Saul heard that David and those who were with him had been located. Saul was sitting at Gibeah, under the tamarisk tree on the height, with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing around him. Saul said to his servants who stood around him, ‘Hear now, you Benjaminites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? Is that why all of you have conspired against me? No one discloses to me when my son makes a league with the son of Jesse, none of you is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as he is doing today.’ Doeg the Edomite, who was in charge of Saul’s servants, answered, ‘I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech son of Ahitub; he inquired of the Lord for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.’ The king sent for the priest Ahimelech son of Ahitub and for all his father’s house, the priests who were at Nob; and all of them came to the king. Saul said, ‘Listen now, son of Ahitub.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, my lord.’ Saul said to him, ‘Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, by giving him bread and a sword, and by inquiring of God for him, so that he has risen against me, to lie in wait, as he is doing today?’ Then Ahimelech answered the king, ‘Who among all your servants is so faithful as David? He is the king’s son-in-law, and is quick to do your bidding, and is honoured in your house. Is today the first time that I have inquired of God for him? By no means! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any member of my father’s house; for your servant has known nothing of all this, much or little.’ The king said, ‘You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.’ The king said to the guard who stood around him, ‘Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David; they knew that he fled, and did not disclose it to me.’ But the servants of the king would not raise their hand to attack the priests of the Lord. Then the king said to Doeg, ‘You, Doeg, turn and attack the priests.’ Doeg the Edomite turned and attacked the priests; on that day he killed eighty-five who wore the linen ephod. Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; men and women, children and infants, oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he put to the sword. But one of the sons of Ahimelech son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. David said to Abiathar, ‘I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I am responsible[c] for the lives of all your father’s house. Stay with me, and do not be afraid; for the one who seeks my life seeks your life; you will be safe with me.’
Saul is in a bad place. Spear in hand, sitting under the tamarisk tree at Gibeah, his capital town, he feels threatened and knows not who to trust. He feels threatened by David and doesn’t trust his own tribe or even his own son, Jonathan.
With this sense of threat and betrayal firmly established in his mind, he hears only the things that affirm and confirm his outlook. He is deaf to all evidence to the contrary. As a result, Doeg’s tale about David and the priests “makes sense” to him but no amount of reasoned explanation from Ahimelech makes a difference.
Saul’s power and authority, when combined with his mindset, compound the negative outcomes. He becomes a terror and a tyrant, slaughtering priests. As a result, he is now at odds with his own people and he drives the sole survivor of the massacre into support for David.
Paying heed to stories because they happen to support my outlook is a widespread human trait. So is dismissing out of hand the stories that challenge my own established views. Today’s tendency to inhabit silos of the like-minded in the social media world only exacerbates the problem. I need to listen carefully, especially to those who are telling me things I do not want to hear. They may be my best friends rather than my enemies. They just might prevent me misusing the power that I have in ways which hurt the innocent.
Gracious God, Encourage me to listen to others, Especially when I do not like what they have to say, So that I might understand them, Know myself, And hear you voice. Amen.
The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Minister, St Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields