Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?”  And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away. – 1 Samuel 21:1-6 (ESV)
Ahimelech, who is apparently a godly and faithful high priest, is confronted with a difficult situation. David has appeared before him in need of sustenance and all that he has on hand is the Bread of the Presence or Showbread which normally only the priests were allowed to eat. What should he do? The high priest rightly gives the bread to David. We know that this was the right choice because Jesus Himself affirms this decision in the New Testament. But how could it be right to give to a non-priest food that was specifically designated by God for the priests to eat? Most commentators suggest a rather straight-forward solution. They suggest that human need trumps ceremonial law. There is something to this, but on closer examination this turns out not to be an entirely satisfactory answer. After all, Ahimelech offers the bread to David and his men on the condition that they are all ceremonially clean. If human need simply trumps the ceremonial law that condition wouldn’t make any sense. If we look closer at the meaning of the showbread we will realize that stood for God’s commitment to provide food for His people. Here was the LORD’s anointed fleeing, hungry, and in need of food. The meaning of the showbread actually demanded that the showbread be given to David provided that he were ceremonially clean. To do anything else would be to embrace the symbolizing of the showbread while denying the very thing that symbolism pointed to. Just as Jesus told the Pharisees: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath”; we might say, “The Showbread was prepared and displayed for Israel and not Israel for the Showbread.”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 70
Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.