Striking at God

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1 Samuel 22:6-23 (Saul kills the priests of Nob)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is on David and Saul, and we are in a part of the story now where David is on the run as Saul tries to hunt him down to kill him. Today’s passage marks a new low in Saul’s life when his anger against David spills out into violent action against others as Saul kills the priests of Nob. (Read 1 Samuel 22:17-18 and pray)


Our message today is about striking at God. People strike at God for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they’re mad at God. Sometimes it’s because they’re mad at the world. Sometimes it’s because they’re just mad at themselves.

You can strike at God in any number of ways. You can strike at God by cursing him or rebelling against him. You can strike at God by disregarding his law or disbelieving in him. You can strike at God by lashing out at others. You can strike at God by persecuting the church, by persecuting his people whom he loves.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you?” That’s basically what you are doing anytime you strike at God. Your first duty in life is to love and honor God your creator. God is the one who gives you life and breath and everything else. To strike at him is both evil and foolish for you are striking at the one who is the very source of your life.

Our passage today describes the great tragedy of the killing of the priests at Nob. In killing the priests of Nob, Saul was really striking at God. And as we shall see, striking at God is a great evil, great foolishness and ultimately self-defeating.

I. Paranoia and self-pity (6-10)

   A. Saul throws himself a pity party (6-8)
      – Philippians 4:4

Our passage begins with Saul throwing himself a pity party. Ever thrown yourself a pity party? If so, you know what it looks like from the inside. Well, just watch Saul here and you’ll get a good idea of what it looks like from the outside. It’s not very pretty. Look at 1 Samuel 22:6-8:

Now Saul heard that David and his men had been discovered. And Saul, spear in hand, was seated under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, with all his officials standing around him. 7 Saul said to them, “Listen, men of Benjamin! Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? 8 Is that why you have all conspired against me? No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse. None of you is concerned about me or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does today.” (1 Samuel 22:6-8)

So, Saul finally learns where David and his men are located and starts accusing his own men of withholding information from him. Saul sits under the tamarisk tree, spear in hand with all his officials standing around him. It’s a picture of royalty. But Saul displays terrible leadership here by throwing himself a pity party while accusing his men of all sorts of ridiculous conspiracies, including his son Jonathan plotting with David to overthrow the throne.

Saul is paranoid. He is not thinking clearly. His thinking is distorted by his hatred and hostility towards David. Notice he still does not address David by name but contemptuously refers to him as “the son of Jesse.”

Saul is from the tribe of Benjamin. Apparently, his officials are from the tribe of Benjamin as well. David is from the tribe of Judah, so Saul in his ranting and raving warns his men that David won’t treat them as well as he has. Saul is a terrible leader here. He is ranting, raving, paranoid, pitiful and pathetic.

Do you ever give in to self-pity? Self-pity will get you nowhere. “I threw myself a pity party, and no one showed up but me.” No one is attracted to self-pity.

Self-pity has no place in the life of the believer. Self-pity is a repudiation of God’s blessings in your life and a dangerous place to be. Oswald Chambers in his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, writes: “Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it, I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world.” (My Utmost for his Highest; November 10)

The Bible says in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Note the key phrase there is to rejoice “in the Lord!” When your eyes are on Jesus and you are conscious of God’s many blessings in your life, you won’t give in to paranoia and self-pity.

   B. Doeg acts as informer (9-10)
      – Proverbs 6:12-15

Saul’s officials remain quiet but suddenly Doeg the Edomite speaks up. Remember Doeg the Edomite? He’s the villain we met briefly back in chapter twenty-one, back when David was first on the run, back when David went to Ahimelech the priest for food and weapons. Doeg showed up tin that scene just for one verse, but we knew immediately this guy was no good. He was a shady character, and we just knew he was going to mean trouble down the road.

Well, here comes trouble. Look at 1 Samuel 22:9-10:

But Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s officials, said, “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelech son of Ahitub at Nob. 10 Ahimelech inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” (1 Samuel 22:9-10)

Doeg sees an opportunity for advancement here and acts as an informer against David and Ahimelech. Notice Doeg, like Saul, also refuses to call David by name and refers to him as “the son of Jesse.” This is a manipulative ploy to further identify with Saul and Saul’s hatred of David.

Saul throws himself a pity party, and only Doeg shows up! Doeg is a political opportunist. He takes advantage of the situation. He is self-centered and self-promoting, and he doesn’t care who gets hurt along the way.

John Calvin calls Doeg, “the consummate villain.” I think Proverbs 6:12-15 describes his type well: “A scoundrel and villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart – he always stirs up dissension. Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed – without remedy.” (Proverbs 6:12-15) Although the Bible never tells us how Doeg eventually dies, we can assume that God judged him in his own time and in his own way.

So, in this first scene we see Saul full of paranoia and self-pity. He is completely focused on himself here, not God. He is a terrible leader and pathetic to behold.

II. Accusation and intimidation (11-15)

   A. Saul wrongly accuses Ahimelech of conspiracy (11-13)
      – Proverbs 3:29-30

Now in this next scene Saul moves from paranoia and self-pity to accusation and intimidation. In response to Doeg’s new information, he summons Ahimelech and his whole family to appear before him. Look at 1 Samuel 22:11-13:

Then the king sent for the priest Ahimelech son of Ahitub and his father’s whole family, who were the priests at Nob, and they all came to the king. 12 Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.” “Yes, my lord,” he answered. 13 Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him, so that he has rebelled against me and lies in wait for me, as he does today?” (1 Samuel 22:11-13)

Notice Saul’s lack of respect for Ahimelech the high priest. Saul speaks disparagingly to him, not even addressing him by name. “Listen to me now, son of Ahitub.” Saul is bullying the priest, trying to intimidate him here. In contrast, Ahimelech responds respectfully: “Yes, my lord.”

Saul accuses Ahimelech of conspiring against him. He accuses Ahimelech of helping David and inciting David to rebellion so that David now lies in wait for the king to do him harm. Although Saul still doesn’t call David by name. He still refers to him as “the son of Jesse.”

Ahimelech has done nothing wrong, but Saul in his paranoia accuses him of aiding the enemy. This is a serious accusation, especially coming from the king. Aiding the enemy was considered treason which would be punishable by death. It’s an accusation, but it’s a false accusation against a man who has never done Saul any harm but only served him faithfully and well.

Saul doesn’t have all the facts here. He is operating off of rumor and hearsay. Ahimelech’s motives are pure, and yet he is accusing Ahimelech of conspiring against him.

Proverbs 3:29-30 says: “Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason – when he has done you no harm.” (Proverbs 3:29-30)

Have you ever accused someone for no reason? Judged someone before learning all the facts? Bullied or intimidated someone just because you could? That’s Saul here, and once again it’s all because Saul is focused on himself rather than God. His pathetic self-pity suddenly turns outward into accusation and intimidation.

   B. Ahimelech boldly speaks up for David and himself (14-15)
      – Proverbs 31:8-9

After Saul accuses him, Ahimelech boldly speaks up for David and himself. Look at 1 Samuel 22:14-15:

Ahimelech answered the king, “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king’s son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard and highly respected in your household? 15 Was that day the first time I inquired of God for him? Of course not! Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair.” (1 Samuel 22:14-15)

Notice, unlike Saul, Ahimelech does refer to David by name. And very boldly he speaks up in David’s defense. Ahimelech would have made a good lawyer. He puts forth an eloquent and powerful defense for David here. He tells Saul five things about David.

First, he calls David Saul’s servant: “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David?” Secondly, he affirms David’s loyalty to the king. Thirdly, he reminds Saul that David is the king’s son-in-law. Fourthly, he reminds Saul that David is the captain of Saul’s bodyguard. In other words, David is there to protect and defend Saul, not to harm him. And then fifthly, he points out that David is highly respected in Saul’s household. Ahimelech knows that he is taking his life into his own hands here, but as a faithful priest before the Lord he bravely defends David to Saul’s face.

Ahimelech also speaks up in self-defense. He tells Saul that when he inquired of the Lord for David that day, he did nothing new. He had inquired of God for David before. Ahimelech also calls himself Saul’s servant. And then finally he tells Saul he knew nothing about the whole affair. He has done nothing wrong against Saul and neither has his family. They are all innocent.

David isn’t there to defend himself, so Ahimelech speaks up for him. Proverbs 31:8-9 says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Ahimelech risks his life by speaking up for David here. He speaks up and judges fairly. We also need to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. We need to make certain that people are judged and treated fairly, even if we put ourselves at risk in the process.

III. Striking at God (16-23)

   A. Saul orders; the guards refuse (16-17)
      – Acts 5:29

Ahimelech finishes his defense, and now it’s Saul’s turn. But instead of listening to Ahimelech, Saul now moves from pity of self and intimidation of others to outright striking at God. Notice the progression from inward (self-pity) to outward (intimidation) to upward (striking at God). Once again, self-pity can lead you places you don’t want to go. Look at 1 Samuel 22:16-17:

But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelech, you and your father’s whole family.” 17 Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.” But the king’s officials were not willing to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord. (1 Samuel 22:16-17)

In ordering his guards to kill the priests, Saul is really striking at God. Notice Saul even calls the priests “the priests of the Lord.” Saul know that the priests are God’s chosen representatives, and you know what? He really doesn’t care. Saul is mad at David, he is mad at his officers, he is mad at the world. And he is mad at God.

The guards refuse to obey. In refusing to obey Saul they know they are taking their own lives into their hands, but they are not about to kill the priests of the Lord. They understand what a great evil this would be before the Lord. They understand that striking God’s priests is really striking at God himself, and their fear of God is greater than their fear of Saul.

It’s similar to Peter and the apostles in the book of Acts when they refused to obey the command to stop talking about Jesus. What did they tell the council? “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29) They knew they were also risking their lives, but they put God first and refused to give in to fear.

   B. Doeg slaughters the priests and town (18-19)
      – 1 Samuel 2:31-32; Zechariah 2:8

The guard refuse to obey Saul, so Saul turns to Doeg next. Look at 1 Samuel 22:18-19:

The king then 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 also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep. (1 Samuel 22:18-19)

Saul turns to Doeg, and Doeg strikes down the priests and kills them. Doeg kills eighty-five priests that day, eighty-five men wearing the linen ephod, the sign of their official priesthood before the Lord. It is a total massacre.

But Doeg doesn’t stop there. Doeg not only kills all eighty-five priests. He also slaughters their entire town – men, women, children and infants, cattle, donkeys and sheep. If you remember, this was what Saul was supposed to do with the enemy Amalekites back in 1 Samuel 15. What Saul refused to do to the enemy, he now perpetrates against his own people in one of his own towns, and not only that but the town of the priests!

Zechariah 2:8 says concerning God’s people: “Whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye.” (Zechariah 2:8) Striking at God’s people is the same as striking at God, and so Saul in killing the priests is really striking at God.

This is actually the fulfillment of a prophecy that was made against Eli and his family back in the days of Samuel the prophet. Eli was priest when Samuel was a boy, and Eli’s family so dishonored the Lord that God sent a prophet with a word of judgment against Eli and his family.

God said this to Eli in 1 Samuel 2:31-32: “The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man.” (1 Samuel 2:31-32)

This prophecy is now fulfilled in the killing of the priests of Nob at the hands of Saul and Doeg. Just because it was prophesied does not excuse the unrighteous actions of Saul and Doeg anymore than the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross was prophesied excuses the actions of those who crucified Christ.

We mentioned back in 1 Samuel 23 when David lied to Ahimelech about his reasons for being there that there would be terrible consequences. And now those consequences have arrived. Saul and Doeg slaughter the priests of Nob along with all the townspeople.

   C. David accepts responsibility (20-23)
      – Psalm 52:1-9; Proverbs 28:13

One of the priests escapes and goes to David. Look at 1 Samuel 22:20-23:

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. 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.” (1 Samuel 22:20-23)

So, Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, escapes and comes to David with the terrible news that Saul has killed the priests of the Lord. David accepts responsibility, for he knew Doeg was there the day he sought help from Abimelech. He offers shelter and protection to Abiathar, thus preserving the priestly line.

Look at the contrasts between Saul and David here. Saul is ultimately responsible for the deaths of the priests, but David accepts the blame. Saul destroys the priests, but David protects and preserves the remaining priest. Saul forfeits the counsel of the priests in his life, but David gains a priest and advisor for the rest of his life.

Proverbs 28:13 says: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) David recognizes that he was wrong to lie to Ahimelech when he came to Ahimelech looking for food and weapons. He confesses his sin and accepts responsibility for his actions.

David would later write a psalm about this incident. We have seen how some of the psalms have titles or inscription at the beginning that give you the historical background of the psalm. The inscription for Psalm 52 says this: “When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.’”

When you read Psalm 52 you can see that David is writing about Doeg and people like him. “Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?… Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin…. The righteous will see and fear; they will laugh at him, saying, ‘Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!’” (Psalm 52:1,5-7)

Psalm 52 is the last we hear about Doeg in the Bible. Doeg grew strong by destroying others and joins a long line of evildoers who struck at God by persecuting God’s people. I think of Soviet Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. In 1922 as part of the effort to eliminate religion the Soviets killed 2,691 priests, 1,962 monks, and 3,447 nuns. The Soviets made Doeg seem mild by comparison. (See Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God, p. 133)

CONCLUSION: As we can see from our passage this morning, striking at God is a great evil, great foolishness and ultimately self-defeating. In killing the priests of Nob, Saul cut himself off from his own men. He cut himself off from the priests. And he cut himself off from God.

Striking at God is a great evil because God is holy, and God is good. Striking at God is great foolishness because God is so much stronger than you. Striking at God is ultimately self-defeating because when you strike at God, you are cutting yourself off from the only one who can truly help you.

In one sense, every time we sin, we strike at God. Every time we sin, we declare our independence from God and our rebellion against him. It was our sin which caused Jesus to go to the cross. Every time we sin against God, we are striking at God. It is as though we are literally striking the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet all over again. We need to confess our sin and trust Christ’s death for us on the cross. We need to be a David when it comes to our sins, not a Doeg.

May we all recognize this morning the love and worship we owe God as our creator. May we recognize the terrible depth of our sin, and the great sacrifice Jesus made to save us. May we all recognize the great evil and foolishness of striking at God.

© Ray Fowler

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