be taken by the enemy. David could only hope that his informer was exaggerating these matters.
"How do you know that Saul and his sons were killed?" David asked as he intently stared at the man. (II Samuel 1:3-5.)
"I was fighting close by, and I saw the sons fall after being deeply pierced by arrows," was the answer.
"But how about Saul?" David demanded. "Did you actually see him die?"
"I did," the man lied, with a strange tone of pride in his voice. "I was the one who killed him!"
Bible Story Book Index
David King at Last
DAVID hadn't heard of the battle between the Philistines and the Israelites in the valley of Jezreel until a young Amalekite came to Ziklag with the news. David was greatly shocked by the report that the Israelites had been defeated and that Saul and his sons had been killed. (II Samuel 1:1-4.)
He was even more startled when he was told by his informer that he, the man who stood before him, had witnessed the deaths of Saul's sons and had himself killed Saul.
The truth, however, was that Saul had killed himself. (I Samuel 31:4.)
An Opportunist Without Scruples
"Explain what you mean by claiming that you killed Saul!" David snapped at the fellow as he moved menacingly toward him.
"Let me tell you what happened!" the young man hastily exclaimed as he backed up and held up his hands. "As the Philistines were pressing in on us with their infantrymen and their chariots, I saw Saul, who seemed to be wounded, leaning on his spear for support. When he saw me, he beckoned me to him and asked who I was. I told him that I was an Amalekite who was fighting in the army of Israel. He informed me that he had been wounded mortally, and he commanded me to kill him before the Philistines could get to him. I did as he asked, and plunged my sword through him. He died immediately."
"You are a stranger," David interrupted. "Do you expect me to believe you without some kind of proof?"
"Indeed not," the Amalekite replied. "I knew that most anyone would doubt my story, so I took the liberty of removing one of Saul's armlets and the king's insignia that he wore on his helmet for identification." (II Samuel 1:5-10.)
He reached into a bag he carried and produced a metal arm band and headpiece. David stared at them. He recognized them as the armlet and helmet insignia he had often seen Saul wear when he had been the ruler's armor bearer. He felt that the Amalekite wasn't being completely truthful, but he couldn't help but believe the report that the Israelite army had been defeated and that Saul and his sons were dead. It was more than enough to send David and the people of Ziklag into a state of mourning. As was the custom then, they tore their clothes, wept, moaned and didn't eat anything until after sundown. (II Samuel 1:11-12.)
David continued the questioning of the Amalekite to learn more of the tragedy that had taken place in upper Canaan.
"Tell me exactly who you are," David demanded. "I've already told you that I'm an Amalekite," the man replied. "I came from a family you wouldn't know about, living in the desert south of here. I was a captive brought into Canaan and put into the Israelite army."
"Do you believe that the mighty God of Israel put Saul into the high office of king?" David asked.
"Why -- yes," was the reply. "Surely he couldn't have become king unless your God had allowed it."
"Then aren't you fearful of what our God will do to you because you have removed from rulership a man whom God ordained as ruler?"
"Why should I be fearful?" the Amalekite asked a little disdainfully. "I did what I was ordered to."
A Would-be Murderer's Reward
"Our God is to be obeyed before our king," David pointed out, "and we should fear our God more than our king. If you killed Saul, you did a very evil thing."
David motioned to one of his soldiers, and the Amalekite looked up to see the man striding menacingly toward him with a hand on his sword hilt.
"Execute this criminal who claims he killed Saul!" David commanded.
"No! No!" the man gasped, leaping back. "What kind of thanks is this? I raced here to be first to tell you about Saul because I thought that you would be pleased to know that your enemy was killed! I thought that you were a fair man who would reward me for a favor!" This gentile Amalekite assumed that David hated Saul as Saul hated David.
"If you even thought of killing the king, your heart is evil. And your reward is death!" After David's sentence, he then turned away as the Amalekite fell under a swift blow of the soldier's sword. (II Samuel 1:13-16.)
The Bible doesn't disclose whether or not David further investigated the death of Saul. If he did, he had little reason to regret the Amalekite's death, inasmuch as the fellow told what he would have done if he had had the opportunity. The Amalekite had probably witnessed the scene between Saul and his armor bearer, and the notion had come to him to pose as Saul's slayer and try to collect a reward from a man he believed hated Saul.
Although Saul died for rebelling against God and for seeking advice from a woman with a familiar spirit (I Chronicles 10:13-14), David knew it is wrong to rejoice over anyone's downfall. (Proverbs 24:17.)
To express his respect for Israel's ruler and his love for Jonathan, David composed verses through which he lamented the passing of the two men. This song, titled "The Bow," became one of the national anthems of Israel. (II Samuel 1:17-27.)
In the days that followed, David had to make some important decisions. He realized that he was to succeed Saul as king of Israel, and he looked to God, through Abiathar the priest, to show him what to do. God made it known that he and all his men should move their families from Ziklag to Hebron, the chief city of the tribe of Judah. David obediently made the move with his small army of 600 men from the tribes of Benjamin, Gad, Judah and Manasseh. (I Chronicles 12:1-22.) It was a relief to him to at last be able to travel freely in Israel without fear of attack.
David Becomes King of Judah
As soon as David had made Hebron his headquarters, the leading men of Judah met there to hold a solemn ceremony in which they joined with Abiathar the priest to anoint and proclaim David as the king of their tribe. (II Samuel 2:1-4.)
When David learned that the men of Jabesh-gilead had rescued the bodies of Saul and his sons from the Philistines, he sent messengers to the men of that city to carry a letter of commendation for what had been done. David was careful not to give the impression that his praise was coming from one who considered himself as the future king of Israel, though he did make it known that he had been made king of the tribe of Judah. (II Samuel 2:5-7.)
Although David was destined to become ruler of all Israel, the death of Saul didn't completely clear the way for the fulfillment of that event. Abner, commander-in-chief of Saul's former army, had escaped from the recent battle with the Philistines. Hoping to retain some measure of power in Israel, Abner convinced Ish-bosheth, another son of Saul who obviously had no part in the war, that it would be possible for him to become the next king of Israel if he would set up a place of operation in the town of Mahanaim on the northeastern border of the territory of Gad. The Philistines hadn't reached that area, and the Israelites there felt a special loyalty to Saul. They would naturally look to his son as his rightful successor.
Although he had no authority from God to do so, Abner proclaimed Ish-bosheth king of Israel. All the tribes except Judah accepted Ishbosheth, and he assumed the rulership for the next two years. Meanwhile, in spite of the Philistines, thousands of whom were in their very midst, the Israelites continued to survive. (II Samuel 2:8-10.)
Abner and Ish-bosheth were far from pleased that David and the tribe of Judah continued to remain apart from Ish-bosheth's leadership. Eventually Abner took a small army westward across the Jordan River and camped close to a large pool near Gibeon, a town about twenty-five miles north of Hebron, in the territory of Benjamin.
When David heard about it he sent Joab, his captain of the military forces of Judah, with soldiers to oppose Abner's men if they should move farther south. Though David wished for peace, he knew many of the tribes of Israel were spoiling for a fight. So Joab and his troops boldly marched to the pool of Gibeon and set up a camp across the water from Abner's army. For a time the men of the two camps restrained themselves to merely exchanging curious and hostile stares. Then Abner, addressing himself to Joab, shouted across the pool.
"Instead of just sitting here, why don't we amuse ourselves with a simple bit of competition between some of our men?" he asked.
"What do you suggest?" Joab inquired. "How about twelve of your men against twelve of my men?" Abner asked. "If there are more of your men left when the scuffle is over, I'll take my men back to Mahanaim. If there are more of my men left, we want your word that you will take your men back to Hebron."
"Agreed!" Joab shouted back. (II Samuel 2:12-14.) This was a rash agreement. Nevertheless, from those who volunteered, Joab chose twelve of his most athletic and capable young soldiers, who walked part way around the pool to confront the approaching twelve men Abner had selected. At an agreed signal the two sides rushed at each other, swords drawn, free hands extended and every man dodging and weaving to try to escape being seized by the beard or hair of his head. Tragically, all managed to obtain the desired hold, and all became victims of the cruel and bloody contest. (Verses 15-16.)
Asahel's Deadly Race
When the onlookers saw their champions go down, the two companies vengefully rushed together in fierce combat. Joab's men proved to be the superior fighters. (II Samuel 2:17.) Abner saw that it was useless to continue facing his opponents. He shouted to his remaining men to retreat to the north. Joab's men set off in pursuit, but Abner and his men turned out to be very able runners. Athletes with strong legs were greatly admired in those times.
There was a man among Joab's soldiers who was especially fast on his feet. He was Asahel, a brother of Joab, well-trained in long-distance running. He set out after Abner, determined to overtake him. In the pursuit he passed some of the other fleeing soldiers, but he wasn't interested in them. When at last he was only a few feet behind Abner, the officer glanced back at him and seemed to be even more perturbed when he recognized who was chasing him.
"Aren't you Asahel, Joab's brother?" Abner panted as he struggled to keep ahead.
"I am!" Asahel gasped between breaths, "and I mean to take your armor back to Joab!"
"You'd stand a better chance of getting the armor of one of my men you've already outrun!" Abner puffed.
"Don't try to talk me out of this!" Asahel panted. "If you get too near me I'll have to use my spear on you!" Abner warned. "I know your brother Joab well, and I wouldn't be able to face him if I have to slay you!"
"I'll take my chances!" Asahel grunted as he lunged forward to seize Abner. Little did Asahel realize the political intrigue that would come from that decision to overtake Abner.
At that moment Abner jerked his spear backward with all the force he could muster. The partly pointed butt of the weapon rammed into Asahel's chest with such severity that it pierced the fellow's body and protruded from his back. Asahel fell dead and Abner continued his fatiguing flight. (II Samuel 2:18-23.)
Joab and another brother, Abishai, along with the other victorious soldiers, were trying to catch up to Abner and his men. But Abner's retreat had started in the late afternoon and by the time the sun had set, the two groups were still hundreds of feet apart. The chase was still taking place in the territory of Benjamin. When nearby Benjamites heard what was happening, many men of that tribe joined Abner and his scattered troops on a rise being approached by Joab and his men. Thus encouraged, Abner stopped to face Joab and make a plea for peace.
"Why must this killing continue?" Abner called down to Joab. "It will only lead to more misery later on! Now we are prepared with men of Benjamin to stand against you, but we hope that you'll decide now to command your men to cease pursuing their brothers!"
Uncertain Peace Breaks Out
"As surely as God lives," Joab shouted back, "if you had not asked for peace, we would not have stopped chasing you before morning." (II Samuel 2:24-27.)
Joab impatiently motioned to his trumpeter to blow the sound to cease pursuit. The men obeyed and gradually joined him where he stood. When Abner saw that he wouldn't be troubled any more at that time by Joab, he led his men away and walked all that night to cross the Jordan River at dawn and head northward toward the town of Mahanaim beyond the Jabbok River.
Meanwhile, Joab and his men walked back all night to return to Hebron at the break of day. They carried the dead Asahel with them later burying the body in the tomb of Asahel's father in Bethlehem. Including Asahel, Joab lost twenty of his men in the strife with Abner, whereas Abner lost three hundred and sixty soldiers. It was obvious that God wasn't helping Abner in his efforts to promote Ish bosheth as king of all Israel. (II Samuel 2:28-32.)
For a time there were frequent small battles between David's forces and those of Ish-bosheth. These skirmishes didn't settle matters. Regard less of their outcome, respect for David steadily grew with all the people of Israel. (II Samuel 3:1.) Meanwhile, Abner took advantage of Ish bosheth's lack of ability as a leader, and worked to try to obtain more power for himself with the people who continued to remain loyal to Saul.
Ish-bosheth and Abner came to a parting of the ways, however, when Ish-bosheth accused Abner of being too intimate with a woman named Rizpah, with whom Saul had lived without a marriage tie. The Bible doesn't relate whether Abner was guilty of what he was accused. In any event, he became very resentful.
"Do you think that you are speaking to a dog?" Abner heatedly demanded as he confronted Saul's son. "If it hadn't been for me, you would long ago have been in David's hands. I have done much to keep you on the throne and the leadership of Israel in the hands of the ones your father would have chosen and yet you decide to belittle me and ruin my reputation by this ridiculous charge!"
Ish-bosheth had nothing more to say against Abner because he knew that without Abner he couldn't remain in his questionable position. Very soon he realized that he had said too much for his own good. (II Samuel 3:6-11.) Abner's anger was so great that it led the military commander to decide to forsake Saul's son and try to join David, whom he realized was gradually coming into greater power.
Shortly afterward David received messengers who informed him that Abner had decided against doing anything more to promote Ish-bosheth as the leader of Israel, and that he would willingly join David and work to bring all Israel together if it would please David to accept his services.
Abner's Political Switch
David was perplexed at this suggestion. He was certain that Abner was looking out for his own interests, but he had a certain admiration for the military leader because he seemed an honorable man and had such perseverance. He wasn't aware that Abner was angry because of Ishbosheth's accusation.
"I'll welcome your help on one condition," David wrote in a message back to Abner. "Don't come to join me unless you bring Michal, Saul's daughter and my first wife. Saul took her from me a long time ago, but I still want her back."
At the same time David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, demanding that Michal be returned to him. Being without good relations with Abner, Ish-bosheth feared that if he didn't comply he would be at the mercy of David's soldiers. He ordered some of his men to go and take Michal from Phaltiel, the man to whom Saul had given her after David was forced to flee from his home. Michal was separated from her weeping common-law husband, who tried to follow her. Abner came on the scene in time to order Phaltiel back to his home and to decide when and how Michal should be returned to David. (II Samuel 3:12-16.)
It was important to Abner that he should first contact the elders of Israel, diplomatically suggesting to them that they would be wise to choose David as their king instead of Ish-bosheth. Because Abner was respected in Israel, the opinions of thousands of people, starting with the Israelite leaders, were destined to be switched in favor of David.
Later, Abner and twenty of his picked soldiers took Michal to Hebron. David was pleased, and perhaps even Michal was happy to be returned to her first husband, especially inasmuch as he was obviously about to become the king of all Israel.
Bible Story Book Index
Learning to be a King
To show his appreciation to Abner for helping unite Israel and for bringing Michal to Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. Thus David's first wife was at long last given back to him, and at the same time Abner had the vengeful satisfaction of ruining Ish-bosheth's chances of becoming a leader of Israel.
"All I ask is that you allow me to continue in Israel as an ambassador of good will for you," Abner told David.
Abner, former captain of the Ten Tribes, made the mistake of depending more on politics than on God. "I want to make up for any harm I've caused you, now that I realize how wrong I have been in supporting Ish-bosheth. If you will allow me, I can do much to cement good relations between you and the people who have inclined to look to Ish-bosheth as king."
David approved of this suggestion, and sent Abner and his men out on what was proposed to be a sort of campaign trip in David's behalf. (II Samuel 3:19-21.)
Downfall of Abner
Only a few hours later, Joab and some of David's soldiers returned to Hebron after having pursued and overcome some enemy soldiers. They were jubilant because they had with them many valuable weapons and much food and other spoils they had taken from the enemy. Joab's cheerfully triumphant mood changed abruptly to one of grim seriousness when he heard that Abner had been to visit David, and that the two had come to some kind of agreement after Abner had brought David's first wife to him.
Joab lost no time in setting to David. Joab disliked Abner because he had killed one of Joab's brothers in battle, and because he assumed that Abner might replace him as David's captain.
"How could you be friendly to Abner?" Joab heatedly asked David. "Have you forgotten so soon that he is your enemy? Don't you remember that he killed Asahel, one of my brothers?"
"Calm down, Joab," David said. "Abner is an opportunist, but he works hard at what he does. He can be of help to me in uniting all the tribes of Israel."
"Abner is a spy!" Joab exclaimed. "He's here to learn all he can from you, and then he'll report to Ish-bosheth!"
"Abner is no longer here," David explained. "I sent him northward a short while ago to visit the northern areas for me."
Joab stared silently at David, then stomped away to secretly send messengers to overtake Abner and tell him that David wanted him to return immediately. Later, as Abner and his men came back to enter the north gate of Hebron, Joab and his brother Abishai stepped into the road to greet them in a friendly manner.
"Before you enter Hebron, there is something important you should know," Joab told Abner. "Step off to the side of the road with me so that I may tell you confidentially." (II Samuel 3:22-27.)
Abner motioned to his men to remain as they were, and walked aside with Joab and Abishai. Then he saw Joab's right hand whip a dagger out of his shirt -- but by that time it was too late!
David Mourns for Abner
Abner was stabbed before he could call to his men for help. Abishai held him up for a few moments so that it would appear to Abner's soldiers that the three were holding a confidential conversation. Abruptly Joab and Abishai leaped away and dashed off to conceal themselves in Hebron, leaving the crumpled and dead Abner to his stunned and angry men.
David wasn't aware that Joab, his army captain, had gone to seek Abner.
When news of this brazen murder came to David, he was greatly perturbed. Immediately he made a public pronouncement that neither he nor his kingdom was in any way guilty of Abner's death. He made it clear that the guilt should be on Joab, and pronounced a curse on Joab and his descendants.
"Terrible diseases, leprosy, boils and running sores will come upon Joab and those who descend from him!" David declared. "They will also be crippled, poor, and the victims of fatal accidents, as God sees fit!" (II Samuel 3:28-30.)
David also told the people gathered to listen to him, that there should be proper mourning for Abner, a dedicated officer who deserved respect.
"And I expect Joab and Abishai to be among the mourners!" David stated, knowing that it would be difficult for the two men, as the murderers, to make public appearance behind their victim. "They, too, are to tear the clothes they are wearing and dress in sackcloth!"
David followed Abner's coffin to the burial place in Hebron, and gave a short speech at the funeral. There was much loud weeping because of the vengeful assassination.
David fasted a day, though many of his friends tried to persuade him to eat so that he would not feel depressed. He insisted on fasting a full day, and the people admired him for doing it. At the same time they wondered what he would do to Joab and his brother Abishai. For a man of action, David made a somewhat surprising explanation.
"They have sent a great man to his death," David said, "but even as a king I don't feel that I should deal with them at this time. I shall leave the matter to God, and He will deal with them according to their sins. God shall be their Judge." (II Samuel 3:31-39.)
A Vicious Plot
When Ish-bosheth heard that Abner was dead, he and his followers were very troubled. They realized that his future as a leader of northern Israel was very uncertain, inasmuch as success depended so much on Abner. The strongest men next to Abner were Baanah and Rechab, each a captain of a band of soldiers. But Ish-bosheth knew he couldn't rely on them or expect very much from them because they were inclined to use the manpower they had, to get as much as they could from other people. If he could have guessed what they had in mind for him, he would have been more than just troubled. (II Samuel 4:1-2.) After seven years in their exalted jobs, these two hatched a plot.
One day about noon, when activity was low because of the heat, Baanah and Rechab came to the supply house, right next to Ish-bosheth's quarters. They pretended they were obtaining some wheat from the army kitchen, but quickly turned into Ish-bosheth's living area. The two men stabbed Ish-bosheth while he was asleep, and after a bit of grisly business that was part of their plan, they hastily escaped to the west and forded the Jordan River that night.
Hours later, at Hebron, the two weary men introduced themselves to patrolling soldiers and asked to see David. When David was told that two of Ish-bosheth's captains wished to see him, he went to meet them at once.
"You will be pleased to learn that Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul your enemy, is dead," they somewhat proudly announced to David.
"Even if it is true," David observed with a slight frown, "there's no reason for me to feel pleased about it. How did he die?"
"We killed him while he was asleep in his bed," was the abrupt answer. "We have brought proof with us so that you will appreciate that we have avenged you, our king, of the offspring of your enemy!" (II Samuel 4:5-8.)
One of the murderers abruptly opened a sack he had been holding, flicking it so that a head rolled out on the ground! David was startled to recognize it as Ish-bosheth's head. But his anger turned out to be greater than his surprise. David realized these wicked men had cunningly murdered their master although he had put great trust in them.
"This miserable kind of situation came to me at a former time," David said, staring sternly at Rechab and Baanah. "A man came to me at Ziklag to tell me that he was the one who had killed Saul. He expected some kind of reward, just as you two now hope to be rewarded. There wasn't any reason for me to be happy when I learned that Saul was dead. In fact, I was so unhappy that I ordered the man to be executed. Neither am I pleased to see Ish-bosheth's head before me. You claim to be his murderers, so you shall be treated as murderers. Murdering an honest man in his sleep can only have one reward."
Baanah and Rechab drew back in sudden, desperate fear. They never would have shown up in Hebron if they had known that David wouldn't gloat over Ish-bosheth's death. At a signal from David, soldiers moved in to seize the cowering, whimpering killers to execute them.
To show respect for Ish-bosheth, David decreed that the remains should be buried with appropriate honors in Abner's tomb in Hebron. These acts made it plain to the Israelites that David had a strict regard for justice, a fact that created great respect for him. (II Samuel 4:9-12.)
King of ALL Israel
By this time David had been the leader of Judah for more than seven years. (II Samuel 2:11.) Over the years leaders in the various tribes had been turning to David and leading many thousands into allegiance to him. (I Chronicles 12:1-22; II Samuel 3:1.) After Ish-bosheth was murdered, the elders of all Israel assembled at Hebron with over a third of a million men. They reminded David that because all the people of Israel were of the same family, and because David had been a wise and fair leader in the past and the chief under Saul, they wanted to acknowledge him king over all Israel. (II Samuel 5:1-3; I Chronicles 12:22-40.)
Thus God caused matters to come about in such a manner, in due time, that David was at last anointed king of all the tribes. He was thirty-seven years old when this happened. Probably he would have been greatly encouraged if he could have known that he would be king of Israel for the next thirty-three years (II Samuel 5:4-5), though he would have been troubled if he could have foreseen certain things that would happen during those years.
The first outstanding act performed by David as king of all the tribes was the moving of an army against the city of Jerusalem. (All Israel in that day -- as today -- trusted in their army, instead of God, to fight their battles.) This populous place was within the territory of Benjamin, and though the Israelites had attacked it and set fire to it years previously, the city was still held by stubborn Jebusites, an ancient Canaanite tribe. It was a thorn in Israel that a great city in the center of their country should still be populated by enemies. Besides wanting to drive the Jebusites out of the ancient holy city, David needed the city because it was well situated in a central spot in the nation, and would be ideal for a capital.
When David and his troops arrived at Jerusalem, the leader sent out a sneering messenger to tell David that Jerusalem's walls were being guarded by crippled and blind people because they were strong and capable enough to hold off even Israelite soldiers indefinitely. This was meant to be an insult to David. He knew that no matter who guarded the walls, Jerusalem would be very difficult to capture because its fortress was built on such a steep summit of a towering hill. Even getting to the base of the walls would be a perilous undertaking. (II Samuel 5:6.)
"To get inside the strongest part of Jerusalem's fortification will require some unusual scheming and action," David told his officers. "Trying to scale or break through the walls would be foolish. There may be another way. I've heard that there's a tunnel running under the city that carries water from springs outside the walls. Somewhere there must be a shaft running up from the tunnel through which water is drawn. If men could get through the tunnel and shaft to make it inside the city, they might be able to open the gates so that the rest of our troops could storm in. If any one of you can succeed in doing this, I'll make that man commander over all my army."
Without David's knowledge, Joab and a picked company searched along the east wall of Jerusalem until they found where spring water flowed into a tunnel chiseled out of solid rock. It was large enough for men to walk through if they stooped over a little. The water in it was only about two feet deep, so that it could easily be forded.
Supplied with torches and other equipment, Joab and his men followed the aqueduct until they came to a point where they found a side opening through which part of the water could flow. The opening was too small for a man to crawl through. Besides, it was under water. At Joab's order, the men chiseled out a larger hole above it, disclosing the shaft through which water was taken up into the city.
One by one the men crawled into the shaft. By means of ropes, hooks and spikes, they managed to ascend the vertical passageway to where there was a platform at one side of the shaft. It was from there that containers were lowered to bring up water. From the platform a stairway led up through the rock to the street level. From the stone platform Joab and his men cautiously crept up the stairway. They met no one because it was very late at night. From the stairway entrance they peered around until they could see the east gates, heavily barred and braced. Several guards stood nearby. At a signal from Joab, his men charged out of concealment and raced to the gate. While some overpowered the bewildered Jebusite guards, others yanked down the gate bars and braces.
The second the gates swung open, a man ran out to go to David and inform him of what had happened. David rushed his troops through the open gates to join Joab and his men, who by that time had been set upon by Jebusite soldiers.
Within a short time Jerusalem was completely taken over by David's army. God made it possible by providing a means of entrance to the city -- the aqueduct and the water shaft. These passageways still exist under Jerusalem. Even the hole in the side of the tunnel, presumably chiseled out by Joab's men, is still very much in evidence three thousand years later.
When David learned who had directed the successful plan, he wished that it could have been someone else. Joab was the man on whom David had pronounced terrible curses because of Joab's murdering Abner. Because this officer was an able military leader, he had been allowed to continue in David's army, though Israel's leader had little respect for him otherwise. Whatever his feelings toward Joab, David kept his promise and put him in command of all the troops that had come against Jerusalem.
The stubborn Jebusites who tried to hold the fortress, built 2,500 feet above sea level, were either killed or they surrendered. (II Samuel 5:6-10.)
Friendly King Hiram
At the eastern edge of the Great Sea there was an ancient city known as Tyre, about a hundred twenty miles north of Jerusalem. When Hiram, the king of Tyre, heard that the Israelites had taken Jerusalem, he was pleased. As a gift to David, with whom he wished to be friendly, Hiram sent a group of expert carpenters and masons to Jerusalem to build a special living quarters for the king of Israel. He also sent a supply of cedar lumber all the way from the coast. (II Samuel 5:11-12.) David appreciated this gesture of goodwill. His citizens weren't as capable of doing fine construction as were the artisans from Tyre. Israel's many years of trouble had prevented their developing the crafts they needed.
Comfortably situated in Jerusalem, and with his nation constantly becoming stronger and more united, David realized even more fully that God had given him the kingship. He was thankful and humble. He put great emphasis on obeying God's laws. He didn't let up on reminding the nation of the importance and necessity of obedience to the Creator.
Nevertheless, even David didn't immediately overcome a desire to increase the number of his wives, and women who lived with him only as the objects of his affection. Many sons and daughters were born to David by his several wives and concubines. (II Samuel 5:13-16.)
During this period the Philistine leaders were receiving worrisome reports of how Israel was becoming more solidly established under David's leadership. They hadn't been very active against Israel in the past few years because they had hoped the civil strife would cause the twelve tribes to fall apart. At last they realized that if they expected to prevent Israel from becoming a strong nation again, they would have to attack Jerusalem before David's army grew too large.
Reports then began coming to David that the Philistines intended to do away with him even if they had to destroy Jerusalem and the whole army of Israel. David didn't ignore these threatening rumors. Instead, he moved a great part of his army to a rugged region just south of Jerusalem. A few days later he was informed that thousands of Philistine troops were moving through Judah and pouring into the Rephaim valley, a plain extending southwest of the city.
Bible Story Book Index
Build a Temple?
WHEN thousands of Philistines poured into the valley just south of Jerusalem, David was uncertain as to what his battle strategy should be. He had to ask God what to do. When he was told that the Israelites would win if they were to attack the enemy, his usual confidence was restored.
Faith and Wisdom
He didn't rush out immediately toward the Philistines just because he knew God could and would help him. He used the good judgment and strategy that God expected of him. Next, he quickly deployed parts of his army out beyond both rims of the valley so that they couldn't be seen by the enemy. He put the Israelites in positions to surround the Philistines, who were gambling that the Israelite army would probably hole up in the strong fortress at Jerusalem.
The sudden attack of the Israelites down the sloping sides of the valley was too much for the Philistines. They realized that such a thing could happen, and they felt that they were prepared. But when David's troops actually came rushing down at them in a squeeze maneuver, they broke ranks and frantically raced back toward the southwest. So many of them were killed by the Israelites that they were utterly defeated without being able to fight in their usually furious manner.
In their hasty retreat they lost much equipment and arms valuable to the Israelites. Even many of their idols -- good luck charms of that day -- were left behind. These were mostly small images of animals carried on the persons of the soldiers, who looked to them for protection and welfare. Ridiculous as this seems, many people today still carry certain small items they seriously regard as their "good luck" charms. These can be anything from coins and crosses to four-leaf clovers and rabbits' feet.
Not all the Philistine soldiers' idols were the kind that could be carried in pockets or bags. Some were so large that they had to be borne on frames or pedestals carried by men. Large or small they were all burned in a roaring fire. They were worthless objects, and David knew that God wanted them destroyed. (II Samuel 5:17-21.) Back when the Israelites were in the fortieth year of their wandering in the deserts, God informed Moses that idols should be burned. (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25.) If they weren't, they could end up as souvenirs for the Israelites, some of whom might develop a superstitious attitude toward them.
David was thankful that God had helped defeat the Philistines. But he knew that one defeat wouldn't keep them away for very long. He returned to Jerusalem with his army to enjoy several months of peace. Then the enemy appeared again in Rephaim Valley, this time in even greater numbers. (II Samuel 5:22.) Once more David asked God what to do. God told him that he should wait until the Philistines had pitched camp in the valley, and then take his men, quietly and unseen, to one side of the valley where there was a long, thick stand of mulberry trees. He was to wait behind the trees with his men until a strong breeze would come up to rustle the mulberry leaves. That was to be the signal for the Israelites to attack.
Later, as David and his soldiers patiently waited after dark behind the trees, a breeze came up after a calm of several hours. At first the gentle movement of air only slightly stirred the leaves. As it grew stronger, the leaves began to rustle in such a way that they produced a suspicious sound. This sound grew in volume until it reached the ears of the Philistines, part of whom were camped close to the trees. To them, as it became louder, it was like many men sneaking through the trees.
Convinced that a tremendous force was coming toward them, the Philistines fell into a state of panic. At the same time, David's men raced through the trees and fell upon their distraught enemies with such force that thousands of the Philistines died in the valley. Thousands more managed to elude the attack by the Israelites, who stubbornly pursued them so tenaciously that they kept picking off the fleeing Philistines as they struggled to reach safety in their native country. The Israelites didn't give up the chase until they had run the remnants of the enemy army all the way to southern Philistia near the border of Egypt close to the Great Sea. (II Samuel 5:23-25.)
David Brings the Ark to Jerusalem
With the Philistines again defeated through God's help, David was for a time free to apply himself to matters other than war. For one thing, he wanted to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem from the hill town of Kirjath-jearim. There it had been left many years before, after the Philistines had fearfully sent it back following their miserable experiences with it. (I Samuel 6.)
Traveling with many Israelite leaders and musicians, and with a magnificent procession of thousands of soldiers to put down any possible trouble from the Philistines, David went to the home of a man named Abinadab in Kirjath-jearim, about eight miles west of Jerusalem. (II Samuel 6:1-2.) The ark had been in that home for several decades, where it was watched over by a priest named Eleazar, one of Abinadab's sons. (I Samuel 7:1-2).
The ark was loaded on a cart that had been built especially for the purpose of transporting it, although that was not the means by which God meant it to be carried. (Exodus 25:10-16; Exodus 37:1-5.) Uzzah and Ahio, two of Abinadab's sons, drove the ox team that pulled the cart. (II Samuel 6:3.) To give an air of celebration to the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem, David's musicians walked before the cart and played their harps, tambourines, cymbals, drums and psalteries. David marched behind the cart, and behind him came the thousands who had accompanied him to obtain the ark.
As the colorful procession neared Jerusalem, one of the oxen stumbled in a rut. The cart was jerked so severely that it appeared that the ark might tumble over. Without giving a thought to what the result would be, Uzzah reached out to steady the ark with one hand. That was the last act of his life. (II Samuel 6:4-7.) The ark was to be handled only by the poles that were extended through its rings, and touching it was strictly forbidden. (Numbers 4:15.) God made no exception with Uzzah, even though that man's intentions may not have been consciously wrong. Uzzah should have known the consequences, for the Levites had copies of God's Word. They were required to know what they were doing and to keep the Scriptures always before them. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20.)
When David saw that Uzzah was dead, he was very grieved. The happy temperament of the whole procession sank. Thinking that God may have been displeased because of the moving of the ark, David decided not to try to take it any farther. He directed that it should be left at the nearby home of an acquaintance named Obed-edom, who lived on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. (II Samuel 6:8-10.)
As the weeks went by, David became more concerned about the ark. He feared he might be responsible for bringing some kind of curse on Obed-edom by leaving the ark with him. Three months after Uzzah's death, upon inquiring about Obed-edom, David was pleasantly relieved to learn that the man had recently come into a state of prosperity and that everything was going well for all his family. Some members of his family who had been ill were enjoying the best of health because they had been suddenly and miraculously healed. David could only conclude that God had blessed the people in Obed-edom's home because of the presence of the ark there. (II Samuel 6:11.) This caused him to decide to go at once to bring it to Jerusalem.
The Right Way to Rejoice
Having planned and prepared more carefully this time, David and the high priest instructed Levites in how to handle the ark. (I Chronicles 15:2.) They carried it on foot as they should, holding the poles on their shoulders. Musicians and singers went ahead of the ark, and there was constant music and happy shouting. As before, a great throng followed. Occasionally the ark bearers would stop with their load and burnt offerings would be made nearby on temporary altars that had been built along the route into Jerusalem.
As the procession entered the city, David felt constrained to express his gay and thankful emotions by dancing. Tossing aside his royal tunic, he broke into a very strenuous series of surprisingly graceful leaps and gyrations to the accompaniment of the musicians. The crowd was pleased. (II Samuel 6:12-15.) Probably God was pleased, too, because the Bible says that we should praise the Creator by song, instrumental music and proper dancing. (Psalm 33:1-3).
But there was one watching from a window, who was anything but gratified. It was Michal, Saul's daughter, one of David's wives. (II Samuel 6:16.) She hated her husband for what he was doing. She thought it was shameful for David to dance a "Highland fling" as the common people might do.
"What a conceited show-off!" she thought. "He's making a disgraceful fool of himself just to impress all those silly young women in the crowd. He won't feel so much like an athletic hero when I tell him what I think of him when he comes home!"
The ark was brought into the special tent that David had prepared for it. More burnt offerings and peace offerings were made. A great amount of food was distributed to the crowd, including bread, meat and wine. After all had eaten, David pronounced a blessing on them and they returned to their homes. (II Samuel 6:17-19.)
David was pleased because of the day's events, but he wasn't very happy when he returned to his home to be confronted by Michal's glaring eyes.
"How glorious was the king of Israel today," Michal smirked. "Did you really imagine that the young women were moved by your odd motions? I saw you prancing around out there. You acted as though bees were trapped inside your clothes!"
"I danced only because I was happy that the ark was being brought into Jerusalem," David sternly told Michal. "I did nothing shameful. I could have done much worse and still not be as vile as you seem to think I have been. I'm sure that those who watched me have more respect for my conduct than God has for yours in accusing me of trying to show off before young women!"
Angered because of her husband's rebuke, Michal flounced away. From that day on David had little or no affection for her. As a result of speaking so unjustly to David, she never had any children. (II Samuel 6:20-23.)
Build a Temple?
After David had moved into the building that had been a gift from Hiram, king of Tyre, David began to consider how much better his personal surroundings were than those of the ark, which was housed only in a tent.
"The ark should rest in a more elegant place than that in which I live," David told Nathan the prophet. "What do you think of my planning a fine temple to house the ark?"
"Surely God would be pleased by such a respectful act," Nathan replied. "I should think that He would bless you and all Israel for carrying out such a wonderful idea."
That night, however, God contacted Nathan in a vision to tell him that David's plan wasn't according to what God approved.
"Tell David that I haven't required anything more than a tent or a tabernacle for my presence since the Israelites came out of Egypt," God informed Nathan. "I have never suggested that I want or need any other kind of dwelling for the ark. Years from now, when David is dead, I shall have his son erect a building to be dedicated to me. But there is something more important. Unlike Saul's family, which I put aside because of disobedience, one of David's descendants will rule forever over the kingdom I shall establish. Thus, instead of David building a house for me, I shall build a house for him -- the ancestral line that will be known as the house of David." (II Samuel 7:1-16.)
Next morning Nathan told David of his vision and all that God had said to him. David wasn't disappointed to learn that God didn't want him to build a special house for the ark. Instead, he was happily excited to learn that he would have a son whom God would direct in building a temple that would be dedicated to the Creator, and which would be an appropriate resting place for the ark. David immediately sought a place of privacy to sit in meditation before God and give thanks for God's wonderful promises and blessings to himself and to Israel (II Samuel 7:17-29.)
Because of David's obedience and because the people were looking more and more to God for the right ways to live, a period of release from surrounding enemies began to dawn for all Israel. Since Israel didn't completely trust God for divine protection, however, this security came about only after furious battles through which David led his troops with God's miraculous help. Even though Israel didn't completely trust God, He kept His promise and delivered them from their enemies.
Little Faith -- Little Peace
One of David's first military accomplishments at that time was to attack the Philistines on the west border of Canaan and force them so far back into their territory that the Israelites seized some of their main cities and occupied them for several years. This reversed conditions for the Israelites who lived near Philistia. They had long been subject to the demanding whims of the Philistines. (II Samuel 8:1.)
After establishing garrisons to keep the Philistines subdued, David took his army to the east border of his nation, where he waged a powerful attack against the Moabites. David's friend, the old king, had died. Under a hostile new king, the Moabites were constantly trying to push over across the Jordan, but this time they hastily withdrew deep into Moab in an unsuccessful attempt to escape.
The Moabites were fierce desert fighters, but they were no match for the inspired Israelites. After disposing of them in vast numbers, the Israelites took over most of their cities. Those who were spared were forced to pay a regular tribute to Israel to make up for what they had taken in former raids into Canaan. (II Samuel 8:2.)
There was still another area where Israel was troubled by enemies. It was in the territories of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben, whose northern and northeastern limits were meant to extend to the Euphrates River. After Joshua's time, this had become a part of the land of the Syrians. (Syrians are called Aramaeans in the original Hebrew Bible.) The chief Syrian kingdom was Zobah. The king of Zobah long since had moved his army southwest across the Euphrates River with the intention of edging on down through the territory of Manasseh.
Intent on recovering the region occupied by the enemy, David marched his army northward to the general vicinity of Mt. Hermon. Scouts who had gone in advance returned to tell their king that thousands of Aramaean soldiers of Zobah were encamped on a high plain farther on to the north.
"Besides a great army, they have thousands of horses and chariots," the scouts reported. "Most of the ground is fairly level, and they can make terrible use of their bladed vehicles!"
David was far from happy because of this report. But he wasn't discouraged. He was aware that it was God's intention that the Zobahites should be driven out of Canaan, and he was confident that the army of Israel could be the means by which the task would be accomplished. After moving within sight of the enemy forces, David could see that they were extended over such a wide area that it would be unwise to try to surround them. A close study of the terrain gave him an idea how he might deal with the Aramaean chariots, a matter of deep concern to him. After conferring with Joab, who was now next in command under him, and with his lesser officers, David moved his men to a part of the plateau heavily strewn with small boulders. By this time the Syrians (Aramaeans) had seen the Israelites, and there was feverish activity in their camp.
The Bible doesn't give any details of the battle that quickly ensued. But it is possible that at Joab's command part of the Israelites marched on across the rocky region and out to a smoother part of the ground. A wide cloud of dust swelled up off the plain in front of the Aramaean camp. It was a welcome sign to David, because it meant that the chariots had been sent out to attack them. Soon the thunder of thousands of pounding hoofs could be heard across the plateau. At another command from Joab the marching Israelites came to a halt. Then, as the chariots came nearer, the troops obeyed another order to swiftly retreat. The men of Zobah, now very close, hoped to race into the ranks of the fleeing Israelites and mow them down with the big, sharp blades that extended from the sides of the chariots.
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Men Trust in Armies
IN a northern region not far from Mount Hermon, David's soldiers -- relying on themselves instead of God -- had baited the Aramaeans into action. They boldly marched out on a flat plain where enemy chariots could easily mow down the Israelites. According to plan, the Israelites suddenly turned and ran to safety among nearby boulders. The chariots raced after them, and ran into an area of rocks that caused the speeding vehicles to bounce and careen wildly. A great number of them smashed together or tipped over, snapping off the deadly blades, throwing the drivers to the ground and yanking the horses onto their backs. Oncoming chariots crashed against the overturned ones. The whole detachment came to a violent halt as it sped into the region of small boulders over which the Israelites leaped in planned retreat. David's scheme to lure at least part of the chariots to their destruction had worked.
But the battle had hardly begun. The Syrian drivers and their armed riders lost no time in dispatching spears and arrows into the ranks of the Israelites, who halted their retreat as soon as the chariots were stopped. They turned on the outnumbered Syrians and wiped them out in a matter of minutes.
Many of the chariots of the rear ranks were turned back when the drivers realized what had happened. These stayed at a safe distance to await the arrival of their infantry, which was moving on the double toward the Israelites. Their morale was seriously shaken when they saw so many of their chariots cracking up. Thousands of foot soldiers on each side collided in the awesome din and frightful action of hand-to-hand combat. The Israelites soon realized that they were fighting men who were already partly conquered by a superstitious fear caused by the tales they had heard of the strange powers of the God of Israel. (II Samuel 8:3.)
Because God was protecting them, almost all the Israelite soldiers escaped the weapons of their enemies. Soon the wide battlefield was scattered with the bodies of many Aramaeans. Hadadezer, the king of Zobah and commander of the Syrian or Aramaean forces, saw that it was useless to continue the fight. He tactfully withdrew a safe distance with some of his men, part of whom he sent on fast horses to nearby Damascus to ask the ruler of that city to send out soldiers as soon as possible against the Israelites.
So great was the defeat of the Zobahites that twenty thousand of their infantrymen were killed or captured by David's men. A large cavalry attack would have been very deadly under ordinary circumstances, but God intervened to cause the horses and their riders to panic during the battle. A thousand chariots and seven hundred horsemen and their horses were slain or taken captive. (II Samuel 8:4.) God had commanded Israel not to accumulate great numbers of war horses, lest they start depending upon war horses instead of upon God for protection. (Deuteronomy 17:16.) For that reason, David ordered the war horses should be killed and all the chariots should be torn apart except a hundred to be saved for use by the Israelites. Much metal was stripped from the chariots, as well as valuable trappings. (I Chronicles 18:3-4.)
All the rest of the day the Israelites took in the booty of war, including a wealth of items in the camp of Zobah, where they stayed that night. Meanwhile, David wondered where Hadadezer, the Zobahite king, had gone. A questioning of prisoners revealed he had been present until the tide of battle turned to favor the Israelites, and that there were many Syrian troops stationed in and around Damascus. David could only conclude that Hadadezer was away somewhere awaiting the arrival of more soldiers to move against the Israelites, and probably that very night!
David's expectation turned to reality. During the darkness of the early morning, thousands of Syrians moved silently up to the Israelites, whose inactivity caused the enemy to believe that they were in a state of deep sleep after a day of vigorous action. The Syrians were so certain that they were going to find the Israelites unprepared to fight that they suffered quite a shock when the Israelites leaped up, weapons in hand, and noisily charged into the intruders. The bloody result was that twenty-two thousand Syrians died at the hands of those whom they planned to kill in their beds. (II Samuel 8:5; I Chronicles 18:5.)
Next day David's men gathered more of the spoils of war. Many of the shields, collars and bracelets of the Syrians were made at least partly of gold. These were sent to Jerusalem as an offering of gratitude to God to add greatly to the wealth of Israel. The Israelite army then moved from one nearby city to another to seize from the Syrians thousands of pounds of valuable brass, a metal that was very necessary in both domestic and military use. At the same time David left many of his soldiers in that region to guard the borders of Canaan. As with the Moabites, a regular tribute was demanded from the Syrians, who preferred to pay rather than suffer the indignity of the Israelite troops overrunning their land. (II Samuel 8:6-8; I Chronicles 18:6-8.)
For the time being the Syrians (Aramaeans) had learned their lesson. Their punishment came because they had stolen grazing lands that God had formerly given to three tribes of Israel. (I Chronicles 5:3, 9-11, 18-23.)
It wasn't long before Toi, ruler of the nearby city of Hamath, heard about what had happened. He and Hadadezer were enemies and their armies were often at war. Toi was apparently pleased to know that the Israelites had overcome the Zobahites and Syrians, and to learn that Hadadezer's army wouldn't trouble him anymore. It would have been foolhardy for him to disapprove of Israel's occupation of northeastern Canaan. His only wise course was to cultivate friendship with the king of Israel.
Accordingly, he sent his son, Joram, to head a delegation to visit David and congratulate him on his latest triumphs in battle. To prove his father's friendship for the king of Israel, Joram presented David with a costly array of ornate bowls and vases made of brass, silver and gold. All these David added to the special treasury being built from valuable articles taken from the subdued people of other nations. He hoped that this wealth would eventually be used to help build the temple for God. (II Samuel 8:9-12; I Chronicles 18:9-11.)
The triumphant wars against the nations pressing in against Israel caused David to be even more respected by his enemies as well as by his people. At last the promised land of Canaan was inhabited and held to all its borders by the people of Israel. Meanwhile, David worked toward establishing a just government. He retained in high offices men who were most capable. He was the kind of king who publicly and privately gave credit to his men when credit was due them, instead of trying to swing the honors his way. (II Samuel 8:15-18; I Chronicles 18:14-17.)
David Teaches Loyalty
Joab, although he had greatly roused David's anger in the past, was kept on as the general of the army of Israel. David had promised that office to anyone who could successfully lead troops into Jerusalem during the attack on that city by the Israelites, and Joab earned the reward. He was a capable military leader, though he was callous and loved violent action. With his brother, Abishai, who became next in rank under him, Joab carried out his duties well.
In the last battle of that particular time when the Israelites cleared out their enemies from southeast Canaan, it was Abishai who handled the troops. Their record was so notable that eighteen thousand Edomite soldiers were slain. (I Chronicles 18:12-13; II Samuel 8:13-14.) God uses all kinds of people to carry out His many plans. But His true servants must be obedient to the Creator's physical and spiritual laws.
David's desire to be fair in matters of government led him to wonder if there were any of Saul's family who were still living. If there were, it was the king's desire to help them for the sake of the memory of Saul's son Jonathan, who was David's closest friend when he was a very young man employed by Saul as a musician and armor bearer. (II Samuel 9:1.)
Eventually a man was brought to Jerusalem who had been a servant in Saul's employ. From him David learned, to his surprise, that Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth who was living with a kind and hospitable man named Machir in the town of Lo-debar east of the Jordan River.
"How could it be that I have never known that my friend Jonathan had such a son?" David asked the man who had been brought to him.
"He was only five years old when his father died," answered Saul's former servant. "During those years, sir, my master caused you to be an outcast. You could hardly be expected to keep abreast of such matters. Of course Jonathan's son is still only a young man."
"But the grandson of a king can't ordinarily escape the public eye," David observed. "It's difficult for me to understand why I never heard of him."
"Probably it's because his legs weren't normal," was the answer. "Because of childhood injuries, he couldn't take part in games and contests with other youngsters of his age. He doesn't get out in public places very often."
"Send men at once to Lo-debar to bring Mephibosheth here," David instructed some of his servants after a few moments of reflection. "But say nothing to him about why I want him."
Days later, when Mephibosheth was brought to Jerusalem, he limped into David's court and prostrated himself before the king.
"I am your servant, sir!" he muttered fearfully. "I shall willingly do whatever you ask if only you will tell me what I have done to offend you!" (II Samuel 9:2-6.)
"Bring this man a comfortable chair," David whispered to an aide. After Mephibosheth was seated, David spoke to him in an assuring voice, "Don't be afraid. You haven't offended me, nor are you here to be troubled in any way. You were brought here so that I might honor you!"
A Pauper Prince Honored
"What reason would you have to do that?" Mephibosheth asked. "Surely I am nothing more than a dead dog to you."
"You mean much to me," David replied. "I want to show you special respect because Jonathan, your father, was my closest friend. I didn't know till lately that you exist, but now that I've found you, I want you to receive the property that belonged to Saul, your grandfather." David knew one should be loyal to old friends. (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:10.)
Mephibosheth stared unbelievingly at David. All his life he had been dependent on others to support him. His possessions included little more than the clothes he was wearing, but now he was being offered valuable farmland and a fine home!
"Thank you, sir," he said after a pause of several moments, "but I couldn't accept all that. I've done nothing to deserve it. Besides, I'm not able to move about very well, and I couldn't succeed even in taking care of the buildings, to say nothing of farming the land." (II Samuel 9:7-8.)
David turned and said something to an aide. Ziba, the servant of Saul who had disclosed Mephibosheth's existence, soon entered the room.
"Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son," David told Ziba, "should receive Saul's property, and I want you and your family and servants to assume all the duties that should be carried out to make the estate productive for Mephibosheth and for you and all who will live or work there."
Ziba was obviously pleased by these arrangements. He had fifteen sons who were capable of working. He also had twenty servants whom he wished to keep employed.
"It is my pleasure to carry out your will, sir," Ziba said, bowing. "Mephibosheth will want for nothing."
"Now how can you refuse all that?" David smiled at Mephibosheth. "Surely you have no other reason to reject these things."
The young man was overwhelmed. He profusely thanked David, who was pleased at the opportunity to do something for Jonathan's son.
Mephibosheth sent for his wife, and they were very comfortable in their new home. To make life more pleasant, God blessed them with a son whom they named Micha. The three of them were treated as royalty, and were often invited to David's house for dinner and other social occasions. (II Samuel 9:9-13.)
A Friend Insulted
Shortly after the war with the Syrians, David was informed that the king of the Ammonites had died. The Bible doesn't mention what connection David had with this man, but obviously he had in some way befriended David, possibly during the time he had sought refuge from Saul outside Canaan. David wanted the king's son, Hanun, to know that the king of Israel was sorry to hear of the death of his father. Several emissaries were sent with gifts to the land of the Ammonites east of the Dead Sea to deliver David's message of sympathy. (II Samuel 10:1-2; I Chronicles 19:1-2.)
Hanun graciously received the Israelites, but after they had been taken to guest quarters for a night of rest before starting back to Jerusalem, some of the young Ammonite chiefs who were unfriendly toward the Israelites came to talk to Hanun.
"If the king of Israel ever cared anything about your father, he is only using it as an excuse to send spies here," they told Hanun. "These men with gifts are surely looking our city over so that they can take back information. It means that Israel is planning to attack us soon!"
Hanun was troubled by this opinion. By next morning he decided that the chiefs were probably right, and he gave orders to arrest the Israelites. Each man's beard was half removed, and their robes were whacked off almost to their waists. In that condition they were sneeringly told to go back to Jerusalem and tell David that his attempt to spy on the Ammonites was as ridiculous as his emissaries would look when they returned.
News of this insulting act somehow reached David before the embarrassed emissaries could reach the Jordan River. David sent men to bring them new clothes at the site of the wrecked city of Jericho. The emissaries were told to remain there until their beards were evenly grown out.
Meanwhile Hanun also received some news that caused him to hastily call together the rash Ammonite chiefs who had talked him into mistreating the Israelites. (I Samuel 10:3-5; I Chronicles 19:3-5.)
"I made a deadly mistake when I listened to you men," he angrily told them. "If King David had no previous intention of attacking us, he has reason to now. He is very angry. So are thousands of Israelites, and here we are with hardly enough fighting men to be called an army!"
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