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David Goes to See Ahimelech the Priest

21 Then David left and Jonathan went back to the town. David went to the town named Nob[a] to see Ahimelech the priest.

Ahimelech went out to meet David. He was afraid of David and asked, “Why are you alone? Why isn’t anyone with you?”

David answered him, “The king gave me a special order. He told me, ‘Don’t let anyone know about this mission. No one must know what I told you to do.’ I told my men where to meet me. Now, what food do you have with you? Give me five loaves of bread or whatever you have to eat.”

The priest said to David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread here, but I do have some of the holy bread. Your officers can eat it if they have not had sexual relations with any women.”[b]

David answered the priest, “We have not been with any women. My men keep their bodies[c] holy every time we go out to fight, even on ordinary missions.[d] And this is especially true today.”

There was no bread except the holy bread, so the priest gave David this bread. This was the bread that the priests put on the holy table before the Lord. Each day they took this bread away and put fresh bread in its place.

One of Saul’s officers was there that day. He was Doeg the Edomite, the leader of Saul’s shepherds.[e] He had been kept there before the Lord.[f]

David asked Ahimelech, “Do you have a spear or sword here? The king’s business is very important. I had to leave quickly, and I didn’t bring my sword or any other weapon.”

The priest answered, “The only sword here is the sword of Goliath the Philistine. It is the sword you took from him when you killed him in the Valley of Elah. That sword is behind the ephod, wrapped in a cloth. You may take it if you want to.”

David said, “Goliath’s sword—there’s not another one like it. Give it to me.”

David Runs Away to the Enemy at Gath

10 That day David ran away from Saul and went to King Achish of Gath. 11 Achish’s officers said, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land of Israel? He is the one the Israelites sing about. They dance and sing this song about him:

“Saul has killed thousands of enemies,
    but David has killed tens of thousands.”

12 David paid close attention to what they said. He was afraid of King Achish of Gath, 13 so he pretended to be crazy in front of Achish and his officers. While David was with them, he acted like a crazy man. He spat on the doors of the gate. He let spit fall down his beard.

14 Achish said to his officers, “Look at the man! He is crazy. Why did you bring him to me? 15 I have enough crazy men. I don’t need you to bring this man to my house to act crazy in front of me. Don’t let this man come into my house again.”

David Goes to Different Places

22 David left Gath and ran away to the cave[g] of Adullam. David’s brothers and relatives heard that David was at Adullam and went to see him there. Many people joined David. There were men who were in some kind of trouble, men who owed a lot of money, and men who were just not satisfied with life. All kinds of people joined David, and he became their leader. He had about 400 men with him.

David left Adullam and went to Mizpah in Moab. David said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God is going to do to me.” So David left his parents with the king of Moab. They stayed with the king of Moab as long as David was at the fort.

But the prophet Gad said to David, “Don’t stay in the fort. Go to the land of Judah.” So David left and went to Hereth Forest.

Saul Destroys Ahimelech’s Family

Saul heard the report about David and his men while sitting under the tree on the hill at Gibeah. Saul had his spear in his hand. All of his officers were standing around him. Saul said to his officers who were standing around him, “Listen, men of Benjamin. Do you think that son of Jesse[h] will give you fields and vineyards? He is not one of us, so don’t think he will give you anything or make you officers over 1000 or even 100 men! No, but all of you are plotting against me. None of you told me about my son Jonathan and the agreement he made with the son of Jesse. None of you cares enough about me to tell me that my own son Jonathan encouraged David to turn against me and attack me. And that is what David is doing now.”

Doeg the Edomite was standing there with Saul’s officers. Doeg said, “I saw Jesse’s son at Nob. David came to see Ahimelech son of Ahitub. 10 Ahimelech prayed to the Lord for David and gave him some food. He even gave David the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

11 Then King Saul ordered some men to bring the priest to him. Saul told them to bring Ahimelech son of Ahitub and all his relatives who were priests at Nob. So all of them came to the king. 12 Saul said to Ahimelech, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.”

Ahimelech answered, “Yes, sir.”

13 Saul said to him, “Why did you and Jesse’s son make secret plans against me? You gave David bread and a sword. You prayed to God for him. And right now, David is waiting to attack me.”

14 Ahimelech answered, “David is very faithful to you. Not one of your other officers is as faithful as David. He is your own son-in-law and the captain of your bodyguards. Your own family respects David. 15 That was not the first time I prayed to God for David. Not at all! Don’t blame me or any of my relatives. We are your servants. I know nothing about what is happening.”

16 But the king said, “Ahimelech, you and all your relatives must die.” 17 Then the king told the guards at his side, “Go and kill the priests of the Lord because they are on David’s side too. They knew he was running away, but they didn’t tell me.”

The king’s officers refused to hurt the priests of the Lord. 18 So the king gave the order to Doeg. Saul said, “Doeg, you go kill the priests.” So Doeg the Edomite went and killed the priests. That day he killed 85 men who were priests.[i] 19 Nob was the city of the priests. Doeg killed all the people of Nob. He used his sword and killed men, women, children and small babies. He even killed their cattle, donkeys, and sheep.

20 But Abiathar son of Ahimelech escaped. He ran away and joined David. 21 Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the Lord’s priests. 22 Then David told Abiathar, “I saw Doeg the Edomite at Nob that day. I knew he would tell Saul! I am responsible for the death of your father’s family. 23 Stay with me. Don’t be afraid, because the man who tried to kill you is the same man who wants to kill me. I will protect you if you stay with me.”

David at Keilah

23 People told David, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against the city of Keilah. They are robbing grain from the threshing floors.”

David asked the Lord, “Should I go and fight these Philistines?”

The Lord answered David, “Yes, go attack the Philistines. Save Keilah.”

But David’s men said to him, “Look, our men are afraid here in Judah. Just think how afraid we will be if we go to Keilah, where the Philistine army is lined up and ready for battle.”

David again asked the Lord. And the Lord answered David, “Go down to Keilah. I will help you defeat the Philistines.” So David and his men went to Keilah. David’s men fought the Philistines. They defeated them and took their cattle. In this way David saved the people of Keilah. (When Abiathar ran away to David, Abiathar took an ephod with him.[j])

People told Saul that David was now at Keilah. Saul said, “God has given David to me. David trapped himself when he went into a city surrounded by a wall with gates and bars to lock them.” Saul called all his army together for battle. They prepared to go down to Keilah to attack David and his men.

David learned that Saul was making plans against him. David then said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.”

10 David prayed, “Lord, God of Israel, I have heard that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town because of me. 11 Will Saul come to Keilah? Will the people of Keilah give me to Saul? Lord, God of Israel, I am your servant. Please tell me!”

The Lord answered, “Saul will come.”

12 Again David asked, “Will the people of Keilah give me and my men to Saul?”

The Lord answered, “They will.”

13 So David and his men left Keilah. There were about 600 men who went with David. They kept moving from place to place. Saul learned that David had escaped from Keilah, so he did not go to that city.

Saul Chases David

14 David went into the desert of Ziph and stayed in the mountains and fortresses there. Saul looked for David the whole time, but the Lord[k] didn’t let Saul catch him.

15 David was at Horesh in the desert of Ziph. He was afraid because Saul was coming to kill him. 16 But Saul’s son Jonathan went to see David at Horesh and encouraged him to have a stronger faith in God. 17 Jonathan told David, “Don’t be afraid. My father Saul won’t hurt you. You will become the king of Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father knows this.”

18 Jonathan and David both made an agreement before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, and David stayed at Horesh.

The People of Ziph Tell Saul About David

19 Some people from Ziph went to Saul at Gibeah and told him, “David is hiding in our area. He is at the fortresses of Horesh on Hakilah Hill, south of Jeshimon. 20 Now, King, come down any time you want. It is our duty to give David to you.”

21 Saul answered, “May the Lord bless you for helping me. 22 Go and learn more about David. Keep track of where he goes and who goes to see him. I am told that David is smart and that he is trying to trick me. 23 Find all the hiding places that David uses. Then come back to me and tell me everything. Then I’ll go with you. If David is in the area, I will find him, even if I must go to every family group in Judah.”

24 So those people went back to Ziph before Saul.

David and his men were in the desert of Maon, south of Jeshimon. 25 Saul and his men went to look for David, but the people warned him. They told David that Saul was looking for him. So David then went down to “The Rock” in the desert of Maon. Saul heard that David had gone there, so Saul went to that place to find him.

26 Saul was on one side of the mountain. David and his men were on the other side of the same mountain. David was moving as quickly as possible to get away from Saul. But Saul and his soldiers were going around the mountain to cut them off and trap David and his men.

27 Then a messenger arrived and told Saul, “Come quickly! The Philistines are attacking.”

28 So Saul stopped chasing David and went to fight the Philistines. That is why people call this place “Slippery Rock.”[l] 29 David left the desert of Maon and went to the fortresses near En Gedi.

David Shames Saul

24 After Saul had chased the Philistines away, people told him, “David is in the desert area near En Gedi.”

So Saul chose 3000 men from all over Israel and began searching for David and his men. They looked near Wild Goat Rocks. Saul came to some sheep pens beside the road. There was a cave near there, so Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were deep inside that same cave. David’s men told him, “This is day the Lord told you about when he said, ‘I will give your enemy to you, and you can do whatever you want to him.’”

So David crawled closer and closer to Saul and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Saul didn’t notice what happened. Later, David felt bad about what he did. He said to his men, “I pray the Lord never lets me do anything like that to my master again. I must not do anything against Saul, because he is the Lord’s chosen king.[m] David said these things to stop his men. He would not let his men hurt Saul.

Saul left the cave and went on his way. Later, David came out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!”

Saul looked back. David bowed with his face to the ground to show his respect. David said to Saul, “Why do you listen when people say, ‘David plans to hurt you’? 10 You can see that with your own eyes that is not true. The Lord put you within my grasp today in the cave, but I refused to kill you. I was merciful to you. I said, ‘I won’t hurt my master. Saul is the Lord’s chosen king.’ 11 Look at this piece of cloth in my hand. I cut off the corner of your robe. I could have killed you, but I didn’t. Now, I want you to understand this. I want you to know that I am not planning anything against you. I did nothing wrong to you, but you are hunting me and trying to kill me. 12 Let the Lord be the judge. I hope the Lord will punish you for the wrong you did to me, but I won’t fight you myself. 13 There is an old saying:

‘Bad things come from bad people.’

“I haven’t done anything bad, and I won’t hurt you. 14 Who are you chasing? Did the king of Israel bring an army to chase a single flea or a dying dog? 15 Let the Lord be the judge. Let him decide between you and me. He will support me and show that I am right. He will save me from you.”

16 When David finished speaking, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” Then Saul lifted his voice and began to cry. 17 He said, “You are right, and I am wrong. You were good to me, even though I have been bad to you. 18 You yourself said it when you told me about the good things you did. The Lord put my life in your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 This shows that you are not my enemy. A man doesn’t catch his enemy, and then just let him go. He doesn’t do good things for his enemy. May the Lord reward you for being good to me today. 20 Now, I know that you will become the new king. You will rule the kingdom of Israel. 21 Now make a promise to me with an oath using the Lord’s name. Promise that you will not kill my descendants, even after I die. Promise me that you will not erase my name from my father’s family.”

22 So David made a promise to Saul. He promised that he would not kill Saul’s family. Then Saul went back home. David and his men went back up to the fort.


  1. 1 Samuel 21:1 Nob A city near Ramah where many priests lived. See 1 Sam. 22:19.
  2. 1 Samuel 21:4 Your officers … women This would make the men unclean and not able to eat any food that had been made holy by offering it to God. See Lev. 7:21; 15:1-33.
  3. 1 Samuel 21:5 bodies Literally, “vessels” or “weapons.”
  4. 1 Samuel 21:5 My men … missions See 2 Sam. 11:11 and the rules in Deut. 23:9-14.
  5. 1 Samuel 21:7 shepherds Or “messengers.”
  6. 1 Samuel 21:7 kept there before the Lord This might mean that Doeg was there as part of a special promise to God or some other religious reason. Or it might mean he was being held there because of some crime, such as accidentally killing a man.
  7. 1 Samuel 22:1 cave Or possibly, “fortress.”
  8. 1 Samuel 22:7 that son of Jesse As usual, Saul refers to David by his father’s name, intending it as an insult.
  9. 1 Samuel 22:18 priests Literally, “men who wore the linen ephod.”
  10. 1 Samuel 23:6 When Abiathar … him This means that Abiathar could go before God for David and ask for advice.
  11. 1 Samuel 23:14 the Lord From the ancient Greek version and a Hebrew copy from Qumran. The standard Hebrew text has “God.”
  12. 1 Samuel 23:28 Slippery Rock Or “Sela Hammahlekoth.”
  13. 1 Samuel 24:6 chosen king Literally, “anointed one.” Also in verse 10.

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