The Slaughter of the Priests
Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Psalms
The title of Psalm 52 is not particularly eye-catching: “To the Choirmaster. A Maskil of David, When Doeg, the Edomite, Came and Told Saul, “David Has Come to the House of Ahimelech.” Behind these words, however, lies a very dark period in David’s life. We are back in the time of King Saul, when David was emerging as a very popular military figure. Even though he was a close friend of the king’s son, David could not escape the jealous wrath of Saul and so he went on the run.
Saul’s capital was in Gibeah, as the nearby city of Jerusalem had yet to be captured (at the time it was known as Jebus, and occupied by the Jebusites). David kept on the move, but at first kept to within twenty or so miles of Gibeah, avoiding men sent by Saul. Eventually the fugutive turned up, with a group of men, at the house of a priest named Ahimelech who gave them some holy bread to eat and armed David with Goliath’s sword.
This welcome was to have consequences. David and his group were spotted by Doeg the Edomite who told the king what he had seen. In response, Saul attempted to send out armed men to kill the priest, but they refused to undertake such a sacrilegious act. So it was that Doeg himself was sent, and he killed eighty-five of the priests living in Ahimelech’s town, along with their wives and children. Abiathar, one of Ahimelech’s sons, escaped the slaughter and sought out David. When he heard the news, David lamented: “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father’s house.” (1 Samuel 22:22).
David’s other response to the news was the fifty-second Psalm. He doesn’t seek to put on a polite front before God, but rather pours out his heart. God does not require our politeness, rather he hears the cries of our hearts.
Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right.
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous shall see and fear,
and shall laugh at him, saying,
“See the man who would not make God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!”
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
I will thank you forever, because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.