The chapters of Samuel that present the life of David before becoming king, are essentially a chronicle of David’s exile. After Saul sets in motion several plans to bring about David’s demise, and undertakes additional attempts to kill David, David, for the first time, runs away and escapes, going to Samuel in Ramah (1 Samuel 19:18). David had been living in the court of the king, but now, was going to be living as a fugitive. This creates a parallel between David and Moses, in that Moses was also living in the court of the king of Egypt, but after striking down an Egyptian man because he believed himself to be Israel’s deliverer, he ran away and escaped. In a way, David’s period of exile, as he was running and hiding from Saul, not wanting to put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed, is something of an allusion to Israel’s wilderness wanderings.
As we are informed by Scripture, Israel wandered from place to place in the wilderness, doing so for forty years, as they awaited their entrance into the land of promise. Why did this take place? Essentially, it took place because they raised their hand against the anointed of the Lord, murmuring against Moses, while also, numerous times, railing against the Lord and His method of providing salvation. It is significant that Israel’s time in the wilderness was forty years, as that was also the length of Saul’s reign in Israel. Now, we do not know how long into Saul’s reign that the event occurred which saw him rejected as king, with David subsequently anointed as king-in-waiting, but the time periods are quite instructive, as David was also said to have reigned as king for forty years. The Bible does not give us the exact age of David’s death, only telling us that he was very old (1 Kings 1:1) and that he died at a good, old age (1 Chronicles 29:28). In continuation of the parallel to Moses, which should be done because of Moses’ intimate connection with the Biblical theme of exile and exodus, we remember that Moses spent forty years in exile from Egypt before returning there as Israel’s deliverer. After the exodus, Moses spent forty years functioning as Israel’s deliverer, as he was, in every respect, Israel’s uncrowned king. Likewise, David spent a lengthy period of Saul’s forty year reign in exile and under threat of death, until finally taking the throne upon Saul’s death and becoming Israel’s crowned king and deliverer.
Eventually, through a plan developed by Jonathan (Saul’s son and David’s best friend), David would come to realize that, in fact, Saul wanted him dead. Somehow, the spear-throwing incident had not been enough to convince him that this was so, but it is possible that David attributed such behavior to the evil spirit that had come upon Saul, which was also the reason that David would be playing the lyre for Saul when the spear-throwing would occur. It seems that David always wanted to think well of Saul. Having come to terms with this, David, in continuation of his “wilderness wanderings,” went to Nob. There, he receives food, which was actually the “bread of the Presence” (21:6), which reminds us of Israel receiving manna in the wilderness, which was very much an indication of the Lord’s presence with them. From there, David would go to Gath. Fleeing from Gath, David went to Adullam. While there, “his brothers and the rest of his father’s family… went down there to him” (22:1b).
As we continue the comparison of Moses and David, this should remind us of when “Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard about all what God had done for Moses and for His people Israel, that the Lord had brought out of Egypt” and “came to Moses in the desert where he was camping by the mountain of God” (Exodus 18:1,5b). There, Jethro observed Moses and “all that he was doing for the people” (18:14b), with Moses informing him that “the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it come to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make known the decrees of God and His laws” (18:15b-16). Jethro’s response to this “What you are doing is not good! You will surely wear out” (18:17b-18a). He suggests that Moses “choose from the people capable men, God-fearing, men of truth… and put them over the people as rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens,” telling Moses that “They will judge the people under normal circumstances” (18:21-22a). Moses would accept this advice and implement this plan.