Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Ephod or Sword

As we navigate through our study on the life of David, I am astonished its relevance to the issue of discernment. In this week’s text, we find David on the run from Saul. You might recall the dynamics of the situation. David escaped from Saul’s palace through a window (with the help of his wife, Michal). In a desperate move, David travels to the priestly town of Nob. Rather than honestly approach the situation, he lies to the priest and seeks provisions for his journey. There is no mention of seeking God’s direction. In 1 Samuel 21, we are simply told,

(1 Samuel 21:1 NIV) David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest.

David is able to gain bread and Goliath’s sword. He leaves Nob for an unsuccessful retreat to the land of the Philistines. Again, there is no consulting God. As I was reading the story today, I saw an interesting detail. When Ahimelech offers Goliath’s sword, he describes its location as behind the ephod (1 Samuel 21:9). The ephod is a priestly garment that was used in worship. It was particularly used when seeking God’s direction. They do not pull it out or use it in this case. Later in the story, we will see David instruct the priest to bring out the ephod. But here David leaves the ephod and takes the sword. This detail is easily overlooked until you read further in the story.

In the next chapter (1 Samuel 22), Saul hears that David has been to Nob. He accuses the priests of harboring David; he slaughters every one of them. It is ugly.

(1 Samuel 22:18–19 NIV) That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep.

David feels responsible for their deaths. By the time we get to chapter 23, David’s posture has changed. David seeks God three times in this chapter. David no longer ventures out on his own. The contrast between chapters 21 and 23 is striking. When David learns that Saul is hot on his trail, he calls the priest and instructs him to bring the ephod. David is seeking God’s direction at every juncture.

It is worth noting that Saul’s spy, Doeg’s testimony involves Ahimelech (1 Samuel 22:13 NIV) “giving him bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him.” Yet, when we read chapter 22, we don’t find Ahimelech seeking God for David. Their conversation is all about bread and weapons; no worship seems to take place. In fact, the only mention of the ephod is in describing the location of Goliath’s sword.

I find it intriguing that David left the ephod and took the sword. Certainly, you could make the case that David had no use for the ephod since he was not a priest. However, if you fast-forward to 2 Samuel 6, King David is wearing the ephod.

(2 Samuel 6:14 NIV) David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might,

David is not only king, he is a priestly king. I would propose that David learned in time that the ephod was more important than the sword. Certainly, the tragedy in Nob was a result of David’s lying. David was not walking with God in this endeavor. He was in survival mode reaching for whatever he could find. But in the end David discovers the reward of seeking God. Throughout his story, we find him discerning before he acts. He will often fail to adequately discern at times. However, when David takes the time to ask God first, his decisions have much better results.

May we learn from David’s mistakes. May we be careful to reach for the right tools as we lead churches. May we understand the crucial nature of the ephod (worship, discernment) in our leadership.