We step away from David and revisit Saul. He is still in his blood lust for David. In the lust Doeg tells him of his sighting of David. The priests of Nob pay a HIGH price for their assistance to David.
Saul is convinced everyone is conspiring against him. If I were to give him a diagnosis I would possibly choose intermittent explosive personality disorder. He also fits the pattern for paranoid personality disorder but his paranoia is aimed primarily at David. Others certainly suffer because of his faulty belief system. Today’s story is a glaring example of that. A whole town loses their lives because of Saul’s ‘stinking thinking.’
But Saul isn’t the one who puts his hand out and does the deed. Doeg the Edomite steps up as Saul’s instrument of destruction. It appears that Doeg would do anything to get into Saul’s favor. I wonder what he hoped to gain this day. Let’s see what monstrous deeds distinguish Doeg.
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Saul is in his favorite place in his whole realm. He is sitting under his tamarisk tree on a hill near his home. He came here as a lad and often found peace beneath its bows. He remembered tending it with his father and also his sons when they were young. Now he has servants to tend it but he still enjoys sitting under it and watching the world go by.
He is NOT receiving the peace he has come to associate with this tree. Today he is surrounded by his servants who have just brought him distressing news. David has gained a following. Saul wanted to prevent this! Israel already touts him as their great hero, now they are flocking to him to join him as he rips the kingdom from Saul. Saul is berating his servants for not finding David for him sooner. If they would truly cared about him they wouldn’t have let things get this far!
“Here now, people of Benjamin; 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 covenant 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” (verses 7b-8, emphasis added by me).
Many of the faces around Saul turn down towards the ground. They do not know how to answer their king. They have NOT conspired against him. They have been loyal to their king. They are saddened by this rift between Saul and David.
One face shines with excitement. That of Doeg the Edomite. He was very pleased to be summoned to stand before Saul. He wishes he would have been allowed in weeks ago because he has news that Saul seems to be desperately seeking. He is hoping for some kind of reward for the information he holds.
Doeg steps forward and speaks directly to 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” (verses 9b-10).
Saul is so angry his face is bright red. How could the priest do this behind his back? They will pay for their crime of treason!
“Issue an order! Summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s house, and all the priests at Nob. They are to report to stand before me before evening falls.”
The call goes out immediately and is delivered to Nob in less than an hour. The priests take a little longer in responding. It takes them time to prepare and travel to Gibeah. They do not want to appear before Saul without their best robes on as this would likely offend him. The purpose of their visit has been kept from them so they want to be prepared for anything. Ahimelech leaves his son and a few other priests behind to tend to the Tabernacle.
Ahimelech and the Levites from Nob come to stand before Saul. Ahimelech is the high priest so naturally he is the spokesmen for the group. As they approach Saul they can tell by his countenance that something is very wrong. Before Ahimelech even opens his mouth in greeting, Saul begins speaking with a sneer and contempt in his voice.
“Hear now, son of Ahitub” (verse 12a).
Ahimelech is confused by Saul’s attitude but answers back with a respectful tone and attitude. “Here I am , my lord” (verse 12b).
“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 has risen against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?” (verse 13).
Ahimelech is shocked by Saul’s outburst. How could Saul think his interactions with David could be termed ‘conspiring’ against the king? Ahimelech refused to be baited by Saul’s anger. He would remain in control no matter what Saul’s state. Ahimelech counters Saul with facts.
“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 your servant has known nothing all this time, much or little” (verses 14-15).
Saul’s face reddens with rage as he listens to Ahimelech extol David’s virtues. It is all Saul can do to keep himself from wrapping his hands around the man’s throat and choking the words before they emerge. Through gritted teeth Saul tells Ahimelech his fate.
“You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house” (verse 16).
Saul looks to the guard standing on his left and speaks directly to 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” (verse 17a).
The guard was terrified! He was afraid of Saul but there was NO WAY he was going to kill a priest of the Lord. He stood as still as if he had been turned to stone and waited. He waited to see what Saul would order his death next. Saul didn’t. Instead Saul began searching the faces of the rest of the servants gathered around him.
While Saul is searching for someone who will do his bidding, Ahimelech and the priests are waging their own battle. Should they flee? Should they beg for mercy? Or should they stand their ground? Would the Lord deliver them from Saul’s hand?
Saul sees nothing but stone faces when he looks to his servants until he spies the face of Doeg the Edomite. His face is registering great interest and eagerness to please. Saul knows he has finally found his man.
“You turn and strike the priests” (verse 18a).
Doeg had been waiting for a chance like this for years! This was his chance to prove his loyalty to Saul above everyone else’s. He moved without hesitation to fulfill the king’s command. Doeg was chief herdsmen for Saul and had no sword so he took one from a soldier standing near him. The soldier offered no assistance nor resistance to Doeg. The priests also offered neither to Doeg. Doeg began slashing and stabbing the priests assembled before Saul with the borrowed sword. The only sounds heard were the slap of steel against flesh,
grunts of exertion and occasional cries of pain. Most of the priests refused to give Saul the satisfaction of hearing them cry out.
The priests internal battle had been won. They chose to stand fast. They reasoned that the soldiers surrounding them may not have lifted a hand against them but they wouldn’t have let them depart either after hearing Saul’s edict.
In the field of the tamarisk tree now lay more than eighty bodies. Each having received life ending blows from the hands of Doeg. He stood heaving from exhaustion afterwards. No one had assisted him or restrained him the entire time.
Saul had looked on with glee. He relished the loyalty Doeg exhibited for his king. After the deed was completed Saul had another order.
“Now the city of Nob will meet the same fate. They have all assisted in this conspiracy with David and concealed his whereabouts from me. Leave nothing alive! Not man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep or donkey.”
This time Saul’s guards responded. They would not raise their hand against the priests but they would obey their king’s command in battle. Tired as he was, Doeg made certain to insert himself into the campaign and deliver more death to Saul’s enemy.
The people of Nob were not as resigned to their fate as their priests had been. Some fought back in whatever way they could. Some ran and some escaped. But in the entire city and all the line of Levi, only one priest made it out of Nob alive. Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, survived this night. He made his way to David.
Abiathar could still hear the screams of the city in his mind when he reached David. He wasn’t sure he would be able to find David when he began his flight. Before leaving he had grabbed his ephod and sent a quick heart felt prayer heavenward. After that he simply ran where his feet and heart drew him.
The first think Abiathar did upon reaching David’s camp was to call out for him. David needed to hear his account of the night immediately and from Abiathar’s own lips.
David came quickly when he heard the man calling out. The sentries had stopped him at the edge of the camp but his voice carried well within its confines.
“Saul has slain the priests of Nob and the whole town. He learned of your visit and the assistance that was granted to you. He claims we collaborated against him. And for this all have lost their lives.”
David’s heart ached for the people of Nob. His shoulders slumped as the weight of guilt settled on him.
“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.” David shook his head in sorrow. He lifted a hand and put it on Abiathar’s shoulder. “Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping” (verses 22-23).
Abiathar nodded his head in agreement. He would join David. He owed no more loyalty to Saul. Abiathar was welcomed into the camp and given all he would need to make this his new home.
(to be continued)
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I wonder why God didn’t intervene on the priest’s behalf. He could have struck Doeg down where he stood. He could have raised the priests from the dead. He could have done any number of things but He chose to be still. I’m CERTAIN He had a reason for this. I don’t know what it was but I trust Him. Maybe it was to unite the people and give them a common cause against Saul. Maybe the priests had become corrupt. And I circle right back to “I trust Him.”
Father God, You don’t often do things the way I would. Many of Your stories leave me scratching my head and wondering why You did it ‘that way’. I know my view of the world is very limited. I don’t have You scope of time or purpose. Those who serve You are NOT guaranteed a ‘smooth’ ride through life. MANY of them are killed for their faith. But death in this life does NOT end our time. It is just the beginning. I need not fear what can take my life on earth; only what can separate my soul from You.
THANK YOU Lord Jesus that You have sealed me with Your blood. That there isn’t a separation any longer. That I am a child of the King. I trust You to bring me to where I need to be and to lead me in what I need to do as a child of the King. Neither life nor death can separate us!