David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab. And he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me.” And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold. Then the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not remain in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth. – 1 Samuel 22:1-5 ESV
David left Gath in a hurry, the drool still clinging to his beard and the laughter of the Philistines still ringing in his ears. He had managed to escape with his life, but had been forced to leave his dignity behind. He had put himself in a very dangerous predicament, and had been forced to feign insanity when his plan fell apart. But as a result of this painful predicament, David was learning to trust in God and not himself. It would prove to be a lifelong lesson, but with each passing circumstance, David would learn to lean less on himself and more on God. This would not be the last time David found himself in a tight spot. In fact, he would later write in one on his psalms:
But I am a worm and not a man.
I am scorned and despised by all!
Everyone who sees me mocks me.
They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
“Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
let the Lord rescue him!” – Psalm 22:6-8 NLT
David would know what it was like to be despised and dejected. He would experience many moments of doubt and despair. But through it all, he would discover the reality of God’s presence and power, and what it means to trust Him.
After having escaped from Gath by the skin of his teeth, David headed to an area called Adullam, the former site of an ancient Canaanite city. Adullam was not far from the valley of Elah, where David had slain Goliath. The area is pockmarked with caves, many of which are large enough to hold up to 400 men. It was in one of these caves that David sought refuge. But he would not be alone for long. Somehow, his father and brothers received word that David was there, and they made their way to him, along with their entire households. David’s cave was filling up fast and would soon be standing room only, because the text tells us that “all who were down on their luck came around—losers and vagrants and misfits of all sorts” (1 Samuel 22:2 MSG). David suddenly found himself surrounded by people with money problems, malcontents and an assortment of misfits. These were all individuals who shared one thing in common: A general dislike for King Saul. In one way or another, this man’s reign had impacted them negatively and they were willing to risk all in order to throw in their lot with David, a man with a bounty on his head.
Just hours earlier, David had been surrounded by hostile Philistines. Now, he was surrounded by disgruntled and desperate Hebrews, who were looking to him for leadership and direction. The text tells us that there were 400 men who allied themselves with David and viewed him as their commander. David was no longer alone, but now he found himself responsible for the well-being and protection of hundreds of men and their families. How would he feed them all? How was he going to be able to protect them from the professional soldiers Saul would send to hunt him down? Whether he like it or not, David suddenly found himself a leader. Yes, it was a motley crew of misfits, and they would put David’s leadership abilities to the test, but this was the crucible in which God had chosen to purify and perfect the man whom He had chosen to be the next king of Israel.
One of the first decisions David made was to send his father and mother to stay in the land of Moab. He arranged with the King of Moab to provide his parents with a safe haven, “until I know what God is going to do for me” (1 Samuel 22:3 NLT). David’s great-grandmother, Ruth, had been a Moabitess, so there was a familial connection that helps explain David’s decision. His parents would remain in Moab until he had a better idea as to what God had in store for him. David was slowly learning to seek God’s will. He had learned a painful lesson at Gath. Taking matters into his own hands and trying to determine his fate apart from God was a dangerous game to play. He had no clue what the future held, but he was anxious to know what God was going to do. And he wouldn’t have to wait long. One day, a prophet appeared at the Cave of Adullam and gave David a word from God. He was to leave immediately and return to the land of Judah. This would not be the last time during David’s wilderness wanderings that God would speak to him through a prophet. God had not left David alone, and He would not leave him directionless.
We have to remember that David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. It is still not clear whether David was aware of this fact. Up until this point in the narrative, there is no indication that David had ever been told by Samuel what his anointing had meant. David has shown no signs that he knew he was the king-in-waiting. He had been content to be a commander in Saul’s army. He had shown no aspirations of being king or any expectations that God was going to remove Saul and put him in his place on the throne. And yet, we know that God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel. So when we read this story we can’t help but wonder why God chose to do things the way He did. Why was he allowing Saul to persecute and pursue David? Why was David being forced to run for his life and live like a fugitive? Why was God willing to let Saul, a man He had rejected as king, remain king? None of it seems to make sense. It all appears illogical and unnecessary. But God’s ways are not our ways. His plans rarely make sense to us. His methods, more often than not, come across as little more than madness to us. But the life of David is meant to reveal to us the sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing will of God. David was receiving God’s will one day at a time. We get to see the whole picture. We are given access to the entire story. We know how it ends. And we can see that God was with David every step of the way.
David was going to experience many dark days. He would know what it means to despair and feel the loneliness that comes with leadership. There would be moments when all seemed lost. There would be days when he felt abandoned by God. He would later write:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame. – Psalm 22:1-5 NLT
But through it all, David would discover the holiness and faithfulness of God. And this lesson, while painful, would be crucial in his transformation from shepherd of sheep to shepherd of the people of God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.