Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And when Ahimelech met David, he trembled and asked him, "Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?"
1 Samuel 21:1-8. (NOB.)
1. As in the outward life, so in the inward experience of men great exaltation is often followed by great depression. Whilst David was with Samuel and the prophets his faith in God appears to have been strong, and it was justified by the extraordinary manner in which he was preserved. But soon afterwards (some events which are not recorded having taken place in the interval) he was in mortal fear for his life, and resorted to an unworthy pretext in order to obtain an assurance of safety, and now took another false step. "There seems ground for suspecting that from the time of his parting with Jonathan - if not, indeed, from the time of his leaving Naioth - David had lost some of his trust in God" (Kitto).
2. The intention to deceive constitutes the essence of lying. Truth is the representation of things as they are, and it may be departed from in many ways without such an intention. But veracity is always obligatory. Even if intentional deception be ever justifiable, as some have supposed, it clearly was not in the case of David. The sacred historian records the fact without approval, and without comment, except as the mention of its disastrous consequences may be so regarded (1 Samuel 22:2). "Whoso thinketh that there is any kind of lie which is not sin deceiveth himself" (Augustine).
3. The amount of guilt involved in lying depends upon its circumstances, nature, and motives. The forms which it assumes are endlessly varied (direct, equivocation, suppression of truth, for advantage, pious frauds, malicious, etc.); but that which is marked by hatred and malice is the most reprehensible. This element was absent from the deception practised by David. The age in which he lived, too, was one in which a "lie of necessity" was deemed comparatively venial; and it was borne with, though not approved, by the "God of truth" until men should be trained to a higher moral state. Concerning deceit observe that -
I. IT IS USUALLY URGED BY SPECIAL INDUCEMENTS; such as -
1. The pressure of circumstances. When David presented himself alone before the high priest at the commencement of the sabbath (the evening of Friday) he was pressed by hunger and fear, and thereby tempted to invent a falsehood. If he had steadfastly set his face against the temptation his need would probably have been met in some other way. There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a lie of necessity. A man may die of necessity, but not lie.
2. The promise of advantage. He thought that no harm could possibly come of his deceit. But how little do men know, when they enter upon a false way, to what end it may lead I
3. The possession of a natural tendency or susceptibility to such a temptation. There was in him (notwithstanding he abhorred lying from his heart) "a natural disposition which rendered him peculiarly open to this temptation: a quick, impulsive genius fertile in conceiving, and a versatile cleverness skilful in colouring things different from the actual fact. And does it not read a most striking lesson to those who are in any way similarly constituted?" (J. Wright, 'David, King of Israel').
"Ever to the truth
II. IT IS ALWAYS DESERVING OF STRONG REPROBATION, inasmuch as -
1. It is a violation of the bond by which society is held together. Without confidence in each other's truthfulness men could not live together in social union. It is a sin against the justice and the love which we owe to our neighbour. What the apostle says with reference to the Christian community applies to all: "Wherefore putting away lying," etc.: "for we are members one of another" (Ephesians 4:25).
2. It is contrary to the dictates of an enlightened conscience.
3. It is prohibited and condemned by the word of truth. "Ye shall not lie one to another" (Leviticus 19:11). "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile" (Psalm 24:13; 119:29; Proverbs 12:22; Colossians 3:9; Revelation 21:8). "Lying in a base, unworthy vice; a vice that one of the ancients portrays in the most odious colours, when he says that 'it is to manifest a contempt of God, and withal a fear of man.' It is not possible more excellently to represent the horror, baseness, and irregularity of it; for what can a man imagine more hateful and contemptible than to be a coward toward men and valiant against his Maker?" (Montaigne).
III. IT IS OFTEN DETECTED BY UNEXPECTED MEANS (ver. 8). Little did David think of seeing Doeg the Edomite detained (literally, shut up) in the tabernacle, to witness his deception with quick eyes and ears, and ready to reveal it with a tongue "like a sharp razor, working deceitfully" (Psalm 52:2). But -
1. However cautious men may be in practising deceit, they can never calculate upon all the means by which it may be discovered. "A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter" (Ecclesiastes 10:20).
2. Even its temporary success often leads to inquiry and discovery (1 Samuel 22:6).
3. God, before whom "all things are naked and open," causes the whole course of things to work together for its exposure (2 Samuel 12:12), in order to teach men to avoid "the way of lying," and "speak the truth in their heart." It was through the operation of his providence that Doeg was there that day. Human history and individual life afford innumerable instances of the exposure of deceit in unexpected ways (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
"Lie not; but let thy heart be true to God,
IV. IT INVARIABLY PRODUCES PERNICIOUS CONSEQUENCES.
1. In those who deceive - by their moral deterioration, encouragement in deception when they are successful, and filling them sooner or later with bitter regret (1 Samuel 22:22).
2. In those who are deceived, to an extent which cannot be anticipated.
3. In other men, by lessening their confidence in one another, and giving "occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Samuel 12:14). Learn -
1. That we may not "do evil that good may come."
2. To judge charitably of others, inasmuch as we know not the strength of their temptations.
3. To watch against the least approach to deception in ourselves.
4. To seek preservation from it by firmly trusting in God. - D.
Then came David to Nob.
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.)
PeopleAchish, Ahimelech, David, Doeg, Elah, Goliath, Saul
PlacesGath, Nob, Valley of Elah
TopicsAfraid, Ahimelech, Ahim'elech, Alone, David, Fear, Full, Meet, Meeting, Met, Nob, Priest, Thyself, Trembled, Trembleth, Trembling, Wherefore
Outline1. David at Nob obtains Ahimelech's hallowed bread
7. Doeg is present
8. David takes Goliath's sword
10. David at Gath feigns himself insane
Dictionary of Bible Themes1 Samuel 21:1
LibraryHistorical Criticism of Mediæval Amplifications.
But along with the genuine and trustworthy matter, the compiler has embodied much that is unattested and in many cases inherently improbable, and even some things that are demonstrably untrue. i. The Miraculous Details.--To the category of the improbable--the fiction of hagiology or the growth of myth--belong the miracles so freely ascribed to Ephraim and the miraculous events represented as attending on his career. It is noteworthy that Ephraim himself, though no doubt he believed that he was …
Ephraim the Syrian—Hymns and Homilies of Ephraim the Syrian
The Exile Continued.
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