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The MT reads:

וַיַּ֩עַן֩ דָּוִ֨ד אֶת־הַכֹּהֵ֜ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ כִּ֣י אִם־אִשָּׁ֤ה עֲצֻֽרָה־לָ֙נוּ֙ כִּתְמ֣וֹל שִׁלְשֹׁ֔ם בְּצֵאתִ֕י וַיִּהְי֥וּ כְלֵֽי־הַנְּעָרִ֖ים קֹ֑דֶשׁ וְהוּא֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ חֹ֔ל וְאַ֕ף כִּ֥י הַיּ֖וֹם יִקְדַּ֥שׁ בַּכֶּֽלִי׃

According to the NKJV this is how the verse ought to be translated:

Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”

The word וְהוּא֙ is a pronoun (either he or it), the NKJV takes it to refer to the bread mentioned in the previous verse. The word דֶּ֣רֶךְ usually means way or journey, indeed the ESV has "The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey". However, the NKJV chooses to translate "in effect", which is quite a dubious interpretation in my opinion. The word חֹ֔ל is the opposite of sacred or קדש, it conveys that something is common, i.e. it is not sacred to be treated in a special way (i.e., even a defiled person may eat and touch it).

There is no doubt that naturally the translation of the ESV and NIV ("The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey") fits the words ( וְהוּא֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ חֹ֔ל) better than the NJKV. On the other hand, the end of the verse is more appropriately rendered "even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day" as the NKJV does. My question is, can וְהוּא֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ חֹ֔ל justifiably be translated as the NJKV does (the bread is in effect common), when nothing in the text, besides for context, seems to support its interpretation?

Furthermore, why would the bread not be sacred if it was consecrated in the vessel (i.e. the showbread table) today? What would be David's justification for eating the sacred bread (which are usually reserved for the priests)?

2 Answers 2

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In order to answer your questions I will explain the whole verse first. David had come and asked the Cohen for bread, before he ran from Shaul. The only bread he had was the showbread (לחם הפנים). David had a reason to eat it- he was dangerously hungry (in Hebrew- בולמוס) Moreover, The bread was already removed from the table, what makes it close to not-sacred/holy as it was before. Now specifically: "וְהוּא֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ חֹ֔ל"- The bread is considered as not-holy. The word 'דרך' here doesn't maen a tangible road, but something abstract. "וְאַ֕ף כִּ֥י הַיּ֖וֹם יִקְדַּ֥שׁ בַּכֶּֽלִי"- David says it is considered as not-holy, 'although it was consecrated in the vessel this day'. (I explained why.)

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  • Where does the text indicate that David was dangerously hungry? Secondly, you are forcing an interpretation upon "the bread in in effect common", which clearly implies that the bread was never sacred, not that it wasn't considered as such. I find your interpretation (or Rashi's) wanting.
    – Bach
    Dec 19, 2019 at 14:48
  • Regarding your first question: I actually didn't take it from the text but from the Talmud (Gemara Kodashim). Maybe I didn't have to bring this interpretation. And about the second: all the interpretation I saw refer to the bread as the show bread. And it's known that the show bread is sacred.
    – Efra
    Dec 19, 2019 at 19:58
  • of course in normal circumstances it would be sacred, but in this specific scenario it didn't become, and that was really my question! If I would know the meaning of this ambiguous text then I wouldn't be asking about it here.
    – Bach
    Dec 20, 2019 at 0:48
  • "וְאַ֕ף כִּ֥י הַיּ֖וֹם יִקְדַּ֥שׁ בַּכֶּֽלִי"- even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day. This is supposed to answer or I didn't anderstand your question. The expression "in effect common" as a translation to "דרך חול" in my opinion is not precise. As a hebrew speaker I would have translated it "the bread is like/ considered as common"
    – Efra
    Dec 20, 2019 at 10:55
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"In effect" is fine, although I prefer the KJV here:

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 vessels [genitals][2] of the young men are holy,

and the bread is in a manner common,

yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel.

In other words, David is saying "it's just bread, but we are people". Moreover, David's men were, in his eyes, holy, because they had been set apart by God to fulfill an important mission.

So he is pointing out that the Bread of the Presence is a symbol, and it would be just bread even if it was sanctified today[1]

David, unlike the pharisees that would follow him, was not confused about what was a symbol of God's presence and what actually was God's presence, most likely because he had experienced God's presence (Psalm 16.8-9). It is always those who never experience the real thing that end up worshipping the symbols.

The subsequent justifications by various medieval rabbis to try to say that David was honoring traditions because of some loophole is a proof that they have not yet learned the lessons that David already learned about the difference between a symbol and the thing it represents.

This is why this passage is cited by Christ to the pharisees when they accuse his followers of gleaning on the Sabbath (Mark 2.23-28). Again, Christ understands the purpose of the Sabbath is to be at rest in your inner self, that is, to not try to win salvation with your own works (Heb 4.10). But by inventing all these rules in order to "keep" the Sabbath, the Pharisees were the ones who were trying to even keep the Sabbath by "works"!, and thus they failed to keep the Sabbath, whereas Christ and his disciples were the ones keeping the Sabbath by being confident that they were right with God as they were with Christ. Thus they were the ones at rest, whereas the Pharisees were laboring.

Similarly David, by taking food and weapons from the Temple, was honoring the Presence of God because that presence was much more in his genitals (vessels) than in the bread of the temple, as the Messiah would come from his line, and not from the bread placed on the table. In comparison to him and his men, the bread was common, and they were honoring God's presence by eating it, just as Jesus' followers kept the Sabbath even though they gleaned and ate.


[1] The bread was sanctified and then kept on the table for a week and then removed from the table and eaten by the Priests. Thus it was considered "holy" when it was first put on the table, and then afterwards it was considered common when it was removed from the table and eaten. (Lev 24.8-9)


[2] Some expressed shock and dismay that references to the young men's cli -- receptacles, equipment, jewels, instruments, cups, etc -- could be a euphemism for genitals when used as a response to a question if the young men had been with women.

I guess these readers think the priest was inquiring if the young men were cooking with the women and thus might have dirty pots. Or maybe it was their swords - perhaps they slew a pig on the way and so had unclean swords. Or perhaps it was their clothes -- they forgot to undress before having sex and so had emissions of semen all over their clothes!

Now there are many Biblical euphemisms for genitalia such as feet, mandrakes, thigh, etc. and it is very useful for exegesis to understand these euphemisms. E.g. here is the Cornerstone commentary:

“The vessels” (kele- [3627, 3998]) has been understood as a reference to weapons, clothing, or euphemistically as a reference to the male sexual organ. Vannoy, J. R. (2009). Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: 1-2 Samuel (Vol. 4, p. 196). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

The detection of euphemisms is determined primarily by context, and here the issue is the abstinence of the young men. That's not a proof that genitals were referenced - after all, maybe Ruth really did just uncover Boaz's feet - but I think you have a richer exegesis if you keep the euphemisms in mind.


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  • Robert how do you get genitals from vessels?? Your answer here is extremely confusing and misleading.
    – Bach
    Aug 10, 2021 at 17:26
  • Genitalia is one of the glosses of cli (among many others, e.g. "stuff", "equipment", "receptacle", rubies, cups, etc). But what kind of equipment do you think the Priest was asking about when he asked if the men hadn't been with women? That he didn't want them to cook with the women? The young men's pots and pans? Btw, this is not my reading of - cli - here, it is the standard reading. You can consult commentaries for more info if you still find this confusing or "misleading"
    – Robert
    Aug 10, 2021 at 17:33
  • Robert yes, it's talking quite simply about the pots and pans/eating utensils of the lads. Ahimelech refused to hand them over the showbread because he was afraid that the men were defiled, or that their vessels (not genitals!) were defiled. David answered that their men hadn't slept with their wives, and that their vessels have not been defiled either, so he has nothing to worry about. I'm not sure where you picked up this bizarre interpretation, and your whole answer is dubious at best.
    – Bach
    Aug 10, 2021 at 18:49
  • These examples of nuance and metaphor are something that many really struggle with. Some have a robotic literalist interpretation of all texts, and in that case they find examples of nuance "bizarre". This is something to work on to improve your own ability to understand the text.
    – Robert
    Aug 10, 2021 at 19:32
  • I'm open to interpreting a text allegorically when it's called for, in this specific case I don't think your allegorical interpretation is warranted from the text, as the simple meaning is quite clear as I have demonstrated above.
    – Bach
    Aug 11, 2021 at 3:01

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