Fugitive Lessons (1 Samuel 21:1-15)

It is now over 20 years ago that Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones starred in the 1993 film “The Fugitive” – based upon a 1960s television series of the same name. Harrison Ford plays the role of a wrongfully-convicted killer of his wife, and he escapes from custody and sets out to prove his innocence, all the while being pursued by U.S. Marshals.

The story of David on the run from Saul is not really a categorically different sort of action-packed adventure.

As we saw yesterday, David’s life is not safe in the presence of King Saul. He bids farewell to his friend Jonathan and sets out for what will be likely about a decade of his life on the run from the government as a fugitive. Today’s chapter is the first of several that talk about some of his adventures. And a number of Psalms are written by David during this time of his life as well, and we’ll look at one of them tomorrow.

In 1 Samuel 21 we see two fugitive stories. The first is about David going to a place where the Ark was and where there were the priests of Nob. David finds help here – he finds food at a time when he was near starving, being allowed to each the de-consecrated bread that was actually only to be eaten by the priests.

David at Nob

21:1 David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”

2 David answered Ahimelek the priest, “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.”

4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.”

5 David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!”6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.

7 Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.

Remember this name – Doeg – as he is essentially a spy for Saul, and he will return in the story of the next chapter. This is not a good guy.

8 David asked Ahimelek, “Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.”

9 The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.”

David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

The principle is that life itself is more holy than bread. Jesus referenced this very passage, as it reads in Matthew 12:1-8 …

12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

David at Gath

10 That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: “‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?”

12 David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. 13 So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.

14 Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me?15 Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and David goes to a place where Saul will not pursue him – into enemy territory of the Philistines. There he feigns being a madman. It was not a practice in ancient times to kill the insane, as superstitions were that this would offend the gods in some way and bring trouble upon oneself for doing so.

A tough faith comes out of tough times

So, have you been going through a rough stretch of life? Does it seem like God is far away? You know what is right, you are seeking to live rightly, but you don’t seem to be finding the rewards for it?

Look at David here … is your life that bad right now?

More questions … looking back over your life if you’ve known the Lord for a longer period of time … when did you grow the most in your faith? When things were going swimmingly well? Or when times were difficult and you had to throw yourself upon the Lord?

The well-known women’s Bible teacher and former missionary Elizabeth Elliott had some years ago a program on Christian radio called “Gateway to Joy.”  I remember hearing her say one time that she was asked by another woman, “How can I become such a great woman of faith as you are?”

Sensing that the questioner was seeking some sort of immediate “fix” or “magical spiritual pill,” Elizabeth said something to this effect, “Well, you can have your husband killed by a hostile Indian tribe in Ecuador and then live among those savages, raise a child as a widow, marry a second time and become a widow a second time, and deal with dozens of others challenges of life, and then maybe you too can have a great faith.”

David was anointed as a boy to become the king of the nation. You would think that God would take better care of him. But God was with him in everything, teaching and preparing him – even through years of trauma – to be dependent upon the Lord for all things.

This theme of suffering and carrying the cross before wearing the crown – our subtitle of the series – is a timeless truth that resounds to our day and our lives as well. God is so much more interested in our heart relationship of dependence upon him than he is that we have success and comfort.

Look to him today, right now, this moment, for whatever challenge you have … whatever fugitive feeling you possess about life in this unjust world.