As we have seen, Saul hears David has men with him. The king’s heart is moved. To him it is the certain indication that at any time now the son of Jesse will deal him the blow that will hurl him and his house from the throne. The king is terrified. He is persuaded in his heart that the whole people, including his fellow tribesmen, have forsaken him to a man and gone over to the side of David. Calling together his officers of state, he lodges against them the most outrageous charges. The servants of Saul stand speechless all but one and that one Doeg the Edomite. Hearing Saul wail, “and there is none of you that is sorry for me,” he can contain himself no longer. He tells the king about the supposed treachery of the high priest Ahimelech. He saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob. And the priest inquired of the Lord for him, and gave him victuals and the sword of Goliath.
The king summons into his presence Ahimelech and the whole priestly family with him there in Nob. Says Saul to them, “Hear now, thou son of Ahitub.” The priest replies, “Here am I my lord.” Saul continues, “Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, in that thou hast given him bread, and a sword, and hast enquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?”
Ahimelech’s doing is to the king the proof that the priest and the son of Jesse are one by a common purpose to rid the nation of Saul in order that the son of Jesse may reign in his stead. This being for Saul an established fact, he concludes that the priest supplied David with food and arms and enquired of God for him with the intention of doing what he could to help the rebel achieve that purpose.
The priest replies in defense of himself. His words are obscure. One thing is clear, however: Ahimelech takes thought only of His own life; accordingly, his sole aim is to clear himself of the king’s baseless charge in order that he may live and not die. His effort to prove himself innocent even leads him to side with the king against David.
He first directs the king’s attention to what David appeared to be to him, namely, of all Saul’s servants the most faithful. “And who is so faithful among all thy servants as David?” are his words. Further, the priest wants Saul to understand that he cannot be blamed for thinking David to be a servant of such virtue. For he continues, “which is the king’s son-in-law, and goeth at thy bidding, and is honourable in thine house?” The point to Ahimelech’s argument is clear. Seeing that David to all appearances is a servant of such excellencies, how could Ahimelech and his brethren in office be expected to surmise that he conspires against the king? But how about the priest’s supplying David with food and arms? Ahimelech deems it wise to let that matter rest and to concentrate on the charge that he enquired of God for David. “Did I today begin to enquire of God for him,” is the question he now puts to the king. And his answer, “be it far from me.” He speaks the truth here. This is proved by the omission of the supposed doing of the priest in chapter 21. The concluding words of his defense are significant, “let not the king impute anything unto his servant, not to all the house of my father; for thy servant did not know of all this matter little or great.” This precisely is the point that he is arguing, namely, that he was ignorant of the whole matter—the matter of David’s conspiracy against the king. Hence he had helped the fugitive, supplied him with bread and a sword, in his innocency. In pleading this ignorance the priest sides with Saul against David. What he says to the king is in effect this, T believe thee, o king. It is as thou sayest. David is a rebel. He conspires against thee. He seeks thy life. For he would be king. Had I only known, I would not have given him bread and arms. I did that in my ignorance. And, certainly, my ignorance is pardonable. For, as far as anyone can judge, David is the most faithful of all thy servants. He comes and goes at thy bidding. And besides, he is thy son-in-law. He occupies a most honorable position in thy house. That he of all men should be conspiring against thee! Who would have thought it!’
Such is verily the thrust of Ahimelech’s defense before Saul. In a moral aspect, Ahimelech and Doeg are men of a class. Both side with Saul against David—Doeg, to advance his material interests; Ahimelech, to save his life.
(Some interpreters absolve Doeg from enmity against David, maintaining that he merely stated the fact, to which the malicious interpretation was given by Saul alone. But this does not agree with what Saul had just said against David. He had accused David, be it indirectly, of conspiring against him, to which he had added the complaint that there was none of his servants that would reveal to him what went on. As it was in response to this complaint of the king that Doeg had replied, it follows that his purpose was to present Saul with the evidence of the priest’s complicity; and this necessarily implies that he openly sided with Saul against David.
So, too, are there some who maintain the integrity of Ahimelech. But this can be done only in the way of failing to read aright what is written. In saying to Saul, “For not did know thy servants about the whole of this matter either little or great (so reads the original text), the priest had reference to David’s supposed conspiracy and not to the charge of conspiracy that the king had just lodged against Ahimelech and the rest of the priests in Nob. The priest meant to clear himself of Saul’s charge. What would he have been contributing toward the achievement of his aim, had he said to the king, ‘I know nothing at all of a conspiracy against thee on my part and on the part of my brethren in office.’ That would merely be to deny the charge. Rut the priest must do more. He must prove to Saul that he is guiltless. And his proof is that David is the last man whom anyone would suspect of conspiring against the king; that, as far as anyone can judge, the son of Jesse of all Saul’s servants is the most loyal; and that, such being the case, he, the priest, supposing him to be a just man out on the king’s business, supplied him with arms and bread in total ignorance of his criminal action against the king. Hence, the text in the original reads not, “And I know,” but, “and I knew nothing of the whole matter.” And so, too, the priest’s statement, “Far be it from me.” It looks directly to the statement that precedes, “Did I begin that day to enquire of the Lord for him?” As was said, Ahimelech speaks the truth here. Though he had given David bread and a sword, he had not enquired for him of God. How plain that he was trying desperately hard to establish his innocence before Saul. Hence, the adverb then in his statement, “Did I then begin to enquire of the Lord for him that day,” is not found in the original text. Thus the statement stands more or less alone as far as the preceding utterances of the priest are concerned, “And who is so faithful among all thy servants. . . .”)
Ahimelech’s defense of himself is not without some strength. For, whereas David is actually innocent (a thing that the priest now denies) it follows that it is true what the priest says, namely, that to all appearances no one is more loyal to Saul than David, and if so, the priest can be excused for having held him to be such a servant. Yet, the priest has ensnared himself by his own words. For he has now agreed with Saul that David is a rebel. Saul can now insist, and he does insist, that this must also have been plain to the priest all along. Accordingly, Saul declares that he shall die, he and his father’s house. These are his words to the priest, “Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou and all thy father’s house.” Ry siding with Saul against David, the priest had signed his own death warrant. He should have put to Saul Jonathan’s question, “What hath David done, O king, that thou accusest him of conspiring against thee.” We may conjecture that God would have saved the priest out of Saul’s hand, had he done right. Rut Ahimelech and his brethren in Nob are of the house of Eli and of the house of Eli’s father, Ithamar. They are on a whole unprincipled men. There was no true fear of God in them. They must have been spiritually akin to the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas,—both of whom died in one day in punishment of their sin of desecrating the Lord’s offerings. Hence, it was God s will to destroy this family of priests m order that the word which He spake against them by the mouth of His prophet might go into fulfilment, “Behold the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father’s house, that there shah not be an old man in thine house.” We see in the Scriptures the curse of God operative in this house through the years. The first to fall were Eli and his two sons. Then the Philistines, flushed with victory over the Israelites, hastened to Shiloh, where they killed many priests, an of whom were descendants of Ithamar serving under Eli. The next to strike at this house was Saul. He pronounced this whole house guilty of conspiring against him.
The first to be felled by Saul’s sword were the 85 priests who, in obedience to his summons, had appeared m his court to answer to that charge. To his guard he issues the following order, “Turn and slay the priest of the Lord; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled and did not shew it to me.” Rut the servants of the king refused to put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the Lord. The king commands Doeg, and he obeys. Then going to Nob, he smites “with the edge of the sword both men and woman, children and sucklings, and oxen, and, asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.”
Saul, including Doeg, is a rod in God’s hand by which the Lord once more smites Eli’s house and the Louse of his rattier. Even so, Saul is fully responsible. And his sin is great, be it ever so true that those priests deserved that stroke. The Lord had not commanded him. In slaying those priests, he was thinking only of himself, of the wrong that he imagined they were doing him.
One of the sons of Ahimelech, named Abiathar escaped, and came to David. He told him all that had taken place. David’s answer is significant, “I knew it that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul: I have occasioned the death of all the persons of thy father’s house.” That is true. David has occasioned the death of these persons; but the blame is not his but solely Saul’s. David had all the right to request Ahimelech for bread and arms. Rut he sinned in lying to the priest. Rut he is not on this account in the least to blame for the catastrophe that overtook the priests in Nob.
As to the house of Eli, eventually it fell through its own wickedness in the person of this very Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech. When David was old and stricken in years, Abiathar supported Adonijah, who wanted to be king. Solomon was crowned, and Adonijah once more began to plot, his aim again being to seize the kingdom; and now, too, Abiathar was among his supporters. Calling him into his presence, Solomon told him that he deserved to die and ordered him to his fields, and thus thrust him out from being priest unto the Lord,. The fall of Abiathar was the fall of the whole house of Eli’s father.