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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

1 Samuel 21

 

 

Verses 1-15

1 Samuel 21:1-15

Then came David to Nob.

Almost gone

It is not easy to walk with God.

I. The steps of David’s declension. The first sign of what was impending was his remark to Jonathan, that there was but a step between himself and death (1 Samuel 20:3). Evidently his faith was beginning to falter; for nothing could have been more definite than the Divine assurances that he was to be king. The winds and waves were more daunting than the promise of God was inspiring. Perchance David relied too absolutely on what he had received, and neglected the daily renewal of the heavenly unction (John 1:33-34; 1 John 3:24). Next he adopted a subterfuge, which was not worthy of him, nor of his great and mighty Friend. Late in the afternoon of the day preceding the weekly Sabbath, the king’s son-in-law arrived, with a mere handful of followers, at the little town of Nob, situated among the hills about five miles to the south of Gibeah. Probably the great annual convocations had fallen into disuse, and the path to the simple sanctuary was only trodden by occasional visitors, such as Doeg, who came to pay their vows, or be cleansed from ceremonial pollution. There was, evidently, no attempt made to prepare for large numbers; the hard fare of the priests only just sufficed for them, and the presence of two or three additional strangers completely overbalanced the slender supply; there were not five loaves of common bread to spare. It was necessary to answer the questions, and allay the suspicions of the priest; and David did this by pleading the urgency of the mission on which his royal master had sent him. But a chill struck to his heart whilst making these excuses to the simpleminded priest, and enlisting his willing cooperation in the matter of provisions and arms, as he saw the dark visage of Doeg, the Edomite, “the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.” He knew that the whole story would be mercilessly retailed to the vindictive and vengeful monarch. Ten miles beyond lay the proud Philistine city of Gath, which at that time had sent its champion forth in all the pride of his stature and strength. What worse fate could await him at Gath than that which threatened him each hour he lingered within the limits of Judah! He therefore resolved to make the plunge. Not a little to his dismay, and perhaps on account of Goliath’s sword hanging at his belt he was instantly recognised; and the servants of Achish recalled the refrain, which had already awoke the jealousy of Saul. He was instantly regarded with hatred, as having slain his ten thousands. He saved himself by descending to the unworthy subterfuge of counterfeiting the behaviour of a madman.

II. The Psalm of the silent dove. At first sight we are startled with the apparently irreconcilable discrepancy between the scenes we have just described and the 56th Psalm, the inscription of which associates it with them. Closer inspection will reveal many resemblances between the singer’s circumstances and his touching words. First stanza (1-4).

He turns to God from man; to the Divine mercy from the serried ranks of his foes, who, surging around him, threaten to engulf and swallow him up. Thus he climbs up out of the weltering waves, his feet on a rock, a new song in his mouth, the burden of which is, “I will not be afraid.” Second Stanza (5-9).--Again, he is in the depths. The returning wave has sucked him back. His boast changed to a moan, his challenge to complaint. Yet as we condole, we hear the voice of faith again ringing out the positive assurance, “I know that God is for me,” and again the old refrain comes back. Third Stanza (10-13).--There is no further relapse. His heart is fixed, fruiting the Lord; the vows of God are upon his head. And now, as once again he regains the sunny uplands, which he had so shamefully renounced in his flight from Gibeah to Nob, from Nob to Gath, from Gath to feigned insanity, he is sure that henceforth he will walk before God in the light of life. Truth, purity, joy, shall be the vesture of his soul.

III. The consequences to ahimelech. A child of God may be forgiven and restored, yet the consequences of his sin may involve sufferings to many innocent lives. So it was in this instance. Doeg took the opportunity of ingratiating himself in the royal favour, by narrating what he had seen at Nob. He carefully withheld the unsuspecting innocence and ignorance of the priest, and so told the tale as to make it appear that he and his house were accomplices with David’s action, and perhaps bent on helping David to gain supreme power. By one ruthless act, the entire priestly community was exterminated. There was but one survivor, for Abiathar escaped, carrying the ephod in his hands; and one day, to his horror, David beheld the disheveled, blood-besmeared form of the priest, as he sped breathless and panic-stricken up the valley of Elah, to find shelter with the outlaw band in the Cave of Adullam. We shall hear of him again. Meanwhile, let children of God beware! Sin is bitter to the conscience of the sinner and in its consequences upon others. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)


Verses 1-15

1 Samuel 21:1-15

Then came David to Nob.

Almost gone

It is not easy to walk with God.

I. The steps of David’s declension. The first sign of what was impending was his remark to Jonathan, that there was but a step between himself and death (1 Samuel 20:3). Evidently his faith was beginning to falter; for nothing could have been more definite than the Divine assurances that he was to be king. The winds and waves were more daunting than the promise of God was inspiring. Perchance David relied too absolutely on what he had received, and neglected the daily renewal of the heavenly unction (John 1:33-34; 1 John 3:24). Next he adopted a subterfuge, which was not worthy of him, nor of his great and mighty Friend. Late in the afternoon of the day preceding the weekly Sabbath, the king’s son-in-law arrived, with a mere handful of followers, at the little town of Nob, situated among the hills about five miles to the south of Gibeah. Probably the great annual convocations had fallen into disuse, and the path to the simple sanctuary was only trodden by occasional visitors, such as Doeg, who came to pay their vows, or be cleansed from ceremonial pollution. There was, evidently, no attempt made to prepare for large numbers; the hard fare of the priests only just sufficed for them, and the presence of two or three additional strangers completely overbalanced the slender supply; there were not five loaves of common bread to spare. It was necessary to answer the questions, and allay the suspicions of the priest; and David did this by pleading the urgency of the mission on which his royal master had sent him. But a chill struck to his heart whilst making these excuses to the simpleminded priest, and enlisting his willing cooperation in the matter of provisions and arms, as he saw the dark visage of Doeg, the Edomite, “the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.” He knew that the whole story would be mercilessly retailed to the vindictive and vengeful monarch. Ten miles beyond lay the proud Philistine city of Gath, which at that time had sent its champion forth in all the pride of his stature and strength. What worse fate could await him at Gath than that which threatened him each hour he lingered within the limits of Judah! He therefore resolved to make the plunge. Not a little to his dismay, and perhaps on account of Goliath’s sword hanging at his belt he was instantly recognised; and the servants of Achish recalled the refrain, which had already awoke the jealousy of Saul. He was instantly regarded with hatred, as having slain his ten thousands. He saved himself by descending to the unworthy subterfuge of counterfeiting the behaviour of a madman.

II. The Psalm of the silent dove. At first sight we are startled with the apparently irreconcilable discrepancy between the scenes we have just described and the 56th Psalm, the inscription of which associates it with them. Closer inspection will reveal many resemblances between the singer’s circumstances and his touching words. First stanza (1-4).

He turns to God from man; to the Divine mercy from the serried ranks of his foes, who, surging around him, threaten to engulf and swallow him up. Thus he climbs up out of the weltering waves, his feet on a rock, a new song in his mouth, the burden of which is, “I will not be afraid.” Second Stanza (5-9).--Again, he is in the depths. The returning wave has sucked him back. His boast changed to a moan, his challenge to complaint. Yet as we condole, we hear the voice of faith again ringing out the positive assurance, “I know that God is for me,” and again the old refrain comes back. Third Stanza (10-13).--There is no further relapse. His heart is fixed, fruiting the Lord; the vows of God are upon his head. And now, as once again he regains the sunny uplands, which he had so shamefully renounced in his flight from Gibeah to Nob, from Nob to Gath, from Gath to feigned insanity, he is sure that henceforth he will walk before God in the light of life. Truth, purity, joy, shall be the vesture of his soul.

III. The consequences to ahimelech. A child of God may be forgiven and restored, yet the consequences of his sin may involve sufferings to many innocent lives. So it was in this instance. Doeg took the opportunity of ingratiating himself in the royal favour, by narrating what he had seen at Nob. He carefully withheld the unsuspecting innocence and ignorance of the priest, and so told the tale as to make it appear that he and his house were accomplices with David’s action, and perhaps bent on helping David to gain supreme power. By one ruthless act, the entire priestly community was exterminated. There was but one survivor, for Abiathar escaped, carrying the ephod in his hands; and one day, to his horror, David beheld the disheveled, blood-besmeared form of the priest, as he sped breathless and panic-stricken up the valley of Elah, to find shelter with the outlaw band in the Cave of Adullam. We shall hear of him again. Meanwhile, let children of God beware! Sin is bitter to the conscience of the sinner and in its consequences upon others. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)


Verse 7

1 Samuel 21:7

A certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord.

Doeg the Edomite

Doeg was “detained there before the Lord.” How or why he “was detained before the Lord,” we are not informed. Doeg the Edomite was “detained there that day before the Lord,” and with his eyes upturned and his arms across his breast, very probably groaning as if moved to the heart by the aspect of poor David and his few straggling companions, dusty, and dirty and hungry. Doeg witnessed all and hurrying off to the royal palace told King Saul all he saw and all he heard during his stay at Nob, as passing between David and Ahimelech. This malicious spy was glad to violate all confidence.

I. Doeg was detained there that day before the Lord as a spy. Now of all the characters in the world the spy is the meanest and the most despicable. It was allowed at the time, and historians confirm it, that the espionage system of the Duke of Wellington, during his Peninsular campaign, was the most perfect ever known in any European army, and yet his scouts were selected without regard to character. No man respects a spy. Is Doeg dead? It is to be feared that in every age there have been those who come to the house of God only to hear and report, and misrepresent the services of the sanctuary. The spy has neither character nor conscience.

II. Doeg is there that day as a malicious tale bearer and wicked slanderer. The tale bearer and murderer are regarded by God as one and the same. A heathen once said, “The slanderer is the most terrible of wild beasts.”

III. It is possible that Doeg may have been “detained there that day before the Lord,” for the very reason that he knew he was not wanted. It is clear that Ahimelech did not want him, and equally clear that the eighty-five priests whom he afterwards murdered so wantonly did not want him, and still more obvious that David did not want him. Not a single worshipper in the priestly City of Nob. Some men are woefully gifted with a perverse spirit, and their happiness consist in trying to make other men miserable. Their aim is annoy; evil is their good.

IV. It may be that Doeg was “detained there that day before the Lord,” from the force of habit. He had been a churchgoing man.

V. It may be that Doeg was “detained there that day before the Lord,” from the love of the service. The old Rabbis have a tradition that Doeg was a skilful performer on the psaltery, and wherever music was the prevailing part of the worship, he was present to take part in “the service of song.” If there is no higher motive than the mere gratification of a refined ear or a cultivated taste, or even a delicate sentimentalism, the ordinances cannot profit.

VI. It may be that Doeg was “detained there that day before the Lord,” from the hope of patronage or preferment. He was only chief of the herdsmen of King Saul; probably, by acting as a spy and a tale bearer, be hoped to be advanced to some situation of honour and emolument. Doeg is ready for any work, from that of the highest seraph in heaven down to the lowest fiend in hell, if it will only pay!

VII. It may be that Doeg was “detained there that day before the Lord,” because the service at Nob was a branch of the national worship. This was a priestly city, and the Divine arrangement provided that the house of Levi should have the sacerdotal cities and their suburbs. Doeg, therefore, as a Hebrew, had a right to attend upon any altar that represented the religion of the Hebrew commonwealth. Oh! that is God’s meeting place with the inquiring saint who is there that day “detained before the Lord.” because he wants to meet and hold communion with God. (R. Irvine, D. D.)


Verse 8

1 Samuel 21:8

The king’s business required haste.

Haste! Haste!

1. We are always called upon to work as if we had but one day to work in.

2. Such impetuosity need not involve carelessness.

3. The most deliberate things are to be done with the intensest earnestness, and the intensest earnestness is never to allow itself to be deprived of the advantage and utility of the highest spiritual dignity.

When the king’s business relates to the salvation of souls, who dare say there is a moment to be lost?

4. In all things let us hear the voice of the Saviour saying, “That thou doest, do quickly.” (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 9

1 Samuel 21:9

And David said, There is none like that: give it me.

Goliath’s sword

I. First, then, the history of Goliath’s sword. See it, in the first instance, hanging at the giant’s side. The man himself is mighty. Hark how he challenges the hosts of Israel. The after history of this sword is interesting. What became of it after David, having no sword of his own, put it to the giant’s throat and cut off his head with it? It was Goliath’s no longer; it was David’s, really. It is evident that he was not content to have it ornamenting his own residence--he would give it to the Lord. He found it in his heart to hang the sword in the Holy Place, that God might have the glory. What happened next? Why, long afterwards, when David wanted a sword, God gave this very weapon back to him. Nobody is ever the poorer for lending to the Lord. God gave the sword back to David in the hour of his extremity. Now I want to say to you, surely you remember some great deliverance of days gone by. You remember the weapons with which God enabled you to carve your way through obstacles which you supposed must overwhelm you. You are getting into a tight place again, are you? Well, call to mind the previous experience; grasp the old sword, and trust the same, unchanging God. Use the promise that helped you out before.

II. But we shall, I hope, get still further blessing when we think of this sword from a spiritual point of view. These things may well be called an allegory. The war is still waging. The Philistine is still in the land. And what is David’s sword? The sword is God’s Word, Divine Truth, the Gospel of the Grace of God. “The Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We do not want another weapon. There is nothing to induce us to try another. We have watched the others trying them. They have had such poor success that it makes us the more content with the old Jerusalem blade. (Thomas Spurgeon.)

Tried Weapons

We propose to treat this text with special reference to the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

1. There is none like it for variety of adaptation.

2. As for argument, where can we find a blade more keenly argumentative?

3. I would impress all young readers with the comprehensiveness of the Bible, with its universality of adaptation to all the circumstances and necessities of human life.

4. There is none like it for ease of carriage. There are weapons that are very difficult to carry, but the sword of the Lord is not one of them.

5. There is none like it for universality of use. Children and sick persons can use it; the poorest man can avail himself of it; the busiest man may find a moment for its exercise.

6. The sick can use this sword of the Lord. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 11

1 Samuel 21:11

And he changed his behaviour before them.

David scrabbling at the gate

Taking the behaviour of David as a suggestion, I wish to tell you how many of the wise, and the brave, and the regal sometimes play the fool.

I. I remark that those men as badly play the fool as this man of the text, who in any crisis of life take their case out of the hand of God. David, in this case, acted as though there were no God to lift him out of the predicament. The life of the most insignificant man is too vast for any human management.

II. I remark that all those persons play the fool, as certainly as did this man of the text, who allow the technicalities of religion to stop their salvation.

III. I go still further, and say to you that those men play the fool who undertake to pay out eternity for time.

IV. I say to you that those men play the fool who, while they admit the righteousness of religion, set it down for future attendance. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 21:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/1-samuel-21.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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