I Samuel 21

The Word Made Fresh

1David went to Ahimelech the priest at Nob. Ahimelech was surprised to see David. He said, “Why have you come alone? Is no one with you?

2“The king has sent me on a mission,” David replied, “and it is strictly confidential. I have arranged to meet my men at a secret time and place. 3What provisions do you have? Can you give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is on hand?”

4“I don’t really have anything available,” the priest answered. “I do have consecrated bread, which you can take if your young men have not been with women.”

5David answered, “We always stay away from the ladies when we embark on a mission, and the men keep themselves ritually clean even on routine duty. They will certainly be clean on a mission like this one.”

6Then the priest gave him the consecrated bread, having nothing else except the special holy bread that is kept before the Lord and replenished daily.

7One of Saul’s servants was present that day, lingering there because of a vow. His name was Doeg, an Edomite, who was Saul’s head shepherd.

8David asked Ahimelech, “Do you have a spear or sword here? I left my weapons behind because the mission the king sent me on had to be attended to immediately.”

9“Yes,” Ahimelech answered. “The sword of Goliath, the Philistine warrior you killed at Elah, is here. It is wrapped in a cloth behind the sacred shield. Take if you wish. I have nothing else here.”

David said, “There is not another one like it. Get it for me.”

10Having fled from Saul, David went to king Achish at Gath. 11The servants told Achish, “Isn’t this David, the Israelite king? Didn’t they sing about him while they danced, saying, ‘”Saul has killed thousands, but David has killed tens of thousands?”

12David heard them talking and was afraid of king Achish of Gath. 13He began to act as though he were a madman whenever he was in their presence. He made scratches on the doors at the entryway and let spit run down into his beard. 14Achish told his servants, “It’s obvious the man has lost his mind. Why did you bring him to me? 15Did you bring him here because you thought I didn’t have enough crazy people? Why would I want this man to enter my house?”


1-6: In his flight, David passes through Nob where Ahimelech, a grandson of Eli, is the chief priest. Ahimelech is alarmed at seeing one of Saul’s commanders alone and unarmed, but David fabricates a story about being on a secret mission for Saul. He asks for bread for himself and his imaginary men. After ascertaining that David and his “men” are ritually pure, Ahimelech gives him holy bread (Jesus refers to this episode in his teachings about the meaning of holiness — see Mt. 12:3-4, Mk. 2:25-26, Lk. 6:3-4). The “bread of the presence” was placed before the ark, the throne of God, weekly, and was to have been eaten only by the priests.

7: The Edomite Doeg’s witness of the transaction bodes ill for the future, as we will see.

8-9: Now we learn that David is unarmed. Ahimelech offers him the sword of Goliath. We are thus reminded of David’s earlier successes even as he is running for his life.

10-15: He flees to Philistine territory, and we are surprised by such a bold strategy. Does he think he will be unidentified? The Philistine citizens recognize him immediately. They even know the songs sung about him! They report to the king, Achish, who will play a more prominent role later. Notice that they refer to David as “the king of the land.” Everybody but Saul, it seems, knows David has been anointed. He is arrested and brought to Achish. His defense is to pretend insanity, and it works. Achish releases him (One aspect of the story is the slur against the Philistines — Achish reveals that insanity is common among them!). 


David will write much later, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Perhaps you, too, have once been in a dangerous or risky situation that turned out to be a blessing. God works in mysterious ways.