The historical records of David’s early reign present the various means of his escapes from Saul and other enemies. To cope, David put pen to paper, composing poems of deliverance arranged in the Psalms of the Old Testament. Though Saul schemed against David and threatened any who would inhibit his pursuit of David, Saul would not be successful. David would one day reign over Israel just as the Lord had said (see 1 Sam 13:14; 16:1-13).
David’s flight from Saul is characterized by some unconventional tactics. David was only partially truthful to Ahimelech the priest about his flight from Saul, when he took some of the consecrated bread as food for men who were not priests (1 Sam 21:1-9). David pretended to be insane before King Achish of Gath (1 Sam 21:10-15). In trepidation before these foreigners, David prayed, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps 56:3-4). David even entrusted the safety of his family to foreigners, that is, to Moab and its king (1 Sam 22:1-5).
Saul’s spiritual instability compelled David to run for his life. After Saul provoked his soldiers to turn against David, Doeg the Edomite acted as an informant of David’s latest location and the supply Ahimelech the priest had given to David and his troops (1 Sam 22:6-10). This event was so significant that David composed Psalm 52 as a poem of response. Concerning Doeg he wrote, “Why brag about evil, you hero! God’s faithful love is constant…I am like a flourishing olive tree in the house of God; I trust in God’s faithful love forever and ever” (Ps 52:1, 8).
When Saul arrived to interrogate Ahimelech, the priest maintained his innocence (1 Sam 22:14-15). Saul did not believe him. Upon condemning Ahimelech, and all of the priests, for assisting David, Saul ordered them killed. The majority of Saul’s men did not heed the king’s command: “The king’s servants would not lift a hand to execute the priests of the LORD” (1 Sam 22:17). Yet Doeg the Edomite, who had earlier informed Saul of Ahimelech’s kindness to David, rose at Saul’s command and killed 85 priests as well as the people of Nob where the priests and their families dwelt (1 Sam 22:18b-19).
In God’s providence, one of the priests escaped, Abiathar the son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub (1 Sam 22:20). Somehow informed of David’s location, Abiathar fled to David and reported Saul’s latest folly (1 Sam 22:21). David’s concerns went beyond himself and in benevolence he told the young priest, “Stay with me. Don’t be afraid, for the one who wants to take my life wants to take your life. You will be safe with me” (1 Sam 22:23). David may have had in mind someone like Abiathar when he prayed, “Let those who want my vindication shout for joy and be glad; let them continually say, ‘The LORD be exalted, who wants His servant’s well-being’” (Ps 35:27); and, “The righteous will gather around me because You deal generously with me” (Ps 142:7).
In the New Testament, David’s bold acts in 1 Samuel 21 are used to explicate the supremacy of Jesus.
(1) Jesus Himself referenced David’s willingness to eat consecrated bread from Ahimelech the priest (see Matt 12:1-8//Mark 2:23-28//Luke 6:1-5). Jesus and His disciples were traveling through the grain fields on the Sabbath and satisfied their hunger by picking some heads of grain and eating them. The Pharisees were outraged, saying to Jesus, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” (Matt 12:2). Jesus called their attention to David’s flight from Saul and God’s provision of sacred bread for David and his men. Jesus’ point was not only that He and His disciples were doing sacred work—which provided them (like the priests serving in the temple) exemption from Sabbath laws—but also that One greater than the temple had arrived (Matt 12:6). Jesus was concerned that the Pharisees recognize that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8).
(2) As evidence of Jesus’ deity, Peter cited Psalm 34, which records David’s reflection on when he pretended to be insane before the king of Gath. Peter took David’s phrase, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8) as a reference to the Lord Jesus, the living stone that had been rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God (1 Pet 2:3-4). In Ps 34:12-16, David reflected on the noble paths of pursuing peace and trusting God when in danger. Peter saw in David’s words an apt exhortation for his audience in 1 Pet 3:10-12. There Peter concluded his plea that his readers live honorably toward their civil authorities, masters, and spouses in light of Christ (1 Pet 2:11-3:7). Peter knew that God would bless his audience as they sought to live peacefully just as David did when he was among the Philistines.