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Saul, part 15

David in the Cave of Adullam; Saul's Slaughter of the Priests.

1 Samuel 22

DRIVEN from the abodes of men, David now betakes himself, for shelter and concealment, to a wild and solitary cavern, which has become famous as the cave of Adullam. This was situated in the land of Judah, near a city of the same name; so that David was now in the dwelling-place of his own tribe and family. Adullam must have been a capacious hold, when it could afford shelter for four hundred men. Adullam may be regarded as the cave, not of despair, but of desperation. If the instincts of animals have their analogies in the tempers of men, as no doubt they have, David, pursued to the death by his enemies, is now, like the hunted stag at bay, ready to turn upon his pursuers. His pursuers do not, however, immediately follow him to his wild retreat; but from this time he begins to assume a defensive and an offensive attitude. On the other hand, his brethren and all his father's house went down to him. "And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves to him; and he became a captain over them." What reason his family had for joining David and sharing his fortunes, or misfortunes, we do not learn, but we may see the spiritual lesson which the circumstance contains. When, in the progress of the regenerate life, the spiritual principle has so far passed through the furnace of affliction as to have become purified, though not yet seven times, it acquires new lustre and power, and becomes therefore of greater value, and is more highly esteemed. When the spiritual affection acquires purity by abstinence from sensual indulgence, and strength by eating the bread of the sanctuary and arming itself with the sword of truth, it draws around it and subordinates to it all the natural affections, which then become, like David's adherents, instruments of power. David's brethren and his father's house are the natural affections that bear the nearest relationship to the spiritual. The motley crowd of distressed, bankrupt, and discontented Israelites that flocked to him have rather a suspicious appearance. And yet they may have had but too good ground for their distress and poverty and discontent. Saul's temper and the self-inflicted harassment in which he lived, afford too much reason for the suspicion that his government was neither wise nor just, and that distress and poverty and discontent had naturally sprung up under it. It is not surprising, therefore, that some of these sufferers should have gone to David in the cave, the very name of which seems to promise the redress of their wrongs and grievances, for Adullam means the justice of the people. They had also in all probability become aware of his having been anointed king, and convinced that he would occupy the throne. They might thus look upon him as their real though not yet actual sovereign, and follow him accordingly. Spiritually understood, these disaffected ones that gathered themselves to David, are the natural thoughts and affections that have become distressed, impoverished, and discontented under the rule of merely natural ends and in the pursuit of merely natural objects, and who desire to place themselves under the government of spiritual ends and engage in the pursuit of spiritual objects. These states and the change from the rule of the natural to that of the spiritual mind extends to the whole man; for distress is a state of the will, poverty is a state of the understanding, and discontent is a state of the life. That David became a captain over those who gathered themselves to him does not necessarily imply that he was not also regarded as their king; for Saul was anointed "captain "over the Lord's inheritance. It implies, however, that they acknowledged him as their leader, and were willing to fight under his banner. The ultimate object of conflict is the conjunction of goodness and truth, and the consequent union of the natural and the spiritual in man. This state is not yet complete. David's followers are as yet only about four hundred men. They have not reached that number which is expressive of completeness and conjunction.

David's precarious condition induced him to seek a safer and better asylum for his parents than his gloomy and comfortless cave afforded them. He "went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said to the king of Moab, Let my father and mother, I pray you, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me. And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold." We are not told what personal connection or intimacy existed between David and the king of Moab; but there was a blood-relationship between them, which made David's assignment of his father and mother to the king's care an appropriate and significant act. The Moabites and the Israelites were the descendants of the two brothers, Abraham and Lot, although the blood of the Moabites was vitiated by Moab being the fruit of an incestuous connection between Lot and his eldest daughter. Yet the two streams, after flowing apart for eight hundred years, again united in Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David; for Obed was the son of Ruth, a Moabitess. Singularly, Boaz, the husband of Ruth and father of Obed, was a descendant of Judah by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Both of these, with other impure streams, ultimately met in the Messiah, that in His veins might flow the blood of all men, even the most impure, so that in and by Him all its impurities might be purged out, and humanity made perfect, and the origin and pattern of all human perfection. Moab, we have seen,  represented those who are principled in natural goodness; and the truth of this good, when favourably disposed, may afford succour and protection to interior goodness and truth, as the king of Moab did to the father and mother of David all the time he was in the hold. This is the last we hear of the father and mother of David. According to Jewish tradition, the king of Moab destroyed them, but the Scriptures are silent, and there is nothing to indicate that such was their fate.

A vengeful act of Saul, strongly contrasting with the hospitable conduct of the king of Moab, is recorded in the subsequent part of this chapter. The prophet Gad had told David not to abide in the hold, but to get him into the land of Judah. David did not pass at once from the obscurity and confinement of the cave into the light and freedom of the open country, but came into the forest of Hareth; he passed from a more to a less obscure state, one in which there was more of life and therefore of hope.

Saul, who had lost sight of David, now heard that he was discovered. Sitting under a great tree in Gibeah, he upbraided his servants, who stood around, with conspiring against him, none of them showing him that his son had made a league with the son of Jesse, who stirred up his servant against him, to lie in wait as at that day. Then Doeg the Edomite, who, as recorded in chapter 21, was present when Ahimelech the priest gave David the hallowed bread and the sword of Goliath, related this to Saul. The king sent for Ahimelech, and not only for him, but for all his father's house, and for the priests that were in Nob: and they came all of them to the king. In answer to Saul, who accused him of conspiracy, the priest urged the claim of David to his aid, as the most faithful of the king's servants, his son-in-law, ready to go at his bidding, and honourable in his house; he pleaded also his own ignorance of the real circumstances under which his aid was required. Saul did not want reasons, and was in no mood to listen to the claims of justice. He thirsted for vengeance. He called to his footmen that stood about him to turn and slay the priests of the Lord; and when they refused, he ordered Doeg, who "fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword."

This terrible and indiscriminate slaughter, so much like some others recorded in the Bible, affords painful evidence of the merciless spirit of the times as well as of the cruel temper of Saul. Yet there is this mysterious circumstance connected with it, that the destruction of the priests was the carrying out of a sentence that had been pronounced upon the house of Eli, that the Lord would cut off his arm, and the arm of his father's house, that there should not be an old man in his house, but all the increase of his house should die in the flower of their age (1 Sam 2:31-33). Our remarks on the Divine judgement upon the Amalekites, which Saul was sent to execute, will apply to the present case. When there are evils in a family or a race that cannot be eradicated, it is of the Divine Providence, because it is in the very nature of things, that they should become extinct. The only difference between the cases recorded in the Bible and those we find in history is, that the Bible shows us the hand of God, and history leaves us to discover it; the Bible reveals the connection between the cause and the effect, and history leaves us to trace it. Some of the causes assigned in Scripture for the destruction of families and nations will appear to the mere historian as inadequate and even arbitrary, having not so much a moral as a religious ground. There is a sufficient reason for this. All moral conditions have their roots in spiritual states; for the spiritual in man forms the inmost and enduring part of his nature: this is eternal, all other is temporary. His spiritual state and his resulting eternal condition are, therefore, the principal, and indeed the only, objects of the Divine care. In the case of Eli, religious laxity resulted in great moral corruption. His sons made themselves vile and he restrained them not.

But is there any connection between the death of these persons and Saul's ostensible reason for slaying them?

If we take the merely literal sense of the history of this transaction, it presents a humiliating view of human nature. David obtained aid from the high priest, by representing himself as engaged in Saul's business. Saul slew the priest for succouring David, although the priest, in succouring David, thought he was serving Saul. The priest seems the only innocent one of the three, and yet the only sufferer. There is no doubt a moral lesson to be derived from this. It shows the terrible result of deceit on the one hand and of unscrupulous selfishness on the other. But the facts must teach some lesson still higher than this, though not inconsistent with it.

A key to the spiritual meaning of the circumstances we are now considering seems to be supplied by the 52nd Psalm, which David wrote "when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and said to him, David is come to the house of Ahimelech." There is a different opinion as to whether the psalm itself refers to Doeg or to Saul. It is true that the simple narrative does not furnish just ground for concluding that Doeg was inspired by hatred of David and used deceit and lying to cause him mischief; but there may have been particulars known but not recorded which would justify David in ascribing these faults to him; and we know that when all the other attendants of the king shrank from perpetrating so sacrilegious a crime as slaying the priests of the Lord, even at the king's bidding, Doeg at once obeyed Saul's command, and performed the dreadful act, and afterwards carried the carnage into the city of the priests itself, leaving nothing that breathed. It appears to me, therefore, that the psalm refers to Doeg, and that he is considered as the real author of the mischief.

Now Doeg was an Edomite. Edom is mentioned in Scripture both in a good and in a bad sense, a circumstance that applies to many other persons and to most things in the Word, because in the Church, what is good and true, in the course of time, by various adulterations, degenerates into what is evil and false. In a good sense Edom signifies the good of the natural mind, to which the doctrinals of truth are adjoined; the opposite of which is self-love, to which false principles are adjoined. We cannot doubt that Doeg the Edomite here sustains this representative character. The chief of Saul's herdsmen, he was a wolf in sheep's clothing, and readily turned against and greedily devoured the shepherds of the Lord's flock. True he did this at Saul's bidding, but it was he who supplied Saul with an excuse for his conduct. Whether intentionally or not, he was the means of embittering Saul's hatred of David and inflaming him with wrath against the whole priesthood. Doeg therefore is the evil of self-love which, by falsity, stirs up and increases the inherent enmity of the natural against the spiritual, and induces it to seek the destruction of internal good by which internal truth has been strengthened. For although the slaughter of the priests may have been a judgement upon the house of Eli, yet the priestly function itself is holy, even although the persons who exercise it may be tainted with impurity, and Saul's crime was no less, although in committing it he unknowingly performed an act of retribution.

But the priesthood, though visited with this exterminating slaughter, was not entirely destroyed. One of the sons of Ahimelech, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David. This is one of several instances recorded in the Word, of the attempt to make a complete destruction being defeated by the escape of one. When Abimelech slew his brethren, the sons of Jerubbaal, being seventy persons, upon one stone, Jotham the youngest was left, for he hid himself (Judges 9:5). When Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal. But Jehosheba, the daughter of king Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king's sons which were slain, and hid him in the bed-chamber of Athaliah, so that he was not slain (2 Kings 11:1, 2). These, with the present instance, were but types of the far more momentous escape of the child Jesus from the slaughter of the innocents. When man desires to make a complete end, God preserves a seed alive. "Except the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like Gomorrah" (Isa 1:9). True indeed is this in the case of the infant Saviour; but it is true also of the Church in the world and in the human mind. Whatever destruction of the principles of life—spiritual and eternal—may be effected by the will of man, the Lord in His mercy preserves a remnant, otherwise salvation would be impossible. When man destroys these principles in his natural mind, the Lord preserves a remnant in his spiritual mind, drawing it inwards, where it may be in safety from the power of the destroyer. So David said to Abiathar, "Abide with me, fear not: for he that seeks my life seeks your life: but with me you shall be in safeguard." David regarded himself as having occasioned the death of all these persons. The spiritual occasions the deadly activities of the natural, in the same sense that the Spirit is said to have occasioned the sufferings of Jesus, when He was led up of the Spirit to be tempted of the devil (Matt 4:11). The occasion is with the spiritual, the cause is in the natural. The spirit leads up, and the flesh draws down; hence the conflict. The victory, as in the Lord's death, may seem to be on Satan's side, but the resurrection proves the triumph to be on the part of the sufferer. So says the Psalmist in reference to the present case: "You love all devouring words, O you deceitful tongue. God shall likewise destroy you for ever, He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling-place, and root you out of the land of the living. But I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will praise You for ever, because You have done it; and I will wait on Your name; for it is good before Your saints" (Ps 52).

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