It was a long time ago, so let’s read this little bit of 1 Samuel 2. So this comes up and God speaks to Eli basically cursing him because of the evil of his sons. This is what God says through a man to Eli.
Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever. The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, “Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.”‘”
So let’s keep that at the back of our memory a bit as we go through chapter 21-22 this morning. If we remember last week we watched the insanity of Saul as he continually tried to kill David and Jonathan helps save his life. We talked about motives and what drives us to do the things we do and what would drive these characters to do the things that they are doing. Chapter 20 ends with David fleeing into the wilderness, with no real direction of where he was going only with the knowledge that King Saul was pissed and was set to kill him.
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.
– We start off on the note of David lying to Ahimelech and telling the priest that he is on a secret mission from Saul.
– Their entire exchange is strange but it seems like Ahimelech is working pretty hard to bend the rules. What would normally happen here is that the priest would have laid out twelve loaves of bread and when they were replaced with new ones the priest and the priest only could eat them. In this scenario the priest seems to make an exception for David as long as they pass the standards of cleanliness.
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.
– Now this is where the story gets interesting. This is what we need to picture in this reveal by the narrator. Picture this really private, important conversation going on between a couple people and all sorts of things are said and revealed. Let’s say this is in a movie. Then the camera backs up to reveal that there is actually someone else in the room listening in the whole time. This is what is going on here. So what the narrator wants us to do is go back and re-read the conversation knowing that Saul’s right hand man is in the room listening into the conversation.
– What some scholars think is happening here is that both David and Ahimelech are aware that the Doeg is in the room and so the conversation is actually a setup. It’s a ruse meant to distract and confuse Doeg who is obviously there as a spy for Saul, or is at least on his side.
– So David is trying desperately not to get caught since he is in fact fleeing from Saul, but then catches Doeg out of the corner of his eye and so instantly starts to make up a story about he’s actually there on a mission for Saul. Keep in mind, David at one point was considered Saul’s right hand man, but now this Doeg guy is. So maybe there is jealousy? Maybe there is loyalty? All we know is that for whatever reason, David isn’t telling the truth and then Ahimelech seems to just go along with it and not challenge him at all or uncover the lie.
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.”
– This little bit here proves this even more. It’s as if Ahimelech is trying to drive some fear into Doeg by making a statement about how awesome and big of a deal David is. Why else say this unless you are trying to make a point, trying to create a certain kind of reaction. This entire exchange is for an audience of one and is secret language intended to communicate something to each other and work together to deceive Doeg.
And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances,
‘Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands’?”
– So David has now gone to the priest that is housing Goliath’s sword and now he walks into Goliath’s hometown. What is he trying to do here? Why is going to all these places tied to this Philistine? Does he think that he will find some haven there because they all respect him now? Does he think he can handle himself in the enemy territory more than he can handle Saul?
And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”
– This is an odd scene and it’s hard to know what David was really expecting showing up there. But he becomes afraid because they know the same song that the Israelite women were singing.
– The king takes a little jab at his people by asking if he lacks madmen and then has David removed. It is also meant to tie a parallel that while David has to pretend to be mad, Saul is actually becoming more and more mad.
David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
– This bit here is also constantly compared to Jesus by Christian authors. Like Jesus david was opposed by the established rulers of Israel and like Jesus David gathered disciples who formed the foundation of nation.
– David for the first time starts to amass followers and the entire kingdom will eventually be built on these folks back. And it is an interesting bunch of people that start to follow him. Are these all the people that are the victims of Saul’s kingship so far? Is Samuel’s prophecy coming true in a roundabout way where the prophetic expenditures of the kingdom are part of the downfall of the first kingship?
And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab. And he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me.” And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold. Then the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not remain in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.
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.
– Remember every time so far we are given the image of Saul sitting down with a spear in his hand, an attempt on someone’s life is made and the spear gets launched across the room either at David or Jonathan. So maybe this is a sort of foreshadowing of what is coming.
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.”
– We see here now that Samuel’s prophecy is in fact coming true. Saul is using the fact that he gave his inner squad extra benefits like vineyards and commanders of his armies. Let’s contrast Saul’s little speech here with Samuel’s prophecy from earlier.
– We know someone is probably going to die soon, we remember the prophecy from Samuel earlier about Eli’s house coming to an end and here – from the mouth of Saul’s right hand man we find out that all along Ahimelech was actually from the house of Eli. Ahitub is the son of Phinehas who is the son of Eli. So Ahimelech is the great grandson of Eli.
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
– I find it so fascinating that the very thing that Samuel tries to warn Israel about is the same thing that Saul uses to demand loyalty.
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?” 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.”
– This continues to prove the guess that Ahimelech probably was in on the lie with David while Doeg listened in. If he wasn’t, he could have pleaded innocence here, but he doesn’t at all. He admits the fact that he was colluding with David and then proceeds to defend David for and try and guilt Saul into keeping him alive. He doesn’t defend himself, he defends David.
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.
– Now do we remember that week that Doug spoke and God commanded Saul to wipe out all the Amalekites and Saul ended up not doing that? He kept the king alive and the best cattle for himself and for sacrifice. But here now, out of his own rage, commands his servant to wipe out the entire city of priests and is very efficient in doing so, he leaves no one behind and let’s noone live. So great that he can do that because of how upset he is at the treason towards him.
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.”
– And if we remember again – in Eli’s prophecy from Samuel, it was said that one person would escape the destruction of the entire house. So here we have the prophecy coming to fulfillment entirely.
– Israel pursued by Pharaoh, David pursued by Saul, Yahweh provides manna, priest provides bread, Israel opposed by the edomites, David opposed by doeg the edomite.
I’m realizing as we go through Samuel that this is a difficult text to spend time in as a church. We are full of so many questions wondering why we are reading these stories, what this has to do with us. I think that sometimes we fall prey to just needing to take ‘lessons’ out of these stories and use it to tell us how to be a David or when not kill people. So I admit, these stories are odd if we are looking for the typical sermon where the guy preaching is somehow going to apply it to our lives. You know give you a take home, something you can mull on over the week, make people think about their own personal spiritual lives.
The more sermons I do in Samuel the more I realize what a hard task that is. I’ve been reading these past two chapters for the last week and just trying so hard to come up with something that I can pass on to you all so everyone leaves here on a Sunday morning feeling a bit more enlightened and challenged in their spiritual walk.
Q: Why do we read these stories? How have they helped you? Why does a 21st century church in downtown Sarnia read about David and Saul?
I’m not certain we should read them because they tell us how to live. We can know that we aren’t supposed to look at the people’s lives in this story and extract moral principles. There is way too many issues with that. We aren’t just reading them because we like to entertain ourselves with interesting tales of the past.
Since we are a Christian church and we follow Christ then we acknowledge that Christ’s story is our story and we live into this story as if it is ours. We read these stories in the Hebrew Bible through the lens of Christ and it gives us history, language, meaning and focus to understand Christ better and to understand ourselves better.
The reason we go from talking about David running away from Paul to singing songs about God to gathering around the table of Christ is because it’s all tied into one grand narrative of how we can understand the world and understand each other. It is the same God that warned Israel not to get a King that we find in Jesus who instituted communion for us to remember who he is. It is the same God that chose Israel and freed them from Egypt that chose us and frees us from our sin.
So as we sing these songs, as we take communion together, as we eat together, let’s remember that the same God that we read about in these stories is the same God that we worship today and is the same God that we long together to know better and ask that he shapes us to be the humans he created us to be.