Having received confirmation of Saul’s murderous intent, David fled the king’s court, knowing that he had to get away before Saul could capture and kill him (1 Sam. 20). From that point until the death of Saul, David was on the run, a fugitive trying to escape a maniacal monarch.
Today’s passage tells us that the first place David went was Nob, located about two miles north of Jerusalem and two miles south of Gibeah, Saul’s home city (21:1). At this point in Israel’s history, the tabernacle was at Nob, and it was overseen by Ahimelech the priest, who was one of the descendants of Eli (14:3; 22:9). First Samuel 22 will reveal that one of the reasons David fled to Nob was to inquire of the Lord. In 21:1–9, we read that David also went there to procure supplies.
Ahimelech was trembling in fear when he met David (v. 1), perhaps because he was aware of Saul’s hatred for the son of Jesse, and the priest understood that there was some measure of risk in meeting with him. To secure the priest’s help, David lied, stating that he was on a top-secret mission for Saul (v. 2). The author of 1–2 Samuel does not comment on David’s lie. Perhaps it was justifiable because David was operating in wartime conditions, but the fact that it put Ahimelech’s life at risk (ch. 22) may mean that David erred. In any case, David was able to secure the sword of Goliath, leaving him no longer unarmed (21:8–9). David also received some of the bread reserved for the priests. Ordinarily, non-priests could not eat of this bread, but David and his men were granted the right to eat it because they were ceremonially clean. Having not been with women recently, they would not have been ceremonially unclean as a result of the discharge of fluids that occurs in sexual intercourse (Lev. 15). Jesus would later appeal to this story as proof that the ceremonial rules in the Mosaic law could not be used to deny aid to people who are in need (Mark 2:23–28).
After receiving the supplies, David fled to the Philistine city of Gath. David’s fame preceded him, but that did not stop the Philistines from trying to imprison him. Thus, David feigned insanity in order finally to escape (1 Sam. 21:10–15). Again, the narrator does not comment on the morality of David’s actions. Regardless of whether David sinned, God kept him safe through all these difficult times. His intent to put David on the throne would not be thwarted.