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1 Samuel 21:1-9 – David and the Holy Bread


There are two reasons why this little slice of David’s life is notable.


  1. 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.  
  2. 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.

1 Samuel 21:1-9

David and the Holy Bread

21*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. 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.

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 shepherds.

David 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.’ 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.’