1 Samuel 21 Commentary: David’s Cunning Escape and Divine Aid

1 Samuel 21 Commentary

What was going on in 1 Samuel 21? In 1 Samuel 21, David, amidst his perilous escape from King Saul, encounters both divine providence and human compassion, leading him to make unconventional choices for survival.

This chapter unfolds as a dramatic narrative of David’s cunning and resourcefulness, highlighting his interactions with Ahimelech, the priest at Nob, and his subsequent flight to Gath.

Here, David’s actions – from receiving sacred bread to feigning madness – reflect his acute situational awareness and deepening reliance on God’s guidance.

The chapter serves as a crucial link in the story of David’s transition from fugitive to king, illustrating the complexities and moral challenges he faces during this turbulent period of his life.

1 Samuel 21:1-6, David’s Encounter with Ahimelech and the Holy Bread

David’s journey in 1 Samuel 21 begins with a significant encounter with Ahimelech, the priest at Nob. David, on the run from King Saul, arrives at Nob hungry and in need of provisions.

This meeting is not just a practical necessity for David but also holds deep symbolic significance in his journey.

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.”

1 Samuel 21:1-3, ESV

Ahimelech’s initial hesitation to help David underscores the danger and tension surrounding David’s situation.

Despite the risk, Ahimelech provides David with the holy bread, the bread of the Presence, which was typically reserved only for priests.

This act of Ahimelech not only demonstrates his respect and support for David but also signifies David’s special status in God’s plan.

And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.

1 Samuel 21:4-6, ESV

This passage also raises interesting questions about religious law and necessity.

The provision of the holy bread to David, though it broke religious customs, underscores the principle that human need can sometimes override ritual law. It shows the flexibility within the law when it comes to preserving life and serving God’s anointed.

Why did David go to the house of Ahimelech?

Why did David go to the house of Ahimelech? David was in a dire situation while fleeing from King Saul’s relentless pursuit, sought refuge and desperately needed supplies at the house of Ahimelech, where he hoped to find both sustenance and support in his time of distress and vulnerability.

How did Ahimelech help David?

How did Ahimelech help David? Ahimelech aided David by providing him with the holy bread, reserved for priests, showing flexibility in religious law due to the urgency of David’s need, and also furnished him with Goliath’s sword – a powerful symbol of past victories and divine providence.

1 Samuel 21:7-9, David Takes Goliath’s Sword from Nob

As David continues his interaction with Ahimelech, another critical moment occurs: David asks for a weapon, and Ahimelech offers him the sword of Goliath. This is not just any weapon; it’s a symbol of David’s earlier victory over the Philistine giant and a tangible reminder of God’s past faithfulness in David’s life.

Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.”

1 Samuel 21:8-9, ESV

The presence of Doeg the Edomite, an official of King Saul, adds an element to this scene. His presence foreshadows trouble and implies that David’s movements are being watched, further heightening the sense of danger and urgency in David’s flight.

The retrieval of Goliath’s sword signifies a full-circle moment for David. It’s a powerful symbol of God’s past deliverance and a reminder to David (and us) of God’s continued presence and power in times of trouble.

1 Samuel 21:10-15, David’s Escape to Gath and Feigned Madness

David’s next move is to flee to Gath, but this proves risky as he is recognized there. The irony of seeking refuge in the hometown of Goliath, whom he defeated, highlights the desperation of David’s situation.

And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances,

‘Saul has struck down his thousands,
    and David his ten thousands’?”

1 Samuel 21:10-11, ESV

To escape the dangerous predicament in Gath, David resorts to an unusual tactic: feigning madness. This act, while seemingly out of character for the future king of Israel, demonstrates his resourcefulness and willingness to humble himself for survival.

So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”

1 Samuel 21:13-15, ESV

David’s feigned insanity not only allows him to escape immediate danger but also illustrates the theme of God’s protection in unexpected ways.

Even in his most vulnerable state, God’s providence is evident in David’s life, guiding him through perilous situations and ensuring his safety.

Why did David feign madness?

Why did David feign madness? David feigned madness in Gath as a strategic ploy to avoid recognition and potential capture by his enemies, skillfully using this act of deception to mask his true identity and ensure his safe escape.