Why Is King David’s “Grocery List” in the Bible?
Louis Gaussen (1790-1863) was a Swiss scholar who served as professor of systematic theology in Geneva, Switzerland. He produced a classic volume, Theopneustia — The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
In this work, he responded to several criticisms often made against the concept of the Bible’s verbal inspiration.
One of these is “the apparent insignificance of certain details,” that allegedly tend to nullify the lofty purpose claimed for the Scriptures (1840, 306ff).
On such example is a passage having to do with an incident in the life of David that is quite intriguing.
The Bible student is informed that when king David came to Mahanaim, three men, Shobi an Ammonite, Machir of Lode bar, and Barzillai of Gilead:
... brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David and for the people that were with him (2 Sam. 17:28-29).
The critic is prone to ask: “Do we really need an entire ‘grocery list,’ in this book that purports to be a spiritual document that guides one from earth to heaven?”
But the possible background of the passage could shed a floodlight of meaning upon this seemingly trivial list.
David’s beloved son, Absalom, was a rebel at heart. He was envious of his father’s success and wanted acclaim for himself.
So he carefully plotted to wrest the allegiance of David’s subjects from him, and transfer the same to himself.
And he was significantly successful. He “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6).
Eventually, a full-blown rebellion was ignited.
David, with his remaining loyalists, fled Jerusalem. The king, with head covered, barefooted, and weeping, abandoned his palace for the sheltering seclusion of the forests east of Jordan (2 Sam. 15:30; 17:22ff).
Absalom hotly pursued his father, doubtless with the intention of assassinating the king. Such wretchedness!
David and his people were hungry, exhausted, and without adequate provisions.
What were they to do? Was there no assistance? Where was God?
Rather than acting directly, as in the case of dropping food from heaven for the Israelites (cf. Ex. 16:4), the Lord providentially intervened through indirect means that appeared altogether natural.
Jehovah sustained this man “after [his] own heart” in his time of distress.
Some scholars believe that Psalm 23 might well have been written to celebrate the answer to David’s prayers during this time of intense danger — especially verses 5-6 (see: Johnson 1981, 225; Kirkpatrick 1906, 124).
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.
If there is no specific historical connection between the song and this episode in David’s life, the events certainly illustrate one example of how David was cared for by his Shepherd in the face of his adversaries.
The sneered-at “grocery list” becomes a prime example of one’s “cup running over” — even in the looming shadow of a deadly enemy!
- Gaussen, Louis. 1840. Theopneustia — The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.
- Johnson, G. H. S. 1981. Psalms (23). The Bible Commentary. F. C. Cook, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
- Kirkpatrick, A. F. 1906. The Book of Psalms. Cambridge, MA: University Press.
- Note: Louis Gaussen’s work may be available as a free download