From 1 Samuel 21-24
David continues to flee from Saul. On his way he happens upon a priestly city called Nob. Nob was where the tabernacle resided. In the tabernacle he asks for bread and anything else that could aid him here. David is making it more and more obvious he is on the run and in need of supplies. Ahimelech the priest helps him. In the gospel, Jesus recalls David taking the bread of the presence. He does this to explain why he has no problem with his disciples picking from the grainfields during the Sabbath.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
David continues to flee from Saul. On his way he happens upon a priestly city called Nob. Nob was where the tabernacle resided.
21 Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. (1 Sa 21:1a)
These were fearful circumstances. David may not have known who he could trust. He and the men with him would have been hungry and undersupplied. David is hoping to improve their situation.
And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” 2 And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. (1 Sa 21:1–2)
Ahimelech is afraid because no one was with him. Presumably he was referring to the lack of a retinue, weapons or armour. This is not a good sign.
David himself is afraid as well. Ahimelech probably knows of his problems with Saul. He could betray him and give him up. So David does something he shouldn’t have. He lied. He pretends Saul has given him a secret mission which no one else knows about. David is after provisions.
3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” (1 Sa 21:3)
He asks for bread and anything else that could aid him here. David is making it more and more obvious he is on the run and in need of supplies. Ahimelech the priest helps him.
4 And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” 5 And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” (1 Sa 21:4-5)
Ahimelech refers to the young men with David. He wasn’t completely alone.
Before allowing David to take the holy bread, he asks is the young men had kept themselves away from ‘women’. He is referring to sexual relations. For the priest to even ask the question, he must assume it was common practice for war parties like David’s to have sex with women as they went. He doesn’t ask for a sin offering in that case, which implies he does not think it a sinful to do so. Rather Leviticus 15.16,18 states men are unclean for one day after the sex act has occurred. The priest wants to make sure they are ritually clean.
Does sex make you unclean?
“Ahimelech ruled that David and his men could eat bread reserved for Levites if they did so in a Levite-like way—that is, with due consideration for ritual purity laws. Levites could eat the Bread of the Presence only in the holy place and thus were required to be ritually clean. Since David and his men were supposedly on a military mission, they could not be expected to keep all the ritual cleanliness laws, especially those regarding contact with corpses (Num 19:14–16). However, it was reasonable to ask men on military missions to keep ritual cleanliness laws that related to sexual contact (Lev 15:18). That having been agreed to, David was given the consecrated bread. (Bergen, R. D. (1996). 1, 2 Samuel (Vol. 7, p. 222). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
David answers the men continually keep themselves holy when on military campaigns. Thus they do not have sex with women while on campaigns either. David wants to keep them ritually clean all the time.
6 So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away. (1 Sa 21:6)
The priest gave him the bread which only the priests could eat. Is this a sin? Or, were
David and the men with him being treated as if they were priests.
7 Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD. His name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen. (1 Sa 21:7)
Doeg seems very much like dog. Nothing good will come of his presence.
8 Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither 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 you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.” (1 Sa 21:8–9)
David needs weapons, so he takes Goliath’s sword. He refers again to his deception about his mission. The ‘king’s business required haste’.
Story of Israel
The rules concerning the bread of the presence are in leviticus. Moses commands;
5 “You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. 6 And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the LORD. 7 And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the LORD. 8 Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the LORD regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. 9 And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the LORD’s food offerings, a perpetual due.” (Lev 24:5–9)
The text is fairly clear. The bread David and his men took with them is specifically for ‘Aaron and his sons’. David and his men seemingly were being treated as if they were priests.
Story of Jesus
In the gospel, Jesus recalls David taking the bread of the presence. He does this to explain why he has no problem with his disciples picking from the grainfields during the Sabbath.
12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”
3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:1–8)
Jesus takes issue with them condemning the guiltless. Jesus then puts a twist on David’s experience at Nob. He says its more about who they were with.
What the Pharisees did not realize was that something greater than the temple was with the disciples.
Like David before him, Jesus is the Christ and his disciples who are with him are exempt from the rules that normally applied.
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