Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
1 Kings (1 Samuel)
David comes to Ahimelech at Nob, receives provisions from him, and the sword of Goliath; and is noticed by Doeg, one of the servants of Saul, Sa1 21:1-9. He leaves Nob, and goes to Achish, king of Gath, Sa1 21:10. But on being recognised as the vanquisher of Goliath by the servants of Achish, he feigns himself deranged, and Achish sends him away, Sa1 21:11-15.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 21:1
Then came David to Nob - There were two places of this name, one on this side, the second on the other side of Jordan; but it is generally supposed that Nob, near Gibeah of Benjamin, is the place here intended; it was about twelve miles from Jerusalem.
Why art thou alone - Ahimelech probably knew nothing of the difference between Saul and David; and as he knew him to be the king's son-in-law, he wondered to see him come without any attendants.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 21:2
The king hath commanded me a business - All said here is an untruth, and could not be dictated by the Spirit of the Lord; but there is no reason to believe that David was under the influence of Divine inspiration at this time. It is well known that from all antiquity it was held no crime to tell a lie, in order to save life. Thus Diphilus: -
Ὑπολαμβανω το ψευδος επι σωτηριᾳ
Λεγομενον, ουδεν περιποιεισθαι δυσχερες.
"I hold it right to tell a lie, in order to procure my personal safety; nothing should be avoided in order to save life."
A heathen may say or sing thus; but no Christian can act thus, and save his soul, though he by doing so may save his life.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 21:6
So the priest gave him hallowed bread - To this history our Lord alludes, Mar 2:25, in order to show that in cases of absolute necessity a breach of the ritual law was no sin. It was lawful for the priests only to eat the shew-bread; but David and his companions were starving, no other bread could be had at the time, and therefore he and his companions ate of it without sin.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 21:7
Detained before the Lord - Probably fulfilling some vow to the Lord, and therefore for a time resident at the tabernacle.
And his name was Doeg - From Sa1 22:9 we learn that this man betrayed David's secret to Saul, which caused him to destroy the city, and slay eighty-five priests. We learn from its title that the fifty-second Psalm was made on this occasion; but titles are not to be implicitly trusted.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 21:9
The sword of Goliath - It has already been conjectured (see 1 Samuel 17:1-58) that the sword of Goliath was laid up as a trophy in the tabernacle.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 21:10
Went to Achish the king of Gath - This was the worst place to which he could have gone: it was the very city of Goliath, whom he had slain, and whose sword he now wore; and he soon found, from the conversation of the servants of Achish, that his life was in the most imminent danger in this place.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 21:13
And he changed his behavior - Some imagine David was so terrified at the danger to which he was now exposed, that he was thrown into a kind of frenzy, accompanied with epileptic fits. This opinion is countenanced by the Septuagint, who render the passage thus: Ιδου ιδετε ανδρα επιλητον; "Behold, ye see an epileptic man. Why have ye introduced him to me?" Μη ελαττουμαι επιληπτων εγω; "Have I any need of epileptics, that ye have brought him to have his fits before me, (επιληπτευεσθαι προς με?") It is worthy of remark, that the spittle falling upon the beard, i.e., slavering or frothing at the mouth, is a genuine concomitant of an epileptic fit.
If this translation be allowed, it will set the conduct of David in a clearer point of view than the present translation does. But others think the whole was a feigned conduct, and that he acted the part of a lunatic or madman in order to get out of the hands of Achish and his courtiers. Many vindicate this conduct of David; but if mocking be catching, according to the proverb, he who feigns himself to be mad may, through the just judgment of God, become so. I dare not be the apologist of insincerity or lying. Those who wish to look farther into this subject may consult Dr. Chandler, Mr. Saurin, and Ortlob, in the first volume of Dissertations, at the end of the Dutch edition of the Critici Sacri.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 21:15
Shall this fellow come into my house? - I will not take into my service a man who is liable to so grievous a disease. Chandler, who vindicates David's feigning himself, mad, concludes thus: "To deceive the deceiver is in many instances meritorious, in none criminal. And what so likely to deceive as the very reverse of that character which they had so misconstrued? He was undone as a wise man, he had a chance to escape as a madman; he tried, and the experiment succeeded." I confess I can neither feel the force nor the morality of this. Deceit and hypocrisy can never be pleasing in the sight of God.