King Saul had declared David wanted in Israel, but the news was yet to spread to all parts of the country; thanks to the non-existence of telecommunication or electronic broadcast media. Those days, it could take days, weeks or even months before news could reach every corner of a nation. Everybody who saw David was under an obligation to arrest and hand him over to King Saul. At least, his whereabouts must be reported immediately to King Saul. That was the decree of the king.
Though news was yet to go round, everyone nevertheless, already knew that Saul was now under the control of an alien murderous spirit. News had already gone round as to his unsuccessful attempts to kill David. He had become a vicious malevolent dictator and everyone knew he could do anything at any time. Everyone lived in fear of him.
Thus, when David arrived without the usual royal escort, at Nob, where Ahimelech ministered as a priest, he (Ahimelech) became apprehensive. But David was prepared for that eventuality. He told Ahimelech that he was actually on his way for an urgent errand for King Saul.
Why did David choose Nob, and the tent of the Lord for such a visit? Why did he lie to the priest? I don’t know, but you should recall that Saul had already declared war on David and under such a situation, survival or winning strategies would depend on how much you could deceive your enemy. He could not have told Ahimelech the true situation, for that would have placed Ahimelech in an unenviable position. The man loved David as all Israelites did. But Saul was now an uncontrollably violent man.
David asked the priest for provisions and weapons. Now, this might explain to us why David went there. It is possible that some weapons were often kept in the holy place. Certainly, David as an officer of the inner cabinet must know where the armouries were. And of course, we know that the LORD had commanded that there be adequate bread in His house.
Unfortunately, there were neither weapons nor bread! Quite unusual. Had Saul taken care to remove all weapons formerly in the tent of the Lord, fearing a mutiny, since his regime had become very oppressive? The priest said only the holy bread was available, and only Goliath’s sword was in the tent.
David asked for the bread and for the sword. In fact, he seemed particularly pleased with the sword. Being obliged, he then left as quickly as he came.
David was not mobilising an army to fight Saul. As a matter of fact, only volunteers came to him, and most of them were disgruntled elements that no one would want to have in his army. The commander of a disciplined corps of soldiers had suddenly become the head of a rabble army!
With nowhere safe in the land that flowed with milk and honey, David was forced to go to the Philistines and seek asylum. And so to Achish, one of the federating units of the Philistines, he went.
Clearly, David thought the Philistines would not recognise him. He just wanted to be in a place he could hide. However, the eagle-eyed border security of Achish caught him, suspected, interrogated and brought him to the king of Achish.
David had underrated the intelligence network of the Philistines. Was he not too young when he killed the Philistine to be recognised now? Now he was bearded. Then he was a mere lad who had not attained his present height and size.
But he didn’t know they had a detailed dossier on him. In addition, Goliath’s special sword was with him. Only David could carry Goliath’s sword.
Awaiting his fate in the king’s interrogation chambers, he must have overheard their discussion. The king knew about him. The officers were sure he was David. He was the killer of Goliath. David, the No. 1 public enemy of Philistine was indeed in their hands!
But the king of Achish was highly agitated. He felt that this couldn’t be David. May be, he thought, this was his look-alike. Was David not almost the most important man in Israel? Is that how the No. 2 man went about in Israel? David can only be mad to cross over to Philistine with Goliath’s sword.
David had to act fast now. He didn’t need a prophet to tell him he was in deep trouble. Oh, what a life! He was running away from Saul; now he was in the hand of the Philistines! They would surely kill him and Saul would rejoice at the news.
His mind went back to work. The Philistines must be debating why he was in their territory. Was it an advance party of what would become an invasion from Israel? But David came almost unarmed with a handful of hungry and tattered men that could pass as a gang of mad men.
As they weighed their options and analysed the situation, David also came upon a queer thought. His men looked like undernourished soldiers. They looked like mad men. Yes, they were mad! And he was mad too! Does it not take madness for a man like himself to venture into the territory of the Philistines, after what he did to Goliath? Was he not out of his mind to carry Goliath’s sword into Philistine? Perhaps it was even that sword that gave him away to the border security. Madness!
He was mad to have gone to Nob; mad to have eaten the holy bread meant only for priests. He was mad to have lied to the priest. He was mad to have endangered the life of the priest. He was mad to have asked for Goliath’s sword.
Most of all, he was mad to have come here. How could he, David, venture into the territory of the Philistines? Was he not mad to have imagined that he would not be recognised? Now, he was even madder to have allowed himself to be caught alive by the Philistines. Plainly, he was mad to be mad!
So he had an answer. “David,” he talked to himself, “you are mad! Believe it. You are mad! Believe and act it! Everything you’ve done so far indicates madness. Act it now. Now!”
Suddenly, he began to twitch his face, speak incomprehensible gibberish. Soliloquising was not new to him. Alone in the bush with only his father’s flock, he was a master of soliloquy, He could entertain himself and could talk with animals and nature.
He got up, began to dance to a tune no one played for him—he was used to that too, being a born musician. As he talked, he let drop spittle from his open mouth, letting them run through his beard—this one was entirely new!
The soldiers guarding him became confused. He smiled and then shouted at them. He begged and then ordered them. He pulled off his shirt and laughed into the air. He would dance round and round in the room. Then he would suddenly stop.
Quickly, the king was informed of the behaviour of the detainee.
“That is the answer!” the king nodded knowingly. “I said it. He is mad! How else could you explain this? No arm. No soldiers, except these ghosts. The man is mad!”
The king looked at his officers triumphantly. “This explains it all. A man like David to come into our territory in this form? It is our god that has turned him mad and brought him to us to see. And that is all we need to do: Our gods have fought against David and defeated him. Our next offensive against King Saul will be a walkover.”
His officers pondered this. David didn’t behave as if he was mad when they caught him although his company could be mad. But, anyway, doesn’t a mad man have lucid moments? This display of madness surely resolved more than if he was assumed to be sane, for no sane person will do what he had done—kill Goliath and carry his sword into Philistine territory.
David, who was now before the king intensified his acts of madness. He winked at the king and clapped his hands derisively. He went on all fours and lowed like a cow. He stared vacantly into space.
As they pondered these things, the king spoke, taking a final decision on the matter. “Look, the man is now mad. What do you want me to with him? If I kill a mad man what honour would I get for myself? If I detain him, who can predict that he would not grow violent and disturb our peace?”
“Let him go!” the king commanded. “He is mad. That is enough punishment for him.”
The guards marched him away, removed the handcuffs and chased him out of the premises. The officers who arrested him and who expected a good reward were rather ashamed of arresting a mad man and his gang.
I don’t need to point out that as soon as David was out of sight, he gathered himself and ran for his dear life. What a close shave with death, some of his men must have said.