Meditations in 1 Samuel 43. Putting Friends at Ris
1 Sam 21:1 David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”
David is now on the run. Perhaps when under pressure we don’t always think straight. Two things David knows or should know: 1. Saul is out to get him; he is a fugitive. 2. Anyone who sees him is likely to report him to Saul. With that in mind David ought to be careful about who he sees or who he meets with because whoever that might be may well get tarred with the same brush and be considered an enemy of Saul, because that is what Saul is like! But as we said, when you are under pressure you don’t always think straight. There are two phases to this little drama, first what happened when David went to the priest and then later how it was reported.
“David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest.” (v.1a) We are given no reason for this at the present but it appears David needed both provisions and the Lord’s guidance. “Ahimelech trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” (v.1b) Ahimelech senses something is wrong that one of Saul main generals should turn up on his own. David spins a tale that Saul has sent him on a special mission (v.2) and that he needs provisions (v.3) The only bread the priest had was that offered to the Lord in the Tabernacle ceremonies which, although it is usually only eaten by the priests, may be used by them as long as his men are ceremonially clean (v.4,5) (the men who aren’t obvious because David appears on his own.) So Ahimelech gives David the bread. (v.6) Unfortunately, “one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the LORD; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd,” (v.7) and that is going to have bad results. David also asks if the priest has a sword he could have and David ends up taking the sword taken from Goliath (v.8,9)
So ends the first phase. David leaves. Phase two occurs in chapter 22 when Saul rants at his people about David (22:6-8): “But Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s officials, said, “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelech son of Ahitub at Nob. Ahimelech inquired of the LORD for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” (v.9,10) Saul sends for the priest (v.11) and when the priest innocently recounts what had happened (v.11-18) Saul has them all killed. It is a bad time!
Now before we consider Saul’s activity it might be worth considering what the New Testament has to say about David taking the bread from the Tabernacle. David has clearly not spoken the truth to the priest, possibly to give him what we call ‘plausible deniability’. However it is holy bread. Jesus actually uses this event to fend off the Pharisees’ criticisms of him and his disciples: “At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.” (Mt 12:1-4). Jesus uses this incident to illustrate the principle that the ceremonial law was not to be viewed in a legalistic manner. In similar vein he taught that it is always lawful to preserve or save life: “Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (Lk 6:9) The strong implication is that David’s life was under threat from Saul’s unrighteous intentions and it was therefore legitimate for him to take the holy bread to preserve his life.
All round it is a messy situation and, as we have suggested at the beginning, David could perhaps have realised that he was putting the priest and his family at risk if anyone saw them consorting with David – and there was one of Saul’s men there. We have noted that David has been described by the Lord as a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14) and this marks David out uniquely; no one else ever had that said about them. However, even though that can be said, we should not take it mean that he was perfect. As the story of David is revealed in 2 Samuel we will find that David does a number of thoughtless things which have bad consequences. Having a heart turned towards God and being in tune with God is wonderful but as human beings it is unlikely to mean that that is how we will be every second of our lives, and having wisdom, or lacking it, is something else. As I have often said in these studies, even ‘great men of God’ have feet of clay. David is no exception.
When it comes to Saul we might suggest that we need to learn to be realistic about people. Saul is off the tracks, is clearly being disciplined by God, has expressed his paranoia in respect of David a least half a dozen times and therefore should be viewed not merely as a hostile witness but actually as a hostile combatant. Yes, we should be looking for the best from people but that is not to mean we become blind to their failings or shortcomings. That may mean we are careful what we say to some people, or careful what we trust them with. Misplaced trust is an absence of wisdom. Where the signs are there (as they clearly were in Saul) we need to be careful how we respond to such people or how we treat them. David didn’t do this and as a result a man and his whole family died. It was a sad and avoidable situation.