19. Saul Loses His Grip (1 Samuel 22:5-23:14)
A friend tells the story of an elderly person bemoaning those things which come with age. “I don’t mind so much that I have to take off my glasses at night. I don’t even mind so much that I have to take my teeth out for the night. And then there’s my hearing aid, which I also have to deposit on the night stand. I don’t miss the loss of good sight, good teeth, and good hearing so much -- but I sure do miss my mind!”
Some of us who are not quite at the point of old age might also wonder at times if we are beginning to miss our minds. If anyone should “miss his mind,” it is King Saul. Up to this point, Saul has had his problems in life. He was delighted to find David who could play his harp and soothe his troubled spirit (16:14-23). He also rejoiced greatly when David took on Goliath and won (chapter 17; see also 19:5). But when the women of Israel began to sing their song of celebration giving David greater honor than Saul, the king began to look upon David with suspicion (18:6-9). Quickly overtaken by jealousy, Saul tried to kill David in a way that would not make him look bad before the people (18:10-29). But before long the king gave orders to his servants to kill David (19:1). Jonathan talked him out of his plans for a short time (19:1-7), but it did not last long. Soon, Saul was hurling his spear at his very own son (20:33). By various means, God spared David’s life, but eventually it became necessary for him to flee from the king’s presence. He first fled to Ahimelech, the high priest, who inquired of the Lord for him (22:10, 15) and gave David some of the sacred bread, along with the sword of Goliath (21:1-9). Our text describes the consequences following this event.
When we come to chapter 22, we see a king who has completely lost his grip, mentally speaking. Saul would be admitted to any mental hospital for what ails him. His fits of depression and jealousy appear to become more intense and more frequent. Now, he seems in a constant state of fear and jealousy, interspersed with fleeting moments of sanity. In our text, Saul reaches an all-time low, for here Saul’s fear of David drives him to begin killing other innocent people. Here his jealous rage drives him to order the killing of the priesthood, an almost unthinkable thing.
Just before instructions to Israel and her king about the role and responsibilities of Israel’s kings, we find these instructions concerning the priests:
8 “If any case is too difficult for you to decide, between one kind of homicide or another, between one kind of lawsuit or another, and between one kind of assault or another, being cases of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses. 9 “So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them, and they will declare to you the verdict in the case. 10 “And you shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the LORD chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. 11 “According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. 12 “And the man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 “Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again” (Deuteronomy 17:8-13, NASB).
King Saul is about to kill not just one priest, but to make an attempt to execute all the priests and their families -- in spite of these words God gave Israel and her king regarding their respect for, and obedience to, the priests. Let us give heed to our text to see how Saul reached this low point in his life and leadership, as we also look to see what God has for us to learn from this text.
A Prophetic Directive
10 And the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.
It appears that when David goes to Ahimelech the high priest one of his intentions is to obtain divine guidance. At least this is what Doeg reports to Saul, and Ahimelech seems to confirm this fact to Saul (22:10, 15). Since David conceals the fact that he is fleeing from Saul, one does not know what guidance he received from Ahimelech. But we do know that after this, David flees the country. He goes first to Gath, from which he is expelled for acting like a madman (21:10-15), then to the cave of Adullam (22:1-2), and then on to Moab (22:3-4), where he leaves his father and mother, and perhaps hides out himself in the stronghold.94
Like Melchizedek in Genesis 14, the prophet Gad appears from out of nowhere and instructs David not to stay in the stronghold but to go into the land of Judah. If I understand him correctly, he tells David to stop hiding outside the land of Israel. David is to find his sanctuary in Israel, specifically in the territory of his own tribe, Judah. It is Judah, after all, who first accepts David as their king (2 Samuel 2:4). David obeys, making his hideout in the forest of Hereth. The exact whereabouts of this forest are not entirely clear, but from reading 2 Samuel 18:8, it is a dangerous place, one which Saul and his men will be reluctant to enter. This forest seems to be to David and his men what Sherwood Forest was to Robin Hood and his men.
Saul Lacks Intelligence95 and Gains it from Doeg the Edomite
6 Then Saul heard that David and the men who were with him had been discovered. Now Saul was sitting in Gibeah, under the tamarisk tree on the height with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing around him. 7 And Saul said to his servants who stood around him, “Hear now, O Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse also give to all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? 8 “For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day.” 9 Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing by the servants of Saul, answered and said, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. 10 “And he inquired of the LORD for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”
I confess that sometimes I allow my imagination to become carried away. As I read here that Saul sits under that tree with a spear in his hand, I can’t help but wonder what kind of weapons he might have if he lived today. Can’t you just imagine him with a pair of 357 automatics strapped to his side, a couple of sawed-off shotguns within reach, and an oozie in his hands? This man is paranoid. He never seems to be without that spear or without what appears to be a host of bodyguards.
Saul now seems to think the whole world is against him and for David. The term conspired appears twice in our text (in verses 8 and 13). Saul comes across in verses 6-10 as a kind of Rodney Dangerfield, who moans and groans that he gets “no respect.” He accuses virtually everyone of being part of a sinister plot against him, when in reality God is the one taking his kingdom from him, due to his own sin (see 13:8-14; 15:1-31). As a result of the guilt Saul heaps upon his servants, Doeg will inform Saul of David’s visit to Ahimelech and Ahimilech’s innocent compliance with David’s requests.
It is no surprise that Saul accuses David of conspiring against him. That is, after all, what Saul thinks. But he is wrong in accusing David of conspiracy. David is not “lying in ambush” as Saul charges (22:8, 13), waiting for the opportune moment to end Saul’s life. David is hiding out, seeking to avoid Saul and to escape from Saul’s schemes to put him to death.
What is amazing in these verses are the accusations Saul makes against his own son, Jonathan. Because of the covenant David made with Jonathan, we would not be surprised to read that Saul accuses his son of being taken in by David, of being recruited by David to join him in his conspiracy against Saul. But Saul accuses Jonathan of leading David astray, of stirring up David against him (22:8). This is a most amazing charge. The “conspiracy” against Saul, if traced to its roots, originated with Jonathan and not with David. Saul has lost it.
But the conspiracy theory goes even further. Not only does Saul accuse Jonathan and David of conspiring against him, he also accuses his servants – all of them! Saul is surrounded by his servants as he sits under the tamarisk tree near his home in Gibeah (verse 6). He begins by reminding his servants about the nature of politics and the spoils of political victory and power. As a reward for their loyalty to Saul, these Benjamites have been given property and positions of authority as political spoils. Do they think that if David becomes king they will enjoy the same spoils? They most certainly will not. And so Saul reminds his servants that they owe him -- big time. And now he wants a payback -- by having them inform him of David’s whereabouts. Saul tells his servants that by keeping silent about David and withholding any information about him and his whereabouts, they are joining David in his conspiracy against Saul. Doeg the Edomite finds this ample reason to pass on to Saul what he observed while at Nob.
Doeg has just recently seen David. While at Nob, he saw David arrive and have dealings with the high priest, Ahimelech. The high priest inquired of the Lord for David and also gave him some of the sacred bread and the sword of Goliath, which he had been keeping. All of these things are true, but what Doeg does not tell Saul (perhaps he does not know) is that David never informed Ahimelech that he was fleeing from Saul. He never disclosed to the high priest anything that would make him a conspirator against Saul. But Saul is not interested in learning the truth. He is only blindly jealous and intent upon getting rid of anyone whom he wrongly perceives to be a threat to his throne.
The Massacre at Nob
11 Then the king sent someone to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father's household, the priests who were in Nob; and all of them came to the king. 12 And Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” 13 Saul then said to him, “Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, that he should rise up against me by lying in ambush as it is this day?” 14 Then Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, even the king's son-in-law, who is captain over your guard, and is honored in your house? 15 “Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any of the household of my father, for your servant knows nothing at all of this whole affair.” 16 But the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father's household!” 17 And the king said to the guards who were attending him, “Turn around and put the priests of the LORD to death, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was fleeing and did not reveal it to me.” But the servants of the king were not willing to put forth their hands to attack the priests of the LORD. 18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 And he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he struck with the edge of the sword. 20 But one son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21 And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD. 22 Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father's household. 23 “Stay with me, do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life; for you are safe with me.”
After Saul browbeats his servants, Doeg discloses that David has gone to Ahimelech the high priest, who inquired of the Lord for him, and gave him sacred bread and the sword of Goliath. Saul has heard all he thinks he needs to know. In his mind, not only Ahimelech but all of the priesthood are part of the “conspiracy” against him. Ahimelech and the priests are all summoned to appear before Saul. I doubt that you and I can even fathom the ominous mood of this meeting. We live in a country where the President of the United States can be questioned, opposed, and even removed from his office. When he speaks, his opponents can boo him without fear for their lives. This is not so in the court of King Saul.
I recently read an article which described the terror that Joseph Stalin skillfully produced in the hearts of his ministers:
Stalin’s dinners in the Kremlin went on all night. He would sit at a long table and force his ministers and cronies to drink, hour after hour, while he plotted and probed and flattered and terrified them. At dawn, when their brains were numb with fear and vodka and confusion, the NKVD might lead one or two of the men away, without explanation, to be shot. That was the physics of paranoia under laboratory conditions: for every action, an opposite (if, in the Kremlin, somewhat unequal) reaction. Paranoia induces paranoia. Stalin refracted violent fear through alcohol, then presided over a reciprocal mind game that ended in death.96
It is one thing to have a mad man in office, whom you can restrain and even remove. It is another to have a mad man who is a dictator like Stalin, or Nero, or Hitler. Such men hold absolute power. They can do whatever they please, even if it is irrational and insane, and there is no one to stop them. So it is with Saul. Saul is now a madman with no one to stop him. Does Saul rave about David and Jonathan, and even his servants being conspirators? Who is there to correct him? This madman now has an audience with the entire priesthood. On this occasion, it is not they who are to pass judgment on Saul but Saul who passes judgment on them. One can only attempt to appreciate the mood of terror, that ominous sense of dread, which all who stand before Saul must feel on this occasion.
Saul reveals his disdain for both David and Ahimelech by the way he addresses them. He calls them by their father’s names: “the son of Jesse” (verse 8) and “the son of Ahitub” (verse 12). In his sin of offering the sacrifices described in chapter 13, Saul makes himself equal to Samuel. In his dealings with Ahimelech and the priests here, Saul makes himself superior to them. He does not seek the facts of the case, but hastens to condemn the priests as traitors to the throne. He does not ask if Ahimelech has betrayed him, but why (verse 13).
Ahimelech responds with remarkable poise. He does not take this opportunity to cast blame on David for deceiving him, which in fact David did. Instead, Ahimelech stands up to Saul, speaking on David’s behalf, and reminding the king that David is not only his most faithful servant but the man whom the people honor, and whom Saul has promoted to positions of power and authority. If all else fails, Saul should at least remember that David is his son-in-law (verse 14).
14 Ahimelech also speaks in his own defense, and on behalf of all the priests whom Saul has summoned.
Ahimelech did assist David, by inquiring of the Lord for him, by giving him some of the sacred bread, and by giving him the sword of Goliath. He did not knowingly assist David in any act of conspiracy. And the fact that he assisted David is nothing new or novel, let alone inappropriate. It is certainly not the first time David has come to him, asking him to inquire of the Lord. We can infer from this that David frequently sought divine guidance as he commenced a mission for the king. Saul should not see this visit of David, or Ahimelech’s ministry to him, as anything out of the ordinary or out of bounds.97
Ahimelech is right, and Saul is furious. The king pronounces the death sentence, not just upon Ahimelech but upon all the priests who have gathered. It seems that this is Saul’s intention from the outset. Saul orders the guards standing by to put the priests to death. As much as these men fear Saul, they are not willing to put the priests to death. This must be a very painful period of silence, when every man freezes in place, unwilling to carry out Saul’s order.98
But Saul will not be thwarted. He turns to Doeg the Edomite and orders him to slay the priests, which he does. Saul will now kill the “king of the Jews” (David) and any who support him (like the priests), and he will enlist the help of Gentiles if need be to do so. Doeg kills 85 priests that day, but this is not enough for Saul. He then goes to Nob, the city of the priests, and proceeds to annihilate the families and even the cattle of these priests. How amazing! Saul, the man who was not so zealous in killing the Amalekites, even though ordered to do so by God, is now zealous in killing the priests and their cattle, even though forbidden to do so by God. How low can Saul sink?
Only one priest, Abiathar, survives and he flees to David to tell him what Saul has done to the other priests. David assumes full responsibility, admitting that he had seen Doeg when he was at Nob, and that he knew this man would likely report on David’s visit to Saul. There is nothing that David can do for those who have been slain, but he does offer sanctuary to Abiathar.
David Rescues Keilah
1 Then they told David, saying, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and are plundering the threshing floors.” 2 So David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines, and deliver Keilah.” 3 But David's men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the ranks of the Philistines?” 4 Then David inquired of the LORD once more. And the LORD answered him and said, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 So David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines; and he led away their livestock and struck them with a great slaughter. Thus David delivered the inhabitants of Keilah. 6 Now it came about, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand. 7 When it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah, Saul said, “God has delivered him into my hand, for he shut himself in by entering a city with double gates and bars.” 8 So Saul summoned all the people for war, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men. 9 Now David knew that Saul was plotting evil against him; so he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” 10 Then David said, “O LORD God of Israel, Thy servant has heard for certain that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. 11 “Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Thy servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Thy servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the pursuit. 14 And David stayed in the wilderness in the strongholds, and remained in the hill country in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand.
David’s servants bring him word that Keilah is under attack by the Philistines. Actually it is King Saul’s responsibility to deal with the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16), but he is more interested in killing Israelites than dealing with the Philistine invaders. In a much more kingly response, David feels an obligation to come to the aid of his Israelite brethren and seeks divine guidance about whether he should engage the Philistines in battle. The Lord instructs David to attack the Philistines and deliver Keilah.99
David’s men are uneasy about the decision to fight the Philistines, and they let David know it. Their apprehension is not really hard to understand. After all, this small force of 600 men (23:13) is not a highly trained group of soldiers, but a rag-tag group of discontented men who have fled from Saul (22:2). Most of these men joined forces with David while he was hiding in the cave of Adullam. More likely this cave was most likely in Philistine territory, and if not, on the very fringe of Israel’s territory. From here David and his men went to Moab, where they hid out in the “stronghold” (22:4-5). The prophet Gad instructed David to cease hiding out in foreign nations and to return to the land of his own tribe, Judah, which he did by hiding out in the forest of Hereth (22:5). In the dense, difficult terrain of this forest, David’s men must still feel relatively safe out of Saul’s reach. But it is an entirely different matter when David is instructed to fight the Philistines at Keilah. This is a much more difficult and dangerous venture. They will have to come out of hiding and out into the open to fight the Philistines, knowing this will expose them to an attack by Saul’s forces. Since Keilah is located approximately 20 miles southeast of Gath, David and his men will no longer be in the mountains hiding safely in the forest, but rather in the lowlands, out in the open, where they can be seen by Saul’s army and opposed by Philistine chariots. When David’s men protest the decision to rescue the people of Keilah, they seem to do so on the basis of the greatly increased risk. This is not the safe thing to do. It would be far safer to hide from Saul in the forest than to attack the Philistines on the open plains.
David listens to the objections raised by his men, but he is intent on obeying God rather than men. He “inquired of the Lord” a second time (23:4) and receives the same response, with the assurance that God has already given them the victory. With this assurance, David and his men approach the city of Keilah and attack the Philistines, winning a decisive victory and delivering the Israelites there from defeat and securing the Philistines’ livestock (23:5). How strange are the ways of God. A week earlier, who among them would have thought they would be eating T-bone steaks from Philistine cattle?
Having delivered the people of Keilah from defeat at the hand of the Philistines, one assumes these people would be some of David’s most loyal supporters. Surely they would give David and his men sanctuary from Saul. Saul learns of David’s presence in Keilah, however, and summons all of Israel to attack the city of Keilah, assured that this will result in the capture of David and his men. After all, Keilah is a fortified city. Saul supposes that the “double gates and bars” of that city will not keep him out, but rather will contain David and his men within.
David learns of Saul’s coming attack and wonders whether it is wise to stay in Keilah. David seems to want to avoid his own capture, but he is also concerned about the well being of the people of Keilah. Has he rescued these people from the Philistines only so Saul’s army can destroy the city? Fortunately, when Abiathar fled to join David, he brought the ephod with him by which the will of the Lord could be discerned (23:6). Wishing to know and do the will of God, David inquires of the Lord by means of the ephod. David has two questions to ask of God. First, is Saul really going to come to Keilah, as David has heard? Is his intelligence report accurate? Second, if Saul really does come to Keilah, will the people of Keilah betray David and turn him over to Saul?
The answer to both questions is “Yes.” Notice, however, that the answer to both questions is hypothetical, based upon some variables. Had David remained in Keilah, Saul’s men would have come and attacked the city. Had David remained and Saul’s men come and attacked the city, the men of Keilah would have turned David over to Saul. But knowing this leads David to leave Keilah before Saul arrives. Consequently, Saul does not actually attack the city, nor do the men of Keilah actually surrender David to Saul. But they would have, had David stayed.
The first thing to note about David’s inquiry and the divine response is this: God not only knows all things that will be, He also knows all things that could be, under any set of circumstances. It is one thing to know what the future holds. It is vastly greater to know what the future could hold, under differing circumstances. God’s omniscience (omniscient = to know all) is such that He knows all things actual and all things possible. This is precisely how God can be in control of all things (the sovereignty of God), without being responsible for men’s sin. For example, God knew that given the circumstances, Judas would betray the Lord Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The betrayal of Jesus was a necessary part of God’s plan, and there was no doubt that it would happen. God’s omniscience made it all possible, yet without making Him culpable for man’s sin. The same can be seen in Peter’s words to the Jews (and Gentiles) who were responsible for the death of our Lord on the cross of Calvary:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know -- 23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22-23, NASB).
And so it is that, informed by God as to the outcome of remaining in Keilah, David leaves that city with his 600 followers. He returns to the wilderness, hiding in the safety of the strongholds he finds there. Learning of David’s departure, Saul has his men turn back, and thus the city of Keilah is spared, not only from the Philistines but from Saul. Yet those who owe their lives to David would have betrayed him when the going got tough. In all of this, David too is spared from the wrath and jealousy of Saul, for God would not deliver His future king into his hand.
While many lessons could be gleaned from our text, one seems to stand above and apart from all others and can be summed up in these words:
When the whole world seems to be senseless and unpredictable, and when madmen have the power to carry out their wicked schemes which result in the suffering and death of the innocent, God is still in control. While not immediately apparent in the chaos and confusion, God’s plans and purposes are being accomplished, even by means of madmen who seek to overthrow His purposes and promises.
Throughout history, many Christians have lived during times best characterized by the words “madness” or “insanity.” How can we explain why a terrorist plants a bomb in a building that kills hundreds of people he never even knew? What sense can we make of a man who robs a clerk of a few dollars and then needlessly kills him? Why would a teenager drive by a school emptying an automatic weapon into a crowd of students? Much of what we see going on in our world does not make sense – it is insane. Do we wring our hands in despair, as though in the midst of such chaos and violence God cannot be in control?
Our text assures us that even in the midst of insanity, God is in control. King Saul is out of his head when he orders Doeg the Edomite to kill all the priests and their families. It all seems senseless and insane. We know that many innocent people were killed that day, and we must in no way attempt to justify it. But at the same time, we must not overlook the fact that God used Saul – in his most irrational moments – to accomplish His purposes and promises. In chapters 2 and 3 of 1 Samuel, Eli is told that due to the wickedness of his sons, his priesthood will be taken away,
27 Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh's house? 28 ‘And did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel? 29 ‘Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?’ 30 “Therefore the LORD God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever'; but now the LORD declares,’ Far be it from Me-- for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed. 31 ‘Behold, the days are coming when I will break your strength and the strength of your father's house so that there will not be an old man in your house. 32 ‘And you will see the distress of My dwelling, in spite of all that I do good for Israel; and an old man will not be in your house forever. 33 ‘Yet I will not cut off every man of yours from My altar that your eyes may fail from weeping and your soul grieve, and all the increase of your house will die in the prime of life. 34 ‘And this will be the sign to you which shall come concerning your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: on the same day both of them shall die’” (1 Samuel 2:27-34, NASB).
11 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 “In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 “For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. 14 “And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever” (1 Samuel 3:11-14, NASB).
Because of Eli’s sin of failing to deal with his sons, Eli’s priesthood was to be taken away. The sign that this would happen was the death of his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas (2:34). The next phase of the fulfillment of this prophecy comes in our text, brought about by the insane jealousy of Saul when he orders Doeg, the Edomite, to kill all the priests and their families. One survivor is left, just as God indicated (2:33). The next phase of fulfillment will come in the days of Solomon when the priesthood is taken from Abiathar, the descendant of Aaron’s son, Ithamar, and given to Zadok, the descendant of Aaron through his son, Eleazar (1 Kings 2:27, 35). The full and final fulfillment seems to be the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the faithful priest (see Psalm 110; Hebrews 5:6; Revelation 19:16).100
Who would have ever thought that the prophecy of chapters 2 and 3 would be fulfilled as described in chapter 22 by a virtual madman? Even in his disobedience and insanity; even in his rebellion against God by the slaughter of the priests, Saul is being used of God to fulfill His promise, yet in a way that does not impugn the character of God.
Notice the similarity between the prophecies God made concerning Eli’s priesthood in chapters 2 and 3 and the prophecies God gives concerning Saul’s kingship in chapters 13 and 15. Because of his sin in failing to deal with his sons’ abuse of their priesthood, Eli’s priesthood was taken away. A significant part of this we now see described in chapter 22. Is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Eli here not given to us at this point in the story to buttress the prophecy God made concerning Saul’s kingship? Just as surely as Eli’s priesthood was taken away a few years and a few chapters later, so Saul’s kingship is taken away a few years and a few chapters later. God always keeps His promises, and He sometimes does so by employing the most unlikely instruments.
Second, we can see in our text how fast and how far a seemingly trivial sin can take us downward. Saul’s sins in chapters 13 and 15 are serious sins, but they do not appear to have many great immediate ramifications. Beware of trivial sins, for it will not be long until these sins grow significantly. Saul, who is initially fearful and reticent, failing to fully carry out God’s instructions, now is a raving maniac, who has fallen so fast and so far he can order all of the priests to be put to death. Sin almost always appears to be harmless, but it is never long before its real character is evident.
Third, let me to make a brief observation, and then ask a question. It appears to me that Christians are often among those most likely to believe and even promote conspiracy theories. Why has the FCC received so many letters from Christians, protesting against alleged plots by Madelyn Murray O’Haire to ban Christian programs from radio and television? We seem predisposed to believe conspiracy claims. I wonder why. Let us not be paranoid. Neither let us be oblivious to Satan’s schemes.
Fourth, I see in our text three prototypes. Saul is a prototype of the antichrists who have come and who will come, resisting God and His Messiah, Jesus Christ. Herod is one such antichrist (see Matthew 2). The scribes and Pharisees are another example of antichrists (see Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10; John 11:47-48). As Saul joins forces with Doeg, a Gentile, in his attempt to do away with David’s threat to his throne, the Jewish leaders joined forces with the Gentiles to execute Christ. David is a prototype of Christ, who is rejected and resisted because he is to become God’s king. Ahimelech is a prototype of all those who suffer and die for associating with Jesus Christ, as he died for his association with David.
Finally, I see in our text another very important lesson, which can be summed up in this way:
Safety for the Christian is not gained by isolation or by hiding out from the dangers of this world; it is found by those who cast themselves upon God for His guidance and care, as they seek to carry out His work and His will.
David and his men initially seem to think that the further they are from Saul, the safer they are. David finds that it is not all that safe in Gath with the Philistines. He may have felt safe in or near Moab territory, but the prophet Gad instructs him to return to the territory of Judah. And when David’s men feel relatively safe in the forest of Hereth, God directs them to go to Keilah, where they are exposed not only to Philistine attack but to an attack by Saul.
David is God’s man, God’s choice for king, and he is indestructible until God’s work for him is done. He does not need to hide out or play it safe, especially when it hinders his carrying out his mission and ministry (such as saving the people of Keilah). David does not have to calculate his safety in terms of distance from danger; He calculates his safety in terms of the nearness of God. A kind of escapism is found in Christian circles today, as though remoteness is the key to safety. I challenge this kind of thinking. God may lead some to remote places, but let us not seek to hide out when God calls us to be salt and light in this dark place.
Let me also say that trusting in God and doing what is right is no guarantee of physical safety. In our text, Ahimelech is a noble, godly man, who stands up against Saul and for David when he knows the risk of so doing. He is a man who is murdered, along with his family and his fellow-priests. In the ultimate sense, Ahimelech and his fellow-martyrs could never have been safer than in the arms of God. They are just as “safe” as David, but their mission is done, and David’s is not. Living a godly life is no guarantee of safety from suffering, troubles, and even death. But God will not allow these things to keep us from that for which He has called us. Until our work for Him is done, no one can be safer than the Christian who trusts and obeys, even in the most dangerous of circumstances.
94 Some have held that the stronghold was Masada, but I am not entirely convinced. It would seem that there is more than one stronghold (see 22:4, 5; 23:14), and that the stronghold in 22:4 was actually in Moab, and not in Israel.
97 I cannot help but wonder if there is not a subtle inference in Ahimelech’s words, which might be verbalized in this manner: “Saul, I have seen David on many occasions, as he sought divine guidance, but I don’t think I’ve seen you lately. . . .”
98 One cannot help but compare this event with that described in chapter 14, when Saul fully intended to put his own son, Jonathan, to death. There the people rebuked Saul, insisting that he would most certainly not be put to death (14:45). Here, there is only passive disobedience. Is this because Saul has become even more irrational and violent?
99 The actual means by which David “inquired of the Lord” here is not indicated. From what we are told in verses 6 and following, I would infer that it was not by means of the ephod which Abiathar brought, but by some other means. God’s will was indicated by a variety of means, and the author does not feel it important to inform the reader here which means were employed.