Intro: In I & II Samuel we get the outward visible story of David and Israel in his time. But in the Psalms we get the inward story, in a way the story that matters the most to us living as we do so many years later.
The continuing story (8 years; approximately 1018-1010 BC. David would have been age 22-30; this period is recorded in I Samuel 21-31; If you look at a map of his travels you will see that most of it is around the west side of the Dead Sea. For special perspective the Dead Sea is about 31 miles long and 9.3 miles wide.):
As we have seen king Saul was in spiritual decline. Long years of trying to serve both God and himself, with himself gaining the upper hand, had led to serious spiritual and moral decline. Now he was subject to periods of debilitating depression. Remember, he had first admitted young David to his court to sooth his sad moods with music. In chapter 15 we saw that God had told the prophet Samuel that he was to anoint a new king to replace Saul. This new king was David. But Saul was to continue as ruler while God trained David in godly leadership.
Beginning in chapter 18:7ff we find the people praising the exploits in war of David above those of Saul. Saul became angry and eventually his anger turned to fear of David (18:12, 29). The spiritual disease of his heart then turned to murder (18:11, 17, 25).
Beginning in chap. 19 we learn that there was a parallel plot developing. Saul’s oldest son Jonathan had taken a liking to David. They became such close friends that Jonathan’s loyalties were divided. He tried to dissuade his father from killing David (19:4ff), and in the end he facilitated David’s escape from Saul’s murderous plans (ch. 20). In the meantime David had been given a daughter of Saul, Michal, as a wife, but she too conspired to save David’s life when Saul sent a hit-squad to kill him (19:11ff).
So from chap. 21 onward David is forced to flee to the wilderness and scratch out a living there as Saul and his men continue to seek his life. The events at the priestly sanctuary at Nob serve to reveal how far Saul had fallen. It is a lesson to us to look at behavior over words. [Appl: Throughout this period Saul continues to talk the talk of Israel’s religion, but he was no longer serving God in his heart.]
David is tired and desperate when he shows up at the sanctuary and meets with Ahimelek the priest. The priest knows him but wonders why he is alone. David lies. How wonderful. Up until now we have seen a David who seems to be without flaw. He has courage, he has great faith in God, he is so humble as to be almost as virtuous as the Messiah, but he is not. He is just a man. A man who resorts to lying to the priest as need arose. However, we could read his lies as for the benefit of the priests. After all he know that Saul would soon be on his trail and it would be best if the priests did not knowingly help a fugitive. So even his lies could be construed as for the benefit of others.
But Saul was no longer reasonable. [Appl: Take careful note of this. When the ungodly powerful get it into their minds that the people of God are a danger to their power they will not behave reasonably. The history of the early church from the late 1st century through the beginning of the 4th century testifies to this. Educated Christians tried to persuade the powers that Christians only wanted to live in peace and had no intention of harming the state, but often their efforts fell on deaf ears. They could not be reasonable once they began to hate and fear the Christians. They, like Saul, demanded unreasonable proofs of loyalty.]
So Saul ordered the killing of the priests, but his men would not carry out the order, so he turned to an outsider, an Edomite named Doeg to do his dirty work. “So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. He also put to the sward Nob the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle donkeys and sheep.” (I Sam. 22:18, 19).
But one son of the priest Ahimelek escaped. His name was Abiathar and he went off to the wilderness to join David where he found safety. By this time David had been joined by his family and a few hundred people who were misfits in society. “When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.” (I Sam. 22:1-2). [Some believe that Ps. 133 was written about this time.] We are told that David, who was ever looking out for the safety of others despite his own problems, left his father and mother with the king of Moab for safety and then, following the advice of the prophet Gad, he led his men “to the forest of Hereth.” (I Sam. 22:5). The exact location of this “forest” is in doubt. Some say it was not a forest as we N. Americans think of a forest. On the other hand there is evidence that at one time there were great forests of the sort we know of in Palestine. This theory notes that the rise of the iron age around the 10th century BC led to massive cutting down of the forests to supply fuel for iron production, thus changing the climate of Israel. ( https://eternalthronechronicles.wordpress.com/category/mediterranean/)
In any case it was a remote wilderness. [Appl: In Jewish tradition this is the period when David wrote the 23rd Psalm. If so we can see how he comforted himself in the knowledge of God despite the outward fact that he was walking through “the valley of the shadow of death.” In this Psalm David manages the remarkable analogy from his own experience as a faithful shepherd of his father’s sheep to the view that God is like that. In the history of theology this is called reasoning by analogy. Whenever we say, for example, “God is good” we are arguing from the analogy of our limited experience with “good” to the character of God. This is what David is doing in the 23rd Psalm. By this time having survived six attempts by Saul to kill him, and having gained a small army and many allies, David is reflecting on the many ways that his God had been his shepherd. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” -Ps. 23:6]
Conclusion: As most of us lead settled non-violent lives we can find it difficult to identify with these stories. Yet, we still love the 23rd Psalm. Why is that? Because it tells some of the inward story of David. It is because we continue to share human life experience with David and the other people of faith who have gone before us. We have experienced emotional wilderness (I know I have). In fact there is a period in my life before any of you knew me, the period following the death of my first wife that I often think of as the wilderness period in my life. Like David, we all are capable of lying and violence to survive in this life. We share something of his faith and something of his fleshly weakness. As Paul writes in his Corinthian correspondence, these things are written for our instruction. The wisest thing we can do is seek to imitate David’s faith and avoid his failings, with the Holy Spirit’s help, remembering that wilderness experience is a time for growth if we keep an eye on what God is doing in our lives.