Theme: David and Ahimelech
This week’s lessons remind us that those who do evil will eventually receive the judgment of God, and that in response to this truth we as Christians are to praise the Lord for his righteousness and trust in God’s unfailing love.
Scripture: Psalm 52:1-9
The heading for Psalm 52 gives the historical setting as one of the most bitter experiences in the life of David: “When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.’”
As a result of this report and at Saul’s command, eighty-five of the priests of Nob together with their wives, children and the citizens of the town of Nob were killed by Doeg. David had two responses to this tragic massacre that have been recorded for us. The first is in verses 22 and 23 of 1 Samuel 22, where the story itself is recorded. The second is our psalm. In the first of these responses David recognized and confessed his own unwitting responsibility for the massacre. In the second he documented the primary and deliberate wickedness of Doeg, who is the “evil… mighty man” of the psalm (v. 1).
But first the story. David had been forced to flee Jerusalem after his sad parting with Jonathan in the field outside the city, and he had come to Nob, one of the cities of the priests. Ahimelech was the chief priest, and David presented himself to Ahimelech, asking for help. Ahimelech must have suspected that something was wrong because David had come unarmed and alone, without his customary band of soldiers. We are told that Ahimelech trembled when he saw David. But David lied to him, saying that Saul had sent him on a secret errand and that he had arranged to meet his soldiers later. Then he asked for food and was given the consecrated bread that had been on the Table of Shewbread, presented to the Lord. Because David had no weapon Ahimelech also gave him the sword of Goliath which had been kept in the sanctuary at Nob and was the only weapon available.
In the midst of this story we find the solemn notation: “Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the LORD; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd” (1 Sam. 21:7).
In the next chapter the scene shifts to a hillside at Gibeah where King Saul was assembled with his officials and personal military guard. The king was feeling sorry for himself and isolated, because he had heard that David was gathering supporters in Judah, he knew that Jonathan was David’s friend and had made a covenant of friendship with him, and no one was sharing any of this with him or telling him what else was going on.
Sadly, Doeg was present, and seeing this as an opportunity to insinuate himself into even greater favor with the king, Doeg volunteered, “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelech son of Ahitub at Nob. Ahimelech inquired of the LORD for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine” (1 Sam. 22:9, 10). This infuriated Saul. So Saul called for Ahimelech and accused him of conspiring against him.
Ahimelech replied correctly that no one in the kingdom was more loyal to Saul than David. Besides, how was he to know there was a problem between David and the king? When David came to Nob, he assisted David just as he had done many times previously and would expect to do always.
Saul was irrational: “You will surely die, Ahimelech, you and your father’s whole family,” he said (v. 16). But when Saul ordered his guards to kill the priests they refused to do so, considering it sacrilege to lift a hand against the anointed servants of the LORD.
Saul then ordered Doeg to kill the priests, and he did: “So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 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” (vv. 18, 19). One man, Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, escaped by fleeing to David, who took him in and protected him. It was to Abiathar that David confessed his own unwitting part in this terrible tragedy: “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” (v. 22). That is the story behind Psalm 52.
What is the historical background for this part of the life of David? What is he doing at this time?
Who is Doeg, and what is the connection between him and David?
How do we know Doeg was evil?
For Further Study: James Boice’s studies in the Psalms are not only very practical, but are also instructive in helping us to learn about the various historical settings for when particular psalms were written. Order your copy of his three-volume set, and receive 25% off the regular price.