1 Samuel 21

Listen to 1 Samuel 21

David and the Holy Bread

1 [a] Then David came to 1Nob to 2Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech 3came to meet David trembling and said to him, "Why are you alone, and no one with you?"
2 And David said to Ahimelech the priest, "The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, 'Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.' I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place.
3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here."
4 And the priest answered David, "I have no common bread on hand, but there is 4holy bread--5if the young men have kept themselves from women."
5 And David answered the priest, "Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?"
6 So the priest gave him 6the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, 7which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.
7 Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD. His name was 8Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul's herdsmen.
8 Then David said to Ahimelech, "Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business required haste."
9 And the priest said, 9"The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in 10the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here." And David said, "There is none like that; give it to me."

David Flees to Gath

10 And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to 11Achish the king of Gath.
11 And the servants of Achish said to him, "Is not this David the king of the land? 12Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, 'Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands'?"
12 And David 13took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.
13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.
14 Then Achish said to his servants, "Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me?
15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?"

1 Samuel 21 Commentary

Chapter 21

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.

Cross References 13

  • 1. 1 Samuel 22:9, 11, 19; Nehemiah 11:32; Isaiah 10:32
  • 2. [1 Samuel 14:3; Mark 2:26]
  • 3. [1 Samuel 16:4]
  • 4. Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:5; Matthew 12:3, 4; Mark 2:25, 26; Luke 6:3, 4
  • 5. Exodus 19:15
  • 6. [See ver. 4 above]
  • 7. Leviticus 24:8, 9
  • 8. 1 Samuel 22:9; See Psalms 52
  • 9. 1 Samuel 17:51
  • 10. 1 Samuel 17:2
  • 11. See Psalms 34
  • 12. 1 Samuel 18:7; 1 Samuel 29:5
  • 13. [Luke 2:19]

Footnotes 1

Chapter Summary


This chapter relates that David went to Nob, and pretending he was on secret business for the king, got shewbread, and the sword of Goliath, from Ahimelech the priest, 1Sa 21:1-9; and that passing from thence to Gath, where he was known, through fear feigned himself mad, and so escaped from thence, 1Sa 21:10-15.

1 Samuel 21 Commentaries

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.