I’ve spent a week running with David for his life, watching where he has run and how he has encountered God in it. And at the end of the week, I'm kneeling in worship at the grace that was waiting for him. And for us.
At first I wasn’t sure what to think of 1 Sam 21. David, running for his life from the murderous King Saul, heads to the sanctuary and the priest, Ahimelek.
Asked why he’s alone, David says he’s on the king’s urgent business and he has told his men to meet him in a certain place. (It’s a blatant lie rising from David’s terror, but since David himself was anointed some years before and is running to save his life, perhaps it isn’t too much of a stretch to say he’s on the king’s urgent business!)
Hurriedly, David asks for bread.
Ahimelek doesn’t have any ordinary bread around, just the consecrated bread set before the LORD each Sabbath which, when it was replaced, could be eaten by the priests, and only the priests (Lev 24:5-9; Matt 12:1-8).
If I’d been Ahimelek, I think I would have felt uncomfortable about David's request. I might even have said, “I’m so sorry. There isn’t any bread here except the consecrated bread, and I’m not allowed to give you that—God’s own decree. I wonder if there's anywhere else around here that has some?” But Ahimelek doesn’t say that. He asks whether the men have kept themselves pure, then gives David the consecrated bread. And, when Jesus comes on the scene a thousand years later, he uses Ahimelek as an example, not condemning him but implicitly commending him for giving the sacred bread to a desperate man (Matt 12:1-8).
One need has been met. But David, still flailing around in his fear, continues, “Don’t you have a weapon around here—a sword, a spear, something?”
Not surprisingly, there aren’t many of those lying around in the sanctuary either. But there is one, a historic memento carefully wrapped and tucked away for safekeeping—the sword carried by Goliath, that giant whom David had killed in the name of the LORD in David’s first boyhood venture into warfare.
If I’d been Ahimelek, I think I would have wrestled with that decision too. A historic memento, entrusted to my safekeeping: was it right to give it away so lightly? On the other hand, it never would have been there had David not himself killed Goliath.
Ahimelek gives him the sword without so much as a question. “If you want it, take it.”
Off David goes to continue running for his life. He has come starving and has received bread for the journey. Not just any bread, but the Bread of the Presence. “Take. Eat. . .”
He has come terrified—lying, grasping for a means of protection and defence—and has received a sword. Not just any sword, but the sword that had once been intended to kill him. The sword that, by God’s love and power at work in and through David on behalf of his people, has become a reminder of God’s faithful protection and power.
And here is grace at work in David: David will wield the reminder more than the sword. Now that he has remembered again that there are greater hands than his own at work on his behalf, holding and protecting him, he doesn’t need to use the sword against his would-be murderer even when he has the chance (1 Sam 24). He knows again that God is with him and for him.
I started the week not sure what to make of 1 Sam 21 and the equally strange chapter 22. By Saturday when I wrote most of this post I was kneeling at the grace I saw: David coming lying, starving, grasping for power—and God meeting him there with exactly what he needed. Not just bread, but Presence and grace that filled and nourished him even when he was wildly flailing in his fear, lying and grasping food that was not rightly his to eat. Not just a sword, but the reminder of where his protection really lay.
There’s grace here for me too: I don’t even need to know exactly what I need when I come running and begging and grasping for help and nourishment and safety. And I don't have to clean myself up first. It's enough to come. The one to whom I come not only knows my needs for provision and protection and is eager to meet them, He is also eager to give me Himself.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought for the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. . . .
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”
(Psalm 90 1-2, 14)
(For a deeper exploration of this passage, with a slightly different but also grace-filled perspective, you can find yesterday’s sermon by our pastor, Anthony Brown, here.)