David makes a lot of messy moves on his way to the throne, but God delivers him from the mess.
1 Samuel 21:1-15
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.
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.”
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?”
Well, this is a mess.
By this time in the story, things have deteriorated to the point where Saul is openly trying to kill David. David is on the run, and he finds himself having to make decisions on the fly in order to survive.
Let’s take a quick overview of the moves he makes in this passage:
- First, he goes to a priest for help. (The priest, all the other priests, and basically the whole village will later be killed for helping David.)
- Immediately, he lies to the priest about what’s going on. He says the king sent him on a mission, when he’s really fleeing from the king! (It’s possible the word ‘king’, in David’s mouth, could mean ‘Yahweh’—the true king—but there’s no doubt he intends for the priest to think he’s talking about Saul)
- The priest gives him some bread that really isn’t supposed to be eaten by anybody except the priests and their family. But desperate times call for desperate measures (and Jesus eventually condones this move in Mark 2:23-27).
- David asks for a weapon, claiming that he didn’t have time to grab one because his secret mission was so urgent. (David is apparently not very good at coming up with lies.) The priest gives him the sword that belonged to Goliath—the very one that David used to cut off Goliath’s head.
- David goes to Gath, Goliath’s home-town. He gets recognised, because he’s so famous there. Ironically, the Philistines call David the king of the land and sing about his victories. But David is currently a fugitive from his own land. He used to be well-loved in Israel, but now he gets more recognition in Philistine country.
- He’s afraid of the king of Gath, so he pretends to be crazy to get out of the interview, even spitting down his beard (which was really undignified in that culture; a normal person would never, ever do that). Understandably, the king just wants him removed. So David escapes to live another day.
David is determined to do what he needs to survive, and he manages it, but the story isn’t all that complimentary. He’s the king-elect of Israel, but he’s hiding in enemy land. He’s starving, begging, and doesn’t even have his own sword. And he does some questionable things to stay on his feet.
The Bible doesn’t really judge or justify David’s actions here. The story just is what it is. Whether his moves were morally correct or not is completely beside the point. The point is that there’s a lot of dodgy stuff going on, and God is at work in it all.
We’re not supposed to read this and say, “Look—David lied to the priest in extreme circumstances, so that shows that lying is okay sometimes.” Or, “David lied and look where it got him! Bad David!”
We’re just supposed to watch the story and see what God does with David’s mess.
This is a low point in David’s story, but he’ll become one of Israel’s most successful and best-remembered kings. God not only gets David out of a messy situation, but eventually brings him to the throne.
Jesus’s story has messy parts too. But Jesus’s mess is never because of his own sin. Jesus never makes dodgy decisions or finds himself forced to improvise as he runs from his enemies. Jesus is in perfect control of what happens to him, even at his crucifixion. He turns his face towards the cross on purpose, and takes the sin of the world upon himself quite deliberately.
Jesus’ sacrifice redeemed the mess of the whole world, including David’s mess, and ours. Jesus ultimately broke free of that messy situation on the cross, even breaking free of death. And Jesus reigns on his throne forever.
Head: Sometimes we find ourselves making messy moves to cope with what life throws at us. What anchors can you put in place, to help you know what to do when your options are messy? (Bible verses to read, trusted friends to consult, or a list of values that are most important to you as a Christian?)
Heart: What kind of emotions do you feel when you think about being a messy person, or see mess in the lives of Christians around you?
How does knowing Jesus make a difference to the way you deal with mess?
Hands: Where do you turn when life is messy—do you find yourself rushing to judge, justify and fix things? What do you need to not do, in order to make space for yourself to sit with discomfort and trust God in the mess?
Prayer: Our Heavenly Father – sometimes we make messy moves. We want to control, conform, and categorise everything we do, but the reality is that we live in a complex world and often operate in grey areas. Thank you that the Bible gives us an honest, messy picture of the history of your people. Help us to resist the temptation to judge or justify every action that we see, and instead learn to sit with the mess and watch with wonder at how you deal with it. Thank you for sending us Jesus, who endured the ultimate mess for us—the crucifixion—with perfect control and deliberate purpose. Thank you that he has dealt with our mess so that we’ll be able to one day stand before you uncompromised, uncluttered and free from sin. Help us to lean on the cross as we deal with our daily mess, and shape us to be more like Jesus every day. In his name we pray, Amen.
A song to listen to: Grace Awaiting Me