1 Samuel 21:1 – 22:23 – David: Lying for his life!



1 Samuel 21:1 – 22:23.




ILLUS.:  I am sure that there is no one here today who hasn’t lied in order to get out of trouble or to save your skin or to save face!

> a child caught out, then lying to escape punishment.

> as a teenager lying about where you are going or who you were with because if you tell the truth you know your parents will not allow you to do what you want to do.

> as an adult maybe you have lied to get a job / or protect your job / or to protect your reputation.

> Lied to avoid speaking to someone on the phone, “My dad says to tell you that he is not here..!”

David was in a situation where he felt forced to lie in order to save his life. Is this the right thing to do in those circumstances? Should David have behaved differently?  Was it necessary for him to behave as he did? What were the consequences of his lying? What was his response when he looked back over this  period of his life?

I am so glad that the Bible is honest about its characters – it tells us about them with all their struggles and failures and weaknesses as well as the triumphs.

The story of David is not set before us as a moral model to copy – he is not someone who had arrived spiritually, who had it all together, or who is a perfect example we are to follow. NO, David is a person who does things badly at times, often worse than we do, BUT in the process he doesn’t give up, he doesn’t withdraw from God.

David’s life is not an ideal life but and actual / real life. Hopefully David’s life helps us to cultivate an honest life before God; a life with a sense of reality that is aware of God and responsive to God.

David is not a super-spiritual saint living in a cocoon – he doesn’t spend his life living next to a stream with lush green banks and  playing his harp!! He had those moments in his life but they were few. David has to live in a hostile world that is unfriendly and threatening – in the tough, real world he must workout his relationship to God and other people.

This incident in his life is part of his learning / growing / training for his job as king. God will use our failures and our successes to make us what he wants us to be IF we are people with a heart for God – like David was a ‘man after God’s own heart’.

In the period of his life David begins a life on the run from King Saul – he knows that King Saul’s intent is to murder him. At the beginning Saul had black moods that past but now there was a price on David’s head.

His life is in danger – he runs – he doesn’t pack, he doesn’t plan – he simply runs!

On 3 occasions during this time he tells or lives lies!!



We saw last time how on 6 occasions Saul tries to kill David himself or have David killed.

He is unsafe at the palace with the king’s son, he is unsafe at home with the king’s daughter (Michal, his wife), even unsafe with the prophet Samuel at Ramah (ch.19).

In spite of his friend Jonathan’s assurances David feared for his life and out of that fear sprang his first lie! (back in ch.20).

In order to discover his standing at the palace David pushes his friend, Jonathan, into a compromising position. He fabricates a story about his absence from the New Moon festival …

1 Samuel 20:5-7

5 So David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon festival, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. 6 If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his home town, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’ 7 If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. (NIV)

Jonathan goes along with this lie but it drove a deep wedge between him and his father. It was a risky thing to do and it stretched the bonds of the friendship between David and Jonathan.

What drove David to lie? FEAR …

1 Samuel 20:3   3 But David…. said, “…….. there is only a step between me and death.” (NIV)

Before we criticize David we need to admit that we would surely have done the same! When things / people turn against us and the ship of our lives threatens to capsize we too, can lose perspective and flee in fear! The circumstances of life become far more real to us than the presence of God!

Maybe this is where David is at – instead of looking up at God he looks around at his situation and his heart fills with fear and he lies (through Jonathan) to Saul and then runs!!

What caused David to panic? Had his close fellowship with God grown cold? As he had moved up in the world had he begun to rely more on his reputation as a warrior than on God?

It is so easy to try and rely on our own resources. Or on past experiences.

The question is, “How up to date is our relationship with Jesus?”  When God thrusts us into the uncertainties and problems of life is our faith overcome with fear and shrivels up? When God looks at our hearts does he see hearts that rely on him or on their own inadequate resources?

Earlier, David’s perspective had been different – when he faced Goliath he was confident because he had God’s perspective on things ~~ now Saul seemed and invincible menace, he seemed like a giant to David. He panicked and he ran for his life!!

After a few days (probably) on the run David comes to Nob, where there is a colony of priests and their families ~ their task is to care for the tabernacle ~ Ahimelech is the senior priest.

David is hungry and defenseless and he wants food and weaponry!

Ahimelech is suspicious! Why is David alone? Where are his men?  Something is wrong! He must have known, as all Israel must have known, that Saul was out to get David.

As Ahimelech questions David fear grips his heart and truth is the casualty…

1 Samuel 21:2-3

2 David answered Ahimelech the priest, “The king charged me with a certain matter and said to me, ‘No-one is to know anything about your mission and your instructions.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what have you to hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.” (NIV)

David lies ~ there are no men and there is no secret mission!

The only bread available is the stale / old ‘shewbread’ – this is the bread place placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle as a reminder to the people of God’s provision ~ Fresh bread was placed there every week and this bread David asks for is the old bread.

This was allowed to be eaten by the priest alone! Strictly speaking it was illegal for David or his fictitious men to eat this bread.

BUT Jesus used this very story to make a point about the Law of Moses – the Jewish laws.  These were divided into levels of importance and the basic point that Jesus made was this: Laws about compassion and human need are more important than laws about ritual and ceremony. (Mark 2:25-26)

Ahimelech asks about the ceremonial purity of David’s men ~ if they are going to eat the holy bread ~ David lies again and swears blind that they are ritually pure.

He gets the bread.

NOW he need a weapon…

1 Samuel 21:8-9            8 David asked Ahimelech, “Don’t you have a spear or sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s business 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.” (NIV)

The last mention of this sword was when David killed the giant – presumably he had presented it to God as a thank offering ~ as sign that the Lord does not need swords or spears to save his people (17:47)

David is in panic-mode. It is strange that he wants Goliath’s sword ~ it hadn’t done Goliath any good.

David himself was the one who said ..

1 Samuel 17:45

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty….

Now he is distressed and panicking and in effect he is saying to King Saul “I am not coming to you in the name of the Lord; I am coming to you with a sword …”

Was there a time in your life when like David you trusted God implicitly ~ in the name of the Lord ~ but now you are on a long drift from God and you are trusting in you equivalent of Goliath’s sword?

In Desperation David goes to Gath, a Philistine town, recklessly fleeing into an enemy city ~ he seeks refuge with King Achish. BUT he is recognised and his life is endangered. He lies again ~ pretending / living a lie ~ he feigns insanity, scratches at the Palace door and dribbles down his beard. The kings response is that he has enough madmen and David is thrown out and escapes.

So here is David no longer the shepherd and warrior relying on God BUT fearful and fleeing for his life – fabricating lies and feigning madness. No longer trusting God to save him – his only thought on saving his own skin!!

NB – no mention in this chapter of David consulting God or the phrase so often in previous chapters “and the Lord was with David”

Before we judged David let’s examine our own hearts ~ “How do you and I respond to the harsh realities of life?”


David returns to Judah on the instruction of Gad, the prophet. [22:1-5]


We can look at these incidents in David’s life and say “Well it maybe wasn’t the best thing to do but he got away with it, didn’t he?”

Oh no he didn’t!!

The incident with Jonathan put Jonathan’s life at risk ~ Saul tried to kill his own son.

The incident in Gath – nearly cost David his life and it dishonoured the name of the God of Israel before the enemy.

We might consider these consequences minor ~ but went a pattern of lying and deceit develops there is inevitably a price to pay. In this case others paid the price for David’s lies!!

At Nob, when David lied to Ahimelech, Doeg, one of Saul’s servants was listening ~ he was an opportunist and at the right moment he told Saul what had transpired that day as a result Saul ordered the priests and their families and all their possessions to be destroyed and Doeg was the man who did the dreadful deed…..

1 Samuel 22:18-19

18 The king then ordered Doeg, “You turn and strike down the priests.” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep.

David’s sin led to tragedy ~ sin always does! Sin is expensive!

Let’s look at our lives ~ are we fabricating / lying / pretending to each other/ourselves/God. Is your spirit gone sour / cold / indifferent? God is asking you, “What is wrong?” He knows what is wrong but he wants you to admit it. Have you become fearful of trusting God and his resources! You doubt his word and his promises ~ you have grown spiritually stale and are on a long drift from God. BUT instead of admitting it and you are covering it over and pretending that all is well. “Why doesn’t the preacher worry about those who really need help and stop meddling in my life!”

When we depart from a living faith and a living obedience the consequences can be tragic not only for us personally but also for other people.

The massacre of 85 priests and their families was a hard lesson for David to learn.


Not everybody was killed that fatally day of the massacre ~ One of Ahimelech’s sons, Abiathar, escaped and came to David …

1 Samuel 22:20-22

20 But Abiathar, son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub, escaped and fled to join David. 21 He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD. 22 Then David said to Abiathar: “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family. (NIV)

When David hears what happened – he realises that his is indirectly responsible this tragedy.

Immediately, without hesitation, without qualification, he admits his guilt.

The way he tells it – that the day he lied to Ahimelech he knew Doeg was there and he knew how unscrupulous that man was – even then there was a struggle in his conscience ~ but he was panic-stricken.

Doeg used the sword but David takes his share of the responsibility …

Some verses from Ps. 34 look like a lesson he may have learned from this incident………

Psalm 34:11-14

11 Come, my children, listen to me;

I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

12 Whoever of you loves life

and desires to see many good days,

13 keep your tongue from evil

and your lips from speaking lies.

14 Turn from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it. (NIV)

David felt deep remorse for what he had done at Nob. If he hadn’t been going through a bad phase of panic and unbelief, the people of Nob would still be alive.

But as we will see, whatever failures he had been through and however bad he felt, he persisted in faith.


What did David learn?

  • It would produce sympathy in David. ~ It is easy to criticise others when one’s life has been cushy and easy. David would never be able to forget that his patience and endurance had been tested to the limited. And he had be found wanting!!
  • It would teach David about grace. ~ grace is receiving what we do not deserve or merit ~ David would never forget that when he was full of sin and impatience, when he was lying to Ahimelech and disgracing himself before the enemies of God, that God did not abandon him.             We have all done things that if God had entirely written us off he would have been perfectly justified, and we could have no complaint!       David would be more tender with people, after he himself had been so tenderly dealt with by God.                                                                 Maybe you have lied in the past ~ verbally or by pretense ~ or maybe you are living a lie now ~ afraid of being caught out / afraid of admitting your guilt like David did because you fear rejection and abandonment. God is gracious and tender and forgiving. He longs for us to experience his grace ~ to deal with our sinfulness ~ because Jesus died to save us – and God loves us.
  • It would teach David about the marvelous deliverances of God. ~ When David was at his worst and could find no help anywhere. He flees into the desert, to the cave of Adullam. It is not a palace but it is a refuge.    When we are at our wits’ end ~ when we have let God down badly ~ when we have tried all sorts of desperate measures to extract ourselves from our troubles – it is then that God steps in. He doesn’t always remove the trouble // he seldom does!  BUT he is there to accept us and help us if we turn to him. “God will not let us be tested beyond the level we can bear.” [1 Cor.10:13]

The Bible is full of stories about shepherds and fishermen and farmers and many other ordinary people who responded in faith to God’s call. And when they failed, often miserably and with devastating consequences, God graciously forgave their sins and indiscretions and restored them.

David was just an unknown shepherd boy who made many mistakes ~~ YET God never forsook him ~ and in the light of that there is hope for each and everyone of us!

I don’t know what burden you carry ~ The consequences of a past sin? ~ A current pretense and the fear of being exposed? ~ A sense of failure / towards God / or your family / or your self even ???

BUT  I know this that the God who graciously kept and restored David is the same God who comes to us is Jesus Christ and says “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done …28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. ..”  Matthew 11:28

The one who says … 1 John 1:9 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (NIV)

As a result we can share David’s response — Ps. 52 which he wrote about the episode with Doeg and Ahimelech – he shows the stupidity of evil doing and then writes  … Psalm 52:8-9

8 But I am like an olive tree

flourishing in the house of God;

I trust in God’s unfailing love

for ever and ever.

9 I will praise you for ever for what you have done;

in your name [in you]I will hope, for your name is [you are ] good.

I will praise you in the presence of your saints. (NIV)



1 Samuel 21:1 – 22:23



  • fear ~ panic ~ loss of perspective
  • he focused more on his circumstances than he did on his God



  • risked his friend’s  life – Jonathan
  • dishonoured God before the Philistines
  • caused the community at Nob to be massacred

“Deceit always has a price tag!”



  • his admission of guilt is immediate and without excuse


* It would produce in David, sympathy.

* It would teach David about grace.

* It would teach David about the

       wonderful deliverances of God.


4 thoughts on “1 Samuel 21:1 – 22:23 – David: Lying for his life!

  1. God bless Sir. this is a wonderful lesson. I enjoyed it. Please can I get a forwarded copy of this lesson to my email?

  2. Very enlightening, insightful, rich with connections, and full of understanding of man and God! Thank you so much for posting it for others who need to read it! God bless!

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