1 Samuel 21; 22:1-5: David and the Showbread
David. What do you remember about him? He was a shepherd taking care of the sheep, he played the harp for Saul, and he fought the giant Goliath. Why was Saul angry with David, so that David could not live longer at Saul's home? Do you remember Jonathan, Saul's son? How did he show his love for David?
David had left Saul's home at Gibeah and he was trying to find a place where he would be safe from Saul. He came to the tabernacle at Nob, which was near Jerusalem. You remember the tabernacle at Shiloh, when the little Samuel was there and helped the old priest Eli. David came and asked for bread, and the priest gave him the only bread he had, which was the holy showbread. Each Sabbath day the thin loaves of bread were put in piles on the table in the tabernacle, and when it was taken away the next Sabbath it was eaten by the priests in the holy place in the tabernacle. The priest gave David this holy bread, and David gave some to the men who were with him.
David asked also for a sword, and the priest gave him the only one that he had, which was the sword of Goliath which David himself had taken from the giant when he killed him with the stone from his sling.
Where could David go now to be safe from Saul? He went first to Achish, King of Gath, in the Philistine country, but he was not safe there and he hid in a cave, the cave of Adullam among the hills of Judah, near to the place where he had fought with the giant Goliath and not far from Bethlehem where he used to live. His family came to him in the cave, and discontented men and men who were in trouble, until he had with him a band of four hundred men. He found a safe place for his father and mother, and went with his men to the forest or thicket of Hareth, among the hills of Judah. He did not stay long in one place, but was moving from place to place to be safe from Saul. We shall learn more about his wanderings.
Do you remember the leave-taking of David and Jonathan in the field, when Jonathan had found that Saul was still angry with David and that it was not safe for David to stay at Saul's home? Do you remember the sign that Jonathan gave, by shooting arrows? Why was Saul jealous of David and trying to kill him?
We have now to flee with David from one place to another, where he may be safe from Saul. He came one day to the tabernacle, not now at Shiloh but at Nob, near Jerusalem, perhaps on the northern ridge of the Mount of Olives. He asked for bread, and the priest gave him the holy showbread. Someone read Exod. 25:23-30 and Lev. 24:5-9, and tell us about the showbread. Where was it put in the tabernacle? ("Rows" probably means piles.) How often was it renewed? What disposition was made of the loaves taken from the table? Who was Doeg in this story? You can read more about him in 1 Sam. 22.
We know from our story today what the Lord referred to when He said to the Pharisees, "Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?" (Matt. 12:3-4)
David asked for a sword, and the sword of Goliath was given to him. When have we heard before of this sword? (1 Sam. 17:45, 51)
We find David next with Achish, King of Gath. Do you remember Gath? Can you find it on the map? It was one of the five Philistine cities near to the hills of Judah and the valley of Elah where David had killed Goliath, and it was the city where Goliath lived. It would seem to be a dangerous place for David to be in, if the people remembered him and the battle in which Goliath had been killed. And they did remember. How did David escape? (1 Sam. 21:10-15)
We go with David to the cave of Adullam in the hills near the valley of Elah. Here David's family came to him. Where did David find a safe place for his father and mother? For Saul's anger might lead him to do them harm. (1 Sam. 22:3-4) And read of the men who came to David till there were four hundred with him. What kind of men were they? We now find David and this company of men in the forest or thicket of Hareth, among the hills of Judah, perhaps near Hebron.
Many of the Psalms were sung by David, some of them at the time of our story. Read the titles over Psalms 18, 34, 52, 54, 56, 57, 63, 142; and read Psalm 57.
1. Where did David go to the tabernacle when he fled from Saul? What did he receive there?
2. Where did David go in the Philistine country? In what cave did he hide? In what wood? Was David alone?
3. How did the Lord refer to this story of David at the tabernacle?
Coming back to the story of David, we are still with Scripture which in its deeper sense is about the Lord, for David represents the Lord as king, and His spiritual victories. David spoke from the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Sam. 23:1-2), and many things which he said in the Psalms about himself are in a fuller sense about the Lord. (L. 43, 44)
Remember that truth is the kingly power in life. (John 18:37) We have recognized Saul as a type of a natural and youthful understanding of truth which is limited in its power, and David as a type of a spiritual understanding which is stronger and more successful in ordering the life. Saul's jealousy toward David and his persecution of David describe the difficulty of the natural mind in yielding the rule of the life to a more spiritual understanding. There were trials for the Lord in humbling all natural thoughts and submitting all to the truth which was Divine. See in Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms the brief explanation of Psalms of this period of David's life in application to temptations of the Lord. Psalm 56: "The Lord's temptations, in which His trust is fixed in the Father; the malice of the infernals; that the Father would assist Him in His affliction; that He shall be assisted; thanksgiving for protection." Psalm 142: "A prayer of the Lord to the Father that He would assist in temptation; because no one knoweth Him but the Father alone; in Whom is His trust; that He may be delivered from temptation and come amongst those who acknowledge Him."
The hardships of David in this part of the story picture the difficulty which a spiritual understanding and life find in becoming established in us. The persecution by Saul is the opposition on the part of our natural, self-confident feelings. The gentler, more useful and spiritual life seems weak to these natural feelings; they despise it; they are annoyed and made angry by it. But in this time of hardship the new and struggling life looks up to heaven and the Lord, as David fled to the tabernacle. (Ps. 27:5) It finds new strength both for heart and understanding, represented by the bread and sword that were given to David.
"Bread which strengtheneth man's heart," is satisfaction in unselfish usefulness, with a grateful sense of the Lord's great goodness. This is the daily bread that we ask for in the prayer. This is represented by the bread of the Holy Supper and by the showbread of the tabernacle. It was right that David should have the showbread, for the more spiritual, more trustful, more useful life that he represents, is sustained by this inward satisfaction.
In the beginning of this persecution David received bread at the tabernacle. We see in this a picture of the Lord's strengthening from the Divine by the bread of Divine goodness. The Lord cited this eating of the hallowed bread by David as justifying His use of the Sabbath. What David's action represented, the Lord was actually doing: receiving the bread of the Divine goodness and expressing it in abundant works of love. This was the very meaning of the Sabbath. And the Lord, like David, gave also to those who were with Him. (A. 2177, 9545; R. 854)
The sword in the hand of Goliath represented the power of keen intellect and reason used by a proud and evil motive to justify itself and destroy good. The same sword in the hand of David and received now from the tabernacle, represented the power of intellect separated from all evil motive and dedicated to the Divine service. When David now found the sword of Goliath at the tabernacle, it was "wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod." The ephod was the priestly vest to which was fastened the breastplate by which they inquired of the Lord. The giant's sword received from the tabernacle and from behind the ephod, represents the power of reason which is from the Lord and is guided by His truth. (A. 2799, 9824; E. 131)
David's escape from Achish by pretending to be mad suggests the safety which heavenly things sometimes have because they seem as foolishness to those who are in evil and not worthy of serious attack.