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1 Samuel 21:1. Then came David to Nob— Nob was in the tribe of Benjamin, about twelve miles from Gibeath, not far from Anathoth, Neh 11:32 and Jerusalem, Isaiah 10:32. It appears from the 19th verse, of the next chapter, that it was one of the sacerdotal cities; and it is probable that Saul had removed the tabernacle from Shiloh thither. It should be observed, that Ahimelech is no where called the high-priest, but simply the priest. From the whole of this affair it is manifest, that Ahimelech knew nothing of the circumstances of David. He knew nothing of Saul's displeasure against him, or of his determined purpose to destroy him; and therefore, as he was the king's son-in-law, he is surprised to see him without any attendants, and asks him the reason of his being alone. David, concealing the reason, pretends a hasty and secret message from the king, and that he had ordered his attendants to wait for him. This is made use of as a pretence for asking a supply of bread, and after receiving it David requests a supply of arms; still keeping the priest entirely ignorant of the true reason of his being alone and unarmed: a demonstration this, if any thing can be so, that Ahimelech was not in David's secret, and was ignorant that he fled from Saul to escape his indignation.
1 Samuel 21:4. The priest answered—There is no common bread, &c.— Cases of necessity, as the Jews themselves allow, often superseded the observation of the ritual laws; and this compliance of Ahimelech's is urged with great force by our Saviour, in vindication of a similar case, Mar 2:25 to which place we shall refer for more upon the subject, and for a solution of the difficulties arising from the different names.
1 Samuel 21:5. And the vessels of the young men— i.e. their bodies; see 1 Thessalonians 4:4. Houbigant renders this verse, David answered the priest, We have indeed been absent from our wives these three days, since I came out; and the vessels of the young men are holy. But if any uncleanness had happened by the way, on this very day their vessels are clean; rightly observing, that the word כלי kelei, rendered vessels, cannot with any propriety be understood of the bodies of the young men in one place, and of the vessel containing the shew-bread in another.
1 Samuel 21:7. Detained before the Lord— That is, not by force, but either on account of some vow, or for the making of some necessary expiation.
1 Samuel 21:9. The sword of Goliath— It was the custom among the pagans to consecrate in their temples the spoils of their enemies; but it does not appear from the face of the history, that this sword of Goliath's had been consecrated as a religious trophy; and it might be left with Ahimelech to be forthcoming upon occasion: and that it was so, seems probable; for if it had been dedicated as a trophy, it would have been placed, trophy-like, in some conspicuous point of view; whereas this sword was wrapped up in a cloth, and put behind the ephod; i.e. among the sacerdotal vestments; of which the ephod being the chief, it is here mentioned for all the rest. See Doughty's Analect. Exerc. 83.
REFLECTIONS.—1. David, being thus distressed, and little expecting relief if he told the truth, is tempted to give a lying answer; the consequences of which he lived to lament, as the occasion of the murder of many innocent persons; so dangerous is every deviation from the truth. He pretends to be on a business of importance which required secrecy; says, that he has appointed his servants to meet him, and desires Ahimelech to give him a supply of provisions for himself and them. Note; Let no man be too secure, or self-confident; he knows not what temptations are before him, or how little able he is to resist.
2. He wanted a sword as well as bread, pretending the haste of the king's business, but, in truth, it was his own danger which hurried him away unarmed; he therefore desires Ahimelech to furnish him with one. But in a priest's house no such was found: only he tells him the sword of Goliath, wrapped up behind the ephod, was there. In David's eye, there is none like it; it appeared happily ominous to be possessed of that, and a confirmation of his faith, that all his enemies should be made, like Goliath, to fall before him: thus armed, therefore, he departs. Note; God often comforts his people in their distresses with such providential incidents as are suited to support their faith.
1 Samuel 21:10. And David—went to Achish, the king of Gath— David, being proscribed, but without reason, and being everywhere in danger in his own country, fled, as a man in perpetual hazard of his life, to the nearest place: but he fled to the inveterate enemies of his nation. The city he fled to was that of Goliath, whom he had slain, and whose sword he had now with him. Some of the most famous commanders of other nations have been forced to a similar conduct: witness Themistocles, Coriolanus, and others, who retreated to hostile nations, in order to escape the rage and fury of their own princes and countrymen. But in one thing he certainly appears to peculiar advantage, even above those great commanders; which is, that he went into exile without any hostile disposition or spirit of revenge towards his own country, which he affectionately loved, and substantially served, during his banishment from it.
1 Samuel 21:11. The king of the land— The generality of interpreters suppose, either that the Philistines knew that David should succeed Saul in the kingdom, or that by the word king is meant chief or general. See Deuteronomy 33:5.
1 Samuel 21:13. And he changed his behaviour before them— There are some writers who suppose that David's was a real disorder; and that, from the consternation and sorrow he was in, he was seized with epileptic fits: an opinion, to which the version of the LXX seems to give some countenance; for in the 14th verse it renders the words of Achish thus: Behold you have brought an epileptick to me:—Do I want epilepticks? &c. But it seems best to understand the passage according to the common interpretation: nor does there appear any thing, in this view of David's conduct, blame-able or wrong. He had only in view self-preservation, and no design of injuring others; and the two psalms which he is thought to have composed upon this event shew, that he was by no means wanting in due reliance upon God. No one thinks of blaming Solon or Brutus for a similar conduct. Ortlob, in the first volume of the dissertations at the end of the Critici Sacri, has treated largely De Delirio Davidis coram Achis. Dr. Delaney upon this subject well observes, that it plainly appears from the 56th Psalm, that the courtiers of Gath were bent upon David's destruction, and daily caballed against him: they soon perceived him to be a great genius; a character not always loved and honoured as it ought, even in a friend, but always dreaded, if not hated, in an enemy; and they resolved his ruin. To be sure of effecting it, they misconstrued and gave wrong turns to every thing he said or did: Every day (says he) they wrest my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil: they gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they lay wait for my soul. Psalms 56:5-6. What should he do? He had dealt with them in the integrity and simplicity of his heart; but his honesty was interpreted into guile. To labour to set himself right with them, were vain; for they designedly misinterpreted every thing: and to enter into any debate with them upon it, would be but to discover his distrust, and ensure his destruction. He was undone as a wise man; but had a chance to escape as a madman: he tried, and the experiment succeeded.
Mad in their hands— In their presence. Nold. 917.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 21". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany