1 Samuel 21
Clarke's Commentary
David comes to Ahimelech at Nob, receives provisions from him, and the sword of Goliath; and is noticed by Doeg, one of the servants of Saul, 1 Samuel 21:1-9. He leaves Nob, and goes to Achish, king of Gath, 1 Samuel 21:10. But on being recognised as the vanquisher of Goliath by the servants of Achish, he feigns himself deranged, and Achish sends him away, 1 Samuel 21:11-15.

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?
Then came David to Nob - There were two places of this name, one on this side, the second on the other side of Jordan; but it is generally supposed that Nob, near Gibeah of Benjamin, is the place here intended; it was about twelve miles from Jerusalem.

Why art thou alone - Ahimelech probably knew nothing of the difference between Saul and David; and as he knew him to be the king's son-in-law, he wondered to see him come without any attendants.

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.
The king hath commanded me a business - All said here is an untruth, and could not be dictated by the Spirit of the Lord; but there is no reason to believe that David was under the influence of Divine inspiration at this time. It is well known that from all antiquity it was held no crime to tell a lie, in order to save life. Thus Diphilus: -

Ὑπολαμβανω το ψευδος επι σωτηριᾳ

Λεγομενον, ουδεν περιποιεισθαι δυσχερες.

"I hold it right to tell a lie, in order to procure my personal safety; nothing should be avoided in order to save life."

A heathen may say or sing thus; but no Christian can act thus, and save his soul, though he by doing so may save his life.

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.
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.
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.
So the priest gave him hallowed bread - To this history our Lord alludes, Mark 2:25, in order to show that in cases of absolute necessity a breach of the ritual law was no sin. It was lawful for the priests only to eat the shew-bread; but David and his companions were starving, no other bread could be had at the time, and therefore he and his companions ate of it without sin.

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.
Detained before the Lord - Probably fulfilling some vow to the Lord, and therefore for a time resident at the tabernacle.

And his name was Doeg - From 1 Samuel 22:9 we learn that this man betrayed David's secret to Saul, which caused him to destroy the city, and slay eighty-five priests. We learn from its title that the fifty-second Psalm was made on this occasion; but titles are not to be implicitly trusted.

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.
The sword of Goliath - It has already been conjectured (see 1 Samuel 17:1-58) that the sword of Goliath was laid up as a trophy in the tabernacle.

And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.
Went to Achish the king of Gath - This was the worst place to which he could have gone: it was the very city of Goliath, whom he had slain, and whose sword he now wore; and he soon found, from the conversation of the servants of Achish, that his life was in the most imminent danger in this place.

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?
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.
And he changed his behavior - Some imagine David was so terrified at the danger to which he was now exposed, that he was thrown into a kind of frenzy, accompanied with epileptic fits. This opinion is countenanced by the Septuagint, who render the passage thus: Ιδου ιδετε ανδρα επιλητον; "Behold, ye see an epileptic man. Why have ye introduced him to me?" Μη ελαττουμαι επιληπτων εγω; "Have I any need of epileptics, that ye have brought him to have his fits before me, (επιληπτευεσθαι προς με?") It is worthy of remark, that the spittle falling upon the beard, i.e., slavering or frothing at the mouth, is a genuine concomitant of an epileptic fit.

If this translation be allowed, it will set the conduct of David in a clearer point of view than the present translation does. But others think the whole was a feigned conduct, and that he acted the part of a lunatic or madman in order to get out of the hands of Achish and his courtiers. Many vindicate this conduct of David; but if mocking be catching, according to the proverb, he who feigns himself to be mad may, through the just judgment of God, become so. I dare not be the apologist of insincerity or lying. Those who wish to look farther into this subject may consult Dr. Chandler, Mr. Saurin, and Ortlob, in the first volume of Dissertations, at the end of the Dutch edition of the Critici Sacri.

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?
Shall this fellow come into my house? - I will not take into my service a man who is liable to so grievous a disease. Chandler, who vindicates David's feigning himself, mad, concludes thus: "To deceive the deceiver is in many instances meritorious, in none criminal. And what so likely to deceive as the very reverse of that character which they had so misconstrued? He was undone as a wise man, he had a chance to escape as a madman; he tried, and the experiment succeeded." I confess I can neither feel the force nor the morality of this. Deceit and hypocrisy can never be pleasing in the sight of God.

Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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