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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 21

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-15

David came down to Nob, which was a cause of alarm to Ahimelech the priest, who asks why he had no man with him. It would seem from the history here that he had no-one identified with him, yet there must have been others in the vicinity who where with him, because the Lord Jesus, in commenting on this occasion, definitely speaks of "those that were with him (David)" (Matthew 12:3). As he told Ahimelech, he evidently appointed his servants to a place in the area. Still, his words were not true that the king had sent him on some secret mission. He did not want Ahimelech to know of Saul's determination to kill him, for this might make him fear to show any evident kindness to David. Ahimelech was easily deceived by his words, however, and was persuaded to give David the used bread of the sanctuary. He did want to make sure that the men were ceremonially clean, and he took David's word for this (v.45).

Strictly speaking, it was unlawful for David and his men to eat this bread, for it was the property of priests only. But there are matters that make a difference. First, the priesthood had seriously failed in Israel. Secondly, the service of the tabernacle was in the wrong place, not the place God had chosen. Thirdly, the ark was not present. And fourthly, the true king was in exile and hungry because of persecution. This last matter alone was reason for Ahimelech's giving the bread to David. The question of genuine need takes precedence over mere formal exactness.

David also makes the point that the bread was "in a manner common, and the more so, because today (new) is hallowed in the vessels" (v.5 -- J.N.D.trans.). Fresh bread had just been put in the vessels of the sanctuary to replace that had been there before, so that David was not asking for the actual showbread, but what had been removed from the table. Only the priests were lawfully entitled to this, but due to the circumstances, Ahimelech rightly gave it to David. The Lord Jesus speaks approvingly of this in Matthew 12:3-4.

An ominous note is introduced at this point, however, concerning Doeg an Edomite, the chief of Saul's shepherds. He had been "detained before the Lord" in that place. Does the Lord not allow circumstances of this kind to take place in order to remind us that we have not first sought His own guidance before acting? For there is no indication that David asked for His leading. David knew Doeg was there (ch.22:22), and expected he would tell Saul. Could he not then have been more cautious in asking for bread while Doeg was aware of it?

Doeg also knew that David had asked and received the sword of Goliath (ch.22:9-10). David evidently did not stop to consider that it was unfair of him to endanger Ahimelech without Ahimelech's knowledge of the facts. But if we act without depending on the Lord for His guidance, we are likely to find ourselves exposed to further failure. He tells Ahimelech that because of the urgency of the king's business he had no weapons, and yet that he needed one. Goliath's sword was there wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. This was no doubt kept as a reminder that it was God who had annulled the power of the enemy. Did David actually require the world's weapons for his protection? But he took it.

Leaving Ahimelech David went to Gath, where Goliath had lived! First, he accepts the world's weapon, then he descends to the world's level. This is the same devoted, bold man who had stood so faithfully for the Lord before. How easily we slip when faith begins to waver! In fact, he goes to Achish, the king of Gath, whose name means "only a man." How poor a substitute for "the living God" of whom David had spoken when Goliath challenged Israel (ch.17:26)! It was fear of Saul that moved him, however, the same Saul who had been afraid of Goliath, and was also afraid of David (ch.18:12).

The servants of Achish were alarmed at the presence of David there, and reminded their king that the song was sung in Israel to the effect that Saul had slain his thousands and David his ten thousands (v.11). They recognized that David was more entitled to be king of Israel than Saul was. They clearly saw the inconsistency of David's making friends with the Philistines when he had before consistently fought against them. David heard that these things were being said He was afraid of Saul, now he becomes afraid of Achish-- "only a man," though he had not been afraid of the giant Goliath who was of the same city. But again, he had not depended on God to lead him, and he finds himself descending further to the level of a humiliating deception (v.13), acting publicly like an insane man.

The Philistines might have detected the deception if they had been discerning enough. For it is not likely that one could be acting perfectly normal and then suddenly change to become totally insane, as he appeared to be. But when Achish, because of his servants words, had his attention more drawn to David and saw David acting like a madman, he was only disgusted and dismissed the whole matter as of no account (vs.14-15). This was the result that David apparently desired, that he might escape from there without hindrance.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 21". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/1-samuel-21.html. 1897-1910.
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