Forced to flee the wrath of Saul, David, the future king of Israel, became a fugitive who trusted in his wits to escape harm (1 Sam. 20:41–42). A few months ago, we considered David’s flight to Nob, where he obtained the sword of Goliath, which he earlier had won in battle against the giant. We also learned of his failure to do anything about Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s servant, who was being held by the priest Ahimelech (21:1–9). David’s failure to do anything about Doeg would soon have horrible ramifications for the priests who were helping him.
While on the run from Saul, David began to display the cunning that can serve a political leader well. So that he could dwell in the land of his Philistine enemies safely, David pretended to be a madman before Achish, the king of Gath (vv. 10–15). He also became something of an ancient Robin Hood, gathering a band of outcasts and debtors to help him while he was in the wilderness (22:1–5). Through all this, he practiced deceit and trickiness, and the narrative in Samuel makes no moral evaluation about David’s behavior. On the one hand, Scripture is clear that trusting in the providence of the Lord does not mean giving up the use of our talents, for our Creator works through human means, including our applied wisdom and decisions, to preserve our lives (Prov. 30:24–28; Luke 16:1–9). There are even suggestions in the Bible that what in one instance is a lie, which of course is forbidden (Ex. 20:16), in another instance may be permissible if it means saving the life of innocent people (1:15–21; Josh. 2; 6:25). On the other hand, David’s negligence resulted in the death of Ahimelech and his priests at the hand of Saul, a fact that the fleeing David later recognized (1 Sam. 22:21–23).
In any case, the actions of Saul described in 1 Samuel 22 reveal the extreme depths of depravity to which the king sank in his relentless pursuit of David. Upon hearing from Doeg the Edomite that Ahimelech had assisted the son of Jesse, Saul had Ahimelech and all of the other priests at Nob slaughtered (22:6–19). Only Ahimelech’s son Abiathar escaped the sword. He found David, who realized the indirect role he had played in the death of the priests under Saul. So David, being an honorable and pious man, took Abiathar under his wing to protect him in an attempt to make up at least partially for his own failure to safeguard Ahimelech (vv. 20–23).