1 Samuel 21



David at Nob (21:1–9)

1–3 After leaving Jonathan, David went first to the town of Nob, where the tabernacle had been relocated after the ark was captured by the Philistines81 (1 Samuel 4:3–4,10–11). The high priest Ahimelech was there, and David went to see him.

David went to Ahimelech for three reasons: to get food (verse 3), to get a weapon (verse 8), and to get divine guidance (1 Samuel 22:10). Ahimelech, as high priest, kept the ephod and breastpiece, along with the Urim and Thummim used for obtaining guidance from God (Exodus 28:28,30).

David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on a secret mission and that “his men” would be meeting him in another place (verse 2). David may have lied simply in order to get food and a weapon, or he may have lied to protect Ahimelech. If Ahimelech knowingly assisted David, then Saul would have reason to kill him—which Saul later did anyway, in spite of David’s deception (1 Samuel 22:16–18).

David’s situation was clearly desperate: he was alone and without food or weapons. However, the writer does not attempt to justify David’s deception (see 1 Samuel 19:13–14); in this case, his lying was primarily motivated by selfinterest and thus was surely wrong.82

4–6 The only bread Ahimelech had available to give David was consecrated bread83 (verse 4)—that is, bread that had been set aside for the Lord and could only be eaten by priests; however, Ahimelech made an exception for David and gave him the bread.84 The only condition Ahimelech insisted on was that David and his (supposed) men had to have kept themselves from women (verse 4). Sexual intercourse made one ceremonially unclean (see Exodus 19:14–15; Leviticus 15:18) and it was against God’s law for an unclean person to eat clean—consecrated—food (see Leviticus 7:19–21). David assured Ahimelech that he and his men had not recently slept with any women.“ The men’s things (bodies) are holy (clean),” David said (verse 5).

7–9 In verse 7, we are told that one of Saul’s servants, Doeg, was at the tabernacle that day and saw all that took place. This was to have dire consequences, as we shall see in the next chapter.

David then asked Ahimelech for a weapon, but all that was available was Goliath’s sword, with which David had cut off the giant’s head (1 Samuel 17:15,54). Sometime after killing Goliath, David had apparently left the sword in the care of the priests.

David at Gath (21:10–15)

10–15 David left Ahimelech that same day and went to the Philistine city of Gath, where Goliath had lived (1 Samuel 17:4). It is not known why David fled to Philistine territory; perhaps he thought he would be safe from Saul there. He evidently hoped he wouldn’t be recognized, but when he was, he feared that Achish king of Gath might kill him. So he pretended to be a madman, and in this way he fooled Achish into thinking that he wasn’t the famous David after all. Thus Achish let him go.

As we think about young David, as revealed in this chapter, we may be left with a poor impression of him—and rightly so. However, we must remember that God was leading David through these difficult circumstances in order to prepare him for what lay ahead. Indeed, later on, David included in his psalms many of the truths he learned during this period as a fugitive.85