"There is no common bread on hand," the priest replied, "but there is some consecrated bread--provided that the young men have kept themselves from women."
1 Samuel 21:3-6. (Nob.)1 Samuel 7:1) had been placed. But the condition of the priesthood was very different from what it once was. The spiritual power of the nation lay in the "company of the prophets;" and Saul, rejected of God and ruling according to his own will, "assumed the power of giving the high priest orders at all times through his messengers (1 Samuel 21:2); so far had the theocracy sunk from that state in which the people used to stand before the tabernacle to receive the sole behests of Jehovah their King, through the prophet and priest" (Smith, 'O.T. History'). Nevertheless Ahimelech (Ahiah, 1 Samuel 14:36) appears to have been a man of high character (1 Samuel 22:14, 15); and when David, in his necessity, requested "five loaves," he gave them to him from the shewbread which had just been removed from the holy place. He may have been influenced by sympathy with David's character and position (of which he could not fail to know something), as well as by compassion for his need and by loyalty to the king, or by the advice of Abiathar (his son and successor, afterwards friend and companion of David - 1 Samuel 22:20-23; 1 Kings 2:26; and removed from the priesthood by Solomon, giving place to Zadok, of the elder branch of the Aaronic family). The shewbread (literally, "bread of the presence") "set forth Israel's permanent consecration in obedience and in producing the fruit of good works" (see Fairbairn, 'Typology,' 2:324), and was permitted to be eaten only by the priests (Leviticus 24:9); but he departed, with some reserve (ver. 4), from the strict letter in observance of the spirit of the law. And our Lord "selected this act of Ahimelech as the one incident in David's life on which to bestow his especial commendation, because it contained - however tremulously and guardedly expressed - the great evangelical truth that the ceremonial law, however rigid, must give way before the claims of suffering humanity" (Stanley). Observe that -
I. THE LETTER IS DISTINCT FROM THE SPIRIT. To the former belong particular customs, maxims, rules, rites, and ceremonies; to the latter, general principles, and essential moral and spiritual obligations. As a simple illustration - Christ said to his disciples, "Ye also ought to wash one another's feet" (here is the rule); "Love one another (here is the principle).
1. The letter rests upon the spirit as its foundation. The whole Mosaic law, as law (moral, ceremonial, political), was a "letter" based upon great principles, springing directly out of the relation of God to men - granite foundations on which more recent strata rest, and which often crop through them into distinct view (Leviticus 18:18; Deuteronomy 6:5). "There is a 'letter' and 'spirit' in everything. Every statement, every law, every institution is the form of an essence, the body of a soul, the instrument of a power. These two things are quite distinct - they may be quite different" (A.J. Morris, 'Christ the Spirit of Christianity').
2. The letter is a means to an end, the spirit is the end itself. The shew bread was set apart for a particular purpose, and permitted to be eaten only by the priests, in order to represent and promote the consecration, good works, and true welfare of the whole people. So "the sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27).
3. The letter is restricted in its application to certain persons, places, and times; the spirit is universal and abiding.
4. The letter (as such) is in its requirement outward, formal, mechanical, and in its effect conservative, constraining, and pre paratory; the spirit necessarily demands thoughtfulness, affection, moral choice, and is productive of liberty, energy, perfection. "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63).
II. THE LETTER MAY BE CONTRARY TO THE SPIRIT. It is not essentially so; it is not always so when men imagine it to be, as, e.g., when it is a restraint only upon their selfish convenience and sinful propensities. The fact that it is such a restraint shows that they still need the discipline of the law and the letter. If they were truly spiritual and free it would not be felt. But generally -
1. When it is applied to cases not contemplated by it, - to inappropriate times and circumstances, - and when it hinders rather than promotes its chief end.
2. More particularly when it prevents the meeting of the real and urgent necessities of men, and the accomplishment of their true welfare - the satisfaction of hunger, the removal of sickness, the preservation of life, the salvation of the soul (Matthew 12:1, 12). On this principle David "entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread," etc.
3. When it is opposed to the proper exercise of benevolence. On this principle Ahimelech gave him the bread, and our Lord acted (Luke 6:10). "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).
4. When it hinders the highest service of God. In all such instances the strict observance of the letter "works mischief and misery, and not only kills, but kills the spirit itself from which it came" (2 Corinthians 3:6).
III. THE LETTER MUST BE SUBORDINATED TO THE SPIRIT. It should not be despised or arbitrarily set aside; but the lower obligation (in so far as the "letter" is obligatory) ought to be secondary and subservient, and give place to the higher. And we learn that -
1. In the order of God's dealings with men it was necessary that the dispensation of the letter should be superseded by that of the spirit. This incident affords a glimpse of their predominant elements. "The law was like a book of first lessons - lessons for children. Christianity is like a book for men."
2. In the Christian dispensation what is ceremonial, regulative, temporary (however important) must be deemed of less consequence than what is moral, essential, enduring; and devotion to the former should be surpassed by devotion to the latter. Unduly to exalt external rites or special forms of worship is to return to the bondage of the letter; whilst zealously to contend about them without brotherly love and charity is to lose the substance for the sake of shadows. "Redeemed and sanctified man stands no longer under the disciplinary form of the law, but stands above and controls the form of the requirement" (Erdmann). He is a king and priest. "Pure religion" (literally, outward ceremonial service), etc. (James 1:27). It is charity and purity.
3. In the individual life - renewed and sanctified - the chief endeavour should ever be to "live in the spirit," and exhibit "charity out of a pure heart" (1 Timothy 1:5).
"I'm apt to think the man 4. In everything Christ must be regarded as supreme, the perfect embodiment and only source of the spirit, Redeemer, Lord, "all and in all" (Colossians 3:11; 2 Corinthians 3:17, 18). - D. 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.).
4. In everything Christ must be regarded as supreme, the perfect embodiment and only source of the spirit, Redeemer, Lord, "all and in all" (Colossians 3:11; 2 Corinthians 3:17, 18). - D.
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.).
PeopleAchish, Ahimelech, David, Doeg, Elah, Goliath, Saul
PlacesGath, Nob, Valley of Elah
TopicsAnswereth, Answering, Bread, Common, Consecrated, David, Hallowed, Holy, However, Kept, Least, Ordinary, Priest, Provided, Themselves, Women, Youths
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 21:4
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.
Touching Jacob, However, that which He did at his Mother's Bidding...
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