Here, I. David, in distress, flies in the tabernacle of God, now pitched at Nob, supposed to be a city in the tribe of Benjamin. Since Shiloh was forsaken, the tabernacle was often removed, though the ark still remained at Kirjath-jearim. Hither David came in his flight from Saul’s fury (1 Sam. 21:1), and applied to Ahimelech the priest. Samuel the prophet could not protect him, Jonathan the prince could not. He therefore has recourse next to Ahimelech the priest. He foresees he must now be an exile, and therefore comes to the tabernacle, 1. To take an affecting leave of it, for he knows not when he shall see it again, and nothing will be more afflictive to him in his banishment than his distance from the house of God, and his restraint from public ordinances, as appears by many of his psalms. He had given an affectionate farewell to his friend Jonathan, and cannot go till he has given the like to the tabernacle. 2. To enquire of the Lord there, and to beg direction from him in the way both of duty and safety, his case being difficult and dangerous. That this was his business appears 1 Sam. 22:10; where it is said that Ahimelech enquired of the Lord for him, as he had done formerly, 1 Sam. 21:15. It is a great comfort to us in a day of trouble that we have a God to go to, to whom we may open our case, and from whom we may ask and expect direction.
II. Ahimelech the priest is surprised to see him in so poor an equipage; having heard that he had fallen into disgrace at court, he looked shy upon him, as most are apt to do upon their friends when the world frowns upon them. He was afraid of incurring Saul’s displeasure by entertaining him, and took notice how mean a figure he now made to what he used to make: Why art thou alone? He had some with him (as appears Mark 2:26), but they were only his own servants; he had none of the courtiers, no persons of quality with him, as he used to have at other times, when he came to enquire of the Lord. He says (Ps. 42:4) he was wont to go with a multitude to the house of God; and, having now but two or three with him, Ahimelech might well ask, Why art thou alone? He that was suddenly advanced from the solitude of a shepherd’s life to the crowd and hurries of the camp is now as soon reduced to the desolate condition of an exile and is alone like a sparrow on the housetop, such charges are there in this world and so uncertain are its smiles! Those that are courted to-day may be deserted to-morrow.
III. David, under pretence of being sent by Saul upon public services, solicits Ahimelech to supply his present wants, 1 Sam. 21:2, 3.
1. Here David did not behave like himself. He told Ahimelech a gross untruth, that Saul had ordered him business to despatch, that his attendants were dismissed to such a place, and that he was charged to observe secresy and therefore durst not communicate it, no, not to the priest himself. This was all false. 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, as David reflected upon it afterwards with regret, 1 Sam. 22:22. It was needless for him thus to dissemble with the priest, for we may suppose that, if he had told him the truth, he would have sheltered and relieved him as readily as Samuel did, and would have known the better how to advise him and enquire of God for him. People should be free with their faithful ministers. David was a man of great faith and courage, and yet now both failed him, and he fell thus foully through fear and cowardice, and both owing to the weakness of his faith. Had he trusted God aright, he would not have used such a sorry sinful shift as this for his own preservation. It is written, not for our imitation, no, not in the greatest straits, but for our admonition. Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall; and let us all pray daily, Lord, lead us not into temptation. Let us all take occasion from this to lament, (1.) The weakness and infirmity of good men; the best are not perfect on this side heaven. There may be true grace where yet there are many failings. (2.) The wickedness of bad times, which forces good men into such straits as prove temptations too strong for them. Oppression makes a wise man do foolishly.
2. Two things David begged of Ahimelech, bread and a sword.
(1.) He wanted bread: five loaves, 1 Sam. 21:3. Travelling was then troublesome, when men generally carried their provisions with them in kind, having little money and no public houses, else David would not now have had to seek for bread. It seems David had known the seed of the righteous begging bread occasionally, but not constantly, Ps. 37:25. Now, [1.] The priest objected that he had none but hallowed bread, show-bread, which had stood a week on the golden table in the sanctuary, and was taken thence for the use of the priests and their families, 1 Sam. 21:4. It seems the priest kept no good house, but wanted either a heart to be hospitable or provisions wherewithal to be so. Ahimelech thinks that the young men that attended David might not eat of this bread unless they had for some time abstained from women, even from their own wives; this was required at the giving of the law (Exod. 19:15), but otherwise we never find this made the matter of any ceremonial purity on the one side or pollution on the other, and therefore the priest here seems to be over-nice, not to say superstitious. [2.] David pleads that he and those that were with him, in this case of necessity, might lawfully eat of the hallowed bread, for they were not only able to answer his terms of keeping from women for three days past, but the vessels (that is, the bodies) of the young men were holy, being possessed in sanctification and honour at all times (1 Thess. 4:4, 5), and therefore God would take particular care of them, that they wanted not necessary supports, and would have his priest to do so. Being thus holy, holy things were not forbidden them. Poor and pious Israelites were in effect priests to God, and, rather than be starved, might feed on the bread which was appropriated to the priests. Believers are spiritual priests, and the offerings of the Lord shall be their inheritance; they eat the bread of their God. He pleads that the bread is in a manner common, now that what was primarily the religious use of it is over; especially (as our margin reads it) where there is other bread (hot, 1 Sam. 21:6) sanctified that day in the vessel, and put in the room of it upon the table. This was David’s plea, and the Son of David approves it, and shows from it that mercy is to be preferred to sacrifice, that ritual observance must give way to moral duties, and that may be done in a case of an urgent providential necessity which may not otherwise be done. He brings it to justify his disciples in plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath day, for which the Pharisees censured them, Matt. 12:3, 4. [3.] Ahimelech hereupon supplies him: He gave him hallowed bread (1 Sam. 21:6), and some think it was about this that he enquired of the Lord, 1 Sam. 22:10. As a faithful servant he would not dispose of his master’s provisions without his master’s leave. This bread, we may suppose, was the more agreeable to David for its being hallowed, so precious were all sacred things to him. The show-bread was but twelve loaves in all, yet out of these he gave David five (1 Sam. 21:3), though they had no more in the house; but he trusted Providence.
(2.) He wanted a sword. Persons of quality, though officers of the army, did not then wear their swords so constantly as now they do, else surely David would not have been without one. It was a wonder that Jonathan did not furnish him with his, as he had before done, 1 Sam. 18:4. However, it happened that he had now no weapons with him, the reason of which he pretends to be because he came away in haste, 1 Sam. 21:8. Those that are furnished with the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith cannot be disarmed of them, nor need they, at any time, to be at a loss. But the priests, it seems, had no swords: the weapons of their warfare were not carnal. There was not a sword to be found about the tabernacle but the sword of Goliath, which was laid up behind the ephod, as a monument of the glorious victory David obtained over him. Probably David had an eye to that when he asked the priest to help him with a sword; for, that being mentioned, O! says he, there is none like that, give it to me, 1 Sam. 21:9. He could not use Saul’s armour, for he had not proved it; but this sword of Goliath he had made trial of and done execution with. By this it appears that he was now well grown in strength and stature, that he could wear and wield such a sword as that. God had taught his hands to war, so that he could do wonders, Ps. 18:34. Two things we may observe concerning this sword:—[1.] That God had graciously given it to him, as a pledge of his singular favour; so that whenever he drew it, nay, whenever he looked upon it, it would be a great support to his faith, by bringing to mind that great instance of the particular care and countenance of the divine providence respecting him. [2.] That he had gratefully given it back to God, dedicating it to him and to his honour as a token of his thankfulness; and now in his distress it stood him greatly in stead. Note, What we devote to God’s praise, and serve him with, is most likely to redound, one way or other, to our own comfort and benefit. What we gave we have.
Thus was David well furnished with arms and victuals; but it fell out very unhappily that there was one of Saul’s servants then attending before the Lord, Doeg by name, that proved a base traitor both to David and Ahimelech. He was by birth an Edomite (1 Sam. 21:7), and though proselyted to the Jewish religion, to get the preferment he now had under Saul, yet he retained the ancient and hereditary enmity of Edom to Israel. He was master of the herds, which perhaps was then a place of as much honour as master of the horse is now. Some occasion or other he had at this time to wait on the priest, either to be purified from some pollution or to pay some vow; but, whatever his business was, it is said, he was detained before the Lord. He must attend and could not help it, but he was sick of the service, snuffed at it, and said, What a weariness is it! Mal. 1:13. He would rather have been any where else than before the Lord, and therefore, instead of minding the business he came about, was plotting to do David a mischief and to be revenged on Ahimelech for detaining him. God’s sanctuary could never secure such wolves in sheep’s clothing. See Gal. 2:4.
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