Useful Bible Studies > 1 Samuel Commentary > chapter 20

What made a person unclean?

1 Samuel 20:26

David was not present at the meal that Saul had arranged.

That meal was a sacred occasion. The meat came from a sacrifice (an animal that people gave to God) for the new moon (the beginning of a month). Such meals were the only regular opportunity that Israel’s people had to pray in public at that time. David was a holy man who would not normally be absent on such occasions.

Saul convinced himself that David must be ‘unclean’. Leviticus 7:20-21 says that an unclean person must not eat the meat from a sacrifice. An unclean person could not join in public prayers or go to God’s house (the tent called the tabernacle).

For this purpose, the word ‘unclean’ does not have its normal meaning. It describes a person who is not in a proper state to join in a public act of religion. Even after that person has washed, the person would still be unclean for a period of time. That period depended on the cause that made the person unclean. However, in most situations, a person’s unclean state only lasted until the next evening. Saul hoped that David would come to a meal on the day afterwards. Then Saul would have his opportunity to kill David.

You can read about the matters that made people unclean in Leviticus chapters 11 to 15. For example, David could have touched something or someone who was unclean. He could have done that in order to help an ill person. Or, he could have touched the dead body of an unclean animal by accident.

However, really David was not unclean. He was hiding because he knew about Saul’s plot to kill him.

Next part: Jonathan tests whether Saul is plotting against David (1 Samuel 20:27-29)


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© 2014, Keith Simons.