1 Samuel 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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 21:1-9. David’s visit to Nob

1. to Nob] Nob was at this time a city of the priests (1 Samuel 22:19), though it is not specified among the places assigned to them by Joshua: here, as is clearly to be inferred from 1 Samuel 21:6, the Tabernacle, which has not been mentioned since the death of Eli, was now standing. The site of Nob has not been identified. The description of Sennacherib’s march in Isaiah 10:28-32 shews that it was a day’s march south of Geba on the road to Jerusalem, and within sight of the city. Dean Stanley supposes it to be the northern summit of Mount Olivet, the place of worship which David passed in his flight from Absalom (2 Samuel 15:31). Sin. and Pal. p. 187. Hither David betook himself not as a permanent refuge, but to inquire the will of God concerning his future movements, and to procure food and weapons, for in the hurry of his flight he had brought nothing away with him.

Ahimelech the priest] See note on 1 Samuel 14:3.

was afraid at the meeting of David] Came to meet David trembling. Cp. 1 Samuel 16:4. Seeing the king’s son-in-law unattended, he may have suspected the truth, and have been afraid of incurring Saul’s displeasure.

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.
2. The king, &c.] Again David has, recourse to a lie. See 1 Samuel 20:6, and note on 1 Samuel 19:17. The consequences of it were disastrous.

my servants] The young men, as in 1 Samuel 21:4. The words are David’s own, not the continuation of Saul’s directions. They were probably true. He must have had friends at court who were prepared to share his flight, and with whom he had made arrangements for a rendezvous.

Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present.
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.
4. common] Lit. profane or unholy, i.e. unconsecrated. Vulg. “laicos panes.”

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.
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.

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.
6. the shewbread] Lit. “the bread of the Presence” (Sept. ἄρτοι τοῦ προσώπου), so called because it was solemnly placed as an offering in the Presence of Jehovah. The mention of it implies that the Tabernacle with its furniture was at Nob. The directions for making the Table of Shewbread are given in Exodus 25:23-30; and the form of the table, as it existed in Herod’s Temple, is preserved in the sculptures on the Arch of Titus at Rome. For the instructions concerning the bread itself, see Leviticus 24:5-9. It was to be renewed every Sabbath, and the loaves then removed were to be eaten by the priests in the Holy Place.

Our Lord refers to this as an instance of the great principle that where moral and ceremonial obligations come into conflict, it is the latter which must give way, because the rite is only the means and the moral duty the end. The high priest was bound to preserve David’s life, even at the expense of a ceremonial rule. See Matthew 12:3-4; Mark 2:25-26; Luke 6:3-5. In St Mark the high priest is called Abiathar, perhaps by an accidental error; perhaps because he was associated with his father as Hophni and Phinehas were with Eli.

from before the Lord] From the table on which they had lain in the Presence of Jehovah in the Tabernacle. It seems probable that the shewbread had just been renewed and consequently that the day was the Sabbath; otherwise there would have been no difficulty in preparing ordinary bread for David’s use.

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.
7. detained before the Lord] In charge of the priest for some religious purpose such as the fulfilment of a vow, or purification, or on account of suspected leprosy (Leviticus 13:4; Leviticus 13:11; Leviticus 13:31). His presence in the Tabernacle implies that he was a proselyte.

Doeg, an Edomite] He may have come over to Saul in his wars with Edom (1 Samuel 14:47).

the chiefest of the herdmen, &c.] An important post in a pastoral country. Cp. 1 Chronicles 27:29; 1 Chronicles 27:31. The Sept. reads, “Doeg the Syrian, the keeper of Saul’s mules.” Cp. 1 Chronicles 27:30. “Syrian” is certainly a mistake for “Edomite,” the consonants of the Heb. words “Aramite” and “Edomite” being almost exactly alike.

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.
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.
9. behind the ephod] Hung up in a secure place, behind the most sacred part of the high-priestly vestments. It was probably dedicated as a memorial of the victory on the conclusion of the Philistine war. See 1 Samuel 17:54.

There is none like that] The monument of God’s deliverance in the past was a pledge of His help for the future.

And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.
10–15. David’s flight to Gath

10. and went to Achish] In the extremity of peril, David was driven to take refuge among Saul’s bitterest enemies, and offer himself as a servant to Achish (1 Samuel 21:15). He hoped no doubt that the Philistines would not recognise the stripling who slew their champion. Unlike Themistocles and Alcibiades when they were banished from Athens, he had no intention of turning traitor to his country.

The circumstances of this sojourn at Gath and that recorded in ch. 27 are entirely unlike, and correspond exactly to the difference of occasion. In the present case David went alone, was ill received, and was compelled to feign madness for safety and escape as soon as possible: later on when his breach with Saul was notorious, he went with a numerous following, was received and established at Ziklag, and remained for more than a year.

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?
11. the king of the land] The natural exaggeration of popular rumour. David had appeared as chief leader in the Philistine wars.

did they not sing, &c.] Do they not sing. It had become a popular song. See on 1 Samuel 18:7.

And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of 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.
13. changed his behaviour] Psalms 34. is ascribed by its title to this occasion, but the contents do not bear out the reference. The title of Psalms 56. states that it was written by David “when the Philistines laid hold on him in Gath,” and though it is not expressly said here that he was arrested, the words “feigned himself mad in their hands” together with the mention of his escape in 1 Samuel 22:1, seem to imply that he was a prisoner.

feigned himself mad] So that they might suppose him harmless. The Philistines moreover may have shared the Oriental feeling which regards madness with a kind of reverence. See Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, Art. Madness.’ “Aghyle Aga, a well-known modern Arab chief, escaped from the governor of Acre in like manner, pretending to be a mad dervish.” Stanley, Lect. II. 52.

scrabled on the doors of the gate] i.e. scratched, or made marks. The word is still used in some provincial dialects. The Sept. however reads “drummed on the doors of the gate,” which is a more suitable gesture for a raving madman. “The doors” meant are probably those of the court of Achish’s palace.

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?
15. come into my house] Be taken into my service. Cp. Psalm 101:7.

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