1 Samuel 21:1-15 (Part 1) – Does the Bible Really Say That?: Discerning Preferences from Non-Negotiables

Posted: March 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

1 Samuel 21:1-15 (Part 1 of 3)
David Runs from Saul

Have you ever thought about things that you take for granted as to the fact that they come from the Bible? Even well meaning Christians can easily think that certain sayings come from the Bible when they really don’t. Here are a few examples:

For example, “God helps those who help themselves”. This saying is often misquoted as being from the Bible. However, nowhere in the Bible will you find this quote as part of any verse. Although it was popularized in modern Western culture by Benjamin Franklin who used it in his Poor Richard’s Almanac, it can be traced back to Greek literature of ancient days in Aesop’s Fables. It is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

Another example is “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I have heard many people say God will not give you more than you can handle and they often say it with good intentions – to try and comfort someone walking through difficulty or suffering. Maybe you have even said it. Let not your heart be troubled, I have said it many times myself. The saying is a twisting of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which states, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” What the Bible states is that God will allow us an avenue to flee from temptations. It does not say that God will never give us circumstances, events, etc. that are beyond our ability to cope with them.

Others include “this, too, shall pass”. It is kind of like Ecclesiastes 3:1 but not quite. Ecclesiastes states that there is a season for everything, including our present-day troubles. There is an inference that the season shall pass, but our suffering according to the full understanding of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 could well be the last one of our lives. It is not guaranteed to pass during our lifetime. Our suffering shall end but it may be through the end of our existence on this side of heaven. More of these include “money is the root of all evil” when the Bible actually says “the love of money is the root of all evil” – that’s a significant distinction! Another is “to thine own self be true” – this is not biblical at all. It is from Shakespeare and certainly is the opposite of the message of the Bible to love God and to love others more than we love ourselves. These are just a few of the sayings that are part of our pop culture that, because they sound so profound, many believe they come straight out of the Bible.

These are extreme examples of people mis-attributing a common saying to the Bible. Equally as bad is when we as Christians allow tradition to become as sacred as the Bible itself. Examples are the mode of baptism. Although there is such greater symbolism to the mode of total immersion of the new believer in water, there is no clear and definitive reference in the Bible that says total immersion is the way that it was done. It is clear from the early Christian writers that they did not want the lack of access to plentiful water to prevent believers from being baptized or the infirmity of the believer may have prevented the believer from going down into the water. It is certainly what Paul envisions when he speaks of the new life of the believer but nowhere does Paul or any other apostle negate or prohibit other modes of baptism. However, because of denominational preferences, we often mistake our preferred method of baptism as being the biblically mandated one. I will admit that, in my opinion, that total immersion best reflects the symbolic nature of the old life before Christ and the cleansing and the new life in Christ better than any other mode out there, but to say the Bible definitively states this is mandated I cannot find it. There is too much controversy of the exact 1st century Greek meaning of the word we translate into English as baptism for me to say definitely that immersion is the exact method prescribed. Until the controversy over the exact meaning of that Greek word used in the Bible then it will remain my preference and I must recognize it as that.

What’s worse is when we create what the Bible says or when we add to what the Bible says to support our opinion or position. When we use Bible verses out of context to support an unbiblical position. When we accept certain church traditions as being the same thing as God’s sacred Word. When we develop layers and layers of church interpretation of the Bible as the same thing as the Word of God in the Bible. When we take something said by our favorite current writer in the 21st century as gospel without comparing what they say to the actual Word of God. When we do not understand the historical context in which a book of the Bible was written and thereby impute our 21st century parameters on the text. And it can go on and on as to how we often twist God’s Word and take it for being the true Word of God.

Here in this passage, we see that David uses the bread from the altar to survive as he is being pursued by King Saul’s men. Jewish tradition developed over time from when God laid down the law about the Bread of the Presence made it so that this bread should only be eaten by priests. This seems like a small matter to us but it was to become a big deal in the Jewish faith and led to controversy between Jesus and the religious elite of his day. Let’s read the passage together now for the first of three reviews of this passage with an eye, today, toward whether David broke the law of God or not:

Chapter 21
1 [a]David went to the town of Nob to see Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he saw him. “Why are you alone?” he asked. “Why is no one with you?”

2 “The king has sent me on a private matter,” David said. “He told me not to tell anyone why I am here. I have told my men where to meet me later. 3 Now, what is there to eat? Give me five loaves of bread or anything else you have.”

4 “We don’t have any regular bread,” the priest replied. “But there is the holy bread, which you can have if your young men have not slept with any women recently.”

5 “Don’t worry,” David replied. “I never allow my men to be with women when we are on a campaign. And since they stay clean even on ordinary trips, how much more on this one!”

6 Since there was no other food available, the priest gave him the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle. It had just been replaced that day with fresh bread.

7 Now Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief herdsman, was there that day, having been detained before the Lord.[b]

8 David asked Ahimelech, “Do you have a spear or sword? The king’s business was so urgent that I didn’t even have time to grab a weapon!”

9 “I only have the sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah,” the priest replied. “It is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. Take that if you want it, for there is nothing else here.”

“There is nothing like it!” David replied. “Give it to me!”

10 So David escaped from Saul and went to King Achish of Gath. 11 But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands’?”

12 David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. 13 So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard.

14 Finally, King Achish said to his men, “Must you bring me a madman? 15 We already have enough of them around here! Why should I let someone like this be my guest?”

In this passage, we see that in giving David the bread, Ahimelech broke with priestly custom, but not with God’s word. He rightly understood that human need was more important that Levitical observance. Once, when Jesus’ disciples were criticized for breaking religious custom by eating against traditions, Jesus used what Ahimelech did to explain the matter (Matthew 12:1-8). Jesus approved of what Ahimelech did, and Jesus honored him by standing on Ahimelech’s same ground!

The point with Ahimelech and Jesus is powerful: human traditions are never more important than God’s word itself. If God had said, “Only the priests can eat this bread,” it would have been different. But God never said that. To put the only in there seemed logical, but it was adding to God’s word. We must never elevate our extension or application of God’s word to the same level as God’s word itself.

This incident is a reminder to us to not become so enamored with our pet religious customs and symbols and symbolisms or our favorite interpretations of what the Bible says that we raise them up as if they were definitively God’s commands or the same as Scripture itself. We can become so enamored with our own interpretations or our denomination’s position papers on certain biblical issues that we elevate these things to the level of God’s Word and accept them as the same thing as His Holy Word. Let us be careful in such endeavors to rightly divide our preferences from what God actually inspired the authors of the Bible to say in the context of the historical, linguistic and cultural backdrops when His Word was written.

Oh Lord help us to rightly separate our preferences and our modern cultural biases from the way in which God intended us to interpret His Word. Oh Lord help us to separate preferences and traditions from what you actually say in your Word. Oh Lord help us to never twist your Word to meet our own needs or means to an end. Help us to treat your Word with the discernment and honor that it deserves.

Amen and Amen.

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