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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 21

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-15



DAVID'S FLIGHT TO NOB (1 Samuel 21:1-9).

1 Samuel 21:1

Then came David to Nob. Nob means a knoll or hill, and apparently was situated a little to the north of Jerusalem on the road leading to Gath. The ark had evidently been removed thither by Saul early in his reign, after it had remained for twenty years in the house of Abinadab; and as eighty-five priests wearing an ephod were murdered there by Doeg at Saul's command (1 Samuel 22:18, 1 Samuel 22:19), it is plain that the worship of Jehovah had been restored by him with something of its old splendour. And this agrees with Saul's character. At the commencement of his reign we find Ahiah with him as high priest, and even when he fell his excuse was the necessity for performing the public rites of religion (1 Samuel 15:15). But with him the king's will was first, the will of Jehovah second; and while he restores God's public worship as part of the glory of his reign, he ruthlessly puts the priests with their wives and families to death when he supposes that they have given aid to his enemy. Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David. More literally, "went trembling to meet David." Ahiah, described as high priest in 1 Samuel 14:3, was either dead or, more probably, was a younger brother, who, while Ahimelech remained with the ark, acted as high priest at the camp for Saul, especially in consulting God for him by means of the ephod with the breastplate. Why art thou alone? Nevertheless, in Mark 2:26 our Lord speaks of those "who were with David," and the "young men" are mentioned in Mark 2:4, Mark 2:5. While David went alone to consult Ahimelech, that his visit might be kept quite secret, he had taken a few of his servants with him, and had left them somewhere in the neighbourhood, or even, more probably, had instructed some one to meet him with such men as he could collect. The arrival of the king's son-in-law without an escort would naturally strike the high priest as strange, and therefore as alarming.

1 Samuel 21:2

The king hath commanded me a business. This pretence of a private commission from the king was a mere invention, but his "appointing his servants to meet him at such and such a place" was probably the exact truth. After parting with Jonathan, David probably did not venture to show himself at home, but, while Saul still supposed him to be at Bethlehem, gave orders to some trusty officer to gather together a few of his most faithful men, and await him with them at some fit place. Meanwhile alone he sets out on his flight, and, having as yet no settled plan, goes to Nob, because it was out of the way of the road to Bethlehem, whither Saul would send to arrest him. Naturally such a visit would seem strange to Ahimelech; but David needed food and arms, and probably counsel; and. but for the chance of the presence of Doeg, no harm might have ensued. As it was, this visit of David completed the ruin of Eli's house.

1 Samuel 21:3, 1 Samuel 21:4

What is under thine hand? This does not mean that Ahimelech was himself carrying the shewbread out of the tabernacle, but simply, "What hast thou? The sense of the whole verse is, "Now, therefore, what hast thou at hand? Give me five loaves, or whatever there may be." Ahimelech answers, "There is no common bread at hand." I have no ordinary food; there is only hallowed bread, that is, the shewbread, which, after remaining in Jehovah's presence from sabbath to sabbath, was then to be eaten by the priests in the holy place (Le 1 Samuel 24:8, 1 Samuel 24:9). As Ahimelech could not venture to refuse David's request, he asks if his attendants are at least ceremonially clean, as in that case the urgency of the king's business might excuse the breach of the letter of the commandment. Our Lord in Matthew 12:3 cites this as a case in which the inward spirit of the law was kept, and the violation of its literal precept thereby justified.

1 Samuel 21:5, 1 Samuel 21:6

About these three days since I came out. This exactly agrees with the time during which David had lain concealed (1 Samuel 20:24, 1 Samuel 20:27, 1 Samuel 20:35), and explains the hunger under which he was suffering, as he had no doubt taken with him only feed sufficient for his immediate wants, he wishes, however, the high priest to believe that he had been engaged with his men during this time on public business, whereas they had been at home and some of them possibly were unclean. The whole chapter sets David before us in a very humiliating light. Just as some books of Homer are styled "the prowess" of some hero, so this chapter might be called David's degradation. The determined hatred of Saul seems to have thrown him off his balance, and it was not till he got among the hills of Judah, wherein was the cave of Adullam, that he recovered his serenity. The vessels of the young men. Their scrips, in which they would carry the bread, and their baggage generally. The bread is in a manner common, etc. The word bread is supplied by the translators, to give some sense to this most difficult passage. Literally translated, the two last clauses are, "And the way is profane, although it be sanctified today in the vessel." Among the numerous interpretations of these words the following seems the best: "And though our journey be not connected with a religious object, yet it (the bread) will be kept holy in the vessel (in which it will be carried)." There is no difficulty in supplying bread in the last clause, as the shewbread was the subject of the conversation, and a nominative is constantly supplied by the mind from the principal matter that is occupying the thoughts of the speakers. David's argument, therefore, is that both his attendants and their wallets were free from legal defilement, and that though their expedition was on some secular business, yet that at all events the bread would be secure from pollution. The shewbread that was taken from before Jehovah. The Talmud ('Menach.,' 92, 2) points out that this bread was not newly taken out of the sanctuary, but, as the last clause shows, had been removed on some previous day. As after a week's exposure it was stale and dry, the priests, we are told, ate but little of it, and the rest was left (see Talmud, 'Tract. Yom.,' 39, 1). It also points out that, had such violations of the Levitical law been common, so much importance would not have been attached to this incident.

1 Samuel 21:7

David's visit to Nob had probably been dictated simply by a desire to get food while a few attendants were being collected for him, and under ordinary circumstances would have remained unknown to Saul. Unfortunately there chanced to be a person present there who informed the king of it, and brought a second terrible catastrophe upon the house of Eli (see on 1 Samuel 2:33); by working too upon his jealousy he caused Saul to commit a crime which sets him before us as a hateful and remorseless tyrant. This man was Doeg, an Edomite, who had, it seems, long been in Saul's service, as he was his chief herdsman. According to the Septuagint he had charge of the king's mules, but the other versions agree with the Hebrew. As herds would form the main part of Saul's wealth, his chief herdsman would be a person of importance. He was detained before Jehovah. I.e. shut up in close seclusion within the precincts of the tabernacle, either for some vow, or for purification, or perhaps as suspected of leprosy (Le 1 Samuel 13:4), or, as some think, as a proselyte. Ephrem Syrus thinks he had committed some trespass, and was detained till he had offered the appointed sacrifice. David at once felt that Doeg's presence boded much ill (1 Samuel 22:22), and it probably was the cause of his taking the rash resolution to flee for refuge to Gath.

1 Samuel 21:8, 1 Samuel 21:9

Is there not here under thine hand spear or sword? The sight of Doeg made David feel how helpless he was in case of attack, and he excuses his request for weapons by saying that he had left home unarmed because of the urgeney of the king's business. The whole matter must have seemed very suspicious to Ahimelech, but he was powerless, and answers that the only weapon in the sanctuary was David's own votive offering, the sword of Goliath, carefully deposited in a place of honour behind the ephod with the Urim and Thummim, and wrapped in a cloth for its protection. As the word is used in Isaiah 9:5 of military attire, it may mean Goliath's war mantle, but more probably it was a covering to preserve it from rust and damp. In 1 Samuel 17:54 it is said that Goliath's armour became David's private property, and nothing could be more natural than that he should thus lay up the sword in the tabernacle, as a thank offering to God. He now takes it with pleasure, saying, There is none like that; for it was a memorial of his greatest achievement, and might be the presage of good fortune again.


1 Samuel 21:10

David arose and fled that day. The presence of Doeg at Nob was a most untoward circumstance; and though David could never have anticipated that Saul would visit upon the priests the unwitting assistance they had given him with such barbarous ferocity, yet he must have felt sure that an active pursuit would be at once instituted against himself. He therefore took a most unwise and precipitate step, but one which clearly shows the greatness of the danger to which he was exposed. For he flees to Achish, king of Gath, the first town upon the Philistine border, at the mouth of the valley of Elah (see on 1 Samuel 17:3). Achish is called Abimelech in the title of Psalms 34:1-22; written by David in grateful commemoration of his escape, that being the official title of the kings of Gath handed down through many successive centuries (see Genesis 26:1). It has been objected that nothing could be more improbable than that David, the conqueror of Goliath, should seek refuge with a Philistine lord, and that this is nothing more than a popular tale, which has grown out of the real fact recorded in Psalms 27:1-14. But when men are in desperate straits they take wild resolutions, and this meeting with Doeg, just after he had broken down with grief (1 Samuel 20:41), evidently put David to his wits' end. As, moreover, Saul was degenerating into a cruel tyrant, desertions may have become not uncommon, and though only three or four years can have elapsed since the battle of Elah, as David was only about twenty-four years of age at Saul's death, yet the change from a boyish stripling to a bearded man was enough to make it possible that David might not be recognised. As for Goliath's sword, we have seen that it was not remarkable for its size, and was probably of the ordinary pattern imported from Greece. Even if recognised, Achish might welcome him as a deserter from Saul, the great enemy of the Philistines; for as a deserter never received pardon or mercy, he must now use his prowess to the very utmost against Saul. Finally, the historical truth of the narrative is vouched for by Psalms 34:1-22; and the details are all different from those in Psalms 27:1-14. David there is a powerful chieftain with a large following of trained soldiers, and feels so secure that he takes his wives with him; he asks for some place in which to reside, and occupies himself in continual forays. Here he is in the utmost distress, has no trained band of soldiers, and goes well nigh mad with mental anguish. And this is in exact keeping with that extreme excitement to which David was a prey in his last interview with Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:41); and only in his first grief at Saul's cruel bitterness would his mind have been so affected, and his conduct so rash.

1 Samuel 21:11

David the king of the land. The servants of Achish use the title of king in a very general way. Thus Achish, though really a seren (see on 1 Samuel 5:11), is called king of Gath; and they meant nothing more as regards David than that he was Israel's great man, though in accepting Goliath's challenge he had undertaken what in old time was regarded as the king's especial duty. Did they not sing one to another of him in dances? The Hebrew method of singing was by choruses, who sang and danced in turns to the music of their tambours (see on 1 Samuel 18:7). David evidently had hoped not to be recognised, but to be admitted to serve as a soldier, or in some other capacity, without many questions being asked. As we find an Edomite in Saul's service, Cushites, Maachathites, and other foreigners in the employment of David, there was probably much of this desertion of one service for another, especially as kings in those days had absolute authority and their displeasure was death.

1 Samuel 21:13

He changed his behaviour. The same word is used in the title of Psalms 34:1-22. Literally it means "his taste," and, like the Latin word sapientia, is derived from the action of the palate, and so from the faculty of discriminating flavours it came to signify the power of discrimination generally. Thus "to change his taste" means to act as if he had lost the power of distinguishing between objects. Feigned himself mad. Literally, "he roamed hither and thither" restlessly and in terror. In their hands. I.e. before them, in their presence. Scrabbled on the doors of the gate. The Vulgate and Septuagint read drummed upon them. Literally the verb means "to make the mark of a Tau," the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and which anciently was in the form of a cross. The gate, on the leaves of which David scrawled, was probably that of the court or waiting room, in which the servants of Achish passed their time when in attendance upon him. Possibly David had witnessed these symptoms of madness in Saul's case during his fits of insanity. The idea of some of the older commentators, that David really for a time went out of his mind, is opposed to the general sense of the narrative.

1 Samuel 21:14, 1 Samuel 21:15

The man is mad. Achish supposes that David's madness was real, and "drove him away" (Psalms 34:1-22; title). Here we have only his contemptuous words, declaring that he had madmen enough of his own, and needed no more. As madmen were looked upon in old time as possessed by the Deity, and therefore as persons who must not be interfered with, they probably presumed upon the liberty granted them, and gave much annoyance. In my presence. Rather, "against me." Achish feared personal injury. Shall this fellow come into my house? A strong negative taking the form of a question. It means, David shall not enter into my service (comp. Psalms 34:1-22; title). The whole psalm bears witness to the deep perturbation of David's spirit, and helps to explain his strange conduct.


1 Samuel 21:10-15

Uncertain light.

The facts are—

1. Arriving at Nob, David quiets the suspicions of Ahimelech by stating that he was on the king's secret business.

2. On this ground he asks for and obtains hallowed bread to appease his hunger, and the sword of Goliath.

3. Doeg the Edomite, being detained there that day, is observant of David's proceedings. Hitherto David had held position as an officer in Saul's household or in the army, and therefore, despite Saul's private jealousy, had a right to the respect and protection of every man. Henceforth loyalty to Saul meant death to David. Therefore the paternal home at Bethlehem was out of the question, and there were reasons for not compromising Samuel with any appearance of open revolt. To a devout mind it was natural under these circumstances to flee to the sanctuary, and there seek solace and aid. The narrative relates how good and evil were blended in the conduct of the man of God at this critical juncture, and it suggests for consideration several important truths.

I. THE HIGHER LAWS OF LIFE. David desired the shewbread to appease his hunger, and the priest in charge at first objected to the request on the plea that it was contrary to the ceremonial law to give it to him. The fact that David, a devout and reasonable man, ventured to ask for it, combined with his argument on the priest's own ceremonial principles (1 Samuel 21:5), shows that he perceived the existence of a law which rose above the ceremonial. Some would perhaps regard David's action as typical of the prerogatives of the real King and Priest of Zion, and even interpret his statement about the "king's business" as a spiritual enigma, pointing to the "Father's business" which Christ was commissioned to accomplish (Luke 2:49; John 17:4-9). But, at all events, it is certain that our Saviour regarded David's request and the response of the priest as indicative of the subordination of a lower to a higher law (Mark 2:24-28). To save and sustain the life of a man, though a fugitive, was more important than the observance of a ritual. This subordination of law runs through all things, till we come up to the highest—that of supreme love of God. Health, and even life, may have to be set aside for the assertion of a moral principle. Hence the paradox (Matthew 10:39). Class distinctions, official relations, domestic claims, and private rights may be, in seasons of extreme national peril, entirely ignored for the maintenance of public safety. On this principle it is that attention to the affairs of this life, though right and good, is to yield to the higher obligation of regard to eternal things; and deference to self—one of the most important of laws—must give way when Christ claims submission to his yoke, the submission of love. Thus it could be shown how entirely in harmony with the scientific principle of interaction and subordination of laws is the cardinal teaching of the gospel.

II. WEAKNESS IN EMBARRASSMENT. The embarrassment of David was great, and not unlike what many fall into when called to high service for God. He was evidently under the impression that he was being led by God to some service for Israel not yet explicitly revealed (cf. 1Sa 16:13; 1 Samuel 17:26, 1 Samuel 17:45; 1 Samuel 19:18-24; 1 Samuel 20:13-15). At the same time he had neither the will nor the thought to rise in revolt, nor would Samuel or Jesse encourage it; yet, without home, friend, or covering, whither could he flee, and what do? To aid him would be deemed by the enraged king as treason. Under these circumstances, as a devout man, he naturally fled from his hiding place to the sanctuary at Nob. But the considerations which hindered him from compromising Samuel, Jesse, and Jonathan also operated with him to save Ahimelech from the cruel suspicion of Saul. Hence, for covering the priest as well as for saving life, he fabricated the falsehood.

1. God's service and approval afford us no exemption from embarrassment. No man was ever more truly called to service and more distinctly approved than was David, and it is difficult to find in history a case of more undeserved and painful embarrassment. The Psalms, especially 7; 10; 13; 35; 52; 54; reveal how keenly he felt his position. Those who think that the service of God is free from cares and trials know little of history and life. The Apostle Paul had his full share, though chief of apostles (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). The purifying fires easily enkindle in this world. There are materials for them in domestic affairs, in business, in the developments of private experience.

2. The causes of weakness in embarrassment are often traceable. If we fall, as did David, it is because of either—

(1) Partial consideration of the facts of our position. We may dwell too much on the difficulties, too little on the Unseen Hand. Peter looked at the waves, and not at Christ, and then began to sink. "Man does not live by bread alone" (Deuteronomy 8:3).

(2) Physical exhaustion conduces to this partial consideration, and also renders the action of the mind less steady. David was suffering mentally by the recent suspense, parting from his friend, and long abstinence from food. The inception of many a sin takes place when the flesh is literally weak. Our Saviour recognises this (Matthew 26:40, Matthew 26:42).

3. Education may have impaired our moral perception in reference to some actions. Custom does in one age tolerate what in another is abominated. Good men have bought and sold slaves. In David's time the tongue that lied for bread may have committed only a venial offence.

4. There may be too much inventiveness in seeking an outlet from embarrassment. It is possible to think and scheme too much, not leaving to God that which in our desperate need always belongs to him. In this state of mind evil suggestions are sure to arise, and they lay hold of the spirit just in proportion as, in extreme self-reliance, we lose trust in God. Our Saviour seems to have this in view in Matthew 6:25-34.

5. It is possible that amidst the pressure of life we do not keep near enough to God. Possibly David had been too hurried and worried by the purely human aspect of affairs to have strengthened his faith by fellowship with God. The soul, as in the case of Peter, is weak if it fasts too long, as is the body when bread fails.

III. THE PRESENCE OF AN UNFRIENDLY EYE. Doeg the Edomite was present, and David's conduct was noted. Little sympathy had this proselyte with the lofty aspirations of the "anointed;" great his pleasure in revealing to Saul anything gratifying to his wicked malice. The lesson is obvious. The servants of God live in the midst of a "perverse generation," and any inconsistencies, in their conduct are. sure. to be used against them. Some men take unusual delight in detecting the frailties of professing Christians, as though these were an excuse for their own habits. Deeds which attract no attention in other men become conspicuous in Christians, because of the utter contrast with their holy profession (1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:4-8).

IV. A PARALLEL AND A CONTRAST. There is a singular parallel in many of the circumstances of David's life at this period and those of our Saviour's. David, the anointed, was destined to work out a great issue for Israel, but for years carried the secret in his own breast, and was now despised, persecuted, unsustained openly by any in authority, without food, shelter, and visible means of defence, and, moreover, exposed to strong temptations arising out of his sorrows. And so the "Anointed of the Lord," later on, kept for a longwhile the purpose of his life in his own heart, and only by degrees unfolded it to men. He also was despised and rejected of men; unrecognised by the authorities; cruelly persecuted, being charged with motives and intentions most base; not knowing "where to lay his head;" without means of defence against physical injury; and not unacquainted with hunger and weariness. No wonder if the Psalms which assert the "righteousness" of David (Acts 2:29-31; 2 Peter 1:21) shadow forth the "righteousness" of the "Holy One" (Acts 2:27) and his more glorious triumph. But the contrast is manifest. David in poverty and distress trusts in God, but not perfectly. He proves his frailty in common with all others. He knows the shame and bitterness of sin. Not so the Christ. He would have no recourse to expedients for obtaining bread or relief from apprehension (Matthew 4:2-4; Matthew 26:38, Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:50). "Of the people there was none with him." "He trod the winepress alone." But in all things he was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." In the deepest sense, therefore, do we see the appropriateness of the reference of the Psalms to him in all ascriptions of right and dominion by virtue of purity and righteousness (Psalms 24:3-10). Not in David, but in Christ is the solution of the grandest language of the Psalms. How impossible of solution are the problems when men eliminate the inspiration of the Holy Ghost from the Old Testament!

General lessons:

1. We should be careful to avoid such a rigid adherence to useful and approved ordinances and arrangements as might deprive the poor and needy of spiritual nourishment. This danger attends some Church regulations.

2. It should be laid down as a rigid rule that no embarrassment, no perils from men, should ever justify even the thought of deception or wrong. Such a principle engrained into the soul will be a "breastplate of righteousness."

3. The prime consideration in times of peril is to commit our way to God, and be willing if need be to suffer and die.

4. We are justly indebted even to the failures of good men; for, out of the bitter review of their sins, they have borne testimony to the value of righteousness and the blessedness of trusting in God. Hence many of the Psalms.

5. We should guard against partiality in judging of the weakness of good men; for an occasional falsehood may be shocking to a man who thinks little of his own habit of backbiting or self-righteous censoriousness.

6. It requires many righteous deeds to remove the bad impression created on unfriendly observers by one indiscretion.

1 Samuel 21:10-15

Uncertain light.

The facts are—

1. In continued fear of Saul, David flees to the king of Gath.

2. Being recognised as the conqueror of Goliath, he fears the consequences.

3. To escape vengeance he feigns madness.

4. Achish the king thereupon refuses to have him in his service. There is no evidence that David received any Divine direction through the high priest, but the reverse (1 Samuel 22:15). He appears to have been left to the exercise of his own judgment as to a future place of refuge. To be alone, unable to remain in one's own land, a hunted fugitive, on religious principle averse to resistance by sword or concerted revolt (1 Samuel 24:6), with no guide but such as the judgment unhinged by conflicting thoughts could afford—this was certainly being "desolate" and "afflicted." The result was a determination to seek shelter among the enemies of his God and country, a step most perilous, and of very doubtful character, and which involved farther recourse to a most humiliating expedient.

I. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN GOD'S SERVANTS ARE APPARENTLY LEFT TO THEIR OWN USE OF PREVIOUS TEACHING, which they find difficult to apply to new and dangerous circumstances. David was placed in great peril, with no other guidance than what his own spirit might gather from a consideration of his calling by Samuel, and the general signs of God's past favour. There is, as a rule, a difficulty to the inexperienced in applying general principles to novel conditions; and under the physical and mental exhaustion of this crisis David found it hard to extract from the past sufficient light to guide his present steps. He walked in comparative darkness. "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps" (Psalms 88:6). The supposition that it is reserved only to the deliberately wicked to walk in darkness is not correct. The present life of the righteous in a sinful world is one of discipline, in which they both reap some of the fruits of former imperfections and become trained to higher service. Our Christian course is a campaign in which dark nights of watching and groping and trembling are to be expected as well as bright days of onslaught and victory. The degree of clearness in which the pillar of fire and cloud may stand before us may be affected by our disordered vision—the result of imperfect health; or distraction, or sheer exhaustion. The disciples of Christ, during those dark and dreadful hours of his passion and death, were left to the guidance and cheer of such of the truths as he had taught them in the days of prosperity as their judgment might deem appropriate to their present need. To the young man from home, tossed and torn by the adversities of life, unable to find means of sustenance, and destitute of friends, there is left the lessons of his childhood and such truth as may have been gathered from a brief experience of life. In his agitation he sees no clear light. A "horror of great darkness" comes over the soul, and the servant of God asks why his God is so "far from helping" him (Psalms 22:1).

II. THE SERVANTS OF GOD, ACTING ON THEIR OWN JUDGMENT AT SUCH TIMES, MAY COMMIT THEMSELVES TO INCREASING DANGERS AND HUMILIATING DEVICES. Exercising his judgment both on his present circumstances and his past experience of God's dealings with him, David thought he saw amidst the gloom a hand pointing to Gath as a place of refuge. No voice from heaven said, "Go not thither," and no light led elsewhere. Men would say he did the best under the circumstances, and in all sincerity of purpose. Nevertheless, the step was a false one, apart from his motive, both in itself and in its results. For it was shocking for a pious Hebrew—the assertor of the "name of the Lord" (1Sa 10:1-27; 1 Samuel 7:1-45), and the victor of Elah—to enter the abode and seek the service of the "uncircumcised Philistine," and the event proved that safety was not secured, but was so imperilled as to suggest the adoption of a most humiliating expedient. Oh, the bitter anguish of those who, having lived in the light of God's countenance, find themselves sinking deeper and deeper into helplessness and sorrow! Thus may it be with us all in our "dark and cloudy day." Every new step we take only makes our path more painful, and taxes more severely our ingenuity. Peter's "following afar off" led him amidst scoffing men and women, and their words (1 Samuel 21:11; cf. Matthew 26:58, Matthew 26:69-75) made a demand on his ingenuity more serious in its success than David's feigned madness. And this has been the experience of multitudes. There are two great dangers of the "hour of darkness" which David's experience indicates.

1. The danger of causing scandal among the enemies of religion. If the servants of Achish suspected David of the low cunning (1 Samuel 21:11) which seeks to slay by stealth, then ms Grave, chivalrous character as a defender of the honour of Jehovah's name (1 Samuel 17:45) is gone; and if they regard him as a fugitive fleeing from his king and country, then he reveals to the "uncircumcised" the woes and troubles of the people of God. It is a sacred duty in all our times of adversity to avoid whatever would cause irreligious men to think that we can do their base deeds, and not to expose to the eye of the unsympathetic the internal sorrows of the Church of God.

2. The danger of appearing to be what we are not. It may have been a harmless and successful device to simulate madness; but self-respect was gone, and a "more excellent way" of escape might have been sought of God. This is the great peril of us all both in prosperity and adversity. The guise under which the simulation appears is varied. An appearance of wealth covers real poverty; a geniality of manner is adopted when real aversion lies in the heart; a pretence of ill health secures escape from obligations; ambiguous words and evasions are employed to suggest our ignorance of matters when we know them well. To be real, to be known to be just what we are, is the only safe and wise course for a true Christian.

III. THE MORAL VALUE OF THESE SEASONS OF DARKNESS CANNOT BE APPRECIATED AT THE TIME. David was doubtless confounded at the providence that should have him "anointed" to a special service and yet allow him to be hunted as an outcast. He saw not the good of being bereft of friend and counsellor. But God deals with his servants in view of their actual need and the future service they are to render. Unchecked prosperity might have been the greatest curse to such a young man. We do not know what subtle dangers were lurking in his heart, and how necessary it was to cause him to feel his utter helplessness when left to himself. Facts prove that out of this bitter experience he rose a more devout, and humble, and trustful man, and was thereby enabled to be a better king, and to enrich the world forever with psalms expressive of the deepest experience of the human soul. Time is essential to the interpretation of the ways of God. The cruel wrongs of Joseph and the anguish of Jacob proved among the good things of life. The forty years trial in the desert was a blessing to Israel. "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous;" but history proves how blessed it is. The absolute trust expressed in the Psalms could only have been stated by one who had been very poor, desolate, and afflicted. Even the life of the Apostle Peter was the better for the bitterness and shame of his deed. Many on earth can say that they are grateful for their adversities, for through them they have got nearer to God, have found Christ's love more precious, and have set their affections more intently on things unseen and eternal. Who can adequately praise the unsearchable wisdom and love that can thus turn our darkness into light, and convert our sorrows into joys, and even build up holy characters out of the ruins of our own actions and follies? (Rom 11:36-39).


1 Samuel 21:1-8. (NOB.)


1. As in the outward life, so in the inward experience of men great exaltation is often followed by great depression. Whilst David was with Samuel and the prophets his faith in God appears to have been strong, and it was justified by the extraordinary manner in which he was preserved. But soon afterwards (some events which are not recorded having taken place in the interval) he was in mortal fear for his life, and resorted to an unworthy pretext in order to obtain an assurance of safety, and now took another false step. "There seems ground for suspecting that from the time of his parting with Jonathan—if not, indeed, from the time of his leaving Naioth—David had lost some of his trust in God" (Kitto).

2. The intention to deceive constitutes the essence of lying. Truth is the representation of things as they are, and it may be departed from in many ways without such an intention. But veracity is always obligatory. Even if intentional deception be ever justifiable, as some have supposed, it clearly was not in the case of David. The sacred historian records the fact without approval, and without comment, except as the mention of its disastrous consequences may be so regarded (1 Samuel 22:2). "Whoso thinketh that there is any kind of lie which is not sin deceiveth himself".

3. The amount of guilt involved in lying depends upon its circumstances, nature, and motives. The forms which it assumes are endlessly varied (direct, equivocation, suppression of truth, for advantage, pious frauds, malicious, etc.); but that which is marked by hatred and malice is the most reprehensible. This element was absent from the deception practised by David. The age in which he lived, too, was one in which a "lie of necessity" was deemed comparatively venial; and it was borne with, though not approved, by the "God of truth" until men should be trained to a higher moral state. Concerning deceit observe that—


1. The pressure of circumstances. When David presented himself alone before the high priest at the commencement of the sabbath (the evening of Friday) he was pressed by hunger and fear, and thereby tempted to invent a falsehood. If he had steadfastly set his face against the temptation his need would probably have been met in some other way. There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a lie of necessity. A man may die of necessity, but not lie.

2. The promise of advantage. He thought that no harm could possibly come of his deceit. But how little do men know, when they enter upon a false way, to what end it may lead I

3. The possession of a natural tendency or susceptibility to such a temptation. There was in him (notwithstanding he abhorred lying from his heart) "a natural disposition which rendered him peculiarly open to this temptation: a quick, impulsive genius fertile in conceiving, and a versatile cleverness skilful in colouring things different from the actual fact. And does it not read a most striking lesson to those who are in any way similarly constituted?" (J. Wright, 'David, King of Israel').

"Ever to the truth

Which but the semblance of a falsehood wears
A man, if possible, should bar his lip,
Since, although blameless, he incurs reproach"



1. It is a violation of the bond by which society is held together. Without confidence in each other's truthfulness men could not live together in social union. It is a sin against the justice and the love which we owe to our neighbour. What the apostle says with reference to the Christian community applies to all: "Wherefore putting away lying," etc.: "for we are members one of another" (Ephesians 4:25).

2. It is contrary to the dictates of an enlightened conscience.

3. It is prohibited and condemned by the word of truth. "Ye shall not lie one to another" (Le 1 Samuel 19:11). "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile" (Psa 24:1-10 :13; Psalms 119:29; Proverbs 12:22; Colossians 3:9; Revelation 21:8). "Lying in a base, unworthy vice; a vice that one of the ancients portrays in the most odious colours, when he says that 'it is to manifest a contempt of God, and withal a fear of man.' It is not possible more excellently to represent the horror, baseness, and irregularity of it; for what can a man imagine more hateful and contemptible than to be a coward toward men and valiant against his Maker?" (Montaigne).

III. IT IS OFTEN DETECTED BY UNEXPECTED MEANS (1 Samuel 21:8). Little did David think of seeing Doeg the Edomite detained (literally, shut up) in the tabernacle, to witness his deception with quick eyes and ears, and ready to reveal it with a tongue "like a sharp razor, working deceitfully" (Psalms 52:2). But—

1. However cautious men may be in practising deceit, they can never calculate upon all the means by which it may be discovered. "A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter" (Ecclesiastes 10:20).

2. Even its temporary success often leads to inquiry and discovery (1 Samuel 22:6).

3. God, before whom "all things are naked and open," causes the whole course of things to work together for its exposure (2 Samuel 12:12), in order to teach men to avoid "the way of lying," and "speak the truth in their heart." It was through the operation of his providence that Doeg was there that day. Human history and individual life afford innumerable instances of the exposure of deceit in unexpected ways (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

"Lie not; but let thy heart be true to God,
Thy tongue to it, thy actions to them both.
Dare to be true! Nothing can need a lie;
The fault that needs it most grows two thereby"



1. In those who deceive—by their moral deterioration, encouragement in deception when they are successful, and filling them sooner or later with bitter regret (1 Samuel 22:22).

2. In those who are deceived, to an extent which cannot be anticipated.

3. In other men, by lessening their confidence in one another, and giving "occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Samuel 12:14).


1. That we may not "do evil that good may come."

2. To judge charitably of others, inasmuch as we know not the strength of their temptations.

3. To watch against the least approach to deception in ourselves.

4. To seek preservation from it by firmly trusting in God.—D.

1 Samuel 21:2. (NOB)

The sins of good men.

Some of the most eminent servants of God mentioned in the Bible fell into grievous sins. This has often been to some a ground of objection to the Bible, and to others a subject of perplexity. But there is little reason for either. Consider it in relation to—

I. THE TRUTH OF SCRIPTURE. If men had been described therein as wholly free from sin there would have been much more reason for doubt or perplexity concerning its truth than now exists; for its representation of them—

1. Proves the impartiality of the writers, who record the failings of good men as well as their excellencies, concealing nothing. It shows that the sacred writers were influenced by the highest principles, and even guided by a higher wisdom than their own.

2. Accords with the results of observation and experience, which teach that men are sinful, that those who are unquestionably good men are liable to fall, and that the most eminently pious are not perfect. Much of the Bible is chiefly a faithful picture of human nature, which (both without and under the power of Divine grace) is essentially the same in all ages.

3. Confirms the doctrines it contains: such as that man is fallen, sinful, and helpless; that his elevation, righteousness, and strength are of God; that he can attain these blessings only through faith and prayer and conflict; that he can continue to possess them only by the same means; and that when he ceases to rely on Divine strength he utterly fails.

II. THE CHARACTER OF GOD. They were accepted and blessed by him notwithstanding their sins. Is he, therefore, unholy, unjust, or partial? Let it be remembered—

1. That their sins were not sanctioned by him.

2. That they were forbidden by him.

3. That they were punished by him.

4. That they were forgiven only when repented of.

5. That they were in some cases mercifully borne with for a time because of the good which he saw in his servants, and in order to the ultimate removal of the evil.

6. That if such endurance of some things in them appears strange to us, under the higher light and grace vouchsafed, there are probably some things in ourselves, the evil of which we scarcely perceive, but which will appear hereafter in a different light to others.

7. That the principle on which God deals with the individual and the race is that of a gradual education, the aim of which is that we should be "holy as he is holy."

III. THE WORTH OF SUCH MEN. If they had continued in conscious and persistent transgression they could not have been held in honour or regarded as really good (1 John 3:6); but though their sins may not be excused, their names are worthy of being had in everlasting remembrance, because of—

1. The surpassing virtues which distinguished their character.

2. The main current of their life—so contrary to isolated instances of transgression.

3. Their deep sorrow for sin, their lofty aspirations after holiness, and their sure progress toward perfection.

IV. THE EFFECT ON OTHERS. This has doubtless been injurious in some directions. But, on the other hand, it has been, as it must be when the subject is rightly viewed, beneficial in—

1. Making others more watchful against falling. If such eminent servants of God fell, much more may we. "Let him that thinketh he standeth," etc.

2. Preventing despair when they have fallen. If those who fell could be restored, so can we.

3. Teaching them to look to Jesus Christ as the one perfect example, the only propitiation for our sins, the all-sufficient source of "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." "Nothing can be an excuse or apology for sin; yet by God's mercy it may be turned to account, and made to produce the opposite to itself. To some men's errors the world has been indebted for their richest lessons and ripest fruit … . To the lamentable lapse, the penitence and the punishment of David, we owe some of the most subduing, the most spiritually instructive and consolatory of his psalms—psalms that have taught despair to trust, and have turned the heart of flint into a fountain of tears" (Binney).—D.

1 Samuel 21:3-6. (Nor.)

The letter and the spirit.

"So the priest gave him hallowed bread" (1 Samuel 21:6). More than half a century had elapsed since the destruction of Shiloh. The remaining members of the family of Eli had greatly increased, so that eighty-five priests now dwelt at Nob, where the tabernacle (and possibly the ark—1 Samuel 7:1) had been placed. But the condition of the priesthood was very different from what it once was. The spiritual power of the nation lay in the "company of the prophets;" and Saul, rejected of God and ruling according to his own will, "assumed the power of giving the high priest orders at all times through his messengers (1 Samuel 21:2); so far had the theocracy sunk from that state in which the people used to stand before the tabernacle to receive the sole behests of Jehovah their King, through the prophet and priest" (Smith, 'O.T. History'). Nevertheless Ahimelech (Ahiah, 1 Samuel 14:36) appears to have been a man of high character (1 Samuel 22:14, 1 Samuel 22:15); and when David, in his necessity, requested "five loaves," he gave them to him from the shewbread which had just been removed from the holy place. He may have been influenced by sympathy with David's character and position (of which he could not fail to know something), as well as by compassion for his need and by loyalty to the king, or by the advice of Abiathar (his son and successor, afterwards friend and companion of David—1 Samuel 22:20-23; 1 Kings 2:26; and removed from the priesthood by Solomon, giving place to Zadok, of the elder branch of the Aaronic family). The shewbread (literally, "bread of the presence") "set forth Israel's permanent consecration in obedience and in producing the fruit of good works" (see Fairbairn, 'Typology,' 2:324), and was permitted to be eaten only by the priests (Le 1 Samuel 24:9); but he departed, with some reserve (1 Samuel 21:4), from the strict letter in observance of the spirit of the law. And our Lord "selected this act of Ahimelech as the one incident in David's life on which to bestow his especial commendation, because it contained—however tremulously and guardedly expressed—the great evangelical truth that the ceremonial law, however rigid, must give way before the claims of suffering humanity" (Stanley). Observe that—

I. THE LETTER IS DISTINCT FROM THE SPIRIT. To the former belong particular customs, maxims, rules, rites, and ceremonies; to the latter, general principles, and essential moral and spiritual obligations. As a simple illustration—Christ said to his disciples, "Ye also ought to wash one another's feet" (here is the rule); "Love one another (here is the principle).

1. The letter rests upon the spirit as its foundation. The whole Mosaic law, as law (moral, ceremonial, political), was a "letter" based upon great principles, springing directly out of the relation of God to men—granite foundations on which more recent strata rest, and which often crop through them into distinct view (Le 1 Samuel 18:18; Deuteronomy 6:5). "There is a 'letter' and 'spirit' in everything. Every statement, every law, every institution is the form of an essence, the body of a soul, the instrument of a power. These two things are quite distinct—they may be quite different" (A.J. Morris, 'Christ the Spirit of Christianity').

2. The letter is a means to an end, the spirit is the end itself. The shew bread was set apart for a particular purpose, and permitted to be eaten only by the priests, in order to represent and promote the consecration, good works, and true welfare of the whole people. So "the sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27).

3. The letter is restricted in its application to certain persons, places, and times; the spirit is universal and abiding.

4. The letter (as such) is in its requirement outward, formal, mechanical, and in its effect conservative, constraining, and pre paratory; the spirit necessarily demands thoughtfulness, affection, moral choice, and is productive of liberty, energy, perfection. "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63).

II. THE LETTER MAY BE CONTRARY TO THE SPIRIT. It is not essentially so; it is not always so when men imagine it to be, as, e.g; when it is a restraint only upon their selfish convenience and sinful propensities. The fact that it is such a restraint shows that they still need the discipline of the law and the letter. If they were truly spiritual and free it would not be felt. But generally—

1. When it is applied to cases not contemplated by it,—to inappropriate times and circumstances,—and when it hinders rather than promotes its chief end.

2. More particularly when it prevents the meeting of the real and urgent necessities of men, and the accomplishment of their true welfare—the satisfaction of hunger, the removal of sickness, the preservation of life, the salvation of the soul (Matthew 12:1, Matthew 12:12). On this principle David "entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread," etc.

3. When it is opposed to the proper exercise of benevolence. On this principle Ahimelech gave him the bread, and our Lord acted (Luke 6:10). "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).

4. When it hinders the highest service of God. In all such instances the strict observance of the letter "works mischief and misery, and not only kills, but kills the spirit itself from which it came" (2 Corinthians 3:6).

III. THE LETTER MUST BE SUBORDINATED TO THE SPIRIT. It should not be despised or arbitrarily set aside; but the lower obligation (in so far as the "letter" is obligatory) ought to be secondary and subservient, and give place to the higher. And we learn that—

1. In the order of God's dealings with men it was necessary that the dispensation of the letter should be superseded by that of the spirit. This incident affords a glimpse of their predominant elements. "The law was like a book of first lessons—lessons for children. Christianity is like a book for men."

2. In the Christian dispensation what is ceremonial, regulative, temporary (however important) must be deemed of less consequence than what is moral, essential, enduring; and devotion to the former should be surpassed by devotion to the latter. Unduly to exalt external rites or special forms of worship is to return to the bondage of the letter; whilst zealously to contend about them without brotherly love and charity is to lose the substance for the sake of shadows. "Redeemed and sanctified man stands no longer under the disciplinary form of the law, but stands above and controls the form of the requirement" (Erdmann). He is a king and priest. "Pure religion" (literally, outward ceremonial service), etc. (James 1:27). It is charity and purity.

3. In the individual life—renewed and sanctified—the chief endeavour should ever be to "live in the spirit," and exhibit "charity out of a pure heart" (1 Timothy 1:5).

"I'm apt to think the man

That could surround the sum of things, and spy
The heart of God and secrets of his empire,
Would speak but love; with him the bright result
Would change the hue of intermediate scenes
And make one thing of all theology."

4. In everything Christ must be regarded as supreme, the perfect embodiment and only source of the spirit, Redeemer, Lord, "all and in all" (Colossians 3:11; 2 Corinthians 3:17, 2 Corinthians 3:18).—D.

1 Samuel 21:8-10. (NOB)

The sword of Goliath.

"There is none like that; give it me" (1 Samuel 21:9). When David slew Goliath "he put his armour in his tent" ("the ancient word for dwelling"). But he appears to have afterwards deposited his sword in the tabernacle at Nob as a sacred relic, dedicatory offering, memorial, and sign; and on seeking for means of defence during his flight "from the face of Saul" (1 Samuel 21:10) it was still there, carefully "wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod," and was handed over to him by the priest. It was of special significance for him, and (as other memorials often do to others) it must have spoken to him with an almost oracular voice in the way of—

I. REMEMBRANCE of the help of God; afforded—

1. In the gaining of a notable victory over the enemies of the Lord and his people.

2. At a time of imminent peril and utmost extremity.

3. Through faith "in the name of the Lord of hosts." David's deliverance, as he then acknowledged, was accomplished not by the sling and stone, nor yet by the sword, but by the Lord on whom he relied; and he much needed to be reminded of it now.

II. ENCOURAGEMENT to trust in God.

1. In his service, in conflict with his enemies and obedience to his directions, the Lord is with his servants. They are not "alone" (1 Samuel 21:1), but he is on their side (Psalms 118:6).

2. In the greatest extremity, when ordinary means seem unavailing, he is able to deliver them by those which are extraordinary.

3. The confidence which they place in him he never disappoints. "Fear not." "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes."

III. WARNING against confidence in man. Overwhelmed with fear, he was about to take the daring step of leaving his people and seeking shelter with the Philistines, and eagerly grasped the weapon as an omen of the success of his scheme. But if he had reflected it would surely have taught him that—

1. There is no safety for a servant of God in dependence upon or in alliance with his enemies. None might be like "the Sword of Goliath" when used in "the Lord's battles," but in no other.

2. His own wisdom and strength avail nothing "without the Lord." And he was now evidently venturing on an erroneous and presumptuous course, in which he had no assurance of Divine guidance and help.

3. The weapon which has been powerful by faith is powerless without it, and may even be turned against him who employs it. Ancient memorials, institutions, methods are valueless apart from the spirit which they represent. It is probable that David was discovered in the native place of Goliath by the sword he bore; and the next thing we hear is that he and the renowned weapon he so highly prized were in the hands of the Philistines.—D.

1 Samuel 21:10-15. (GATH)

The fear of man.

"And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid" (1 Samuel 21:12). The fear of man is not always sinful. As in certain cases, and within certain limits, the approbation of others is a natural and proper object of desire, so the disapprobation of others is a like object of dread; and it often restrains from temptation and impels to virtuous conduct. But it is sinful when it exists where it ought not, or in an undue measure; when it hinders us from doing right lest we should incur their displeasure, or incites us to do wrong in order to avoid it. Such fear has often possessed the servants of God (Genesis 12:12; Exodus 30:11, Exo 30:22; 1 Samuel 16:2; Matthew 26:72). It was felt by David when he fled from Saul; and still more when recognised by the servants of Achish, king of Gath, and brought before him. To avoid what appeared to him inevitable death he feigned madness, and his dissimulation (though no more reprehensible than the stratagems which many others have devised in great straits) was unworthy of his high character. Notice—


1. Distrust of Divine protection, which he had already exhibited. If he had not, to some extent, "cast away his confidence," he would hardly have come to Gath at all; for God could assuredly protect him in his own]and. And now, deprived of "the shield of faith," he became victim to a fear as great as the courage he had formerly displayed.

2. The failure of worldly policy, which, through lack of faith, he had adopted. Like Peter, he went whither he was not called to go; and when his folly and presumption were suddenly revealed he was overwhelmed with dismay. His failure was, in its ultimate result, good; for, although he had no intention of turning his sword against his people, it prevented further entanglements arising out of his relation with his enemies, humbled him, and constrained him to cry to God for deliverance. It is better for a good man to be driven forth from the wicked in contempt than to be retained amongst them in honour.

3. The presence of personal danger; doubtless great, but exaggerated, as it always is, by fear. He that seeketh his life shall lose it. How common is the fear of man, arising from similar causes, in social, political, and religious life!

II. ITS INJURIOUS iNFLUENCE (1 Samuel 21:13). The intercourse of David with Saul may possibly have suggested the device; which, moreover, was not an inappropriate expression of his inward agitation and misery. Fear—

1. Fills the mind with distracting anxiety and distress. He whose faith fails is no longer himself. He is driven hither and thither, like a ship upon the open sea (Luke 12:29).

2. Incites to the adoption of deceitful expedients. "The fear of man bringeth a snare" (Proverbs 29:25).

3. Exposes to ignominious contempt (1 Samuel 21:15). "Signally did David show on this occasion that he possessed two of the powers most essential to genius—powers without which he could never have become the great poet he was—the power of observation and the power of imitation. He must previously have noticed with artistic accuracy all the disgusting details of madness; and now he is able to reproduce them with a startling fidelity. And in the possession of these powers we may, I think, find not an excuse for, but certainly an explanation of, that tendency to deceit, which otherwise it would be hard to account for in so holy a person. When a man finds it an easy and pleasurable exercise of ability to throw himself into existences alien to his own, he is tempted to a course of unreality and consequent untruthfulness which can hardly be conceived by a more self-bound nature. But if genius has its greater temptations, it also has greater strength to resist them. And the more godlike a genius is, the more unworthy and humiliating are its lapses. What more debasing sight can be imagined than that which David presented in the king's palace at Gath! Fingers which have struck the celestial lyre now scribble on the doors of the gate. From lips which have poured forth divinest song now drops the slaver of madness. The soul which has delighted in communion with God now emulates the riot of a fiend. And all this not brought on by the stroke of Heaven, which awes us while it saddens, but devised by a faithless craft" (J. Wright).


1. The overruling goodness of God, which often delivers his servants from the snares they have made for themselves, and sometimes mercifully controls their devices to that end; and (as we learn from the psalms which refer to the event) in connection with—

2. Earnest prayer for his kelp, and—

3. Restored confidence in his presence and favour. Faith is the antidote of fear.

"The following is an approximation to the chronological order of the eight psalms which are assigned by their inscriptions to the time of David's persecution by Saul: 7. (Cush) 59; 56; 34; 52; 57; 142; 54." (Delitzsch). See also the inscriptions of Psalms 63:1-11, and Psalms 18:1-50. Psalms 56:1-13, 'The prayer of a fugitive' (see inscription):—

"Be gracious unto me, O God …
In the day that I fear, in thee do I put my trust,
In God do I praise his word.
In God have I put my trust; I do not fear.
What can flesh do unto me.

(Psalms 56:1, Psalms 56:4, Psalms 56:9, Psalms 56:12).

Psalms 34:1-22; 'Thanksgiving for deliverance' (see inscription):—

"I will bless Jehovah at all times ....
I sought Jehovah, and he answered me,
And out of all my fears did he deliver me.
This afflicted one cried, and Jehovah heard,
And saved him out of all his troubles"

(verses l, 3, 7, 12-16).

"When David sang these two songs God's grace had already dried his tears. Their fundamental tone is thanksgiving for favour and deliverance. But he who has an eye, therefore, will observe that they are still wet with tears, and cannot fail to see in the singer's outpourings of heart the sorrowfulest recollections of former sins and errors" (Krummacher).—D.


1 Samuel 21:6

The letter of the law violated.

How did David, being neither priest nor Levite, venture to eat the presence bread from the sanctuary? How did Ahimelech venture to give it to him?

I. THERE WAS THE PLEA OF NECESSITY. An ox or an ass which had fallen into a pit might be lifted out on the sabbath, notwithstanding the commandment to do no manner of work on the seventh day. The need of the poor animal, and the mercy due to it in its mishap, were justification enough for a breach of the letter of the law. When the disciples of Christ, walking with him along the edge of a cornfield, pulled some ears to relieve their hunger, they were blameless, for what they did was expressly permitted by the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 23:25). But they did it on the sabbath, and this the Pharisees challenged as unlawful. The Lord Jesus, however, held it quite lawful. It was necessary that his followers should relieve their hunger and recruit their strength, and the greater object must be put above the less. "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." Our Lord brought out this truth into stronger relief than any other Jewish teacher had done; but it was not new doctrine. We see that while the Mosaic ritual was in the full force of its obligation the priest at Nob felt warranted to suspend one of its most minute regulations in order to relieve pressing human want. Perhaps the tendency in modem Churches is to take too much liberty with rules and ordinances of religion under pleas of necessity which are little more than pleas of convenience or self-will. But there is a golden mean between rigidity and laxity; and it must be left to the judgment and conscience of those who fear the Lord to determine for their own guidance what does or does not constitute a sufficient ground for setting aside regulations or restrictions which are ordinarily entitled to respect. Yet it is only the letter of the law, or the minutiae of religious observance, that may be thus dealt with. There are supreme obligations which not even a question of life and death may overrule. Nehemiah would not flee into the temple to save his life when his duty was to build up Jerusalem. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not worship the golden image at Babylon to save their bodies from the furnace; nor would Daniel desist from prayer to Jehovah to escape the lions' den. Paul insisted on his right of protection as a Roman citizen, hut he would not for a moment compromise or conceal the gospel to evade persecution. No bonds or afflictions moved him; neither did he count his life dear to himself, so that he might finish his course with joy. It is true that not all the followers of Christ have had such fortitude. In days of persecution some faltered and apostatised, excusing themselves under a plea of necessity. They could not suffer; they dared not to die. But the noble army of martyrs consists of those who felt it the supreme necessity to be true to conscience, to the truth of the gospel, and the Christ of God. Not everything, then, must yield to necessity. David thought his hunger a sufficient warrant for taking from the priest's hand the sacred bread; but when Goliath blasphemed the God of Israel and defied his army, David had shown that his own life was not so dear to him as the glory of God and the honour and safety of his people.

II. THERE WAS A PROFOUND INSIGHT INTO THE TRUE MEANING OF PRIESTHOOD IN ISRAEL. No doubt the priests formed a hereditary order, wearing a distinctive dress, and having special provision made by statute for their position and maintenance. But they were never intended to be a caste of holy intercessors standing between God and an unholy nation. Neither they nor the Levites, their assistants, were isolated from the common life of their countrymen, as by separate charter of privilege or vows of celibacy. They were just the concentrated expression of the truth that all Israel was called to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The rule was that the priests only should eat the bread which was withdrawn weekly from the table in the sanctuary; but it was no breach of the essence and spirit of the law if other Israelites, faithful to God, should on an emergency eat of this bread. David was as truly a servant of Jehovah as Ahimelech. Though all the Lord's people never were prophets, they always were, and now are, priests. Knowing this, David took and ate; not at all in a wilful mood, like Esau in his ravenous hunger eating Jacob's pottage, but with reverential feeling and a good conscience, under sanction of the fact that he was one of a priestly nation, and with confidence that God would not condemn him for exceeding in such a strait the letter of the law, so long as he honoured and obeyed its spirit. The leaders and rulers of the Church, according to the New Testament, are not sacerdots invested with a mystic sanctity and intrusted with a religious monopoly. They are simply the intensified expression of the holy calling of all the members of Christ, all the children of God. All these have a right to worship in the holiest; and as all of them may offer spiritual sacrifices, so all may "eat of the holy things." Order, indeed, is needful in the Church, and no man may assume a leading place or charge therein until duly called and appointed to the same. If David had for a light cause, or frequently, taken the presence bread, it would have been a sign of irreverence or arrogance. And in like manner if a Christian not intrusted with office in any constituted Church pushes forward when there is no emergency, and assumes to lead the Divine service, or to appoint or conduct the observance of the Lord's Supper, he steps out of his place, and may be designated "unruly." But there are places and occasions which do not admit of the usual regulations being observed; and in such cases a private or unofficial Christian may take upon himself any religious function rather than that any soul should suffer damage, and this under the general principle that all Christians form a "royal priesthood." The teaching of this passage is against religious pedantry and ecclesiastical hauteur. Count form subordinate to life. Value order, and reverence ordinances that are really of God. Play no "fantastic tricks" with sacred things "before high heaven;" but do not reduce religion to a question of meats and drinks, and do not count any one a serious offender who in a strait has violated prescription or usage. One who breaks the letter of the law may keep the law itself better than another who knows nothing but the letter. We are called to liberty; not licence, indeed, but order and liberty. If we are true to God and to our consciences we need not dread that, for a formality or an informality, Christ will cast us off. The Son of man is Lord of the sabbath and of the table, "Minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle," Lord of all the ordinances that are binding on his followers. And there is a freedom—not from order, but in God's order—with which the Son of man, being Son of God, has made his people free.—F.

1 Samuel 21:8-15

The hero unheroic.

I. A WEAPON WAS GIVEN TO DAVID AT NOB THAT SHOULD HAVE STIRRED ALL THE HEROIC ELEMENT IN HIM AND RESTORED HIS FALTERING FAITH. Had he forgotten that the sword of Goliath was in custody of the priests? Or did he remember it, and was it for a sight and a grasp of this mighty weapon that he longed? Who can tell? The priest reminded him of the day when, with that very sword, he beheaded the prostrate giant in the valley of Elah. The words must have sent a thrill through David's heart, and touched some chord of shame. Why was he now so much afraid? Why could he not trust the Lord who had saved him in that dreadful combat to protect him now? He was all eagerness to have the sword in his hand again—"There is none like it; give it me." It may have been too ponderous for a man of ordinary size and strength to wield with any freedom, but its associations and memories made it more to David than ninny weapons of war. He ought to have been of good cheer when in one day he got both bread and sword out of the sanctuary. Is not this suggestive of a way of help and encouragement for all who know the Lord? In new emergencies let them recall past deliverances. As Matthew Henry says, "experiences are great encouragements." The God who helped us in some past time of need is able to help us again. The grace which gained one victory is strong enough to gain another. But—

II. RECOLLECTION WITHOUT ACTIVE FAITH AVAILS LITTLE. The courage which must have leaped up in David's breast at the sight and touch of Goliath's sword soon ebbed away. His mood of despondency returned as he neared the frontier, and he relapsed into shifts unworthy both of his past and of his future. It must be owned that his position was very critical. To cross the western frontier was to expose himself to suspicion and obloquy in Israel, and to run great risk of his life among the Philistines. He was between two fires: enraged Saul behind him, and before him the king of Oath, who might very probably avenge upon him the humiliation and death of the great champion of Oath, Goliath. When the latter of these risks actually threatened him, David, always quick to scent danger, perceived his extreme predicament; and, equally quick in suggestion and resource, fell on an ingenious plan to save his life. It was not dignified—it was not worthy of a devout and upright man; but it was clever and successful. David had often seen Saul in his frenzy, and knew how to counterfeit the symptoms. So he feigned insanity, and was allowed to leave the Philistine town unmolested, and to escape to his native land. What may pass without censure in heathen Greeks and Romans may not so pass in a Hebrew like David, who knew the true God; and though we should not judge severely the action of a man under imminent mortal peril, we are disappointed to see the son of Jesse betake himself to stratagem and deceit. We are vexed to find the hero unheroic, the saint unsaintly. But—

III. ALL THE WHILE THERE WAS A DEEP VEIN OF DEVOUT FEELING IN DAVID'S MIND. Two of his psalms are said to refer to this time of trouble at Oath. The first of these is the thirty-fourth. It makes no definite allusion to the events related here, but we see no reason to disregard the old tradition embodied in its title, which refers its origin to the time of David's narrow escape from the Philistines. Not that he composed it on the spur of the moment, for the elaborate acrostic structure of the ode forbids that supposition. But the sweet singer, recalling his escape, recalled the devout feeling which it awakened. He did not introduce into his song any of the actual incidents at Gath, for he must have felt that, so far as his own behaviour was concerned, the incidents were not worthy of celebration; but he recorded his experience of Divine succour for the consolation of others in their extremity, ending with "Jehovah redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate." The other psalm to which we allude is the fifty-sixth. This, too, is ascribed to "David when the Philistines laid hold on him in Gath." It vividly describes his condition and his alarm, and tells where his hope of deliverance really lay. God knew his wanderings and regarded his tears; and thoughts of God were in David's heart even when he was playing the part of a maniac to delude the Philistines. "In God I put my trust: I am not afraid: what can man do unto me?" We do not palliate anything in David's conduct at Nob or at Gath that was unbecoming a servant of God. We must go to the great Son of David to learn a faultless morality, so that no guile may proceed out of our mouths, and we may use no pretexts to gain our objects, but count the keeping of a good conscience superior to all considerations of comfort and even of life, and have no fear of them who can kill the body, "but are not able to kill the soul." But the Psalms come in well to prevent our doing David any injustice. All through this painful passage of his life—in his flight, his grief, his mortal peril—his heart was crying out for God. So he was saved out of the hands of enemies. Goliath could not hurt him, nor Saul, nor Achish either. Not that God sanctioned any shift or subteruge; but God heard him, and saved him out of all his distresses.—F.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/1-samuel-21.html. 1897.
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