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Go to Bible: 1 Samuel 21
“Nob.” The exact location is unknown, but it is likely on the northeast ridge of the Mount of Olives. So David had traveled south from Gibeah of Saul. Why the Tabernacle ended up at Nob is unknown. How the Tabernacle got there, and where it went from there, are not known.
[For the details of David’s journeys once he started running from Saul, see commentary on 1 Sam. 19:18.]
“to Ahimelech the priest.” Although the text does not say why David went to Ahimelech and the Tabernacle, it is likely that because people brought both grain and meat offerings to the Tabernacle that David thought he could get food there. David would normally have been correct about that, but for some unstated reason, Ahimelech did not have any food. It is possible that Saul had gone so far from God that he had somehow interfered with people’s giving sacrifices and offerings, and also made it so that the priests did not want to be anywhere near him, which would explain why they moved the Tabernacle to Nob.
Saul had had trouble with evil spirits in the past, and those spirits would have been constantly trying to work through Saul to make things difficult for the priests and the Tabernacle. That may also have had something to do with why Ahimelech trembled at meeting David. Something was wrong. Ahimelech may not have known what, but different possibilities suggested themselves. Did David come from Saul to cause trouble for Ahimelech? Besides that, why was David, a very valuable man in Saul's kingdom, traveling in a vulnerable state without a contingent of his army? Things did not add up, and David’s lies did not help any.(top)
|1Sa 21:2||- (top)|
|1Sa 21:3||- (top)|
“in my possession.” The Hebrew is idiomatic, “under my hand.”
“the young men.” Apparently, David had a few men with him, but so few that Abimelech referred to him as being alone (cp. Matt. 12:3-4). It is also possible but less likely that David acted as if he was going to take some food to his soldiers that were elsewhere.(top)
“When I set out, the vessels of the young men were holy,” David told the priest that when he “set out,” that is, came out of the town of Gibeah, Saul’s headquarters, the men were holy. In this context, the word “vessel” is used euphemistically and refers to the genitalia and thus the bodies of David’s men. Sexual intercourse made a person ritually unclean (Lev. 15), and Ahimelech was concerned that David’s men were clean before they ate the holy bread.
The evidence that “vessels” here refers to the bodies of the young men comes from the context and scope of Scripture. The priest wanted the men to be ritually clean, and there is no reason that David would then bring up weapons or equipment. Instead, David, lying, explains that the mission he was on was a “common journey,” meaning that there was no part of the mission that was supposed to require the men to be ritually clean, but now that he was at Nob being ritually clean was important. But, said David, it did not matter that he was on a common mission because as it turned out, the men were ritually clean even though that was not something they specifically intended, it just turned out that the men had not been with women for the last three days, so they were clean according to Leviticus.
There are problems with seeing “vessels” as weapons or provisions. For one thing, that makes no sense in the context. The priest was not concerned about any unclean provision or weapon, he was concerned about the men being ritually clean (1 Sam. 21:5). Furthermore, in order for “vessels” to refer to weapons or provisions, there would have had to have been some way that the weapons or provisions would have been ritually unclean that would have kept David and his men from being able to eat the holy bread, and it is unclear at best what that would have been. There is no reason to believe that David and his men, who were observant Jews, would have carried provisions that were ritually unclean, such as animal meat from an animal that died on its own (Lev. 7:24). Also, David’s argument that the “vessels” were holy when they left but would then be assuredly holy now was due to the fact that the men were supposedly on a mission and would not have been with women.
It is not unusual that a euphemism such as “vessel” would be used for the genitalia and by extension the body. The male and female sexual organs are often referred to euphemistically, for example, they are called “the thigh” (Gen. 24:2, 46:26), and “feet” (2 Kings 18:27; Isa. 7:20). Also, the human body is referred to as a “vessel” in the New Testament (cp. 1 Thess. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:21; 1 Pet. 3:7).(top)
“the Bread of the Presence.” The Bread of the Presence was large cakes of bread that were in the Tabernacle and Temple (see commentary on Exod. 25:30).(top)
|1Sa 21:7||- (top)|
“with me.” The Hebrew is “in my hand.”(top)
|1Sa 21:9||- (top)|
“fled that day from Saul.” The Hebrew is that David fled “from the face of Saul,” and the idiom means that David fled from the presence and sight of Saul.
“and went to Achish the king of Gath.” For the details of David’s journeys once he started running from Saul, see commentary on 1 Sam. 19:18.(top)
|1Sa 21:11||- (top)|
“took these words to heart.” The Hebrew is idiomatic and is more like, “put these words to his heart,” but it means he took them to heart and thus took them very seriously.
“and was very afraid in the presence of Achish.” It was in association with this that David penned Psalm 56.(top)
“changed his behavior before them.” This event is mentioned in Psalm 34.
“before them.” The Hebrew is more literally, “in their eyes,” that is, while they watched.(top)
|1Sa 21:14||- (top)|
|1Sa 21:15||- (top)|