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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 21

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee?

Then came David ... to Ahimelech. Nob [the Vatican copy of the Septuagint has Noumba; the Alexandrian (Tischendorf's notes), Noba], a city of the priests (1 Samuel 22:19), was in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. It is computed to have been about 5 miles south of Gibeah, and but a short distance from Anathoth (Nehemiah 11:32; Isa. 28:32 ). Dr. Robinson ('Biblical Researches,' 2:, p. 150), concluding, from the Scriptural notices of Nob, that it must have been situated somewhere on the ridge of the mount of Olives, northeast of the city, made diligent but unsuccessful search for it in that direction. Thrupp ('Ancient Jerusalem') considers it identical with Bethphage, which, however, has been satisfactorily proved (Barclay 'City of the Great King,' p. 65) to have lain on the south side of the mount of Olives. Von Raumer (p. 195) and Rupert identify Nob with el-Isawiyeh, about two miles north of Jerusalem; but that village lies in a deep valley, and commands no view of Jerusalem.

Porter ('Handbook,' p. 324) seems to have ascertained the site of Nob on a low peaked tell, where are the ruins of a small but ancient town, answering all the conditions of the sacred locality. "Ahimelech" - the same as Ahiah, or perhaps his brother, both being sons of Ahitub (cf. 1 Samuel 14:3 with 1 Samuel 22:4-11; 1 Samuel 22:20). In Mark 2:6, Abiathar is named as the high priest, not Ahimelech his father, as here. In explanation, it has been advanced that Abiathar was Sagan, the high priest's vicar; for which, however, there is no authority, as Abiathar is not mentioned in this narrative. A more probable supposition is, that the bread given was through the friendly intercession of Abiathar with the high priest, or perhaps was Abiathar's own portion (Leviticus 24:9). Both these conjectures are rendered probable by the close and unbroken friendship which afterward subsisted between David and him. His object in fleeing to this place was partly for the supply of his necessities, and partly for comfort and counsel in the prospect of leaving the kingdom.

Afraid at the meeting of David, [ wayechªrad (H2729), trembled, was terrified; Septuagint, exestee, was astounded, thrown into consternation (cf. Mark 3:21; Luke 24:22)] - suspecting some extraordinary occurrence by his appearing so suddenly, and in such a style, because his attendants were left at a little distance.

Verse 2

And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place.

The king hath commanded me a business ... Let no man know. This was a direct falsehood, extorted through fear. David probably supposed, like many other persons, that a lie is quite excusable which is told for the sole purpose of saving the speaker's life; or perhaps it was for the preservation of Ahimelech; for, as David saw Doeg there, who he was sure would inform Saul, he might wish to furnish the high priest with some reasonable excuse for the assistance rendered to the fugitive-an excuse which Ahimelech urged in defending himself from the charge of the incensed king (1 Samuel 22:14-15). But what is essentially sinful can never, from circumstances, change its immoral character; and David had to repent of this vice of lying (Psalms 119:20).

Verse 3

Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 4

And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.

Hallowed bread, [ lechem (H3899) qodesh (H6944)] - consecrated bread. There might be plenty of bread in his house, but it was not at hand, and there was no time to wait for it. The "hallowed bread" was the old showbread (Matthew 6:3-5; Mark 2:25-26; Luke 6:3-4) which had been removed the previous day, and which was reserved for the use of the priests alone (Leviticus 24:9). Before entertaining the idea that this bread could be lawfully given to David and his men, the high priest seems to have consulted the oracle (1 Samuel 22:10) as to the course to be followed in this emergency. A dispensation to use the hallowed bread was specially granted by God himself.

Verse 5

And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.

These three days - as required by law (Exodus 19:15). David and his attendants seem to have been during this interval lurking in some of the adjoining caves to avoid pursuit, and to have been consequently reduced to great extremities of hunger. Dean Stanley (Smith's 'Dictionary,' article 'David') says, that 'the young men spoken of were imaginary. He was alone.' This is directly at variance with the testimony of our Lord in the passages referred to, as well as with the answer of the high priest (1 Samuel 21:4), which implies that David had informed him of the retinue he had with him, though they were not priests.

The bread is in a manner common - i:e., now that it is no longer standing on the Lord's table. It is eaten by the priests, and may also, in our circumstances, be eaten by us.

Yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel - i:e., though the hallowed bread had been but newly placed on the vessel, the ritual ordinance would have to yield to the great law of necessity and mercy (see the notes at Matthew 12:3; Mark 2:25; Luke 6:3).

Verse 6

So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.

There-in the tabernacle. The removal of the old and the substitution of new bread was done on the Sabbath (Leviticus 24:8), the loaves being kept warm in an oven heated the previous day.

Verse 7

Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.

Detained before the Lord, [ ne`ªtsaar (H6113) lipneey (H6440) Yahweh (H3068), assembled before Jehovah; from the idea of compelling, constraining to a festival (Gesenius); Septuagint, sunechomenos, being held together, confined] - at the tabernacle; perhaps in the performance of a vow, or from its being the Sabbath, which rendered it unlawful for him to prosecute his journey.

Doeg, an Edomite, [Septuagint, ho Suros, the Syrian (cf. Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 6:, ch. 12:, sec. 1)] - who had embraced the Hebrew religion.

The chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul. Eastern monarchs anciently had large possessions in flocks and herds, and the office of the chief shepherd was an important one (Josephus styles him 'keeper of the king's mules').

Verse 8

And David said unto Ahimelech, And is there not here under thine hand spear or sword? for I have neither brought my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business required haste.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 9

And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod: if thou wilt take that, take it: for there is no other save that here. And David said, There is none like that; give it me.

Sword of Goliath - (see the note at 1 Sam. 18:54 .)

Wrapped in a cloth, [ luwTaah (H3874), covered, basimlaah (H8071), with the article. Whence it must mean some particular covering; elegant, embroidered, and sufficiently worthy to keep the consecrated memorials of a memorable victory.] Harmer thinks that, though the covering of the sword may refer to the scabbard, the probability is that it must be understood of something in which both sword and scabbard were wrapped up.

Behind the ephod - in the place allotted for keeping the sacred vestments, of which the ephod is mentioned as the chief. The giant's sword was deposited in that safe custody as a memorial of the divine goodness in delivering Israel.

If thou wilt take that, take it. Arms, though deposited as votive offerings in temples, might lawfully be taken, and very frequently were employed, when necessity required, in the public service.

There is none like that - not only for its size and superior temper, but for its being a pledge of the divine favour to him, and a constant stimulus to his faith. This incident forms the historic basis of Psalms 52:1-9, as appears from its traditional title.

Verse 10

And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.

David ... fled that day for fear of Saul. The king's uncontrolable violence and jealousy of David, together with the number of court parasites ready to give information to Saul of his place of refuge, rendered it impossible for him to remain within the territory of Israel, and he had resolved to leave the country.

And went to Achish the king of Gath - which was one of the five principalities of the Philistines; but its site is unknown. Dr. Robinson ('Biblical Researches,' 2:, 420) and Ritter ('Erdkunde,' 16 ter; 'Theil,' 136-139,) take it to be Deir-Dubb'an. But their opinion has not been adopted. In this place his person must have been known; and to venture into that country, he their greatest enemy, and with the sword of Goliath in his hand, would seem to have been a rash and perilous experiment; but, doubtless, the protection he received implies that he had been directed by the divine oracle. Achish was generous (1 Samuel 27:6). He might wish to weaken the resources of Saul; and it was common in ancient times for great men to be harboured by neighbouring princes, as Themistocles in Persia, and Coriolanus among the Volscians. Besides, it has been suggested that the king of Gath might have been secretly well pleased to be rid of so formidable a rival as Goliath, and therefore have no objection to see and entertain the youthful victor. But although the personal feelings of Achish might have led him to give David a friendly reception, his nobles were very differently disposed toward the Hebrew stranger.

Verse 11

And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?

Is not this David the king of the land? The report of his destined elevation to the throne seems to have been Is not this David the king of the land? The report of his destined elevation to the throne seems to have been spread among the Philistines.

Did they not sing one to another ... Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands? The fame of his martial achievements, which had been performed chiefly against their country, roused the patriotic resentment of the courtiers at Gath, and David, as the king began to sympathize with them, felt himself in a false position.

Verse 12

And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath.

David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath This terror, and the sad extremities of destitution and peril to which he was now reduced, may be inferred from the scheme of deception to which he resorted to extricate himself from those difficulties.

Verse 13

And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.

And he changed his behaviour, [ wayªshanow (H8138) 'et (H854) Ta`ªmow (H2940)] - and disfigured his understanding (Gesenius).

And feigned himself mad, [ wayitholeel (H1984)] - and acted the madman.

In their hands. He had been seized and made prisoner by the Philistine nobles in Gath, as appears from the title to Psalms 56:1-13.

And scrabbled, [ wayªtaayw (H8427)] - and made marks, scrawled on the doors of the gate, in the manner of mischievous boys (Gesenius).

And let his spittle fall down upon his beard. An indignity to the beard, whether done by another or by one's self, is considered in the East an intolerable insult; and no wonder, therefore, that the disgusting defilement of it which was committed by David, and allowed to remain unwiped away, was alone sufficient to convince Achish that he was insane.

Verse 14

Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 15

Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?

Have I need of mad men? Jewish writers say that the wife and daughter of Achish were both mad; and this statement, assuming the fact to be so, gives an emphatic import to the question, "Have I need of mad men ... shall this fellow come into my house?" David seems to have affected the appearance and sordid condition of a fool or a lunatic-a man whose reason had been overturned by the many serve vicissitudes he had undergone. And in his defense it has been argued that self-preservation, the first law of nature, will justify the use of any stratagem for protecting life from threatened danger. He is not the only great man who is recorded to have played the feel in critical circumstances, since Solon and L. Junius Brutus both fell on the same expedient to escape from their respective troubles. The pretended mania of David must have been exhibited in some particular phase; and the Septuagint version of this passage not only specifies that form, but deviates so remarkably from our present Hebrew text, that it may be interesting to some readers to see it in full [kai eelloioose to prosoopon autou enoopion autou kai prosepoieesato en teen heemera ekeinee, kai etumpanizen epi tais thurais tees poleoos.

Kai parefefeto en tais chersin autou. Kai epipten epi tas thuras tees pulees. And he changed his visage before him (namely, the king of Gath), and made (as though he were mad: cf. Luke 24:28) on that day, and beat upon the gates of the city, and was convulsed in his hands, and fell upon the doors of the gate (at the palace entrance, where the king was administering justice), and streams of saliva flowed rapidly down upon his beard. And Achish said unto his servants, Lo! You see that the man is epileptic. Why do you bring him to me? Do I need epileptic persons, that you have brought him to take a fit in my presence? He shall not enter in my house]. Psalms 34:1-22 and Psalms 35:1-28 are believed to refer to this incident, the remembrance of which will throw light on many of the special metaphors used in those sacred compositions.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 21". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-samuel-21.html. 1871-8.
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