David in Nob
David fled south to the mountains of Judah, his home. He needed food and weapons. These he obtained from the city of Nob, which lies about half-way between Gibeah and Beth-Lehem. Nob was at that time a holy place, distinguished by the Sanctuary and priesthood. It became a holy city after the destruction of Shiloh. Weak, and almost fainting from his long flight, David appeared before the priest Ahimelech, who knew him well as the captain, friend, and son-in-law of Saul. He asked Ahimelech for some bread. He then asked for a sword; and as there was none in the place except that which he himself had taken from the giant Goliath, and which had been preserved ever since in the Sanctuary, David took possession of it, and hastily departed. But all that he had done in Nob had been carefully noticed by Doeg the Edomite, whose treachery was soon to be revealed.
David in Gath
David must indeed have been in great perplexity; for he saw no alternative but to flee to Gath, a chief town of his bitterest enemies, the Philistines, with the very sword of their slaughtered champion at his side. He hoped that he would not be recognized and that he might be permitted to stay in town as a hapless stranger. But his hope proved false; the servants of Achish, the king of Gath, said to their master, "Is not this David, the king of the land? Did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, 'Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands'?" When David heard this, he was justly afraid. To save himself, he simulated madness, and thus he was allowed to leave the town in peace.
David in Adullam
David then escaped eastward, and sought refuge in one of the caves near Adullam, in the plain of Judah, between Beth-Lehem and Hebron. It was a secure retreat, where his brothers and all his father's house came to him. His solitary abode was soon known, and he was joined by many that were in distress, or in debt, or had any other cause of discontent.
They flocked to him, because they trusted his valor and wisdom, to save them from their troubles and to shield them against persecution. Thus four hundred men were gathered around him, over whom he had supreme command, like a great outlaw captain. He then proceeded to Mizpah, in the land of Moab, and entreated the king to afford shelter to his father and mother, as long as his own fate was so uncertain and full of danger. The heathen monarch consented. Then David, advised by the prophet Gad, who was faithfully attached to him, went with his followers to encamp in the forest of Hareth in Judah.
The Treacherous Doeg
Saul meanwhile was anxiously awaiting news about David, of whose movements he was entirely ignorant. One day he was sitting, spear in hand, beneath a tamarisk-tree at Gibeah, surrounded by his ministers and councillors, when Doeg the Edomite stepped forward, related all he had seen of David in Nob, and told him of Ahimelech's, the priest's, readiness in giving him bread and Goliath's sword. Saul's rage was kindled by this account; he sent at once for Ahimelech and all the priests of Nob. They came at his bidding and were fiercely upbraided for their conduct in favoring David's flight. Ahimelech replied calmly and truthfully, "Who is so faithful among all thy servants as David, who is the king's son-in-law, and goes out at thy bidding, and is honored in the house?" But Saul, in his passion, ordered the instant death of the priests. No Jew could be found to commit so impious a crime. Doeg the Edomite alone consented to execute the horrible command. Ahimelech and all his guiltless priests, eighty-five in number, were slain on that day. One man alone escaped--Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech; he fled to David, was cordially received, and remained with the fugitive, sharing his perils and wanderings.
David Saves Keilah
David next undertook an expedition against the Philistines, who were pilfering the granaries of Keilah, a city in Judah.
He attacked the Philistines vigorously and drove them back with great slaughter. After David had thus rescued Keilah by a daring exploit, his own life was in danger from its ungrateful inhabitants. When Saul heard what David had done and that he was still within the walled city of Keilah, he considered it a good opportunity to surround the city and seize him, and resolved to march out against Keilah. But David, distrustful of the people, who would surely have delivered him up to the king, hastily departed, and fled with his six hundred followers to the desert land south of Hebron, where the Wilderness of Ziph and that of Maon afforded welcome retreats and hiding-places. When Saul heard that David had left Keilah, he desisted from the intended expedition.
David and Jonathan Meet Again
It was in the wilderness of Ziph that Jonathan had one last stealthy interview with David. He came full of affection and solicitude, and "strengthened David's courage in G‑d." "Fear not," he said, "for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee, and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I will be next to thee, and that also Saul my father knows." In that lonely wilderness of Ziph, the outlaw and the king's son confirmed their old vows, and there they parted forever.
David in Ziph
While dwelling in the desert of Ziph, David nearly fell into the hands of Saul; for some persons, living in the neighboring districts, went up to Gibeah, and betrayed his retreat to the king. When David heard of Saul's approach he left Ziph, and sought safety in the more distant wilderness of Maon.
Saul pursued and discovered him and would surely have enclosed him and all his men, had not the sudden alarm of a Philistine invasion compelled Saul to a hasty return. But David proceeded to Engedi, eastward of Hebron, where he hoped to find a secure stronghold in the rocky cliffs on the shore of the Dead Sea. When Saul had returned from chastising the Philistines, he resumed his pursuit of David with fresh ardor. He took with him three thousand men, and with this host he scoured the mountains, searching for David from rock to rock and cave to cave.
David Spares Saul's Life
Once in this desperate chase, Saul fell into the hands of David. The wearied king had entered a cave to take some rest; and David, surrounded by his band, lay concealed in that very den. He held Saul now wholly in his power, and his followers would have made him believe that this chance was providentially sent to rid him of his foe, and to ensure his safety forever. But David shrank from the suggestion and, softly approaching Saul, he cut off the skirt of his robe. But he instantly repented even of this act, which might be construed as a want of the respect which he owed to the anointed of the L-rd. He waited quietly until Saul had left the cave; then following him and remaining at some distance, he greeted the king with the utmost respect and made himself known. It was a touching scene between the unhappy king and the object of his jealous hatred: David gentle and humble, Saul sorrow-laden and contrite, and now aware how far above him stood the son of Jesse. "Thou art more righteous than I," Saul said, "for thou hast requited me good, whereas I have requited thee evil." They parted in friendship, Saul returning to his residence in Gibeah, and David to his followers in the dreary cliffs.
Death of Samuel
About this time Samuel died at Ramah, his birthplace, where he had long lived in retirement. Yet, though apparently passing his closing years in isolation, he had still remained the guiding spirit of his time. He was deeply and sincerely lamented throughout the land. His remains were interred at Ramah, where the people assembled from far and near to pay the last honors to their great leader.
David and Nabal
David was still a vagabond king when he sought refuge in the desert of Maon. There lived in Carmel, not far distant, a very wealthy man of the name of Nabal, whose sheep and goats, as they grazed upon the surrounding pastures, had been protected by David and his men. Nabal was a churlish and evil-disposed miser, foolish and hardhearted; but his wife Abigail was as beautiful as she was charitable and intelligent. It was the time of the sheep-shearing, a season of great feasting and merry-making in the household of Nabal. So David sent ten of his followers to Carmel to ask for some present of provisions, in return for the services he had rendered to Nabal's shepherds. But the graceless Nabal insultingly refused the request.
David at once set out for the house of Nabal, in the company of four hundred of his followers. But one of Nabal's servants warned his mistress Abigail of the danger which threatened the whole household because of her husband's harshness and folly. As David was approaching Mount Carmel, he met a train of laden asses winding slowly towards him; they carried large quantities of bread and meat and wine; dried corn, clusters of raisins, and cakes of figs; and last of all came Abigail. As soon as she perceived David, she alighted, and bowed herself humbly before him.
Abigail's wisdom and generosity surely saved Nabal and his household, and David was grateful to her for having prevented him from shedding blood. He accepted her presents and dismissed her thankfully. On the following morning, after a night spent by Nabal in feasting and drunkenness, Abigail told him of her meeting with David, and how she had barely averted the extermination of his entire household. Nabal was struck with consternation from which he never recovered; and ten days later he died. Not long afterwards, David asked Abigail to become his wife; she consented, and joined him in his mountain retreat.
David Spares Saul Again
Saul continued to pursue the exiled David, who was now concealed among the hills of Hachilah, in the east of the wilderness.
It was night, and the king's host had encamped in the valley below Hachilah, when David, who had carefully watched their movements, emerged from his hiding-place. Saul lay asleep in the trench, his spear fixed in the ground before him and a cruse of water by his side. His soldiers, led by Abner, were encamped near him. All had fallen asleep, and complete calmness prevailed. Once again the life of his great adversary was in David's hand. Followed by the brave and intrepid Abishai, the brother of Joab, he descended the hill-side, and stood within the enemy's camp. Abishai was urging him to take revenge. But again David's feeling of reverence proved Saul's protection. "Destroy him not," he replied, "for who can stretch forth his hand against the L-rd's anointed, and be guiltless?" Yet he softly seized the spear and cruse of water, and carried them away.
David ascended the opposite hill, and from thence called out loudly to Abner. His voice came ringing down into the valley to the camp of Saul. He spoke stinging words of reproach to the captain of the host, who was keeping so negligent and faithless a watch by the side of his king. "As the L-rd lives," he concluded, "you are worthy to die, because you have not guarded your master, the L-rd's anointed; and now see where the king's spear is, and the cruse of water that was near his head!" Saul recognized the voice of David. His conscience smote him; his bitter jealousy died away for the moment. He received his spear again and departed from David with these words: "Blessed be thou, my son David; thou shalt undertake great things, and shalt also prevail." The two men met no more.
David in Ziklag
Tired of constant wandering and flight, David determined to leave the territory of Judah and to proceed into the land of the Philistines, where his enemy was not likely to pursue him. So he went westward with his six hundred tried and chosen followers and presented himself before Achish, King of Gath. This monarch received him kindly, and not only allowed him to live in Gath, but also gave him and his men the town of Ziklag for a possession.
From Ziklag David carried on active warfare against the Amalekites. Achish heard confused rumors of these expeditions; but David led him to believe that his arms were turned against his own countrymen in the south of Judah, and that he was thus fighting for Achish no less than for himself. In this manner, the friendship of the Philistine chief towards David was steadily strengthened.