1 Samuel 21:1-9 – David and the Holy Bread
There are two reasons why this little slice of David’s life is notable.
- From this point on in the narrative David is a fugitive from Saul’s court. During this time, Saul’s active pursuit of David forces him to be constantly on the run. But this seeming hardship is in fact a blessing that in these trying times prepares David to be King of Judah and Israel. In our text David must rely on his wits (that is, falsely represent himself to the priest at Nob) in order to obtain needed food and weapons. While David’s lie is troubling, the text invites us to see God’s support of his anointed in these mundane activities. David eats the holy bread of the Presence and wields the deeply symbolic holy sword of Goliath, rendered sacred as the spoil of the holy war in chapter 17.
- In all three Synoptic Gospels Jesus uses this specific story as evidence in a controversy with the Pharisees concerning the relationship between human need and ritual requirements (Mark 2:23-28; Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5). The religious leaders are concerned that the disciples were plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath, which was forbidden (Exodus 34:21). Jesus responded that just as David needed food in 1 Sam 21:1-9, so the disciples were hungry and that in both instances human need took precedence over cultic regulations.