David with Ahimelech. (1-9) David at Gath feigns himself mad. (10-15)
Verses 1-9 David, in distress, fled to the tabernacle of God. It is great comfort in a day of trouble, that we have a God to go to, to whom we may open our cases, and from whom we may ask and expect direction. David told Ahimelech a gross untruth. What shall we say to this? The Scripture does not conceal it, and we dare not justify it; it was ill done, and proved of bad consequence; for it occasioned the death of the priests of the Lord. David thought upon it afterward with regret. David had great faith and courage, yet both failed him; he fell thus foully through fear and cowardice, and owing to the weakness of his faith. Had he trusted God aright, he would not have used such a sorry, sinful shift for his own preservation. It is written, not for us to do the like, no, not in the greatest straits, but for our warning. David asked of Ahimelech bread and a sword. Ahimelech supposed they might eat the shew-bread. The Son of David taught from it, that mercy is to be preferred to sacrifice; that ritual observances must give way to moral duties. Doeg set his foot as far within the tabernacle as David did. We little know with what hearts people come to the house of God, nor what use they will make of pretended devotion. If many come in simplicity of heart to serve their God, others come to observe their teachers and to prove accusers. Only God and the event can distinguish between a David and a Doeg, when both are in the tabernacle.
Verses 10-15 God's persecuted people have often found better usage from Philistines than from Israelites. David had reason to put confidence in Achish, yet he began to be afraid. His conduct was degrading, and discovered wavering in his faith and courage. The more simply we depend on God, and obey him, the more comfortably and surely we shall walk through this troublesome world.
1 Samuel 21:1-7 . DAVID, AT NOB, OBTAINS OF AHIMELECH HALLOWED BREAD.
1. Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech--Nob, a city of the priests ( 1 Samuel 22:19 ), was in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives--a little north of the top, and on the northeast of the city. It is computed to have been about five miles distant from Gibeah. Ahimelech, the same as Ahiah, or perhaps his brother, both being sons of Ahitub (compare 1 Samuel 14:3 , with 1 Samuel 22:4-11 1 Samuel 22:20 ). His object in fleeing to this place was partly for the supply of his necessities, and partly for comfort and counsel, in the prospect of leaving the kingdom.
Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David--suspecting some extraordinary occurrence by his appearing so suddenly, and in such a style, for his attendants were left at a little distance.
2. The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know--This was a direct falsehood, extorted through fear. David probably supposed, like many other persons, that a lie is quite excusable which is told for the sole purpose of saving the speaker's life. But what is essentially sinful, can never, from circumstances, change its immoral character; and David had to repent of this vice of lying ( Psalms 119:29 ).
4. there is hallowed bread--There would be plenty of bread in his house; but there was no time to wait for it. "The hallowed bread" was the old shew-bread, which had been removed the previous day, and which was reserved for the use of the priests alone ( Leviticus 24:9 ). Before entertaining the idea that this bread could be lawfully given to David and his men, the high priest seems to have consulted the oracle ( 1 Samuel 22:10 ) as to the course to be followed in this emergency. A dispensation to use the hallowed bread was specially granted by God Himself.
5. these three days--as required by law ( Exodus 19:15 ). David and his attendants seem to have been lurking in some of the adjoining caves, to elude pursuit, and to have been, consequently, reduced to great extremities of hunger.
the bread is in a manner common--that is, now that it is no longer standing on the Lord's table. It is eaten by the priests, and may also, in our circumstances, be eaten by us.
yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel--that is, though the hallowed bread had been but newly placed on the vessel, the ritual ordinance would have to yield to the great law of necessity and also see 2:25 , Luke 6:3 ).
6. there was no bread there--in the tabernacle. The removal of the old and the substitution of the new bread was done on the Sabbath ( Leviticus 24:8 ), the loaves being kept warm in an oven heated the previous day.
7. Doeg, an Edomite--who had embraced the Hebrew religion.
detained before the Lord--at the tabernacle, perhaps, in the performance of a vow, or from its being the Sabbath, which rendered it unlawful for him to prosecute his journey.
the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul--Eastern monarchs anciently had large possessions in flocks and herds; and the office of the chief shepherd was an important one.
1 Samuel 21:9 . HE TAKES GOLIATH'S SWORD. behind the ephod
--in the place allowed for keeping the sacred vestments, of which the ephod is mentioned as the chief. The giant's sword was deposited in that safe custody as a memorial of the divine goodness in delivering Israel. There is none like that
--not only for its size and superior temper, but for its being a pledge of the divine favor to him, and a constant stimulus to his faith.
1 Samuel 21:10-15 . AT GATH HE FEIGNS HIMSELF MAD.
10. David . . . fled . . . to Achish the king of Gath--which was one of the five principalities of the Philistines. In this place his person must have been known, and to venture into that country, he their greatest enemy, and with the sword of Goliath in his hand, would seem to have been a perilous experiment; but, doubtless, the protection he received implies that he had been directed by the divine oracle. Achish was generous ( 1 Samuel 27:6 ). He might wish to weaken the resources of Saul, and it was common in ancient times for great men to be harbored by neighboring princes.
13. feigned himself mad--It is supposed to have been an attack of epilepsy, real or perhaps only pretended. This disease is relieved by foaming at the mouth.
let his spittle fall down upon his beard--No wonder that Achish supposed him insane, as such an indignity, whether done by another, or one's self, to the beard, is considered in the East an intolerable insult.