1 Samuel 21:5
And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.
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(5) The vessels.—Their clothes and light, portable baggage—answering to the modern “knapsack.” The Vulg. renders the Hebrew word by “vasa.” David means to say, “Since we have just left home, you may readily suppose that no impurity has been contracted; it would be different if we were returning home from a journey, when on the way—especially in war—uncleanness might be contracted by the blood of enemies or otherwise.”—Seb. Schmid, quoted in Lange.

The LXX., by a very slight change in the Hebrew letters, instead of “the vessels of the young men,” render, “all the young men.”

And the bread is in a manner common.—The original is here very difficult, almost utterly obscure. The English Version of the clause is simply meaningless. Of the many translations which have been suggested, two at least offer a fairly good sense. (a) “And if it is an unholy way (viz., the way David and his band were going—his purpose or enterprise), moreover there is also the fact that it becomes holy through the instrument” (viz., through me, as an ambassador of the anointed of the Lord), on the supposition of the important royal mission upon which David pretended to be sent. So Keil and O. von Gerlach. (b) Lange, however, and Thenius, maintain that the words in question must contain a remark by which the priest is to be induced to give the bread, and would translate, “Though it is an unholy (ceremonially illegal) procedure (to take the shewbread), yet it is sanctified (to-day) through the instrument” (David or Ahimelech). The instrument is here David, the appointed messenger of the Lord’s anointed, or, even better, Ahimelech, the sacred person of the high priest.

No doubt, the words of Leviticus 24:9, which speak of the destination of the stale shewbread—“And they (Aaron and his sons) shall eat it in the holy place”—suggested the practice of the Church of England embodied in the Rubric following the” Order of the Administration of the Holy Communion”—“And if any” (of the bread and wine) “remain of that which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the church, but the priest, and such other of the communicants as he shall then call unto him, shall immediately after the blessing reverently eat and drink the same.” Among the legendary Jewish lore that has gathered round the history of this transaction is one strange tradition that the holy bread thus given became useless in the hands of the king’s fugitive. (See Stanley, Lectures on the Jewish Church, Lect. 22, quoting from Jerome.)

1 Samuel 21:5. About these three days — As long as the law required, Exodus 19:15. And so long, it seems, David and his men had hid themselves for fear of Saul, whereby they were kept both from their wives and from food convenient for them. The vessels of the young men are holy — That Isaiah , 1 st, Either their garments, or other utensils for their journey; or, 2d, Their bodies. The bread (Hebrew, והוא, vehu, and this) is in a manner common — That is, the bread which had been taken away from before the Lord, to make room for new bread to be placed there. For though, for a season, while it stood before the Lord, it was so holy that the priest himself might not eat it; yet afterward it was eaten by the priest and his whole family, and David pleads that it might be eaten by him and his young men in their necessitous circumstances. Yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel — This translation renders the passage obscure. The Hebrew may be translated, as by Le Clerc and in some other versions, Furthermore, or, forasmuch as it (namely, bread) is sanctified this day in the vessel; that is, there was new bread sanctified to be set before the Lord; and therefore this, which had been taken away from before him, was, in some degree, become common. For the law ordained, (Leviticus 24:8-9,) that the show, or hallowed bread, should be removed every sabbath day from the table before the Lord, and fresh set on.

21:1-9 David, in distress, fled to the tabernacle of God. It is great comfort in a day of trouble, that we have a God to go to, to whom we may open our cases, and from whom we may ask and expect direction. David told Ahimelech a gross untruth. What shall we say to this? The Scripture does not conceal it, and we dare not justify it; it was ill done, and proved of bad consequence; for it occasioned the death of the priests of the Lord. David thought upon it afterward with regret. David had great faith and courage, yet both failed him; he fell thus foully through fear and cowardice, and owing to the weakness of his faith. Had he trusted God aright, he would not have used such a sorry, sinful shift for his own preservation. It is written, not for us to do the like, no, not in the greatest straits, but for our warning. David asked of Ahimelech bread and a sword. Ahimelech supposed they might eat the shew-bread. The Son of David taught from it, that mercy is to be preferred to sacrifice; that ritual observances must give way to moral duties. Doeg set his foot as far within the tabernacle as David did. We little know with what hearts people come to the house of God, nor what use they will make of pretended devotion. If many come in simplicity of heart to serve their God, others come to observe their teachers and to prove accusers. Only God and the event can distinguish between a David and a Doeg, when both are in the tabernacle.The vessels of the young men ... - i. e., their clothes Deuteronomy 22:5 or wallets (marginal reference), or other articles which might be Levitically unclean and need cleansing (Leviticus 13:58; Exodus 19:10, etc.; Mark 7:4), as well as the person.

And the bread ... - The meaning is; "Though it is treating it like common bread to give it to me and my young men, there is fresh showbread baked and put on the table in place of what you give us;" the day being Friday. as is indicated in the verse following.

5. these three days—as required by law (Ex 19:15). David and his attendants seem to have been lurking in some of the adjoining caves, to elude pursuit, and to have been, consequently, reduced to great extremities of hunger.

the bread is in a manner common—that is, now that it is no longer standing on the Lord's table. It is eaten by the priests, and may also, in our circumstances, be eaten by us.

yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel—that is, though the hallowed bread had been but newly placed on the vessel, the ritual ordinance would have to yield to the great law of necessity and mercy (see on [248]Mt 12:3; also see Mr 2:25; Lu 6:3).

About these three days; as long as the law required, Exodus 19:15. And so long David and his men had, it seems, hid themselves for fear of Saul in some of those caves, whereof there were many in those parts; whereby they were kept both from all converse with any other persons besides themselves, and consequently from women; and withal, from food convenient for them.

Since I came out from the place where Jonathan and David met. The vessels, i.e. either,

1. Their garments, or other utensils for their journey. Or,

2. Their bodies, for of them the question was, 1 Samuel 21:4; and having now said that women had been kept from them, he infers that therefore their bodies were holy, their members were undefiled. Thus the word vessel is used 1 Thessalonians 4:4, and in other authors, both Greek and Latin.

The bread is in a manner common, Heb. and this (to wit, the bread; which is easily supplied out of the former verse, because that was the thing about which the present discourse was, and against the giving whereof the priest started an objection, 1 Samuel 21:4, to which David here giveth an answer) is in a manner, or, after a sort, common, i.e. considering the time, and our necessity, this may be asked in a manner like common bread, and so is used by others. For though for a season, whilst it is to stand before the Lord, it be so holy, that the priest himself might not eat it; yet afterwards it is eaten by the priest, and by his whole family, as their common food; and so it may be by us, in our circumstances.

Though it were sanctified this day in the vessel; if it were but newly put into the vessel, it must give place to the great law of necessity and charity, because God will have mercy preferred before sacrifice. Or thus, especially, when, or, the rather because this day there is other (i.e. new bread) sanctified in the vessel, i.e. put into the vessel which was made to receive this bread, Exodus 25:29, and thereby sanctified, or consecrated to God; and therefore the former shew-bread is now to be removed, and employed for the common use of the priest and his family.

And David answered the priest, and said unto him,.... In reply to the case of the young men his servants, and of himself too, who also was intended by the priest, though out of reverence to him not mentioned:

of a truth women have been kept from us these three days since I came out; reckoning either from the time he fled from Saul at Naioth, or from the time he left Jonathan, during which time both he and his men could have no converse with women, and receive no pollution by them; and this was the time which according to the law was required for the sanctifying of persons in this way, Exodus 19:15,

and the vessels of the young men are holy; their garments, as Kimchi, not being defiled with any ceremonial uncleanness, as by the touch of any unclean person: or what instruments soever they were provided with for their journey; or rather their bodies; see 2 Corinthians 4:7; and with respect to the priest's saying that the bread he had was hallowed or sacred, and so not for common use, David replies:

and the bread is in a manner common; inasmuch as it was taken off of the shewbread table, and was now common to the priest and his family, though not to others, yet in case of necessity through hunger might be allowed to strangers:

yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel; even though it had been set but that day on the shewbread table, and so became holy to the Lord; and yet even in such a case and circumstances as David and his men were in, it might be taken from thence and eaten of; for, as Abendana observes, nothing stands in the way of preservation of life, but idolatry, adultery, and murder; everything else may be done for the sake of that but them: or as in the margin of our Bibles, "especially when there is this day other sanctified bread"; that is, since other bread is this day put upon the shewbread table, in the room of that which has been taken away, whereby it is become holy to the, Lord; then that which is removed may be eaten, and be allowed to us in our circumstances. It seems by this that this was the sabbath day; for on that day the removal of the shewbread loaves was made, Leviticus 24:8; and R. Isaiah says, that it was at the going out of the sabbath that David came there; and which still makes it a more appropriate case, as produced by our Lord to justify his disciples in plucking ears of corn on the sabbath day, Matthew 12:1.

And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the {d} vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it {e} were sanctified this day in the vessel.

(d) That is, their bodies.

(e) Shall be more careful to keep his vessel holy, when he has eaten of this holy food.

5. the vessels] The wallets or other utensils into which the bread would be put. If these were Levitically unclean they would defile the bread. David assures Ahimelech that there is no ceremonial objection to their taking the bread either in their persons or their baggage.

and the bread, &c.] The further argument which David employs to Persuade Ahimelech is stated in a sentence of almost hopeless obscurity. Perhaps either (1) “And when I came out the vessels of the young men were holy; how much more then, though it is a common journey, will it be holy in the vessel to-day:” i.e. the vessels were undefiled when we started, and though our journey has no religions object, yet as there has been no danger of pollution since, a fortiori they cannot defile bread put in them to-day:—or (2) “And if it is a profane procedure, yet It will be sanctified to-day by the instrument:” i.e. if the act is profane, the priest by whose instrumentality it is done, has power to sanction it under the exceptional circumstances of to-day:—a gentle flattery to persuade Ahimelech.

Verses 5, 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, 27, 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 21:5David quieted him concerning this scruple, and said, "Nay, but women have been kept from us since yesterday and the day before." The use of אם כּי may be explained from the fact, that in David's reply he paid more attention to the sense than to the form of the priest's scruple, and expressed himself as concisely as possible. The words, "if the young men have only kept themselves from women," simply meant, if only they are not unclean; and David replied, That is certainly not the case, but women have been kept from us; so that אם כּי has the meaning but in this passage also, as it frequently has after a previous negative, which is implied in the thought here as in 2 Samuel 13:33. "When I came out, the young men's things were holy (Levitically clean); and if it is an unholy way, it becomes even holy through the instrument." David does not say that the young men were clean when he came out (for the rendering given to הנּערים כּלי in the Septuagint, πάντα τὰ παιδάρια, is without any critical value, and is only a mistaken attempt to explain the word כּלי, which was unintelligible to the translator), but simply affirms that קדשׁ הנּערים כּלי, i.e., according to Luther's rendering (der Knaben Zeug war heilig), the young men's things (clothes, etc.) were holy. כּלים does not mean merely vessels, arms, or tools, but also the dress (Deuteronomy 22:5), or rather the clothes as well as such things as were most necessary to meet the wants of life. By the coitus, or strictly speaking, by the emissio seminis in connection with the coitus, not only were the persons themselves defiled, but also every article of clothing or leather upon which any of the semen fell (Leviticus 15:18); so that it was necessary for the purpose of purification that the things which a man had on should all be washed. David explains, with evident allusion to this provision, that the young men's things were holy, i.e., perfectly clean, for the purpose of assuring the priest that there was not the smallest Levitical uncleanness attaching to them. The clause which follows is to be taken as conditional, and as supposing a possible case: "and if it is an unholy way." דּרך, the way that David was going with his young men, i.e., his purpose of enterprise, by which, however, we are not to understand his request of holy bread from Ahimelech, but the performance of the king's commission of which he had spoken. כּי ואף, lit. besides (there is) also that, equals moreover there is also the fact, that it becomes holy through the instrument; i.e., as O. v. Gerlach has correctly explained it, "on the supposition of the important royal mission, upon which David pretended to be sent, through me as an ambassador of the anointed of the Lord," in which, at any rate, David's meaning really was, "the way was sanctified before God, when he, as His chosen servant, the preserver of the true kingdom of God in Israel, went to him in his extremity." That פּלי in the sense of instrument is also applied to men, is evident from Isaiah 13:5 and Jeremiah 50:25.
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