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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 21

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-9

Civil War (21:1-26:25)

David’s Visit to Nob (21:1-9)

This story probably follows close on the Michal episode and David’s escape from Saul’s messengers (1 Samuel 19:12). David arrived at Nob where he was received by Ahimelech the priest. Apparently Nob had become an important cultic center, the glory of Shiloh having faded with the departure of the Ark. Ahimelech’s suspicions were quieted, even though David was alone, by the latter’s false explanation. David declared that his mission was so secret that even his followers had to gather at a rendezvous. The subterfuge worked so well that David secured for himself alone enough bread to feed his fictitious companions. In addition, he explained the absence of weapons as due to his haste, and received the sword of Goliath. The ethics of this maneuver cannot be defended, but we find the resort to falsehood quite often in the early source to which this story belongs — a reminder of the lower stage of morals at this period of Israel’s history. Here David’s action goes uncondemned.

The bread Ahimelech offered David was holy, not profane; that is, it was separated for use at the sanctuary in the service of God. It was "the bread of the Presence." As such it partook of the quality of the Lord with whose worship it was associated, and could not be touched or eaten except with appropriate ritual purification. To eat the holy bread was equivalent to taking part in a sacrificial meal and communing with the Deity. Hence Ahimelech inquired whether David and his fictitious followers had "kept themselves from women," for sexual intercourse brought ceremonial uncleanness. David’s plea that such acts were banned by the very nature of their warlike enterprise is a reminder that, in the early days, war was most often a divine venture, undertaken only after a sacrifice had been made to the Lord, and requiring ritual consecration on the part of the warriors (see Deuteronomy 23:9-11).

Unfortunately for Ahimelech and his priests, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen, Doeg the Edomite, was a witness to the transaction. He is described as "detained before the Lord," an indication that he was ceremonially unclean and was undergoing a period of purification prior to taking part in some religious ceremony. His presence was to have a tragic sequel.

Verses 10-15

David Flees to Achish (21:10-15)

This story belongs to the later tradition, and thus is not connected with the preceding section, which is continued in chapter 22. The early tradition to which that section belongs reports David’s visit to Gath in chapter 1 Samuel 27:1-12 as if it were his first. The connection of the present section with the preceding one is also made difficult by the fact that chapter 21 leaves David with the sword of Goliath in his possession, hardly a weapon with which to flee into the Philistine area. The story now under review is probably a parallel to the story of 1 Samuel 27:1-12, but one which sets David in a more favorable light as no ally of the Philistines. If this be correct, the story is here out of place and belongs later, with chapter 27.

David fled to Gath, was recognized by Achish, the king of the Gathites, and was taken into custody. He adopted the ruse of feigning madness, a state regarded as produced by spirit possession and hence to be treated with reverential caution. The ruse succeeded and David fled.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Samuel 21". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-samuel-21.html.
 
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