In 1 Samuel 22:11–15, Saul’s perverted mind concluded from Doeg’s report that the conspiracy against him was far larger than previously imagined. Now it was not just a son and a son-in-law out to kill him; hundreds of people, including the entire priestly establishment at Nob, were against him! In an effort to quash the revolt and deprive it of any divine assistance, Saul “summon the priest Ahimelech son of Ahitub, and his father’s whole family, who were priests in Nob.”
Obediently, the the priestly family made the hour-long trip west northwest to Gibeah. Not knowing the nature of the king’s request, these priests could only speculate. But the king’s first words spoken to Ahimelech dashed whatever hopes they might have had.
Saul held a trial in which he was the prosecutor and the family of Ahitub, represented by Ahimelech, were the defendants. Saul addressed Ahimelech as “son of Ahitub,” then named additional coconspirators. Saul accused that the priests had “conspired against” him. As Saul interpreted the events at Nob, Ahimelech’s actions, supported by the other priests, had strengthened David’s hand so that he “has rebelled” and now waits to “rise up against me” (1 Samuel 22:13).
Stunned by the king’s insane accusations, Ahimelech gave a defense of David: far from being Saul’s enemy,
- David was “your servant,”
- David was “loyal,”
- David was “the king’s son-in-law,”
- David was “captain of your bodyguard,” and
- David was “highly respected in your household”
Then Ahimelech described his priestly actions toward David as routine. Although it was true that he “inquired of God for” David, this “was not the first time” (1 Samuel 22:15). Finally, the priest affirmed his loyalty to Saul, calling himself “your servant.” Ahimelech declared his noninvolvement in any plot against Saul: he “didn’t have any idea about all this.”
Not hearing Ahimelech’s reasoning, Saul found the entire family of Ahitub guilty and pronounced sentence against them. Immediately the king ordered them executed. This judgment applied to the entire family.
Only days before, these men were presumably Saul’s bodyguards, under David’s command. Then, David stated that these men were careful to observe cleanliness regulations (1 Samuel 21:5), implying that they were devout followers of the Lord. Still, according to a Saul, blind with paranoia, the priestly family of Ahitub had to die “because they too have sided with David” in a plot against the king.
Understanding the God’s’ people’s reluctance to kill God’s priests, Saul turned to a non-Israelite to “turn and strike down the priests” (v. 18). As an Edomite, Doeg had no problem obeying the order; accordingly “he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod.”
The slaughter did not end there, however. Apparently with Saul’s approval (1 Samuel 22:21), Doeg also slaughtered the inhabitants of Nob, including men, women, children, and livestock (1 Samuel 22:19).
One of the priests, “Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech son of Ahitub escaped” (1 Samuel 22:20). Now a fugitive from Saul, Abiathar found his way to “join David.” When he arrived at David’s camp, he told him “that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord” (1 Samuel 22:21). The report was accurate, for even though Saul did not actually wield the sword, it was his mandate that brought about the slaughter.
Without mentioning Saul’s role in the tragedy, David acknowledged that he himself was significantly “responsible for the death of” (1 Samuel 22:22) Abiathar’s clan. David asked Abiathar to “stay with” him, assuring the priest that he would “be safe with” David. Abiathar accepted the offer (1 Samuel 23:6).