Once upon a time, there was a king in a cave.
Everyone in distress, and everyone in debt, and everyone bitter in soul gathered around him (1 Sam. 22:2). It wasn’t the life he imagined the day the oil ran down his head at his anointing. It wasn’t the day he pictured standing over Goliath’s slain body. It wasn’t the palace he once knew in Saul’s court. It was altogether different.
But the king didn’t complain. He welcomed this rag-tag group of men. He became their commander. He suffered with them in the wilderness.
Can you imagine it? A suffering king.
The cave at Adullam is King David’s unlikely palace. There amid these suffering ones, serving as a type of One to come, he found his place in the story of redemption. His heart is on full display. It isn’t inward but outward; not self-centered but thinking of others; not fearful but finding refuge in God. David is the king of the downcast and the outcast, the put out and put off, the debtor and drunkard and distressed. He was the kind of king the lowliest needed. The highest already had theirs.
While King David made his home in the cave, King Saul sat on the heights under a tamarisk tree. The men of his tribe surrounded him. Unlike David who sought to care for others, Saul cared only for himself. He wondered why no one told him where David was, why no one let him in on his secrets, why they all seemed to admire him when he couldn’t give them a field or a vineyard or a command of men. Saul was the big man on campus. Couldn’t they see that?
Well, Doeg the Edomite could. Why this brute found a home with Saul while the righteous David could not is an insight into Saul’s depravity. He was not a king of the people; merely a king for himself. The throne he sat upon wasn’t only Israel’s, God’s nation, it was also the one of his own heart. He was The Man, and couldn’t tolerate anyone else lurking in the shadows.
It’s surprising, then, that Saul listened to the one who did lurk in the shadows. The last time Doeg appears in the Bible he’s overhearing David’s conversation with Ahimelech the priest. David lies about his mission, pleading for food and weaponry. His intentions perhaps were good. Maybe he wanted to protect Ahimelech. He didn’t. Doeg ruined that plan. Once he found his way back to Saul, he spilled the beans.
And off Saul went.
The story of 1 Samuel 22:11-19 is hard to read. Saul summoned Ahimelech to see if what Doeg said was true. It was. Ahimelech had seen David and given him food. He also gave him the only weapon in his possession: Goliath’s sword. Angered, Saul said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.”
But none of Saul’s men would strike the priests. How could they? These were the priests. How could they stand before God with the blood of the mediators on their hands? Leave it to the Edomite to do the dirty work. This was nothing new for his clan. Standing against God’s chosen was their way. He unsheathed his sword and put it to the priests, then to the men of Nob, then to the women, then to the children.
And Saul approved of their execution.
Ahimelech surely died, but not with all his father’s house. One escaped.
Abiathar fled after David. How he knew his whereabouts is a mystery but he found him nonetheless. He told him all Saul had done, the carnage he witnessed, the deaths that couldn’t be undone. The words of Saul probably rang in his ears, pounding his heart to the beat of despair, “You shall surely die.”
The king he ran from was like those of other nations. When it came right down to it, he couldn’t be trusted. Instead of learning from God’s law as delivered by the priests, he slaughtered them. Instead of remaining humble, his heart was lifted up above his brothers (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
But the king he ran to was unlike those anywhere else. He was, after all, the kind of king who received such men: distressed, bitter, suffering. In his day of greatest need, Abiathar found a soft spot to land in the care of the king in the cave. “Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping” (1 Samuel 22:23).
Do not be afraid is one thing to say, another to receive, and yet another to apply. Fear is instinctual. It is rational. It keeps us safe and keeps us alive. But when our fears find their refuge, they can be put to rest finally and fully. David was such a refuge to Abiathar. Why? Because David was God’s king with God’s promises. Yes, a mutual enemy sought their life. But with David, Abiathar was safe—not because Saul couldn’t find them. In fact, he did very soon after. Abiathar was safe with David because David was safe with God. He was the anointed one, the Christ.
In Christ is where our fears find their refuge. It’s in the king in the cave, suffering alongside those unworthy in this world to be among the powerful. It’s in the king in the wilderness, taking command of people who have run out of options. It’s in the king who suffers not just alongside his people but for his people. It’s in the Christ who takes responsibility for everyone in distress, everyone in debt, everyone bitter in soul. It’s in the Christ who saves them even at great expense to himself.
It’s in the Christ where once upon a time becomes happily ever after. Maybe not in this life, but surely in the life to come. The good King wins, not by his might but by his weakness, not by his circumstance but in spite of it, not by his force but by his love.
There may be a time when you too must run for your life. If so, there is a king who has stooped low, and if you run to him, you shall be in safekeeping.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at thingsofthesort.com.