ROM his meeting with Jonathan, David went forth to be a wanderer, having no home as long as Saul lived. He went away so suddenly that he was without either bread to eat, or a sword for defence. On his way he called at a little city called Nob, where the Tabernacle was then standing, although the holy ark was still in another place by itself. (See Story 51.) The chief priest, Ahimelech, was surprised to see David coming alone. David said to him, "The king has sent me upon an errand of which no one is to be told, and my men are to meet me in a secret place. Can you give me a few loaves of bread?"
"There is no bread here," said the priest, "except the holy bread from the table in the holy house. The priests have just taken it away to put new bread in its place." (For an account of the table and the bread, see Story 27.)
"Let me have that bread," said David, "for we are the Lord's, and are holy."
So the priest gave David the holy bread, which was to be eaten by the priests alone. David said also, "Have you a spear, or a sword, which I can take with me? The king's errand was so sudden that I had no time to bring my weapons."
"There is no sword here," said the priest, "except the sword of Goliath of Gath, whom you slew in the valley of Elah. It is wrapped in a cloth, in the closet with the priest's robe. If you wish that sword, you can have it." (See Story 58.)
"There is no sword like that," said David; "give it to me." So David took the giant's sword, and five loaves of bread, and went away. But where should he go? Nowhere in Saul's kingdom would he be safe; and he went down to live among his old enemies, the Philistines, on the plain.
David took the giant's sword
But the Philistines had not forgotten David, who had slain their great Goliath, and beaten them in many battles. They would have seized him and killed him; but David acted as though he was crazy. Then the king of the Philistines said, "Let this poor crazy man go! We do not want him here."
And David escaped from among them, and went to live in the wilderness of Judah. He found a great cave, called the cave of Adullam, and hid in it. Many people heard where he was, and from all parts of the land, especially from his own tribe of Judah, men who were not satisfied with the rule of King Saul, gathered around David. Soon he had a little army of four hundred men, who followed David as their captain.
All of these men with David were good fighters, and some of them were very brave in battle. Three of these men at one time wrought a great deed for David. While David was in the great cave, with his men, the Philistines were holding the town of Bethlehem, which had been David's home. David said one day: "How I wish that I could have a drink of the water from the well that is beside the gate of Bethlehem!"
This was the well from which he had drawn water and drank when a boy; and it seemed to him that there was no water so good to his taste.
Those three brave men went out together, walked to Bethlehem, fought their way through the Philistines who were on guard, drew a vessel of water from the well, and then fought their way back through the enemies.
But when they brought the water to David, he would not drink it. He said:
"This water was bought by the blood of three brave men. I will not drink it; but I will pour it out as an offering to the Lord, for it is sacred." So David poured out the water as a most precious gift to the Lord. Saul soon heard that David, with a band of men, was hiding among the mountains of Judah. One day while Saul was sitting in Gibeah, out of doors under a tree, with his nobles around him, he said, "You are men of my own tribe of Benjamin, yet none of you will help me to find this son of Jesse, who has made an agreement with my own son against me, and who has gathered an army, and is waiting to rise against me. Is no one of you with me and against mine enemy?"
The water from the well of Bethlehem
One man, whose name was Doeg, an Edomite, said, "I was at the city of the priests some time ago, and saw the son of Jesse come to the chief priest, Ahimelech; and the priest gave him loaves of bread and a sword." "Send for Ahimelech and all the priests," commanded King Saul; and they took all the priests as prisoners, eighty-five men in all, and brought them before King Saul. And Saul said to them, "Why have you priests joined with David, the son of Jesse, to rebel against me, the king? You have given him bread, and a sword, and have shown yourselves his friends."
Then Ahimelech, the priest, answered the king, "There is no one among all the king's servants as faithful as David; and he is the king's son-in-law, living in the palace, and sitting in the king's council. What wrong have I done in giving him bread? I knew nothing of any evil that he had wrought against the king."
Then the king was very angry. He said, "You shall die, Ahimelech, and all your father's family, because you have helped this man, my enemy. You knew that he was hiding from me, and did not tell me of him."
And the king ordered his guards to kill all the priests. But they would not obey him, for they felt that it was a dreadful deed to lay hands upon the priests of the Lord. This made Saul all the more furious, and he turned to Doeg, the Edomite, the man who had told of David's visit to the priest, and Saul said to Doeg, "You are the only one among my servants who is true to me. Do you kill these priests who have been unfaithful to their king."
And Doeg, the Edomite, obeyed the king, and killed eighty-five men who wore the priestly garments. He went to the city of the priests, and killed all their wives and children, and burned the city.
One priest alone escaped, a young man named Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech. He came to David with the terrible news, that Saul had slain all the priests, and he brought the high-priest's breast-plate and his robes.
David said to him, "I saw this man Doeg, the Edomite, there on that day, and I knew that he would tell Saul. Without intending to do harm, I have caused the death of all your father's house. Stay with me, and fear not. I will care for your life with my own."
Abiathar was now the high-priest, and he was with David, and not with Saul. All through the land went the news of Saul's dreadful deed, and everywhere the people began to turn from Saul, and to look toward David as the only hope of the nation.