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Holy Bread

September 26 2021

Book: 1 Samuel

Scripture: 1 Samuel 21-22

This morning we come to 1 Samuel 21 and David is on the run. Let’s begin reading:

1 Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?”

David runs to the priests in a town called Nob. These priests are the descendants of Eli’s house. If you remember, they were cursed by God earlier in the book. And that makes this a strange place for David to go. Notice also that Ahimelech is afraid.

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.

David lies. He straight up lies. Some commentaries suggest that David’s intention was to try and protect the priest by giving him plausible deniability if Saul comes looking for him. But it was still a lie. He broke a commandment. We need to be careful of romanticizing Bible characters. David is not Jesus. He’s a man and right now he doesn’t look much like a king.

3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” 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?”

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.

This is an odd story because David and his men were not priests. Only priests were supposed to eat this bread. It is also odd because of the sexual conversation they are having. What does abstinence have to do with this? David could make the argument that they were ceremonially clean, but not “holy”. It sounds like a fast-talking salesman at work.

More odd is the fact that Jesus explicitly teaches in Matthew 12 that David did nothing wrong. David talks his way into eating some forbidden bread, but Jesus said it was Ok. At this point, David is starting to remind me of another Bible character and the next verse brings that into focus.

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.

The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac. His younger brother, Jacob “the deceiver” swindled Esau out of his birthright. God changed his name to Israel and Jacob became the chosen forefather of Israel. The Edomites fade into the background, until now. And it is not a coincidence.

David is starting to remind me of Jacob. He’s a bit of a con artist. There was deception with the priest and deception in the last chapter with Jonathan and Saul. But there’s more.

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.”

There it is again… another lie.

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.”

This is also weird. Why does David want the sword of Goliath?

10 And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath.

If I had a sound effects machine up here, I would play the one where the record stops abruptly or a car slamming on the brakes.

David decides that the best place to run from Saul was to the king of Gath. Gath is the city Goliath was from! This is a Philistine city with a Philistine king!

11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances,

‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”

They immediately recognize David, because of course they do – because he is their mortal enemy. He killed their champion. They’ve even heard the Israelite songs. And to be clear, most of the “ten thousands” David killed were Philistines.

Going to Gath makes no sense at all. It was crazy. David walks into Goliath’s hometown carrying Goliath’s sword! What was he thinking?!

12 And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.

David has the sense to realize this was a mistake, so he turns to more deception. He pretends to be crazy. And it works because what sane person would walk into the city of his greatest enemies?

14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”

This story actually inspired two of David’s Psalms – Psalm 34 and Psalm 56. David knew he was surrounded by enemies, and he trusted God to deliver him. But the Psalms don’t explain why David went there in the first place. He put himself among his enemies.

And as we leave chapter 21 and turn to chapter 22, I think the message so far is this:

The king doesn’t look much like a king right now. Keep that thought in the back of your mind as we continue.

1 David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam.

David is now hiding in a cave. Remember from several chapters ago, when the Israelites were hiding in caves and tombs, we talked about the imagery of death?

And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.

Again, David doesn’t look much like a king. He’s hiding in a cave with a small army of vagabonds. These men who run to David are the outcasts – the distressed, men in debt, men bitter in soul – in other words, men with nothing left to lose. David basically started a gang.

After a few other details, the story shifts back to Saul. For the sake of time, I’m going to summarize what happens next.

Saul gathers his men looking for information on David. None of the Israelite men are willing to betray David. But guess who does? Doeg the Edomite. He tells Saul about David’s visit to the priests in Nob.

Saul travels to Nob, confronts Ahimelech and condemns the priests to death. Let’s pick it up here in verse 16.

16 And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.” 17 And the king said to the guard who stood about him, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me.” But the servants of the king would not put out their hand to strike the priests of the Lord.

18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. 19 And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.

Do you remember why God decided to take the kingdom away from Saul? It was because Saul failed to completely destroy the Amalekites. Saul was unfaithful to God when God told him to destroy a pagan city, but now Saul decides to completely destroy a city of priests that was unfaithful to him! And this time he didn’t even keep the animals for sacrifices. He killed everyone and everything.

Saul has become a godless king. He has become like all the other kings. This is what Samuel warned Israel would happen. And this is what Israel asked for.

I’ve covered a lot of information today. But what do we do with it all?

First, I think we need to realize that many of the things we want in our lives – the things we think we need – may end up destroying us. That’s one of the primary lessons of this book. The people wanted a king like the other nations and that’s what they got. Remember, Saul’s name means “you asked for it”.

And if we are honest about our lives, many of the things we thought we needed turned out to be a disappointment. It didn’t make us happy. It didn’t solve our problems. It was more difficult than we thought it would be. It was never enough. And if God leaves us to have our way, it may end up destroying us in the end. That’s the first lesson.

Another way to say that might be this: I’m the greatest enemy to my own happiness. It reminds me of the lyrics from a song by Drew Holcomb:

We want the spark but we don’t want the burn.

We want the love but we don’t want the hurt.

You want what you can’t have,

Since the Garden of Eden it’s been like that.

You can’t tear down the tree, or pull all the weeds,

Spend your life looking for the greener grass.

You want what you can’t have.


And the real problem is that God created us to want Him – and we don’t. He should have been enough for Israel and He should be enough for us. But we don’t want Him, which made us His enemies. So, what did God do?

He did something crazy. Remember the question we asked earlier – why would David chose to put himself among his enemies? What sane person would willing walk into a city full of people who hated him?

But that’s what Jesus did. And there are so many parallels to Jesus in chapter 21. Jesus was constantly on the move. He had nowhere to lay his head. He was the leader of a band of vagabonds. He ate forbidden bread on the Sabbath. He didn’t look much like the King of the Universe. But most of all, He came here on purpose – placing his life in the hands of His enemies.

Unlike David, Jesus did not survive the encounter. We crucified Him.

And why did Jesus do it? This is the most striking parallel in the text.

David was hungry – and the only thing available to eat was something he did not deserve. He wanted something he couldn’t have, but the priest gave it to him anyway and Jesus said it was Ok. I want to suggest that story only makes sense because of the Gospel.

Jesus is the Bread we don’t deserve – the Bread of Life, which He actually calls himself in John 6.

Put it all together, and this is how the Gospel is being presented to us by Samuel. We all want something we can’t have, but God is offering us something better – something we don’t deserve, something we could never earn, something we shouldn’t have – Christ Himself, the Son of God and Savior of Sinners.

I want to end with the words of Jesus from John 6:

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”