William Cowper wrote a very fine hymn entitled, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” The first verse says, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.” Now what in the world is a foot doing planted in the Pacific Ocean? The land seems like a far better spot. But God knows us. If He were to plant His foot on the land, we would start worshiping the ground. So He takes strange paths to victory so that we would stay out of idolatry. This is precisely what He does in 1 Samuel 21 as David goes on a round about journey to the throne of Israel. We come across uncommon bread, an uncommon sword, and an uncommon man.
The Text – A Summary
After parting ways with Jonathan, David is now on the run from Saul. He heads to Nob where he meets with Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech sees that David is by himself, which makes him afraid. Ahimelech knows something is fishy. But David supplies Ahimelech with plausible deniability by saying that he is on a secret mission by order of King Saul. David asks for bread. And Ahimelech tells him that there is no common bread, but only holy bread. David and his men had been kept from women so they could eat this sacred bread, which Ahimelech gave them.
All was going smoothly enough. But we are told that Doeg the Edomite was there to witness the proceedings. He was the chief herdsmen of the raging King Saul. And like a sharp knife on a dresser in the second scene of a movie, we will leave Doeg for now anticipating his reappearance in the next chapter.
David does not have a weapon so he asks Ahimelech for one. But, Ahimelech had no common bread and neither did he have a common sword. The only one available was the sword of Goliath the Philistine giant. David was happy to take it seeing that there was none like it (v. 9).
David then flees to Achish the King of Gath. This action seems doubly strange since David was carrying Goliath’s sword who himself was from Gath. The servants of Achish recognize David. They had heard the women’s song of Saul slaying his thousands and David his ten thousands. The only thing left for David to do was to pretend to be insane. So he began marking up the doors of the gate at Gath and letting his spittle fall down his beard. King Achish saw and declared that he did not want a mad man in his house.
Joining David’s Army
Now if you could be dropped in to David’s ranks anywhere along his journey, you likely would not choose this particular moment. You’d be happy to walk by his side say after he beheaded Goliath and the women sang their songs of praise. But now King Saul is after him. Doeg the Edomite is probably snitching on him right about now. And the Philistine King Achish has his men telling him that David is a serious threat. There David is acting as if he has lost his mind. And our instincts tell us that we should fast forward from this scene and join David at a later date.
But if we would follow Christ, then we must take up the cross. As the old puritan prayer puts it, “To bear the cross is to wear the crown.” The people’s praised Christ upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But we walk with Him not only then. We also walk with Him when the rulers of this world are after Him. We are with Christ when Judas is snitching on Him. We remain with Him when He is at Calvary with spit in His beard like David. And we don’t flinch if others think we are out of our minds. For with Paul we say, “If we are beside ourselves, it is for God” (2 Corinthians 5:13).
David ate uncommon bread, took up an uncommon sword, and was thought to be an uncommon man. The whole chapter is uncomfortable. Things do not appear to be going according to plan. Imagine yourself in David’s ranks, undercover just inside the edge of the forest. You look across the open field at David, spittled and marking up the front gates of Gath. At that moment, you receive a call from one of the biggest donors of the “David for Second King of Israel” campaign. “How are things going?” asks the voice on the phone. “Well . . . really Bill I’m glad you called, I think the plan is starting to come together.”
We love it when things are in order and balanced, and the details unfold according to plan. But God’s plan for our victorious conquest does not always unfold in the way we would have written the story. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: But the LORD directeth his steps.” When we get that truth down into our bones, it does not mean that we leave off strategizing. But it does mean that when everything appears to be going haywire, we won’t fret, assuming that God’s promises have fallen to the ground. We will rather know that it is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of God that we have the victory.