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Allow Me to Explain (25 of 439)

June 27, 2011

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25. Was David alone when asking for the holy bread at Nob? 1 Samuel 21:1 vs. Matthew 12:3-4

(The poster says “Sam 21:1,” but I’m assuming it means 1 Samuel.)

1 Samuel 21:1
Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?”

Matthew 12:3
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

First of all, most commentators agree that “alone,” in 1 Samuel, is probably not strictly referring to a single individual. Two reasons:

  1. “Alone” may easily be, here, a relative term. David was a key figure in the king’s court and a star in Israel’s military. He probably never went anywhere without a large group of soldiers and attendants with him. If he came to Ahimelech with only a few attendants, he would have been relatively “alone,” and – servants not thought highly of anyway – it would not have been odd to call him “alone.”
  2. The Hebrew word for “alone,” here is בַּד (“bad”), from “badad.” It is often translated “alone,” but it is almost as often translated, “besides.” It’s also occasionally translated “except,” “without,” and “separate.” It could easily be taken to mean, “without the normal party.”

Even if you don’t like that consideration, it’s another case of not enough reading. The next verse in 1 Samuel reads,

So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ And I have directed my young men to such and such a place.

David, by now, has confirmed that King Saul is serious about killing him, and has fled the kingdom when he comes to Ahimelech asking for food. The priest asks why David is “alone,” and in the very next verse, David explains that he is not alone.

Now, the first part of his story – about being on an errand from the king – is definitely a lie, and one David repents of later in a psalm. Whether or not he is lying about having men with him, we don’t really know.

Scripture does not expressly tell us that there were people with him, but consider that by this point much of Israel has had it with Saul, has heard the prophecy about David being the next king, has witnessed David’s superiority to Saul in battle, and is waiting – if not pursuing – David’s ascension. David had friends, men, loyal followers already. It may be more ridiculous to think that he disappeared unnoticed and unattended, than that at least a few men fled with him.

Faithful followers aside, David was a key figure in the king’s court. He would have had a handful of servants and attendants with him at all times. If he did, it’s perfectly reasonable that he would not want them privy to the conversation he would have with the priest and may have left them somewhere nearby during his visit.

In the next verse he asks for five loaves of bread – not enough to feed a small army, certainly, but a tall order for one man.

After a short, weird, encounter with King Achish, 1 Samuel 22 begins:

David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him.

How did they hear he was there? Maybe someone who was with David went back to tell them.

However you like to explain it, it’s unlikely – even without considering Matthew 12 – that David was alone when he fled from King Saul. The point of Matthew 12:3-4 is that David and his men ate the holy bread, not that they all went in personally to get it.

Short answer: At the actual moment that he asked – maybe. In general at that time – no.

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