I Samuel 22:6 – 23
6 Now Saul heard that David and his men had been discovered. And Saul was seated, spear in hand, under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, with all his officials standing at his side. 7 He said to them, “Listen, men of Benjamin! Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? 8 Is that why you have all conspired against me? No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse. None of you is concerned about me or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does today.” 9 But Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s officials, said, “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelek son of Ahitub at Nob. 10 Ahimelek inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” 11 Then the king sent for the priest Ahimelek son of Ahitub and all the men of his family, who were the priests at Nob, and they all came to the king. 12 Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.” “Yes, my lord,” he answered. 13 Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him, so that he has rebelled against me and lies in wait for me, as he does today?” 14 Ahimelek answered the king, “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king’s son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard and highly respected in your household? 15 Was that day the first time I inquired of God for him? Of course not! Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair.” 16 But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelek, you and your whole family.” 17 Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.” But the king’s officials were unwilling to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord. 18 The king then ordered Doeg, “You turn and strike down the priests.” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 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. 20 But one son of Ahimelek son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David. 21 He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 22 Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.23 Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”
1. Saul’s Arrogant Tirade 6-8
We have seen the progress of David’s troubles; now here we have the progress of Saul’s wickedness. He seems to have laid aside the thoughts of all other business and to have devoted himself wholly to the pursuit of David. He heard in time, by the gossip of the country, that David was discovered; and so he called all his servants about him, and sat down under a tree, or grove, in the high place at Gibeah, with his spear in his hand for a scepter, suggesting the force by which he intended to rule, and the present condition of his mind, which was to kill all that stood in his way.
In this bloody court of inquisition, Saul sought for information against David and Jonathan. (I Sam. 22:7-8) Two things he was willing to suspect and desired to prove, that he might wreak his malice upon two of the best and most excellent men he had about him: 1. That his servant David did lie in wait for him and seek his life, which was utterly false. He really sought David’s life, and therefore pretended that David sought his life, though he could not charge him with any action that gave the least shadow of suspicion. 2. That his son Jonathan stirred him up to do so, and was partner in crime with him in imagining and planning the death of the king. This also was notoriously false. There was a league of friendship between David and Jonathan, but no conspiracy in anything evil; no aspect of their friendship contained any ill will to Saul.
If Jonathan had agreed, after the death of Saul, to resign to David, in compliance with the revealed will of God, what harm would that do to Saul? The best of friends to their king and country have often been misrepresented as enemies to both; even Christ himself was. Saul took it for granted that Jonathan and David were in a plot against him, his crown and dignity, and was displeased with his servants that they did not give him information about it, supposing that they could not but know it; whereas really there was no such thing. See the nature of a jealous malice, and its pitiful arts to extort discoveries of things that are not. He looked upon all about him as his enemies because they did not say just as he said; and told them, (1.) That they were very unwise, and acted against the interest both of their tribe (for they were Benjamites, and David, if he were advanced, would bring the honor into Judah which was now in Benjamin) and of their families; for David would never be able to give them such rewards as he had for them, of fields and vineyards, and such preferments, to be colonels and captains. (2.) That they were unfaithful: You have conspired against me. What a continual agitation and torment are those in that give way to a spirit of jealousy! If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked. (Prov. 29:12), that is, they seem to be so in his eyes or they become wicked in order to please the king. (3.) That they were very unkind. He thought to work upon their good nature with that word: There is none of you that is so much as sorry for me, or sympathetic for my cause, as it could be read. By these reasonings he stirred them up to act vigorously, as the instruments of his malice, that they might not be suspicious of them. Shall you and I believe what we hear when a jealous leader spouts off?
2. Doeg’s Report 9-10
Though he could not learn anything from his servants against David or Jonathan, yet he got information from Doeg against Ahimelech the priest.
A charge is brought against Ahimelech by Doeg, and he himself is evidence against him, (I Sam. 22:9-10). Perhaps Doeg, as bad as he was, would not have given this information if Saul had not requested it, for if he had been very forward with it, he would have done it sooner: but now he thinks they must be all deemed traitors if none of them be accusers, and therefore told Saul what kindness Ahimelech had shown to David, which he himself happened to witness. He had enquired of God for him and he had furnished him with bread and a sword. All this was true; but it was not the whole truth. He ought to have told Saul further that David had made Ahimelech believe he was then going upon the king’s business; so that what service he did for David, however it proved, was designed to honor Saul, and this would have cleared Ahimelech, whom Saul had in his power, and would have thrown all the blame upon David, who was out of his reach.
3. The King and the High Priest 11-16
Ahimelech the High Priest was seized, or summoned to appear and be accused before the king. The king sent for him and all the priests who then attended the sanctuary, whom he supposed to be aiding and abetting; and they, not being conscious of any guilt, and therefore not apprehensive of any danger, came all of them to the king (1 Sam. 22:11), and none of them attempted to make an escape, or to flee to David for shelter, as they would have done if they had known Saul’s intent or that Saul harbored such a bitter misunderstanding of David’s character.
Saul accused Ahimelech himself with the utmost hatred and indignation (1 Sam. 22:12): Listen now son of Ahitub; not so much as calling him by his name, much less giving him his title of distinction. It appears that Saul had cast off the fear of God, that he showed no respect at all to his priests, but took pleasure in affronting them and insulting them. Ahimelech held up his hand at the bar in those words: “Yes, my lord, ready to hear my charge, knowing I have done no wrong.” He did not object to the jurisdiction of Saul’s court, nor insist upon an exemption as a priest, no, not though he is a high priest, who had the authority of a judge, or chief magistrate; but Saul having now the sovereignty vested in him, in things pertaining to the king, even the high priest sets himself on a level with common Israelites. Let every soul be subject (even clergymen) to the higher powers.
False charges are presented to him (1 Sam. 22:13), that he, as a false traitor, had joined himself with the son of Jesse in a plot to depose and murder the king. “His design” (says Saul) “was to rise up against me, and you assisted him with food and arms.” See what wrong conclusions can be reached from the most innocent actions, how dangerous it is for those that live under a tyrannical government, and what reason we have to be thankful for the happy and wise administration of the government under which some of us are privileged to be.
Ahimelek pled, not guilty (I Sam 22:14,15), and in his own defense pointed out David’s virtues. We are examining the life of David in this series of lessons. We are not studying Saul’s life except in his role as the severe tool God used in training David. Saul is an example of the kind of person, event or circumstance God may be using to develop you. Saul’s misuse of Ahimelek is part of that story. We see that Ahimelek acknowledged the action, but denied that he did it traitorously or maliciously, or with any design against the king. He pled that he was so far from knowing of any quarrel between Saul and David that he really took David to have been then as much in favor at court as ever he had been.
Observe, He did not plead that David had told him a lie even though David did, in fact, tell the lie that he was on the king’s business. Ahimelek did not want to make David look bad telling of the weakness of so good a man, no, not for his own personal defense, especially to Saul, who sought all opportunities to misuse David. Ahimelek insisted on the good reputation of David as the most faithful of all the servants of Saul, the honor the king himself had given David in marrying his daughter to him, the use the king had often made of him, and the trust he had in him: “He goes at your bidding, and is honorable in your house, and therefore anyone would think it a valuable piece of service to the king to show David respect, so far from apprehending it to be a crime.”
Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” and Ecclesiastes 7:1says, “A good name is better than fine perfume,” and David was certainly blessed with a good name and reputation, but in this case with Saul, even that did not help him.
He pled that he had enquired of God for him when he was sent by Saul upon other expeditions, and did it now as innocently as ever he had done it. He protested the horror of the thought of being in a plot against the king: “Be it far from me. I mind my own business, and meddle not with state matters.” He begs the king’s favor: “Let him not blame us for any crime;” and concluded with a declaration of his innocency: Your servant knew nothing of all this. Could any man plead with more evidences of sincerity? Had he been tried by a jury of honest Israelites, he would certainly have been acquitted, for who can find any fault in him?
But, Saul himself gave judgment against him (1 Sam. 22:16): You will surely die, Ahimelech, as a rebel, you and all your father’s house. What could be more unjust? Ecc 3:16 speaks of injustice, “I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there” This surely was such a place with five reasons for it bing unfair: (1.) It was not right that Saul should himself alone, give judgment in his own cause, without any appeal to judge or prophet, to private advice or to a council of war. (2.) That so reasonable a plea should be overruled and rejected without any reason, or any attempt to disprove the accusation of it, but purely with a high hand. (3.) That sentence should be passed so hastily and with so much agitation, the judge taking no time himself to consider it, or allowing the prisoner any time to defend himself before someone neutral. (4.) That the sentence should be passed not only on Ahimelech, himself, who was the only person accused by Doeg, but on all his father’s house, against whom nothing was charged: must the children be put to death for the fathers? (5.) That the sentence should be pronounced in passion, not for the support of justice, but for the gratification of his brutish rage.
Saul issues out a verbal warrant for the immediate execution of this bloody sentence. He ordered his footmen to be the executioners of this sentence, but they refused, (22:17). With this he intended to put a further disgrace upon the priests; they may not die by the hands of the men of war (as 1 Kgs. 2:29) or his usual ministers of justice, but his footmen must triumph over them, and wash their hands in their blood.
Never was the command of a king more barbarously given: Turn and slay the priests of the Lord. This is spoken with such an unkind attitude as can scarcely be paralleled. Had he seemed to forget their sacred office or relation to God, and taken no notice their priestly position, he would have produced some regret that men of that noble character should fall under his unjust displeasure. But to call them the priests of the Lord, as he ordered his footmen to cut their throats, looked as if, he truly hated them because they were priest of the Lord. God having rejected him, and ordered another to be anointed in his place, he seems well pleased with an opportunity to be revenged on the priests of the Lord, since he could not get revenge on God himself. What wickedness will not the evil spirit motivate men to do, when he gets dominion over them! He charged, in his order that which was utterly false and unproven, that they knew when David fled; whereas they knew nothing of the matter. But malice and murder are commonly supported with lies. Pity the priests, but pity Saul even more.
Never was the command of a king more honorably disobeyed. The footmen had more sense and grace than their master. Though they might expect to be banished out of their position in the king’s court, if not punished and put to death for their refusal, yet, come on them what would, they would not offer to kill the priests of the Lord. They had reverence for their own office and a conviction of their innocence. Sometimes it is right to disobey. Sometimes we must not conform. We must at times disagree and disobey. We cannot always comply. Pray that God will give you the discernment to know when to break the rules. These officers near Saul did. Moses did not step aside and let God destroy Israel and then make of himself a great nation. Elisha did not stop following Elijah near the time Elijah was transported. So should we know when to disobey.
4. A Horrible Slaughter 17-19
Saul ordered Doeg (the accuser) to be the executioner, and he obeyed. One would have thought that the footmen’s refusal would awaken Saul’s conscience, and that he would not insist upon such a barbarous thing that his footmen would not do. But his mind was blinded and his heart hardened, and, if they will not do it, the hands of the witness shall be upon the victims, (Deut. 17:7). The most bloody tyrants have found instruments of their cruelty as barbarous as themselves. Doeg is no sooner commanded to fall upon the priests than he does it willingly enough, and, meeting with no resistance, apparently slays with his own hand on that same day eighty-five priests that were of the age of priestly activities, that is between twenty and fifty, for they wore a linen ephod (22:18), and perhaps even appeared at this time before Saul in their priestly robes, and were slain in them.
One would think that this was enough to satisfy the most blood-thirsty; but the horror of persecution still cries, “Give more, give more.” Doeg, probably by Saul’s order having murdered the priests, went to their city, Nob, and put everyone else there to the sword (22:19), men, women, and children, and the cattle too. This was barbarous cruelty of which one cannot think without horror! Strange that ever it should enter into the heart of man to be so evil, so inhuman! We may see in this, the desperate wickedness of Saul when the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him. Nothing so vile but those who have provoked God to give them up to their hearts’ lusts may be urged to it. If God’s Spirit departs from us, we too could be driven to do horrible things.
He that was so compassionate as to spare Agag and the cattle of the Amalekites, in disobedience to the command of God, (I Sam 15) could now, with unrelenting heart of steel, see the priests of the Lord murdered, and nothing spared of all that belonged to them.
For all it’s sinfulness, we must also realize that a just God left him to fulfill a prophecy regarding Eli; the accomplishment of the threatenings long since pronounced against the house of Eli; for Ahimelech and his family were descendants from him. Though Saul was unrighteous in doing this, yet God was righteous in permitting it. Now God performed against the house of Eli the something God predicted at which the ears of those that heard it must needs tingle. God had told Eli that he would judge his house for ever (1 Sam. 3:11-13). No word of God shall fall to the ground.
This situation brings up another subject. Was it right for Israel to have recently asked for a king? Maybe this was a judgment upon Israel, a just punishment for their desiring a king before the time God intended them one. How deplorable was the state of religion at this time in Israel! Though the ark had long been in hiding, yet it was some comfort to them that they had the altar, and priests to serve at it; but now to see their priests covered with their own blood, and the heirs of the priesthood too, and the city of the priests made a desolation, so that the altar of God was necessarily neglected for lack of attendants, and this by the unjust and cruel order of their own king to satisfy his brutish rage—this surely went to the heart of all thinking Israelites who remembered their own contemporary history, and would make them wish a thousand times over that they had been satisfied with the government of Samuel and subsequent prophets rather than a king. The worst enemies of their nation could not have done them a greater mischief than their own king they had asked for.
5. David and Abiathar 20 -23
Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, escaped out of the massive murders in the priests’ city. Probably when his father went to appear, to Saul’s summons, he was left at home to attend the altar, by which means he escaped the first execution, and, before Doeg and his bloodhounds came to Nob on their killing mission, he learned of the danger, and had time to get away. And where should he go but to David? (22:20). Let those that face dangers today for the Son of David commit the keeping of their souls to him as Abiathar did to David, 1 Pet. 4:19 says “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
David reacted with a sense of responsibility when he heard the sad news Abiathar brought. He gave David an account of the bloody work Saul had done among the priests of the Lord (1 Sam. 22:21), as the disciples of John, when their master was beheaded, went and told Jesus, (Mt. 14:12). And David greatly lamented the calamity itself, but especially because he had been an accessory to it: I am responsible for the death of your whole family (22:22) It is a great trouble to a good man to find himself in any way an occasion for the calamities of the church and ministry. David knew Doeg’s character well enough that he feared he would do some such mischief as this when he saw him at the sanctuary: I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. He calls him Doeg the Edomite, because he retained the heart of an Edomite, though, by embracing the profession of the Jewish religion, he had put on the mask of an Israelite. Doeg had been “detained before the Lord” (21:7) What did that mean? “Detained?”
David offered protection to Abiathar. He perceived him to be terrified, as he had reason to be, and therefore told him not to fear, he himself would take care of him as for himself: “You will be safe with me” David, having had time to recollect himself, speaks with assurance of his own safety, and promised that Abiathar will have the full benefit of his protection. It is promised to the Son of David that God will hide him in the shadow of his hand (Isa. 49:2), and, with Him, all that are His may be sure that they will be in safe, Ps. 91:1.
David had now not only a prophet (Gad), but a priest (Abiathar), a high-priest, with him, to whom he was a blessing and they to him, and both of them good reasons for success. There is value in surrounding yourself with godly people.
Yet it appears (by 1 Sam. 28:6) that Saul too had a high priest, for he had a urim to consult: it is supposed that he preferred Ahitub the father of Zadok, of the family of Eleazar (1 Chron. 6:8), for even those that hate the responsibilities of godliness yet want to have it’s good appearance.
It must not be forgotten here that David at this time wrote Ps. 52 as appears by the title of that psalm, in which he portrays Doeg not only as malicious and spiteful, but as false and deceitful, because though what he said was, for the substance of it, true, yet he put a false meaning on it, with a design to gain favor with Saul and do much harm to David’s cause and the priesthood. Yet even then, when the priesthood of the house of Eli had become as a withered branch, David looks upon himself as an “olive tree flourishing in the house of God,” Ps. 52:8. In the great hurry and distraction in which David continually lived at this period of his life, yet he found both time and a heart for communion with God, and found comfort in it. This is the David we love and example we follow. We are able and we must do this too.