1Then David departed on his way, while Jonathan went back into the city.
The Holy Bread. 2David went to Ahimelech, the priest of Nob, who came trembling to meet him. He asked, “Why are you alone? Is there no one with you?”* a 3David answered the priest: “The king gave me a commission and told me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I have sent you or the commission I have given you.’ For that reason I have arranged a particular meeting place with my men. 4b Now what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves, or whatever you can find.” 5* But the priest replied to David, “I have no ordinary bread on hand, only holy bread; if the men have abstained from women, you may eat some of that.” 6David answered the priest: “We have indeed stayed away from women. In the past whenever I went out on a campaign, all the young men were consecrated—even for an ordinary campaign. All the more so are they consecrated with their weapons today!” 7So the priest gave him holy bread, for no other bread was on hand except the showbread which had been removed from before the LORD and replaced by fresh bread when it was taken away.c 8One of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the LORD;* his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds.d
The Sword of Goliath. 9David then asked Ahimelech: “Do you have a spear or a sword on hand? I brought along neither my sword nor my weapons, because the king’s business was urgent.” 10The priest replied: “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here wrapped in a garment behind an ephod.* If you wish to take it, do so; there is no sword here except that one.” “There is none like it,” David cried, “give it to me!”e
David a Fugitive. 11That same day David fled from Saul, going to Achish, king of Gath.f 12But the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David, the king of the land? Is it not for him that during their dances they sing out,
‘Saul has slain his thousands,
David his tens of thousands’?”g
13David took note of these remarks and became very much afraid of Achish, king of Gath.* 14So, he feigned insanity in front of them and acted like a madman in their custody, drumming on the doors of the gate and drooling onto his beard. 15Finally Achish said to his servants: “You see the man is mad. Why did you bring him to me? 16Do I not have enough madmen, that you bring this one to rant in my presence? Should this fellow come into my house?”
* [21:2] Ahimelech realizes that he risks incurring Saul’s anger if David has come to Nob as a fugitive.
* [21:5–6] According to Lv 24:5–9, the showbread consisted of twelve loaves that were replaced each sabbath. Since the old bread was to be consumed by the priests, Ahimelech questions David regarding the ritual purity of his men (see 2 Sm 11:11). David’s answer supposes the discipline of a military campaign under the conditions of “holy war” (Dt 23:10–15).
* [21:8] Detained before the LORD: perhaps to fulfill a ritual obligation. David’s arrival at Nob seems to coincide with a festival day, since the showbread has recently been replaced with fresh bread. Shepherds: i.e., Saul’s palace guard. Cf. 22:9–10, where Doeg has easy access to Saul.
* [21:10] Ephod: here an object or image large enough to conceal Goliath’s sword. Cf. Gideon’s ephod in Jgs 8:27.
* [21:13] Gath: a Philistine city (see note on 5:1–12), the home of Goliath.
a. [21:2] 1 Sm 16:4; Is 10:32; Mk 2:26.
c. [21:7] Lv 24:5–9; Mt 12:3–4; Mk 2:26; Lk 6:3–5.
e. [21:10] 1 Sm 17:51, 54.