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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 21

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-15

1 Samuel 21:1 . Nob; fifteen miles west of Jerusalem, and on the road to Gath, where the wandering ark now rested. It was a little city of priests. After they were all murdered, by Saul, the ark was removed to Gibeon. 1 Chronicles 21:29. Thence to the house of Obed-Edom; from thence to Zion, and lastly to the temple. Our great and splendid cathedrals are of small avail; the ark still wanders, and dwells in tents.

1 Samuel 21:5 . From women; that is, from their wives, as Moses commanded during the purification. Exodus 19:15. This opinion of the priest concerning holy bread, was not contrary to the spirit of the law in cases of need, and is justified by our Lord. Mark 2:25.

1 Samuel 21:7 . Doeg; detained here for mischief, by some evil genius.

1 Samuel 21:13 . He changed his behaviour. Hebrew, “he changed his taste.” Septuagint, “he changed his countenance.” That is, he changed his reason with gestures and motions, and scratched or marked the posts of their gates. Others say, he fell against the posts of the gates, and hurt himself. David’s great fears on hearing the king report his achievements, might really throw him into some sort of delirium. And the 34th and the 57th Psalms which he composed on this occasion, thanking God that he had preserved him from guile, strongly indicate that his behaviour before Achish was the effect of God’s afflicting hand.

1 Samuel 21:14 . Lo, you see the man is mad. The LXX, ανδρα επιληπτον , an epileptic man. Saurin has reprinted the essay of a learned man who justifies this reading.


Never was a prayer offered to God with more need than one in the psalms: “Lord remember David, and all his troubles.” While a shepherd he knew neither wants nor woes; but while a prince he was a stranger to repose. His laurels were all converted into thorns: and it is often a rule with providence in the elevation of a good man to worldly honour, to try and prove him by some severities of affliction. So now, the awful hand of providence drove this favourite into adversity and exile, the best school of self-knowledge, and safest preparative for public life. And why be so much afraid of adversity? Woods, caves, and deserts were all preferable to the palace of Saul.

David in his troubles ran to the house of God; and whither can a man flee from the wrath of a king, but to the King of heaven? Here he hoped his prayers would be heard, and that some counsel and comfort would be afforded to his affliction and grief. But ah, strange to say, Ahimelech was afraid because he saw him alone. The priest was not unacquainted with the temper of the king. He feared that some misunderstanding had taken place; that David had fled to the sanctuary, and that he should be implicated by affording him protection.

David, not wishing to alarm the aged highpriest, suddenly and without forethought said, the king had sent him on a secret business. This however was not true; it was sinful in the sight of God: and the bitter consequences which followed in the massacre of Nob, should teach us to act a faithful part in exile and in all our difficulties. One fault of this kind may make a man ashamed as long as he lives.

This priest, relieved of his fears, gave David what few favours he could spare. Being at a distance from his house, and living on the altar, he had nothing but holy bread. This was exclusively for the sons of Aaron; yet in cases of necessity others might not only eat of it, but even partake of unclean beasts. Our Saviour has justified this deviation from the letter of the law; for the life of man is more than meat.

Having obtained bread to nourish life, he next solicited armour for his defence. Though the house of God was not an arsenal; it had however a monument of salvation in the sword of Goliath. This David most gladly received. Being a memorial of past favours, it was in his hand a pledge of future safety. Thus equipped with bread and armour, he fled from all his friends to seek a refuge among his foes: many of the oppressed Hebrews had no doubt sheltered in Philistia. But greatness in calamities cannot obscure itself, like the abject and the poor. What strange things occur in the course of providence. David the favourite of Israel, the conqueror of Goliath appears in Gath among Goliath’s friends, and with the giant’s sword rusty in his hand. Here he cannot be in safety. All his fame had reached their ears; the court is jealous and uneasy at his presence. But God saves him by epilepsy; for his words indicate that he used no guile. Psalms 34:13. Men, suddenly over-taken with calamities, are sometimes so agitated with anxiety and passion, as not to act with sober deliberation and caution. The operations of reason are the purest when the storm of passion has subsided. Hence persons peculiarly tried should pray very earnestly for the guidance and counsel of the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 21". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/1-samuel-21.html. 1835.
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