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1Sa 21:1 Then David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, Why are you alone and no-one with you?-
The same expression is used in 1 Sam. 16:4 of how the elders of Bethlehem feared when Samuel came to them. Saul's fear and paranoia had spread to the whole land. And that is psychologically credible. We see those on God's side, Samuel and David, rising above this spirit. Alternatively we can understand the priest's "trembling" as out of respect for David. The word is usually used in this sense; "Eli was trembling for the ark of God” (1 Sam. 4:13), and men trembled at God's word (Ezra 9:4; 10:3; Is. 66:2,5).

This Ahimelech could be the Ahijah descendant of Eli of 1 Sam. 14:3 ["Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of Yahweh"]. He was the son of Ahitub (1 Sam. 22:9). As Ahitub's son, he was in the line of Eli. Yet Eli's family had been cursed in 1 Sam. 2,3. It could be that this person in later life experienced the curses. But it would be far from the only time in Bible history where a curse is pronounced but not carried out. There is a gap between Yahweh's prophetic pronouncements, and their fulfillment. And in that gap there is the possibility for repentance. This is what gives intensity to our prayers and repentance, knowing we too live in such a gap.

The Lord refers to Ahimelech as "Abiathar the high priest" (Mk. 2:26). There were times when two high priests held the office at the same time (Num. 19:3; 1 Chron. 24:3; 1 Kings 1:45 cp. 1 Kings 2:27). Or His idea may have been "Abiathar who was the high priest later on", just as we read of Jesse begetting "David the king" (Mt. 1:6), not immediately, but only later was he king. Or "Rahab the harlot" (Heb. 11:31), "Mathew the publican" (Mt. 10:3).

1Sa 21:2 David said to Ahimelech the priest, The king has charged me with a task and has said to me ‘Let no-one know anything about it or what I have commanded you’. I have told the young men to go to a meeting place-
The LXX makes the last sentence part of Saul's supposed command, and makes it purposefully unclear what their mission was, giving it a code name which Ahimelech would not perceive: "and I have charged my servants to be in the place that is called, The faithfulness of God, phellani maemoni". But we wonder whether David's lie was right or even necessary. He was simply desperately hungry and needed help for his men. If he had told Ahimelech the truth, he likely would have helped him. But he clearly doubts Ahimelech's loyalty to him and therefore makes out that he is still working for Saul, and just needs some help whilst on a secret mission for the king. I noted throughout 1 Sam. 20 that David struggled with elements of distrust even for Jonathan. He must have felt so lonely, and must have had the impression that every man's hand was potentially against him. This again is absolutely how a man going through his experiences would have felt. It is absolutely psychologically credible, and such internal harmony gives us every reason to believe this record is true and is indeed inspired by God. Or it may be that he was seeking to preserve the priest from trouble with Saul.

We have to note that this was a lie, and that lie caused the deaths of men, even priests of Yahweh. There are so many lies in David's life. He told Jonathan to lie to Saul about why he was absent from Saul's table, pretends he is having a mental breakdown in order to get out of Gath, he deceived Achish later about his activities, killing innocent villagers so none would be left alive to reveal his lies, and then the whole deceptive mess over the death of Uriah... In those days, as in some areas today, lying your way out of something was seen as effective diplomacy. And yet David bleats on about his integrity and how he is innocent and has served God in truth... whilst on balance he seems to emerge as God's man, he undoubtedly was a mixture of good and bad. Even if the good just about triumphed, and the bad was ultimately trumped by his having a heart for God. We wonder about things so often with David. Did he lie in order to save Ahimelech from trouble with Saul or from Doeg? Did he lie from lack of faith? Was he giving Ahimelech a hidden message- that he was on a job for the real king, Yahweh? As so often, there is no clear answer and we are left to conclude David's motives were mixed.

"What I have commanded you" is literally "what I have appointed you to do". The same word was used by Samuel when telling Saul that Yahweh had found another man to be king, whom He would "appoint" or "command" to be prince over His people (1 Sam. 13:14). It's possible that David is being subtle, or deceitful, by actually having in view that "the king" he speaks of is not Saul but Yahweh, who has appointed or commanded him. David so often refers to Yahweh as the true king (Ps. 5:2; 20:9; 24:7-10; 29:10; 68:24; 145:1).

1Sa 21:3 Now therefore what do you have to hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever there is here-
We wonder if David had only four men with him. Hence he asks for five loaves of bread. We note how although David was at a low point here, he still represented the future Lord Jesus- who was the only other man in scripture to have "five loaves", and who gave them to those who were "with Him".

1Sa 21:4 The priest answered David, There is no common bread here, but there is holy bread, if the young men have kept themselves from women-
It has often been said that there were no Mosaic restrictions upon how the shewbread could be used after it had been taken out of the holy place. It seems this request was adding a fence to the law. But Lev. 24:9 is clear: "It shall be for Aaron and his sons; and they shall eat it in a holy place". But we note Ahimelech calls it "holy bread", and his condition that the men had not slept with women would've been irrelevant if it were now not "holy bread". I suggest this was an ad hoc decision to give the holy bread to non Levites, but he sets this condition to at least give some semblance of sanctity. He surely knew what was going on, and that David's story about being on a mission for Saul was untrue. He knew surely these men hadn't slept with women recently. The Lord interprets the incident this way, commenting that Ahimelech gave these men the bread which was meant only for the priests, and so he did that which was "not lawful". It could be that Ahimelech perceived that David and his men were a new king-priesthood. Who had no sanctuary and served God spiritually rather than through ritual. We know that at this time, Ahimelech enquired of Yahweh for David (1 Sam. 22:10), so probably he asked whether David could have the hallowed bread- and got a positive answer.

1Sa 21:5 David answered the priest, Truly, women have been kept from us for about three days. When I go on an expedition the bodies of the young men are holy; they are even for an ordinary journey; how much more so today?-
We again note David's careful observance of the Mosaic law, even when on the run from Saul; and he often refers to this in Ps. 119, the Psalm he wrote at this time. It could be that David had last slept with Michal three days ago, before fleeing Gibeah. Or maybe he means that for sure, he could vouch that his men had been with him for three days without women nearby. Or maybe "three days" is a general statement.

David's argument seems to be that he was on a special journey, perhaps hinting at a holy journey; and "how much more so today?" could suggest this was a Mosaic feast day. We wonder why Ahimelech apparently has "no bread" at all to give David. How come they had no food? Possibly this was the day of atonement, the only fast required under the Mosaic law. David's assurance that his men hadn't slept with women recently would then be behind his exclamation that it was bizarre to even think they had been sleeping with women on the day of atonement. That would well explain the force of "how much more so today?". David later asked Nabal to give his men food because they were asking on a feast day (Heb., 1 Sam. 25:8 NEV "at a good time"). This is a parallel with how he asks Ahimelech to give his men food because, he implies, it is a feast day (see on 1 Sam. 21:5). So circumstances had repeated. David's request for food from Nabal on a feast day ought to have reminded him of how at a low spiritual point, he had asked the priests of Nob for the same. And it led to their death. We likewise are to perceive the connections between our life experiences, and to learn the lessons. "How much more so today?" may also mean that it was the Sabbath, which would explain perhaps why Ahimelech couldn't prepare more food for David, rather than him implying they had not a morsel of food in the house. And it is in this context that the Lord uses the incident, in justifying His men for 'working' on the Sabbath.

1Sa 21:6 So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there apart from the Bread of the Presence that had been taken from before Yahweh, to be replaced by fresh hot bread-
The Lord Jesus speaks of how David ate the shewbread unlawfully, seeking to demonstrate that the spirit of the law replaces the letter. Some have argued that the bread they ate was not the actual shewbread, but the old shewbread; and there was no legislation governing what might be done with this. We could assume that true to the spirit of Jewish midrash, the Lord was making an exaggerated point. Or it could be that He meant that it was "not lawful" to eat the used shewbread according to the spirit of the law, but not the letter of it. However Lev. 24:9 is clear: "It shall be for Aaron and his sons; and they shall eat it in a holy place". “Aaron and his sons shall eat…the bread that is in the basket, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting… but an outsider shall not eat them, because they are holy. And if any… of the bread remains until the morning then you shall burn the remainder with fire. It shall not be eaten, because it is holy” (Ex. 29:32-34). And the Lord is clear too that David "ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat" (Mt. 12:4). We also note that the Lord stresses that David himself entered the holy place and took the bread and himself gave it to "those with him", just as Mark records how the Lord chose His men to "be with Him". Lk. 6:4 is clearest: "he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone". But David's entry into the holy place is stressed in the other records: "he entered into the house of God" (Mt. 12:4), "he went into the house of God" (Mk. 2:26). Luke's language recalls the Lord taking bread and giving to His disciples. The priest "gave" him the bread, but nathan can mean he assigned him or permitted him to take the bread. Perhaps his enquiry of Yahweh for David had been specifically about whether to permit David to do this. "So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread" would seem to be saying that the bread was still holy or hallowed at the point the priest gave / allowed David to take it. We are thereby led to think that David's action was not so much because he was hungry, but because he wanted to take the bread and give it to his men as a religious act, acting as their priest. The loaves of shewbread weren't large- the table of shewbread, on which the shewbread was to be arranged in two rows of six, was only three feet long and one and a half feet wide. The loaves weren't large and could hardly have seriously met a hunger need. They were "cakes" (Lev. 24:5) rather than loaves. Rashi translated "How much more then today, when there shall be holy bread in their vessels" i.e. bodies. This would confirm the suggestion that David's men ate "holy bread".

1Sa 21:7 Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before Yahweh; his name was Doeg the Edomite, the best of the herdsmen who belonged to Saul-
In the type of the things concerning the Lord Jesus, in some way Doeg may point forward to Herod, who was also an Edomite. We note that he was "detained before Yahweh", he was obedient to parts of the Mosaic law. So was Saul; and so were the wicked men who crucified our Lord, David's greater son. Or his being 'detained' may have been because it was the day of atonement (see on :5) and he was unable to travel over the feast. Saul had defeated the Edomites (1 Sam. 14:47), so Doeg had perhaps betrayed his own people and joined Saul. We have perhaps an insight into his character just because of this. Or Doeg being detained before Yahweh may have been because he had made a vow, or possibly, was becoming a proselyte. This then adds more background to David's ranting against him in Ps. 52:1-4 as being a liar, using deceitful words. What were these words? No specific lie of Doeg is recorded, but the accusation of being a serious liar makes sense if he had made false vows to Yahweh. Psalm 52 was likely later rewritten, under inspiration, during the exile; for Edom was a much hated ally of the Babylonians who eagerly destroyed Jerusalem and murdered the priests (Lam. 4:21,22; Mal. 1:2–5; Joel 3:19; Ez. 25:12; 35:3,15; Ps. 137:7; Obadiah 11).

"The best of the herdsmen" is LXX "tending Saul's mules / donkeys". In this case we see again how Saul was obsessed with donkeys. He is introduced to us like this, and Samuel warns that Saul when king would take Israel's donkeys. It seems this streak of petty materialism continued with Saul throughout his life.

1Sa 21:8 David said to Ahimelech, Don’t you have here a spear or sword? I have neither brought my sword nor my weapons with me because the king’s business required haste-
Scoring David out of ten for spirituality, he scores sadly here. He had turned down spear and sword when fighting Goliath, and had confidently stated that as the battles are Yahweh's, these weapons give no defence. And he lies about things in order to get them. And we even wonder whether he was correct to pretend to be a servant of Saul as king, when Yahweh had clearly rejected Saul as king and chosen David. But despite this weak point in his faith, he still also asked Ahimelech to enquire of God for him (1 Sam. 22:10).

1Sa 21:9 The priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine whom you killed in the valley of Elah is here, wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it; there is no other except that here. David said, There is none like that. Give it to me-
David’s eager taking of the sword of Goliath (“There is none like that; give it to me”) contrasts sadly with his earlier rejection of such weapons in order to slay Goliath. And David later reflects how he knew that his faithless taking of that sword and the shewbread would lead to the death of Abiathar’s family (1 Sam. 22:22). But still he did it. This was one reason why he is criticized by God as having shed too much blood (1 Chron. 22:8).

Without doubt we have David here at a low point in his faith. But overall he was still seen by the Spirit in NT times as the man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). Stephen positively comments about David that he found grace before God (Acts 7:46), and often subsequent kings are judged according to whether they walked in the ways of David (2 Chron. 17:3; 7:17; 29:2; 34:2; 1 Kings 11:6; 14:8; 15:11). This is quite some benchmark. The fact his dynasty continued for 467 years is amazing, and surely some sign of God's acceptance of him. Positively, we think of David's valuing and respect for Saul's life as "precious", on two occasions refusing to kill him;  his refusal to let Abishai kill Shimei; his anger over the murder of Ishbosheth, Saul's son; his grace to the crippled Mephibosheth; his insistence that soldiers too weary to go on fighting should still be equally rewarded; his appreciation of the men who risked their lives to bring him water from the well of Bethlehem; his love for Absalom; his desire to put things right for the Gibeonites whom Saul had wrongly abused, his mourning for the death of Abner- and Saul, for that matter. And there is the comment that he ruled with justice and equity (2 Sam. 8:15; 23:3).

Negatively, we think of his apparently casual slaying of 200 Philistines to get their foreskins;  the whole mess with Bathsheba and Uriah; his request for the sword of Goliath and faithless flight to live with the Philistines; his ethnic cleansing of villages to save his own image with the Philistines; his hot blooded desire to kill Nabal and his family; his insistence on taking the census which led to judgment on Israel; his breaking up of Paltiel and Michal's marriage; his bloodthirsty desire for vengeance on his enemies portrayed in the Psalms, offsetting his grace to them in practice; his strange absence from the faithful listed in Hebrews 11.

The end synthesis of all this is that God saw him as having a heart after His own, and he found grace in God's eyes (Acts 7:46).

1Sa 21:10 David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath-
Ahimelech confirms to Saul that he had enquired of Yahweh for David (1 Sam. 22:10), and that he had also done so previously. We wonder what at this point David enquired about. The fact he went to Gath right afterwards makes it likely that it was something to do with this. But I suggest it was unlikely that Yahweh would have confirmed David in that decision, nor that He required David to take Goliath's sword. So we may well imagine David being disobedient to the answer to his enquiry.

Why did David take Goliath's sword to Gath, the home town of Goliath? Surely as an act of repentance. But to gift a sword was understood as a request for something or the permission to use something. Even as recently as the coronation of King Charles III in the UK, the practice persisted. The Crown's official website explained: "The Sword of Offering, which symbolises the protection of good and the punishment of evil, will be delivered to the Archbishop of Canterbury and will be placed in The King’s right hand. The King will rise, and the Sword will be fastened at His Majesty’s waist using the Sword Belt. The King will offer the Sword at the Altar, where it will be received the Dean. The Sword will then be redeemed with the offering of 100 newly minted 50ps, by the Lord President of the Council, who will carry it before The King for the remainder of the Service. Traditionally, the Sword is offered to Westminster Abbey in payment for hosting a Coronation Service, and redeemed by offering a symbolic payment". Egyptian art likewise depicts the gift of weapons as a sign of submission and dominance on the part of the recipient. David was surrendering to the Philistines. We recall how Jonathan gave his weapons to David as a sign of this and his surrendering of power to David. What was David requesting? Safety and protection from Saul. What property was he asking to use? Presumably somewhere for him and his men to live in Gath.

We sense he was utterly desperate to do this, he was not thinking straight. We wonder if he took Goliath's sword back to Goliath's home town in an attempt to make peace with the Philistines and live with them. They seemed the only people he could feel safe with. He would rather risk torture and death at the hands of the Gentiles than persecution from God's own people. His decision making here bears all the hallmarks of a man at the very end of his emotional and nervous ability to cope.

Many of the Psalms appear to be paired; Ps. 56 and Ps. 57 are an example. They are very similar. The title of Ps. 56 ["when seized by the Philistines in Gath"] therefore provides a context for Ps. 57, which was "A poem by David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave" (Ps. 57:1). David's time when seized by the Philistines in Gath could refer to some unrecorded capture and detention of him in Gath- the home town of Goliath, whose sons  / relatives had also been slain by David's men, and David had slain "ten thousands" of Philistines. Or it could refer to the time when he was serving Achish king of Gath and had to feign himself mad in order to get released. Perhaps things were far tougher for David at that time than recorded in 1 Sam. 21:10-15. Whatever, David took comfort from his rescue from Gath (Ps. 56) and reapplied it to the situation with Saul (the subject of Ps. 57). And this is how we too pass through life- experiences in one situation strengthen us for another.

1Sa 21:11 The servants of Achish said to him, Isn’t this David the king of the land? Didn’t they sing one to another about him in dances saying, ‘Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands?’-
By going to Goliath's home town, David should have known this was a foolish decision and this was going to happen. As noted above, David's decision making here bears all the hallmarks of a man at the very end of his emotional and nervous ability to cope. We notice how the Philistines were not in close contact with the Israelites, and assumed David was the king; when this was far from the case. These words would have been potential encouragement to David to perceive that God's purpose with him, to make him king, would ultimately succeed. That passing encouragement was given to him at a time when all seemed hopeless for his cause. And God likewise works with us today.

1Sa 21:12 David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath-
This is the very phrase used of how Israel were "much afraid" of Goliath of Gath, whereas David wasn't but had calm faith (1 Sam. 17:24). The implication is that David's faith was at a far lower point than it had been then.

1Sa 21:13 He changed his behaviour before them and pretended to be mad, scrabbled on the doors of the gate and let his saliva fall down onto his beard-
Going down South to Achish of Gath and playing the mad man has sad connections with the patriarchs going down to Egypt in times of weak faith. I have noted that David was under extreme nervous stress at this time. Although he was acting, we sense he was not far off actually experiencing a mental breakdown; for his decision making was really very confused and desperate in running to Achish.

Psalm 34 was written as reflection upon his deliverance from Gath (Ps. 34:1). But in that Psalm, David reflects that it is good not to tell lies (Ps. 34:13 "Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies"). But David himself has been noted for how many lies he told, not least in this context both to Ahimelech [resulting in his flight to Gath] and then in Gath (Ps. 34:1). So here we have some kind of repentance for his behaviour in Gath. And this leads to his higher point of faith as discussed on 1 Sam. 22:23.

1Sa 21:14 Then Achish said to his servants, Look, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me?-
We wonder whether Achish realized that David was acting, for he speaks of him 'playing the madman' (:15). In this case, he was trying to do David a favour by letting him get away from Gath, knowing that his people were close to murdering David. The reason why he should do this isn't clear, but David's desperate prayers were heard through God manipulating circumstance and situation to enable Achish to want to release David, the public enemy number one for his own people. 

1Sa 21:15 Do I lack madmen that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?
See on :14. Achish says he doesn't want David in his palace, but for David to get from the palace to safety in the wilderness would have required a further display of God's saving providence. Ps. 34 [title] says that Achish "drove him away"; but we sense that this may have been an appearance by Achish, because he may well have actually wanted to save David (see on :14). See on Ps. 34 for more on David's situation at this time.