Bible Commentary

1 Samuel 21

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of 1 Samuel 21)

Verse 1

[1] Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee?

Nob — A city of priests, where the tabernacle now was. Hither David resorted, for a supply of his necessities, which he supposed he might receive here, without danger of being betrayed into Saul's hands: and principally, that in this great distress, he might receive comfort and counsel from the Lord.

Ahimelech — The chief priest, brother to that Ahiah, chap. 14:3, and he being now dead, his successor in the priesthood, for they were both sons of Ahitub.

Was afraid — Suspecting some extraordinary cause of his coming in such a manner.

Alone — For though David had some servants as is manifest from verse 4,5, whom Jonathan probably had sent to a place appointed, yet they were left at another place: as David himself affirmeth, verse 2. And David was now alone, as also he was when he fled to Achish. He who had been suddenly advanced to the highest honour, is as soon reduced to the desolate conditions of an exile. Such changes are there in this world, and so uncertain are its smiles.

Verse 2

[2] And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place.

The king, … — This seems to be a plain lie extorted from him, by fear. But it was pernicious to all the priests there. Whence David afterwards declares his repentance for this sin of lying, Psalms 119:29.

To such a place — To a certain place which it not convenient now to mention; because the whole business requires concealment.

Verse 4

[4] And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.

There is, … — Here in the tabernacle: though doubtless he had other provisions is his house; but David was in great haste, and in fear of Doeg whom he saw, and knew and therefore would not stay 'till any thing could be fetched thence. There was a double impediment to the giving this bread to them; 1. Its sacredness in itself; which the priest implies, and David answers verse 5, and the priest was satisfied therein by David's great necessities. 2. The abstinence from all women, which he supposed should be in those that use it; concerning which he now enquires. And though he mentions this only concerning David's young men, and out of reverence forbears to name him; yet he is also included in the number, as David's answer shews.

Verse 5

[5] And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.

Three days — As long as the law required, Exodus 19:15. And so long David, and his men hid, it seems, hid themselves for fear of Saul, whereby they were kept both from women: and from food convenient for them.

Vessels — That is, Either, 1. Their garments, or other utensils for their journey. Or 2. their bodies.

The bread — Heb. and this bread; is in a manner common: that is, considering the time, and our necessity, this maybe used in a manner, like common bread. For though for a season while it is to stand before the Lord, it be so holy, that the priest himself might not eat it; yet afterwards it is eaten by the priest, and his whole family, and so it may be by us, in our circumstances.

Tho' it were — But newly put into the vessel, it must give place to the great law of necessity, and charity; because God will have mercy preferred before sacrifice.

Verse 7

[7] Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.

Detained — Not by force but by his choice; he fixed his abode there for that day; either because it was the sabbath-day; on which he might not proceed in his journey, or for the discharge of some vow.

Before the Lord — That is, at the tabernacle.

An Edomite — By birth, but he was proselyted to the Jewish religion.

Verse 9

[9] And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod: if thou wilt take that, take it: for there is no other save that here. And David said, There is none like that; give it me.

Ephod — That is, behind that holy place allotted for the keeping of the sacred, or priestly garments; all which are here comprehended under the ephod; which, as the chief is put for all the rest. Here it was laid up as a sacred monument of God's power and goodness.

None like it — Because it not only served him for his use, for he was a strong and tall man, and one that could wield that sword, but was also a pledge of God's favour to him. Whenever be looked upon it, it would be a support to his faith, by reminding him of what God had already done.

Verse 10

[10] And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.

To Achish — A strange action; but it must be considered, that Saul's rage was so great, his power also, and diligence in hunting after him that he despaired of escaping any other way: and a desperate disease, produceth a desperate remedy. The king elect is here an exile: anointed to the crown, and yet forced to run his country. So do God's providences sometimes run counter to his promises, for the trial of our faith, and the glorifying his name in accomplishing his counsels, notwithstanding the difficulties that lie in the way.

Verse 11

[11] And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?

King of the land — Of Canaan. They call him king, either more generally for the governor, the most eminent captain and commander, or, as the king elect, the person designed to be king: for, by this time, the fame of Saul's rejection, and David's destination to the kingdom, was got abroad among the Israelites, and from them, probably to the Philistines.

Did they not sing, … — And therefore consider what to do; and now our great enemy is in thy hand, be sure thou never let him go alive.

Verse 12

[12] And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath.

Was afraid — Lest either their revenge or policy should prompt them to kill him. Perhaps he was the more apprehensive, because he wore Goliath's sword, which was probably well known at Gath. He now learned by experience what he afterward taught us, Psalms 118:9. It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put any confidence in princes.

Verse 15

[15] Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?

Mad men — It is highly probable, Achish was aware, that this madness was counterfeit. But being desirous to preserve David, he speaks as if he thought it real.

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