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18. A Man Without a Country (1 Samuel 21:1-22:4)

Introduction

Before I began attending college, I had two summer jobs. I had been working at an automotive parts house for a couple years, but since business had been a little slow, I took another job to supplement my income working for the Dairy Queen right across the street from the parts house. My job was not to work at the Dairy Queen but to work for this business by driving a little Cushman scooter, the kind that was built like a miniature pickup truck. In the “bed” of this vehicle was a freezer loaded with “Dilly Bars.” The front of the scooter had a little cab, without doors. My job was to drive around my hometown of Shelton, Washington, selling Dilly Bars to all the children who heard me coming and ran out to buy ice cream. Climbing and descending the hills of Shelton was a challenge, but the biggest danger was avoiding the dogs. Some chased me, while the meaner ones seemed to want to join me in the cab, or, even worse, tried to extract me from the cab. The job did not have high social status, as I sought to attract youthful customers while trying to discourage the dogs.

On one particular occasion, I found myself in a difficult dilemma. I was needed at the parts house and by the Dairy Queen to drive the scooter. When I presented the problem to my dad, he volunteered to stand (or sit) in for me on the Dairy Queen scooter. All went reasonably well. My dad negotiated the scooter over the hills, and the neighborhood dogs behaved themselves somewhat. Then an adult customer approached the scooter to buy ice cream for her children. When this woman looked into the scooter, both she and the driver were taken by surprise. She was the wife of one of the school board members, and my father was the principle of the school. Trying to see the humor in the situation, she responded, “Buy a dilly bar and help a kid through college?” They both had to laugh.

Life does have its embarrassing moments, does it not? I remember one Sunday in church when Mrs. Drebick fainted, and help was summoned to carry her out. As two men tried to discreetly remove her from her seat, her leg suddenly jerked straight, kicking the hat of the woman sitting directly in front of her, and causing it to cascade down over this woman’s face. I know I should not have laughed. . . .

One of my most embarrassing moments was when I was selected to stand up before the whole church and give my testimony about the summer camp I had just attended. All went reasonably well on the way up to the platform and even during my brief talk. But the pastor played an electric guitar to accompany our singing, so when I attempted to leave the pulpit and step down from the platform, my feet got tangled up in the cord leading to his guitar. I tripped and stumbled, barely avoiding sprawling on the platform before the church, but I did manage to rip the cord out of his guitar.

We all have had embarrassing moments, and I wish I could hear your most embarrassing moment. Even King David had his embarrassing moments. In our text, David has several humiliating experiences, all due to Saul’s jealousy of David and his attempts to kill him. As bad as they are at the moment, these painful episodes prove beneficial to David. As we look at the things that happened to David, we begin to see how God uses similar situations to benefit us. Let us look carefully for what God has to teach us from our text.

A Brief Review

Things have not always been bad between Saul and David. At one time, Saul felt very warmly toward David (16:21), and there was a time when he rejoiced in David’s victory over Goliath and the Philistines (19:5). David’s anointing as Saul’s replacement was not due to David’s ambition, but the result of Saul’s own folly. In a moment of panic, Saul disobeyed Samuel’s instructions to wait for him (10:8) and offered sacrifices himself (chapter 13). Samuel rebuked Saul for this, but Saul never really repented of this sin. Later, Saul failed to totally annihilate the Amalekites as God had instructed him in chapter 15. All of this spelled the end of Saul’s dynasty, and this Samuel told to Saul.

We know the Spirit of God departed from Saul and was replaced by an “evil spirit from the Lord.” We know too that the Spirit of God then descended with power upon David (16:13-14). This opened the door for David’s employment by Saul to soothe his troubled spirit by playing his harp (16:14-23). Although Saul loved David in the beginning, he soon became intensely jealous of him. He could even hear it in the songs the women sang about David (18:7), in the deep love and affection shown David by his own family (18:1-5, 20), and the respect and admiration he gained from those in Saul’s army (18:13-16, 30). Saul became suspicious of David’s every deed. The song the women sang, comparing and contrasting David’s victory with Saul’s, finally put Saul over the edge.

Saul made numerous attempts on David’s life. Some were concealed, such as offering David one of his daughters in marriage (which required David to act valiantly in war to prove his worthiness as a husband – 18:17-29). Other efforts were more open, such as Saul seeking to run David through with his spear (18:10-12). Finally, Saul gave orders for David to be killed (19:1). As a result of his son Jonathan’s appeal, this order was rescinded for a time (19:1-7), but before long Saul once again actively sought to kill David (19:8ff.). Jonathan and David met and devised a plan which would make it very clear that Saul indeed was intent on killing David. This resulted in David fleeing from Saul, and sadly parting from Jonathan (chapter 20).

Now in chapter 21, we find David a political refugee, a man without a country. We have come to a new chapter in David’s life. It is a painful time of separation from his wife, from his position in Saul’s employ, and from his beloved friend Jonathan. It is also a dangerous time, but one in which God’s anointed cannot be killed, no matter how great the danger might appear. It is a time of growth and preparation for David, a time that prepares him for the day he will rule over Israel as God’s anointed king.

Borrowed Bread
(21:1-9)

1 Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David, and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” 2 And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter, and has said to me, 'Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.' 3 “Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.” 4 And the priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” 5 And David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?” 6 So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away. 7 Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul's shepherds. 8 And David said to Ahimelech, “Now is there not a spear or a sword on hand? For I brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's matter was urgent.” 9 Then the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you would take it for yourself, take it. For there is no other except it here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

Where could David possibly go for refuge or even help? Surely Ahimelech the high priest can be trusted. And so David flees to Nob, the city of the priests, a few miles to the north and east of Jerusalem (a few miles south of Gibeah, Saul’s hometown). David is well aware of Saul’s influence and his potential for violence. So he keeps his true purpose for coming a secret, perhaps thinking he is doing the priest a favor. It does not turn out that way, as we shall see.

Ahimelech is no one’s fool either. When he sees David, he comes trembling to meet him (compare 16:1-5). He is especially troubled to see David coming alone and questions him about this. David has been made the commander of a thousand by Saul. If he is coming in an official capacity (as he has a number of times in the past – see 22:15), then he should be with his men. “Where are they?” the priest wonders. He asks David about his coming alone.

David has a ready-made story for the priest. I do not know whether or not the priest believes it, but he does know better than to press David on this point. He takes David’s words at face value. David believes that if he keeps Ahimelech ignorant, Saul will surely not harm him. David is wrong. David tells the priest he is on special assignment for King Saul, that the king has sent him on a top-secret mission, one he cannot even describe to Ahimelech. David tells Ahimelech he is not alone; his men are secretly hidden a short distance away. All of this cloak and dagger stuff adds importance to the mission, or at least David hopes it does.

David now comes to the reason for his visit: he needs some provisions. Carrying on with his deception, he tells Ahimelech that he needs some bread. The only bread the priest has on hand is sacred bread, the showbread, which is normally eaten only by the priests. If David and his men have not been rendered ceremonially unclean by sexual relations with women,92 the priest will give five loaves of the consecrated bread to David. David assures him that this is the case. If, in normal circumstances this was always the case, how much more so in this instance. The priest gives David the sacred bread, but as he does so, Doeg the Edomite looks on with great interest. Doeg is the “chief of Saul’s shepherds,” a job David could handle very well. It will not be long before Doeg reports what he has seen to Saul, bringing death to almost every soul in the city of Nob (see 22:6-23).

David now asks Ahimelech for a sword. Few swords could be found in the entire kingdom, much less in the camp of the priests. What need had they for weapons? There was but one sword on the premises, the sword of Goliath, the sword David had obtained by his victory over this Philistine giant. The sword was a kind of trophy, a memorial of the victory God gave Israel through David. In truth, it belongs to David anyway, so the priest willingly gives it to him, no doubt wondering why David came so ill prepared for battle. David gives the excuse that he was in such a hurry he didn’t have time to get his sword or other weapons. This must have produced a puzzled look on the priest’s face, as David’s story becomes harder and harder to believe. Nevertheless, he gives David Goliath’s sword, and it appears David promptly leaves for Gath.

So It’s Come to This
or
Seeking to Make an Ally of Achish
(21:10-15)

10 Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying, ' Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands'?” 12 And David took these words to heart, and greatly feared Achish king of Gath. 13 So he disguised his sanity before them, and acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man behaving as a madman. Why do you bring him to me? 15 “Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this one to act the madman in my presence? Shall this one come into my house?”

As a teacher of the Scriptures, I have conducted a good many seminars inside prison walls. There is always the possibility of trouble. Occasionally, I pondered the question of what I would do if some kind of riot broke out while I was inside the prison walls. In a number of cases, I would have chosen to be on the inside of those bars, with believing inmates, rather than on the outside with unbelieving guards. My prison seminars help me understand these incredible closing verses in 1 Samuel 21.

It is truly amazing what David does here. David flees from Israel to the land of the Philistines. He leaves the people of God for the enemies of God. He seeks refuge from King Achish with whom he has done battle before. David has been to Gath before – well, almost. After he killed Goliath, the Philistine champion, David and the Israelites pursued the Philistines, killing them right up to the cities of Gath and Ekron (1 Samuel 17:51-52). Now, David approaches Gath again, but this time as a political refugee seeking asylum from Achish.

David comes to Gath seeking protection and sanctuary, but this is the hometown of Goliath (17:23) whom he killed. To make matters worse, David is carrying Goliath’s sword (verses 8-9). I would think David must be crazy to come to Gath, even more so than his conduct at Gath (verse 13). If these verses tell us anything, it is how intent Saul is on killing David. If David is forced to seek sanctuary among his enemies, what does this tell us about his “friend,” Saul? This is but another confirmation of the hostility (even insanity) of Saul. Things are desperate indeed!

The author of this account is not nearly as interested in telling us about David’s arrival at Gath as in describing his departure. Whatever David’s reasons for going to Gath, it is quite obvious that God does not want him there. God uses the servants of Achish to pressure this Philistine king to take David as a serious threat to Philistine security. Both here and in chapters 27-29, Achish is presented as less than astute and gullible. Somehow, he takes a liking to David. He seems overly confident of David’s submission to him and of his value as an ally. He does not willingly entertain thoughts that David may still be a loyal Israelite, soon to take the throne over Israel.

It was not unusual for kings to take in political refugees from nearby nations (see, for example, 1 Kings 11:40; 2 Kings 25:27-30). If they were given sanctuary, they might become grateful allies, if not loyal subjects. These refugees are a kind of trophy, a living testimony to the military dominance and power of the host nation. Achish is brought back to reality by his servants. Does the king not remember that David was designated as Israel’s next king? Does he not remember Goliath’s death and their defeat by Israel under David’s leadership? Has he forgotten the song sung about David, proclaiming him to be greater than Saul:

“Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands”

Achish is forced to think through his offer to give David sanctuary in Gath. While he is thinking about this, David is thinking too. He has heard of the counsel the king’s servants gave to Achish. He knows that if their advice is taken, he might be put to death. He is in trouble, a lot of trouble. How can David get out of this predicament with his life?

It turns out there is a way. David does escape with his life, but not with his dignity. If he arrives as a dreaded warrior, greater even than Goliath, he leaves as a lunatic. David somehow lands on the idea of acting insane. If he can convince the king that he has lost his sanity, he will no longer be taken seriously, and he might even be allowed to live. So David begins to carry out his plan. He scribbles on the doors of the city gate and lets the saliva run down his face and in his beard. He is disgusting and pathetic.

If his act convinces no one else, it convinces the king. Achish really does not want to kill David anyway. He seems to genuinely like him. This is his way out. The king needs not take a madman seriously! There is no glory in killing David. There is no benefit to keeping him in Gath. Gath is not a mental asylum! They have enough crazy Philistines in town; they do not need an Israelite madman as well. And so Achish has David run out of town. David’s life is spared, and the concerns of the advisors of the king are dealt with. This, so it seems, is a win-win situation.

David Becomes a Cave Dweller and a Captain
(22:1-2)

1 So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father's household heard of it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.

David makes his way back into the territory of Judah, but not too far from Israel’s border with Philistia. He hides away in the cave of Adullam. The location of Adullam is not certain, but it seems to have been located several miles or so east of Gath toward Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It appears David has found a safe, secluded hideout just far enough away from Gath and not too close to Saul.

Up until now, David seems to be alone. But when he hides out at the cave of Adullam, a number of people begin to arrive hoping to associate with David. The first to hear of David’s whereabouts seem to be his family, who join him at the cave. They must sense that once David is regarded as Saul’s enemy, they are not safe either. This seems to be a safe assumption, based upon the fate of the priests (see chapter 22). Others follow, those in distress, in debt, or out of favor with Saul. They come to David as their new leader. One wonders, do these men, like our Lord’s disciples, hope for a new king and a new kingdom which will overthrow the old? During his stay at the cave, those joining with David come to number around 400.

To Moab and Back
(22:3-5)

3 And David went from there to Mizpah of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you until I know what God will do for me.” 4 Then he left them with the king of Moab; and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold. 5 And the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.

The cave outgrown, or David’s whereabouts too well known, David moves on to Mizpah of Moab to seek a place of refuge for his elderly parents (see 1 Samuel 17:12). They are not safe in Bethlehem, because Saul can too easily get to them and thus to David through them. Neither are they able to keep up the pace David and the others have to maintain, quickly moving from one deserted, remote place to another. They are not cut out for the life of a fugitive. So David seeks a place of refuge for them in Moab. You may remember that Ruth, David’s great-grandmother, was a Moabite woman (see Ruth 1:4; 4:13-17). This may incline the King of Moab to grant David’s request. This seems to put David’s parents out of harm’s way during the years he flees from Saul.

While David is hiding in the stronghold in Moab, prophet Gad comes to David with a word from God. David is not to continue to hide out in the stronghold. He must leave there and return to the land of Judah.93 David obeys the command of the prophet, although he may wonder why he is told to return to Judah rather than remain in Moab. By the time we reach chapter 26, David will know why and will tell us (and Saul). David returns to Judah, hiding out in the forest of Hareth, a kind of ancient Robin Hood.

Conclusion

One thing that is quite apparent in this passage of Scripture is the truth of the words written by the apostle James in the New Testament:

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months (James 5:17).

Many like to think of David as a real man. I believe our text portrays him as a real man. He does not always think or do the spiritual thing. He has a heart for God, but he also has feet of clay. David seeks refuge from Ahimelech, yet admits that he knows better. He admits that he is to blame for the deaths of the priests and their families (22:22). He flees to Philistia, looking to his enemies for sanctuary, rather than to God. He then flees to Moab, where a prophet must tell him to go home. David does not do everything right. He is a real man, not a caricature, and not a mythical creation of some author’s mind. It is often because of David’s failures that we are encouraged and given hope, for he was a man “with a nature like ours.” God deals graciously with us as He did with David.

One could quite easily pass over the events of our text without taking a second look. To the untrained eye, it looks like David has very good luck, at least twice in our text. First, David manages to escape to Nob where there is no bread except that reserved for the priests. Ahimelech makes an exception and gives David some of this bread. Second, David “escapes” to the land of the Philistines, bearing Goliath’s sword, and finding himself at this giant’s hometown. He seems marked for death, but his feigned insanity gets him an escort out of town. How lucky can a guy get?

David’s Deliverance and David’s Psalms

Other texts of Scripture make it very clear that this is not “good luck,” nor is David’s deliverance the result of his cunning. This is a divine deliverance. In fact, we shall soon see (chapter 22) that while David escapes from Nob to Gath, the priests and their families are not so fortunate. The veil is lifted for us in the Psalms. The historical backdrop of Psalm 52 is Doeg’s report to Saul that he has seen David at Nob. Psalms 34 and 56 are written during David’s time at Gath. Psalms 57 and 142 are written while David hides out in the cave. These psalms are David’s reflections and considered conclusions about what really happened in our text. Let us pause to briefly reflect on some of the lessons the Psalms point out to us.

(1) Deliverance is Divine. God is the One who saves. Consequently, He is the One to whom we must cry for deliverance (34:4-7; 57:1-3; 142). He is also the One whom we must praise for delivering us. It may not always look as though God is the one doing the delivering, but all deliverance is from Him. On the surface, one would not see God as David’s Deliverer when He spares him at Gath, but Psalm 34 makes it very clear that David’s deliverance is from the Lord.

(2) God is our Deliverer from those who seek our destruction (56:1-7; 57:4-6). David sees his destruction as purposed by wicked men and God as the One who delivers men from the hands of the wicked.

(3) Divine deliverance is given to those who love and trust God, and who call upon Him for salvation (56:3-4, 9-11; 57:1-3; 142:1-2). God cares for, and thus protects, His loved ones, those who seek refuge in Him. He delivers those who fear Him and who call upon Him for salvation.

(4) God’s deliverance is undeserved; it is a gift of His grace (57:1). Divine deliverance is not granted because men merit it, but because God is gracious and merciful. He is moved with compassion by our afflictions (34:17-18; 56:8). His deliverance often comes from the consequences of our own foolishness and sin.

(5) God delivers men in order to bring about thanksgiving, praise, and glory to Himself (Psalm 56:12; 57:5, 8, 9, 11; 142:7). When God delivers men from their afflictions, they are expected to publicly thank and praise Him for His goodness, and thus to publicly glorify Him. In this way, our divinely-wrought deliverance is not just for our good, but for God’s glory.

(6) God also delivers men so they may learn more of Him, and then instruct others from what they have learned (34:8-14). I believe David writes about the fear of the Lord in Psalm 34 because he has learned a great deal about fear. David is first afraid of men. This appears to be his reason for fleeing to Gath. He fears Saul. Then, he seems to fear the Philistines. David learns that God casts our fears aside, and in the process, we learn to fear God rather than men. This fear of God teaches us to “keep our tongue from evil, and our lips from speaking guile” (34:13). I believe David recognizes the importance of telling the truth, and when he comes to fear God more than men, he speaks the truth and urges others to do likewise. David’s deliverance enables him to instruct others from what he has learned.

(7) God delivers, even when it appears the deliverance is wrought by other means (34). Who would even think that David’s acting insane and his expulsion from Gath is from the hand of God? Is it not good luck, or skillful acting, on David’s part? Not in David’s mind! It is God who delivers David from Gath, even if the means He employs is David’s feigned insanity. (Was it not God who first planted the idea of feigning insanity in David’s mind?)

(8) God works though means that appear normal and, perhaps, even disgustingly human (34). Have you ever watched a movie that sought to portray some spiritual or religious theme? Even when I am away from the television, listening only to the sound, I can tell when a “spiritual” scene is taking place. There is almost always a background of “heavenly music.” I don’t know how to describe it, but it is music with an auditory halo. It is music we have come to associate as spiritual or heavenly (usually violins or harps are employed for the desired effect).

Do you remember seeing the sign placed along the highway before you come to a road repair or construction site? It reads, “Slow, Men Working.” I think this is the way many Christians expect God to act. When God is delivering someone in the Bible, we expect to see a sign which reads, in effect: “Slow, God Working.” We want to hear some form of “heavenly music” playing in the background, or something which tells us that God is present. But such trappings are not evident at the time that Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery. They are not evident, to Job at least, when Satan makes his life miserable. Neither are they evident when David is drooling and doodling in Gath. But God is at work, even when it is not apparent to our eyes. Later on in the Book of 2 Samuel, we will see that Solomon becomes the heir to his father’s (David’s) throne, even though he is born to Bathsheba, the woman who is Uriah’s wife. The temple will be built on ground that David purchased because he willfully numbered the people of Israel, knowing it was wrong. It was at the threshing floor of Arunah, the Jebusite, that David offered a sacrifice to God when the plague was halted by God (2 Samuel 24). God is at work where we would never expect to see His hand.

(9) God’s deliverance is often brought about in the midst of circumstances which make escape seem impossible (142:4). God delights to let us get into impossible situations, so that when He saves us, it is very clear that it was entirely of Him. In his psalms, David paints a very bleak picture of his condition, and then goes on to describe the way God rescues him.

(10) God delivers us in ways that are not flattering, but humbling. Occasionally film footage on the television news shows the rescue of someone in a most unflattering way. It may be a woman, whose hair is a mess, whose face is dirty, and whose clothing is deplorable. No one likes to be rescued in this way, or in this condition, but when given the choice of being rescued in a humbling way or not being rescued at all, the decision is rather obvious. God rescues David in a way that humbles him greatly. God is not out to bolster David’s ego; He is out to save David in a way that humbles him and causes him to turn to Him for deliverance. It is strange but true that God often has to humble us first, so that we will see how desperate our circumstances are, so that we will humbly cry out to Him for deliverance.

As I think through the Bible, I realize how often God “saves” or delivers His own from destruction, but in very humbling ways. I think of Abram, who fled to Egypt for “deliverance” during a time of famine. In doing so, he put not only his own life at risk, but the promise of God that he and Sarai would have a child, through whom blessings would come on Abram and the whole world (see Genesis 12:1-3 ff.). Abram lied about Sarai, representing her as his sister rather than his wife, and as a result, she was taken into Pharaoh’s harem. God delivered Abram and Sarai, but in a way that was humbling. Pharaoh ran them out of his land, giving them what appears to be an armed escort out of town (see Genesis 12:17-20).

One of the most humbling deliverances (other than David’s, in our text) is that of Naaman. You may remember that Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was also a leper. Through his Israelite slave girl, Naaman learns there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him. But when he arrives at the prophet’s door, the prophet does not greet him personally, but sends his servant who instructs Naaman to bathe himself seven times in the Jordan river. Naaman is furious, because he is not treated as a dignitary. Finally, after receiving wise counsel from his servant, the Syrian commander obeys and is delivered from his malady. God saves him, but in a way that humbles him (see 2 Kings 5).

(11) God’s deliverance is more than temporal, more than just physical; God’s deliverance includes His deliverance from eternal condemnation (34:21-22; 56:13). It is interesting that in the New Testament the word that is very often rendered “saved” is used more broadly than just of spiritual salvation. It is used of physical healing and other acts of deliverance. In our text, God saves David’s life, but in his psalms David informs the reader that this temporal salvation is a prototype of the eternal salvation which God also accomplishes. The God who saves us from our afflictions and from our enemies, is the same God who saves us from His eternal wrath.

David’s Deliverance and Our Lord Jesus Christ

David’s deliverance has very direct ties to the New Testament, and particularly to our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider our Lord’s use of our text in Matthew 12:

1 At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grainfields, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions; 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? 6 “But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here. 7 “But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:1-8).

The Pharisees are especially distressed by what they consider violations of the Sabbath by our Lord and His disciples. When the disciples (not Jesus, you will note) pluck a few heads of grain and eat them on the Sabbath, the Pharisees see this as a flagrant violation of the law regarding the Sabbath. After all, this is work, they reason. And so they make a point of confronting Jesus with this example of His disregard for the Sabbath.

Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees. In effect, they persist to ask Him, “Just who do you think you are?” “How dare Jesus break the Sabbath by healing some and allowing His disciples to “harvest” grain on this sacred day!” Jesus responds to this Sabbath challenge several different ways. He shows His opponents to be hypocrites, because they do not keep the Sabbath as they require of Him (they will work to get one of their oxen out of the ditch). Neither is it wrong to do good on the Sabbath. They fail to grasp that the Sabbath was created for man’s benefit, not man for the Sabbath’s. Another answer is that Jesus works on the Sabbath to imitate His Father, who is also at work, saving men.

But here Jesus takes a very different approach. Jesus turns back to our text, reminding His opponents that David ate of the sacred bread, and yet he was not one of the priests. How is it they are not upset over this? The answer, Jesus suggests, is that who you are makes all the difference in the world. They do not protest David’s eating of the sacred bread because he is David. He is soon to become the King of Israel. This put the whole matter in an entirely different light. The same is true for the temple priests. They “work” on the Sabbath, but are not condemned for it, and rightly so, for they are priests.

One reason Jesus does not feel obliged to follow the Pharisees rules regarding the Sabbath is that He is the Son of God. He is God’s Messiah, the One whom God has appointed to rule over the entire earth as King. If David can eat the sacred bread because of who he is, and if the priests can break the Sabbath because of who they are, then surely our Lord should not be challenged in the manner in which the Pharisees are doing. Who you are makes all the difference in the world. This principle is illustrated in our text, as our Lord indicates.

Who you are does make all the difference in the world. Without Christ, we are aliens and strangers to the kingdom of God. We are God’s enemies. We are sinners, rightly condemned to death and eternal condemnation. In Christ, we are forgiven, cleansed, righteous, and destined to eternal life. David is delivered many times in his life. David’s deliverance in our text is most humbling indeed. It is not the way he would have preferred to be rescued, but he is delivered from death and from his enemies. It is a humbling deliverance, but it is divine. For this, David gives God the glory.

Like David, we are those condemned to death. Apart from divine grace, we are as good as dead. Our problem is our own sin, which makes us unacceptable in God’s sight. It brings us under divine condemnation and eternal damnation. God in His mercy and grace has provided a way of escape. God’s means of deliverance is not flattering to us, but it is ever so glorifying to Him. He sent His only Son, to come to the earth as a man (a perfect God-man), to live a perfect life, and to die an innocent death as the payment for our sins. The cross was not an ego-inflating event. It was an ugly death our Lord died on behalf of guilty sinners. But God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, glorifying Him and those who, by faith, are in Him. It is by faith in Jesus Christ that unworthy sinners are delivered from eternal death, to the glory of God. Have you received this forgiveness of sins, this gift of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ? All you must do is to acknowledge your sin and trust in Jesus Christ as God’s only means for your deliverance. I urge you to do so today.


92 In 2 Samuel, Uriah was an illustration of the devout soldier, who would not indulge himself in the pleasures of sexual intimacy with his own wife because he was living like a soldier at war, which he was (see verses 6-13).

93 It is my understanding that David hid out at several “strongholds” during the time he fled from Saul. Not all of them were inside the land of Israel. This “stronghold” I understand to have been in Moab, and that is why the prophet Gad instructs David to go back to Judah.