Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

“Establishing A Priority”

Categories: Congregational Bible Reading

BIBLE READING: 1 Samuel 21

To escape Saul’s murderous plot, David sought assistance from a priest named Ahimelech (1 Samuel 21.1-9). While David’s request seems straightforward – give me some food (21.3) – the situation was complicated. David’s story was sketchy given his well-known conflict with Saul. Furthermore, the only food available was holy bread set aside for the priests to eat (1 Samuel 21.4; cf. Exodus 25.4 & Leviticus 24.5-9). After some questioning, David is given the bread and he goes on his way.

The assessment of David’s conduct in this incident has long puzzled scholars. The challenge to understand it is further complicated as Jesus seems to give approval to David’s actions (Matthew 12.1-8; Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-5). The challenge scholars face seems to be did God approve of David breaking his law? It’s certainly an episode with which we must wrestle.

As Jesus cited this episode, he makes this point: Just as the Sabbath regulations were given for the good of man (Mark 2.27), so also, the holy bread was for the good of the priests. Although under normal circumstances the Law required this food only be consumed by “Aaron and his sons… in a holy place” (Leviticus 24.9), there is precedence for some laws to be set aside if higher level considerations warranted, especially the preservation of life (consider Jesus’ comments in John 7.22; Luke 14.5). As Ahimelech considered the circumstances and his role as priest of God, he mercifully allowed David to eat the bread to preserve his life.

So, what does it mean? The scriptures teach a contrast between mercy and law. Not that they are in conflict, but rather they complement each other. The law is by nature intended to bring condemnation by creating awareness of sin and its logical consequences (Romans 7.7). But we know that all have sinned and are doomed without mercy (Romans 3.23). Indeed “God has consigned all to disobedience that he might have mercy on all” (Romans 10.32). Therefore, mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2.13), as it is God’s prevailing nature to seek the good of humanity.

Jesus’ approval of David’s actions does not imply that obedience to God’s commands is irrelevant. Instead, he is establishing a priority. We must be diligent in our obedience to God without “neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These we should do without neglecting the other” (Matthew 23.23).

Paul would say it like this in his chapter about love: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13.3). Although these actions are in alignment with scripture, they are worthless without a proper attitude. If our practice of faith doesn’t produce mercy towards others as we honor God, we’re not doing it right. All that we do must be framed in the context of mercy if we are to properly imitate the nature of God.

“…The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34.6-7)