Monday through Friday with People of Faith: Day 93/260: David

Read 1 Samuel 21:1-9

Situation Ethics

There are certain things that are right and certain things that are wrong. But are those things flexible, depending on the situation? The validity of the concept of “situation ethics” has been hotly debated for centuries. Can we “bend the rules” if it serves a greater purpose?

There are a number of incidents recorded in the Bible to which people turn to justify the idea of situation ethics. One popular example is Rahab the prostitute. She lied, but in that particular situation was it right to do so? Is it ever wrong to tell the truth?

Another example is David when he comes to Nob and asked the priest Ahimelech for bread. The priest answered, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women” (1 Samuel 21:4). David took the bread, even though such was in violation of God’s law. That bread was for the priests: “And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the Lord made by fire, by a perpetual statute” (Leviticus 24:9).

Was David justified in his action? Did his situation change the ethics of eating the bread set aside for priests, and priests alone? The Pharisees of the first century evidently thought so, and Jesus challenged them to rethink their position. They had charged His disciples with Sabbath-breaking (when they had not broken any Sabbath laws), but excused David’s actions (though he had clearly violated God’s command).

J.W. McGarvey wrote that “it can not be said that he who refused to turn stones into bread when tortured by a forty days’ fast, and who said, ‘Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven,’ would approve such a violation of law as David was guilty of. Neither can it be that he allowed his own disciples while under the law to break the Sabbath. If Christians may violate law when its observance would involve hardship or suffering, then there is an end of suffering for the name of Christ, and an end even of self-denial” (Commentary on Matthew and Mark, p. 104). Jesus does not excuse David; we must be careful that we do not excuse ourselves of sin. Situation ethics was a faulty concept then and continues to be today.

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