Dark Days.

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 your 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 out their hand to strike the priests of the Lord. Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down 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 man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.

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; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.” – 1 Samuel 22:14-23 ESV

The moral, spiritual, and mental state of King Saul was on a steep and rapid decline. His animosity toward David was insatiable and he would let anyone or anything stand in the way of his quest to eliminate David once and for all. So, while his treatment of the Ahimelech and the priests of Nob may shock us, it should not surprise us. Even the priests of God were fair game and subject to Saul’s wrath. But while Saul seemed to have lost all fear of and respect for God, his troops had not. He was unable to recruit any of them to carry out his vindictive order to kill the priests. But there was one man who was more than willing, most likely driven by a desire to see himself promoted and rewarded for his efforts. Doeg the Edomite, the man who had been at Nob when David showed up, had made a beeline to King Saul with the news. This Edomite, a foreigner, was more than willing to carry our Saul’s command. Doeg was “the chief of Saul’s herdsmen” (1 Samuel 21:7 ESV), and, like any other ambitious individual, was probably seeking a way to get out of the pasture and climb the palace social ladder. By carrying out Saul’s command when no one else would, he knew he would ingratiate himself to the king and secure his favor. So Doeg slaughtered 85 priests of God that day. And then he killed every living inhabitant of Nob. It was a bloodbath – a senseless, sinful, and Satan-inspired act would turn the  priesthood from Saul to David. A solitary priest, Abiathar, miraculously escaped the carnage that day and made his way to David with the news of what had happened. David was wracked with horror and guilt. He felt responsible for the deaths of Ahimelech and his fellow priests. It was his deception that had led to their destruction. He had lied to Ahimelech that day by telling him he was on a secret mission for Saul. His rash decision to seek refuge from the priests and then lie to secure their help had put them at great risk. And Saul, in his ever-present paranoid state, saw them as traitors and had them summarily executed.

David most likely assumed that Saul, as the king and a servant of Yahweh, would show the priests the respect they were due. He probably never imagined that Saul would dare lift his hand against the priests of God. But he had been proven wrong. And David was furious. His respect for Saul all but disappeared that day. We get a good idea of David’s mental state at the time, because he wrote a psalm to commemorate the event. In it, he reveals his feelings about Saul.

Why do you boast about your crimes, great warrior?
    Don’t you realize God’s justice continues forever?
All day long you plot destruction.
    Your tongue cuts like a sharp razor;
    you’re an expert at telling lies.
You love evil more than good
    and lies more than truth. – Psalm 52:1-3 NLT

David was a warrior himself, but he was appalled at the actions of Saul. He was shocked at the actions of someone he once admired and idolized. He could not believe that Saul, the king of Israel, could do the things he had done. But he knew that God would not let Saul’s actions go unpunished.

You love to destroy others with your words,
    you liar!
But God will strike you down once and for all.
    He will pull you from your home
    and uproot you from the land of the living. – Psalm 53:4-6 NLT

David was confident that God would bring justice and retribution against Saul. He would not allow this immoral act to go unaccounted for. While David was in no position to do anything about it, he knew that God would.

The righteous will see it and be amazed.
    They will laugh and say,
“Look what happens to mighty warriors
    who do not trust in God.
They trust their wealth instead
    and grow more and more bold in their wickedness.” – Psalm 53:6-7 NLT

Through the misguided and unrighteous actions of Saul, David was learning some valuable lessons regarding those who fail to place their trust in God. He saw in King Saul a stark portrayal of the once godly man who abandons his faith in God for reliance upon his own strength and resources. Saul’s blatant betrayal of God was difficult for David to understand. But it drove him in his commitment to place his trust in and maintain his reliance upon God, whatever happened.

But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God.
    I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.
I will praise you forever, O God,
    for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
    in the presence of your faithful people. – Psalm 52:8-9 NLT

Abiathar, the sole remaining priest, would find refuge with David. The future king of Israel and the future high priest of Israel were suddenly united by one man’s hatred for them and God’s divine plan for them. Neither David or Abiathar knew what God had in store for them. David had no idea what the next few years of his life would hold. Abiathar only knew that he was alone and no longer able to exercise his priestly duties. Both men were unaware of all that God was doing behind the scenes. There was no silver lining to the dark cloud that hung over them. There was no light at the end of the foreboding tunnel in which they found themselves. But they would learn to trust in God by having to place all their hope in God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Self-Pity and Paranoia.

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, 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.” 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.”

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 I am, 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 has risen against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?” – 1 Samuel 22:6-13 ESV

These verses provide us with a stark contrast. David was in a cave surrounded by misfits and malcontents, but now we see Saul sitting under the shade of a tree surrounded by his servants. The contrast doesn’t stop there. David provided protection for his family by sending them to the king of Moab for refuge. Yet Saul was busy accusing his own son of treason and of conspiring with David to kill him. David was surrounded by men who were willing to die for him. Saul was surrounded by men who feared him and some had even abandoned him to follow after David. But the greatest contrast between these two men is their relationships with God. David received a prophetic word from God that told him to leave the Cave of Adullam and return to Judah. But Saul had not word from God. In fact, he had no relationship with God at all. God had removed His Spirit from him. Saul was on his on and was by all accounts, God-less. The result was a growing paranoia. He truly believed everyone was against him. His daughter and son had turned on him. His servants were untrustworthy. No one could be trusted. And his paranoia led to a heavy dose of self-pity. He was all alone. And his little speech to his servants reveals the extent of his self-pity.

“Has that son of Jesse promised every one of you fields and vineyards? Has he promised to make you all generals and captains in his army? Is that why you have conspired against me?” – 1 Samuel 22:7-8 NLT

“You’re not even sorry for me.” – 1 Samuel 22:8 NLT

Saul even accused Ahimelech the priest of treason, seeing his actions to help David as a personal attack against him.

“Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me?” – 1 Samuel 22:13 NLT

Without God in his life, Saul was susceptible to all kind of irrational and unrighteous thinking. His capacity to mentally process the circumstances of his life was greatly hindered by his lack of God’s presence in his life. He had become a fool, lacking reason and rational thought. He could not even process the fact that all of this was the outcome of the prophet’s warning that God was removing His hand from Saul’s life and giving his kingdom to another. Saul was in a state of denial and suffering from delusion, thinking that he could somehow prevent the inevitable and stay the hand of God. But his unwillingness to accept the will of God would simply cause him to sin against God, committing greater and greater transgressions, all in a hopeless attempt at self-preservation.

Standing among Saul’s servants that day was Doeg the Edomite, who might be better known as Doeg the Snitch. He had hurried back from Nob eager to share the news that David was there and had been given food and the sword of Goliath by Ahimelech the priest. When Saul heard this report, he immediately sent for Ahimelech, his family, and all his fellow priests who served alongside him at Nob. If Ahimelech had been scared when he saw David show up in Nob (1 Samuel 21:1), he must have been petrified at the news of a summon from the king, and any fears he had would prove to be justified.

Saul was a man possessed, both figuratively and literally. He was constantly beset by a “harmful spirit,” the result of God’s removal of the Holy Spirit from his life. Without the influence of God’s Spirit, Saul’s reasoning was impaired. He became self-absorbed and suspicious of everyone and everything. Over time, he would become a man-obsessed, unable to think of anything other than the destruction of David. Essentially, he would no longer act as the king of Israel. His whole life would be focused on one thing: David’s death. The very thing he was trying to protect: His kingship, would get lost in his obsessive-compulsive quest to kill off the competition. Sadly, Saul would be unable to enjoy the benefits of being king, because he lived in constant fear of no longer being king.

One of sad realities of godlessness is that it always results in joylessness, discontentment, fear, jealousy, anger… In fact, the apostle Paul outlines the characteristics or “deeds” of a godless or flesh-based life in his letter to the Galatians.

…sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:20-21 NLT

Saul was miserable, not because he was losing his kingdom, but because he had lost God. His unhappiness, paranoia, self-pity and misguided attempts at self-preservation were driven by his lack of a relationship with God. His decision-making was totally flesh-based, driven by his own sin nature and devoid of any wisdom from God. He had lost his capacity to see things from God’s perspective. Everything had become all about him. He was no longer concerned about the good of Israel or the honor of God’s name. His only thoughts were for self.

The life of the godless is not a pretty picture. And the truly sad thing is that many, who have a relationship with Christ, can end up living godless lives, refusing to seek His will, listen to His Word, or heed His direction. Rather than living God-centered, God-directed lives, they become self-absorbed and susceptible to the flawed input of their own sin natures. While the Spirit of God never leaves them, they quench and grieve the Spirit through disobedience and wilful, unrepentant sin. Rather than enjoying the fruit of the Spirit and the joys of sanctification, they become obsessed with self-preservation and paranoid about protecting what it is they think they have. Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). Saul had been deceived by Satan into believing that joy would be found in pursuing and eliminating David. But nothing could have been further from the truth. And Satan is constantly attempting to deceive us into believing that our way is preferable to God’s way. But our way is the way of the flesh, and it eventually robs us of joy, kills our capacity to love, and destroys any hope of having a rich and satisfying life. Satan offers what he cannot give. Jesus promises what He died to make possible. The God-less life is a paranoid, self-pitying, joyless life. But the godly life brings joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the middle of the storm, hope when all looks hopeless, contentment in the face of loss, and strength in spite of our own weakness. 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Man On the Run.

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.

Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord. His name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen.

Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.” – 1 Samuel 21:1-9 ESV

The next ten chapters of the book of 1st Samuel will chronicle the life of David as he spends the next years of his life running from King Saul. Having received the news from Jonathan that Saul was out to kill him, David made his way to Nob, which was about two and one-half miles southeast of Gibeah. There, he sought out Ahimelech, the high priest. David was running out of options. He could no longer go home. His relationship with Samuel, the prophet, had reached an end. David most likely knew that turning to Samuel was the worst thing he could do, because that would be what Saul expected, and so Samuel would be under surveillance. David had said his final goodbyes to Jonathan, knowing that they would probably never see one another again. So, in need of food and shelter, David turned to the high priest.

His arrival at Nob caught Ahimelech off guard. He was surprised and a bit scared to see David arrive by himself, without his usual allotment of troops. It seems that Saul’s volatile nature was well-known and justly feared. Ahimelech jumped to the conclusion that David had showed up as an agent sent by Saul to wreak havoc on the priests of God. This would ultimately prove not to be a farfetched idea. Because in the very next chapter, we will see Saul command the execution of every single priest in Nob because ended up aiding and abetting David (1 Samuel 22:6-23).

David assured Ahimelech that he was not there to do them harm. He lied to the high priest, assuring him that he was on a top-secret mission for the king, the nature of which he was not free to divulge. This deception was used to obtain food and to keep the high priest from asking further questions. It also reveals a certain sense of fear and lack of trust on David’s part. He was not yet willing, ready and able to put all his reliance upon God. He was in a tight spot and was willing to lie in order to preserve his own life. As time went by and David began to see God’s miraculous provision and protection, he would grow increasingly more confident in God’s capacity to care for his every need. But at this point in the story, David was fairly new at this whole fugitive lifestyle, and was simply doing whatever he had to do to stay alive.

When David asked Ahimelech for bread, the only thing the high priest had available was the showbread that was put on display in the tabernacle as part of a weekly sacrifice to God. The book of Leviticus provides us with important details regarding the showbread. It was to be changed out weekly, and the old bread was to serve as food for the priests. But they must eat it in a holy place and only while in a purified state. It was considered holy.

“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord‘s food offerings, a perpetual due.” – Leviticus 24:5-9 ESV

Ahimlech’s reticence to share the bread with David and “his men” was based on the requirement that the bread was holy and not to be eaten by anyone who was impure. David was able to assure that his soldiers were ceremonially pure because there were no soldiers to begin with. David was alone. And he had not had sexual relations with Michal that day, because he had been forced to leave her several days prior. David took the bread and, according to Jesus, he was not wrong in doing so.

“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” – Matthew 12:3-4 ESV

Jesus referred back to this historical, real-life event, comparing what David did with the disciples eating the heads of wheat on the sabbath. The Pharisees, with their legalistic mindset, had accused them of “harvesting” on the sabbath. For Jesus, the actions of the disciples were justified because they were simply meeting the normal human need to eat. Jesus used the same reasoning on another occasion, when He said to the Pharisees, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12 NLT). According to Jesus, David was simply trying to stay alive, so his actions were necessary and, therefore, justified.

But what David didn’t know was that his actions were being observed by someone who was on Saul’s payroll, Doeg, the Edomite. This man was the in charge of all of Saul’s flocks. It may be that Doeg had it in for David, because he was jealous of his success. After all, David had started out as a shepherd, but risen to a place of power and prominence in the king’s court, and had even married into the king’s family. Perhaps Doeg hoped that by ratting on David, he would be elevated up the royal food chain and move from the pasture to the palace. But regardless of his intent, Doeg would make his way to Saul with news about his enemy’s presence in Nob. David’s respite would prove brief and the role Ahimelech played in helping David would prove deadly.

Having been forced to leave Gibeah in a hurry, David was unarmed and defenseless. So he inquired of Ahimelech whether there were any weapons in the priestly compound. It just so happened that the sword of Goliath, the Philistine champion whom David had killed in hand-to-hand-combat, was in the tabernacle wrapped in a priestly robe. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the giant’s head. David, having retrieved the sword, and with his five loaves of ceremonial showbread, said his goodbyes to Ahimelech and began what was going to be a long and difficult period of running, hiding, and learning to trust in God. In the years that lie ahead, David would find himself experiencing a wide range of life lessons that would increase his faith in God and strengthen his resolve to serve God faithfully. The king David would eventually become was the byproduct of the trials and tribulations of this less-than-pleasant phase of his life. For David, the phrase, “no pain, no gain” could have been the tagline for his life. He would find that persecution would have to precede his coronation. Years of suffering would come before his crowning. The daily experience of loss and pain would preface his eventual reign.

Years later, when David had finally experienced release from Saul’s dogged pursuit and had been crowned the king of Israel, he was able to write:

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies. – Psalm 18:1-3 ESV