February 13, 2001

1 Samuel 21

Leaving the king's court and Jonathan behind, David takes on the life of a fugitive, outlaw and of a traitor, as Saul uses every means at his disposal to find and kill David. His troubles are related to us in this book, and how he handled them are recorded for our admonition in the book of Psalms. David is thus,

an example to the saints in all ages,

"of suffering affliction, and of patience,"

and especially that he might be a type of Christ, who, being anointed to the kingdom, humbled himself, and was therefore highly exalted. But the example of the suffering Jesus was a copy without a blot, that of David was not so; (MH)

God uses Saul's efforts to kill David to thrust David out on his own. His character will be developed, tested and strengthened, as he learns many lessons through the ‘school of hard knocks,' a most effective schooling. The last chapter brought up a point, and this one will develop it some more:

David's ‘excuse' was a lie. David, a man after God's own heart, "did not look upon prevarication as a sin." (Keil) And thus lies were used in the Old Testament to protect the innocent. The command is "Thou shalt not bear false witness," not "Thou shalt no lie." And the false witness' intent was to harm the innocent. (My notes in ch. 20.)

In this chapter, David lies to Ahimelech, the priest of the Living God. Christ Himself refers to this event of David asking for the bread. I believe it is quite significant that Christ DID NOT even mention that David lied to get this bread:

Matthew 12:1 ¶ At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. 3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; 4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? 6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. 7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

David lied about fleeing from the king in order to get the shewbread, but the Lord Jesus totally passed over that fact, and moved to the bread itself. The Pharisees were far more concerned about the "law" being fulfilled than they were about life being protected. Today, there are those who say that one should die before telling a lie that would protect the innocent. There is not one word of condemnation against David's self-protecting lie. Note that we say that Scripture permits killing someone in self-defense, yet we many times forbid lies for self-defense. I believe that every instance of justifiable lies in Scripture is to protect the lives of the innocent.

Matthew 23:25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

Christ was rebuking the Pharisees for not following the spirit of the law, which is to protect life. They would have allowed David to starve rather than providing the bread; and thus they had a higher standard than did the Word of God Himself. The Pharisees established a higher standard than that of the Word of God. In other areas, they completely ignored the Scripture.


A few years ago, Carol went with Jessica, or Christina, to a ball game at another Christian school. The school had a list of dos and don'ts quite long which had to be followed if one wanted to come into their gym, and very few things on that list were Scriptural. Obviously, the gym being theirs, they had the right to make the demands, but the demands were beyond what was required by Scripture.

Another example is "total abstinence." I have been taught that, and have taught it myself, but it is not Scriptural.

On the other hand, Trapp says that the consequents of David's lie prove God's hand against his lie—the priests and inhabitants of Nob were massacred, 23:18, 19. And that Ps 119:28, 29 refer to this lie of David. I don't know that I agree with that assessment; we do not read of God's disapproval of David's lie as we do of his actions against Uriah.

On the other hand, every commentator I have read on this agrees that David erred greatly in this, and following, lie. He should have told the truth of the matter, and then depended upon the Lord to deliver him. Actually, David lived by lies from now until he came to the throne. They are probably right, but there are many other instances in Scripture where lies are told to protect the innocent, e.g., Rahab and the spies.

(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. (MH)

Another point worthy of discussion at the start of this chapter—just a few days ago, David was in the best favour of the king, and the nation was singing his praises. Now, due to no fault of his own, he is fleeing for his life from the same king. HOW QUICK TABLES TURN. And thus the Word of God is proven true again:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Pro. 27:1)

Vv. 1-9

David moves quickly. No doubt, Saul was having his house watched, so he would have had no opportunity to return home for supplies during his two day wait. But where did he eat during that time? David fled to the tabernacle of God, which is now at Nob.

The best place for us to flee when in distress is to the presence of God, to enquire of the Lord. We have a great High Priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. (Hebrews 4:15)

David's sudden appearance arouses Ahimelech's suspicion, and is thus afraid at the meeting. Is David is on the run from the king? He questions David, and David's answer that he is on a hasty mission from the king assures him that all is fine.

David asks Ahimelech if he has anything within his power for him to eat and for defense. Ahimelech answers that all he has no weapons except Goliath's sword, and all that is available is the hallowed bread that has been before the Lord. This bread had been taken from before the Lord, and only the priests were to eat it. (Lev. 24:9.)

The priest's weapon was not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds—the sword of the spirit. And there is no excuse for God's people to be unarmed at anytime with this weapon. But there are times when physical arms are needed.

Note that there are times that even the best of men fall into situations where they must ‘beg bread' — that is, have desperate needs that they alone cannot meet, and must have the aid of others. One reason for God's supply of His people is so they will have the means to help others in their distress. (Eph. 4:28.)

According to 1 Samuel 22:10 (And he enquired of the LORD for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.), David fled to Ahimelech, the priest, to enquire of the Lord for David. And the Lord permitted David to use this bread, as well as the Philistine's sword. 22:10 implies God's approval of David's lie to get the bread and the sword from the priest, for if the priest enquired of the Lord, as it says here, then why did not the Lord reveal to the priest what was going on? Moreover, why did not the Lord tell David not to go to Gath? When you stop to think about it, there are several unanswered questions in this chapter, but we are told what the Lord wants us to know about the situation. Many times we are not given the details of particular situations, and all we can do is speculate. So we leave the details up to the Lord.

[V. 2] (b) These infirmities that we see in the saints of God, teach us that no one has his justice in himself, but receives it from God's mercy. (Geneva)

V. 9, David lies again, the king's business required haste. However, the king's business was to kill David, so he had to hastily depart. Both the desire for food and a sword are covered in 22:10, so the Lord placed his approval upon both.

Note: though David's had been the king's right hand man, and his words were believable, Ahimelech was a godly man who did not accept the obvious. He checked with the Lord before giving the food and sword to David. Might we learn the lesson from him.

One of Saul's servants was there, detained before the LORD. He was an Edomite, yet a ‘worshiper' of Israel's God. For some reason, he was here—a wicked man going through the religious ceremonies required of a child of God. (Though an Israelite, Saul was doing the same thing, so he attracted men around him of the same character.)

Ahimelech places a condition upon eating the hollowed bread: if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.

From women seems a strange requirement. It was first given at the foot of the mount, Exodus 19:15 (And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.) The purpose of the command is given in Leviticus 15:18:

The woman also with whom man shall lie with seed of copulation, they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even.

God did not imply that marital relations were or are ‘dirty,' Hebrews 13:4. But He did set himself apart from the pagan gods by making marital relations ceremonially unclean, which uncleanness was done away with in Christ.

The pagan gods surrounding God's people were extremely immoral, being worshiped through fertility rites, and have immoral been down through the ages (the New Testament was written against such a background). The immorality and diseases are a couple reasons the Canaanites, their images and drawings had to be destroyed. A woman captive could be taken into the Israelite nation through marriage, but she had to be a virgin, and set aside for some time. Thus God separated Himself from the surrounding pagan fertility gods.

A verse used in the New Testament has been used to justify eating anything and everything, e.g., pork: And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: (Luke 10:16.) However, David had legal conditions placed upon him before he could eat the shewbread. In other words, eating must still be according to the law of God, I believe according to Leviticus 20. David could not eat what was set before him unless he was ‘clean.' I know; some might say, "David did not set the bread before him, but Ahimelech the priest did. Therefore, Ahimelech was the one responsible, not David." Good agreement!

Notice problem verse: V. 1, Ahimelech asks, why art thou alone, and no man with thee? Then in v. 4, Ahimelech says, If the young men have kept themselves, and again in v. 5, David says, Of a truth women have been kept from us... And then again, v. 8, David speaks as though he is alone. Is he alone, or is he not alone? The Lord said he had others with him. (Lk. 6:3.) It may be that David, who had been an important man in the king's court, now had no one from that court with him, arousing suspicion that he was not there on the king's business.

Some closing points from this section:

I) The king's business required haste. And the King's business does require haste, but not so much haste what we fail to prepare ourselves for His work. That does not mean we MUST go to school, but we will learn as He sends us through His scooling.

II) There is none like that sword (Goliath's). And we are equipped with the best sword in the world, the sword of the Spirit.

III) The hallowed bread was the old shewbread removed the previous day from before the Lord. The priests alone were permitted to eat it, but after checking with the Lord, a ‘special dispensation' was given for David to use it. A) God, not man, allowed the dispensation, or departure from His word. B) keep in mind that this was a ceremonial law, not a moral law. Thus we are to abide by the spirit of the law, which is to protect the lives of the innocent and to make it difficult for the guilty.

Christ referred the Pharisees to David's action here in the context of the sabbath; (Matt. 12:3, 4, Mk. 2:25, 26, Lk. 6:3) they were complaining to the Lord that His disciples, as they walked through a field on the sabbath, harvested and ate grain on the sabbath. And they also complained that they did not wash their hands properly, according to ceremony, before they ate. All three passages follow the Lord from the corn field, where He used David as an example, to a the synagogue where He healed a man on the sabbath. The teaching was that the law was meant by the Giver to save life, not destroy it, v. 9. In Mark 2 (v. 27), the Lord pointed out that the sabbath was made for man, not man made for the sabbath—that is, God's laws were made to protect man, rather than man made to protect the laws. In fact, in Matthew 12:7, the Lord rebuked the Pharisees for being so rigid with such unimportant laws that do not effect the life and safety of an individual—I will have mercy, and not sacrifice...


Matthew 9:11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Verse 13. But go ye and learn, etc. To reprove them, and to vindicate his own conduct, he appealed to a passage of Scripture with which they ought to have been acquainted: "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice," #Ho 6:6. This is not a declaration on the part of God that he was opposed to sacrifices or offerings for sin; for he had appointed and commanded many, and had therefore expressed his approbation of them. It is a Hebrew mode of speaking, and means, I prefer mercy to sacrifice; or, I am more pleased with acts of benevolence and kindness than with a mere external compliance with the duties of religion. Mercy, here, means benevolence or kindness towards others. Sacrifices were offerings made to God on account of sin, or as an expression of thanksgiving. They were commonly bloody offerings, or animals slain, signifying that the sinner offering them deserved to die himself, and pointing to the great sacrifice or offering which Christ was to make for the sins of the world. Sacrifices were the principal part of the worship of the Jews, and hence came to signify external worship in general. This is the meaning of the word here. The sense in which our Saviour applies it is this. You Pharisees are exceedingly tenacious of the external duties of religion; but God has declared that he prefers benevolence or mercy to those external duties. It is proper, therefore, that I should associate with sinners for the purpose of doing them good. (Barnes' Notes.)

[Mt 12:7] But if ye had known what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. This passage is quoted from #Ho 6:6, and is reiterated at #Mt 9:13. It is an assertion of the superiority of inward life over outward form, for the form is nothing if the heart is wrong. The saying is first suggested by David himself (#Ps 51:16,17), after which it is stated by Hosea and amplified by Paul (#1Co 13:3). The quotation has a double reference both to David and the disciples as above indicated. Having given the incident in the life of David, Jesus passes on from it without comment, that he may lay down by another example the principle which justified it. This principle we have just treated, and we may state it thus: A higher law, where it conflicts with a lower one, suspends or limits the lower one at the point of conflict. Thus the higher laws of worship in the temple suspended the lower law of sabbath observance, and thus also the higher law of mercy suspended the lower law as to the showbread when David took it and mercifully gave it to his hungry followers, and when God in mercy permitted this to be done. And thus, had they done what was otherwise unlawful, the disciples would have been justified in eating by the higher law of Christ's service. And thus also would Christ have been justified in permitting them to eat by the law of mercy, which was superior to that which rendered the seventh day to God as a sacrifice. (The Four Fold Gospel, 212-213)

Several times, the Lord refers to the passage in Hosea 6:8 (For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.), showing us that His doctrine was and is aimed at uniting men into outward actions that show their love toward their neighbour as toward themselves. Of course, that love must have actions in conformity with His word.

I suppose that good examples of mercy over the letter of the law are godly inner city missions, such as Lighthouse Mission in Indianapolis, or Trinity Mission in Lafayette. Rather than question the people coming for help to see if they meed the Bible requirements for help (are you working; have you been drinking, &c.), the people are given clothing, food and shelter (within the confines of the rules of the mission—in other words, the person in need cannot take up permanent living at the mission). We will help people who come by here at the church without questioning them about whether or not they "deserve" it; rather, we simply ask them to work for the help.


Note this statement, which is spoken to God's redeemed people, 7:13:

Hosea 4:11 Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart. 12 ¶ My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God. 13 They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery.

The spirit of whoredom cause people to err. The spirit of whoredom is used in both a literal sense and in the spiritual sense—that is, serving gods after one's own heart and literal adulteries and fornication. Our nation is given over to the spirit of whoredom as people pursue gods after their own desires, and they pursue one sexual conquest after another. The spirit of whoredom is very evident in the vast majority of entertainment, both TV and movies. Control by sexual desire and the desire to drink both take away the heart.

And thus our churches and nation are given over to errors of all kinds.

Another point in passing: God slew them with the words of His mouth. See Rev. 1:16, 2:16, 19:15.


The problem Hosea is complaining against is that God's people were going through the proper religious motions, sacrifices and offerings, but they were going against every law in their relationships with those around then, e.g., 4:19, 5:6, 7, which was Christ's complaint against the religious leaders of His day.

Knowledge of God, as found in Christ Jesus.

Hence, mercy over sacrifices meant that the Lord is more pleased with acts of kindness toward those in need than He is with doing religious ceremonies.

1 Corinthians 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

And mercy is something that must be learned ; godly mercy goes against the fallen human nature. And establishing and following a higher standard than the Lord established is certainly not merciful.

Mercy is defined in Matthew 18—the certain king answered his servant's plea for mercy (that is, compassion, Ps. 86:15, Lk. 10:33 [Good Samaritan] 1 Pet. 3:8, 1 Jn. 3:17, Jude 1:22, &c.), forgave a servant his debt of ten thousand talents. No sooner did that servant depart from the king's presence, he met a fellow servant who owed him only a few cents. Though the second servant begged patience to pay the few cents he owed, the forgiven servant demanded full payment immediately, and threw the fellow servant in jail because he failed to pay all now.

Thus, the law permitted the servant to demand full payment and prison for lack of payment. However, mercy would have at the very least given more time to repay.

I will have mercy, and not sacrifice—that is, the one rather than the other. "Sacrifice," the chief part of the ceremonial law, is here put for a religion of literal adherence to mere rules; while "mercy" expresses such compassion for the fallen as seeks to lift them up. The duty of keeping aloof from the polluted, in the sense of "having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness," is obvious enough; but to understand this as prohibiting such intercourse with them as is necessary to their recovery, is to abuse it. This was what these pharisaical religionists did, and this is what our Lord here exposes. (JFB.)

A kind heart and helpful deed is more pleasing to God than outward religious ceremonies. (I am reminded of those who desire a good church with a lot of ceremonies, more like Rome than like the Protestants. Really, the only difference is that the church that pleases them differs from Rome in that it allows its priests to marry.) Note also that the works of mercy must also be according to the law—truth and mercy will not allow the rapist or murderer to go free, so he can prey on another victim.

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy is a Christian grace. (Eaton Dictionary.)

Matthew 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Matthew 12:7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

Notice here that the Lord tells these religious leaders who prided themselves in their knowledge of Scripture that they do not know the Old Testament Scriptures, or they would not be condemning the guiltless—the disciples who "harvested" on the sabbath.

Go ye and learn... Go to the Old Testament and learn, or even go out into life and learn. I think that by the Lord quoting Hosea, He meant to learn from Scripture, and then put it into practice.

And thus Christ confronted the Pharisees with the Old Testament, telling them to learn what the Old Testament meant when God gave that command there:

Hosea 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

In other words, Christ did not present a new message; He gave the old message a new light. He also used the same phrase in Matthew 12:7, telling them to learn from David's use of the shew bread, though such use was contrary to the law.

IV) Also, note how difficult it is to get the whole truth of a matter directly from a particular passage. V. 1 clearly says David is alone, no man being with him. Yet we are told by the Lord Himself that David had men with him. In other words, no passage of Scripture will stand alone. It must be studied as a whole—that is, both the Old and the New Testaments must be seen as equally important as the Word of God, Isaiah 28:9ff.

And those who do not study the entire word of God as a whole will get some very confused, even heretical, ideas which they can prove from their removed from context passage.

Vv. 10-15

The heir to the crown must flee for his life:

Thus do God's providence sometimes seem to run counter to his promises, for the trial of his people's faith, and the glorifying of his name, in the accomplishment of his counsels, notwithstanding the difficulties that lay in the way. (MH)

David continues his flight, going to Achish, king of Gath. Now Gath was not a good choice at this time, but the boldness with which David entered into this area with Goliath's sword "implies that he had been directed by the divine oracle." (JFB) Gath was one of the five royal cities of the Philistines, upon which the ark of God brought great calamities. Moreover, Goliath was of Gath, and David had killed him just a short time previously. (17:4, 23. David conquered the city latter, 2 Sam. 8:1.) However, it seems that there was some kind of friendship between David and Achish; maybe Goliath had been a threat to Achish.

It is interesting that when David returned to Gath in chapter 27, he was welcomed by Achish, who even gave him a city in which to dwell with his men, Ziklag. In fact, Achish even supported David in the face of opposition from the other Philistine lords, chapter 28, even though David was living a lie under Achish. Achish evidently felt David presence would weaken Saul, so he harbored an enemy of Saul; we are told that Achish felt that David was undermining himself in Israel, and that he would continue to serve him, Achish. David lived that lie for a full year and four months. (27:7.)

Note that under pressure, we all make some very dumb mistakes, and this was one for David. He felt he would be safe here, and out of Saul's reach. He soon realized he was mistaken.

Throughout Scripture, those outside of God's people have treated God's servants than have God's people. The kings of Israel and Judah threw the prophets in prison while the pagans set them free, e.g., Jeremiah. The Jews persecuted the disciples, while the Gentiles welcomed them. My experience has been that, generally, the unsaved have more respect for pastors and the church than do the saved.

David's problem was not with King Achish, but with the servants. They recognized David as Israel's hero for killing so many Philistines. They no doubt also recognized Goliath's sword with David, so they were starting a revolt against the king for welcoming David. David heard the advise given to the king, and became afraid again for his life. To get himself out of his tight spot, he changed his behaviour, and fainted himself mad. (His beard may have changed his appearance enough the he was not recognized as the beardless youth who killed Goliath.) And thus the king told them to get David out of his presence, for the king's house is no place for mad men. The king may have used David's fainted madness as an excuse to remove David without having to kill him to keep peace among his servants.

V. 15. Have I need of mad men?] The Rabbins say that Achish's wife and daughter were mad ; and therefore was he so loath to be further troubled with any such creatures. (Trapp)

The wording sounds as though Achish realized David was only trying to get out of this tight spot, so he plays along with him, assuring his servants that David holds no threat to them. And here David lies to get himself out of the mess his haste got him into.