Suffering, But Sustained (I Samuel 21:1-9)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 21:1–21:9
Take a minute and think about the things for which you are grateful. Now, let me ask you this, as you are sorting through all of the people and things with which you have been blessed, would your roof be one of the things on that list this morning?
Well I wouldn't be surprised if you were thankful to God that He has placed a roof over you. But I would be, and I think you would be, surprised if you were thankful for a roof that God had placed under you.
Two Sundays ago, Japanese naval forces rescued Hiromitsu Arakawa, a 60-year old victim of the devastating tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th. Amidst the many rescues of those first few days after the disaster, what is distinct about this rescue is that Arakawa was discovered floating on top of the roof of his own home. In fact, the powerful waters had not only dragged this man out of his home and his town, but he was found two days later, nine miles south of his town, and nine miles out to sea.
How grateful do you think this man was for his roof, for this surprising, unexpected provision in the midst of such danger?
This morning we are coming back to the book of I Samuel, so turn with me, if you have not done so already, turn with me to I Samuel 21.
II. The Passage: “What Do You Have on Hand?” (21:1-9)
So before we read the first nine verses of this chapter, we need to remember that when we meet David here, he is running for his life. He is fleeing from Saul, the current king of Israel, who is also a rejected king according to God's own judgment. Because of jealousy over David's success, because of fear of David's destiny, Saul wants David dead.
So having just received confirmation of that fact from none other than the prince himself, David, filled with grief, says goodbye to his friend Jonathan and flees. Look at where the story goes next in verse 1:
Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” 2 And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one 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. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.”
4 And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” 5 And David answered the priest, “Truly 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 an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” 6 So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but 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. 7 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 herdsmen. 8 Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business required haste.” 9 And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.”
So let's do this: let me briefly explain six details we read about in these verses, and then after that we can talk about the significance of these verses, especially for us. Remember what Paul told us in I Corinthians 10:11. Why were these things written down? They “were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come”.
But let's start with trying to better understand some of the details we read about here.
First of all, let's talk about Nob. Nob was city or town that was most likely situated to the south of Saul's royal residence in Gibeah. Nob was probably only one and a half to two miles north of Jerusalem. In verse 19 of the next chapter, I Samuel 22, the writer of the book calls Nob the “city of the priests”. Evidently this is where the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting had been moved to since we last heard about it at the beginning of the book when it is was in a town called Shiloh.
Second, all of these facts about Nob and the tabernacle are confirmed when we meet Ahimelech, who is God's priest serving at the Tent of Meeting which is now in Nob. In the next chapter Ahimelech is called “the son of Ahitub”. And in chapter 14, we meet Ahijah who is also listed as the son of Ahitub, who is listed as the son of Phinehas, who was the son of Eli the priest.
So Ahimelech is the grandson of Phinehas, who we read about back in chapters 1-4 of this book. Do you remember. Him and his brother Hophni were judged by God because they were wicked men; they were corrupt priests. And Ahimelech is the great grandson of Eli, the high priest we meet at the very beginning of the book, the man who helps raise Samuel, who became a priest, prophet, and judge over Israel; Samuel, the man who anointed both Saul (the hunter) and David (the hunted).
Third, notice the cover story that David gives to Ahimelech, to explain why he is alone. He doesn't want Ahimelech to know that a royal death warrant has been issued for him, so he tells him that he is on a highly secretive mission for the king. And this mission was so urgent that he had to leave quickly; so quickly in fact that he didn't have time to assemble the necessary provisions for his journey. But now he is going to rendezvous with his men and is in desperate need of food and weaponry. Given what Jesus says about this incident in Matthew 12 and Mark 2, this part about meeting some of his men was probably true.
Fourth, as we read here, the only food available to Ahimelech, at least at this point, was the holy bread that was used in the Tabernacle. This was bread that was placed, in twelve loaves, on a special table inside the Tent of Meeting, in front of the veil that closed off that section called the holy of holies. This bread, referred to as the Bread of the Presence, was made fresh once a week and replaced every Sabbath day. According to Leviticus 24, after the bread was replaced, the old loaves could be eaten by the priests.
We don't know much about Ahimelech, but the very fact he is willing to give David and his men this bread, demonstrates that he recognized that providing for God's servants, those who were in need, was an important priority. He does want to make sure David and the men are ritually pure, so he cares about the holiness of God's Tabernacle, but he balances that with the clear need David presents and the importance of human life. This is the very thing Jesus wanted the Pharisees to understand in light of their dogmatism about the Sabbath.
Fifth, did you notice the very brief mention in verse 7 about this man named Doeg the Edomite. Now, we know that the only reason Doeg is mentioned here is because his presence will become a key factor in the next chapter.
The sixth and final detail I want us to consider this morning is the sword mentioned here in verse 9. Remember what David told Ahimelech in verse 8:
“Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king's business required haste.”
So David's story is that his secret mission for the king was so urgent he didn't even have time to bring his weapons. Now, some commentators believe that David knows this particular sword is here and he is just playing dumb so Ahimelech will offer him the sword. Whether that’s true or not isn't clear, but what is clear is the identity of this sword's previous owner. As we read in verse 9, this is the sword of the Philistine giant Goliath. The last time we heard about this sword was back in verse 51 of chapter 17. In that verse we read about how David, after defeating the giant, took his sword and cut off his head.
So hear in verse 9 we learn where this sword ended up. Just as the Ark of the Covenant had been taken back to the Temple of Dagon in chapter 5 when the Philistines captured it in battle, here we see that this trophy, the sword of Goliath, had been placed in the Temple of Yahweh, the God of Israel, maybe as a way of honoring God in light of His victory through David.
Whatever the reason it was placed here, as David confesses at the end of verse 9, there is no sword like this one. He is eager to take this weapon with him.
III. Perspective: The Promise of His Provision
Now, hopefully learning a little bit more about some of the details in this passage was helpful to you. But ultimately, we need to talk about why these verses are even here. Why was it important, for the first people reading this account, why was it important that they know David went to the Tent of God and received these provisions. In some sense, this seems like just a random footnote in David’s life story.
Well, even thought this visit will be significant for the story we discover in the next chapter, there is a beautiful truth contained right in here in this account. What we have here is something we desperately need to see.
Think for a minute about David’s circumstances. Up to this point, the previous years had seemed like the best ever, like nothing could go wrong. It was victory after victory: anointed by the prophet, invited to serve in the royal court, triumphant over the Philistine giant, befriended by the prince, promoted by the king, successful in battle, adored by the people, and wedded to the king’s own daughter.
David was riding on top of the wave!
But in the past few days, David’s world has crumbled all around him. The king, the most powerful man in the land, wants him dead. And even though David hoped and prayed it was all some misunderstanding, just hours before his visit to God’s tabernacle the king’s hatred against him had been confirmed by the prince himself, by Jonathan.
So now David must run. Not only has he left his wife, his home, his position, his friends, but he doesn’t even have food. He has nothing. Everything has been stripped from him. His hand is empty. Ever felt this way, like the world is falling apart…like everything’s been stripped from you?
But look where David runs. He runs to the very place where God promised He would dwell among His people. He runs to a man whose job it is to intercede for God’s people. Verse 1 makes it clear these men knew each other. David had obviously come before, but in those cases he had come with his soldiers. Most likely he had come to receive God’s guidance in the battles he was about to fight.
But here, he comes alone and empty-handed. And what does David find here in his hour of darkness, in this time of turmoil? Like the Japanese man who rode his roof out to sea, David finds God’s surprising and unexpected provision. He finds bread. He finds a sword. He is suffering, but he is sustained.
But listen, what makes this provision so surprising is that this is not simply any bread. It is holy bread…it is God’s bread. And this is not simply any sword. It is the sword of Goliath. There is no sword like this. It’s a sword forged for a champion, for a man who was larger than life. God does not simply provide for David here. He provides for Him in such a way that the giver…the source of this provision is unmistakable.
This is no fluke. This is not ‘good luck’. This is God. This is God reminding David that He is with him. David may be hunted by the king, but by grace, he is helped by God (Psalm 54:4). David may be on the run, but by grace, he is at home under the shadow of God’s wings (Psalm 36:7). David may be in great danger, but by grace, he is safe because God is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 18:30) David may be empty-handed, but by grace, God wants to remind him that He is his portion in the land of the living (Psalm 142:2).
When things seems to be at their absolute worst, God’s abundant, God’s often surprising and unexpected provision is there to sustain us through the suffering.
This must be what David meant when he wrote: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…. (Ps. 23:4a, 5a)
In that very place where the world only wants us to find pain, God is there reminding of His incomparable provision.
You see, when we suffer, it is so easy to think, “God has abandoned me. Where is He? Does He even care?” And very often we think this way because God has not prevented or even fixed our problems. We say, “If God was really God he wouldn’t let this happen…or He would change all this.”
But as we see here, God is sending a message to David. Through this bread and through this sword He is telling David, “No, I will not change these difficult circumstances, not yet…but I will get you through this. I will give you exactly what you need to keep going. And all over the provision I provide you will find my fingerprints.”
This morning you might feel, a little or a lot, you might feel like David felt here. Your world is crumbling. Your future is like a terrible black hole of uncertainty and despair. It feels like everything is being taken from you. You are empty-handed.
And you might be thinking, “Where is God’s surprising and unexpected provision? Where’s the bread? Where’s the sword? Where are the fingerprints of God?”
But you’re here this morning. You’re here. You’re listening to these words. And the only reason you’ve made it this far is God’s provision. Don’t you see that? And through these words I’m speaking to you, through the word of God, He wants to sustain you for the days to come.
And He sustains us, not by simply giving us what our body needs for nourishment and protection, as He did here with David. No, these things point us, they pointed David, to the greatest provision. David expressed this in song throughout the book we call Psalms. Listen to Psalm 59:
O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress…16 But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. 17 O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love. (Psalm 59:9, 16, 17)
God himself should be our provision. He and His promises should be what sustains us in the midst of our suffering. Is God reminding you of that in your struggles?
IV. Practice: Living from His Provision
Let’s finish this morning with a few practical insights that I believe God is reminding us of through this passage.
First of all, God’s provision in our suffering comes in spite of our failures.
We alluded to this earlier, but when David comes to Ahimelech he comes, not to plead with the priest in light of the truth. No he comes with a lie; with deception. He comes with this bogus story about the king’s mission.
You see, when we suffer, fear often tempts us to fill our world with lies; lies we tell ourselves and lies we give to others. But praise God that His faithfulness to His promises is not based on our performance! If we belong to Him through faith, then He will provide for us in our suffering; He will get us through in spite of how badly we might be handling things.
That facts doesn’t excuse our failures, but it does give us hope that God will help us to overcome them; that He will teach us and grow us. God’s provision in our suffering comes in spite of our failures. That’s grace.
Second, we see here that God’s provision in our suffering comes, in many cases, through reminders of His past victories.
When David left Ahimelech and the Tent of God, he went out armed with more than just a sword. That sword was a tangible reminder of how God’s power and triumph had already been demonstrated in David’s life.
It was God who defeated Goliath through David, and now, as he fled, David needed to remember that God would continue to fight for him.
In the midst of your trials, have you armed yourself with reminders of God’s greatest victories in your life? Are you armed with reminders of God’s faithfulness and His power to overcome? That’s the very sword God wants to give you this morning.
Finally, the third insight we find here is this: God’s provision in our suffering comes, ultimately, through the sweet sustenance of THE heavenly Bread.
Everything we’ve talked about this morning, all of these precious truths, are like jewels in a safe. And we will never know their value unless we have the combination. Christ is the combination. Only Jesus can secure God’s promises for us.
When God provided the Bread of the Presence to David through Ahimelech, He was giving us a foretaste, a preview of THE Bread that would one day be present among us; THE Bread in which the presence of God would be most evident. Listen to these words:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:35, 51)
God’s provision in our suffering only comes because of God’s own suffering for our provision. Because Jesus was forsaken in His suffering, we can know God’s faithfulness in ours. The flesh that He offered up for us on the cross, is the flesh He now offers to us for bread; that is, the nourishment we need in our struggles comes as we feed on the reality that we are redeemed and reconciled to God through Jesus and what He did for us.
Is this the roof on which you are riding out the storms of life? If Jesus is not your provision, you will eventually be starved out by suffering and sin.
This morning, as always, God wants to draw our eyes back to Jesus; back to the cross. He wants us to come in faith. He wants us to admit that He is our only hope. He wants us to be able to say, because of His wonderful love in Christ, “Yes, I am suffering, but by His grace, I am sustained.”