Since today’s application of the passage is rather obvious, I’ll begin with the end and work back to the beginning.
If you find yourself estranged and out of touch with the government and it seems like God isn’t working fast enough in your life, here is what you do. You drop everything and head for the hills and live in a cave. You gather together every other dissident with a gripe, form a vigilante army, and live like doomsday preppers.
Seriously, these were difficult times in Israel. The king was completely unglued and a psychological “Exhibit A” who was haunted by an evil spirit. Certainly David was not the only one negatively impacted by the social unrest and disorder to naturally descend from such leadership disarray.
Fearing the possible reprisals of Saul, David moves his family to the area of Moab – perhaps to be with distant relatives related to his great grandmother Ruth?
David at Adullam and Mizpah
22:1 David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. 2 All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.
3 From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, “Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?” 4 So he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him as long as David was in the stronghold.
5 But the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah.” So David left and went to the forest of Hereth.
Saul Kills the Priests of Nob
Saul was of the family of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin – an oft rather rugged and impulsive clam within the nation. These were his advisors that he gathered around him, expressing his irritation and paranoia that none of them were letting him know what was going on with this “David, son of Jesse” character running around the countryside.
6 Now Saul heard that David and his men had been discovered. And Saul was seated, spear in hand, under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, with all his officials standing at his side. 7 He said to them, “Listen, men of Benjamin! Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? 8 Is that why you have all conspired against me? No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse. None of you is concerned about me or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does today.”
Demonstrating that political patronage is as old as, well, the hills of Jerusalem, one person takes the bait, a man named Doeg – an Edomite (descendent of Esau). He relates to Saul the story of seeing David being cared for by a priest at Nob (see Tuesday’s devotional) and where David picked up the sword of Goliath. This infuriates Saul who calls these priests, and Ahimelek in particular, to appear and give an account.
9 But Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s officials, said, “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelek son of Ahitub at Nob. 10 Ahimelek inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”
11 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. 12 Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.”
“Yes, my lord,” he answered.
13 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?”
14 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 highly respected in your household? 15 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 this whole affair.”
As a wonderful example of living for God in face of civil power (something more imaginable for religious leaders here lately than in former times – I might add with no extra charge), Ahimelek speaks the truth of the situation. Doeg is the only one willing to take on the task of carrying out Saul’s edict to execute these servants of God and their families.
16 But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelek, you and your whole family.”
17 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.
18 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. 19 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.
20 But one son of Ahimelek son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David. 21 He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 22 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. 23 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.”
This Doeg character is a despicable creature – a miscreant even. Now there is a word you don’t hear much. It is infrequently used of someone who is the worst category of persons imaginable. I can tell you that any Civil War buff can relate that they know that word to have been used famously by Robert E. Lee to describe a particular Union General named John Pope – due to that general’s belief that the civilian population in Virginia should feel the effects of war and their secessionist philosophy and decisions. It was unusually harsh language for the verbally circumspect Lee.
Doeg is a true miscreant … killing priests, families, townsmen and children, and even their herds. The entire situation grieved David terribly. Could it get much worse?
What can we take away from this passage? Though it may seem like stretching things a bit, it is true that many of those who were coming to David would eventually be a big part of his life and story later when he became king. And the one priest who escaped – Abiathar – would also serve long as the high priest.
So even in times when it seems that everything is upside-down and God seems distant and disinterested, God is always at work – often in circumstances and ways that cannot be seen or measured. And God is very good with records and is the avenger of injustice in the long-run.
Our need is to obey and serve God today with what is right and what can be done now – even if it seems small and insignificant. Do what is right and true with what can be seen and accomplished this day, and trust God with the rest and for his timing to complete what is good and just.