Sunday, May 15, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 67, Saul Has Many Innocent People Slaughtered

Saul's servant, Doeg the Edomite, revealed in yesterday's text that he had spotted David while he was in Nob. He told Saul he saw the high priest Alimelek giving David bread and a sword. This enrages Saul, who falsely believes a plot against his life is afoot. In his paranoia he has convinced himself that David, along with the four hundred men of Judah who have thrown in their lot with him, is lying in wait for him somewhere to pounce on him and murder him. Upon hearing that the high priest was kind to David, Saul now believes Alimelek and all the other priests are in on this nonexistent conspiracy.

"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. Saul said, 'Listen now, son of Ahitub.' 'Yes, my lord,' he answered. 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?'" (1 Samuel 22:11-13) Saul asks, "Why have you betrayed me and taken the side of this usurper? Why do you support his intention to assassinate me?"

When David came to Alimelek at Nob he pretended to be on the king's business. Therefore, when Alimelek helped David he believed he was helping the king. There was nothing treasonous in this man's heart when he supplied the hungry David with bread or when he gave him the sword that David took from Goliath on the day he killed the giant. The high priest protests his innocence in this matter and protests the innocence of David too. He does not believe David intends evil against the king. "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 respected in your household? 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 the whole affair.'" (1 Samuel 22:14-15) 

Alimelek says, "I knew nothing about your conflict with David when I helped him. This isn't the first time I've helped him when you've sent him on various missions. There was nothing unusual or suspicious about my behavior when David came to see me the other day. Besides that, David is not the kind of man to hatch a conspiracy against the king. He is the most trustworthy and loyal servant you could find anywhere! You yourself esteemed him so highly that you gave him your daughter in marriage and honored him with a high rank in your army. He has fulfilled the role of son-in-law and the role of soldier admirably. He would not turn against you and seek your death."

This "trial", if you want to call it that, is nothing but a mockery of justice. Saul already had his mind made up when he called for Ahimelek and the other priests. Nothing they can say or do will make any difference. He is not listening to the high priest's testimony and he does not allow any witnesses to be called to provide evidence for or against the accusations he's making against these men of God. "But the king said, 'You will surely die, Ahimelek, you and your whole family.'" (1 Samuel 22:16) As king, Saul should have upheld and defended the law more than any other man in the land, but he breaks the law by passing the death sentence when there are not two or more witnesses to back up the charges being brought against the priests. While it's true that Doeg saw the priest giving bread and a sword to David, there was not a second witness who saw this. Even if there had been, the fact that the priest supplied David with food and a weapon is not proof that this was part of a plot to assassinate the king. There are no witnesses at all who can provide proof that a conspiracy exists anywhere except in Saul's wicked, troubled mind. 

"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." (1 Samuel 22:17) To their credit, these men fear the Lord far more than they fear the king. They are aware that refusing Saul's command might mean losing their lives but they are also aware that striking down these innocent priests is a sin against the Lord and a sin against humanity. They would rather stand trial before Saul for refusing his order than to stand trial before the Lord for killing the priests.

Doeg the Edomite has no such qualms. He is related to the Israelites through Jacob's brother Esau but he is not an Israelite and likely is an idolater. Not a great deal is known about the religion of the Edomites but it is believed they worshiped the pagan deities of the Canaanite peoples. This Edomite feels no respect for the Lord, for the Lord's house, or for the Lord's priests. He is far more interested in being of valuable service to Saul than in being on the right side of the Lord. "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. 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." (1 Samuel 22:18-19) He goes above and beyond his orders; he kills not only the unarmed and innocent priests but every man, woman, child, and animal of the town of Nob. None of the townspeople even knew David had been to see the high priest, much less that Saul was accusing David of conspiring to commit an assassination. They are just going about their normal lives when Doeg (probably with the help of his own heathen servants) descends upon them to strike them down in the fields, in their homes, in their businesses, and at the market. 

Word of this abominable deed quickly reaches David. "But one son of Ahimelek son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David. He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 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. 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 Samuel 22:20-23) David feels guilty for having gone to the high priest for help. He didn't intend any harm to come to the priest or to anyone else. He didn't expect an evil servant of Saul's to be at the house of God---that's the last place he would have expected to see Doeg. But he knows that the slaughter of the priests and of the townspeople of Nob would not have occurred if he had not gone to the the house of the Lord and that makes him feel responsible for today's tragedy. Of course David is not responsible for Saul's wickedness or for Doeg's wickedness and he could not have foreseen what has just happened but we can understand why he's heartbroken and plagued with feelings of guilt. We would feel the same way in his shoes. Time and time again he must have thought, "If only I hadn't gone to the house of the Lord that day! If only I'd kept to myself, far away from everyone, even if that meant I starved to death or was found and killed by one of Saul's men because of being weaponless and unable to defend myself. If I could have known then what I know now, I would have done everything possible to keep anyone from falling under suspicion of Saul. I knew he was crazy but I didn't know he was this crazy!" 

There is nothing David can do to change what has already been done. He can only offer safety to the lone priest who escaped. He also expresses his faith that the Lord will judge the horrendous actions of this day, saying when he penned Psalm 52 regarding the black hearts of Doeg the Edomite and King Saul: "Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin: He will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent; He will uproot you from the land of the living." (Psalm 52:5) David can do nothing about the loss of life here in Chapter 22. He can't change King Saul's heart. He can't turn Doeg into a godly person. He can't haul the king or the king's servant into court and charge them with murder and have them executed. But God can avenge the innocent deaths. God can pass judgment on Saul and Doeg. God can take them out of this world and God can put them under trial at His judgment throne. David appeals to Him in the confidence that a holy God never turns a blind eye to sin and injustice.

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