Stale Loaves & Goliath’s Sword
We’re winding down our series on 1 Samuel (Kingdom and Chaos). Including this week, we have a couple of weeks left, and spoiler alert: David never gets to the throne in 1 Samuel. First Samuel will end (in chapter 31) with David in exile, Saul and Jonathan dying on a battlefield, the Philistines stringing up their bodies on a city wall, and the Israelites—now kingless—retrieving and burying those bodies. So… yeah, 1 Samuel ends on high note.
If you want a good map for your One Samuel tells the story of Samuel and King Saul, while Two Samuel tells the story of King David. David ascends the throne at the beginning of Two Samuel, and all the stories of David on the throne—David and Bathsheba, the birth of Solomon, David’s son Absalom overthrowing him and taking over the kingdom, and stories from the twilight of David’s life—all of that takes place in the second part of Samuel.
As we’re winding down our series on 1 Samuel, we’re going to be watching David on the run, David gathering a following of people loyal to him, and David—time after time—refusing to kill Saul. Because for David… the future is not a possibility to secure but rather a gift to receive. That’s the remainder of this book… the rest of series. Though all looks bleak—though circumstances make no sense—though he cannot imagine how the future will unfold—David keeps trusting that God’s future is good and that he doesn’t have to make it happen.
Jesus put it this way:
“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?
Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6v25-27, 31-33)
We all need to remember this, don’t we?
The future doesn’t want anything from us except patience, faithfulness, and trust.
“You are the king, David. That’s NOT something you have to secure…you just need to have patience. Trust your Father. Trust that God knows. Trust that God cares. God will provide. Just keep following him faithfully. Just keep trusting him. All these things will be given to you.”
And even when we get it wrong—when we’re panicked and impatient—when our faithfulness is flailing and our trust is weak—even when we can’t be trusted, God continually gives us reminders that God can be trusted.
That’s what we see in this story today. David is not a perfect guy—he’s hungry and lying to Ahimelek the priest, saying he’s on a secret mission for the king (21v2). He’s feeling defenseless and vulnerable. Suddenly the same guy who stood before a giant years earlier and shouted: “…it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves” (17.47)—this same guy is now itching for a weapon (21v8).
For years he had trusted himself—swordless, weaponless—to be protected by Yahweh from the bear, from the lion, from Goliath of Gath. But now—as life begins to feel out of control—David wants to take his life into his own hands. “Yeah… I’m on a secret mission for the king… give me whatever food you’ve got on hand (v3). And don’t you have a sword or a spear here? I don’t have a weapon… because… because the king’s mission was urgent (v8).”
Does anyone else find this encouraging? David is not perfect. David is not an anxiety-free Zen Master—floating through life passionless, emotionless, fearless. If we watch carefully—if we listen to the story—it seems like David is suddenly panicked: “Oh gosh—I’m being chased by Saul, I’m an enemy of the state, I’ve got no food, no defense, no allies—what am I going to do?”
And so David does what any of us would do: he arrives at the city of Nob (v1) and he lies to a priest. “Yeah… I’m on a secret mission… from the king… it’s REALLY important… what kind of provisions do you have?”
This leads us to a quick side note about how to read the Bible: People in the Bible are not moral models for us; people in the Bible are moral mirrors of us. You’re going to be endlessly confused if you read the Bible expecting people who always get it right. If you’re expecting Biblical figures to model good behavior for you, you’re going to scratching your head a lot. Abraham has sex with his slave. Jacob steals, lies, cheats, and swindles. Joseph is an arrogant punk of a kid. Moses killed a guy.
And here David is lying. Lying to a priest. He’s like all of us, forgetful of God’s faithfulness.
“Who defeated that giant, David? Oh yeah, it was God. And who has been caring for you in the hard seasons in Saul’s court? Oh yeah, it was God. And who has promised you the future? Oh yeah, it’s God.”
“Yeah… but have you seen what’s going on right now—in the present? I got no food, I got no sword, I got no tribe—I gotta lie to this priest!”
It’s not a model for us.
It’s a mirror of us.
We’re all like David, right? And what’s so encouraging, is that even though David is not being faithful right here, God remains faithful right here. When we are not faithful to God, God remains faithful to us.
This morning, someone needs to hear this. You’re following God, you’ve experienced seasons of following him faithfully, but suddenly life is collapsing, and you feel impatient and distrustful of God, and you know that you’re falling into unfaithfulness.
Here’s a mirror for you.
What happens to David? In the midst of his wavering? David gets provided for. God remains faithful in spite of David’s unfaithfulness. God gives David what he needs. But every answer is surprising…and nothing like what David expected.
God is faithful to us even in our unfaithfulness… but his gifts are often surprising. There are three brief moments in today’s story of David receiving surprising gifts from God.
First, David wants fresh food… but he gets some stale loaves.
Verses 1-6: David is faint with hunger—I mean he ducked out of a feast to go on the lam—and he comes in asking for whatever the priest has on hand. “Like… five loaves of bread if you’ve got it (v3).” Ahimelek scratches his head and says, “All we’ve got here is the sacred bread of presence” (v4).
This is super-symbolic bread. According to Leviticus, twelve loaves were to be baked weekly as a symbol of loyalty between Yahweh and his people (24v5-9). And each week, when the new loaves get baked and set out, the stale, crusty, week-old loaves were given to the priests. On-duty priests—and only these priests—could eat the sacred bread of presence.
But the most surprising thing happens: Ahimelek gives David this holy bread. David—with his audacity and desperation to waltz in and lie to this priest—receives his daily bread. It’s less fresh than David wanted, but it’s more loaves than David expected. Trust the Lord, David. Your Father provides.
The second gift comes in verses 8-9:
David wants a weapon to defend himself… David gets a relic to remind himself.
David feels naked and defenseless. (“I got no sword!”) He says (v8): “Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.” The priest scratches his grey head again: “We do have something… but it’s more relic than weapon.” The priest disappears behind “the ephod”—which here seems to mean “some kind of statue”—and comes back with a bulky bundle wrapped in cloth. He unwraps it, and David has an emotional reaction. It’s the sword of Goliath.
Years ago—back in chapter 17—a young and swordless David had looted this sword off of Goliath, after a miraculous victory. Over the years, somehow this blade had made its way to this shrine. It’s become something of a holy relic revered by locals and visitors. Based on descriptions of Goliath’s other weapons—which are freakishly big and heavy—this sword probably isn’t ideal for anyone who isn’t 9 feet tall and ready to wear 125 pounds of armor. “Goliath’s sword!… what I am I going to do with this…?”
(But it’s Goliath’s sword…. I mean, how epic is that?!)
It might be freakishly big and heavy, but it’s this tangible reminder that Yahweh delivers. And this is the last we ever hear of Goliath’s sword. But we’re never told that David uses it. Probably because it’s terrible for combat. But David wants it nonetheless:
“There is none like it; give it to me.” (1 Samuel 21v9)
It’s less functional than David wanted, but it does far more than David expected. It whispers David’s own words back to him: “…it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves.” David asks for a sword, what he actually gets is an artifact—a relic—a reminder that he doesn’t have to defend himself. Yahweh defends him.
And then finally in chapter 22, verses 1-2:
David wants a stable army…David gets a distressed misfits. And a whole lot of them.
He retreats to a cave—the cave of Adullam—and over a period of time he finds himself surrounded by (22v2): “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented.” Those in pain, those with no money and few resources, those who are disgruntled and dissatisfied—these are the people who start coming to David.
The first thing the priest had asked when David arrived in Nob was “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” (21v1). And surely David felt it.
He needs people around him. Strong people. Resourceful people. Influential people. What he gets is those in distress, in debt, and discontented. And it must have been hard. Because David himself is in distress. David himself has is in debt—he’s even got a bounty on his head. David himself has every reason for discontentment. It must have initially been disappointing.
But what does verse 2 say?
“He became their commander.”
These people are needier than David wanted, but far more important than David expected. This motley crew—this ragtag group that David might not have chosen—becomes his people, his family, his loyal tribe.
All of these gifts point us to this reality: God always answers our needs but he frequently disappoints our wants. What David wants is powerful allies, a sharp sword, and fresh food. What David gets is distressed misfits, an old artifact, and stale bread. But his needs are met. He is provided for.
In fact, we should probably change a word in that statement: God always answers our needs
but so he frequently disappoints our wants. That’s the truth of it, isn’t it? If God had answered David according to his wants, then God would have been depriving David of his needs. David would really like for things to just go easy right now, thank you very much. But God must disappoint David’s wants to make sure David has what he needs.
If God had given David the influential people David probably wanted, David would have lost his roots. David might have lost himself. He needed the distressed misfits who will keep him grounded and remind him what life is like outside the palace.
If God had given him a sharp, functional sword, David would have forgotten his ultimate security. Granting that really strong want would have likely suffocated David’s desperately deep need: trust your God like you once did.
And so there are a whole lot of things we really really want. Really important, really good, really pressing things. And God cares about them. God cares about your job. God cares about her health. God cares about your loneliness. God cares about his feeling trapped and stuck. And God has beautiful, incredible plans… that outshine and outweigh anything you can imagine. It’s all going to be a happy ending. But God frequently disappoints our wants for the very purpose of giving us what we need.
God disappoints our wants because God is giving us what we need. We think we need one thing, but what we really need is Goliath’s sword. What we really need is a reminder that God is faithful—in spite of all our unfaithfulness—and that God will fight our battles. And God will win your battles.
You’re NOT going to get everything you want, but you will get everything you need. Life will win. Love will win. Hope will not be disappointed.
But our hope is anchored in a resurrection on the far side of a cross. (And here we approach the mysterious center of the gospel.) We want to avoid that—to avoid pain and suffering and darkness and struggle and crosses—whenever possible. When God came among us—when God became one of us—he showed us that what we need and what we want are often two radically different things. Jesus praying in a garden—on the night he was betrayed—wants one thing and gets something very different:
“I want this cup to pass from me… I don’t want the cross.”
But then he gives his wants over to his Father…“Father, not my will but yours. You know what I want—you know what I need—and you know what the world needs…. I trust you.”
All of us—unfaithful—untruthful—impatient—are invited to trust our Father, and invited to feast from his table. It’s not always the feast you’re wanting, but you will get daily bread you need. So trust him. I don’t understand how it all works… even when God allows a cross he’s still meeting a need. God doesn’t allow cross unless its for our good—for our salvation… for our transformation.
Trust your Father. Trust that God knows. Trust that God cares. God will provide. Keep following him faithfully. Keep trusting him. All these things will be given. All things are coming.