Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 22:6-23 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/16/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 22:6-23
“But With Me”
If you are a leader, it’s good to have supporters. King Saul here shows that he wants supporters. He wants allies; people that will be loyal to him and stand by him. Saul wants this, particularly with regard to David. We recall that Saul is trying to kill David. Saul sees him as a threat to his kingship. Saul has been trying to take him out. And so David has gone on the run. This is where we are at when we come to today’s passage. And in this passage, we see then how Saul is trying to gather support for his cause. Well, he doesn’t do a very good job. The more he tries to grasp onto things, the more he seems to lose, and the more David seems to gain. Saul seems to be losing support from those whom he should want as his allies, and at best gaining support from those whom he shouldn’t want as his ally. David on the other hand had started on the run all alone, and is quickly gaining more and more support. Well, as we study this passage then, we’ll have opportunity to reflect on how we are called to give our support and allegiance to Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate trajectory of today’s passage.
So then, let’s begin in our first point and see Saul’s desire for allies and supporters. This comes out clearly in verses 6-8. The passage starts off in verse 6 with a note that somehow Saul heard about David and the men who were with him. In other words, he finds out that David is on the run, and that David has begun to gain supporters and allies. David now has some men under his command. We also see in verse 8 another piece of information that Saul has somehow learned about. He’s learned about the covenant that his son Jonathan has made with David. Of course, Saul’s intelligence is either not that good, or he is just going a bit insane with conspiracy theories, because in verse 8 he seems to think that Jonathan is actually helping David to somehow attack King Saul. That was not true, of course. Jonathan is certainly showing support to David to keep David safe, but not helping him to organize a coup or anything like that.
And so look at how Saul appeals to his men in verse 7-8. He basically accuses them of siding with David. But his appeal to them is that it is against their interest to side with David. Notice that he refers to them as Benjamites. That’s their tribe. Saul is also a Benjamite. They are all part of the same tribe. He says in verse 7, “Hear now, you Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you all captains of thousands and captains of hundreds?” Remember David, son of Jesse, is of the tribe of Judah. Saul’s point is that basically if Saul is king, since they are all of the same tribe, then they will get the most benefit. But if David is king, since he is of a different tribe, they aren’t likely to get any special benefits. And so Saul is basically trying to garner their support with the promise that they’ll benefit the most under his leadership. It’s kind of like when a politician today goes to some special group of people and says if you elect the other guy, you’ll get no special treatment, but if you elect me, I promise to give you some special treatment.
But that alone is not necessarily a very righteous way to gather support, is it? I mean, there is nothing wrong with getting a reward from the leader you follow. But if you pick an evil leader because you’ll get some reward, and simultaneously reject a righteous leader, because you think you won’t get as good of rewards, then that’s not very good. And frankly, that’s what seems to be going on here. Saul continues to show himself as an evil king. David continues to show that he is a man of God and would make a good king. But Saul says they should nonetheless follow him and reject David because it is in their best interest in terms of outward rewards.
And so Saul plays the family card with them, and basically the bribery card with them. And it seems that what he is particularly wanting from them at this moment is information. He seems to be saying that you’ve kept me in the dark about matters concerning David up to this point. He’s asking them to change course and instead help him find and get rid of David. So who responds? Well, not a Benjamite. Instead Doeg an Edomite responds. In case you don’t know, an Edomite wasn’t even an Israelite. At least the tribes of Benjamin and Judah were all Israelite tribes. But this Doeg is a foreigner who doesn’t have the same religious heritage of Israel. According to 2 Chronicles 25:14 the Edomites had a polytheistic religion. And so this foreigner is the only ally Saul seems to solidify here. That doesn’t look very good! And so when the dust clears in this passage, despite Saul’s efforts, his only real ally that he gets is this Doeg the Edomite. And as we see in this passage, he’s not a godly person.
So, here, Saul makes efforts to gain supporters and allies, and comes up with only Doeg the evil Edomite. In contrast, this passages sits just after the text telling us that David had just gained four hundred men to his cause. And so you get this picture that David is not even going out seeking people, but they are flocking to him. And in contrast, Saul’s desparately trying to hold onto to his supporters, but is losing them more and more. Doeg the Edomite is not a very good prize for Saul to walk away from with this passage.
And so we see how this Doeg shows allegiance to King Saul. He helps Saul destroy people who might have been allies. You see, we’ve seen this Doeg the Edomite before. He’s the one in last chapter who was there at the Tabernacle in Nod when David came to the priests for help. And so Doeg speaks up. He, the outsider, speaks up to give some intel to King Saul. He lets them know, in a rather accusatory way, about what the priest Ahimelech did for David. And so this causes Saul to call for Ahimelech and all the priests at Nob to come before him. They do, and Saul questions Ahimelech. Ahimelech rightly professes ignorance. We saw that last chapter, he didn’t know David was on the run from Saul. He had every reason to assume the best about David. So, yes, he helped David. But he didn’t realize he was acting against Saul’s wishes. Now this is an interesting point here. At this point, Ahimelech seems like he is saying that he is supportive of King Saul. Saul might have found an ally in Ahimelech and the priests. They seem like they are loyal to him. Ahimelech essentially professes this, though he does speak to David’s character in a noble way. But sadly, Saul wouldn’t have them as allies. He would not accept what loyalty they had shown them. He rejects Ahimelech and the other priests, and has them all killed.
Of course, look at how this killing of the priests only showcases the support Saul is losing. In verse 17, Saul asks his guards to kill the priests. But of course they won’t. Surely they fear God and won’t kill the LORD’s priests, even if the kings orders them too. That’s a situation where they rightly decide to obey God over man. But we are not surprised to see this Edomite willing to do, what the Israelite guards would not do. So, this showcases that Saul is losing support among the Israelites, and the one guy who will help him is this pagan outsider. It’s interesting that last chapter we say Doeg in verse 7 at the tabernacle. It sounded like then that maybe Doeg was there worshipping God at the tabernacle. It raised the question if maybe Doeg was a convert to the one true God, like how Ruth was. Well, if he was, it surely was just an outward action. Isn’t that what people sometimes do, even today? They join a church but that doesn’t mean they really know the Lord. And it’s actions like what Doeg does here that ultimately reveal that they don’t really love the LORD. And so Doeg obeys Saul and kills 85 priests, when the others wouldn’t.
Realize that basically this is Saul wiping out the priesthood at that time. Praise the Lord that one escapes. That’s verse 21. And to Saul’s further shame and downfall, that one remaining priest flees to David. David is horrified when he hears what happens. But he takes Abiathar the priest into his care. I love verse 23. David tells Abiathar the priest, “Stay with me; do not fear. For he who seeks my life seeks your life, but with me you shall be safe.” So, again, when the dust clears in this passage, Saul has 86 less priests as potential supporters. David is plus one priest. If you play chess, you know that a bishop is a pretty nice piece to have. It’s one thing to lose some pawns, but in chess, you want to especially keep your special pieces. Here, Saul loses his priests! David didn’t have one, but because of Saul’s actions, now he does. In fact, it’s like he really has the only one left. Don’t miss the importance of this. We’ll see that as the chapters progress, David, as a man of God, will make use of Abiathar repeatedly to call upon the Lord. Saul has no one now to call upon the Lord for him — not that Saul would want that of course. But we’ll see how visionless Saul becomes, when later, since he has no priests or prophets, he resorts to consulting a medium, which is of course against God’s laws. And so Saul’s efforts to acquire supporters fails all the more when he actually destroys 85 priests who had up to this point been loyal to him.
Well, it only gets worse. After killing these priest, we then come to verse 19. Saul has the entire city where the priests lived utterly destroyed. Man, woman, child, infant, and livestock, are all devoted to destruction. Maybe you notice the irony and incredulity here. The major failure of Saul as king, what led to God rejecting him, was his refusal to obey God back in chapter 15. That was when God ordered Saul to completely destroy a pagan Amalekite city, and kill every man, woman, and child, and livestock. But he didn’t fully do that. It resulted in God rejecting him as king. And yet now Saul does what he didn’t do back then. But not to a pagan city under God’s specific orders. But to an Israelite town. And not just any Israelite town. The city where at that time God had placed his name, as represented by the priesthood being there and worshipping God there. He devotes to destruction the very heartland of the Israelite worship of their God. This man has so completely lost it. How utterly wicked. Surely even how Satanic. If you a Star Wars fan, think of how when Anakin turns to the Dark Side, becomes Darth Vader, and with evil emperor exterminates all the Jedi and turns the whole galaxy away from them. That’s a sort of an analogy of what Saul is doing here. It is so very evil.
Well, we could go on with this passage, but I’d like to turn now in our third point to start to think forward in time, to how this looks to Jesus Christ. You see, the line of King David is ultimately established. Saul can’t succeed in taking him out. God promises that through David’s line would come the ultimate Messiah King. That happens with Jesus. Down through the ages, there would be struggles with God’s people over what kind of king and leader you would follow. Some would be more like Saul, some more like David. But eventually Jesus came. Jesus was that long awaited Messiah, that son of David who would reign over an everlasting kingdom. And as Jesus started out his ministry, he began like David to gather followers. You would hope that everyone would have just flocked to him, but that wasn’t always the case. Yes, many did. But we know the religious leaders of the time tried to stop people from allying with Jesus. They wanted the peoples’ allegiance and support to be for them instead. But it wasn’t just the religious leaders who drew some people away from Jesus. But sometimes Jesus’ own teachings turned people away.
For example, I think of that passage in John 6 we read recently. That’s where Jesus told people that he was the bread of life and that they needed to feast upon him. John 6:66 says that many turned away from Jesus at that time. But the twelve remained. And when Jesus asked them about their remaining, the Apostle Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Well, that’s the truth. And that’s what Jesus has been doing ever since. He’s been gathering supporters to follow him. Not that he needs us, of course. But as king he is a gloriously gathering a people who are in allegiance to himself. Yes, the Doegs of the world won’t follow Jesus. Yes, the Sauls of the world will try to stop Jesus. But as Christians we have come to recognize that Jesus has the words of eternal life. We have come to put our hope and trust in him, and he tells us that in doing so, we have become saved. And then in turn, we are used by him to continue to gather supporters to Jesus’ cause. We call them “disciples”, of course.
It won’t always be easy in this life to follow King Jesus. Think about this in light of verse 23. David told Abiathar the priest that his life was in danger because of David. That’s the same idea for us in Christ. As we place our allegiance in Christ, we are hated because Jesus is hated. We face persecution just as Jesus faced it. Psalm 44:22, “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” That can be us! And yet just as verse 23 goes on to have David assure Abiathar that he’ll be safe with David, we know that’s true with Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are safe and secure. Now, yes, we know that’s not a simplistic safety and security. We could be persecuted or even murdered for following Christ. But we are still safe and secure. Because in Christ, we have an eternal refuge. That even if we die in this life, we will be resurrected with a new body into eternity. Jesus himself has already risen from the dead. That’s our guarantee that it will happen for us too. So we are ultimately safe and secure. The Sauls of this world can’t offer that.
It’s as it says in John 10:28. King Jesus said there, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” That’s our guarantee as Christians. That’s the promise. And so if you have not yet done so, place your allegiance in Christ. Turn from allying with the wicked. Ally with Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Follow him. Submit to him. Become his disciples.
And if you are here today having already come to ally yourself with Jesus, then celebrate. Isn’t that one of the reasons we meet each week? To celebrate that we have allied with the right person! Jesus is the right king to have! Think about it from this perspective. What did Saul tell his fellow Benjamites if they turned to follow the line of David? He said they wouldn’t get a reward. Well, I wonder what the Apostle Saul would say to King Saul about that? Remember, what tribe the Apostle Saul/Paul was from? He was a Benjamite. And so think about verse 7 again. Could Benjamites expect to get anything good from the son of Jesse? Well, the Apostle Paul did. And it was far better than just earthly vineyards, and being captains of mere earthly armies. Paul says we’ll be placed over angels and that in Christ we have the glorious riches of an eternal heavenly inheritance! And so Benjamites who trust in the greater son of Jesse have great reward. And indeed all who trust in Christ, have that great reward.
And yet the challenge Saul made to his men is still a challenge for us today. The challenge living in this life is the temptation to other rewards that aren’t really worth it. Isn’t that Deog the Edomite’s issue here? He aligns himself with Saul presumably because of the promise of earthly riches. David basically wrote about Doeg in Psalm 52:7, saying, “Here is the man who did not make God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.” May this not be said of us. Don’t buy into the lie of the world when they promise wealth and fame if you but turn away from Christ. Trust in Christ instead. Believe that the reward that comes in him is far better. Put your hope in Christ and in his coming kingdom, and you will not in any way be disappointed. Praise God for his abundant mercy that has come to us in Jesus Christ! Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.