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1 Samuel 20-22 Common English Bible (CEB)

Jonathan and David’s friendship

20 David fled from the camps at Ramah. He came to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father that he wants me dead?”

Jonathan said to him, “No! You are not going to die! Listen: My father doesn’t do anything big or small without telling me first. Why would my father hide this from me? It isn’t true!”

But David solemnly promised in response, “Your father knows full well that you like me. He probably said, ‘Jonathan must not learn about this or he’ll be upset.’[a] But I promise you—on the Lord’s life and yours!—that I am this close to death!”

“What do you want me to do?” Jonathan said to David. “I’ll do it.”

“Okay, listen,” David answered Jonathan. “Tomorrow is the new moon, and I’m supposed to sit with the king at the feast. Instead, let me go and I’ll hide in the field until nighttime.[b] If your father takes note of my absence, tell him, ‘David begged my permission to run down to his hometown Bethlehem, because there is an annual sacrifice there for his whole family.’ If Saul says ‘Fine,’ then I, your servant, am safe. But if he loses his temper, then you’ll know for certain that he intends to harm me. So be loyal to your servant, because you’ve brought your servant into a sacred covenant[c] with you. If I’m guilty, then kill me yourself; just don’t take me back to your father.”

“Enough!” Jonathan replied. “If I can determine for certain that my father intends to harm you, of course I’ll tell you!”

10 “Who will tell me if your father responds harshly?” David asked Jonathan.

11 “Come on,” Jonathan said to David. “Let’s go into the field.” So both of them went out into the field. 12 Then Jonathan told David, “I pledge by the Lord God of Israel that I will question my father by this time tomorrow or on the third day. If he seems favorable toward David, I will definitely send word and make sure you know. 13 But if my father intends to harm you, then may the Lord deal harshly with me, Jonathan, and worse still if I don’t tell you right away so that you can escape safely. May the Lord be with you as he once was with my father. 14 If I remain alive, be loyal to me.[d] But if I die, 15 don’t ever stop being loyal to my household. Once the Lord has eliminated all of David’s enemies from the earth, 16 if Jonathan’s name is also eliminated, then the Lord will seek retribution from David!”[e]

17 So Jonathan again made a pledge to David[f] because he loved David as much as himself. 18 “Tomorrow is the festival of the new moon,” Jonathan told David. “You will be missed because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, go all the way to the spot where you hid on the day of the incident, and stay close to that mound.[g] 20 On the third day I will shoot an arrow to the side of the mound as if aiming at a target.[h] 21 Then I’ll send the servant boy, saying, ‘Go retrieve the arrow.’ If I yell to the boy, ‘Hey! The arrow is on this side of you. Get it!’ then you can come out because it will be safe for you. There won’t be any trouble—I make a pledge on the Lord’s life. 22 But if I yell to the young man, ‘Hey! The arrow is past you,’ then run for it, because the Lord has sent you away. 23 Either way, the Lord is witness[i] between us forever regarding the promise we made to each other.” 24 So David hid himself in the field.

When the new moon came, the king sat at the feast to eat. 25 He took his customary seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite him[j] while Abner sat beside Saul. David’s seat was empty. 26 Saul didn’t say anything that day because he thought, Perhaps David became unclean somehow. That must be it. 27 But on the next day, the second of the new moon, David’s seat was still empty. Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t Jesse’s son come to the table,[k] either yesterday or today?”

28 Jonathan answered Saul, “David begged my permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Please let me go because we have a family sacrifice there in town, and my brother has ordered me to be present. Please do me a favor and let me slip away so I can see my family.’ That’s why David hasn’t been at the king’s table.”

30 At that, Saul got angry at Jonathan. “You son of a stubborn, rebellious woman!” he said. “Do you think I don’t know how you’ve allied yourself with Jesse’s son? Shame on you and on the mother who birthed you![l] 31 As long as Jesse’s son lives on this earth, neither you nor your dynasty will be secure. Now have him brought to me because he’s a dead man!”

32 But Jonathan answered his father Saul, “Why should David be executed? What has he done?”

33 At that, Saul threw[m] his spear at Jonathan to strike him, and Jonathan realized that his father intended to kill David. 34 Jonathan got up from the table in a rage. He didn’t eat anything on the second day of the new moon because he was worried about David and because his father had humiliated him.

35 In the morning, Jonathan went out to the field for the meeting with David, and a young servant boy went with him. 36 He said to the boy, “Go quickly and retrieve the arrow that I shoot.” So the boy ran off, and he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy got to the spot where Jonathan shot the arrow, Jonathan yelled to him, “Isn’t the arrow past you?” 38 Jonathan yelled again to the boy, “Quick! Hurry up! Don’t just stand there!” So Jonathan’s servant boy gathered up the arrow and came back to his master. 39 The boy had no idea what had happened; only Jonathan and David knew. 40 Jonathan handed his weapons to the boy and told him, “Get going. Take these back to town.”

41 As soon as the boy was gone, David came out from behind the mound[n] and fell down, face on the ground, bowing low three times. The friends kissed each other, and cried with each other, but David cried hardest. 42 [o] Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace because the two of us made a solemn pledge in the Lord’s name when we said, ‘The Lord is witness between us and between our descendants forever.’” Then David got up and left, but Jonathan went back to town.

David helped at Nob

21 [p] David came to Nob where Ahimelech was priest. Ahimelech was shaking in fear when he met David. “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” he asked.

David answered Ahimelech the priest, “The king has given me orders, but he instructed me, ‘Don’t let anyone know anything about the mission I’m sending you on or about your orders.’ As for my troops, I told them to meet me at an undisclosed location. Now what do you have here with you? Give me five loaves of bread or whatever you can find.”

“I don’t have any regular bread on hand,” the priest answered David, “just holy bread—but only if your troops have abstained from sexual activity.”

“Definitely,” David answered the priest. “Whenever I go out to war, women are off-limits; that’s our standard operating procedure. Even on regular missions, the men’s gear is[q] kept holy. That’s even more true today, with the mission holy along with the gear.”[r] So the priest gave David holy bread, because there was no other bread except the bread of the presence, which is removed from the Lord’s presence and replaced by warm bread as soon as it is taken away.

Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained in the Lord’s presence. His name was Doeg. He was an Edomite and Saul’s head shepherd.

David asked Ahimelech, “Do you have a spear or sword on hand? I didn’t bring my sword or gear with me because the king’s mission was urgent.”

The priest said, “The sword of Goliath, the Philistine you killed in the Elah Valley, is here wrapped in a cloth behind a priestly vest.[s] If you want it, take it, because there are no other swords here.”

David said, “No sword is as good as that one! Give it to me!”

David pretends to be crazy

10 So David got up and continued running from Saul. He went to Achish, Gath’s king. 11 Achish’s servants said to him, “Isn’t that David, king of the land? He’s the one people sing about in their dances,

‘Saul has killed his thousands,
    but David has killed his tens of thousands!’”

12 David took these words very seriously and became very frightened of Achish, Gath’s king. 13 So he changed the way he acted with them, pretending to be insane while he was with them.[t] He scratched marks on the doors of the city gates[u] and let spit run down his chin.

14 “Can’t you see he’s crazy?” Achish asked his servants. “Why bring him to me? 15 Am I short on insane people that you’ve brought this person to go crazy right in front of me? Do you really think I’m going to let this man enter my house?”

David gathers support

22 David left Gath and escaped to Adullam’s fortress.[v] When David’s siblings and all his extended family learned of this, they went to join him there. Everyone who was in trouble, in debt, or in desperate circumstances gathered around David, and he became their leader. Approximately four hundred men joined him.

From there David went to Mizpeh in Moab. He said to the Moabite king, “Please let my father and mother stay with you until I know what God will do to me.” So David left his parents with the Moabite king, and they stayed with him the whole time David was in the fortress.

Then the prophet Gad told David, “Don’t stay in the fortress any longer. Leave now and go to the land of Judah.” So David left and went to Hereth forest.

Saul kills the priests of Nob

Saul learned that David and his soldiers had been located. Saul was sitting under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, spear in hand, with all his servants waiting on him. He said to them, “Listen up, Benjaminites! Will Jesse’s son give fields and vineyards to each and every one of you? Will he make each one of you commanders of units of one thousand men or commanders of units of one hundred? Is that why all of you have conspired against me? No one informed me when my son made a covenant with Jesse’s son! Not one of you is concerned about me or informs me when my own son sets my servant against me in an ambush—but that’s what has happened today!”

Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s servants, responded, “I saw Jesse’s son go to Ahimelech, Ahitub’s son, at Nob. 10 Ahimelech questioned the Lord for David, and gave him provisions as well as the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

11 The king then sent for the priest Ahimelech, Ahitub’s son, and all his extended family, who were the priests at Nob. All of them came to the king.

12 “Listen here, son of Ahitub,” Saul said.

“Yes sir,” he replied.

13 Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me—you with Jesse’s son—giving him food and a sword and questioning God for him so that he is now against me, waiting in ambush, which is what has happened today?”

14 Ahimelech answered the king, “Out of all your servants, who is as trustworthy as David? He is the king’s son-in-law, does whatever you ask, and is well respected in your house. 15 Was that the first time I questioned God for him? Of course not! But please, the king shouldn’t accuse me, his servant, or anyone in my father’s household of any wrongdoing, because your servant knew nothing whatsoever about this matter.”

16 But the king said, “You will be executed, Ahimelech—you and all of your father’s household!”

17 The king ordered the guards waiting on him: “Go ahead and kill the Lord’s priests because they’ve joined up with David too. They knew he was on the run but didn’t inform me.”

But the king’s servants were unwilling to lift a hand to attack the Lord’s priests.

18 The king then ordered Doeg, “Doeg! You go attack the priests.” So Doeg the Edomite went and attacked the priests, killing eighty-five men who wore the linen priestly vest[w] that day. 19 He put the whole priestly city of Nob to the sword: men and women, children and infants, even oxen, donkeys, and sheep.

20 But one of the sons of Ahimelech, Ahitub’s son, escaped. His name was Abiathar, and he fled to David. 21 Abiathar reported to David that Saul had slaughtered the Lord’s priests.

22 David told Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew that he would tell Saul everything. I am to blame[x] for the deaths in your father’s family. 23 Stay with me, and don’t be afraid. The one who seeks my life now seeks yours too. But you’ll be safe with me.”


  1. 1 Samuel 20:3 LXX or he’ll tell David; cf 20:34
  2. 1 Samuel 20:5 LXX; MT until the third evening; cf 20:12, 19-20
  3. 1 Samuel 20:8 MT the Lord’s covenant
  4. 1 Samuel 20:14 LXX; MT show me the Lord’s faithful love
  5. 1 Samuel 20:16 20:14-16 follows LXX.
  6. 1 Samuel 20:17 LXX; MT Jonathan made David pledge.
  7. 1 Samuel 20:19 LXX; MT to the stone Ezel; cf 20:41
  8. 1 Samuel 20:20 Correction; MT arrows (plural here and in 20:21-22, 36, 38 Qere)
  9. 1 Samuel 20:23 LXX; MT lacks witness; also in 20:42.
  10. 1 Samuel 20:25 LXX; MT Jonathan arose
  11. 1 Samuel 20:27 LXX, DSS (4QSamb); MT to the feast
  12. 1 Samuel 20:30 Or and shame on your mother’s nakedness.
  13. 1 Samuel 20:33 LXX; MT pointed
  14. 1 Samuel 20:41 LXX; MT beside the south
  15. 1 Samuel 20:42 21:1 in Heb
  16. 1 Samuel 21:1 21:2 in Heb
  17. 1 Samuel 21:5 MT; LXX all the men are
  18. 1 Samuel 21:5 Heb uncertain
  19. 1 Samuel 21:9 DSS (4QSamb); MT behind the priestly vest (Heb ephod)
  20. 1 Samuel 21:13 Or in their hand; Heb uncertain
  21. 1 Samuel 21:13 Or with correction he spit on the doors of the city gate or he fell down at the doors of the city gate (cf LXX).
  22. 1 Samuel 22:1 Correction; cf 22:4-5; MT cave
  23. 1 Samuel 22:18 Heb ephod
  24. 1 Samuel 22:22 LXX, Vulg; Heb uncertain
Common English Bible (CEB)

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

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