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SAUL ALIENATES GOD'S PEOPLE THROUGHOUT ISRAEL BY HIS RUTHLESS MURDER OF THE PRIESTS
God's providence was working inexorably toward the removal of Saul and the elevation of David to the throne. Key events in this chapter moved relentlessly toward that achievement. By Saul's savage murder of the priests of Nob, "He alienated the entire religious community; and conversely David gained the friendship of many." After Saul's heartless butchering of the priests and his execution of the "ban" ([~cherem]) against a village within his own tribe, there could hardly have been left in all Israel a single God-fearing person who, in his heart, honored the mad, incompetent king.
DAVID ESCAPES FROM GATH TO THE CAVE OF ADULLAM
"David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became captain over them. And there were with him about four hundred men."
"The cave of Adullam" (1 Samuel 22:1). This place was near the border between Philistia and Judah where the Shephelah meets the rugged mountainous terrain of Judah, an area where there are literally hundreds of caves. "Adullam is in the valley Elah on the way down to Philistia from Hebron." Some scholars dispute this; but if this location is correct, "It was about twelve and one half miles south southwest of Bethlehem."
"Everyone ... in distress ... in debt ... discontented" (1 Samuel 22:2). Along with members of his family, David's supporters at this time were, in a word, every outlaw in the kingdom. And yet, it was during this period that some of his Mighty Men adhered to his cause. "These were brave and reckless persons who ripened into heroic men under the command of David during the long years of his struggle."
Although there were only four hundred of these men at first, the number soon increased to six hundred (1 Samuel 23:13). A list of the names of some of David's men is given in 1 Chronicles 12.
DAVID ARRANGES FOR THE SAFETY OF HIS PARENTS
"And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab. "Pray let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me." And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold. Then the prophet Gad said to David, "Do not remain in the stronghold; depart and go into the land of Judah." So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth."
"Mizpeh of Moab" (1 Samuel 22:3). The location of this is uncertain; but apparently Moab, at that time, controlled much of the territory just east of the Jordan; and the best guess places Mizpeh somewhere in the vicinity of Mount Pisgah. There seems to be two reasons why David sought refuge for his parents with the king of Moab and received it. Jesse, David's father, was a grandson of Ruth the Moabitess; and, since Saul had recently fought the Moabites, the king of that country was probably very glad to help anyone who would keep Saul busy at home.
"The prophet Gad" (1 Samuel 22:5). This is the first mention of this prophet in the Bible; and the chronology of his joining David's company is not known. It is supposed that Samuel may have commanded him to attach to the company of David. In fact, the whole prophetic community of Israel automatically became allies of David following the tragic slaughter of the priests by Saul. "He became the king's seer after David was king (2 Samuel 24:11); he rebuked David for the sin of numbering Israel; and after David's death, he wrote a history of that monarch's reign (1 Chronicles 29:29). He also seems to have been concerned with arranging the temple services (2 Chronicles 29:25)."
"All the time that David was in the stronghold" (1 Samuel 22:5). "This indicates that David sojourned for some considerable time in Moab."
SAUL CALLS A COUNCIL AGAINST DAVID
"Now Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men who were with him. Saul was sitting at Gibeah, under the tamarisk tree on the height, with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing about him. And Saul said to his servants who stood about him, "Hear now, you Benjaminites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, that all of you have conspired against me? No one discloses to me when my son makes a league with the son of Jesse, none of you is sorry for me, or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day." Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, "I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, and he inquired of the Lord for him, and gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine."
"When Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men with him" (1 Samuel 22:6). This is a reference to David's having been publicly "discovered" as an enemy of the king and an outlaw in Israel. There was no way that such information could have been hidden. Saul himself had forced David to flee for his life; and David's family, most naturally, were also afraid. Ruthless, savage tyrants of Saul's type frequently murdered whole families because of their hatred of any one of them.
"Hear now you Benjaminites" (1 Samuel 22:7). It is significant here that Saul's "court" consisted solely of the members of his own little tribe; there had been no effort whatever to unite all Israel in a cohesive kingdom, in which effort it would have been wise to enlist members of all the tribes.
"Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards, and make you commanders, etc." (1 Samuel 22:7). Saul here threatens the Benjaminites with the idea that, if another king is chosen, he will favor his tribe in the same manner that Saul has favored the Benjaminites.
"None of you is sorry for me" (1 Samuel 22:8). One can only pity this paranoid sufferer. No one had warned him of danger, simply because none existed; no one was sorry for him, because all of his fears and apprehensions were monstrous creatures of his own evil imagination, having no reality whatever. Indeed it was an evil spirit that the Lord allowed to possess him.
THEN ANSWERED DOEG THE EDOMITE
This evil character told as vicious and unprincipled a lie as Satan himself could have invented; and yet much of what he said was true, thus illustrating the fact that the most savage and hurtful lies are the ones blended with truth. "There is no God but God; and Muhammed is the prophet of God," is another example. Doeg failed to include the manifest innocence of Ahimelech in his tale of what Ahimelech had done for David, thus definitely and purposely leaving the impression with Saul that Ahimelech had championed David's cause against that of the king.
Another evident truth here is that slander is in the same class with murder. The slanderer is always a murderer, whether or not, like Doeg, he thrusts his victims through with a literal sword.
SAUL'S MURDER OF THE EIGHTY-FIVE PRIESTS OF NOB
"Then the king sent to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father's house, the priests who were at Nob; and all of them came to the king. And Saul said, "Hear now, son of Ahitub." And he answered, "Here am I, my lord." And Saul said to him, "Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, in that you have given him bread and a sword, and have inquired of God for him, so that he is risen against me, to lie in wait, as at this day."? Then Ahimelech answered the king, "And who among all your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king's son-in-law, and captain over your bodyguard, and honored in your house? Is today the first time that I have inquired of God for him? No! Let not the king impute anything to his servant or to all the house of my father; for our servant has known nothing of all this, much or little." And the king said, "You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father's house." And the king said to the guard who stood about him, "Turn and kill the priests of the Lord; because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled, and did not disclose it to me." But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the Lord. Then the king said to Doeg, "You turn and fall upon the priests." And Doeg the Edomite turned and fell upon the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both men and women, children and sucklings, oxen, asses and sheep, he put to the sword."
By this murder of a whole city of the priests of the Lord, Saul, in a sense, declared war on God Himself. Satan, at this point, dominated the will of Saul completely. How incredible is it that the man who refused to execute the [~cherem] or the "ban" against the Amalekites, even though God had commanded it, in this shameful episode executed the ban upon one of the cities of his own kingdom, "The city of the priests of the Lord"!
By thus ordering the destruction of Nob in the manner of the "ban" ([~cherem]), as God had commanded the children of Israel regarding Jericho, "Saul so completely identified his revenge with the cause of Jehovah that he avenged an imaginary conspiracy against himself, identifying it as treason against Jehovah," and ordered Doeg to destroy Nob.
In this bloody and unscrupulous murder of so many, one must recall the judgment that the "man of God" pronounced against the house of Eli (1 Samuel 2:27-36). Of course, in this destruction, Abiathar escaped; but in time, the judgment of God overcame him also.
THE ESCAPE OF ABIATHAR TO DAVID
"But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. And David said to Abiathar, "I knew on that day when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father's house. Stay with me, fear not; he that seeks my life seeks your life; with me you shall be in safekeeping."
"Abiathar escaped and fled after David" (1 Samuel 22:20). We are not told just how this escape came about; but the general supposition is that he was left in attendance at the altar while all the rest of the priests answered Saul's summons. In the following chapter we shall see that Abiathar became a very important member of David's staff of advisers.
"I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father's house" (1 Samuel 22:22). It would have been far better for David to have told Ahimelech the truth and to have left the results to the Lord. As it turned out, all those murders were directly due to David's lies. In the words here, David regretfully admitted it. The conversation here recorded (1 Samuel 22:21-23) between David and Abiathar, "Belongs chronologically after 1 Samuel 23:6." David and Abiathar were not together until they met in Keilah.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 22". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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