Monday, November 3, 2014

Doeg's hostility to the priests

When David is on the run from Saul there is an incident that happens where he goes to the priest for food and the priest gives him the shewbread.  Unfortunately, at the same time, one of Saul’s servants named Doeg was there to see this.  Later, when Saul has a bit of a tantrum among his serants and accuses them of conspiring against him because they can’t help him stop David, Doeg tells Saul that a priest aided David.  Saul calls all the priests, accused them of conspiring against him in aiding David and sentences them all to death.  None of his servants will carry out the sentence except Doeg who tattled on the priest.  What is going on here?

Why is Doeg so ready to betray the priests and kill them? 

Here’s all we know about Doeg at the beginning:

Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord; and his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chiefest of the herdmen that belonged to Saul.

Doeg is an Edomite, not an Israelite.  Yet he was at the temple, so it seems that some point he had converted to the worship of Jehovah.  And yet the way he has no scruples about betraying the high priest to Saul and carrying out executions of all the priests implies that this is more than just willingness to handle the dirty jobs, but that there is personal animosity between him and the whole priestly caste. 

He’s also the top herdman in charge of Saul’s flocks. 

We get an extra clue when it says Doeg was “detained before the Lord” at Nob where David had asked aid of the priest.  Does this mean Doeg was detained there by the Lord on purpose to see and betray the priests?  I don’t think so.  I think “detained before the Lord” means that he was detained there by one of the priests for discipline.  Police detain people for questioning or to arrest them.  Students are detained after school for bad behavior, but it is called “detention.”   

All of a sudden we begin to see why Doeg would have been willing to tell Saul the priest was aiding David.  If he were resentful about being disciplined, he would be inclined to use what he knew to get revenge somehow.

But if he wanted revenge on Ahimelech the priest, Saul took it much further, requiring all the priests at Nob to come, not just Ahimelech.  Saul sentenced all the priests to death, and when none of his other servants would execute them, Doeg did.

Doeg’s act would be the equivalent of a person sitting outside the bishop’s office for a disciplinary meeting, watching the bishop give a falsely accused fugitive sacrament bread for a sack lunch and then deciding to get revenge for the discipline give him by getting the bishop in trouble.  Then imagine that not only the bishop is summoned, but also the high priests, the elders, the priests, the teachers, and deacons, and all of them are sentenced unjustly to be executed and are shot by the person who had been disciplined by the bishop.  That’s pretty shocking.

It essentially puts Saul and Doeg beyond the pale.

One of the things we can learn from this is how anger and revenge get out of hand really fast.  Doeg may have only had beef against Ahimelech, but his revenge affected all the priests in the city.  It also led him to commit atrocities against innocent men.   It is a textbook illustration of the principle that the worst enemies of the righteous are the disaffected dissenters, those who have had the same instruction and who have fallen away.

Another thing we can see from this is how Saul’s hatred and pursuit of David affects his judgment.  If he thinks nothing of trying to get rid of a man who has done nothing against him and who has actually helped, no one is safe.  Goodness is no defense against Saul, and holy people can’t expect justice either.  Hence, he easily condemns Ahimelech and all the priests to death.   The long term effect of this is that eventually each person is going to have to choose whether to countenance Saul’s tyranny or live a fugitive life with David.   I think this is why people begin to join David. 

About the only happy thing from this story was that Saul’s servants were commanded to kill the priests and they refused.  (Yaay!) That was certainly good, but if only they could have gone further and defended the priests from Doeg.   This suggests that it isn’t enough to refrain from attacking the church leaders ourselves at others’ instigation; we have to defend them too.