Sermon on 1 Samuel 22:6-23 – “Saul’s Massacre of the Priests”

Sermon on 1 Samuel 22:6-23 – “Saul’s Massacre of the Priests”

Sermon for Sunday morning, June 23, 2024 at Unionville Presbyterian Church, BPC

Old Testament reading:

[Psa 52:1-9 ESV] 1 To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.” Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. 2 Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. 3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah 4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah 6 The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, 7 “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” 8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. 9 I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.

New Testament reading:

[Act 26:9-18 ESV] 9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. 12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Gospel reading:

[Mat 2:16-23 ESV] 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Scripture Reading:

[1Sa 22:6-23 ESV] 6 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. 7 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, 8 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.” 9 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, 10 and he inquired of the LORD for him and gave him provisions and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” 11 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. 12 And Saul said, “Hear now, son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” 13 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?” 14 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? 15 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.” 16 And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.” 17 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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21 And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD. 22 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. 23 Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.”

Introduction

There are, unfortunately, a number of famous massacres in history.
The most famous might be the Boston Massacre in the lead up to the American Revolution.

In the Scriptures, in the Gospel of Matthew, there is the Massacre of the Innocents, when King Herod had all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem put to death.

Less well known—but equally Biblical—is Saul’s Massacre of the Priests at Nob from out text this morning in 1 Samuel chapter 22.

This is not a text that is so popular as a victory story like David vs. Goliath. And reflecting upon such a text where evil seems to triumph over good (rather than good over evil) is not pleasant and it is not easy for us to understand “What is God doing with this text?” Why is such a story in the Bible? Or even, why does God allow such a travesty to occur?

But this is “the word of God.” Let us read and understand what He has revealed to us as we look at “Saul’s Massacre of the Priests.”

A massacre is “an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people.” The word itself is borrowed from the French “macacre” used of a “slaughterhouse” or “butchery.” It is something that should be reserved for animals, but all too commonly occurs with the death of many defenseless souls in the history of the evil of man.

A massacre of the Priests at Nob occurs in our text. But to understand it, we have to see what comes before and what comes after. So we’ll look at the text in 5 points.

I. Saul’s Anger at the Discovery of David (v. 6-8)
II. Doeg’s Lie Fans the Flames. (v. 9)
III. Ahimelech’s Explanation is Unable to Cool Down Saul. (v. 10-16)
IV. Doeg Kills the Priests when Saul’s Guard Refuses the Order. (v. 17-19)
V. Abiathar Escapes to David. (v. 20-23)

I. Saul’s Anger at the Discovery of David (v. 6-8)

The scene opens with Saul sitting under a Tamarisk tree with his spear in hand and all his men around him. That picture speaks a thousand words. He’s holding on to his spear because he’s got a one-track mind: kill whoever he thinks are his enemies. And the Tamarisk tree; well the only previous Scriptural reference to a Tamarisk is Genesis 21:33 where Abraham plants one in Beersheba and calls on the name of the Lord. But there is only the opposite for Saul; he has no interest in guidance from the Lord.

Word comes then to Saul that David has been discovered. Now that David is not hiding in the Cave of Adullam, he is out in Israel and can be seen again.

And what do you think Saul’s response is? Of course, it is anger.

There is a lot to learn from the language of Saul. He calls those around him “men of Benjamin.” That is the tribe he is from. And apparently he can only trust his closest family to have position of power in his government. This isn’t a coalition government, this is the activity of a tyrant dictator. Then, in his disdain for David and Ahimelech he calls them not by their firsts names but David he calls “Son of Jesse” and Ahimelech he calls “Son of Ahitub.” This is a power play, not giving them the respect of calling them by their first names. But this is all in the anger of Saul. That is his common and frequent state/mood.

In addition to anger, Saul has another response to hearing about David being discovered. He seeks pity.

This is an ugly characteristic.

Sympathy will come naturally if it is deserved. But Saul wants to drum up more sympathy for himself and even lies in the process.

He says “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.”

There are two lies there.

First, he contends that David is AGAINST him! But when has David attacked? Just who has thrown the spear! It is Saul who is AGAINST David.

Then, he blames Jonathan for stirring up David. But that never happened either. Jonathan has befriend David, but has not encouraged David to fight Saul. In fact, earlier, it took work to convince Jonathan that Saul was in fact trying to kill David. Jonathan came to that conclusion only reluctantly; he certainly wasn’t an instigator.

THE SIN OF SELF-PITY

So it is when we seek pity. It is a sin. A subtle sin, but a sin nevertheless.

A clue that this is a sin is the use of the word “self.” It is man-centered, self-centered, rather than god-focused.”

What is self-pity? It is a sinful attempt at drawing attention to yourself because of a struggle (or perceived struggle as in the case of Saul) that you have endured.

This sin has become “big time” in recent years. There is such a larger audience now with the internet, so there are more people who might listen to your woes. And self-pity is involved in the error of Wokism, which asks that whole groups of people be felt sorry for (and given credit) for lack of “privilege.”

An example of self-pity that might fit our own lives better is when we’re “hurt” or “bitter” that our hard work isn’t being noticed or appreciated.

This self-pity is really a “neediness” that lacks gratitude; a sin against God who provides for us.

So let us recognize that God has for us “treasures in heaven.” We simply don’t need the lesser “kudos” of men.

Let us have gratitude for God’s provision for us, and not seek the praise of others. Do good deeds by all means, but do them without the need for fanfare, and your reward will be great in heaven.

And let us not allow injustices or perceived injustices to affect our emotional state; but let the fruity of the Holy Spirit dominate our lives.

II. Doeg’s Lie Fans the Flames. (v. 9-10)

Into the equation then comes Doeg the Edomite.

And his works fan the flames of Saul’s anger.

Doeg says: “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, 10 and he inquired of the LORD for him and gave him provisions and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

And this fits right into the paranoid narrative that Saul has developed in his mind. Saul thinks “Jonathan has hired David to kill me, and the priests are in on it too.”

It’s a vast smite-king conspiracy.

What Doeg says is right and true, but in the context Doeg is insinuating that the priests are “in on it.”

So Saul’s anger then turns from David to the priests. He’s still angry with David too, but for the moment he goes after the priests, starting with Ahimelech.

III. Ahimelech’s Explanation is Unable to Cool Down Saul. (v. 11-16)

And, well, the priests aren’t guilty. Other than Ahimelech, none of them were even involved in the discussion with David.

And Ahimelech has a reasonable answer for why he gave food and a sword to David.

Basically, he tricked. And all previous knowledge he had led him to the conclusion that David and Saul were on good terms.

Note that Saul doesn’t ask “HAVE you conspired against me” but rather jump to the conclusion and says “WHY have you conspired against me?”

This is something like the old trick in language when someone asks “Have you stopped beating your wife?” The answer is NONE of the options given. I have never beaten my wife. So Ahimelech’s answer can’t answer the “why did he conspire” because he didn’t conspire at all. He has often helped David before, and isn’t David “honored in your house?” “Wasn’t I therefore honoring you, King Saul?!”

So Saul is a reasonable man and listens to Ahimelech, right? Right? Nope.

He says rather: “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.”

No trial (as God’s law required), no jury, no judge other than Saul. This is the action of a tyrant.

And then the other priests are to be put to death as well!

This is too much even for Saul’s guard.

IV. Doeg Kills the Priests when Saul’s Guard Refuses the Order. (v. 17-19)

They refuse the order!

We don’t know much about these “servants of the king.” Probably, going alongside Saul they aren’t too nice of characters. But here they have some decency. The killing of the innocent is beyond their morality.

And this has long been a goal in jurisprudence; do not convict a person who is not guilty. And certainly do not put to death a man who is innocent.

This is what makes Christ’s death so shocking. Not only is he the Son of the Living God, but he was innocent! Sinless.

When it comes to the Priests at Nob or any other massacre in human history, we might be able so say that they are “innocent of the charges against them” but only Jesus Christ was completely innocent, completely without sin.

The reality for the rest of us is that our sins makes it such that we deserve death. So the shocking this is not so much that people are killed, but that God KEEPS us; that he preserves our lives, every day.

Well, the guard of Saul, his servants, are Benjaminites, of the tribe of Benjamin in Israel. And they won’t put the priests to death.

Matthew Henry says:“Never was the command of a prince more barbarously given”

(“Turn and slay the priests of the Lord.”)

And again he says: “Never was the command of a prince more honourably disobeyed.”

REPEAT: Never was the command of a prince more barbarously given and Never was the command of a prince more honourably disobeyed.

Well, we might say there are some close competitors for “honorable disobedience.”

Such a “REFUSAL TO OBEY UNLAWFUL ORDERS”
is what we find with the Jewish midwives in the Exodus. When Pharaoh said “if a Hebrew son is born, kill him” they “feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”
This is the general idea that we find in Acts: “we must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

But Doeg the Edomite (of descent from Esau the enemy of Jacob), did not fear God and he was willing to do the job.

And it may have been him alone, or it may have been Doeg and whatever assistants he had. But either way, 85! priests are killed. And in the massacre, the slaughter, we see the pure evil of Doeg (and Saul for not stopping it), for not only are the priests killed at Nob, but everyONE and everyTHING that moves:

“he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.”

Doeg does the work, but Saul is equally responsible. He is the one who commissioned the murders.

Similar in the New Testament is the Apostle Paul (who was also killed Saul, just like the king). This New Testament Saul was responsible for the killing of Christians, massacres of the churches. But the remarkable fact is that even that terrible sin is forgiven by the Lord who calls Paul to be his follower.

V. Abiathar Escapes to David. (v. 20-23)

Now, all the priests were killed.

All except one. Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech escapes.
And he joins up with David.
David now has a prophet (Gad), a priest (Abiathar), and has himself been anointed King.

These are the three roles later fulfilled in Christ. And we can see here who’s side God is on. It is not Saul and Doeg, but God is with David and his growing band of supporters who fear the Lord.

In the tragedy of the massacre, God is yet working.

He is providing protection for Abiathar with David and his men, and ultimately providing protection for all of them, as the true refuge.

But how should we respond to a massacre. What are we to think?
While it is always true that “all things work according to the counsel of God’s will,” there are times where this particularly statement may not be all that helpful for a counselor or as pastoral advice to one suffering the loss of a friend or a loved one.

How should we respond.

We are fortunate to have David’s response in Psalm 52.

And it basically twofold:

Justice and Grace.
Justice upon the evil.
And Grace for the people of God.

David says of Doeg the Edomite:

“God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah 6 The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, 7 “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!”

But of himself (like all of God’s people) he says:

“8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. 9 I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.”

God will have justice on evil.
And God will give Grace to the humble.

So what are we to do?

1. Pray “Deliver us from evil.”

Pray, with the Lord’s Prayer “deliver us from evil.”

There is real evil out there! Christians have enemies, as the Priests at Nob had enemies in Saul and Doeg.

These priests are righteous men, killed for their association with David.

No doubt we have enemies too.

You hear frequently the enemies of the church say “The churches should start paying taxes.” They overlook the charitable and spiritual work of the church, and want the churches to be taxed so that they’ll be forced to closed. This makes it clear that they are enemies of the church.

And the great enemy of the church, Satan himself, accuses you of sin, just as Doeg accuses Ahimelech of sin that he didn’t commit. Doeg is long gone, but Satan is still around.

So pray for deliverance from evil. Evil men and the evil one, Satan the accuser.

2. Flee to the Lord!

Then, flee to the Lord.

When terrible things happen, we are to flee to the Lord.

In fact, the Lord often draws us closer to him through tragedies.

The evil is done by men (not God).
And the evil is spurred on by Satan (not God).
But yet God uses the evil of others for his plan.
They meant it as evil, but God uses it for good.

So we flee to the Lord, our true refuge.

Abiathar is our example in this text. He flees to David, the anointed of the Lord, for protection against evil.

3. Comfort others with the Comfort of the Lord!

They finally, in the tragedies of life, let us comfort others with the comfort of the Lord.

David knows the Lord. He has found refuge and comfort in the Lord.

So when Abiathar comes to him, David is able to in turn comfort Abiathar.

David offers him shelter and protection.

He laments his involvement in the whole affair. “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.”

He didn’t kill them himself, but he “occasioned” their death.

And then David says:

“Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.”

This makes more sense when we realize that the priests did not fight back against Saul and that Abiathar won’t (or can’t) fight back either. So he has David for protection.

Ultimately we are as helpless as Abiathar against the forces of evil, and need the protection of the Lord. He says to us “with me you shall be in safekeeping, stay with me.”

This good news “we are safe with the Lord” is the same good news with which we are to comfort others.