1 Samuel 22 – “David Amasses a Small Army; Saul Kills Ahimelech’s Family”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
David escapes from the Philistines and safekeeps his parents with the king of Moab. With the exception of one son, Saul kills Ahimelech’s entire family.
II. Photo
David manages to escape: “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s house heard, they joined him down there.” (v. 1)

III. Important Verses
1-2: David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s house heard, they joined him down there. Everyone who was in straits and everyone who was in debt and everyone who was desperate joined him, and he became their leader; there were about four hundred men with him.
3-5: David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab, and he said to the king of Moab, “Let my father and mother come [and stay] with you, until I know what God will do for me.” So he led them to the king of Moab, and they stayed with him as long as David remained in the stronghold. But the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold; go at once to the territory of Judah.” So David left and went to the forest of Hereth.
17-19: And the king commanded the guards standing by, “Turn about and kill the priests of the LORD, for they are in league with David; they knew he was running away and they did not inform me.” But the king’s servants would not raise a hand to strike down the priests of the LORD.  Thereupon the king said to Doeg, “You, Doeg, go and strike down the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite went and struck down the priests himself; that day, he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. He put Nob, the town of the priests, to the sword: men and women, children and infants, oxen, asses, and sheep — [all] to the sword.

IV. Outline
1. David escapes the Philistines
2. David is joined by his family and a motley crew of renegades
3-5. David protects his parents and travels to Judah
6-8. Saul’s diatribe to his soldiers
9-10. Doeg tells Saul about Ahimelech’s helping David
11-16. Saul condemns Ahimelech’s family to death
17. Saul’s soldiers refrain from executing the priests
18-19. Doeg kills Ahimelech’s family
20-23. Abiathar flees; David vows to protect him

V. Comment
Chapter 22 deals with two stories, one of David’s rise to power and one of Saul’s killing Ahimelech’s family. David begins his rise by amassing a group of 400 men. Who are the 400 men at David’s disposal? Verse 2 describes them as “everyone who was in straits (matzoq) and everyone who was in debt (asher lo nose’) and everyone who was desperate (mar nefesh).” Campbell writes: “It may be that the narrator does not intend this as a pejorative judgment on David’s followers; rather, there may be a hint of the portrayal of David as a deliverer. There is no question here of formulaic language for the oppressed and underprivileged, like the classic triad of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. But there is a tendency for the language to occur in what might be called redemptive contexts, situations that call for redemption and deliverance.” (231) An example of this language can be found in the story of Hannah from chapter 1: “In her wretchedness (marat nefesh), she prayed to the LORD, weeping all the while.” (v. 10) Another example is the warnings of Deuteronomy: “You shall eat your own issue, the flesh of your sons and daughters that the LORD your God has assigned to you, because of the desperate straits (matzoq) to which your enemy shall reduce you.”

Campbell discusses the significance of the number 400. He writes: “Stoebe argues that the figure of 400 for David’s irregulars is conventional, and that the 600 of 1 Sam 23:13; 27:2; 30:9 should not be viewed as an increase (Stoebe, 404). While the 400 retainers with Esau (Gen 32:7; 33:1), the 400 virgins of Jabesh-gilead (Judg 21:12), the camel squad of 400 Amalekite fugitives (1 Sam 30:17), and the 400 prophets (1 Kgs 22:6) point in the direction of a conventional figure (cf. Stoebe), we may ask about the origin of the convention. Apart from the numbers for David’s force, the 600 figure occurs at Exod 14:7; Judg 18:16, 17; 1 Sam 13:15; 14:2; 2 Sam 15:18. The figures may represent the size of a group it was thought that one commander could effectively control and provide for. The later use of 600 in the present Davidic text, even if originally simply stemming from different traditions, may in the compilation be understood to indicate David’s growing strength. The LXX traditions fluctuate regarding these numbers.” (231)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Campbell, Antony F. “1 Samuel” The Forms of Old Testament Literature vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003).
Klein, Ralph W. “1 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 10 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983).
Photo taken from http://galleries.fototagger.com/image/colored_canyon_natural_caves.jpg