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Ahimelech Helps David

21 (A) David went to see Ahimelech, a priest who lived in the town of Nob. Ahimelech was trembling with fear as he came out to meet David. “Why are you alone?” Ahimelech asked. “Why isn't anyone else with you?”

“I'm on a mission for King Saul,” David answered. “He ordered me not to tell anyone what the mission is all about, so I ordered my soldiers to stay somewhere else. Do you have any food you can give me? Could you spare five loaves of bread?”

“The only bread I have is the sacred bread,” the priest told David. “You can have it if your soldiers didn't sleep with women last night.”[a]

“Of course we didn't sleep with women,” David answered. “I never let my men do that when we're on a mission. They have to be acceptable to worship God even when we're on a regular mission, and today we're on a special mission.”

(B) The only bread the priest had was the sacred bread that he had taken from the place of worship after putting out the fresh loaves. So he gave it to David.

It so happened that one of Saul's officers was there, worshiping the Lord that day. His name was Doeg the Edomite,[b] and he was the strongest of[c] Saul's shepherds.

David asked Ahimelech, “Do you have a spear or a sword? I had to leave so quickly on this mission for the king that I didn't bring along my sword or any other weapons.”

(C) The priest answered, “The only sword here is the one that belonged to Goliath the Philistine. You were the one who killed him in Elah Valley, and so you can take his sword if you want to. It's wrapped in a cloth behind the statue.”

“It's the best sword there is,” David said. “I'll take it!”

David Tries To Find Safety in Gath

10 David kept on running from Saul that day until he came to Gath,[d] where he met with King Achish. 11 (D) The officers of King Achish were also there, and they asked Achish, “Isn't David a king back in his own country? Don't the Israelites dance and sing,

‘Saul has killed
    a thousand enemies;
David has killed
    ten thousand’?”

12 (E) David thought about what they were saying, and it made him afraid of Achish. 13 (F) So right there in front of everyone, he pretended to be insane. He acted confused and started making scratches on the doors of the town gate, while drooling in his beard.

14 “Look at him!” Achish said to his officers. “You can see he's crazy. Why did you bring him to me? 15 I have enough crazy people without your bringing another one here. Keep him away from my palace!”

People Join David

22 (G) When David escaped from the town of Gath, he went to Adullam Cave. His brothers and the rest of his family found out where he was, and they followed him there. A lot of other people joined him too. Some were in trouble, others were angry or in debt, and David was soon the leader of 400 men.

David left Adullam Cave and went to the town of Mizpeh in Moab, where he talked with the king of Moab. “Please,” David said, “let my father and mother stay with you until I find out what God will do with me.” So he brought his parents to the king of Moab, and they stayed with him while David was in hiding.

One day the prophet Gad told David, “Don't stay here! Go back to Judah.” David then left and went to Hereth Forest.

Saul Kills the Priests of the Lord

Saul was sitting under a small tree on top of the hill at Gibeah when he heard that David and his men had been located. Saul was holding his spear, and his officers were standing in front of him. He told them:

Listen to me! You belong to the Benjamin tribe,[e] so if that son of Jesse ever becomes king, he won't give you fields or vineyards. He won't make you officers in charge of thousands or hundreds as I have done. But you're all plotting against me! Not one of you told me that my own son Jonathan had made an agreement with him. Not one of you cared enough to tell me that Jonathan had helped one of my officers[f] rebel. Now that son of Jesse is trying to ambush me.

(H) Doeg the Edomite was standing with the other officers and spoke up, “When I was in the town of Nob, I saw that son of Jesse. He was visiting the priest Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. 10 Ahimelech talked to the Lord for him, then gave him food and the sword that had belonged to Goliath the Philistine.”

11 Saul sent a message to Ahimelech and his whole family of priests at Nob, ordering them to come to him. When they came, 12 Saul told them, “Listen to me, you son of Ahitub.”

“Certainly, Your Majesty,” Ahimelech answered.

13 Saul demanded, “Why did you plot against me with that son of Jesse? You helped him rebel against me by giving him food and a sword, and by talking with God for him. Now he's trying to ambush me!”

14 “Your Majesty, none of your officers is more loyal than David!” Ahimelech replied. “He's your son-in-law and the captain of your bodyguard. Everyone in your family respects him. 15 This isn't the first time I've talked with God for David, and it's never made you angry before! Please don't accuse me or my family like this. I have no idea what's going on!”

16 “Ahimelech,” Saul said, “you and your whole family are going to die.”

17 Saul shouted to his bodyguards, “These priests of the Lord helped David! They knew he was running away, but they didn't tell me. Kill them!”

But the king's officers would not attack the priests of the Lord.

18 Saul turned to Doeg, who was from Edom, and said, “Kill the priests!”

On that same day, Doeg killed 85 priests. 19 Then he attacked the town of Nob, where the priests had lived, and he killed everyone there—men, women, children, and babies. He even killed their cattle, donkeys, and sheep.

Only Abiathar Escapes from Nob

20 Ahimelech's son Abiathar was the only one who escaped. He ran to David 21 and told him, “Saul has murdered the Lord's priests at Nob!”

22 David answered, “That day when I saw Doeg, I knew he would tell Saul! Your family died because of me. 23 Stay here. Isn't the same person trying to kill both of us? Don't worry! You'll be safe here with me.”

David Rescues the Town of Keilah

23 One day some people told David, “The Philistines keep attacking the town of Keilah and stealing grain from the threshing place.”

David asked the Lord, “Should I attack these Philistines?”

“Yes,” the Lord answered. “Attack them and rescue Keilah.”

But David's men said, “Look, even here in Judah we're afraid of the Philistines. We will be terrified if we try to fight them at Keilah!”[g]

David asked the Lord about it again. “Leave at once,” the Lord answered. “I will give you victory over the Philistines at Keilah.”

David and his men went there and fiercely attacked the Philistines. They killed many of them, then led away their cattle, and rescued the people of Keilah.

6-8 Meanwhile, Saul heard that David was in Keilah. “God has let me catch David,” Saul said. “David is trapped inside a walled town where the gates can be locked.” Saul decided to go there and surround the town, in order to trap David and his men. He sent messengers who told the towns and villages, “Send men to serve in Saul's army!”

By this time, Abiathar had joined David in Keilah and had brought along everything he needed to get answers from God.

David heard about Saul's plan to capture him, and he told Abiathar, “Let's ask God what we should do.”

10 David prayed, “Lord God of Israel, I was told that Saul is planning to come here. What should I do? Suppose he threatens to destroy the town because of me. 11 Would the leaders of Keilah turn me over to Saul? Or is he really coming? Please tell me, Lord.”

“Yes, he will come,” the Lord answered.

12 David asked, “Would the leaders of Keilah hand me and my soldiers over to Saul?”

“Yes, they would,” the Lord answered.

13 David and his 600 men got out of there fast and started moving from place to place. Saul heard that David had left Keilah, and he decided not to go after him.

Jonathan Says David Will Be King

14 David stayed in hideouts in the hill country of Ziph Desert. Saul kept searching, but God never let Saul catch him.

15 One time, David was at Horesh in Ziph Desert. He was afraid because[h] Saul had come to the area to kill him. 16 But Jonathan went to see David, and God helped him encourage David. 17 “Don't be afraid,” Jonathan said. “My father Saul will never get his hands on you. In fact, you're going to be the next king of Israel, and I'll be your highest official. Even my father knows it's true.”

18 (I) They both promised the Lord that they would always be loyal to each other. Then Jonathan went home, but David stayed at Horesh.

David Escapes from Saul

19 (J) Some people from the town of Ziph went to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Your Majesty, David has a hideout not far from us! It's near Horesh, somewhere on Mount Hachilah south of Jeshimon.[i] 20 If you come, we will help you catch him.”

21 Saul told them:

You've done me a big favor, and I pray that the Lord will bless you. 22 Now please do just a little more for me. Find out exactly where David is, as well as where he goes, and who has seen him there. I've been told that he's very tricky. 23 Find out where all his hiding places are and come back when you're sure. Then I'll go with you. If he is still in the area, or anywhere among the clans of Judah, I'll find him.

24 The people from Ziph went back ahead of Saul, and they found out that David and his men were still south of Jeshimon in the Maon Desert. 25 Saul and his army set out to find David. But David heard that Saul was coming, and he went to a place called The Rock, one of his hideouts in Maon Desert.

Saul found out where David was and started closing in on him. 26 Saul was going around a hill on one side, and David and his men were on the other side, trying to get away. Saul and his soldiers were just about to capture David and his men, 27 when a messenger came to Saul and said, “Come quickly! The Philistines are attacking Israel and taking everything.”

28 Saul stopped going after David and went back to fight the Philistines. That's why the place is called “Escape Rock.”

29 David left and went to live in the hideouts at En-Gedi.

David Lets Saul Live

24 When Saul got back from fighting off the Philistines, he heard that David was in the desert around En-Gedi. Saul led 3,000 of Israel's best soldiers out to look for David and his men near Wild Goat Rocks at En-Gedi. (K) There were some sheep pens along the side of the road, and one of them was built around the entrance to a cave. Saul went into the cave to relieve himself.

David and his men were hiding at the back of the cave. They whispered to David, “The Lord told you he was going to let you defeat your enemies and do whatever you want with them. This must be the day the Lord was talking about.”

David sneaked over and cut off a small piece[j] of Saul's robe, but Saul didn't notice a thing. Afterwards, David was sorry that he had even done that, 6-7 (L) and he told his men, “Stop talking foolishly. We're not going to attack Saul. He's my king, and I pray that the Lord will keep me from doing anything to harm his chosen king.”

Saul left the cave and started down the road. Soon, David also got up and left the cave. “Your Majesty!” he shouted from a distance.

Saul turned around to look. David bowed down very low and said:

Your Majesty, why do you listen to people who say that I'm trying to harm you? 10 You can see for yourself that the Lord gave me the chance to catch you in the cave today. Some of my men wanted to kill you, but I wouldn't let them do it. I told them, “I will not harm the Lord's chosen king!” 11 Your Majesty, look at what I'm holding. You can see that it's a piece of your robe. If I could cut off a piece of your robe, I could have killed you. But I let you live, and that should prove I'm not trying to harm you or to rebel. I haven't done anything to you, and yet you keep trying to ambush and kill me.

12 I'll let the Lord decide which one of us has done right. I pray that the Lord will punish you for what you're doing to me, but I won't do anything to you. 13 An old proverb says, “Only evil people do evil things,” and so I won't harm you.

14 (M) Why should the king of Israel be out chasing me, anyway? I'm as worthless as a dead dog or a flea. 15 I pray that the Lord will help me escape and show that I am in the right.

16 “David, my son—is that you?” Saul asked. Then he started crying 17 and said:

David, you're a better person than I am. You treated me with kindness, even though I've been cruel to you. 18 You've told me how you were kind enough not to kill me when the Lord gave you the chance. 19 If you really were my enemy, you wouldn't have let me leave here alive. I pray that the Lord will give you a big reward for what you did today.

20 I realize now that you will be the next king, and a powerful king at that. 21 Promise me with the Lord as your witness, that you won't wipe out my descendants. Let them live to keep my family name alive.

22 So David promised, and Saul went home. David and his men returned to their hideout.


  1. 21.4 night: Having sex was one of the things that would make someone temporarily unfit to take part in worship or a sacred meal (see Exodus 19.15; Leviticus 15.18).
  2. 21.7 Edomite: A person from the country of Edom, to the south of Israel.
  3. 21.7 the strongest of: Or “in charge of.”
  4. 21.10 Gath: One of the five main Philistine towns.
  5. 22.7 You … Benjamin tribe: David was from the Judah tribe and would have given special privileges to the people of his own tribe rather than to those of Benjamin.
  6. 22.7,8 son of Jesse … officers: That is, David. Saul avoids even saying David's name.
  7. 23.3 Keilah: Keilah was probably not controlled by Israelites at this time.
  8. 23.15 He … because: Or “He saw that.”
  9. 23.19 Jeshimon: A place in the desert near the southern border of Judah.
  10. 24.4 small piece: Hebrew “corner” or “lower hem.”

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