Containing The Interval Of Thirty Two Years.
From The Death Of Eli To The Death Of Saul.
How David Fled To Ahimelech And Afterwards To The Kings Of The Philistines And Of the Moabites, And How Saul Slew Ahimelech And His Family.
1. BUT David fled from the king, and that death he was in danger of by him, and came to the city Nob, to Ahimelech the priest, who, when he saw him coming all alone, and neither a friend nor a servant with him, he wondered at it, and desired to learn of him the cause why there was nobody with him. To which David answered, That the king had commanded him to do a certain thing that was to be kept secret, to which, if he had a mind to know so much, he had no occasion for any one to accompany him;
"however, I have ordered my servants to meet me at such and such a place."
So he desired him to let him have somewhat to eat; and that in case he would supply him, be would act the part of a friend, and be assisting to the business he was now about: and when he had obtained what he desired, he also asked him whether he had any weapons with him, either sword or spear. Now there was at Nob a servant of Saul, by birth a Syrian, whose name was Doeg, one that kept the king's mules. The high priest said that he had no such weapons; but, he added,
"Here is the sword of Goliath, which, when thou hadst slain the Philistine, thou didst dedicate to God."
2. When David had received the sword, he fled out of the country of the Hebrews into that of the Philistines, over which Achish reigned; and when the king's servants knew him, and he was made known to the king himself, the servants informing him that he was that David who had killed many ten thousands of the Philistines, David was afraid lest the king should put him to death, and that he should experience that danger from him which he had escaped from Saul; so he pretended to be distracted and mad, so that his spittle ran out of his mouth; and he did other the like actions before the king of Gath, which might make him believe that they proceeded from such a distemper. Accordingly the king was very angry at his servants that they had brought him a madman, and he gave orders that they should eject David immediately [out of the city].
3. So when David had escaped in this manner out of Gath, he came to the tribe of Judah, and abode in a cave by the city of Adullam. Then it was that he sent to his brethren, and informed them where he was, who then came to him with all their kindred, and as many others as were either in want or in fear of king Saul, came and made a body together, and told him they were ready to obey his orders; they were in all about four hundred. Whereupon he took courage, now such a force and assistance was come to him; so he removed thence and came to the king of the Moabites, and desired him to entertain his parents in his country, while the issue of his affairs were in such an uncertain condition. The king granted him this favor, and paid great respect to David's parents all the time they were with him.
4. As for himself, upon the prophet's commanding him to leave the desert, and to go into the portion of the tribe of Judah, and abide there, he complied therewith; and coming to the city Hareth, which was in that tribe, he remained there. Now when Saul heard that David had been seen with a multitude about him, he fell into no small disturbance and trouble; but as he knew that David was a bold and courageous man, he suspected that somewhat extraordinary would appear from him, and that openly also, which would make him weep and put him into distress; so he called together to him his friends, and his commanders, and the tribe from which he was himself derived, to the hill where his palace was; and sitting upon a place called Aroura, his courtiers that were in dignities, and the guards of his body, being with him, he spake thus to them: -
"You that are men of my own tribe, I conclude that you remember the benefits that I have bestowed upon you, and that I have made some of you owners of land, and made you commanders, and bestowed posts of honor upon you, and set some of you over the common people, and others over the soldiers; I ask you, therefore, whether you expect greater and more donations from the son of Jesse? for I know that you are all inclinable to him; (even my own son Jonathan himself is of that opinion, and persuades you to be of the same); for I am not unacquainted with the oaths and the covenants that are between him and David, and that Jonathan is a counselor and an assistant to those that conspire against me, and none of you are concerned about these things, but you keep silence and watch, to see what will be the upshot of these things."
When the king had made this speech, not one of the rest of those that were present made any answer; but Doeg the Syrian, who fed his mules, said, that he saw David when he came to the city Nob to Ahimelech the high priest, and that he learned future events by his prophesying; that he received food from him, and the sword of Goliath, and was conducted by him with security to such as he desired to go to.
5. Saul therefore sent for the high priest, and for all his kindred; and said to them,
"What terrible or ungrateful tiring hast thou suffered from me, that thou hast received the son of Jesse, and hast bestowed on him both food and weapons, when he was contriving to get the kingdom? And further, why didst thou deliver oracles to him concerning futurities? For thou couldst not be unacquainted that he was fled away from me, and that he hated my family."
But the high priest did not betake himself to deny what he had done, but confessed boldly that he had supplied him with these things, not to gratify David, but Saul himself: and he said,
"I did not know that he was thy adversary, but a servant of thine, who was very faithful to thee, and a captain over a thousand of thy soldiers, and, what is more than these, thy son-in-law, and kinsman. Men do not choose to confer such favors on their adversaries, but on those who are esteemed to bear the highest good-will and respect to them. Nor is this the first time that I prophesied for him, but I have done it often, and at other times as well as now. And when he told me that he was sent by thee in great haste to do somewhat, if I had furnished him with nothing that he desired I should have thought that it was rather in contradiction to thee than to him; wherefore do not thou entertain any ill opinion of me, nor do thou have a suspicion of what I then thought an act of humanity, from what is now told thee of David's attempts against thee, for I did then to him as to thy friend and son-in-law, and captain of a thousand, and not as to thine adversary."
6. When the high priest had spoken thus, he did not persuade Saul, his fear was so prevalent, that he could not give credit to an apology that was very just. So he commanded his armed men that stood about him to kill him, and all his kindred; but as they durst not touch the high priest, but were more afraid of disobeying God than the king, he ordered Doeg the Syrian to kill them. Accordingly, he took to his assistance such wicked men as were like himself, and slew Ahimelech and all his family, who were in all three hundred and eighty-five. Saul also sent to Nob, (21) the city of the priests, and slew all that were there, without sparing either women or children, or any other age, and burnt it; only there was one son of Ahimelech, whose name was Abiathar, who escaped. However, these things came to pass as God had foretold to Eli the high priest, when he said that his posterity should be destroyed, on account of the transgression of his two sons.
7. (22) Now this king Saul, by perpetrating so barbarous a crime, and murdering the whole family of the high-priestly dignity, by having no pity of the infants, nor reverence for the aged, and by overthrowing the city which God had chosen for the property, and for the support of the priests and prophets which were there, and had ordained as the only city allotted for the education of such men, gives all to understand and consider the disposition of men, that while they are private persons, and in a low condition, because it is not in their power to indulge nature, nor to venture upon what they wish for, they are equitable and moderate, and pursue nothing but what is just, and bend their whole minds and labors that way; then it is that they have this belief about God, that he is present to all the actions of their lives, and that he does not only see the actions that are done, but clearly knows those their thoughts also, whence those actions do arise.
But when once they are advanced into power and authority, then they put off all such notions, and, as if they were no other than actors upon a theater, they lay aside their disguised parts and manners, and take up boldness, insolence, and a contempt of both human and Divine laws, and this at a time when they especially stand in need of piety and righteousness, because they are then most of all exposed to envy, and all they think, and all they say, are in the view of all men; then it is that they become so insolent in their actions, as though God saw them no longer, or were afraid of them because of their power: and whatsoever it is that they either are afraid of by the rumors they hear, or they hate by inclination, or they love without reason, these seem to them to be authentic, and firm, and true, and pleasing both to men and to God; but as to what will come hereafter, they have not the least regard to it.
They raise those to honor indeed who have been at a great deal of pains for them, and after that honor they envy them; and when they have brought them into high dignity, they do not only deprive them of what they had obtained, but also, on that very account, of their lives also, and that on wicked accusations, and such as on account of their extravagant nature, are incredible. They also punish men for their actions, not such as deserve condemnation, but from calumnies and accusations without examination; and this extends not only to such as deserve to be punished, but to as many as they are able to kill. This reflection is openly confirmed to us from the example of Saul, the son of Kish, who was the first king who reigned after our aristocracy and government under the judges were over; and that by his slaughter of three hundred priests and prophets, on occasion of his suspicion about Ahimelech, and by the additional wickedness of the overthrow of their city, and this is as he were endeavoring in some sort to render the temple [tabernacle] destitute both of priests and prophets, which endeavor he showed by slaying so many of them, and not suffering the very city belonging to them to remain, that so others might succeed them.
8. But Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, who alone could be saved out of the family of priests slain by Saul, fled to David, and informed him of the calamity that had befallen their family, and of the slaughter of his father; who hereupon said, He was not unapprised of what would follow with relation to them when he saw Doeg there; for he had then a suspicion that the high priest would be falsely accused by him to the king, and he blamed himself as having been the cause of this misfortune. But he desired him to stay there, and abide with him, as in a place where he might be better concealed than any where else.
(21) This city Nob was not a city allotted to the priests, nor had the prophets, that we know of, any particular cities allotted them. It seems the tabernacle was now at Nob, and probably a school of the prophets was here also. It was full two days' journey on foot from Jerusalem, 1 Samuel 21:5. The number of priests here slain in Josephus is three hundred and eighty-five, and but eighty-five in our Hebrew copies; yet are they three hundred and five in the Septuagint. I prefer Josephus's number, the Hebrew having, I suppose, only dropped the hundreds, the other the tens. This city Nob seems to have been the chief, or perhaps the only seat of the family of Ithamar, which here perished, according to God's former terrible threatenings to Eli, 1 Samuel 2:27-36; 3:11-18. See Ch. 14. Sect. D, hereafter.
(22) This section contains an admirable reflection of Josephus concerning the general wickedness of men in great authority, and the danger they are in of rejecting that regard to justice and humanity, to Divine Providence and the fear of God, which they either really had, or pretended to have, while they were in a lower condition. It can never be too often perused by kings and great men, nor by those who expect to obtain such elevated dignities among mankind. See the like reflections of our Josephus, Antiq. B. VII. Ch. 1. Sect. 5, at the end; and B. VIII. Ch. 10. Sect. 2, at the beginning. They are to the like purport with one branch of Agur's prayer:
"One thing have I required of thee, deny it me not before I die: Give me not riches, lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord ?" Proverbs 30:7-9.