1 Samuel 21
1 Samuel 21 Kingcomments Bible Studies


David’s way as a fugitive begins. He is outlawed and hunted by Saul. His path begins with two mistakes. His first mistake is that he involves Ahimelech in his matter by deceit. The result is that the whole family of Ahimelech is exterminated. His second mistake is that he goes to Achish. At the same time David has written several psalms during his run that express his feelings. In these psalms the Spirit of Christ is being heard.

David Comes to Ahimelech

David first had protection from Samuel. Yet he was not safe there for Saul. His friend, prince Jonathan, was also unable to offer him lasting protection. Now that he is a real fugitive, deprived of all help and protection, he goes to the priest Ahimelech in Nob. He does so to ask the will of God (1Sam 22:10). The priest has the Urim and Thummim to know God’s will.

Ahimelech is surprised that David is alone. There are others with him (Mk 2:26), but they are probably some of his men and not members of the court of Saul who have gone with him as usual when he had to do something for Saul. Ahimelech does not know that David is on the run and David is also silent about it. Instead of honestly saying that he is fleeing from Saul, he comes up with a story about a secret command from Saul. He lies to the priest. His trust in the LORD is gone and he lives in fear of men. This brings a person to an action by which a reproach is cast upon the Name of the LORD and others are wronged. He is a warning example for us here.

David asks Ahimelech for two things: bread (1Sam 21:3) and a sword (1Sam 21:8). He wishes five loaves of bread. Ahimelech answers that there is only “holy bread”, that is the bread of the Presence (1Sam 21:6). These have been on the golden table in the holy place for a week and must be replaced by hot or new breads. David may have the old ones for himself and his men on the condition that the men have kept themselves from their wives.

David replies that the men had no contact with their wives for three days and that “the vessels of the young men were holy”. The “vessels” are their clothing and other personal belongings. Also, they have not been in contact with anything unclean (Lev 13:58; Exo 19:10).

The old bread has performed its task before the LORD and can now be consumed. The Lord Jesus, the Son of David, approves this conclusion (Mt 12:3-4). The Lord refers to this history because it illustrates what His people are doing to Him at that time. He shows with the citation of this history that keeping ceremonial practices is of no value to Him if the King, anointed by God, is rejected by His people.


In between all activities, the presence of Doeg “that day” is reported. Doeg is there when David appears and may even have heard some things. Why he is at the tabernacle is not mentioned. It seems that this enemy of God’s people is not unreligious. It is said of him that he was “detained before the LORD”. Maybe he has made a vow. If this is the case, his religion is not different from Saul’s religion. He is “one of the servants of Saul”. However, he is not just a servant. Saul has given him a high position, for he is his chief shepherd.

David Gets the Sword of Goliath

David not only wants bread but also a weapon. To explain why he is unarmed, he says the king’s matter was urgent. Here he lies again. A good warrior will never leave without a weapon. This is a lesson for us that there is no excuse for not taking God and the spiritual weapon of His Word into account in our daily work. Especially when a matter is urgent, it is important to be dependent on God’s guidance through His Word and Spirit.

Ahimelech points out to David the only weapon he can provide, and that is Goliath’s sword, noting that this Philistine was killed by David. He offers David to take it with him. In practical terms, it means that David is not a little boy. Otherwise he would not be able to handle that big sword. Even when he fought against Goliath, he was not a little boy. Already then he had taken this sword and cut off the head of the Philistine with it (1Sam 17:51). He did not keep it with him then, but as it were, he dedicated it to the LORD. That is why it now lies with Ahimelech, behind the ephod.

Here the sword and the ephod are connected. This points out the connection between the Word of God and the service of the Lord Jesus as High Priest. That there is no sword that can match Goliath’s sword applies in absolute terms to the Word of God, which is called “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17).

David With Achish

David feels compelled to leave his land, the land over which he will reign according to God’s promises. He seeks refuge with Achish, the king of Gath, a Philistine city. Saul will certainly not seek him among Israel’s greatest enemies. Saul will also not dare to get there. However, he is recognized by the servants of Achish. They even call him “the king of the land”. They tell Achish what was sung about David. This song was sung after his victory over the champion of the Philistines (1Sam 18:6-7).

When David notices that he has been recognized, he becomes afraid. Fear is always a bad counselor and an enemy of faith and love. For perfect love casts out fear (1Jn 4:18). Someone grows and gains victories to the extent that in faith he conquers fear. However, David is not guided by his faith during this period. He knows that the Philistines see in him a mighty enemy which by chance they have seized by his coming (Psa 56:1a). He knows no other solution to this problem than to behave like a madman. He presents himself as someone who has lost his mind.

David descends here far below the level of a believer. This is not a stratagem, but an act of desperation. A believer who consciously behaves like an idiot gives a totally wrong example. He casts a reproach upon the Name of the Lord. Let us not judge David too harshly. How many times have we consciously behave ourselves differently out of fear of manifestations of enmity in the world and not been witnesses to the Lord Jesus, to put it mildly?

The downfall of David is great. His conduct causes Ahimelech to drive him away (Psa 34:1a). Certainly, he has escaped from a dangerous situation, but how shameful is his salvation. There is a lot to be ashamed of. What remains is the grace of God.

That God’s grace also plays a role in this whole event, is shown by the two psalms that originated in his heart during his stay with Achish in Gath. [Abimelech and Achish are two names for the same person. Abimelech is the title of the prince of the Philistines (Gen 20:2), like ‘Pharaoh’ among the Egyptians. Achish is his own name (1Sam 21:10).] In the event described here, we see his outward behavior. In both psalms we see what is going on in his heart during that event.

Psalm 56 shows that his outward behavior is not the language of his heart. His heart has gone out to the LORD in these circumstances. Psalm 34 shows what is in his heart when he is afraid of Achish. His heart calls to God and He saves him, for his heart is broken and he has a contrite spirit.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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