This question made note that David acts in a deceitful manner towards the priest when he goes to ask for help as he flees from Saul. This isn't the only time, however, that deceit is a feature in David's ascension to the throne. In 1 Samuel 19, Michal helps David escape from Saul's men by dressing up an idol in his bed and letting him escape through the window. In chapter 20, Jonathan and David create a ruse wherein Saul is told that David has gone home to sacrifice with his family. In chapter 21 we have the already mentioned story with Ahimelech and then another where David pretends to be a madman so that Achish king of Gath does not kill him. Even the very beginning of David's story starts in this manner, oddly with God telling Samuel to tell Saul that Samuel is simply going to Bethlehem to make a sacrifice.

Since this is clearly a recurring theme, what is the author trying to communicate through it?

  • Jesus said to the crowds, `The sinless of you, let him first cast the stone at her. We see a speck in others and generalize while having a log in our eyes. We go by what people say, but God is near the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. We do not condone his immoral acts, but sometimes, he acted for his survival, not for the throne, per se. He was king by God's choice, not by his. God's eyes go to and fro in all the earth, to show Himself strong for a people whose heart is perfect towards Him (2 Ch. 16:9), and He found David is the one after His heart. Are we to say God is unfair?
    – Sam
    Jun 28, 2021 at 0:01

3 Answers 3


Here is a list of possible answers:

  1. The author has to integrate a lot of oral tradition from opposing sides in what was in fact a civil war; northern anti-monarchy tribal federalists backed by some heavy hitting prophets, pro-monarchy Kish clan proponents, and pro-monarchy Ishai clan proponents. No one comes out of I Samuel smelling like roses.

  2. The author might in fact be re-casting deep-rooted anti-David traditions in a positive light by showing how in historical retrospective these actions by David were a necessary part of God's plan. And there's a pretty strong historical argument for this. The south managed to maintain political stability through an unbroken succession of Davidic kings, and a higher degree of social equality, while the north was wracked by political murder, social inequality and corruption.

  3. Our attitude towards this type of behavior has changed. The ancient Israelite reader, with attitudes formed by being frequently subjugated by foreign powers, just might have admired this trickery, as they did Rivkah's, Jacob's and Rachel's trickery. We are aghast when forty-two kids are killed by a pair of bears after some of them taunt "old baldy" Elisha, but the ancient Israelites were probably amused by the story.

  • Thanks for the ideas. I was thinking more along theological purposes, so I wasn't anticipating political purposes; but those are also worth consideration.
    – Soldarnal
    May 29, 2012 at 22:38
  • 1
    The God of the OT reveals himself to Israel through history, so for them, history was theology. That's key to understanding the OT. May 30, 2012 at 1:54

I would identify at least two purposes:

  1. The author shows that in all of David's endeavors leading up to his becoming king, he attempted to avoid bloodshed, particularly with the house of Saul. His enemies were not his kinsmen; but his enemies were those who attacked his kinsmen (i.e. the Philistines and the Amalekites). David uses trickery to avoid fighting battles for himself and instead to fight the LORD's battles.

  2. The author is tying David back to Jacob. He is a new Jacob, establishing a new Israel. Like Jacob, David is the younger brother. Like Jacob, David is promised a wife only to have her hand withdrawn and a different daughter given to him as a wife after he has worked for her. Like Jacob, David flees from his house to another country. And all of the trickery likewise is meant to remind us of Jacob. All of this comes to a head in 2 Samuel 2 when twelve men from David's house square off against twelve men from Saul's house over who will control Israel.


From a theological point of view, though the author would not have known it, the deceit involved in David as a type or shadow of Christ, as well as that of Jacob and others, intends to convey that when the Messiah comes, he would be hidden from the masses.

When David asks for bread it, he prefigures Christ being made a high priest through death, since he was separated from the flesh (women) for three days.

Micah's idol prefigures Christ as an idol. The people worshiped him not for who he really was, but for a Messiah made in their image. He escapes through the window an a parallel story with the spies at Jericho.

Jonathon's ruse prefigures that although Christ has gone to make the sacrifice, he is still with us.

When David pretends to be a mad man, it prefigures the incarnation where he became like us. He could live among us as long as we didn't take his claim to be God too seriously.

And Samuel told no lie. Obedience is a better sacrifice, and he was obeying God.

The riddles are all a type of deceit, without lying, since they are intended to hide the truth in plain sight until the appointed time.

Joh 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

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