I Samuel 21









                             David’s Flight to Nob (vs. 1-9)


1 “Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech

was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art

thou alone, and no man with thee?”  Then came David to Nob. Nob means

a knoll or hill, and apparently was situated a little to the north of Jerusalem on the

road leading to Gath. The ark had evidently been removed thither by Saul early

in his reign, after it had remained for twenty years in the house of

Abinadab; and as eighty-five priests wearing an ephod were murdered there

by Doeg at Saul’s command (ch. 22:18-19), it is plain that the

worship of Jehovah had been restored by him with something of its old

splendor. And this agrees with Saul’s character. At the commencement of

his reign we find Ahiah with him as high priest, and even when he fell his

excuse was the necessity for performing the public rites of religion (ch.15:15).

But with him the king’s will was first, the will of Jehovah second; and

while he restores God’s public worship as part of the glory of

his reign, he ruthlessly puts the priests with their wives and families to

death when he supposes that they have given aid to his enemy. Ahimelech

was afraid at the meeting of David. More literally, “went trembling to

meet David.” Ahiah, described as high priest in ch.14:3, was

either dead or, more probably, was a younger brother, who, while

Ahimelech remained with the ark, acted as high priest at the camp for Saul,

especially in consulting God for him by means of the ephod with the

breastplate. Why art thou alone? Nevertheless, in Mark 2:26 our

Lord speaks of those “who were with David,” and the “young men” are

mentioned in vs. 4-5. While David went alone to consult Ahimelech, that

his visit might be kept quite secret, he had taken a few of his servants with

him, and had left them somewhere in the neighborhood, or even, more

probably, had instructed some one to meet him with such men as he could

collect. The arrival of the king’s son-in-law without an escort would

naturally strike the high priest as strange, and therefore as alarming.


2 “And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath

commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man

know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I

have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such

and such a place.”  The king hath commanded me a business. This pretence

of a private commission from the king was a mere invention, but his

appointing his servants to meet him at such and such a place” was

probably the exact truth. After parting with Jonathan, David probably did

not venture to show himself at home, but, while Saul still supposed him to

be at Bethlehem, gave orders to some trusty officer to gather together a

few of his most faithful men, and await him with them at some fit place.

Meanwhile alone he sets out on his flight, and, having as yet no settled

plan, goes to Nob, because it was out of the way of the road to Bethlehem,

whither Saul would send to arrest him. Naturally such a visit would seem

strange to Ahimelech; but David needed food and arms, and probably

counsel; and  but for the chance of the presence of Doeg, no harm might

have ensued. As it was, this visit of David completed the ruin of Eli’s




The Sins of Good Men (v. 2)


Some of the most eminent servants of God mentioned in the Bible fell into

grievous sins. This has often been to some a ground of objection to the

Bible, and to others a subject of perplexity. But there is little reason for

either. Consider it in relation to:


  • THE TRUTH OF SCRIPTURE. If men had been described therein as

wholly free from sin there would have been much more reason for doubt or

perplexity concerning its truth than now exists; for its representation of them:


Ø      Proves the impartiality of the writers, who record the failings of good

men as well as their excellencies, concealing nothing. It shows that the

sacred writers were influenced by the highest principles, and even guided

by a higher wisdom than their own.  (II Peter 1:19-21)


Ø      Accords with the results of observation and experience, which teach:


o        that men are sinful,

o        that those who are unquestionably good men are liable to fall, and

o        that the most eminently pious are not perfect.


Much of the Bible is chiefly a faithful picture of human nature, which

(both without and under the power of Divine grace) is essentially the same

in all ages.


Ø      Confirms the doctrines it contains, such as:


o        that man is fallen, sinful, and helpless;

o        that his elevation, righteousness, and strength ARE OF GOD,

o        that he can attain these blessings only through faith and prayer

 and conflict;

o        that he can continue to possess them only by the same means; and

o        that when he ceases to rely on Divine strength HE UTTERLY



  • THE CHARACTER OF GOD. They were accepted and blessed by Him

notwithstanding their sins. Is He, therefore, unholy, unjust, or partial? Let it

be remembered:


Ø      That their sins were not sanctioned by Him.

Ø      That they were forbidden by Him.

Ø      That they were punished by Him.

Ø      That they were forgiven only when repented of.

Ø      That they were in some cases mercifully borne with for a time because

of the good which He saw in His servants, and in order to the ultimate

removal of the evil.

Ø      That if such endurance of some things in them appears strange to us,

under the higher light and grace vouchsafed, there are probably some

things in ourselves, the evil of which we scarcely perceive, but which

will appear hereafter in a different light to others.

Ø      That the principle on which God deals with the individual and the race

is that of a gradual education, the aim of which is that we should be

holy as He is holy.”  (Leviticus 11:45)


  • THE WORTH OF SUCH MEN. If they had continued in conscious

and persistent transgression they could not have been held in honor or

regarded as really good (I John 3:6); but though their sins may not be

excused, their names are worthy of being had in everlasting

remembrance, because of:


Ø      The surpassing virtues which distinguished their character.

Ø      The main current of their life — so contrary to isolated instances of


Ø      Their deep sorrow for sin, their lofty aspirations after holiness, and

their sure progress toward perfection THROUGH JESUS CHRIST!


  • THE EFFECT ON OTHERS. This has doubtless been injurious in

some directions. But, on the other hand, it has been, as it must be when the

subject is rightly viewed, beneficial in:


Ø      Making others more watchful against falling. If such eminent

servants of God fell, much more may we.  (I Corinthians 10:12)


Ø      Preventing despair when they have fallen. If those who fell could be

restored, SO CAN WE!


Ø      Teaching them to look to Jesus Christ as the one perfect example,

(I recommend three Spurgeon sermons from Isaiah 45:


o       Life for a Look,

o       Sovereignty and Salvation,

o       The Life Look


this website – CY – 2016), the only propitiation for our sins, the

all-sufficient source of  “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification,

and redemption.” (I Corinthians 1:30)  “Nothing can be an excuse

or apology for sin; yet by God’s mercy it may be turned to account, and

made to produce the opposite to itself. To some men’s errors the world

has been indebted for their richest lessons and ripest fruit… . To the

lamentable lapse, the penitence and the punishment of David, we

owe some of the most subduing, the most spiritually instructive and

consolatory of his psalms psalms that have taught despair

TO TRUST,  and have turned the heart of flint into a fountain of tears”



3 “Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of

bread in mine hand, or what there is present.  4 And the priest answered

David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there

is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from

women.”  What is under thine hand? This does not mean that

Ahimelech was himself carrying the shewbread out of the tabernacle, but

simply, “What hast thou? The sense of the whole verse is, “Now, therefore,

what hast thou at hand? Give me five loaves, or whatever there may be.”

Ahimelech answers, “There is no common bread at hand.” I have no

ordinary food; there is only hallowed bread, that is, the shewbread, which,

after remaining in Jehovah’s presence from sabbath to sabbath, was then to

be eaten by the priests in the holy place (Leviticus 24:8-9). As

Ahimelech could not venture to refuse David’s request, he asks if his

attendants are at least ceremonially clean, as in that case the urgency of the

king’s business might excuse the breach of the letter of the commandment.

Our Lord in Matthew 12:3 cites this as a case in which the inward spirit

of the law was kept, and the violation of its literal precept thereby justified.


5 “And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth

women have been kept from us about these three days, since I

came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread

is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in

the vessel.  6  So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread

there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot

bread in the day when it was taken away.”  About these three days since

I came out. This exactly agrees with the time during which David had lain

concealed (ch. 20:24, 27, 35), and explains the hunger under which he was

suffering, as he had no doubt taken with him only food sufficient for his immediate

wants, he wishes, however, the high priest to believe that he had been engaged

with his men during this time on public business, whereas they had been at

home and some of them possibly were unclean. The whole chapter sets

David before us in a very humiliating light. Just as some books of Homer

are styled “the prowess” of some hero, so this chapter might be called

David’s degradation. The determined hatred of Saul seems to have thrown

him off his balance, and it was not till he got among the hills of Judah,

wherein was the cave of Adullam, that he recovered his serenity. The

vessels of the young men. Their scrips, in which they would carry the

bread, and their baggage generally. The bread is in a manner common,

etc. The word bread is supplied by the translators, to give some sense to

this most difficult passage. Literally translated, the two last clauses are,

“And the way is profane, although it be sanctified today in the vessel.”

Among the numerous interpretations of these words the following seems

the best: “And though our journey be not connected with a religious

object, yet it (the bread) will be kept holy in the vessel (in which it will be

carried).” There is no difficulty in supplying bread in the last clause, as the

shewbread was the subject of the conversation, and a nominative is

constantly supplied by the mind from the principal matter that is occupying

the thoughts of the speakers. David’s argument, therefore, is that both his

attendants and their wallets were free from legal defilement, and that

though their expedition was on some secular business, yet that at all events

the bread would be secure from pollution. The shewbread that was taken

from before Jehovah. The Talmud (Menach.,’ 92, 2) points out that this

bread was not newly taken out of the sanctuary, but, as the last clause

shows, had been removed on some previous day. As after a week’s

exposure it was stale and dry, the priests, we are told, ate but little of it,

and the rest was left (see Talmud, ‘Tract. Yom.,’ 39, 1). It also points out

that, had such violations of the Levitical law been common, so much

importance would not have been attached to this incident.



The Letter and The Spirit (vs. 3-6)


“So the priest gave him hallowed bread” (v. 6). More than half a century

had elapsed since the destruction of Shiloh. The remaining members of the

family of Eli had greatly increased, so that eighty-five priests now dwelt at

Nob, where the tabernacle (and possibly the ark – ch. 7:1) had

been placed. But the condition of the priesthood was very different from

what it once was. The spiritual power of the nation lay in the “company of

the prophets;” and Saul, rejected of God and ruling according to his own

will, “assumed the power of giving the high priest orders at all times

through his messengers (v. 2); so far had the theocracy sunk

from that state in which the people used to stand before the tabernacle to


prophet and priest” (Smith, ‘O.T. History’). Nevertheless Ahimelech (Ahiah,

ch. 14:36) appears to have been a man of high character (ch. 22:14-15); and when

David, in his necessity, requested “five loaves,” he gave them to him from the

shewbread which had just been removed from the holy place. He may have

been influenced by sympathy with David’s character and position (of which

he could not fail to know something), as well as by compassion for his need

and by loyalty to the king, or by the advice of Abiathar (his son and successor,

afterwards friend and companion of David — ch. 22:20-23; I Kings 2:26; and

removed from the priesthood by Solomon, giving place to Zadok, of the

elder branch of the Aaronic family). The shewbread (literally, “bread of the

presence”) “set forth Israel’s permanent consecration in obedience and in

producing the fruit of good works” (see Fairbairn, ‘Typology,’ 2:324), and

was permitted to be eaten only by the priests (Leviticus 24:9); but he

departed, with some reserve (v. 4), from the strict letter in observance of

the spirit of the law. And our Lord “selected this act of Ahimelech as the

one incident in David’s life on which to bestow his especial commendation,

because it contained — however tremulously and guardedly expressed —

the great evangelical truth that the ceremonial law, however rigid, must

give way before the claims of suffering humanity” (Stanley). Observe that:



belong particular customs, maxims, rules, rites, and ceremonies; to the

latter, general principles, and essential moral and spiritual obligations. As a

simple illustration — Christ said to his disciples, “Ye also ought to wash

one another’s feet” (John 13:14-15 - here is the rule); “Love one another

(ibid. v. 34 - here is the principle).


Ø      The letter rests upon the spirit as its foundation. The whole Mosaic law,

as law (moral, ceremonial, political), was a “letter” based upon great

principles, springing directly out of the relation of God to men — granite

foundations on which more recent strata rest, and which often crop

through them into distinct view (Leviticus 18:18; Deuteronomy 6:5).

“There is a ‘letter’ and ‘spirit’ in everything. Every statement, every

law, every institution is the form of an essence, the body of a soul, the

instrument of a power. These two things are quite distinct — they may be

quite different” (A.J. Morris, ‘Christ the Spirit of Christianity’).


Ø      The letter is a means to an end, the spirit is the end itself. The shew

bread was set apart for a particular purpose, and permitted to be eaten only

by the priests, in order to represent and promote the consecration, good

works, and true welfare of the whole people. So “the sabbath was made for

man (Mark 2:27).


Ø      The letter is restricted in its application to certain persons, places, and

times; the spirit is universal and abiding.


Ø      The letter (as such) is in its requirement outward, formal, mechanical,

and in its effect conservative, constraining, and preparatory; the spirit

necessarily demands thoughtfulness, affection, moral choice, and is

productive of liberty, energy, perfection. “The words that I speak unto

you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).



essentially so; it is not always so when men imagine it to be, as, e.g., when

it is a restraint only upon their selfish convenience and sinful propensities.

The fact that it is such a restraint shows that they still need the discipline of

the law and the letter. If they were truly spiritual and free it would not be

felt. But generally:


Ø      When it is applied to cases not contemplated by it, — to inappropriate

times and circumstances, — and when it hinders rather than promotes its

chief end.


Ø      More particularly when it prevents the meeting of the real and urgent

necessities of men, and the accomplishment of their true welfare:


o        the satisfaction of hunger, the removal of sickness,

o        the preservation of life,

o        the salvation of the soul (Matthew 12:1, 12).


On this principle David “entered into the house of God, and did eat the

shewbread,” etc.


Ø      When it is opposed to the proper exercise of benevolence. On this

principle Ahimelech gave him the bread, and our Lord acted (Luke

6:10). “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).


Ø      When it hinders the highest service of God. In all such instances the

strict observance of the letter “works mischief and misery, and not only

kills, but kills the spirit itself from which it came” (II Corinthians 3:6).



should not be despised or arbitrarily set aside; but the lower obligation (in

so far as the “letter” is obligatory) ought to be secondary and subservient,

and give place to the higher. And we learn that:


Ø      In the order of God’s dealings with men it was necessary that the

dispensation of the letter should be superseded by that of THE SPIRIT!.

This incident affords a glimpse of their predominant elements. “The law

was like a book of first lessons — lessons for children. Christianity is like

a book for men.”


Ø      In the Christian dispensation what is ceremonial, regulative, temporary

(however important) must be deemed of less consequence than what is

moral, essential, enduring; and devotion to the former should be surpassed

by devotion to the latter. Unduly to exalt external rites or special forms of

worship is to return to the bondage of the letter; whilst zealously to

contend about them without brotherly love and charity is to lose the

substance for the sake of shadows. “Redeemed and sanctified man stands

no longer under the disciplinary form of the law, but stands above and

controls the form of the requirement” (Erdmann). He is a king and priest.

“Pure religion” (literally, outward ceremonial service), etc. (James 1:27).

It is charity and purity.


Ø      In the individual life — renewed and sanctified — the chief endeavor

should ever be to “live in the spirit,” and exhibit “charity out of a pure

heart(I Timothy 1:5).


      “I’m apt to think the man

That could surround the sum of things, and spy

The heart of God and secrets of His empire,

Would speak but love; with him the bright result

Would change the hue of intermediate scenes

And make one thing of all theology.”



the perfect embodiment and only source of the spirit, REDEEMER,

LORD, “is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11; II Corinthians 3:17-18).



The Letter of the Law Violated (v. 6)


How did David, being neither priest nor Levite, venture to eat the presence

bread from the sanctuary? How did Ahimelech venture to give it to him?


  • THERE WAS THE PLEA OF NECESSITY. An ox or an ass which had

fallen into a pit might be lifted out on the sabbath, notwithstanding the

commandment to do no manner of work on the seventh day. The need of

the poor animal, and the mercy due to it in its mishap, were justification

enough for a breach of the letter of the law. When the disciples of Christ,

walking with him along the edge of a cornfield, pulled some ears to relieve

their hunger, they were blameless, for what they did was expressly

permitted by the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 23:25). But they did it on

the sabbath, and this the Pharisees challenged as unlawful. The Lord Jesus,

however, held it quite lawful. It was necessary that His followers should

relieve their hunger and recoup their strength, and the greater object must

be put above the less. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the

sabbath.” Our Lord brought out this truth into stronger relief than any

other Jewish teacher had done; but it was not new doctrine. We see that

while the Mosaic ritual was in the full force of its obligation the priest at

Nob felt warranted to suspend one of its most minute regulations in order

to relieve pressing human want. Perhaps the tendency in modem Churches

is to take too much liberty with rules and ordinances of religion under pleas

of necessity which are little more than pleas of convenience or self-will.

But there is a golden mean between rigidity and laxity; and it must be left

to the judgment and conscience of those who fear the Lord to determine

for their own guidance what does or does not constitute a sufficient ground

for setting aside regulations or restrictions which are ordinarily entitled to

respect. Yet it is only the letter of the law, or the minutiae of religious

observance, that may be thus dealt with. There are supreme obligations

which not even a question of life and death may overrule.


Ø      Nehemiah would not flee into the temple to save his life when his duty

was to build up Jerusalem.

Ø      Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not worship the

golden image at Babylon to save their bodies from the furnace;

Ø      nor would Daniel desist from prayer to Jehovah to escape the lions’ den.

Ø      Paul insisted on his right of protection as a Roman citizen, but he would

not for a moment compromise or conceal the gospel to evade persecution.


No bonds or afflictions moved him; neither did he count his life dear to himself,

so that he might finish his course with joy. It is true that not all the followers

of Christ have had such fortitude. In days of persecution some faltered and

apostatized, excusing themselves under a plea of necessity. They could not

suffer; they dared not to die. But the noble army of martyrs consists of

those who felt it the supreme necessity to be true to conscience, to the

truth of the gospel, and the Christ of God. Not everything, then, must yield

to necessity. David thought his hunger a sufficient warrant for taking from

the priest’s hand the sacred bread; but when Goliath blasphemed the God

of Israel and defied his army, David had shown that his own life was not so

dear to him as the glory of God and the honor and safety of His people.



MEANING OF PRIESTHOOD IN ISRAEL. No doubt the priests formed

a hereditary order, wearing a distinctive dress, and having special provision

made by statute for their position and maintenance. But they were never

intended to be a caste of holy intercessors standing between God and an

unholy nation. Neither they nor the Levites, their assistants, were isolated

from the common life of their countrymen, as by separate charter of

privilege or vows of celibacy. They were just the concentrated expression

of the truth that all Israel was called to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy

nation.” The rule was that the priests only should eat the bread which was

withdrawn weekly from the table in the sanctuary; but it was no breach of

the essence and spirit of the law if other Israelites, faithful to God, should

on an emergency eat of this bread. David was as truly a servant of Jehovah

as Ahimelech. Though all the Lord’s people never were prophets, they

always were, and now are, priests. Knowing this, David took and ate; not

at all in a willful mood, like Esau in his ravenous hunger eating Jacob’s

pottage, but with reverential feeling and a good conscience, under sanction

of the fact that he was one of a priestly nation, and with confidence that

God would not condemn him for exceeding in such a strait the letter of the

law, so long as he honored and obeyed its spirit. The leaders and rulers of

the Church, according to the New Testament, are not sacerdots (clergy)

invested with a mystic sanctity and entrusted with a religious monopoly. They

are simply the intensified expression of the holy calling of all the members of

Christ, all the children of God. All these have a right to worship in the

holiest; and as all of them may offer spiritual sacrifices, so all may “eat of

the holy things.” Order, indeed, is needful in the Church, and no man may

assume a leading place or charge therein until duly called and appointed to

the same. If David had for a light cause, or frequently, taken the presence

bread, it would have been a sign of irreverence or arrogance. And in like

manner if a Christian not entrusted with office in any constituted Church

pushes forward when there is no emergency, and assumes to lead the

Divine service, or to appoint or conduct the observance of the Lord’s

Supper, he steps out of his place, and may be designated “unruly.” But

there are places and occasions which do not admit of the usual regulations

being observed; and in such cases a private or unofficial Christian may take

upon himself any religious function rather than that any soul should suffer

damage, and this under the general principle that all Christians form a

royal priesthood.” The teaching of this passage is against religious

pedantry and ecclesiastical hauteur (arrogance). Count form subordinate to life.

Value order, and reverence ordinances that are really of God. Play no “fantastic

tricks” with sacred things “before high heaven;” but do not reduce religion

to a question of meats and drinks, and do not count any one a serious

offender who in a strait has violated prescription or usage. One who breaks

the letter of the law may keep the law itself better than another who knows

nothing but the letter. We are called to liberty; not licence, indeed, but

order and liberty. If we are true to God and to our consciences we need

not dread that, for a formality or an informality, Christ will cast us off. The

Son of man is Lord of the sabbath and of the table, “Minister of the

sanctuary and the true tabernacle” (Hebrews 8:2), Lord of all the ordinances

that are binding on his followers. And there is a freedomnot from order,

but in God’s order — with which the Son of man, being Son of God,



7 “Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day,

detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg, an Edomite,

the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.”

David’s visit to Nob had probably been dictated simply by a

desire to get food while a few attendants were being collected for him, and

under ordinary circumstances would have remained unknown to Saul.

Unfortunately there chanced to be a person present there who informed the

king of it, and brought a second terrible catastrophe upon the house of Eli

(see on ch. 2:33); by working too upon his jealousy he caused

Saul to commit a crime which sets him before us as a hateful and

remorseless tyrant. This man was Doeg, an Edomite, who had, it seems,

long been in Saul’s service, as he was his chief herdsman. According to the

Septuagint he had charge of the king’s mules, but the other versions agree

with the Hebrew. As herds would form the main part of Saul’s wealth, his

chief herdsman would be a person of importance. He was detained before

Jehovah. I.e. shut up in close seclusion within the precincts of the

tabernacle, either for some vow, or for purification, or perhaps as

suspected of leprosy (Leviticus 13:4), or, as some think, as a proselyte.

Ephrem Syrus thinks he had committed some trespass, and was detained

till he had offered the appointed sacrifice. David at once felt that Doeg’s

presence boded much ill (ch. 22:22), and it probably was the

cause of his taking the rash resolution to flee for refuge to Gath.



Weakness in Embarrassment (vs. 1-7)


The facts are:


1. Arriving at Nob, David quiets the suspicions of Ahimelech by stating

that he was on the king’s secret business.


2. On this ground he asks for and obtains hallowed bread to appease his

hunger, and the sword of Goliath.


3. Doeg the Edomite, being detained there that day, is observant of David’s



Hitherto David had held position as an officer in Saul’s household or in the army,

and therefore, despite Saul’s private jealousy, had a right to the respect and

protection of every man. Henceforth loyalty to Saul meant death to David.

Therefore the paternal home at Bethlehem was out of the question, and there

were reasons for not compromising Samuel with any appearance of open revolt.

To a devout mind it was natural under these circumstances to flee to the sanctuary,

and there seek solace and aid. The narrative relates how good and evil were

blended in the conduct of the man of God at this critical juncture, and it suggests

for consideration several important truths.


  • THE HIGHER LAWS OF LIFE. David desired the shewbread to

appease his hunger, and the priest in charge at first objected to the request

on the plea that it was contrary to the ceremonial law to give it to him. The

fact that David, a devout and reasonable man, ventured to ask for it,

combined with his argument on the priest’s own ceremonial principles (v. 5),

shows that he perceived the existence of a law which rose above the

ceremonial. Some would perhaps regard David’s action as typical of the

prerogatives of the real King and Priest of Zion, and even interpret his

statement about the “king’s business” as a spiritual enigma, pointing to the

“Father’s business” which Christ was commissioned to accomplish

(Luke 2:49; John 17:4-9). But, at all events, it is certain that our

Saviour regarded David’s request and the response of the priest as

indicative of the subordination of a lower to a higher law (Mark 2:24-28).

To save and sustain the life of a man, though a fugitive, was more

important than the observance of a ritual. This subordination of law runs

through all things, till we come up to the highest — that of supreme love

of God. Health, and even life, may have to be set aside for the assertion of

a moral principle. Hence the paradox (Matthew 10:39). Class

distinctions, official relations, domestic claims, and private rights may be,

in seasons of extreme national peril, entirely ignored for the maintenance of

public safety. On this principle it is that attention to the affairs of this life,

though right and good, is to yield to the higher obligation of regard to

eternal things; and deference to self — one of the most important of laws

— must give way when Christ claims submission to His yoke, the

submission of love. Thus it could be shown how entirely in harmony with

the scientific principle of interaction and subordination of laws is the

cardinal teaching of the gospel.


  • WEAKNESS IN EMBARRASSMENT. The embarrassment of David

was great, and not unlike what many fall into when called to high service

for God. He was evidently under the impression that he was being led by

God to some service for Israel not yet explicitly revealed (compare ch. 16:13;

17:26, 45; 19:18-24; 20:13-15). At the same time he had neither the

will nor the thought to rise in revolt, nor would Samuel or Jesse encourage

it; yet, without home, friend, or covering, whither could he flee, and what

do? To aid him would be deemed by the enraged king as treason. Under

these circumstances, as a devout man, he naturally fled from his hiding

place to the sanctuary at Nob. But the considerations which hindered him

from compromising Samuel, Jesse, and Jonathan also operated with him to

save Ahimelech from the cruel suspicion of Saul. Hence, for covering the

priest as well as for saving life, he fabricated the falsehood.


Ø      God’s service and approval afford us no exemption from

embarrassment. No man was ever more truly called to service and more

distinctly approved than was David, and it is difficult to find in history a

case of more undeserved and painful embarrassment. The Psalms,

especially 7., 10., 13., 35., 52., 54., reveal how keenly he felt his position.

Those who think that the service of God is free from cares and trials know

little of history and life. The Apostle Paul had his full share, though chief of

apostles (II Corinthians 11:23-28). The purifying fires are easily kindled in

this world. There are materials for them in:


o        domestic affairs,

o        business, and

o        the developments of private experience.


Ø      The causes of weakness in embarrassment are often traceable. If we

fall, as did David, it is because of either:


o        Partial consideration of the facts of our position. We may dwell too

much on the difficulties, too little on the Unseen Hand. Peter looked

at the waves, and not at Christ, and then began to sink (Matthew 14:30).

“Man does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3).


o        Physical exhaustion conduces to this partial consideration, and also

renders the action of the mind less steady. David was suffering

mentally by the recent suspense, parting from his friend, and long

abstinence from food.  The inception of many a sin takes place when

the flesh is literally weak. Our Saviour recognises this (Matthew



o        Education may have impaired our moral perception in reference to

some actions. Custom does in one age tolerate what in another is

abominated. Good men have bought and sold slaves. In David’s time

the tongue that lied for bread may have committed only a venial



o        There may be too much inventiveness in seeking an outlet from

embarrassment. It is possible to think and scheme too much, not

leaving to God that which in our desperate need always belongs

to Him. In this state of mind evil suggestions are sure to arise,

and they lay hold of the spirit just in proportion as, in extreme

self-reliance, we lose trust in God. Our Saviour seems to have this

in view in Matthew 6:25-34.


o        It is possible that amidst the pressure of life we do not keep near

enough to God. Possibly David had been too hurried and worried by

the purely human aspect of affairs to have strengthened his faith by

fellowship with God. The soul, as in the case of Peter, is weak if it

fasts too long, as is the body when bread fails.



was present, and David’s conduct was noted. Little sympathy had this

proselyte with the lofty aspirations of the “anointed;” great his pleasure in

revealing to Saul anything gratifying to his wicked malice. The lesson is

obvious. The servants of God live in the midst of a “perverse generation”

(Philippians 2:15), and any inconsistencies, in their conduct are sure to

be used against them. Some men take unusual delight in detecting the

frailties of professing Christians, as though these were an excuse for

their own habits. Deeds which attract no attention in other men become

 conspicuous in Christians, because of the utter contrast with their holy

profession (I Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:4-8).


  • A PARALLEL AND A CONTRAST. There is a singular parallel in

many of the circumstances of David’s life at this period and those of our

Saviour’s. David, the anointed, was destined to work out a great issue for

Israel, but for years carried the secret in his own breast, and was now

despised, persecuted, unsustained openly by any in authority, without food,

shelter, and visible means of defense, and, moreover, exposed to strong

temptations arising out of his sorrows. And so the “Anointed of the Lord,”

later on, kept for a long while the purpose of his life in his own heart, and

only by degrees unfolded it to men. He also was despised and rejected of

men; unrecognized by the authorities; cruelly persecuted, being charged

with motives and intentions most base; not knowing “where to lay his

head;” without means of defense against physical injury; and not

unacquainted with hunger and weariness. No wonder if the Psalms which

assert the “righteousness” of David (Acts 2:29-31; II Peter 1:21)

shadow forth the “righteousness” of the “Holy One” (Acts 2:27) and

His more glorious triumph. But the contrast is manifest. David in poverty

and distress trusts in God, but not perfectly. He proves his frailty in

common with all others. He knows the shame and bitterness of sin. Not so

the Christ. He would have no recourse to expedients for obtaining bread or

relief from apprehension (Matthew 4:2-4; 26:38-39, 50). “Of the

people there was none with him.” “He trod the winepress alone.” But in all

things He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” In the

deepest sense, therefore, do we see the appropriateness of the reference of

the Psalms to Him in all ascriptions of right and dominion by virtue of

purity and righteousness (Psalm 24:3-10). Not in David, but in Christ is

the solution of the grandest language of the Psalms. How impossible of

solution are the problems when men eliminate the inspiration of the

Holy Ghost from the Old Testament!


It should be laid down as a rigid rule that no embarrassment, no perils from men,

should ever justify even the thought of deception or wrong.  The prime consideration

in times of peril is to commit our way to God, and be willing if need be to suffer and

die.  We are justly indebted even to the failures of good men; for, out of the bitter

review of their sins, they have borne testimony to the value of righteousness and the

blessedness of trusting in God. Hence many of the Psalms.


8 “And David said unto Ahimelech, And is there not here under thine

hand spear or sword? for I have neither brought my sword nor my

weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.

9  And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom

thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a

cloth behind the ephod: if thou wilt take that, take it: for there is no

other save that here. And David said, There is none like that; give

it me.”  Is there not here under thine hand spear or sword? The

sight of Doeg made David feel how helpless he was in case of attack, and

he excuses his request for weapons by saying that he had left home

unarmed because of the urgeney of the king’s business. The whole matter

must have seemed very suspicious to Ahimelech, but he was powerless,

and answers that the only weapon in the sanctuary was David’s own votive

offering, the sword of Goliath, carefully deposited in a place of honor

behind the ephod with the Urim and Thummim, and wrapped in a cloth

for its protection. As the word is used in Isaiah 9:5 of military attire, it

may mean Goliath’s war mantle, but more probably it was a covering to

preserve it from rust and damp. In ch. 17:54 it is said that

Goliath’s armour became David’s private property, and nothing could be

more natural than that he should thus lay up the sword in the tabernacle, as

a thank offering to God. He now takes it with pleasure, saying, There is

none like that; for it was a memorial of his greatest achievement, and

might be the presage of good fortune again.



Deceit (vs. 1-8)



1. As in the outward life, so in the inward experience of men great

exaltation is often followed by great depression. Whilst David was with

Samuel and the prophets his faith in God appears to have been strong, and

it was justified by the extraordinary manner in which he was preserved. But

soon afterwards (some events which are not recorded having taken place in

the interval) he was in mortal fear for his life, and resorted to an unworthy

pretext in order to obtain an assurance of safety, and now took another

false step. “There seems ground for suspecting that from the time of his

parting with Jonathan — if not, indeed, from the time of his leaving Naioth

— David had lost some of his trust in God” (Kitto).


2. The intention to deceive constitutes the essence of lying. Truth is the

representation of things as they are, and it may be departed from in many

ways without such an intention. But veracity is always obligatory. Even if

intentional deception be ever justifiable, as some have supposed, it clearly

was not in the case of David. The sacred historian records the fact without

approval, and without comment, except as the mention of its disastrous

consequences may be so regarded (ch. 22:2). “Whoso thinketh

that there is any kind of lie which is not sin deceiveth himself” (Augustine).


3. The amount of guilt involved in lying depends upon its circumstances,

nature, and motives. The forms which it assumes are endlessly varied

(direct, equivocation, suppression of truth, for advantage, pious frauds,

malicious, etc.); but that which is marked by hatred and malice is the most

reprehensible. This element was absent from the deception practiced by

David. The age in which he lived, too, was one in which a “lie of necessity”

was deemed comparatively venial; and it was borne with, though not

approved, by the “God of truth” (who is abundant therein!  Exodus 34:6 – CY –

2016), until men should be trained to a higher moral state. Concerning deceit

observe that:




Ø      The pressure of circumstances. When David presented himself alone

before the high priest at the commencement of the sabbath (the evening of

Friday) he was pressed by hunger and fear, and thereby tempted to invent a

falsehood. If he had steadfastly set his face against the temptation his need

would probably have been met in some other way. There is, strictly

speaking, no such thing as a lie of necessity. A man may die of necessity,

but not lie.


Ø      The promise of advantage. He thought that no harm could possibly

come of his deceit. But how little do men know, when they enter upon a

false way, to what end it may lead!


Ø      The possession of a natural tendency or susceptibility to such a

temptation. There was in him (notwithstanding he abhorred lying from his

heart) “a natural disposition which rendered him peculiarly open to this

temptation: a quick, impulsive genius fertile in conceiving, and a versatile

cleverness skilful in coloring things different from the actual fact. And

does it not read a most striking lesson to those who are in any way

similarly constituted?” (J. Wright, ‘David, King of Israel’).


              “Ever to the truth

Which but the semblance of a falsehood wears

A man, if possible, should bar his lip,

Since, although blameless, he incurs reproach”




inasmuch as:


Ø      It is a violation of the bond by which society is held together. Without

confidence in each other’s truthfulness men could not live together in social

union. It is a sin against the justice and the love which we owe to our

neighbor. What the apostle says with reference to the Christian community

applies to all: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth to

his neighbor:  for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).


Ø      It is contrary to the dictates of an enlightened conscience.


Ø      It is prohibited and condemned by the word of truth. “Ye shall not lie

one to another” (Leviticus 19:11). “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy

lips from speaking guile” (Psalm 34:13; 119:29; Proverbs 12:22;

Colossians 3:9; Revelation 21:8). “Lying is a base, unworthy vice; a

vice that one of the ancients portrays in the most odious colors, when he

says that ‘it is to manifest a contempt of God, and withal a fear of man.’ It

is not possible more excellently to represent the horror, baseness, and

irregularity of it; for what can a man imagine more hateful and

contemptible than to be a coward toward men and valiant against his

Maker?” (Montaigne).



Little did David think of seeing Doeg the Edomite detained (literally, shut

up) in the tabernacle, to witness his deception with quick eyes and ears,

and ready to reveal it with a tongue “like a sharp razor, working

deceitfully (Psalm 52:2). But:


Ø      However cautious men may be in practicing deceit, they can never

calculate upon all the means by which it may be discovered. “A bird of the

air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter”

(Ecclesiastes 10:20).


Ø      Even its temporary success often leads to inquiry and discovery (ch. 22:6).


Ø      God, before whom “all things are naked and open” (Hebrews 4:13) causes

the whole course of things to work together for its exposure (II Samuel 12:12),

in order to teach men to avoid “the way of lying,” and “speak the truth in

their heart.” It was through the operation of his providence that Doeg was

there that day. Human history and individual life afford innumerable

instances of the exposure of deceit in unexpected ways (Ecclesiastes 12:14).


“Lie not; but let thy heart be true to God,

Thy tongue to it, thy actions to them both.

Dare to be true! Nothing can need a lie;

The fault that needs it most grows two thereby”





Ø      In those who deceive — by their moral deterioration, encouragement in

deception when they are successful, and filling them sooner or later with

bitter regret (ch. 22:22).


Ø      In those who are deceived, to an extent which cannot be anticipated.


Ø      In other men, by lessening their confidence in one another, and giving

occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (II Samuel 12:14).


  • Learn:


Ø      That we may not “do evil that good may come.” (Romans 3:8)

Ø      To judge charitably of others, inasmuch as we know not the strength of

their temptations.  (“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth

take heed lest he fall.”  - I Corinthians 10:12))

Ø      To watch against the least approach to deception in ourselves.

Ø      To seek preservation from it by firmly trusting IN GOD!




(vs. 10-15).


10 “And David arose and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the

king of Gath.”  David arose and fled that day. The presence of Doeg at Nob

was a most untoward circumstance; and though David could never have

anticipated that Saul would visit upon the priests the unwitting assistance

they had given him with such barbarous ferocity, yet he must have felt sure

that an active pursuit would be at once instituted against himself. He

therefore took a most unwise and precipitate step, but one which clearly

shows the greatness of the danger to which he was exposed. For he flees to

Achish, king of Gath, the first town upon the Philistine border, at the

mouth of the valley of Elah (see on ch. 17:3). Achish is called

Abimelech in the title of Psalm 34., written by David in grateful

commemoration of his escape, that being the official title of the kings of

Gath handed down through many successive centuries (see Genesis 26:1).


Title. Psalm of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech;

who drove him away, and he departed. Of this transaction, which reflects

no credit upon David's memory, we have a brief account in I Samuel 21:1-

15. Although the gratitude of the psalmist prompted him thankfully to

record the goodness of the Lord in vouchsafing an undeserved deliverance,

yet he weaves none of the incidents of the escape into the narrative, but

dwells only on the grand fact of his being heard in the hour of peril. We

may learn from his example not to parade our sins before others, as certain

vainglorious professors are wont to do who seem as proud of their sins as

old Greenwich pensioners of their battles and their wounds. David played

the fool with singular dexterity, but he was not so real a fool as to sing of

his own exploits of folly. In the original, the title does not teach us that the

psalmist composed this poem at the time of his escape from Achish, the

king or Abimelech of Gath, but that it is intended to commemorate that

event, and was suggested by it. It is well to mark our mercies with well

carved memorials. God deserves our best handiwork. David in view of the

special peril from which he was rescued, was at great pains with this Psalm,

and wrote it with considerable regularity, in almost exact accordance with

the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This is the second alphabetical Psalm,

the twenty-fifth being the first.  (Excerpt from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David

on Psalm 34)


It has been objected that nothing could be more improbable than

that David, the conqueror of Goliath, should seek refuge with a Philistine

lord, and that this is nothing more than a popular tale, which has grown out

of the real fact recorded in ch. 27. But when men are in desperate straits

they take wild resolutions, and this meeting with Doeg, just after he had

broken down with grief (ch. 20:41), evidently put David to his

wits’ end. As, moreover, Saul was degenerating into a cruel tyrant,

desertions may have become not uncommon, and though only three or four

years can have elapsed since the battle of Elah, as David was only about

twenty-four years of age at Saul’s death, yet the change from a boyish

stripling to a bearded man was enough to make it possible that David might

not be recognized. As for Goliath’s sword, we have seen that it was not

remarkable for its size, and was probably of the ordinary pattern imported

from Greece. Even if recognized, Achish might welcome him as a deserter

from Saul, the great enemy of the Philistines; for as a deserter never

received pardon or mercy, he must now use his prowess to the very utmost

against Saul. Finally, the historical truth of the narrative is vouched for by

Psalm 34., and the details are all different from those in ch. 27. David there

is a powerful chieftain with a large following of trained soldiers, and feels

so secure that he takes his wives with him; he asks for some place in which

to reside, and occupies himself in continual forays. Here he is in the utmost

distress, has no trained band of soldiers, and goes well nigh mad with

mental anguish. And this is in exact keeping with that extreme excitement

to which David was a prey in his last interview with Jonathan (ch. 20:41);

and only in his first grief at Saul’s cruel bitterness would his mind have been

so affected, and his conduct so rash.



The Sword of Goliath (vs. 8-10)


“There is none like that; give it me” (v. 9). When David slew Goliath “he

put his armor in his tent” (“the ancient word for dwelling”). But he

appears to have afterwards deposited his sword in the tabernacle at Nob as

a sacred relic, dedicatory offering, memorial, and sign; and on seeking for

means of defense during his flight “from the face of Saul” (v. 10) it was

still there, carefully “wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod,” and was

handed over to him by the priest. It was of special significance for him, and

(as other memorials often do to others) it must have spoken to him with an

almost oracular voice in the way of:




Ø      In the gaining of a notable victory over the enemies of the Lord and His


Ø      At a time of imminent peril and utmost extremity.

Ø      Through faith “in the name of the Lord of hosts.” David’s deliverance,

as he then acknowledged, was accomplished not by the sling and stone,

nor yet by the sword, but by the Lord on whom he relied; and he much

needed to be reminded of it now.




Ø      In His service, in conflict with His enemies and obedience to His

directions, the Lord is with His servants. They are not “alone” (r. 1), but

He is on their side (Psalm 118:6).  In the greatest extremity, when ordinary

means seem unavailing, He is able to deliver them by those which are


Ø       The confidence which they place in Him He never disappoints. “Fear

not.” “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.”

(ibid. v. 9)



  • WARNING AGAINST CONFIDENCE IN MAN. Overwhelmed with fear,

he was about to take the daring step of leaving his people and seeking shelter

with the Philistines, and eagerly grasped the weapon as an omen of the

success of his scheme. But if he had reflected it would surely have taught

him that:


Ø      There is no safety for a servant of God in dependence upon or in alliance

with his enemies. None might be like “the Sword of Goliath” when used in

the Lord’s battles,” but in no other.


Ø      His own wisdom and strength avail nothing “without the Lord.” And he

was now evidently venturing on an erroneous and presumptuous course, in

which he had no assurance of Divine guidance and help.


Ø      The weapon which has been powerful by faith is powerless without it,

and may even be turned against him who employs it. Ancient memorials,

institutions, methods are valueless apart from the spirit which they

represent. It is probable that David was discovered in the native place of

Goliath by the sword he bore; and the next thing we hear is that he and the

renowned weapon he so highly prized were in the hands of the Philistines.


11 “And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the

king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances,

saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?

12  And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of

Achish the king of Gath.”  David the king of the land. The servants of Achish

use the title of king in a very general way. Thus Achish, though really a seren

(see on ch. 5:11), is called king of Gath; and they meant nothing more

as regards David than that he was Israel’s great man, though in accepting

Goliath’s challenge he had undertaken what in old time was regarded as the

king’s especial duty. Did they not sing one to another of him in dances?

The Hebrew method of singing was by choruses, who sang and danced in

turns to the music of their tambours (see on ch. 18:7). David

evidently had hoped not to be recognized, but to be admitted to serve as a

soldier, or in some other capacity, without many questions being asked. As

we find an Edomite in Saul’s service, Cushites, Maachathites, and other

foreigners in the employment of David, there was probably much of this

desertion of one service for another, especially as kings in those days had

absolute authority and their displeasure was death.


13 “And he changed his behavior before them, and feigned himself mad in their

hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon

his beard.”  He changed his behavior. The same word is used in the title

of Psalm 34. Literally it means “his taste,” and, like the Latin word

sapientia, is derived from the action of the palate, and so from the faculty

of discriminating flavors it came to signify the power of discrimination

generally. Thus “to change his taste” means to act as if he had lost the

power of distinguishing between objects. Feigned himself mad. Literally,

he roamed hither and thither” restlessly and in terror. In their hands. I.e.

before them, in their presence. Scrabbled on the doors of the gate. The

Vulgate and Septuagint read drummed upon them. Literally the verb means

to make the mark of a Tau,” the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and

which anciently was in the form of a cross. The gate, on the leaves of

which David scrawled, was probably that of the court or waiting room, in

which the servants of Achish passed their time when in attendance upon

him. Possibly David had witnessed these symptoms of madness in Saul’s

case during his fits of insanity. The idea of some of the older

commentators, that David really for a time went out of his mind, is

opposed to the general sense of the narrative.


14 “Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad:

wherefore then have ye brought him to me?  15 Have I need of mad men,

that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence?

shall this fellow come into my house?” The man is mad. Achish supposes that

David’s madness was real, and “drove him away” (Psalm 34., title). Here we have

only his contemptuous words, declaring that he had madmen enough of his own,

and needed no more. As madmen were looked upon in old time as

possessed by the Deity, and therefore as persons who must not be

interfered with, they probably presumed upon the liberty granted them, and

gave much annoyance. In my presence. Rather, “against me.” Achish

feared personal injury. Shall this fellow come into my house? A strong

negative taking the form of a question. It means, David shall not enter into

my service (compare Psalm 34., title). The whole psalm bears witness to the

deep perturbation of David’s spirit, and helps to explain his strange conduct.



Uncertain Light (vs. 10-15)


The facts are:


1. In continued fear of Saul, David flees to the king of Gath.

2. Being recognised as the conqueror of Goliath, he fears the


3. To escape vengeance he feigns madness.

4. Achish the king thereupon refuses to have him in his service.


There is no evidence that David received any Divine direction through the high

priest, but the reverse (ch. 22:15). He appears to have been left to the

exercise of his own judgment as to a future place of refuge. To be alone,

unable to remain in one’s own land, a hunted fugitive, on religious principle

averse to resistance by sword or concerted revolt (ch. 24:6), with no guide

but such as the judgment unhinged by conflicting thoughts could afford —

this was certainly being “desolate” and “afflicted.” The result was

a determination to seek shelter among the enemies of his God and country,

a step most perilous, and of very doubtful character, and which involved

farther recourse to a most humiliating expedient.




TEACHING, which they find difficult to apply to new and dangerous

circumstances. David was placed in great peril, with no other guidance

than what his own spirit might gather from a consideration of his calling by

Samuel, and the general signs of God’s past favor. There is, as a rule, a

difficulty to the inexperienced in applying general principles to novel

conditions; and under the physical and mental exhaustion of this crisis

David found it hard to extract from the past sufficient light to guide his

present steps. He walked in comparative darkness. “Thou hast laid me in

the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps” (Psalm 88:6). The supposition

that it is reserved only to the deliberately wicked to walk in darkness is not

correct. The present life of the righteous in a sinful world is one of

discipline, in which they both reap some of the fruits of former

imperfections and become trained to higher service. Our Christian course is

a campaign in which dark nights of watching and groping and trembling are

to be expected as well as bright days of onslaught and victory. The degree

of clearness in which the pillar of fire and cloud may stand before us may

be affected by our disordered vision — the result of imperfect health; or

distraction, or sheer exhaustion. The disciples of Christ, during those dark

and dreadful hours of His passion and death, were left to the guidance and

cheer of such of the truths as He had taught them in the days of prosperity

as their judgment might deem appropriate to their present need. To the

young man from home, tossed and torn by the adversities of life, unable to

find means of sustenance, and destitute of friends, there is left the lessons

of his childhood and such truth as may have been gathered from a brief

experience of life. In his agitation he sees no clear light. A “horror of great

darkness comes over the soul (Genesis 15:12), and the servant of God asks

why his God is so “far from helping” him (Psalm 22:1).





his judgment both on his present circumstances and his past experience of

God’s dealings with him, David thought he saw amidst the gloom a hand

pointing to Gath as a place of refuge. No voice from heaven said, “Go not

thither,” and no light led elsewhere. Men would say he did the best under

the circumstances, and in all sincerity of purpose. Nevertheless, the step

was a false one, apart from his motive, both in itself and in its results. For it

was shocking for a pious Hebrew — the assertor of the “name of the

Lord” (ch. 17:45), and the victor of Elah — to enter the abode and seek

the service of the “uncircumcised Philistine,” and the event proved that

safety was not secured, but was so imperiled as to suggest the adoption of

a most humiliating expedient. Oh, the bitter anguish of those who, having

lived in the light of God’s countenance, find themselves sinking deeper and

deeper into helplessness and sorrow! Thus may it be with us all in our

dark and cloudy day.”  (Ezekiel 34:12)  Every new step we take only makes

our path more painful, and taxes more severely our ingenuity. Peter’s

following afar off” led him amidst scoffing men and women, and their words

(ch. 21:11; compare Matthew 26:58, 69-75) made a demand on his ingenuity

more serious in its success than David’s feigned madness. And this has

been the experience of multitudes. There are two great dangers of the

hour of darkness” which David’s experience indicates.


Ø      The danger of causing scandal among the enemies of religion. If the

servants of Achish suspected David of the low cunning (v. 11) which

seeks to slay by stealth, then his brave, chivalrous character as a defender

of the honor of Jehovah’s name (ch. 17:45) is gone; and if they

regard him as a fugitive fleeing from his king and country, then he reveals

to the “uncircumcised” the woes and troubles of the people of God. It is a

sacred duty in all our times of adversity to avoid whatever would cause

irreligious men to think that we can do their base deeds, and not to expose

to the eye of the unsympathetic the internal sorrows of the Church of God.


Ø      The danger of appearing to be what we are not. It may have been a

harmless and successful device to simulate madness; but self-respect was

gone, and a “more excellent way” of escape might have been sought of

God. This is the great peril of us all both in prosperity and adversity. The

guise under which the simulation appears is varied:


o        an appearance of wealth covers real poverty;

o        a geniality of manner is adopted when real aversion lies in the heart;

o        a pretence of ill health secures escape from obligations;

o        ambiguous words and evasions are employed to suggest our

 ignorance of matters when we know them well.


To be real, to be known to be just what we are, is the only safe and wise

course for a true Christian.




confounded at the providence that should have him “anointed” to a special

service and yet allow him to be hunted as an outcast. He saw not the good

of being bereft of friend and counselor. But God deals with His servants in

view of their actual need and the future service they are to render.

Unchecked prosperity might have been the greatest curse to such a young

man. We do not know what subtle dangers were lurking in his heart, and

how necessary it was to cause him to feel his utter helplessness when left to

himself. Facts prove that out of this bitter experience he rose a more

devout, and humble, and trustful man, and was thereby enabled to be a

better king, and to enrich the world forever with psalms expressive of the

deepest experience of the human soul. Time is essential to the

interpretation of the ways of God. The cruel wrongs of Joseph and the

anguish of Jacob proved among the good things of life. The forty years

trial in the desert was a blessing to Israel. “No chastening for the present

seemeth to be joyous, but grievous:  nevertheless afterward it yieldeth

the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised
(Hebrews 12:11), but history proves how blessed it is!

The absolute trust expressed in the Psalms could only have been stated by

one who had been very poor, desolate, and afflicted. Even the life of the

Apostle Peter was the better for the bitterness and shame of his deed.

Many on earth can say that they are grateful for their adversities, for

through them:


Ø      they have got nearer to God,

Ø      have found Christ’s love more precious, and

Ø      have set their affections more intently on things unseen and eternal.


Who can adequately praise the unsearchable wisdom and love that

can thus turn our darkness into light, and convert our sorrows into joys,

and even build up holy characters out of the ruins of our own actions and

follies? (Romans 11:33-36).



The Fear of Man (vs. 10-15)


“And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid” (v. 12).

The fear of man is not always sinful. As in certain cases, and within certain

limits, the approbation of others is a natural and proper object of desire, so

the disapprobation of others is a like object of dread; and it often restrains

from temptation and impels to virtuous conduct. But it is sinful when it

exists where it ought not, or in an undue measure; when it hinders us from

doing right lest we should incur their displeasure, or incites us to do wrong

in order to avoid it. Such fear has often possessed the servants of God

(Genesis 12:12; here ch. 16:2; Matthew 26:72). It was felt by David when he

fled from Saul; and still more when recognized by the servants of Achish,

king of Gath, and brought before him. To avoid what appeared to him

inevitable death he feigned madness, and his dissimulation (though no more

reprehensible than the stratagems which many others have  devised in great

straits) was unworthy of his high character. Notice:




Ø      Distrust of Divine protection, which he had already exhibited. If he had

not, to some extent, “cast away his confidence,” (Hebrews 10:35: "

which hath great recompense of reward.") he would hardly have come

to Gath at all; for God could assuredly protect him in his own]and.  And

now, deprived of “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16) he became

victim to a fear as great as the courage he had formerly displayed.


Ø      The failure of worldly policy, which, through lack of faith, he had

adopted. Like Peter, he went whither he was not called to go; and when

his folly and presumption were suddenly revealed he was overwhelmed

with dismay. His failure was, in its ultimate result, good; for, although

he had no intention of turning his sword against his people, it prevented

further entanglements arising out of his relation with his enemies,

humbled him, and constrained him to cry to God for deliverance. It is

better for a good man to be driven forth from the wicked in contempt

than to be retained amongst them in honour.


Ø      The presence of personal danger; doubtless great, but exaggerated, as

it always is, by fear. He that seeketh his life shall lose it. How common

is the fear of man, arising from similar causes, in social, political, and

religious life!


  • ITS INJURIOUS INFLUENCE (v. 13). The relationship of David

with Saul may possibly have suggested the device; which, moreover, was

not an inappropriate expression of his inward agitation and misery. Fear:


Ø      Fills the mind with distracting anxiety and distress. He whose faith fails

is no longer himself. He is driven hither and thither, like a ship upon the

open sea (Luke 12:29; James 1:6).


Ø      Incites to the adoption of deceitful expedients. “The fear of man

bringeth a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).


Ø      Exposes to ignominious contempt (v. 15). “Signally did David show

on this occasion that he possessed two of the powers most essential to

genius — powers without which he could never have become the great

poet he was — the power of observation and the power of imitation. He

must previously have noticed with artistic accuracy all the disgusting

details of madness; and now he is able to reproduce them with a startling

fidelity. And in the possession of these powers we may, I think, find not an

excuse for, but certainly an explanation of, that tendency to deceit, which

otherwise it would be hard to account for in so holy a person. When a man

finds it an easy and pleasurable exercise of ability to throw himself into

existences alien to his own, he is tempted to a course of unreality and

consequent untruthfulness which can hardly be conceived by a more

self-bound nature. But if genius has its greater temptations, it also has

greater strength to resist them. And the more godlike a genius is, the more

unworthy and humiliating are its lapses. What more debasing sight can be

imagined than that which David presented in the king’s palace at Gath!

Fingers which have struck the celestial lyre now scribble on the doors of

the gate. From lips which have poured forth divinest song now drops the

slaver of madness. The soul which has delighted in communion with God

now emulates the riot of a fiend. And all this not brought on by the stroke

of Heaven, which awes us while it saddens, but devised by a faithless craft”

(J. Wright).




Ø      The overruling goodness of God, which often delivers His servants from

the snares they have made for themselves, and sometimes mercifully

controls their devices to that end; and (as we learn from the psalms which

refer to the event) in connection with:


o        Earnest prayer for HIS HELP, and,

o        Restored confidence in HIS PRESENCE and FAVOR.


Faith is the antidote of fear.


“The following is an approximation to the chronological order of the eight

psalms which are assigned by their inscriptions to the time of David’s

persecution by Saul: 7. (Cush) 59., 56., 34., 52., 57., 142., 54.”

(Delitzsch). See also the inscriptions of Psalm 63, and 18.


Psalm 56, ‘The prayer of a fugitive’ (see inscription - I recommend the study

of these on this website - they are taken from Charles Haddon Spurgeon's

Treasury of David - CY - 2016)


“Be gracious unto me, O God...

In the day that I fear, in thee do I put my trust,

In God do I praise His word.

In God have I put my trust; I do not fear.

What can flesh do unto me.

(vs. 1, 4, 9, 12).


Psalm 34., ‘Thanksgiving for deliverance’ (see inscription):


“I will bless Jehovah at all times ....

I sought Jehovah, and He answered me,

And out of all my fears did He deliver me.

This afflicted one cried, and Jehovah heard,

And saved him out of all his troubles”

(vs. l, 3, 7, 12-16).


“When David sang these two songs God’s grace had already dried his

tears. Their fundamental tone is thanksgiving for favor and deliverance.

But he who has an eye, therefore, will observe that they are still wet with

tears, and cannot fail to see in the singer’s outpourings of heart the

sorrowfulest recollections of former sins and errors” (Krummacher).



The Hero Unheroic (vs. 8-15)




RESTORED HIS FALTERING FAITH. Had he forgotten that the sword

of Goliath was in custody of the priests? Or did he remember it, and was it

for a sight and a grasp of this mighty weapon that he longed? Who can tell?

The priest reminded him of the day when, with that very sword, he

beheaded the prostrate giant in the valley of Elah. The words must have

sent a thrill through David’s heart, and touched some chord of shame. Why

was he now so much afraid? Why could he not trust the Lord who had

saved him in that dreadful combat to protect him now? He was all

eagerness to have the sword in his hand again — “There is none like it;

give it me.” It may have been too ponderous for a man of ordinary size and

strength to wield with any freedom, but its associations and memories

made it more to David than many weapons of war. He ought to have been

of good cheer when in one day he got both bread and sword out of the

sanctuary. Is not this suggestive of a way of help and encouragement for all

who know the Lord? In new emergencies let them recall past deliverances.

As Matthew Henry says, “experiences are great encouragements.” The

God who helped us in some past time of need is able to help us again. The

grace which gained one victory is strong enough to gain another. But:



The courage which must have leaped up in David’s breast at the sight and

touch of Goliath’s sword soon ebbed away. His mood of despondency

returned as he neared the frontier, and he relapsed into shifts unworthy

both of his past and of his future. It must be owned that his position was

very critical. To cross the western frontier was to expose himself to

suspicion and criticism in Israel, and to run great risk of his life among the

Philistines. He was between two fires: enraged Saul behind him, and before

him the king of Gath, who might very probably avenge upon him the

humiliation and death of the great champion of Gath, Goliath. When the

latter of these risks actually threatened him, David, always quick to scent

danger, perceived his extreme predicament; and, equally quick in

suggestion and resource, fell on an ingenious plan to save his life. It was

not dignified — it was not worthy of a devout and upright man; but it was

clever and successful. David had often seen Saul in his frenzy, and knew

how to counterfeit the symptoms. So he feigned insanity, and was allowed

to leave the Philistine town unmolested, and to escape to his native land.

(Illustrate from the stories of Ulysses and of Lucius Junius Brutus.) What

may pass without censure in heathen Greeks and Romans may not so pass

in a Hebrew like David, who knew the true God; and though we should not

judge severely the action of a man under imminent mortal peril, we are

disappointed to see the son of Jesse betake himself to stratagem and deceit.

We are vexed to find the hero unheroic, the saint unsaintly. But:



FEELING IN DAVID’S MIND. Two of his psalms are said to refer to this

time of trouble at Gath. The first of these is the thirty-fourth. It makes no

definite allusion to the events related here, but we see no reason to

disregard the old tradition embodied in its title, which refers its origin to

the time of David’s narrow escape from the Philistines. Not that he

composed it on the spur of the moment, for the elaborate acrostic structure

of the ode forbids that supposition. But the sweet singer, recalling his

escape, recalled the devout feeling which it awakened. He did not

introduce into his song any of the actual incidents at Gath, for he must

have felt that, so far as his own behavior was concerned, the incidents

were not worthy of celebration; but he recorded his experience of Divine

succor for the consolation of others in their extremity, ending with

“Jehovah redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in

him shall be desolate.” The other psalm to which we allude is the fifty-sixth.

This, too, is ascribed to “David when the Philistines laid hold on him

in Gath.” It vividly describes his condition and his alarm, and tells where

his hope of deliverance really lay. God knew his wanderings and regarded

his tears; and thoughts of God were in David’s heart even when he was

playing the part of a maniac to delude the Philistines. “In God I put my

trust: I am not afraid: what can man do unto me?” We do not palliate

anything in David’s conduct at Nob or at Gath that was unbecoming a

servant of God. We must go to the great Son of David to learn a faultless

morality, so that no guile may proceed out of our mouths, and we may use

no pretexts to gain our objects, but count the keeping of a good conscience

superior to all considerations of comfort and even of life, and have no fear

of them who can kill the body, “but are not able to kill the soul.” (Luke

4-5)           But the Psalms come in well to prevent our doing David any injustice.

All through this painful passage of his life — in his flight, his grief, his

mortal peril — his heart was crying out for God. So he was saved out of

the hands of enemies. Goliath could not hurt him, nor Saul, nor Achish

either. Not that God sanctioned any shift or subterfuge; but God heard him,

and saved him out of all his distresses.





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