Poole's Outline of 1 Samuel 21:3-6: David and the Shewbread
Verse 3: Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present (Heb. found).
[If thou hast anything at hand] Hebrew: What is under thine hand? What hast thou at hand and in readiness (Vatablus)? what is under thy control, or in thy power (certain interpreters in Malvenda)? Weary from the road, he does not ask for a feast, but bread, properly so called; for the priest answers concerning bread specifically (Martyr).
Under thine hand, to wit, in thy power, and ready for thee to give, and for me to take, and eat.
Verse 4: And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is (Ex. 25:30; Lev. 24:5; Matt. 12:4) hallowed bread; (Ex. 19:15; Zech. 7:3) if the young men have kept themselves at least from women.
Under mine hand, to wit, here in the tabernacle; though doubtless he had enough of that and of other provisions in his house; but David was in great haste, and in fear of Doeg, whom he saw and knew there, 1 Samuel 22:22, and therefore would not stay till any thing could be fetched thence.
[Only hallowed bread, if the young men are clean, especially from women, כִּי־אִם־לֶ֤חֶם קֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ יֵ֔שׁ אִם־נִשְׁמְר֥וּ הַנְּעָרִ֖ים אַ֥ךְ מֵאִשָּֽׁה׃] If only the young men have kept themselves especially (or certainly [Junius and Tremellius], particularly [Tigurinus], at least [Munster]) from women (Pagnine, similarly Junius and Tremellius, Montanus, Vatablus, Piscator, Septuagint), that is, from lying together with a woman, namely, one’s wife. A Synecdoche of genus (Piscator). From women (Munster, Tigurinus); from the uncleanness of woman (Jonathan). From the pollution that is contracted with a woman; that is, if they were not polluted (Vatablus). The priest asks this by analogy of the commandment, concerning which Exodus 19:5, and from the oracle of God, concerning which 1 Samuel 22:10 (Malvenda out of Junius). In Sacred things this was wont to be required. See Tibullus’ Elegies 1:3; Propertius’ Elegies 2:22; Ovid’s Loves 1:8; 3:8, 9, and Metamorphoses 10. See what things were said on Exodus 19:15 (Grotius). Under the Old Testament the Lord was willing that those that would eat of the sacred food should temporarily abstain from conjugal intimacy; not so that He might signify that marriage is an impure sort of life, but so that He might teach that our conception and nativity is infected and polluted with original sin (Osiander). Indeed, God commanded the people to abstain from their wives for two days, Exodus 19. Yet there was not, therefore, sin, or legal uncleanness, in conjugal converse. For God commanded in Leviticus 10, that the priests should abstain from wine, etc.; yet it was not a sin, nor a legal uncleanness, to drink wine. This priest appears to have been overly scrupulous. For, what if David had been unclean? Would he have preferred that he die of hunger (Martyr)? Moreover, this passage sounds as if David and his young men, if they were clean, might lawfully be able to eat the shewbread even beyond a case of necessity. But it is not so. For, according to the law, it was permitted to the priests alone; as it is found in Leviticus 24:9; Numbers 28; Matthew 12:4. And so the priest was asking whether they were unclean. Not but that they were able to eat being unclean in extreme necessity; but so that he might signify that a man placed in necessity is bound to observe the law, although not fully, at least as far as he is able (Estius). The High Priest modestly asks concerning the cleanness of David, although he does not express his name (Menochius); which the response of David shows (Malvenda). And, although there were other greater uncleannesses, he asks concerning this one because it was more common (Menochius). [But the Syriac and Arabic render the passage otherwise, provided that they young men have kept themselves from things hindering the eating of an offering (Syriac, similarly the Arabic); they appear to have read מֵאִשֶּׁה, from an offering made by fire, or from a sacrifice, or oblation, in general, just as the Syriac and Arabic often translate אִשֶּׁה; and to have taken מֵאִשֶּׁה for, from things hindering offering; just as elsewhere fruit is put for the want of fruit, Lamentations 4:9, and fatness for the want of fatness, Psalm 109:24.]
Hallowed bread; the shewbread, which was appropriated to the priests; of which see Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:5. At least from women; either from uncleanness by women, which might be divers ways contracted; or from conjugal converse with their wives; which though it did not defile them, yet he thought might debar them from the participation of such very sacred things; which he gathered by the analogy of that precept, Exodus 19:15. There was a double impediment to the giving of this bread to them: 1. Its sacredness in itself; which the priest implies, and David answers, 1 Samuel 21:5, and the priest was satisfied therein by David’s extraordinary occasions and great necessities. 2. The purity and abstinence from all women, which he supposeth should be in those that use it; concerning which he now inquires. And though he mention this only concerning David’s young men, and out of modesty and reverence to David forbears to name him; yet he is also included in the number, as David’s answer shows.
Verse 5: And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the (1 Thess. 4:4) vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day (Lev. 8:26) in the vessel (or, especially when this day there is other sanctified in the vessel).
[If it is asked concerning women: we have restrained ourselves yesterday and the day before, when we went forth, כִּ֣י אִם־אִשָּׁ֤ה עֲצֻֽרָה־לָ֙נוּ֙ כִּתְמ֣וֹל שִׁלְשֹׁ֔ם בְּצֵאתִ֕י] Indeed, woman has been restrained (shut up [Piscator], cut off [Junius and Tremellius]) to us as yesterday (understanding, and [Pagnine]) the day before, in my going out (Montanus, Pagnine). Women have been indeed closed off, both yesterday, and the day before, when I went forth (Munster, Tigurinus). Woman has been remote, was at a distance from us, so that she might not be with us (Vatablus), for three days now. So long a time was required for legal purification; see concerning Exodus 19:15 (Piscator). [The Syriac and Arabic also vary here: the offering was lawful to us from yesterday and the day before, when I went forth. They take אִשָּׁה/ woman as אִשֶּׁה, an offering made by fire, as in verse 4; and the עֲצֻֽרָה, which others take in the sense of preventing, or restraining, these take in the contrary sense, that is, the power of having: Concerning which use of the verb, see what things were above on 1 Samuel 9:17 and 2 Chronicles 14:11, and consult the Lexicographers. Moreover, that בְּצֵאתִי the Septuagint conjoins with what follows, in my going out, all the young men were purified.]
About these three days; as long as the law required, Exodus 19:15. And so long David and his men had, it seems, hid themselves for fear of Saul in some of those caves, whereof there were many in those parts; whereby they were kept both from all converse with any other persons besides themselves, and consequently from women; and withal, from food convenient for them. Since I came out from the place where Jonathan and David met.
[And the vessels of the young men have been holy (thus Munster, Tigurinus, similarly Montanus, Arabic, Jonathan)] By vessels understand, either, 1. their bodies (Sanchez, Lapide out of Tostatus, Menochius, Lyra, Osiander, Mariana, Castalio). Thus it is taken in 2 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:4 (Menochius). But I desire examples of this signification in the Old Testament (Piscator). Or, 2. their clothing or garments (Munster, Vatablus). The garments of the young men were sanctified and purified; that is, we purified ourselves after the manner of those that wish to commit themselves to a journey (Vatablus). Instruments (Junius and Tremellius), that is, with whatever they have been equipped to make this journey. This exposition appears simple and genuine (Piscator). Here, the Septuagint has, all the young men have been purified.
The vessels, that is, either, 1. Their garments, or other utensils for their journey. Or, 2. Their bodies, for of them the question was, verse 4; and having now said that women had been kept from them, he infers that therefore their bodies were holy, their members were undefiled. Thus the word vessel is used 1 Thessalonians 4:4, and in other authors, both Greek and Latin.
[Moreover, this way has been polluted, but today it shall also be sanctified in the vessel, וְהוּא֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ חֹ֔ל וְאַ֕ף כִּ֥י הַיּ֖וֹם יִקְדַּ֥שׁ בַּכֶּֽלִי׃] Verbatim: And it (and he [Malvenda]) is the way of profanation, even also that today it shall be sanctified in the vessel (Montanus, Malvenda). [They translate and explain this passage in a variety of ways:] The term way signifies many things: sometimes a manner of life, or one’s manner in conducting a matter; sometimes tradition and functions; sometimes the same thing as a matter. Wherefore either the bread is able to be called the way here; or the manner of asking, of which David made use; or the manner of inquiring employed by the Priest; or David’s military manner, or at least the business, which he undertook at that time. Hence the explanation is manifold (Sanchez): And this way is profane, since it shall be sanctified today through my vessels (Septuagint). If this way is profane, today it shall be sanctified (Theodoret in Nobilius). And this is the public custom; but how much more is the bread sanctified today in the vessel (Tigurinus). But if this way is not holy, yet shall it be sanctified today in the vessel. He takes vessel for body, and to sanctify in the place of allowed use, as in Titus 1:15. The bread is sanctified by the word, etc. (Strigelius). But if the departure itself was profane, today it shall indeed be purified in our bodies. That is, if perhaps my servants, when they departed, were with their wives; they shall be pure today indeed, since this is the third day; which space of time is fixed for cleansing bodies (Castalio). Although the way is profane, that is, although we organized this journey for the sake of profane business, we have nevertheless sanctified ourselves (we have taken care that our garments be purified [Vatablus in Tigurinus Notes]), how much more shall our way be sanctified today in the vessels themselves (certain interpreters in Vatablus). As הוּא/it is feminine, they refer it to דֶּרֶךְ/way, which is feminine (Vatablus). [But דֶּרֶךְ/way can be either masculine or feminine.] Even if this way is common, or not holy (that is, the business is political, not religious), nevertheless, today it shall be sanctified through the vessels, that is, we will not sin in eating the sacred loaves, because our bodies are clean, not polluted (Osiander). And the vessels of the young men were holy, even if the way was profane; and how much more shall there be holiness in the vessels today? The have this sense: Although we undertook a profane journey, not knowing that we would have need of holy bread; yet nothing unclean has happened in the journey that could restrain us from eating the holy loaves: and how much more today, when we are in need of holy thing, reckonest thou us to have abstained from whatever uncleanness that could have polluted our bodies and garments! In the place of profane way some read a polluted way; others, a public manner (Munster). Others thus: this way is polluted, that is to say, in the way in which we have come we contracted legal uncleannesses (Menochius). Or thus: this way is military manner of life that David was professing; or the business which he feigned to have been laid upon him by Saul: Therefore, he admits that this way was sufficiently polluted, that is, liable to pollution (Sanchez). Or thus: this way, that is, this Lay practice is unclean and polluted; that is, that Laymen should eat of the showbread (Lapide out of Lyra); But it shall be sanctified in our vessels, that is, in our bodies; that is to say, this holy bread shall not be polluted, but shall be received in a holy and clean manner, by us in this grievous necessity of hunger (Lapide out of Lyra and Tostatus, Menochius, Sanchez). Moreover, the bread is said to be sanctified, because it is not polluted; according to the rule of the Hebrews, among whom one is said to receive what he did not lose. Thus he is said to be vivified, who was not killed by the enemy; as in 1 Samuel 27, David was not vivifying man nor woman, that is, he was killing all; in 2 Samuel 8:2, he measured two lines…one for vivification (Sanchez). [Others supply here the word bread, and thus translate it:] Moreover, that bread is after the likeness of common bread, or has the relation of common bread (Piscator); in a manner common (Dutch, English); common in a manner [more explicitly he would have said, in a certain way, or in a certain manner)] (Junius and Tremellius); in a manner (or way [Junius]) prophane (Pagnine), in the hands of the Priests (Junius and Tremellius), that is, the Priests are able to eat of it, just like other bread. See Leviticus 24:8, 9 (Junius), although before this they were able to be eaten by no one, as long as they were on the table before the Lord (Dutch). How much more shall it be sanctified in the vessel? (Pagnine). Especially when (or, and that the more, because [Piscator, Dutch]) this day another shall be sanctified in the vessel (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Dutch, English in the margin). As if David should say: There is no need that thou shouldest be so scrupulous in giving us these loaves; because, although they be holy as long as they are on the table before the Lord, nevertheless, as it is now proper, they are moved, and fresh loaves are put in their place, or have already been put in their place; their holiness is not such as it was previously; for surely they shall be common in some measure; because the Priests and their families eat them, although before this they were able to be eaten by no one: And so, according to the law of charity, which is greater and higher than all ceremonies, others are also able to eat of them with necessity urging (Dutch). Ritual laws readily give way before some necessity or great utility. See what things are said on Matthew 12:4 (Grotius). …It is common, yea, although it were sanctified this day in the vessel (English). Some thus translate it: but also the bread removed from the table of the Lord is after the manner of profane bread that was lawful to eat: and, yea, although this day it were sanctified this day in the vessel that is upon the table, it were lawful to eat it, since thou hast not other, and I am in circumstances of necessity (certain interpreters in Vatablus). But there were Common loaves in homes; but, lest he be either discovered, or delayed, David was unwilling that they be sought (Serarius). Others thus: how much more today, etc., that is, how much more shall that bread be kept in its purity and holiness in that vessel in which it is shall be stored? that is to say, with greater diligence shall we keep our vessels in our purity (Vatablus).
The bread is in a manner common; Hebrew, and this (to wit, the bread; which is easily supplied out of the former verse, because that was the thing about which the present discourse was, and against the giving whereof the priest started an objection, verse 4, to which David here giveth an answer) is in a manner, or, after a sort, common, that is, considering the time, and our necessity, this may be asked in a manner like common bread, and so is used by others. For though for a season, whilst it is to stand before the Lord, it be so holy, that the priest himself might not eat it; yet afterwards it is eaten by the priest, and by his whole family, as their common food; and so it may be by us, in our circumstances. Though it were sanctified this day in the vessel; if it were but newly put into the vessel, it must give place to the great law of necessity and charity, because God will have mercy preferred before sacrifice. Or thus, especially, when, or, the rather because this day there is other (that is, new bread) sanctified in the vessel, that is, put into the vessel which was made to receive this bread, Exodus 25:29, and thereby sanctified, or consecrated to God; and therefore the former shewbread is now to be removed, and employed for the common use of the priest and his family.
Verse 6: So the priest (Matt. 12:3, 4; Mark 2:25, 26; Luke 6:3, 4) gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, (Lev. 24:8, 9) that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.
[He gave him hallowed bread, etc.] This was lawful in famine. Thus in the famine of Samaria they were eating asses’ heads, 2 Kings 6:25. And Maimonides, Mishneh Torah “Concerning Kings” 8:1. Soldiers in a campaign, when they have invaded the borders of the Gentiles, etc., and do not find other things apt for eating, may eat the torn, and pork, etc., if they be hungry (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:13:190). Hence it is evident that the greatest necessity was not to be awaited, that they might be able to eat of these loaves. Besides the loaves it is probable that other provisions also were given to him (Menochius).
[And there was no bread there, except, etc.] Question: Were there no common loaves in the house of the High Priest? Responses: 1. Perhaps not: For he had already put on fresh bread, and so he had taken away the old for his sustenance; and he had not baked other loaves, because the former were sufficient (Tostatus in Lapide). 2. There was no other bread in the tabernacle. For David was there, not at his house, who was also feigning haste (Lapide).
There was no bread there, to wit, in the tabernacle, where David and the priest now were.
[Which had been taken away, הַמּוּסָרִים] Which had been removed (Septuagint, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus).
[So that hot loaves might be put on, לָשׂוּם֙ לֶ֣חֶם חֹ֔ם בְּי֖וֹם הִלָּקְחֽוֹ׃] So that hot loaves might be put on on that day when the former were taken away (Munster, Pagnine, similarly almost all). This was done each Sabbath, Leviticus 24:8 (Menochius, similarly Munster). Question: How were they hot, since it was prohibited to work on the Sabbath? Response: They were kept on a hot oven until this hour (Munster out of the Hebrews, similarly Martyr).
In the day when it was taken away, which was done upon the sabbath day, Leviticus 24:8; for though they might not then kindle a fire to heat the bread in, yet they might and did keep it hot in an oven that had been heated before the sabbath.
 Hebrew: וְעַתָּ֗ה מַה־יֵּ֧שׁ תַּֽחַת־יָדְךָ֛ חֲמִשָּׁה־לֶ֖חֶם תְּנָ֣ה בְיָדִ֑י א֖וֹ הַנִּמְצָֽא׃  Hebrew: הַנִּמְצָא.  Hebrew: מַה־יֵּ֧שׁ תַּֽחַת־יָדְךָ֛.  Hebrew: וַיַּ֙עַן הַכֹּהֵ֤ן אֶת־דָּוִד֙ וַיֹּ֔אמֶר אֵֽין־לֶ֥חֶם חֹ֖ל אֶל־תַּ֣חַת יָדִ֑י כִּֽי־אִם־לֶ֤חֶם קֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ יֵ֔שׁ אִם־נִשְׁמְר֥וּ הַנְּעָרִ֖ים אַ֥ךְ מֵאִשָּֽׁה׃  Albius Tibullus (c. 54-19 BC) was a writer of Latin poems and elegies. Two volumes of his poetry survive.  Sextus Propertius (50 BC-16 AD) was a Roman elegiac poet.  Lamentations 4:9: “They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through from the fruits (מִתְּנוּבֹת, for want of the fruits) of the field.”  Psalm 109:24: “My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness (מִשָּׁמֶן).”  Hebrew: וַיַּעַן֩ דָּוִ֙ד אֶת־הַכֹּהֵ֜ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ כִּ֣י אִם־אִשָּׁ֤ה עֲצֻֽרָה־לָ֙נוּ֙ כִּתְמ֣וֹל שִׁלְשֹׁ֔ם בְּצֵאתִ֕י וַיִּהְי֥וּ כְלֵֽי־הַנְּעָרִ֖ים קֹ֑דֶשׁ וְהוּא֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ חֹ֔ל וְאַ֕ף כִּ֥י הַיּ֖וֹם יִקְדַּ֥שׁ בַּכֶּֽלִי׃  Hebrew: וְאַ֕ף כִּ֥י הַיּ֖וֹם יִקְדַּ֥שׁ בַּכֶּֽלִי׃.  1 Samuel 9:17: “And when Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said unto him, Behold the man whom I spake to thee of! this same shall reign (יַעְצֹר, shall keep within bounds) over my people.”  2 Chronicles 14:11: “And Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O Lord, thou art our God; let not man prevail with (יַעְצֹר/restrain) thee.”  See 1 Timothy 4:5. הוּא is usually masculine.  1 Samuel 27:9, 11: “And David smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive (וְלֹ֥א יְחַיֶּ֖ה אִ֣ישׁ וְאִשָּׁ֑ה), and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel, and returned, and came to Achish…. And David saved neither man nor woman alive (וְאִ֙ישׁ וְאִשָּׁ֜ה לֹֽא־יְחַיֶּ֣ה דָוִ֗ד), to bring tidings to Gath, saying, Lest they should tell on us, saying, So did David, and so will be his manner all the while he dwelleth in the country of the Philistines.”  2 Samuel 8:2: “And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive (וַיְמַדֵּ֤ד שְׁנֵֽי־חֲבָלִים֙ לְהָמִ֔ית וּמְלֹ֥א הַחֶ֖בֶל לְהַחֲי֑וֹת). And so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.”  Hebrew: וַיִּתֶּן־ל֥וֹ הַכֹּהֵ֖ן קֹ֑דֶשׁ כִּי֩ לֹא־הָ֙יָה שָׁ֜ם לֶ֗חֶם כִּֽי־אִם־לֶ֤חֶם הַפָּנִים֙ הַמּֽוּסָרִים֙ מִלִּפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה לָשׂוּם֙ לֶ֣חֶם חֹ֔ם בְּי֖וֹם הִלָּקְחֽוֹ׃  Moses Maimonides, or Rambam (1135-1204), is reckoned by many to be the greatest Jewish scholar of his age. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Rabbinic tradition, natural science, and Aristotelian philosophy, Maimonides demonstrates great command and almost equal facility.  1 Samuel 21:6: “So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken (הַמּוּסָרִים) from before the Lord, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.”