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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 22

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-4


1 Samuel 22:1. “Adullam.” “The site of Adullam (mentioned in Joshua 15:35, etc) has not yet been identified, but from the mention of it in the above and other passages in proximity with other known towns, it is likely that it was near Deir Dûbban, five or six miles north of Eleutheropolis … The limestone cliffs of the whole of that locality are pierced with extensive excavations (Robinson ii. 23, 51–53), some one of which was possibly the refuge of David.” (Abridged from Smith’s Biblical Dictionary). The general opinion of commentators and travellers agree with this, but Thomson supports the ancient view that it was near the village Khureitein, five miles south-east of Bethlehem, and thus describes his visit to that spot: “Leaving our horse in charge of wild Arabs, and taking one for a guide, we started for the cave, having a fearful gorge below, gigantic cliffs above, and a path winding along a shelf of the rock, narrow enough to make the nervous among us shudder. At length from a great rock hanging on the edge of this shelf, we sprang by a long leap into a low window which opened into the perpendicular face of the cliff. We were then within the hold of David, and creeping half doubled through a narrow crevice for a few rods, we stood beneath the dark vault of the first grand chamber of this mysterious and oppressive cavern. Our whole collection of lights did little more than make the damp darkness visible. After groping about as long as we had time to spare, we returned to the light of day, fully convinced that, with David and his lion-hearted followers inside, all the strength of Israel under Saul could not have forced an entrance—would not even have attempted it.”

1 Samuel 22:2. “Everyone that was discontented,” etc. Literally, bitter in soul, as in 1 Samuel 1:10 “The comparison of this body with Catiline’s followers (Clericus, Thenius) supposes that David’s retinue was of a similar character with Catiline’s, a riotous, adventure-seeking rabble. But there is nothing in the narrative to support such a supposition, and David’s position as to them, and to Saul, is decidedly against it.… Hengstenberg (on Psalms 7:10) rightly remarks David’s war with Saul was one not of individuals, but of parties; the wicked espoused Saul’s side, the righteous David’s; compare the much misunderstood passage 1 Samuel 22:2. The distressed persons were those who were persecuted under Saul’s government on account of their love for David. The debtors were such as, under Saul’s arbitrary misrule, were oppressed by their creditors, and received from the government no protection against the violation of the law of loan and interest (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19). They were ‘bitter of soul,’ not as ‘desirous of new things,’ not as merely dissatisfied with their present condition (Clericus), but ‘as those whose anxiety of soul over the ever-worsening condition of the kingdom under Saul, drove them to a leader from whom for the future they might hope for better things.’ (Ew.) Comp. Jephthah’s fugitive life and retinue of “poor empty persons.” (Erdmann.) “Four hundred men.” “A list of the principal among them is given in 1 Chronicles 12:8-18; and some of their acts are described in 2 Samuel 23:13-22.” (Wordsworth.)

1 Samuel 22:3. “Mizpeh of Moab.” “Mizpeh; literally a watch-tower or mountain height commanding a very extensive prospect. Here it is probably a proper name belonging to a mountain fastness on the high land which bounded the Arboth Moab on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, most likely on the mountains of Abarim or Pisgah (Deuteronomy 34:1), and which could easily be reached from the country round Bethlehem by crossing the Jordan near the point where it entered the Dead Sea.” (Keil.) “Perhaps he resorted to Moab for refuge because his ancestress Ruth was from that country.” (Wordsworth.)

1 Samuel 22:4. “The hold.” This fastness could not have been the cave of Adullam, because in the next verse we read that David was commanded to return to Judah, but it was probably the same refuge to which David had taken his parents.



I. Oppressive rule transforms good subjects into outlaws. When those who are in authority disregard those universal laws of righteousness and beneficence which are equally binding upon every man, they must not expect obedience from those under their rule; their injustice will create a lawlessness in the governed classes which, although it is rebellion against them, may be obedience to a higher and juster rule. David had been a loyal servant to King Saul, and had given full proof of true patriotism, but the oppression which he had undergone, and the danger to which he was exposed through Saul’s injustice compelled him to take up the position of an outlaw. He had once and again gone forth at the peril of his own life to defend the throne of the king, but justice to himself now demanded that he should take up arms in self-defence. It is most probable also that those who joined him were men who had likewise been transformed by oppression from obedient subjects into rebels. Before we condemn men for resistance to authority we must know what is the nature of the authority they resist.

II. Common suffering is a strong bond of union. There are many influences which tend to bridge over the differences which divide men—differences of birth, of education, of character and disposition—but perhaps there is nothing which does this so effectually as a common calamity. If a vessel is in danger of sinking, the passengers who have hitherto been separated by distinctions of rank recognise their common brotherhood and forget all minor differences in their common danger. When a city is besieged the noble in the palace and the artisan in the workshop exchange words and looks of sympathy as they recognise their common peril. In the band which gathered to David in the cave of Adullam there were doubtless men who would have never united in any common action if they had not been suffering from a common calamity—the misrule of Saul. Separated from each other and from David by every variety of circumstance and disposition, they were one with him and with each other in indignation against oppression, and in determination to defend their lives and liberties. Times of prosperity are not favourable to the promotion of union among men, but times of adversity often bring them very near together.

III. Relationship to great men has its penalties as well as its advantages. It was doubtless a proud day for Jesse when he became aware that he was to be the head of a royal house, but the immediate consequences were not pleasant. If he had not been related to the chosen king of Israel, he would doubtless have been permitted to remain unmolested in his quiet village home, but because he was the father of David he was obliged to flee from his native land. When the storm is abroad, the highest trees are most exposed to its violence, and if they fall they bring down with them those which stand near. So, in times of national disquietude, the most prominent men are most in danger, and those who are related to them are endangered by their relationship. There are, therefore, drawbacks as well as advantages in belonging to the family of a great man.


If it behoved a ruler to know the heart of his subjects—their sorrow, their wrongs, their crimes—to know them and to sympathise with them, this was surely as precious a part of his schooling as the solitude of his boyhood, or as any intercourse he had with easy men who had never faced the misery of the world, and had never had any motive to quarrel with its laws. He was now among the lowest of those whom he would afterwards have to govern—not hearing at a distance of their doings and sufferings, but partaking in them livingly, realising the influences which were disposing them to evil. And here he was acquiring more real reverence for law and order, more understanding of their nature, than those can ever arrive at who have never known the need of them from the want of them. He was bringing his wild followers under a loving discipline and government which they had never experienced; he was teaching them to confess a law which no tyrant had created, no anarchy could set aside.—Maurice.

Who can fail to recognise in David, as he here appears, a remarkable type of the Divine Prince of Peace, who at a future age would go forth from his house. As David then stood, so Christ, his illustrious descendant, “according to the flesh,” now stands almost everywhere, misapprehended by the world where not hated and persecuted, and only surrounded by a little band of devoted followers, comparatively small and insignificant, and for the most part contemptible in the eyes of the world, and, moreover, reviled by bitter enemies.… The dwelling-place of the exalted Son of David upon earth is meanwhile as unlike to a splendid royal palace as was David’s cave of Adullam to a proud lordly mansion. The true Church is as yet concealed under a dark covering, yea, as with a widow’s veil. Her Lord is not yet present to the sight. Her people walk by faith and not by sight, and know that they are surrounded by the powers of darkness, against whom their weapons of war are to be laid aside neither by day nor by night. A world stands in arms against the decided followers of the crucified King of Glory, and they are dealt with as very outlaws, on whom anyone may lay his hands. But even to them also the time comes when, as our fugitive must exchange the cave of Adullam for the gorgeous palace on Mount Zion, even so for those who are not offended at the “form of a servant” assumed by the Divine Son of David, and at the lowly aspect of His kingdom upon earth, the simple dwelling in which the Church now gathers together shall become transformed into a glorious building, irradiated with heavenly splendour, whose dome shall tower upward into the ever-opened heavens, whose pillars shall encompass the whole earth, and whose inhabitants, after they have waited patiently with their Head here below, shall reign with Him for ever.—Krummacher.

Verse 5


1 Samuel 22:5. “Gad.” It must remain a matter for conjecture whether Gad had gone with David to Adullam, or whether he now comes to him for the first time with a special Divine message. “Get thee into the land of Judah.” Keil thinks that “David was not to seek for refuge outside the land; not only that he might not be estranged from his fatherland and the people of Israel, which would have been opposed to his calling to be King of Israel, but also that he might learn to trust entirely in the Lord as his only refuge and fortress.” But Erdmann sees the reason for this direction in the fact that “the Philistines were now making plundering incursions into the south of Judah, help and protection against them was needed, and this David and his valiant’ band could give, and thus fulfil part of the theocratic calling in respect of which the distracted, arbitrary rule of Saul was now impotent.” “Forest of Hareth.” An unknown region. Josephus calls it the city of Hareth. It was probably a woody district in the mountains of Judah.



I. God does not leave His servants in their times of danger and perplexity without help and guidance.Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness” (Psalms 112:4), and light often comes to men as it now came to David by means of a man of God. For the very presence of such a man is light in the cloudy and dark day. It will encourage the dejected soul to hold fast its confidence in God, and will exercise a restraining influence when we are exposed to the temptation to turn aside from the path of right which great trial sometimes brings. David had yielded to such a temptation once, but Gad’s companionship would be likely to prevent another such fall. The presence of a prophet of God in the hold was a token of God’s good will, and as such was a light in the darkness. And the counsel of such a man at such a time is a light which not only cheers, but guides. God can guide His servants, as He can feed them, in many different ways. As He has fed them direct from heaven, so He has guided them by a voice direct from the invisible world. He has fed men by the instrumentality of angels, and He has guided them by such an instrumentality. But He more generally helps man by man, and this was the method He employed here.

II. When God’s children have good reason to believe that the light that thus ariseth is a light from heaven, it is wise to follow its guidance implicitly. It is the first duty of a benighted traveller to make sure whether the light upon his path is an ignis-fatuus luring him to destruction, or the lamp of a friend pointing to the highway of safety. When he has made sure that it is the latter, he will only reveal his foolishness if he neglects to walk in the way which it reveals as the right one. Gad was doubtless well known to David; he was in all probability one of that company at Ramah who had grown up around Samuel, and upon whom the prophetic spirit had descended in such a manner as to qualify him to give counsel and guidance to the elect king of Israel, and David, in his unhesitating obedience to his word, acts with true humility and wisdom.


It is to be noted here as an interesting fact, that in the hold of Adullam and in the wilderness of Judah we have, side by side, representatives of the oracular and the prophetical methods of the communication of the will of God to men; and that, in the life of David, as a whole, we have the era of the transition from the one to the other. Up to this time the priest had been the most important personage in the nation, and the only recognised channel through which God indicated his will to the people. True, there had been great outstanding prophets, like Moses and Samuel; but the former was an exception to all rules as being the leader of the Exodus; and the latter, from his training under Eli, was as much a priest as he was a prophet. True, again, in the time of the Judges there was Deborah, the prophetess; but she was raised up in connection with a particular crisis in the history of her people. The general system, however, was, that when the head of the nation, whether judge or king, wished, at any special emergency, to ask counsel of the Lord, the inquiry was made through the priest, and the, answer was given by the Urim and Thummim. But now the prophet, as a standing official personage, comes into prominence, and the mind of God begins to be made known through his human individuality, and not through any such visible media as those which were connected with the priestly breastplate.
In the hold and in the wilderness, David received divine directions through both channels, but gradually, even in his life, the breastplate oracle disappears or falls into desuetude; and from the reign of Solomon downward we have no mention made of its employment in the Jewish annals. In the same gradual manner the prophet waxes into preeminence, Gad and Nathan preparing the way for Elijah and Elisha, and these, in their turn, giving place to Isaiah and Jeremiah, who were succeeded, in the days of the exile, by Ezekiel and Daniel; and in the era of the Restoration by Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Now, if we think out this subject a little more fully, we shall see that in the life of David a distinct forward step was taken in the education of the people of God, from the first rudiments of external symbolism, on toward that system of spiritual simplicity under which we now live in the Gospel dispensation.… The call for faith was increased when the Urim and Thummin ceased, and the prophets came speaking in God’s name, giving gradually fewer and fewer specific directions as to particular matters, and more and more proclaiming great spiritual principles. And now there is, more than ever, a demand for faith, when, under the New Testament economy, the way into the holiest is made manifest to every believer, and the answers to the soul’s inquiries are given not by any objective oracle, but by the Christian’s study of God’s Word, as that is interpreted by the providences that are without him, and the Spirit of God that is dwelling within him. Hence, when we read the history of David’s sojourn in the cave, or of his wanderings in the wilderness, and see the priest Abiathar on his right hand, and the prophet Gad on his left, we feel that we are standing on one of the great landing-places of that stairway of education, up which God led His people from the childhood of walking by sight, to the glorious liberty, and graceful movement, of that spiritual manhood which walks continually by faith.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

The Lord will never permit any prince who is heartily disposed to conduct the affairs of his government in his name, to be at any time altogether without some such Gad among his soldiers or officers around him—some man who, because he seeks not his own, unites the most incorruptible fidelity with his allegiance, and by whose mouth the Lord, as often as the foot of the prince is like to slip, will by his warnings and his counsel show to him the right and safe way. Woe to the land on the steps of whose throne there is not found, in the circle of dignified officers surrounding the ruler, at least one man who bears not only in his profession, but at the same time also in his entire consecrated personality, the stamp of a man of God, and who knows at the right time to throw the weight of the divine word and commandment into the balance-scales of the government! Krummacher.

Verses 6-23


1 Samuel 22:6. “Abode under a tree,” etc. Rather, was sitting under a tamarisk tree upon the height. (For Ramah see Notes on 1 Samuel 1:1.) “Oriental princes frequently sit with their court under some shady canopy in the open air. A spear was the early sceptre, as we are informed by Justin … Saul’s spear might be distinguished from common spears by its length as well as its decorations; and that this was likely to be the case may be inferred from the relics of Egypt and Assyria.” (Jamieson.) “All his servants.” “It was therefore a full assembly of the personnel of the court.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 22:7. “Ye Benjamites.” “Showing how isolated the tribes still were, and how, for the most part, Saul was surrounded by his own tribesmen only.” (Biblical Commentary.) “In Saul’s words there is the latent sense: Will he, of another tribe, reward you, as I have done to you, my fellow tribesmen? Will he not rather favour his tribesmen, the men of Judah? Will it not be to your interest to stand on my side?” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 22:9. “Which was set over the servants,” etc. As this does not agree with the position assigned to Doeg in the former chapter, some render the clause “And he stood with the servants,” etc. Keil thinks that Doeg had been invested with the office of marshal of the court.

1 Samuel 22:10. “He inquired of the Lord,” etc. Some think this was untrue, but the words of Ahimelech in 1 Samuel 22:15 seem to admit the fact.

1 Samuel 22:14. “Faithful,” rather proved, tried. “Goeth at thy bidding.” Probably this should be read, “Has access to thy private audience.” The Hebrew word is so rendered elsewhere. (See 2 Samuel 23:23, and 1 Chronicles 11:25.)

1 Samuel 22:15. “Did I then begin,” etc. The most obvious meaning of these words is, “Was it the first time that I had inquired of the Lord for David concerning enterprises with which the king had entrusted him?” So Keil, Erdmann, and others. Some however (Bib. Commentary, etc.) understand Ahimelech to deny having done such a thing on the ground that this was a duty which he owed to the king only.

1 Samuel 22:17. “Footmen,” i.e., runners, halberdiers.

1 Samuel 22:18. “A linen ephod.” “The allusion to the priestly clothing, like the repetition of the expression, ‘priests of Jehovah,’ serves to bring out into its true light the crime of the bloodthirsty Saul and his executioner Doeg.” (Keil.)

1 Samuel 22:20. “Abiathar.” How he escaped can only be conjectured. Bishop Patrick suggests that he was left in charge of the sanctuary when the other priests obeyed Saul’s summons.

NOTE.—“During this first period of David’s life as outlaw, several incidents occurred which are not mentioned in this narrative. We learn from 2 Samuel 23:13 that three of his chief heroes came to him in the cave of Adullam, one of whom was his nephew Abishai, afterwards a famous general. A little after (1 Chronicles 11:15-19) occurred that noble act of loving daring, when the “three mightiest” broke through the Philistine army and brought their leader water from the well of Bethlehem, for which he longed. This was while he was in the “hold,” and at this time apparently came to him the stout band of lion-faced, gazelle-footed Gadites, who swam the Jordan when its banks overflowed, and scattered all enemies before them (1 Chronicles 12:8-15), and an enthusiastic body of men of Judah and Benjamin, for whose friendship Amasai answered in a passionate speech (1 Chronicles 12:8-15).—(Trans. of Lange’s Commentary).



I. Jealousy is a medium through which the best friends are transformed into foes. It matters not how beautiful the human face—if looked at through a distorted medium it will present the appearance of deformity and ugliness, and will probably look more like a monster than a man. And the passion of jealousy has the same distorting effect upon human character, and upon human actions and purposes. Elijah was the truest friend that king Ahab possessed, and the most self-denying patriot then living in his kingdom; but Ahab’s jealousy made him appear as his personal enemy, and as the troubler of Israel (2 Kings 18:18; 2 Kings 21:20). Jonathan and David were men of rare nobility of character, and Saul’s faithful sons and servants, yet his unreasoning jealousy transformed them into bitter foes.

II. The vilest purposes will not fail for lack of instruments. Jealousy is a passion which has given birth to some of the darkest purposes which the heart of man has ever conceived; but, alas! the blackest plots rarely, if ever, miscarry for want of instruments. A man bent upon murder can find a weapon of iron or stone to execute the deed, if he cannot lay his hand upon a well-tempered sword or a diamond-hilted dagger; and although the conscience of Saul’s Hebrew servants revolted against his inhuman command, Doeg the Edomite was at hand to do the deed of blood.

III. The noble and ignoble deeds of men unite to fulfil the Divine purposes. The use man makes of his freedom of action seals him as a saint or a sinner; but whether his acts be godlike or devilish, they are used by God to carry out His purposes. Often God’s creatures are the conscious executors of His will, and knowingly and intentionally carry out His designs, but sometimes even His own servants are unconscious instruments of His plans. The terrible incident with which this chapter closes was a fulfilment of the sentence long ago passed upon the house of Eli (1 Samuel 2:31), but the Divine sentence was fulfilled by the united action of men whose lives were governed by very different motives, and whose deeds ranged from the lowest depth of moral depravity to high moral heroism. The inhumanity and devilishness of Doeg and Saul, the lying of David, and the courageous boldness of Ahimelech, united all unconsciously to themselves to fulfil the purpose of God.


Pictures of human nature.—

1. A man in authority, whose misfortunes, though due to his own fault, make him suspicious and cruelly unjust (1 Samuel 22:8-16).

2. A basely ambitious man, who seeks to build himself up by ruining others (1 Samuel 22:9-10; 1 Samuel 22:18, comp. Psalms 52:0).

3. An innocent man accused, who defends himself both with forcible argument (1 Samuel 22:14) and with dignified denial (1 Samuel 22:15).

4. A good, but erring man, who mournfully sees that his sin has brought destruction on his friends.—Transr. of Lange’s Commentary.

1 Samuel 22:18-19. Behold in this history how impossible it is to arrest the consequences of our evil actions. David lied to Ahimelech, probably thinking not only to secure his own safety thereby, but also to keep the priest from being involved with him in the displeasure of Saul. But mark what ensued. Eighty-five priests, together with all the inhabitants of Nob, “both men and women, children and sucklings,” were put to death for this sin of which he, and not they, had been guilty. I have no doubt that when David heard of all this he would willingly have given all that he had, ay, even his hopes of one day sitting on the throne of Israel, if he could have recalled the evil which he had spoken, and undone its dismal consequences. But it was impossible. The lie had gone forth from him; and having done so, it was no longer under his control, but would go on producing its diabolical fruits. And so it is yet. We cannot arrest the consequences of the evil which we do. Whether we will or not, it will continue to work on. We may, indeed, repent of our sin; we may even, through the grace of God for Christ’s sake, have the assurance that we are forgiven for it; but the sin itself will go on working its deadly results. You may as soon think of staying an avalanche midway in its descent from the Alpine ridge, and so saving the village in the valley from destruction, or of stopping the bullet midway in its flight from the musket to the heart of him who will be destroyed by it, as think of arresting the consequences of the evil which you once have done.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

O the wise and deep judgments of the Almighty! God owed a revenge to the house of Eli, and now, by the delation of Doeg, He takes occasion to pay it. It was just in God, which in Doeg was most unjust. Saul’s cruelty, and the treachery of Doeg, do not lose one dram of their guilt by the counsel of God; neither doth the holy counsel of God gather any blemish by their wickedness. If it had pleased God to inflict death upon them sooner, without any pretence of occasion, His justice had been clear from all imputations; now, if Saul and Doeg be instead of a pestilence or fever, who can cavil?—Bp. Hall.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 22". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-samuel-22.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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