A Not So Holy Mission – 1 Samuel 21 & 22

David was now officially on the run as Saul had placed an open bounty on his head. He went to Nob, a town just a few miles northeast of Jerusalem to meet Ahimelek, the priest. After the destruction of Shiloh, the town of Nob had taken its place as the religious capital of Israel, housing the high priest, the ephod and the entire priestly clan who were descendants of Eli. When Ahimelek the priest saw David, he was afraid, as news of his feud with Saul would have surely made its way to the nearby town of Nob. When Ahimilek inquired David as to why he had come to Nob, David flat out lied and told the priest that he was on a mission for Saul.

“The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.”

1 Samuel 21:2-3 (NIV)

Trouble in Town

David is cautious as he does not know how much Ahimelek and other priests know about his strained relationship with his father-in-law. If he told them the truth, the priests might not have helped him either for fear of Saul or to show their loyalty to the king. It is only natural that David would try to keep his cards close to his chest, as he is a man who is desperate and on the run from a madman who is literally possessed.

Ahimelek did not have any food with him but for the consecrated bread that was called the bread of the Presence. Each Sabbath, twelve pieces of bread were kept on the table at the holy place of the tabernacle, as these were meant to be consumed by the appointed priests of Israel (Leviticus 24:5-9). David coaxed Ahimelek into giving the consecrated bread to him and his men along with the sword of Goliath and left Nob to move on to the neighbouring Philistine region.

The Consecrated bread is the holiest part of the perpetual food offering that the Israelites presented to the Lord and was meant to be eaten only by Aaron and his descendants who had been consecrated by God himself to carry out his work. Jesus quoted this scripture to bring out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who gave a free pass to their hero David but were criticizing the poor who worked to feed themselves during the sabbath. The laws were meant to be placed in context as Sabbath was created for man and not the other way round. If there is something as important as feeding one’s family, a daily wage labourer may have to skip Sabbath or Sunday service to attend to the needs of his family.

Using these scriptures to torture them with guilt is neither beneficial to their spiritual well-being nor does it please God. However, sin is still a sin, we cannot condone the actions of a homeless person who robs a general store to feed his family as his sanctions have consequences. David who was driven by his hunger lied to get provisions from Ahimelek and that ended up having dire consequences for the latter. This lets us know that David was not acting with the leading of God when he went to Nob.

David at Gath, Adullam and Mizpah

On the run, David went to Gath where Achish was the ruler. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the giant that David had slain. So it was odd why he chose that as his first hideout perhaps thinking that Saul would not expect David to be in Gath. But the people of Gath recognised David and revealed his identity to Achish.

“Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances:
“‘Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands’?”

1 Samuel 21:11 (NIV)

Now that Achish knew about him, David was afraid that he would be put to death. So he pretended to be insane and played the role of a madman to a tee. He made marks on doors and even started foaming at the mouth in an attempt to escape the wrath of Achish.

Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

1 Samuel 21:14-15 (NIV)

After his cover was blown, David escaped from Gath and ran ten miles east to the cave of Adullam. Here he is joined by his family and all those who were distressed and discontented under Saul’s regime. About four hundred were added to his fold that day. David now with his small army made his way to Mizpah in Moab where he was well received by the king. Perhaps David used the fact that his great grandmother was a Moabite to foster a bond with the king. Nevertheless, David and his family were allowed to stay as long as he wanted in the stronghold.

But the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah.” So David left and went to the forest of Hereth.

1 Samuel 22:5 (NIV)

The Massacre at Nob

Back in Gibeah, Saul was rallying his troops as he spoke to them about tribal loyalty and how the house of Benjamin would be uprooted if David was to become the next king. Now Doeg the Edomite, who was Saul’s shepherd, informed him how he had seen David at Nob and how Ahimelek the priest had fed him, gave him the sword of Goliath and also inquired of the Lord for him. Saul was enraged and was on a warpath as he ordered his men to bring all the priests of Nob before him.

Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him, so that he has rebelled against me and lies in wait for me, as he does today?”
Ahimelek answered the king, “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king’s son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard and highly respected in your household?… Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair.”
But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelek, you and your whole family.”

1 Samuel 22:13-16 (NIV)

Saul ordered his guards to kill all the priests citing that they were not loyal to the king and favoured David. But the guards who were Israelites dared not lay their hands on the priests of the Lord. Even Saul did not want to kill the priests himself fearing that God would “smite” him. So he turned to Doeg who was an Edomite and Saul knew that he would have no problem killing the priests. Therefore, Doeg killed all the priests of Nob and put swords on the entire town of Nob with its women and children, donkeys and cattle. But Ahitub one of the sons of Ahimelek escaped the massacre and had fled to meet David. He reported all that Saul and Doeg had done to his family and his hometown.

Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.

1 Samuel 22:22 (NIV)

God had prophesied to Eli about the destruction of his family, perhaps alluding to the massacre of the priests that had descended from his lineage. Even though Saul is the person who eventually kills these people (using Doeg), David blames himself for the bloodbath at Nob. If David had told the truth to Ahimelek, either he would have refused to help David or would have at least taken the necessary steps to run and hide from the king.

David accepted the consequence of his actions as his deception had caused collateral damage in the town of Nob. He was brazen in his approach and lied his way to secure supplies and weapons for himself. Even though he was fighting the good fight against Saul who had been taken over by satan, he was still callous in the way he approached Ahimelek, causing Saul and Doeg to kill all the inhabitants of Nob. He was careful not to go to his father’s house as he did not want them to be the target of Saul’s wrath, but sadly he did not exercise the same cautious approach when he came to meet Ahimelek.

Just because we are walking on God’s path does not mean that we are not responsible for the casualties around us. We cannot be brazen in our approach as we may hurt the sentiments of the people around us or even cause them physical harm because of our callous actions. Knowing the plan that God has for us is not enough, we must go to Him each and every day to understand the best route we should take to reach the destination that He has planned for us.

Discussion Questions

V21:2 – Why is David lying to the priest at Nob?
V21:5 – Was it right for David and his men to eat the consecrated bread?
V22:22 – Was David responsible for the massacre of the priests of Nob?

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