Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee?1 Samuel 21:1. Then came David to Nob — A city of the priests in the tribe of Benjamin, about twelve miles from Gibeah, not far from Anathoth and Jerusalem, Nehemiah 11:32; Isaiah 10:32. The tabernacle, it appears, had been removed hither, and hither David now resorts, in hopes of finding shelter for a season, and a supply of his necessities, which he supposed he might obtain here without danger of being betrayed into the hands of Saul; and principally that in this great distress he might receive direction and comfort from the Lord. To Ahimelech the priest — Probably the chief priest. David, in his first flight from Saul, had recourse to the prophet of God, and now his next is to his priest. Ahimelech was brother to that Ahiah, mentioned 1 Samuel 14:3, (who was now dead,) and his successor in the priesthood, for they were both sons of Ahitub. Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David — “Lest he was forced to flee from Saul,” say some commentators, “and so it might be dangerous to entertain him.” But it seems evident that Ahimelech knew nothing of the circumstances that David was in, or of Saul’s enmity to him, and determined purpose to destroy him. But, as David was the king’s son-in- law, he was surprised to see him without any attendants, and suspected that there must be some extraordinary cause of his coming in such a manner. Why art thou alone? — It appears from 1 Samuel 21:4-5, and from Mark 2:25, that David had some persons with him, probably servants, whom Jonathan had sent to meet him some where, and accompany him; yet David had left these at another place, as he himself affirms, (1 Samuel 21:2,) and he was now alone, as he was when he fled to Achish. He who had been suddenly advanced to the highest honour, is as soon reduced to the desolate condition of an exile. Such are the changes which are frequently happening in this world, and so uncertain are its smiles.
And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place.1 Samuel 21:2. The king hath commanded, &c. — This is a plain lie, extorted from him by fear, and one that was very pernicious to all the priests there. Whence David afterward declares his repentance for it, (1 Samuel 22:22,) and prays against the sin of lying, Psalm 119:29. To such and such a place — To certain places which, he insinuates, it was not proper to mention, because the whole business required concealment.
Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present.1 Samuel 21:3-4. What is under thy hand? — He desires to know what he was able to do for him to supply his wants. And particularly he requests some bread for himself and servants. Or what there is present — That is, any other victuals. There is hallowed bread — Here in the tabernacle. Doubtless, Ahimelech had other provisions in his house; but David was in great haste, and in fear of Doeg, whom he saw and knew, and therefore would not stay till any thing could be fetched from thence. There seemed to be a double impediment to Ahimelech’s giving David and his servants this bread: 1st, Its sacredness in itself, which he intimates, and in answer to which David pleads his great necessity; an answer with which Ahimelech appears to have been satisfied. “Cases of necessity, as the Jews themselves allow, often superseded the observance of the ritual laws; and this compliance of Ahimelech is urged with great force by our Saviour, in vindication of a similar infringement, Mark 2:25.” — Dodd. 2d, It was requisite that all who ate of the holy bread, should have observed the same purity which was required of the priests, particularly in the instance of abstinence from all women; and Ahimelech suspected that David or his servants might possibly want this qualification, and therefore inquires concerning it. But out of respect to David he does not name him, but asks only concerning the young men. David’s answer, however, shows that he was intended to be included in the inquiry.
And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.
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.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.
So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.
Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.1 Samuel 21:7. Detained before the Lord — That is, at the tabernacle. It is not to be imagined that he was detained here by force, but by his own choice he stayed there that day, either because it was the sabbath day, on which he might not proceed on his journey, or for the performance of some vow, or other religious duty, to which he had obliged himself. His name was Doeg, an Edomite — His native country was Edom; but he was proselyted to the Jewish religion.
And David said unto Ahimelech, And is there not here under thine hand spear or sword? for I have neither brought my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business required haste.1 Samuel 21:8-9. The king’s business required haste — He pretended to Ahimelech, that the reason why he had not brought his sword or any weapon with him was, because he had not time to go to his house; the king pressing him to go immediately about his business. Wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod — That is, behind that holy place allotted for the keeping of the sacred, or priestly garments; all which are here comprehended under the ephod; which, as the chief, is put for all the rest. Here it was laid up as a sacred monument of God’s power and goodness. There is none like it — Because it not only served him for his use, for he was a strong and tall man, and one that could wield that sword; but it was also a pledge of God’s favour to him. Whenever he looked upon it, it would be a support to his faith, by reminding him of what God had already done.
And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod: if thou wilt take that, take it: for there is no other save that here. And David said, There is none like that; give it me.
And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.1 Samuel 21:10. David arose and fed to Achish — A miserable condition, to be forced to flee to those for protection who were naturally his bitter enemies. For this was the city of Goliath whom he had slain, and whose sword he had now about him. But it must be considered that Saul’s rage was so great, and his power and diligence also in hunting after him, that he despaired of escaping any other way; and a desperate disease requireth a desperate remedy. Perhaps indeed he thought he should not be known: or, being now in disgrace with Saul, he thought the Philistines might take him for Saul’s enemy, and so receive him gladly. The king elect is here an exile: anointed to the crown, and yet forced to run his country! So do God’s providences sometimes run counter to his promises, for the trial of our faith, and the glorifying of his name in accomplishing his counsels, notwithstanding the difficulties which lie in the way.
And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?1 Samuel 21:11. King of the land — Of Canaan. They call him king, either more generally for the governor, the most eminent captain and commander, or, as the king elect, the person designed to be king: for, by this time, the fame of Saul’s rejection, and David’s destination to the kingdom, was got abroad among the Israelites, and from them, probably, to the Philistines. Did they not sing, &c. — And therefore consider what to do; and now our great enemy is in thy hand, be sure thou never let him go alive.
And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath.1 Samuel 21:12. David laid up these words in his heart — It is probable he had been at first well received, but this discourse deeply affected him, and made him think himself not safe there. For, when he found that his fame was spread among them, as having slain such numbers of the Philistines, he concluded that they would be instigated to take revenge on him now they had him in their power. And was sore afraid — Lest either their revenge or policy should prompt them to kill him. Perhaps he was the more apprehensive, because he wore Goliath’s sword, which was, probably, well known at Gath.
And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.1 Samuel 21:13. He feigned himself mad — That he might escape out of their hands. And herein he showed great sagacity and penetration. How great danger he was in, appears plainly from the 34th and 56th Psalms, which he composed upon this occasion. And he had indeed need to consider it, as he does in the first of those Psalms, as a wonderful deliverance wrought for him by God himself. He now learned by experience what he afterward taught us, Psalm 118:9, That it is better to trust in the Lord than to put any confidence in princes.
Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me?
Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?1 Samuel 21:15. Have I need of madmen? — It is highly probable that Achish was aware this madness was counterfeit. But, being desirous to preserve David, he spoke as if he thought it real.