Sunday, February 3, 2019

Abiathar (1 Sam 22:18-23)

Abiathar—A protected friend (1 Sam 22:18-23)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

Do you ever feel trapped between a rock and a hard place? The situation is embarrassing, but you have nowhere to turn.
One evening Jackie and her teenage daughter Kim were out shopping when Kim decided to make a purchase. She greeted the cashier with only a "Hi," then proceeded to dig nervously in her wallet. She was having obvious trouble counting out the correct bills and change. But rather than help, the cashier simply stood and watched while Kim fumbled and mumbled her way to the correct amount. Finally, the transaction was complete. As Jackie and Kim were walking to the car, Kim turned to her mother and said, "That was my math tutor."
Do you ever feel trapped between a rock and a hard place? That is how Abiathar the high priest may have felt, trapped between David, the commander of Israel, and Saul, the king of Israel.

Among David's Companions is the priest Abiathar—A protected friend, whose relationship with David forms out of his concern for the cleric's safety when David learns that King Saul is trying to kill him. The king thinks Abiathar has "conspired" (22:13) with David against him. Abiathar does help David but not for some nefarious purpose. David visits the priest at Nob, having had to leave the court suddenly with no time to pack adequate supplies:
David asked [Abiathar] "Don't you have a spear or a sword here? I haven't brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king's business was urgent [giving Abiathar 'plausible deniability']." The priest replied, "The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one." David said, "There is none like it; give it to me." (1 Sam 21:8-9)
Doeg, a minor functionary in the king's court ("Saul's head shepherd" I Sam 21:7), informs Saul of this encounter: "I saw the son of Nob. [The high priest] gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine." (1 Sam 22:9-10) The report fuels Saul's paranoia and leads to his turning against the religious community at Nob. Later, Doeg becomes the king's executioner, and as an Edomite, he has "no qualms about killing Israelite priests [willing] to do what Saul's Israelite officials refused to do" (Youngblood 1992:736).

I. Saul slaughters the families of Nob (1 Sam 22:18-19).
1 Sam 22:18 The king 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 put to the sword [all of] Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys, and sheep.
A. He kills all the people.
Although the priests and Levites live in cities throughout the land, they congregate in some locations. Nob is one of those locations, probably near Jerusalem, with a concentration of the clergy. It is also where Abiathar's family lives. By killing all the inhabitants of the city, Saul hopes the net of his extermination program will catch the high priest as well. Saul either does not realize that Abiathar is with David and no longer in the city or he orders these executions out of spite.
B. He kills all the livestock.
If Saul's goal is to eliminate the high priest, this is excessive. Besides, why destroy healthy animals? Perhaps he remembers the trouble his sparing other animals caused when he went to war against the Amalekites, and now he wants to avoid similar criticism (although God would certainly not condemn the kindness of letting these animals live). Moreover, the residents here are Israelites not Canaanites. Perhaps by destroying everything, the king hopes to discourage any close scrutiny of his actions and whatever curiosity it might bring .

Application: God does not always explain the rationale for His instruction. Sometimes, God makes the reason for His command obvious. For example, the Israelites are to treat the cities they encounter differently. They may accept surrender from cities outside Canaan but must destroy cities inside Canaan. The reason for the difference in treatment is clear—the closer the city the greater the temptation to transgression: "They will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God" (Deut 20:18). Other times, God leaves the reason for His command obscure. For example, the Israelites are to treat potential food sources they encounter differently. They may eat beef but must eschew pork. The reason for the difference in cuisine is unclear, merely that one is ceremonially clean and the other is ceremonially unclean. Whether or not God explains His rationale, He expects His people to comply with His commands. That was why God provided bread in the wilderness for the Israelites to gather six days each week but required them to rest on the seventh day: "In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions" (Exod 16:4c). In the end, every command God gives, whether or not He provides a reason, is a test of your compliance—to see if you will follow His instructions.

The high priest gets away from Saul's purge at Nob and manages to find refuge with David's men in Moab.

II. Abiathar joins the forces of David (1 Sam 22:20-21).
1 Sam 22:20 But Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub, escaped and fled to join David. 21 He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD.
A. He escapes the slaughter.
The biblical author does not explain the reason for Saul's animosity toward the priests. He simply says the king kills them all, but Abiathar manages to get away.
B. He reports the slaughter.
This attack on their city probably comes as quite a surprise to them, one they do not anticipate, especially its brutality, and one Abiathar then has to explain to David. The narrator does not record David's reaction when he hears the priest's report, perhaps abject horror that the king would attack and destroy one of his own cities.

Application: Abiathar may think that his life is over, that what little is left will only be on the run from place to place as he tries to stay ahead of an ever-pursuing Saul. Does the priest wonder where he went wrong, what he did to deserve such instability?

Many events in life do not have a satisfying explanation for why they occur. They seem to happen without any discernible rhyme or reason, or you may wonder if they are the result of something you did wrong. In any case, such events are not random. Even if they are at man's direction and not for your benefit, such events are always at God's direction and, if you meet the one criterion (i.e., if you love God), He ensures that they work to your advantage. In other words, no events are without purpose or benefit for God's people. As He assures those about to go into the Babylonian exile, "I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer 29:11). Similarly, Paul says, "In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). if you love God, then He certifies that your life will have meaning, that your life will matter in the scheme of eternity. You cannot ask for greater satisfaction than that.

Abiathar goes on the run from Saul. David takes him in as well as those with him. Now with his own soldiers and their families, David has several more mouths to feed.'

III. David accepts the flood of refugees (1 Sam 22:22-23).
1 Sam 22:22 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 father's whole family. 23 Stay with me; don't be afraid; the man who is seeking your life is seeking mine also. You will be safe with me."
A. He realizes his own responsibility.
David and the men loyal to him flee from the king's court. The movement he began has grown to include the religious community and members of their families, an ever-burgeoning group that his reputation is attracting. David assumes culpability for the massacre ("I am responsible" v. 22) as well as for the aftermath, for he must now lead the survivors ("Stay with me" v. 23).
B. He guarantees the priest's safety.
The latest addition to their assembly is a group of clergy lead by Abiathar himself, who finds sanctuary with the young commander ("You will be safe with me" v. 23). The high priest has with him the holy vestments and the ephod, which he uses to provide guidance and which is no longer available to the king because: "Abiathar...brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David" (1 Sam 23:6). It is this desideratum that causes the king to seek guidance elsewhere.

Application: Although the high priest's ephod has long-since disappeared from the assembly of Israel, God still provides guidance today, but He does so primarily through two other means—scripture and prayer:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Ps 119:105)
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Prov 3:6)
The chief prerequisite for all those who seek His guidance has also not changed in thousands of years. It is still obedience:
May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. (Ps 119:173)
These three factors—scripture, prayer, and obedience—remain the most important considerations for God's people today who seek His guidance.

Conclusion: Among David's Companions is Abiathar—A protected friend, whose relationship with David forms out of obligation. The young fugitive's own flight from Saul has inadvertently caused a rift between the monarchy and the clergy, one for which David now feels responsible. Moreover, the high priest's defection marks a significant change in the make-up of the group that pledges its allegiance to David. No longer just a band of rebels, those who follow him now include a most influential segment of Israelite society, and one whose security places an extra burden on David to ensure.

For the Footnotes and Bibliography see the pdf here.

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