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SECTION 4. The Years of Preparation In The Wilderness (21:1-26:25).
A). David Becomes An Outlaw And Forms A Private Army (21:1-22:23).
In this subsection David, having become a refugee and not daring to return home for provisions or weapons, obtains both provisions and weapons from Ahimelech the Priest on false pretences, followed by resulting humiliation in Gath. Eventually he takes shelter in the Cave of Adullam, where his brothers, together with many discontented men, gather to join him with the result that he is able to establish the private army which will be the basis of his future success. Unfortunately Ahimelech is meanwhile falsely accused before Saul and as a result, (such is Saul’s state of mind), he and his fellow-priests are put to death.
a The Refugee David Visits Ahimelech The Priest And Obtains Provisions (1 Samuel 21:1-7).
b David Obtains The Sword Of Goliath And Goes To Gath, Only To Have To Feign Madness And Return To Judah (1 Samuel 21:8-15).
c David Goes To The Cave Of Adullam And Gathers A Private Army (1 Samuel 22:1-2).
b David Goes To Moab And Seeks Refuge For His Parents, Remaining In A ‘Stronghold’ There Until He Is Told To Return To Judah (1 Samuel 22:3-4).
a Ahimelech Is Called To Account For Provisioning David And As A Result He And The Priests Of Nob Are Slaughtered (1 Samuel 22:5-19).
Note that in ‘a’ David seeks help from Ahimelech which is gladly given and in the parallel Ahimelech is executed for his pains. In ‘b’ David goes to a foreign country, but soon returns, and in the parallel does the same. In both cases he immediately returns to Israel. Centrally he goes to the Cave of Adullam where he gathers the basis of the private army which will stand him in such good stead in the future.
The Glory of God Is Revealed In The Cave of Adullam: David Establishes The Beginnings of His Private Army And Re-establishes The Future (1 Samuel 22:1-2 ).
Having barely escaped from Gath with his life David returned to Israel and made for the cave of Adullam. Adullam was an ancient royal city of the Canaanites, twelve miles east of Gath and in the Judean foothills near the valley of Elah (Joshua 15:35). Nearby were a series of large caves. And it was to one of these caves that David made his way. It must have seemed like the end of the road. He had been rejected by Saul, had perjured his soul to Ahimelech, and had played the madman in Gath. Now he was to become a trogladyte. Though he did not realise it he was being faced up with the fact of the truth about himself, and was learning that the way to Up is Down.
Imagine now the scene as the Reject of Saul, the Liar of Nob and the Goon of Gath makes his tired way towards the cave of Adullam. His exultation at escaping from Gath (Psalms 34:0) must now have been replaced by a sense of despair. For as he entered its gloomy portal, and was no doubt met by a motley and suspicious group of ragged and dirty refugees, he must have asked, ‘has it all come to this?’ Little did he realise at that moment that in that cave he was about to experience the Grace of God. It did not come immediately, nor did it come in any moment of high exaltation but it came in dribs and drabs, as God drew to that cave the beginnings of a unique fighting force..
From that cave he appears first to have got a message through to his family, who were possibly not yet aware of the disaster that might face them. For the one who would slaughter the innocent priests of Nob would have had no qualms about the destruction of the family of the traitor David. And the result was that he was soon joined by his brothers and parents, and their household. But it was not only they who gathered to David. When news got around in whispers that David, the hero of Israel, was sheltering in the caves of Adullam, (and presumably venturing out on raiding trips, for they would need to survive somehow), many who had grievances or were in debt gathered to him, until at length he had about four hundred men at his command, a considerable force in those days (compare Esau in Genesis 32:6 and Abraham in Genesis 14:14), especially when they were well trained.
Indeed one thing that will stand out in the future narratives is the fact that David had ‘his men’. It was they who would be the foundation of his future greatness, and it was here that they had their beginnings. We have already noted the military successes of David. He was a brilliant campaigner, and a popular hero. But shaping the motley group that he would now gather into an effective and powerful fighting force was undoubtedly one of his greatest achievements. They came together as a group of malcontents, and we are left to imagine his tight control over them, the requirement for worship and the daily training that gradually honed them into a powerful instrument of war. But we can be sure that all were prominent features of life in the cave.
a David therefore departed from there, and escaped to the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1 a).
b And when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him (1 Samuel 22:1 b).
c And every one who was in distress, and every one who was in debt, and every one who was discontented, gathered themselves to him (1 Samuel 22:2 a).
b And he became commander over them (1 Samuel 22:2 b).
a And there were with him about four hundred men (1 Samuel 22:2 c).
Note that in ‘a’ David goes to the large cave at Adullam and in the parallel he soon has four hundred men living with him there. In ‘b’ his family come to join him, and in the parallel he has command over them. Central in ‘c’ are the threefold types who join up with him. It was an army of the needy and the discontented
1 Samuel 22:1 a
‘David therefore departed from there, and escaped to the cave of Adullam.’
There were a number of caves at Adullam, and this was presumably the largest of them. Adullam itself was an ancient royal city of the Canaanites, twelve miles east of Gath (midway between Jerusalem and Lachish) and in the Judean foothills near the valley of Elah (Joshua 15:35). It would not have been very welcoming, but it was all he had.
1 Samuel 22:1 b
‘And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him.’
It would appear that David contacted his family at this time and warned them of what Saul might do to them, with the result that they joined him in the Cave of Adullam. For as his behaviour towards the priests of Nob would demonstrate Saul was both bloodthirsty and unreliable, and David’s family were no doubt near the top of his list. There can be little doubt that David urged them to join him there.
1 Samuel 22:2
‘ And every one who was in distress, and every one who was in debt, and every one who was discontented, gathered themselves to him, and he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.’
But not only his family came. For as news spread around Israel about how David had escaped from Saul, his name became a magnet that drew men to the cave at Adullam. All who were distressed or in debt, and all who were not content to have Saul as king, gathered to David at Adullam. And they all looked to him as their natural leader with the result that he became commander over them. The consequence was that soon he had four hundred trained and disciplined men under his command, to say nothing of their wives and children. And we can be sure that David ensured that they were well trained. He would know that their future depended on it.
David Ensures The Safety Of His Father And Mother (1 Samuel 22:3-4 ).
The cave was no place for his ageing father and mother, and so David went to Mizpeh of Moab and asked the king of Moab if he would watch over them for him. We do not know how he had become acquainted with the king of Moab, but we do know that he had Moabite blood in his veins from his great-grandmother 1sa (1 Samuel 4:17). It would seem therefore that there had been previous contact, either through his father, or when he had been commander of a military unit under Saul. Here we have here one of those details which are never explained but which remind us how little we know of the to-ings and fro-ings of life in those days, and a reminder that God prepares the way for His people.
One further thing that we learn here, and that is that while Saul lived his prophet-less life in Gibeah, the prophet of YHWH came to David in Mizpeh. David was still very much YHWH’s concern.
a And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab (1 Samuel 22:3 a).
b And he said to the king of Moab, “Let my father and my mother, I pray you, come forth, and be with you, until I know what God will do for me” (1 Samuel 22:3 b).
c And he brought them before the king of Moab, and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the stronghold. (1 Samuel 22:4).
b And the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not abide not in the stronghold. Depart, and get you into the land of Judah” (1 Samuel 22:5 a).
a Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hereth (1 Samuel 22:5 b).
Note that in ‘a’ went to Mizpeh of Moab, and in the parallel he left there and came back to Judah, to the Forest of Hereth. In ‘b’ David exhorted the king of Moab to watch over his parents, and in the parallel the prophet Gad exhorted David himself not to remain in Moab any longer. His place was in Judah. In ‘c’ the king of Moab fulfilled David’s request.
1 Samuel 22:3
‘ And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab, and he said to the king of Moab, “Let my father and my mother, I pray you, come forth, and be with you, until I know what God will do for me.”
David’s concern for his parents was in line with YHWH’s commandment to ‘honour your father and mother’. The writer wants us to recognise that in the midst of all his problems David fulfilled all God’s commandments. Mizpeh means ‘watchtower’. There were many Mizpehs. This one was probably on the border of Moab looking down on the Jordan rift valley. We note that the king of Moab was the only king to help him in his time of need, possibly because of his Moabite ancestry.
Note also how David’s faith had blossomed, “until I know what God will do for me.” His sojourn in the cave of Adullam and his new small army had made all the difference to his thinking. He was now full of expectation.
1 Samuel 22:4
‘ And he brought them before the king of Moab, and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the stronghold.’
So David’s parents dwelt with the king of Moab all the time that David was ‘in the stronghold’. We know from 1 Samuel 22:5 that the stronghold was outside Judah. It was indeed probably Mizpeh. But his parents were not in Mizpeh. They were with the king enjoying his hospitality.
1 Samuel 22:5
‘ And the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not abide not in the stronghold. Depart, and get you into the land of Judah.” Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hereth.
Then, however, a young prophet named Gad arrived, possibly from Samuel. He came to David at Mizpeh and instructed him to return to the land of Judah. It was not good that David be out of touch with the people. It would be important in the future that he had lived among them. So David took shelter with his men in the Forest of Hereth (of which we know nothing). The thick, tangled forests of Judah made a good hiding place for a band of men like David’s.
Thus following his descent into deception at Nob and the low point of his life in Gath, YHWH had now given him three indications that He was still with him. The foundation of his new army at Adullam, the concern shown for his parents by the king of Moab, and the appearance of a prophet of YHWH to give him guidance. All demonstrated that YHWH had not forgotten him. Gad will later appear as ‘the king’s seer’ (2 Samuel 24:11; 1 Chronicles 21:9), will act as his adviser (2 Samuel 24:11 ff) and will keep records of his life for our benefit (1 Chronicles 29:29).
Saul Reveals His True Colours (1 Samuel 22:6-19 ).
While David was going through his period of refining, Saul was displaying his true colours. Unlike David he did not learn from his tribulations. He rather used them as a base from which to launch further evils.
It appears that he had had his spies out constantly for David, for at length he learned that David ‘was discovered’, that his whereabouts were known, and that he had accumulated a good number of followers. This caused him to panic and he immediately set his mind to establishing his own position, first by promising rewards to those who followed him, and secondly by 1salessly destroying all whom he saw as opposing him, in this case the priests of Nob. The state of his mind comes out in that he even accused Jonathan his own son of plotting against him and of stirring up David to cause him trouble He seems to have thrown off all restraint. The truth was that the thought of David was eating into his soul, sadly at this time to the detriment of the innocent priests of Nob. He was a different man from the young man whom Samuel had anointed to be king so many years before, and in the end it had all come about through one or two major acts of disobedience against YHWH.
a And Saul heard that David was discovered (‘was known’), and the men who were with him. Now Saul was sitting in Gibeah, under the tamarisk-tree in Ramah, with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing about him (1 Samuel 22:6).
b 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 captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, that all of you have conspired against me, and there is none who discloses to me when my son makes a league 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 wait, as at this day?” (1 Samuel 22:7-8).
c Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, and said, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. And he enquired of YHWH for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine” (1 Samuel 22:9-10).
d Then the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s house, the priests that were in Nob, and all of them came to the king (1 Samuel 22:11).
e And Saul said, “Hear now, you son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord” (1 Samuel 22:12).
f 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 enquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?” (1 Samuel 22:13).
g Then Ahimelech answered the king, and said, “And who among all your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king’s son-in-law, and is given audience with you, and is honourable in your house?” (1 Samuel 22:14).
f “Have I today commenced enquiring of God for him? Be it far from me. Do not let the king impute anything to his servant, nor to all the house of my father, for your servant knows nothing of all this, less or more” (1 Samuel 22:15).
e And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you, and all your father’s house” (1 Samuel 22:16).
d And the king said to the guard who stood about him, “Turn, and slay the priests of YHWH, because their hand also is with David, and because 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 on the priests of YHWH (1 Samuel 22:17).
c And the king said to Doeg, “Turn you, and fall on the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell on the priests, and he slew on that day eighty five persons who wore a linen ephod. And he smote Nob, the city of the priests, with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen and asses and sheep, with the edge of the sword (1 Samuel 22:18-19).
b And one of the sons of Ahimelech, the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David. And Abiathar told David that Saul had slain YHWH’s priests (1 Samuel 22:20-21).
a 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, and do not be afraid. For he who seeks my life seeks your life. For with me you will be under protection” (1 Samuel 22:22-23).
Note that in ‘a’ Saul was consulting in counsel with his chief courtiers as a result of his discovery about the nefarious activities of the evil David, theoretically judging Israel righteously, whilst in the parallel the same ‘evil David’ is talking to the only surviving Priest of YHWH and assuring him of his protection from the illegalities of Saul. (We may seriously ask, who was acting as YHWH’s legitimate ‘anointed one’ in this case?). In ‘b’ Saul is buttering up the Benjaminites and bribing them to remain faithful while charging them with failure to inform him of treasonable activities, while in the parallel David is being informed by an orphaned Abiathar of what this same Saul has done to YHWH’s priests, which was worse than treasonable, it was sacrilegious. In ‘c’ Doeg the Edomite informs on what he sees as Ahimelech’s treachery, and in the parallel he slays Ahimelech and all his relatives for that assumed treachery. In ‘d’ Saul calls for all the priests of Nob, and in the parallel orders their slaughter. In ‘e’ Saul call on ‘the son of Ahitub’ to speak, and in the parallel he tells him that he and all Ahitub’s house must die. In ‘f’ Saul accuses Ahimelech of enquiring of YHWH on behalf of David, and in the parallel Ahimelech points out that he had not just started doing so, but had been doing it for some time with the knowledge of the king. Centrally in ‘g’ the worthiness of David is emphasised and underlined.
1 Samuel 22:6
‘ And Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men who were with him. Now Saul was sitting in Gibeah, under the tamarisk-tree in Ramah, with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing about him.’
The passage begins with Saul calling his advisory council together because his spies have discovered the whereabouts of David, and had also brought the news that he has gathered a host around him. It was common in Israel for such activities as Saul’s to take place in the opening air under the shade of trees (compare Judges 4:5). In this case it was under ‘the tamarisk tree on the height’ where it would be cool. He was sat there carrying his ceremonial spear (all councillors beware), whilst all the councillors were standing around. It was a formal situation, seemingly of the utmost legality. But the passage will end up with an orphaned victim who was holy to God seeking protection from this legality with David, in the light of the slaughter of all YHWH’s holy High Priests as a result of a spurious verdict of this same court.
1 Samuel 22:7-8
‘ 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 captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, that all of you have conspired against me, and there is none who discloses to me when my son makes a league 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 wait, as at this day?” ’
Saul then addresses his ‘servants’ (his courtiers and commanders). The fact that he calls them ‘Benjaminites’ demonstrates how parochial Saul’s government has become. He now ruled through his favourites, of whom his son at this moment was clearly not one, and favoured his own tribe. And he points out to them that under the son of Jesse they would lose their special entitlements and honours, for he was not a Benjaminite. It would thus pay them to keep in with him. They were to be good politicians.
But he then demonstrates his paranoia by suggesting that his son Jonathan is in league with David against him and is planning his downfall, and indeed that David is in some way ‘lying in wait’ for him. Both were untrue. But he was so obsessed with the idea that David was seeking to take over his kingdom that he could not separate fact from fiction.
Note the threefold description, ‘none have disclosed that his son is in league with David’, ‘none of them is sorry for him’, ‘none have disclosed what his own son has done in stirring up David against him’. In other words everyone is completely holding back on him, (and that about things that they could not possibly have known anything about).
So everything is wrong about his statement which is simply a revelation of a paranoid ruling badly and unjustly, fulfilling only too literally what Samuel had warned against in 1 Samuel 8:10-18.
1 Samuel 22:9-10
‘ Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, and said, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. And he enquired of YHWH for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” ’
The only one who replied to his unjust accusations was Doeg the Edomite. All the rest remained quiet with their own thoughts. But Doeg wanted to curry favour with Saul. Indeed we discover what kind of man he was in 1 Samuel 22:18-19. And he informed on Ahimelech. He did not actually lie. But he cannot be acquitted of deliberately feeding Saul’s unjustified suspicions without regard for the consequences, and he made no attempt to indicate the real truth concerning what he had seen. He presents no prettier picture than Saul.
Doeg is described as ‘standing by the servants of Saul’. In other words he was a hanger on. He was presumably there because he was Saul’s chief shepherd, which would be quite an important post, whilst not making him a member of the inner council composed of court officials and field commanders. He possibly felt both this and his inferiority as an Edomite, and he may even have resented the way in which he had been treated at the Sanctuary as a proselyte. He thus appears happy to vent his spleen by criticising the priests in order to demonstrate that they were not as good as they claimed. It is, however, doubtful if he realised how far Saul would go. But we should note in this regard that when he found out he gladly and heartlessly took advantage of it. So he was an unpleasant character altogether.
1 Samuel 22:11
‘ Then the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s house, the priests that were in Nob, and all of them came to the king.’
Suitably stirred in his suspicions Saul sent for Ahimelech, and along with them ‘all his house’. This last fact already demonstrates that Saul had evil intentions towards them. He was looking for scapegoats. And that in spite of the fact that almost everyone would have recognised that Ahimelech was probably guiltless. Why should he have suspected the king’s son-in-law? It is doubtful if the majority of the priests wanted to come. Saul’s unaccountable moods were well known. But they had no choice but to obey a royal command, and no doubt came fearfully.
1 Samuel 22:12
‘ And Saul said, “Hear now, you son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” ’
Saul addresses him as ‘you son of Ahitub’. That was not a very promising beginning. To speak of a man in that way was usually seen as insulting, as though he was not worthy of his own name being given. But Ahimelech replied respectfully, and openly. His conscience was clear.
1 Samuel 22:13
‘ 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 enquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?” ’
As with the case of Jonathan in verse 8 Saul links Ahimelech with ‘the son of Jesse’ (another insulting expression) as though the two had been conniving together. But the things included in the charge were innocent enough. He had simply provided David with bread and a sword and guidance from YHWH because he had thought that he was there in the service of Saul. These were innocent enough things if provided to someone about whom he had no suspicion.
1 Samuel 22:14
‘ Then Ahimelech answered the king, and said, “And who among all your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king’s son-in-law, and is taken into your council, and is honourable in your house?”
Indeed, Ahimelech made his position clear. Why should he have been suspicious of a man who had served Saul faithfully, who was his son-in-law, who had constant audience with Saul, and had an honoured position in his house? The description is not only intended by the writer to be a defence, but also to be a true description of the character of David. He wanted all to recognise that this really was what David was like, an honourable and trustworthy courtier and commander.
1 Samuel 22:15
“ Have I today begun to enquire of God for him? Be it far from me. Do not let the king impute anything to his servant, nor to all the house of my father, for your servant knows nothing of all this, less or more.”
He pointed out further that his enquiring of YHWH on his behalf was not a new thing as though he had not done it before. He had often enquired of YHWH for him, and no one had ever suggested that it was wrong. Thus it was far from the truth to suggest that by it he was in any way conspiring with him. And thus he asked the king not to read anything into it that was not true, both for his own sake, and for the sake of his father’s house whom he recognised to be in some danger, otherwise they would not have been there. The propensity of kings for widespread slaughter when they suspected treason was far too well known to be ignored. And he ended up by taking any guilt on himself, while assuring Saul that it would not be justified. The truth was, he urged, that he knew nothing of any conspiracy.
‘ And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you, and all your father’s house.”
But Saul was not listening. Ahimelech had admitted offering David help and so he and his whole house must die whether they had intended a conspiracy or not. For by their actions they had specifically injured the sacred person of the king. While this verdict might have been acceptable in a foreign court where such standards applied, it was not seemly for a king of Israel who was supposed to uphold God’s Law. But that is the point that is being made here. Saul was putting himself above God’s Law. He was ignoring all the claims of justice. It will also be noted that there was only one witness. In Israelite law that was insufficient to bring a conviction (Deuteronomy 19:15). It may be that Saul would have claimed that Ahimelech was himself the second witness, but in that case it would not have applied to the other priests. And in any case a man could not be convicted on what was not really a confession. Everything is wrong with this verdict. Saul is being shown up as totally unjust.
‘ And the king said to the guard who stood about him, “Turn, and slay the priests of YHWH, because their hand also is with David, and because 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 on the priests of YHWH.’
This fact is then accentuated by what follows. For when Saul calls on his guard to slay the priests of Nob because Ahimelech had clearly favoured David against the king, and had not disclosed to him that David had fled, they refused to respond. They were very unwilling to ‘fall on the priests of YHWH’, especially on so flimsy a verdict. It is interesting that his own failure to react against them indicated that Saul too understood their qualms. It was because he was theoretically a Yahwist himself that he did so. He could therefore quite understand their reservations. But that being so it should have made him pull himself up and question what he was doing. Instead it simply made him look for someone less squeamish. he is revealed as clearly having no excuse for what he was doing.
So again the writer is bringing out the enormity of what Saul was doing. It could not fail to resound against him before the whole of Israel, and would for ever demonstrate to the discerning that he was rejected by YHWH. For he was not only behaving unjustly and contrary to the Law, but was also doing it towards those who were holy to YHWH. He was falsely judging and slaughtering people who were YHWH’s own. It was sacrilege of the worst kind. It was the action of a man beyond the pale.
“The guard.” Literally ‘the runners’, e.g. those who ran before him and attended him (compare 8:11, and see the use of the same word in 2 Kings 10:25).
‘ And the king said to Doeg, “Turn you, and fall on the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell on the priests, and he slew on that day four score and five persons who wore a linen ephod.’
Then Saul turned towards the only man who appeared to be in sympathy with what he wanted. Perhaps as a newly converted Edomite he would not have the same built in qualms of an Israelite. And he was right, For when he called on him to turn and fall on the priests, Doeg gladly obeyed, probably along with some of his shepherds. Shepherds were notorious for their godlessness (their very occupation prevented regular worship at the Sanctuary). And that day Saul’s chief shepherd turned on the chief shepherds of YHWH and cut them to pieces, all eighty five of them.
“Four score and five persons who wore the linen ephod”. The linen ephod was the sign that they were qualified to act as High Priests in an emergency. They were the true priesthood. So the ‘holiest’ men of Israel, whose lives were taken up in the service of YHWH, were being murdered. The partial effects of this is seen later in 1 Chronicles 24:4 when the sons of Ithamar could not raise more than eight ‘chief men’ to be over the orders of the priests in the Sanctuary, compared with Eleazar’s sixteen.
(As with all numbers in ancient times, however, the number may not be intended to be seen as mathematically accurate. Most did not think mathematically in those days, and no one would have made a head count. Larger numbers were rather intended to convey an impression. Thus this may represent four full priestly groups and a part group of novitiates or reserves awaiting appointment to a group, all of course descended from Ithamar, Aaron’s son).
‘ And he smote Nob, the city of the priests, with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen and asses and sheep, with the edge of the sword.’
Doeg then followed this up by doing the equivalent of ‘devoting’ the city of the priests and all who were in it to destruction (although certainly not to YHWH). But it was not at YHWH’s command, nor of His will. It was rather an act of total barbarism. The writer wants us to see that Saul was doing to God’s holy priests and their possessions what he had refused to do to the Amalekites and their possessions (1 Samuel 15:0). His unbelief and sacrilege was being emphasised a hundredfold.
‘ And one of the sons of Ahimelech, the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David.’
One of the sons of Ahimelech, however, somehow escaped and ‘fled after David’. His name was Abiathar. He was becoming a refugee like David, and would later become David’s High Priest, before losing his status in the time of Solomon when he took part in the rebellion of Adonijah.
‘ And Abiathar told David that Saul had slain YHWH’s priests.’
And Abiathar told David that Saul had slain ‘YHWH’s Priests’. The pregnant short sentence brings out the solemn awfulness of what Saul had done. It was seen as almost beyond words. Saul had actually lifted up his hand against YHWH and what was His.
‘ 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.” ’
When David heard it he was conscience stricken. He had noticed Doeg at the Sanctuary and now realised that he should have done something about him, and by not doing so had occasioned the death of all of Abiathar’s priestly relatives. It was not strictly an accurate verdict, for he could hardly justly have murdered Doeg at the time. But it does demonstrate how deeply David felt it.
“ Stay with me, and do not be afraid. For he who seeks my life seeks your life. For with me you will be under protection.”
And then he assured Abiathar that he would be safe with him. For really they were in the same boat. The one who sought David’s life also sought Abiathar’s life. Thus Abiathar would enjoy the same protection, both from YHWH and from David’s men, as David himself did. Saul’s verdicts could not reach him here. This was another turning point in Saul’s evil life. He had lost the Priest of YHWH to David, who could therefore from now on consult the oracle and have official dealings with YHWH, and be given legitimacy in the eyes of YHWH’s people. That Saul, when he came to his senses, realised this comes out in that he appointed Zadok, of the line of Eleazar, as his High Priest, for Zadok also turns up later as High Priest at the Sanctuary whilst Abiathar was still alive. But the Urim and the Thummim were seemingly now with David (1 Samuel 23:6), and as we shall see, he uses them shortly.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 22". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany