David and the Showbread – 1 Samuel 21

Centuries after David had been on the run from King Saul, Jesus taught about one aspect of his flight to His disciples and the religious leaders.

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”  But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Matthew 12:1-4 (NKJV)

The table of showbread, or the bread of God’s Presence, was an integral part of God’s Holy Place in the tabernacle.  The tabernacle design was given to Moses by God Himself and had heavenly significance and symbolism.

The bread was unleavened and of a special recipe that allowed it to last all week without getting stale or moldy. Twelve flat loaves of bread representing the twelve tribes of Israel were stacked in two piles and placed upon a gold-covered table by the attending priests. Only certain priests were allowed into the Holy Place, which also held the seven-headed, olive oil-burning lampstand, and the ever-burning altar of incense, reminders of the peoples’ prayers before an ever-present God.

After being present before the Lord for one week, the old showbread was replaced by new bread, and the old was given to the priests as food. The unique recipe allowed the bread to remain perfectly edible for the priests and their families after its week of spiritual service.

The 12 loaves of showbread represented God’s ongoing care and provision for His chosen people, the twelve tribes of Israel. A curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments and supported the Mercy Seat, where God met with the High Priest once each year.

It was into this holy tabernacle setting that David arrived while on the run from King Saul.  Saul was intent on killing David in jealousy over the throne.  Saul was consumed by a demonic madness that obsessed him with the mission of tracking down and eliminating David.

Desperately in need of supplies for himself and his small group of supporters, David arrived at God’s tabernacle at Nob.  He asked the head priest, Ahimelech, to give him food and a sword.  Besides the sword of Goliath, which had been stored there, the only other thing Ahimelech had available to give David was the week’s supply of old showbread.

So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away. 1 Samuel 21:6 (NKJV)

Speaking later to the Pharisees, Jesus did not condemn David for taking the showbread, meant only for priests, to eat while on the run from Saul. David had been anointed by God to rule one day on Israel’s throne, and it was fully in line with God’s will and purpose to keep David alive. In fact, God’s plan was to establish David’s throne throughout eternity, which one day, Jesus Himself will reign upon as King of Kings over the entire earth and heaven.

Just as the Sabbath rules were made for man’s benefit and rest, so the tabernacle with its lamps, altars and showbread were actually made for humans so that they could experience God’s presence, and fully lean upon Him for complete forgiveness, eternal salvation, healing, and ongoing blessing.  God is always looking out for our best interests, even sending His only begotten Son to die on a cross so that we may live with Him forever. In return, He looks at the intent of our hearts and wants us to seek after Him and His goodness in faith rather than only for material possessions and the approval of people.


Each aspect of God’s tabernacle pointed to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the source of our forgiveness and atonement through His sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, the Light of the World, and the Bread of Life.

Father God, may the power and presence of the Holy Spirit raise up the incense of prayer in our hearts today as we seek to live for You. Forgive us and purify us through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus so that we may live in Your holy presence forever. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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