I Samuel 21:1 – 9
21 David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” 2 David answered Ahimelek the priest, “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.” 4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.” 5 David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!” 6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away. 7 Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd. 8 David asked Ahimelek, “Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.” 9 The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.” David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.""
Overall, we will observe that David grew in faith and trust in God throughout his exile from Saul’s court. Nevertheless, there are darks spots in David’s moral conduct, including the lies he tells the priest at Nob, from which we can learn. While David was not revengeful, nor did he attempt in his own strength and cunning to forcibly take from Saul the kingdom God has promised him, neither was he truthful as he ran from danger. He fell into great fear and resorted to lies among priests at Nob, among Philistines at Gath he resorted to pretence and self-help measures that would be comical were they not so unbecoming to an obedient servant of God. He followed a principle later expressed by the Greek poets: “When truth brings ruin it is pardonable to speak untruth.” Yet the Holy Spirit is the Recorder of both good and bad actions of the heroes of faith. The lies of Abraham, incest of Lot, trickery of Jacob, bragging of Joseph, and lies here recorded of faithless David on the run all are written for our learning, not to justify their duplication.
God lets us see some blemishes in His holiest servants that we may be neither too highly impressed with flesh and blood nor too much dejected when we ourselves fall into sin.
1. David in Distress 21:1
David fled and flew to the tabernacle of God which was pitched at Nob, one of the cities of Benjamin. Nob was the location of one of the centers of worship (another was Mizpah see 7:5), the most prominent where apparently the chief priest assisted inquiring believers in their search for direction from God.
Samuel the prophet could not protect him, Jonathan the prince could not. He next turned to Ahimelich the priest.
From chapter 22:10 and 15 we know that David had enquired of the Lord often at the tabernacle. It was a good habit. If ever he needed direction now was the time. Establish good habits, so at times of need you know what to do—continue your good habits.
He had given an affectionate farewell to his friend Jonathan and could not leave his beloved Israel until he has properly taken leave of God’s house and God’s representatives.
He foresaw that he must now be an exile and therefore came to the tabernacle.
He came to enquire of the Lord and receive direction from Him—concerned for duty, or safely, or both. After all, his case was both difficult and dangerous.
When David found no more help in the world he went to the Lord and His sanctuary. There he hoped certainly to find counsel and consolation. The Lord’s Word has counsel and consolation for all the necessities and perplexities of our lives and he who heartily seeks for the Lord’s Word finds what he needs.
It is a great comfort to us in a day of trouble that we have God to go to, to whom we may open our case, and from whom we may ask and expect direction.
Ahimelech, the priest, was surprised to see him so ill equipped. Perhaps he had heard that David had fallen from the king’s grace; at any rate he hesitated to receive David. He did not want Saul’s displeasure by entertaining Saul’s “enemy.” Why are you alone? Yet, according to Mark 2:26, David had some companions with him. He was not alone. He had none of the court people, no persons of rank with him. David was accustomed to having important people about him when he traveled about including times when he went to inquire of the Lord. Think about this change in David’s living circumstance and situation.
In Psalms 42:4 David says, “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.” That was earlier. Now he is crawling along in humility, secrecy, and deceit begging for bread and equipment. At some seasons in life we go to the house of God rejoicing and at others we go for provision, encouragement, or nourishment. The important thing is that we keep going to the house of God—as a symbol of going to God.
He who was advanced so quickly from tending sheep to walking in the crowds and busy activities of military camps and king’s court is now just as quickly reduced again to the desolate condition of an exile and is alone like a sparrow on the rooftop. Changes happen in this world. The world’s smiles are uncertain. You may be courted today and deserted tomorrow.
2. David the Liar 21:2
David pretended to be sent by Saul on public service. David did not behave like himself. He told Ahimelech a gross lie—that Saul had ordered him on official business, that his usual attendants were waiting for him at another place, and that his mission was secret. This was all untrue.
The scripture does not conceal it, and we dare not justify it. It was wrong and proved wrong by its consequence. It eventually resulted in the deaths of eighty-five priests—in an event we will look at in the next chapter. It was needless for David to lie. We may suppose that if he had told him the truth, Ahimelech would have sheltered and helped him as readily as Samuel did and also would have been able to better advise him in his enquiry of God for help. If we want help, we need to tell the truth about the situation. David was a man of great faith and courage, and yet now both of these failed him and he fell into fear and cowardice. Even heroes have feet of clay.
Had he trusted God correctly he would not have used such a sorry sinful trick as this for his own preservation. Stories like this are written, not for our imitation, but for our admonition.
Let us lament the weakness of good men—even the best of us are not perfect this side of heaven. Simultaneously, let us celebrate that grace may abound where there are many failures. Let us lament the wickedness of bad times which forces good men into temptations they think are too strong for them. Difficulties sometimes make even wise men behave foolishly. Yet, we may celebrate a great promise concerning temptations recorded in I Cor. 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
We will follow David’s example and flee to the sanctuary of God, but we will not follow his example and lie when we get there. That good and bad behavior is so mixed in this narrative is in itself a lesson for us to always be seeking to separate those behaviors we want to avoid from those we want to duplicate.
3. David the Beggar 21:3 - 6, 8, 9
Traveling was troublesome when men had to carry provisions with neither money as a convenient means of exchange nor motels in which to stay. In Psalms 37:25 David later reported, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” How could David say that when, clearly, here he was begging for bread? 1. David did not generally beg. 2. David was not “righteous” here.
God sometimes required worshippers to abstain from sexual intercourse for a temporary period in preparation for holy events such as approaching God and receiving the law on Mount Sinai. “Then he said to the people, ‘Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations’” (Ex.10:15). So for Ahimelech to ask if they had been kept from women was understandable. David and his men qualified—being holy, holy things were not kept from them.
On the other hand, poor and pious Israelites were, in effect, all priests to God and rather than be starved they might feed on the bread prepared for priests. Believers are spiritual priests and the offerings of the Lord may be their inheritance—they may eat of the bread of their God. Pastors make a living from the financial offerings of faithful Christians.
This was David’s request and the son of David appears to approve it when He demonstrated that mercy is to be preferred to sacrifice, that ritual observances must give way to moral duties, and that in urgent circumstances some behaviors not ordinarily allowed are allowed. Jesus brought this principle out to justify His disciples for picking kernels of wheat on the Sabbath day even though the Pharisees, who did not understand the difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, condemned them.
David needed a sword. It was a wonder that Jonathan, who had earlier given David his princely garments and equipment, had not already given David a sword. Perhaps Jonathan did not carry a sword when he carried a bow and arrows.
We will use the sword to remind us of the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith. These we may have with us at all times.
The priests had no swords. Good. Priests don’t need swords. The weapons of their warfare were not physical. There was no sword to be found anywhere near the tabernacle except the sword of Goliath. This sword appears to have been laid up behind the ephod as a monument of the glorious victory David had experienced on a more honorable day. David may have known Goliath’s sword was there. He may have brought and offered it as a trophy of praise to the God who gave him the victory of Goliath. He unhesitatingly says, “There is none like it; give it to me” (v 9).
David could not use Saul’s armor for he had not proven it, but this sword of Goliath he had already used with great success. His eagerness to use it again may indicate that David was now full grown and stronger than when as a young shepherd he had killed Goliath with his own sword. He could easily carry and use the sword now as a man. God had taught his hand to war.
Clearly, God had generously provided a sword for David even though he was homeless, lying, and begging.
But let’s not miss the fact that the reason the sword was there at the tabernacle when David needed it was because he had given it to God. He had earlier dedicated it to God and to His honor as a token of his thankfulness; and now in his distress it equipped him for battle. What we devote to God’s praise and serve Him with is most likely to return one way or other to our own comfort and benefit. What we gave we have.
David was, therefore, well furnished with arms and food supply. But there is a very sad record included in this narrative which we skipped—verse 7.
4. Saul’s Spy Observes David’s Escape 21:7
It happened that one of Saul’s servants was there, evidently un-willfully detained by the priests. Doeg was his name and he proves in the next chapter to be a wicked traitor both to David and to Ahimelech. He was an Edomite—a descendant of Esau, Jacob’s brother. Esau was the brother who did not receive the blessing from their father Isaac.
Doeg seems to have inherited a hatred for Israel from his Edomite ancestors. As the chief shepherd of Saul’s flocks, Doeg may have enjoyed prestige and honor, but for some reason, when he went to the tabernacle, perhaps from moral pollution or to pay some vow, he was “detained” by the priests—he had to remain at the tabernacle against his own will. He would rather have been anywhere else than before the Lord, and therefore, instead of minding the business he came to perform, was plotting to do damage to David and be revenged on Ahimelech at the same time for detaining him. Sad, that he was “detained” and remained; rather that he loved it there and lingered.
We will save the lessons to be learned from Doeg’s evil deeds for chapter 22, but here in verse 7 we can observe that God’s congregation—where whoever wants to come may come—cannot also secure itself from wolves in sheep’s clothing. So Paul had to write to the church at Galatia, “This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves” (Gal. 2:4).
David and Abimelech both unknowingly made the mistake of holding their conversation in a place that Doeg was able to overhear it. In God’s work mistakes are made and people suffer. Joshua’s agreement with the Gibeonites was a mistake that caused trouble for Israel later. You, man and woman of God will make mistakes too and your church may suffer. When it happen do not let the devil use it to defeat you. Joshua did not and David did not. We move forward.