1 Samuel 21

1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 21

David Flees to Nob

      • David went to Ahimelech, the priest in Nob. Ahimelech came out to meet David trembling and asked, “Why are you alone with no one accompanying you?” David replied to Ahimelech the priest saying, “The king has charged me with a matter, but he told me, ‘Don’t let anyone know anything about the matter I have charged you with and for which I am sending you.’ I have told my men to meet me at a certain place. Now, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread or whatever you can find.”

        • In Bible.org’s 1 Samuel series, Bob Deffinbaugh explains the scenario very well:

        • Where could David possibly go for refuge or even help? Surely Ahimelech the high priest can be trusted. And so David flees to Nob, the city of the priests, a few miles to the north and east of Jerusalem (a few miles south of Gibeah, Saul’s hometown). David is well aware of Saul’s influence and his potential for violence. So he keeps his true purpose for coming a secret, perhaps thinking he is doing the priest a favor. It does not turn out that way, as we shall see.”

        • Ahimelech is no one’s fool either. When he sees David, he comes trembling to meet him (compare 16:1-5). He is especially troubled to see David coming alone and questions him about this. David has been made the commander of a thousand by Saul. If he is coming in an official capacity (as he has a number of times in the past – see 22:15), then he should be with his men. ‘Where are they?’ the priest wonders. He asks David about his coming alone.”

        • David has a ready-made story for the priest. I do not know whether or not the priest believes it, but he does know better than to press David on this point. He takes David’s words at face value. David believes that if he keeps Ahimelech ignorant, Saul will surely not harm him. David is wrong. David tells the priest he is on special assignment for King Saul, that the king has sent him on a top-secret mission, one he cannot even describe to Ahimelech. David tells Ahimelech he is not alone; his men are secretly hidden a short distance away. All of this cloak and dagger stuff adds importance to the mission, or at least David hopes it does.”

        • We also come here to a commonly alleged Bible contradiction. Who was the priest at Nob? This passage says Ahimelech. In Mark, Jesus says the high priest was Abiathar. There are many theories put forth to reconcile the text, some better than others. I believe the article from Veritas Domain, “Bible Contradiction? When David fled to Nob what was the priest’s name?”, makes a good case. I would recommend reading the article in full, but I include some excerpts:

          • First, the author points out what it takes for something to actually qualify as a contradiction, “A contradiction occurs when two or more claims conflict with one another so that they cannot simultaneously be true in the same sense and at the same time. To put it another way, a Bible contradiction exists when there are claims within the Bible that are mutually exclusive in the same sense and at the same time.”

          • Next, the author sets the context, “ Both Mark 2:25-26 and 1 Samuel 21:1 are referring to an event in which David before he became the second king of Israel was a wanted fugitive sought by King Saul. David here went to a town called Nob in which David sought permission to eat the consecrated bread. King Saul then found out, got upset and killed the priests for helping David and only Abiathar escaping with his life. 1 Samuel 21:1 is part of the narrative account of what happened while in Mark 2:25-26 took place a thousand years later in which Jesus is invoking the event to make a point to His contemporary Jewish religious critics who didn’t like how his disciples ate the head of grain during the Sabbath.”

        • 1 Samuel 21:1 notes that it was Ahimelech who offered the bread to David. Mark 2:25-26 does not contradict nor conflict with the proposition that it was Ahimelech who gave the bread to David. Mark 2:26 just assert that the time period of when this took place was ‘in the time of Abiathar the high priest.’The events certainly did take place during Abiathar’s lifetime because Abiathar was the only one who escaped King Saul’s massacre (1 Samuel 22:20) and reported it to David. So to speak of this occurring during the time of Abiathar is factually correct..”

        • Also to call Abiathar as the high priest in terms of the context of the original language is not problematic. The Greek word for ‘high priest’ in Mark 2:26…can also mean other priests besides the high priest in terms of the singular office at the Temple of Jerusalem…Thus if the term…can refer to the family members of the one holding the singular official office of high priest we thus have no problem with the event being described as taking place ‘in the time of Abiathar the high priest.’ That would actually be correct.”

        • The author then goes on to explain why Jesus would focus on Abiathar rather than Ahimelech:

          • In the Bible Abiathar is actually mentioned more than Ahimelech. If Abiathar is mentioned more than Ahimelech it might make sense to refer to the event as during the time of Abiathar.”

          • In 1 Kings 2:27 we learn that later Abiathar is dismissed from being the high priest by King Solomon (David’s Son): ‘So Solomon dismissed Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord, which He had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.’ Note the reason stated is that it is to fullfill prophecies God has given to Abiathar’s forefather Eli that Eli’s family priesthood and prominence would end. After Abiathar we would see the rise of Zadok’s lineage in the priesthood. For the Jews familiar with their history Jesus saying ‘in the time of Abiathar the high priest’ would indicate that He was talking about an event of a previous priesthood ‘dynasty’ than the current dynasty.”

          • Thus Jesus taking this took place ‘in the time of Abiathar the high priest’ is not denying that it was Ahimelech who gave David the bread.”

          • I don’t want to minimize the level of debate over this passage. It is truly one of the most difficult. For an article written on a more scholarly level which adequately puts into perspective the difficulty of this passage and various theories offered, the interested reader may refer to Dan Wallace’s “Mark 2:26 and the Problem of Abiathar”. Wallace also ends up siding with the view taken by the author above, opting to read the passage as “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” while still giving a fair critique of the issues.

      • The priest answered David, “I don’t have any common bread on hand, but there is holy bread- if the men have kept themselves from women.” David relied, “Yes, women have been kept from us as usual whenever I go out on an expedition. The men’s bodies are holy even when it is an ordinary expedition, how much more so today!” So the priest gave him the holy bread because there was no bread there other than the bread of the Presence. It had been removed from before Yahweh in order to be replaced by hot bread on the same day it is removed.

        • Guzik reminds us, “The tabernacle of the LORD had a table that held twelve loaves of bread, symbolizing God’s continual fellowship with Israel…The showbread was always to be fresh. Ahimelech would give David the old showbread, which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place…The showbread was not to be treated casually. In fact, it was to be eaten by the priests: And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place (Leviticus 24:9). While this passage in Leviticus does not specifically say that only priests can eat the showbread, it establishes the principle that it must be regarded as holy and can’t be distributed casually. So Ahimelech asked David for a basic level of ceremonial cleanness before he gave him the showbread.”

        • Guzik continues, “In giving David the bread, Ahimelech broke with priestly custom but not with God’s Word. He rightly understood that human need was more important that Levitical observance…When Jesus’ disciples were criticized for breaking religious custom by eating against traditions, Jesus used what Ahimelech did to explain the matter (Matthew 12:1-8). Jesus approved of what Ahimelech did, and Jesus honored him by standing on Ahimelech’s same ground.”

        • NET Bible notes adds, “Temporary sexual abstinence was part of the requirements of a war campaign (Deut 23:9-14), since God was pictured as coming among the camp (compare the abstinence in Exod 19:15). Besides David’s claim that it was standard practice for he and his men, it is also evident through the account of Uriah (2 Sam 11:11-12).”

      • Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, having been detained before Yahweh. It was Doeg the Edomite who was Saul’s chief shepherd. David asked Ahimelech, “Do you have a spear or sword on hand? I didn’t bring my sword or any other weapons because the king’s mission was urgent.” The priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, is here. It’s wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want to take it, go ahead, it’s the only sword here.” And David replied, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

        • Guzik writes, “Doeg was chief of the herdsmen who belonged to Saul, and he was not an Israelite but an Edomite. The word translated chief means mighty but can also be used to mean violent or obstinate. Doeg will show himself to be a violent and obstinate man. By what we see of Doeg and his character, it is hard to think that he did real spiritual business before the LORD at the tabernacle. He was probably fulfilling some ceremonial requirement related to his employment for the king of Israel.”

David Flees to Gath

      • That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish, the king of Gath. But Achish’s servants said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about when they dance, saying, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands’?”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “Gath, a major Philistine city and the hometown of Goliath, was a clever but dangerous place for David to seek refuge from Saul. David’s reputation as a mighty warrior even greater than King Saul had grown to the point where foreigners began referring to him as Israel’s king.”

      • David thought about what they said and was very afraid of Achish, king of Gath. So, he pretended to be insane while he was in their presence. While he was in their power, he acted like a madman. He made scratches on the doors of the gate and let drool run down into his beard. Achish said to his servants, “Look! You can see the man is crazy. So, why have you brought him to me? Do I have a shortage of crazy people that you have brought this one to act crazy around me? Should this one come into my house?”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible gives the following insight, “Presumably, David went to Gath to offer his services as a mercenary. Theoretically the Philistines would have welcomed a military hero with motive to help depose their enemy, Saul. Instead, they remember David’s celebrated status as a killer of Philistines and distrust him. David’s feigned madness serves two purposes. First, the only reason they think he is the famous David is that he said he was; if he is insane, what he says has no significance. Second, madness is a divine affliction, similar to the ecstatic state experienced by the prophets. Because the prophet is possessed by a god, he must be allowed to live, but he is also not kept around. David is counting on both of these: being left alive and being turned out of (allowed to leave) the city.”

        • On the significance of David drooling into his beard, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains, “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.”

        • Furthermore, NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The length title of Ps 34 refers to this incident but names the Philistine king Abimelech rather than Achish. ‘Abimelech’ might have been the common title for Philistine kings (in Hebrew it means ‘my father the king’). The name Abimelech also appears in Gen 20:2; 26:1.”

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