Sermon on 1 Samuel 21:1-15 – “Band on the Run”

Sermon on 1 Samuel 21:1-15 – “Band on the Run”

Sermon for Sunday morning, June 9, 2024 at Unionville Presbyterian Church, BPC

Old Testament reading:

[Psa 56:1-13 ESV] 1 To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath. Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; 2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. 3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? 5 All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6 They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life. 7 For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God! 8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? 9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? 12 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. 13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

New Testament reading:

[Rom 10:5-13 ESV] 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Gospel reading:

[Mar 2:23-28 ESV] 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Scripture Reading:
[1Sa 21:1-15 ESV] 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.” 10 And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” 12 And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”


The Beatles – Paul, John, George, and Ringo – had quite a few songs that were hits in their day. After they split up— then working as individuals — they didn’t produce hardly any hits. Only John had his song “Imagine” which is terribly theologically, and Paul had a song called “Band on the Run.”

I’ve taken that song title for our sermon title today. “Band on the Run.”

Now, with David, escaping from the jealous and murderous King Saul, we have a “band on the run.”

This is, of course, not a musical band, but more like a military band or a troop of supporters.

But right away we have to ask, “is it even a band, or is it just a solo act?”

When David comes to Nob and the high priest Ahimelech, Ahimelech says “why are you ALONE, AND NO ONE WITH YOU.” You might think that this means David is absolutely alone. But that is not the case. He just isn’t with any government officials; nor is he leading any soldiers of the army. But he does in fact have some men with him which constitute his band. We see right away that Ahimelech himself knows this when he himself speaks of the “young men” that are with David.

This is confirmed in the Gospels as well.
In the Gospel of Mark, for example, when Jesus refers to this incident with David, he understands that there were people “with him”; there were people with David.

Here is what Jesus says:

25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

So there were “those who were with him.” There was a “band on the run.”

Jesus, of course, isn’t focused on proving that truth. He assumes it. Jesus is rather using it as an example to support a point; a wonderful truth: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

The idea is that the high priest gave food to David who was in need even though it was holy bread, reserved for priests.
So also, even though the Sabbath is Holy and is to be reserved for God, YET, the Sabbath is for man.

How does this work out? How can the Sabbath be the Lord’s Day and also made for man? It is because, like the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our enjoyment of God is glorifying him. So as we enjoy our rest on the Sabbath, we give glory to God. And as we are blessed by God with food which we enjoy, this is also to the glory of God.

Now, Jesus says this was “in the time of Abiathar the high priest,” while 1 Samuel says that David visited the priest Ahimelech. What gives? Which is it? Both are truth. Samuel visits Ahimelech (the priest) who is the son of Abiathar (the high priest). Samuel’s visit to Ahimelech came “in the time of Abiathar.” That’s one possible way to reconcile the issue. The other thing going on here is that there may be more than one Ahimelech and more than one Abiathar in that time. We know that because in one place it calls Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, and in another place it calls Abiathar the son of Ahimelech. But if these are common Hebrew names, it is not a surprise to see such connections.

So we have the “band on the run.” And David is the lead singer.

And there are two places this band goes in this chapter. Two gigs if we keep the music references.
There visit (1) the priest Ahimelech at Nob, and (2) the Philistine King Achish at Gath.

And in each of these visits we find:
– the desperation of David leading to sin.
– but yet God still being with him.

[REPEAT: the desperation of David leading to sin, but yet God still being with him.

I. The Visit to Ahimelech at Nob

First the band comes to Nob. They have to get out of Jerusalem and escape from Saul. David decides not to go back to Samuel in Naioth of Ramah. Perhaps this would have been too obvious and Saul would find him too easily. So he goes instead of Nob. And there resides the priest Ahimelech and all his family. And they don’t know yet about Saul’s murderous rage against David.

So why does David go to Nob?

Some point out that “David has a strong attachment to the sanctuary of the Lord.” Nob is where the priests are. The prophets are in Naioth, the priests are in Nob.

But also, Nob is not far away. It is just outside of Jerusalem, a little north of the top of the Mount of Olives. So this would be essentially the first place David would come to.

And there his objective in talking with Ahimelech is twofold:
– To get provisions. (bread)
– And to get weapons. (a sword. Not just any sword, it turns out, but Goliath’s sword, that David had experience with).

I’ve already mentioned the “getting of bread.” This is provision for David and his men.

But there is a great tension or anxiety brewing.

Is Ahimelech going to catch on to David’s lie?

Ahimelech asks, “why are you here”?

And David says they are on a secret mission. They’ve left Jerusalem on a mission for Saul, and they’ve departed so fast that they didn’t even have time to stop at the McDonalds.

Here David lies, and the consequences are enormous. Doeg the Edomite overhears their dialogue. And we’ll see in a later chapter that he will tell Saul, and Saul will have Ahimelech and many other priests killed.

Could a case be made for Ahimelech’s guilt? Maybe, but it would be difficult. He had not been told anything of the situation between Saul and David. He was tricked by David’s lie. Maybe the condition of David and his men should have been a tip-off to Ahimelech. Arriving without food and without weapons. Its like if you ran out of a housefire. You’ve got nothing on but your pajamas. Don’t have a wallet. No phone. No shoes. And if you give someone another story [no, I’m fine, just out for a jog], they aren’t likely to believe it. They are likely to recognize that something is wrong. And if you’ve been trained in profiling like the police you might be more aware of your surroundings, and the truths that one’s appearance tells.

But even if Ahimelech had known of the truth, would his response be any different? Maybe he would still have sided with David and given him food, knowing that Saul’s evil is the cause of David’s band being on the run. And perhaps knowing all the while that David is anointed of God (and Samuel) to be the next king.

Well, bread is the first “ask” of David. Next he asks for weapons. Again, lying about their haste to depart. Didn’t even have enough time to grab his sword, he claims.

The priests, of course, do not carry weapons. Their weapons are not carnal, they do not carry swords, but the very word of God. And David knows that. But he asks anyways, presumably because he knows that’s where Goliath’s sword is kept. And so Ahimelech says they have Goliath’s sword, and David takes it. After all, he has experience with it. It was with Goliath’s sword that David cut off Goliath’s head.

So he takes the sword and then continues “on the run.” David is now essentially a fugitive? Have you seen that movie? The Fugitive? With Harrison Ford. It is intense. Such is the life of the fugitive. Always looking over your shoulder, never at peace. A wanted, hunted man. This is David’s lot in the life now. And in his distress, he sins. He lies to Ahimelech.

This is not the end of David’s sins. They continue. This man of God, the very anointed of God, is in disarray in his running from Saul. And (I think, though this is hard to judge with certainty), David is lacking in faith. He’s looking not to God, but to other things for protection.

First he looks for food and weapons. And perhaps you could say “Well, he’s seeking (and getting) these from God by going to the priests at Nob.” Maybe so, but where does David go next? He goes to GATH! In the land of the Philistines. And unless there’s a direct word from God about going to a foreign country (like Jonah to Nineveh), its clear that David is in sin.

So, going to Ahimelech in Nob? Good idea or bad? Maybe its not clear.

But look what’s next. Going to Gath! And ith the Sword of Goliath. Remember he was Goliath OF GATH. This is like wearing a University of Michigan shirt in Columbus OH. This is like wearing a Yankees hat in Atlanta GA. David is asking for it.

In his distress, David is making some really bad decisions.

While he wanted to find Ahimelech at Nob, now he goes to Gath hoping not to be seen at all, but soon is found out and handed over to the King Achish.

II. The Visit to Achish in Gath

So dangerous is it IN ISRAEL (because of Saul) that David is willing to go to GATH!
In a later chapter he’ll go to MOAB. Anywhere to get away from Saul. This is desperation.

But in Gath, he is recognized, and turned in to the authorities.
So what does David do? He pleads insanity.

Why would he do this? What’s the big idea?
Well, multiple commentators say that in the ancient near, “the insane were harbingers of evil and so people avoided them. They felt it was bad luck to a kill a madman.” So perhaps the only way that David could get away from the Gath-ites, who surely would have a score to settle with him, was to pretend to be crazy.

He scribbles on a door, and drools in his beard. You’ve perhaps seen this idea before — a crazed person will see things in symbols and writing; things that no one else sees. He’ll write down nonsense and think it is profound. That’s one sign of insanity.

One legal definition says that insanity is “mental illness of such a sever nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality.” And that is what David is portraying with his scribbles.

Then, there is a physical manifestation (pretended) as well. The spittle or drool running down his beard. Understanding the medical science connecting insanity and drooling is “beyond my training” but there is clearly a recognize connection that David is taking advantage of.

And it works.

Achish says (and I actually get quite a kick of the humor in the Bible sometimes), he says in effect, “I have an ample supply of madmen.” This is hyperpole, cyncisim,

In our version he says: Do I lack madmen?

Obviously, he is saying he doesn’t need any madmen in his court. But maybe also he’s subtly critiquing the men that he does have? Do I lack madmen? I have enough of them right here.

So “away with him.” But remember, he can’t be killed.

So we find out in the next chapter, that David departs from Gath. Achish let’s him go, apparently thinking he is returning David as a problem for Israel.

There are a number of new characters introduced in this chapter:

1. Ahimelech the high priest. Great-grandson of Eli. The son of Abiathar.
2. Doeg the Edomite. His presence there in Nob will later be the witness to Saul which leads to the death of Ahimelech and other priests.
3. Achish the King of Gath.

We’ll see more of each of these men in later chapters.

But what are we to make of this chapter? (The 21st chapter of 1st Samuel)

There are some different ways we could go with it.
We could emphasize David’s lies and bad decisions. How the lies are unnecessary and should sadden us, when we look to him as a believer. And how the bad decisions lead him to seek for refuge with non-believers, and we can note how bad of a decision that was.

And if we go that way with the passage, we can make this strong conclusion of advice: Don’t let difficult times be an excuse to sin. That is a good truth. “Don’t let difficult times be an excuse to sin.”

Or we could look at the passage in another way:
We could look at David’s faith, in spite of all the trouble.

Where is David’s faith?

Psalm 34 and Psalm 56 particularly relevant to this chapter.
There are quite a few Psalms of David that relate to this “wilderness wanderings.”

But check out the introductions to these Psalms

The introduction to Psalm 34 says:
[Psa 34:1 ESV] 1 Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.

And the introduction to Psalm 56:
[Psa 56:1-13 ESV] 1 To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Then what do these Psalms have in common their text?

It is this: God delivered David.

So this chapter is partially about David’s sin, and partially about his faith, but ultimately about God’s grace and deliverance. The band continues to be on the run. They’re not stopped at Nob nor at Gath. They are free to live another day.

David Sins
But God still loves him.

His life is in disarray but God does not cast him off.
David and his men are “a band on the run.” But God is with them.

We should pray that God is with us.

We say “Godpseed” or “God be with ye.”
That’s what we used to say some centuries ago.
Now “God be with ye” and contracted to “godbwye” which later became “Good bye.”
I think we should bring that back. God be with ye.

So we are to learn that in our difficult times, God has not left us.
IN the disarray of our life and this world, God has not cast us out.

In our sins, God has not condemned us.

But through Jesus Christ, God has forgiven us.

And thus we can trust in God, even in our wilderness wandering, those difficult times of life in which many challenges come your way, but times in which God is drawing you nearer to him.

Look at the end of Psalm 34 and see GOD’S RESCUING POWER:

18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.

So we are to seek and find refuge in God when we are in the wilderness.
And to praise God for His grace in delivering us from that wilderness.

It may feel like you are a band on the run, but, I pray, the Lord be with you.

Let us pray.