1 Samuel 21 (NRSV)
David and the Holy Bread
David came to Nob to the priest Ahimelech. Ahimelech came trembling to meet David, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” 2David said to the priest Ahimelech, “The king has charged me with a matter, and said to me, ‘No one must 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.
The king has ordered me on some business: This was a plain lie. David came to the house of the LORD but he lied to protect himself. David elaborated on his lie when he put false words in the mouth of Saul to establish an environment of secrecy (Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you), and when he referred to “my young men” (David was all alone).
In many ways, we can understand why David lied and even sympathize with him. Many of us would have done the same or worse in the same situation. At the same time, David would come to horribly regret this lie (as he says in 1 Samuel 22:22).
3Now then, what have you at hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.”
4The priest answered David, “I have no ordinary bread at hand, only holy bread—provided that the young men have kept themselves from women.”
5David answered the priest, “Indeed 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 a common journey; how much more today will their vessels be holy?” 6So the priest gave him the holy bread; for there was no bread there except 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.
Mark 2:23-28 (New Living Translation)
One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry?He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”
To think about the Holy Bread is to think about Jesus Christ, our True Bread from Heaven. HERE is one of the most beautiful hymns I know, in both music and text. “Soul, Adorn Thyself with Gladness” from the Bach Cantata 180, “Schmucke Dich.” The words were written by Johann Franck (1618-1677).
1. Soul, adorn thyself with gladness,
Leave behind all gloom and sadness;
Come into the daylight’s splendor,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto Him whose grace unbounded
Hath this woundrous supper founded.
High o’er all the heavens He reigneth,
Yet to dwell with thee He deigneth.
2. Hasten as a bride to meet Him
And with loving reverence greet Him;
For with words of life immortal
Now He knocketh at thy portal.
Haste to ope the gates before Him,
Saying, while thou dost adore Him,
Suffer, Lord, that I receive Thee,
And I nevermore will leave Thee.
3. He who craves a precious treasure
Neither cost nor pain will measure;
But the priceless gifts of heaven
God to us hath freely given.
Though the wealth of earth were proffered,
Naught would buy the fits here offered:
Christ’s true body, for thee riven,
And His blood, for thee once given.
4. Ah, how hungers all my spirit
For the love I do not merit!
Oft have I, with sighs fast thronging,
Thought upon this food with longing,
In the battle well-nigh worsted,
For this cup of life have thirsted,
For the Friend who here invites us
And to God Himself unites us.
5. Human reason, though it ponder,
Cannot fathom this great wonder
That Christ’s body e’er remaineth
Though it countless souls sustaineth,
And that He His blood is giving
With the wine we are receiving.
These great mysteries unsounded
Are by God alone expounded.
6. Jesus, Sun of Life, my Splendor,
Jesus, Thou my Friend most tender,
Jesus, Joy of my desiring,
Fount of life, my soul inspiring,
— At Thy feet I cry, my Maker,
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessed food from heaven,
For our good, Thy glory, given.
7. Lord, by love and mercy driven
Thou hast left Thy throne in heaven
On the cross for us to languish
And to die in bitter anguish,
To forego all joy and gladness
And to shed Thy blood in sadness.
By this blood, redeemed and living,
Lord, I praise Thee with thanksgiving.
8. Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray Thee,
Let me gladly here obey Thee.
By Thy love I am invited,
Be Thy love with love requited;
From this Supper let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep love’s treasure.
Though the gifts Thou here dost give me
As Thy guest in heaven receive me.
7Now 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 shepherds.
We will meet Doeg the Edomite again soon, and it will not be a pretty sight.
8David said to Ahimelech, “Is there no spear or sword here with you? I did not bring my sword or my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.”
A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod
And wins salvation glorious.
9The priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you will take that, take it, for there is none here except that one.”
David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”
Say “sword” to me and my first thought is of King Arthur and his Excaliber. Alfred, Lord Tennyson described that legendary sword in Idylls of the King:
- There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
- And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
- Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
- And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
- For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
- Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
- Of subtlest jewellery.
David Flees to Gath
10David rose and fled that day from Saul; he went to King Achish of Gath.
Gath was one of the five cities of the Philistines. Perhaps David thought that they would welcome him as a friend since they shared a mutual enemy in Saul. But had they forgotten that David had killed their champion, Goliath? . .
11The servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances,
‘Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands’?”
12David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of King Achish of Gath.
David’s words in Psalm 56 help us understand what happened here. The title of that psalm identifies it as the song he wrote when the Philistines captured him in Gath. Apparently, although 1 Samuel 21 doesn’t detail it, the Philistines captured David when he came to Gath. David thought he could find anonymity or sympathy among the ungodly Philistines in Gath, but he was wrong. Psalm 56 describes David’s journey from fear to praising as a prisoner in Gath. We will look at that psalm tomorrow.
13So he changed his behavior before them; he pretended to be mad when in their presence. He scratched marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard.
14Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is mad; why then have you brought him to me? 15Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”
Psalm 34 is David’s declaration of joy when he escaped from Gath with his life. The title of Psalm 34 reads, A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.
Psalm 34 begins beautifully: I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.