Massacre and Safeguard
1 Samuel 22:18-23
And the king said to Doeg, Turn you, and fall on the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell on the priests…

The tragic interest of this passage groups itself about four men:

(1) the furious king;

(2) the cruel officer;

(3) the innocent priest;

(4) the self-reproaching hero.

I. SAUL AND HIS MAD TYRANNY. How much allowance may be made for actual insanity in the king God only knows. But it must not be forgotten that the disorder of his mind was largely due to his own indulgence of fierce and arrogant passions, and his wilful refusal to obey the commands of the Lord and the guidance of his prophet. He had now become quite furious in his jealousy of David and in his suspicion of all around him as plotting his downfall. Unable to capture David, he turned fiercely on those whom he supposed to be aiding and abetting him in rebellion; and the homicidal mania which he had already betrayed in hurling his javelin at David, and even at Jonathan, now broke out against the innocent priests. When one begins to indulge a bad passion, how little he can tell the length to which it may carry him! We remember how Saul at the outset of his reign would not have a man in Israel put to death on his account. But now he had no pity on the innocent. Nothing can be more shocking than the hardness of heart which disregarded the noble defence of the priests against unjust accusation, and condemned them and their families to immediate death. By this Saul forfeits all claim to our sympathy. He is a bloodstained tyrant. Nero on his accession to the imperial dignity at Rome showed a similar reluctance to sign a legal sentence of death on a criminal, and yet broke forth into horrid cruelty at the age of seventeen. Saul was not so precocious in cruelty, and seems to have been free from other vices that made Nero infamous. But it should be considered, on the other hand, that Saul had knowledge of Jehovah, while Nero knew only the gods of Rome; and that though Nero had a great teacher in Seneca, Saul had a still greater in Samuel. There is no palliation of his conduct admissible unless on the plea of disease of the brain - an excuse which may also be advanced in behalf of such wretches as Antiochus Epiphanes and the Emperor Caligula. The lesson of admonition is that wickedness has horrible abysses unseen at first. Stop short at the beginnings of evil. Check your peril, calm your anger, correct your suspicions, hold back your hasty javelin; for if you lose self-control and a good conscience there is hardly any depth of injustice and infatuation to which you may not fall.

II. DOEG AND HIS RUTHLESS SWORD. Cruel masters make cruel servants. Tyrants never lack convenient instruments. Caligula, Nero, and Domitian had favourites and freedmen ready to stimulate their jealous passions and carry out their merciless commands. At Saul's elbow stood such a wretch, Doeg the Edomite. The repeated mention of this officer's extraction seems to imply that he was actuated by the hereditary jealousy of Israel which filled the descendants of Esau, and took a malicious pleasure in widening the gulf between Saul and David and slaying the priests of Israel's God. With his own hand he cut them down, when the Israelite officers shrank from the bloody deed; and no doubt it was he who executed the inhuman sentence against the women and children at Nob, and smote the very "oxen, asses, and sheep with the edge of the sword." Doeg has had many followers in those who have with fiendish relish tortured and slain the servants of our Lord and of his Christ. And indeed all who, without raising the hand of violence, take part with malicious purpose against servants of God, who misrepresent them and stab their reputations,, are of one spirit with this Edomite whose memory is cursed.

III. AHIMELECH IN HIS INTEGRITY. How fine the contrast between the calm bearing of the chief priest on the one hand, and the unreasoning fury of Saul and truculent temper of Doeg on the other! How straightforward was the vindication of Ahimelech! If Saul had not been blind with passion he must have seen its transparent truth and noble candour. When it became known through the land that Ahimelech and the priests had been killed by the king's order on a mere suspicion of disaffection which was false, a thrill of horror must; have run through many bosoms, and those who feared the Lord must have had sore misgiving that he had forsaken his people and his land. Under such mishaps in later times similar fears have been awakened. Indeed men have been tempted to question whether there be any God of righteousness and truth actually governing the world; for the virtuous suffer, the innocent are crushed, might overrules right, victory seems to he to the proud and not the lowly. It is useless to deny that there are strange defeats of goodness and truth, and that blows fall on heads that seem least to deserve them. All that we can do is to cleave to our belief, firm on its own grounds, that God is, and to say that the calamities complained of have his permission for some good ends in his far reaching purpose. At all events we can go no further into the mystery on a survey of this present life. But there is another, and in it lies the abundant recompense for present wrongs. It seems strange that a life so precious as that of Paul should have been assailed, bruised, and finally taken by violence for no crime, but for the name of Jesus. But Paul himself has given us some clue to the compensation: "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Ahimelech and the priests, we may be sure, though they suffered not directly for Christ, but on account of his human ancestor, lost nothing, but gained much, by forfeiting their lives in innocence.

IV. DAVID AND HIS SELF-REPROACH. News of this massacre must have shocked all thoughtful men in Israel, and deepened the distrust with which Saul was now regarded. David, when he heard of it, felt, besides horror and indignation, a bitter pang of self-reproach. It was he who had played on the simplicity of the priests at Nob, and so had given occasion to Doeg to accuse them. Would that he had gone without bread, whatever the consequence to himself, rather than have exposed so many innocent persons to such a cruel fate! And now the horrid deed was done, and quite past remedy. What a lesson against crafty strokes and plausible pretexts! One may gain his point at the time by such devices, but after consequences little expected may fall on some innocent head; and surely there is no sting so sharp in the conscience of an honourable man as the feeling that, for his own safety or interest, he has misled his own friends, and unwittingly brought disaster on them. We can believe that David, on hearing what Abiathar told him, was bowed down with shame such as he never yet had needed to feel. In this respect he failed to typify Christ. Our Lord had no self-reproach to bear. He never had recourse to subterfuge, and no guile was found in his mouth. Those who have suffered for his sake have not been led into the risk of death unwittingly. It was of some comfort to David that he could give protection to Abiathar. "He that seeketh my life seeketh thy life." We have a common enemy. Thy life is in peril on my account; therefore stay with me; "thou shalt be in safeguard." Here we do seem to hear the voice of Christ in a figure. "If the world hate you, ye know," etc. (John 15:18-20). Our Lord gives his people safeguard with himself. "Abide in me." "Continue in my love." Such words are dear to mourners. As David gave to Abiathar immediate and sympathetic attention, so the Son of David hearkens at once to those who repair to him with the tale of their mishap and grief. He will take them all under the guarantee of his faithful safeguard. Whatever solace it is possible to have in this world they have who abide with him. And no one can pluck them out of his hand. - F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod.

WEB: The king said to Doeg, "Turn and attack the priests!" Doeg the Edomite turned, and he attacked the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five people who wore a linen ephod.

Doeg the Edomite
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