With the necessity of returning into the land ruled by the man who sought his life, David recovered the strength of character and the resources which lay in his dependence upon the guidance and protection of God. He felt that it would not be wise for him to go into any town. He could not venture even to his native town of Bethlehem. But he was aware that about six miles south-west from that town there was a large natural cavern, called the cave of Adullam, and in this he determined to take shelter for the present, until his further course should be made plain to him. The cave was well suited for the purpose. The mouth of it can only be approached on foot, along the side of steep cliffs; and it runs in by a long, winding, narrow passage, with small chambers or cavities on either side. With reasonable vigilance it was impossible that he could here be discovered or surprised by any pursuers.
He soon contrived to make his retreat known to his own family, the principal members of which came to him there. Among these were Abishai, the son of his beloved sister Zeruiah, and probably his brother Joab—both afterwards the valiant and devoted upholders of their uncle’s cause. Zeruiah must have been one of the eldest of Jesse’s children, for her renowned sons seem not to have been much, if anything, younger than her youngest brother. Nor did these alone come; for no sooner did it transpire that he was in the neighborhood, than a number of daring men of various characters flocked to him. Many, especially his near relatives, went out of regard to his person; many, because by this early adhesion to one whose future had become known, they expected to advance their eventual interests; many because their circumstances were so bad that they could not but be bettered by placing themselves under so successful and valiant, a leader; many because they were so immersed in debt that their best chance against being made bondmen by their creditors must be found in joining the fugitive; and many who were “bitter of soul” (as the original has it)—whether from private affliction or from dissatisfaction with the state of affairs under Saul, were naturally drawn towards one whose position served to render him the proper organ and representative of public discontents and private wrongs.
The adhesion of four hundred of such men seemed to point out to David the course he had to take. It was no longer necessary that he should skulk about privately from one hiding-place to another—from house to house, and from cave to cave. He was enabled to take a stand upon the defensive, and to assume such a position before the public eye as would engage the interest of the people in his person and movements, and prevent his claims, his services, and his wrongs from passing out of mind. It was not his purpose to set himself forth as a competitor for the crown—that his sworn friendship for Jonathan, no less than his determination to await the course of the Lord’s providence, forbade. But still as an oppressed man, in a public position, who had rendered great services to the state, and whose life was unjustly pursued, the notions of the East would account it just and laudable, that while abstaining from any offensive acts against the government, and shunning rather than seeking occasions of collision, he should organize such a power around him, in a body of attached and hardy followers, as might insure his safety, and even bring the royal oppressor to some conditions of peace. We constantly meet with this in eastern history. It necessarily arises from the absence of adequate checks upon the extravagances of the royal power on the one hand, and from the want of a lawful outlet for the expression of public discontent on the other. With us, opposition to the government is a recognized part of the public system, and therefore safe to all parties. It is parliamentary, it is legal, it is oral. In the East it of necessity takes a more demonstrative shape—the shape of organized bands, of weapons of war, of military action. David became in fact the leader of the opposition in the reign of king Saul, without more personal animosity to the sovereign, or more immediate design upon the crown—except in that he knew it would in the course of time come to him—than any leader of our own parliamentary opposition may be supposed to entertain. It is true that all the opposition leaders of the East have not been so forbearing as David in this respect. This was the peculiar merit of his faith—of his real loyalty to Saul—and of his fixed determination that his own conduct should afford no justification to the king for the inveterate hatred with which he sought his destruction.
David knew that when he took this position, Bethlehem was no longer a place of safety for his parents, while, on the other hand, he was unwilling to expose them, in their old age, to the hardships and anxieties of the life he was to lead. He therefore took them over the river, and left them in charge of the king of Moab. The Moabites seem for a long time to have kept up a friendly connection with the Israelites; and David being now known as one anointed to be hereafter king in Israel, the fact would not be forgotten in Moab, and was probably dwelt on with national gratification, that he was a descendant of Ruth the Moabitess. It may be asked, why he did not stay there himself—and why he had not in the first instance gone thither, instead of to the Philistines? But it is probable that the king of Moab, although ready enough to render any service that he could without danger, was not at all willing to involve his people in a war by harboring David. But in point of fact, David was commanded by “Gad the seer,” of whom we now first hear, to return into the land of Israel. This Gad, it is likely, was an esteemed member of Samuel’s college of the prophets, and had probably joined David at the instance of the aged prophet, who was now very near the close of his days. Abiathar, also, the son of the murdered high-priest Ahimelech, had fled to him after the massacre at Nob. He was virtually the high-priest, and the recognized official medium of ascertaining the will of the Lord. The presence of both the high-priest and the seer with David, must have given great importance to his movements and position in the eyes of the people; and he was by no means unmindful of the advantages he thus possessed, for he consulted the sacred oracle as to all his movements, and implicitly followed the indications it afforded.
Two hundred more like-minded men joined him after his return to the land of Judah, and it must have become a matter of much consideration to him, how to employ and sustain so large a body of men, consistently with his purpose of not taking a hostile attitude towards the king, nor of giving the people any cause of complaint against him. He found the means of employing them chiefly, it seems, in protecting the cattle in the wild and open border country, into which the great sheep-masters sent their flocks for pasture, from the depredations of their marauding neighbors, such as the Arabs, the Amalekites, the Jebusites, the Hittites, and others. This species of service creates a claim for a kind of tribute, from the wealthy persons thus so essentially benefited, of food and other necessaries, which is almost invariably most willingly and even thankfully rendered, and when not so, is enforced as a matter of right. This part of David’s history affords an example of this in the case of Nabal of Carmel, whose insulting refusal to afford any supplies to David’s troop, by which his flocks had been protected in the wilderness, had brought destruction upon his head, but for the prudent intervention of his wife Abigail, who, without apprizing her husband, hastened to meet the incensed hero, with a most acceptable offering of provisions, and mollified his wrath by her prudent and persuasive words—which, no less than her comeliness, so engaged his esteem that he eventually made her his wife, for her husband shortly died heart-stricken, when he was made acquainted with the danger which his churlishness had well-nigh brought upon him.