1 Samuel 21 Study Notes


21:1 Ahimelech is mentioned for the first time here; some identify him with Ahijah (14:3). Nob lay approximately two miles south of Gibeah. Ahimelech was afraid, probably because he had heard of Saul’s pursuit of David, a fact that would explain his questioning of David.

21:2 Though David said that the king had given him a mission, Saul in fact had not. David did not want to reveal his real circumstances to Ahimelech, lest Saul accuse the priest of aiding a fugitive (22:13).

21:3-4 Consecrated bread, also known as the “Bread of the Presence” (v. 6), came from the tabernacle where twelve loaves representing Israel’s twelve tribes were exchanged weekly (Lv 24:5-9). Normally only priests ate this bread, but Ahimelech was willing to share it with ordinary soldiers if they were not ceremonially unclean due to sexual relations (Lv 15:18).

21:5-6 Jesus referred to this account in condemning the religious leaders for their rigid interpretation of the Mosaic law (Mt 12:1-4).

21:7 Perhaps Doeg the Edomite was a captive servant of Saul after Saul’s campaign against Edom (14:47). The words detained before the Lord may mean Doeg lingered at the tabernacle to offer further sacrifices and prayers; other interpreters have suggested he was paying some form of penance or facing punishment for an offense.

21:8-9 The text does not explain how the sword of Goliath ended up in the tabernacle when David had earlier put it in his own tent (17:54). Perhaps David later had dedicated it to the Lord as some kind of offering.

21:10 The leading Philistine city, Gath, was located at the mouth of the Valley of Elah (17:1). King Achish ruled there, seemingly as chief among the Philistine lords (27:2-7; 29:2-4). David probably fled from Saul by going westward into the Sorek Valley to Beth-shemesh (6:9,12-13), then along a diagonal highway that connected Judah’s valleys to Azekah (17:1). From there he could proceed down the Valley of Elah.

21:11 Achish’s servants were aware of David’s fame among his own people, and they reported it. The tens of thousands David had killed included many Philistines.

21:12 David became afraid when he realized how much the Philistines knew about him.

21:13 In the ancient world, insane people were considered afflicted by the gods and generally left alone. David’s letting saliva run down his beard brought further disgrace and confirmation of his affliction to Achish (Nm 12:14; Dt 25:9; Jb 17:6; 30:10).

21:14-15 Achish’s statement Do I have . . . a shortage of crazy people probably was intended sarcastically, though other people with unusual physical features were also associated with Gath (17:4; 2Sm 21:20).