Matthew Poole's Commentary
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?David cometh to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; pretendeth secret business from Saul; asketh bread: Ahimelech giveth him the shew-bread, 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Doeg seeth this, 1 Samuel 21:7. David asketh arms: Ahimelech giveth him Goliath’s sword, 1 Samuel 21:8,9. David cometh to Achish; is known; and afraid; feigneth himself mad, 1 Samuel 21:10-13. Achish is angry with his servants for bringing him, 1 Samuel 21:14,15.
Nob; a city of priests, as it is called 1 Samuel 22:19; either,
1. Because it was assigned to the priests. For though it be not expressed by this name among their cities, Jos 21, yet it might be one of those cities there named by some other name, which name might be changed; or another new name added to the old for some reason now unknown, as was very usual among the Hebrews: compare 1Ch 6$. Or,
2. Because it was now inhabited by the priests for the service of the tabernacle, which now was here; as appears from 1 Samuel 21:7,9; for as the kings of Israel were to consult with God’s oracle in all their weighty affairs, so they endeavoured to have it in or near their own habitations. Hence it was first carried by Joshua to Shiloh in his tribe of Ephraim; and afterwards by David into his tribe and city; and now, as it seems, had been by Saul carried to Nob, a city in the tribe of Benjamin, Nehemiah 11:32, near to Anathoth, 1 Kings 2:26. Hither David resorted, partly for a supply of his necessities, which he supposed he might receive here, without danger of being betrayed into Saul’s hands; and principally, that in this great distress, and his resolution of going out of the kingdom, he might seek and receive comfort and counsel from the Lord. Ahimelech the priest, to wit, the chief priest, brother to that Ahiah, 1 Samuel 14:3; and he being now dead, his successor in the priesthood, for they were both sons of Ahitub, 1 Samuel 14:3 22:11. Ahimelech was afraid; suspecting some extraordinary cause of his coming in such a manner, and fearing the worst, as men usually do in such cases. Why art thou alone? for though David had some servants and companions, as is manifest from 1 Samuel 21:4,5, and from Matthew 12:3,4, whom Jonathan probably had sent to a place appointed to serve and guard him; yet they were left at another place, as David himself affirmeth, 1 Samuel 21:2. And David was now alone, as also he was when he fled to Achish, 1 Samuel 21:10.
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: this seems to be a plain lie, extorted from him by fear and necessity. But as it was officious for himself, so it was pernicious to all the priests there. Whence David afterwards declares his repentance for this sin of lying, Psalm 119:29.
To such and such a place; to a certain place which is not material nor convenient now to mention, because the whole business requires concealment.
Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present.Under thine hand, to wit, in thy power, and ready for thee to give, and for me to take, and eat.
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.Under mine hand, to wit, here in the tabernacle; though doubtless he had enough of that and of other provisions in his house; but David was in great haste, and in fear of Doeg, whom he saw and knew there, 1 Samuel 22:22, and therefore would not stay till any thing could be fetched thence.
Hallowed bread; the shew-bread, which was appropriated to the priests; of which see Exodus 25:30 Leviticus 24:5.
At least from women; either from uncleanness by women, which might be divers ways contracted; or from conjugal converse with their wives; which though it did not defile them, yet he thought might debar them from the participation of such very sacred things; which he gathered by the analogy of that precept, Exodus 19:15. There was a double impediment to the giving of this bread to them:
1. Its sacredness in itself; which the priest implies, and David answers, 1 Samuel 21:5, and the priest was satisfied therein by David’s extraordinary occasions and great necessities.
2. The purity and abstinence from all women, which he supposeth should be in those that use it; concerning which he now inquires. And though he mention this only concerning David’s young men, and out of modesty and reverence to David forbears to name him; yet he is also included in the number, as David’s answer shows.
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.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.
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.There was no bread there, to wit, in the tabernacle, where David and the priest now were.
In the day when it was taken away, which was done upon the sabbath day, Leviticus 24:8; for though they might not then kindle a fire to heat the bread in, yet they might and did keep it hot in an oven that had been heated before the sabbath.
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; not by force from others, but by his own choice; he fixed his abode there for that day; either because it was the sabbath day, on which he might not proceed in his journey, or other business; or for the discharge of some vow; or to beg direction and help from God in some great business.
Before the Lord, i.e. at the tabernacle.
An Edomite; either,
1. By his habitation and conversation among those people for some considerable time, as for the same reason Uriah is called the Hittite, and Obed-edom the Gittite: or rather,
2. By his birth and nation; but he was proselyted to the Jewish religion, or took it up for sinister ends, being advanced, as here we read, to a place of trust and preferment, possibly upon this occasion.
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.He left his weapons behind him, that he might with less suspicion remove from place to place, and hide himself from Saul and his spies.
The king’s business required haste; the message came to me when I was unarmed, and the business required so great expedition that I could not go home to fetch my weapons.
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.Behind the ephod, i.e. 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 of the kind, is put for all the rest. Here it was laid up as a sacred monument of God’s power and goodness, and that famous victory, related 1Sa 17.
There is none like that; because it not only served him for his use, for he was a strong and tall man, and one that could wield that sword, as we saw, 1Sa 17, but was also a pledge of God’s favour to him, and a great encouragement to his faith.
And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.A strange action; but it must be considered,
1. That Saul’s rage was so great and implacable, his power also and diligence in hunting after him so great, that he despaired of escaping him any other way; and it is not strange if a desperate disease produceth a desperate remedy.
2. David might reasonably think, that being persecuted and banished by Saul, and the Israelites under his command, he should be welcome to the Philistines; who would be glad, not only to be freed from all those evils which he had from time to time done, and was likely further to do to them, but also to make him their friend, and oblige him by their kindness, and to make him the more odious and irreconcilable to Saul and the Israelites.
Quest. But why did he go to these, and not rather to some other neighbour nation?
Answ. Because they were all at peace with Saul; and therefore would certainly have delivered him up, upon Saul’s demands.
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?The king of the land, or, of this land, i.e. of the land of Canaan. They call him king, either more generally for the governor, as that word is used Deu 33:5, for the most eminent captain and commander, and, as it were, the king of the Israelitish armies; or rather, more specially, the king, to wit, 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’ ears.
Did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands? and therefore consider what to do; and now thine and 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.Lest either their revenge or policy should prompt them to kill him.
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.His behaviour; his speech and gesture; and, it may be, his habit also.
Feigned himself mad; which they might the more easily believe, partly because of the disappointment of his great hopes, and his extreme danger and trouble from Saul, which might well make him mad; and partly because he had put himself into their hands, which they supposed none but a fool or a madman would have done. And David counterfeited this madness, that he might procure both their pity and their contempt; that they being freed from jealousies and fears of future mischief from David, and from his wise conduct, of which they had sad experience, might be secure of him, and so spare him.
In their hands, i.e. whilst he was in their power, and before them.
Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me?Ye see the man is mad; and so were Achish and his men too, to be so soon cheated. But this must be ascribed to the wise and powerful providence of God, who, in answer to David’s prayer now made, which is recorded Psa 34 Psa 61, did infatuate them, as he hath done many others in like cases.
Wherefore then have ye brought him to me? what service can I expect from him? or what cause have I to fear him?
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?I need wise men, not such fools or madmen as this is. I will not have my court disgraced with entertaining such fellows.