The Slippery Slope of Sin (I Samuel 22:6-23)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 22:6–22:23
I. For Skiing, Not Sinning
When is a slippery slope a good thing? Well, maybe when you're skiing...or sledding...or sliding down a grassy hill on an old refrigerator box or a block of ice (ever done that?).
But when it comes to sin, a slippery slope is the last place you want to be. But the problem with that statement is that sin IS a slippery slope. I like this definition of a slippery slope:
Slippery slope:A tricky precarious situation, especially one that leads gradually but inexorably to disaster.
“...gradually but inexorably to disaster.” Sin, disobedience, transgression, my will instead of God's will, is a slipper slope.
This morning we will see that trust confirmed in a very graphic, a very distubing way.
Turn with me to I Samuel 22. We'll pick up where we left off last week by looking together at verse 6, all the way to the end of the chapter.
II. The Passage: “All of You Have Conspired against Me” (22:6-23)
So as we begin, we need to remember that David has fled from Saul, not because of anything David actually did, but because of Saul's jealousy and Saul's perception that David was plotting against him. Indeed, David was God's anointed, chosen to replace Saul as the new king over Israel. But David was not attempting to seize the throne from Saul, but as we will see in later chapters, he is waiting for God's method and God's timing in terms of his kingship.
A. Blaming His Servants (22:6-8)
Listen now as the focus shifts from David, and his frantic movement from one place to another, over to Saul and what appears to be a more serene setting. Verse 6...
Now Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men who were with him. Saul was sitting at Gibeah under the tamarisk tree on the height with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing about him. 7 And Saul said to his servants who stood about him, “Hear now, people of Benjamin; 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, 8 that all of you have conspired against me? No one discloses to me when my son makes a covenant 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 at this day.”
From a distance, the scene here looks very peaceful. A group of people, outside, on a beautiful day in central Israel. There's Saul, sitting in the center of everyone, under a beautiful tamarisk tree. But as you move closer, you notice the spear in Saul's hand, the same spear he used, on two ocassions, as he attempted to kill David. And more recently, it's the spear he used when he attempted to kill his own son, Jonathan.
Move even closer to this group and you begin to hear what Saul's saying. David has been discovered! Whether he was discovered when he came back into Judah, into the forest of Hereth (v. 5), or whether he was discovered at that place called the “stronghold” (v. 5) and for that reaon, was prophetically instructed to flee to Hereth, we're not sure.
But David's discovery and the reports about about hundreds of Israelites joining with David (v.2) has sent Saul into a rage of accusations. Surely everyone knew about his son, about Jonathan's covenant with David! Surely everyone knew that Jonathan was conspiring against Saul and inciting David against the king! Saul is furious that no has told him any of these things. But the servants have most likely not known any of this, but they remain silent as the king assigns blame. They know better than to try to reason with Saul.
B. Ignoring God’s Priest (22:9-16)
But finally someone speaks up. Look at verse 9:
Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, 10 and he inquired of the Lord for him and gave him provisions and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”11 Then the king sent to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father's house, the priests who were at Nob, and all of them came to the king. 12 And Saul said, “Hear now, son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” 13 And Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, so that he has risen against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?” 14 Then Ahimelech answered the king, “And who among all your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king's son-in-law, and captain over your bodyguard, and honored in your house? 15 Is today the first time that I have inquired of God for him? No! Let not the king impute anything to his servant or to all the house of my father, for your servant has known nothing of all this, much or little.” 16 And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father's house.”
The man who finally speaks up is not even an Israelite. He is an Edomite, descended from Jacob's brother, Esau. And this is not the first time we've met this man, is it? This Doeg was first mentioned in the last chapter, in chapter 21, verse 7. And when he is mentioned in that verse, even though it is brief and in passing, his presence at the Tent of Meeting cast an ominous shadow over the whole story.
And now, finally in this chapter, we see the real darkness of that shadow. Here Doeg relays what he witnessed at Nob. He tells about how Ahimelech gave David bread, and even the sword of Goliath. But he also mentions that Ahimelech sought Yahweh's guidance for David. But that fact is not mentioned in chapter 21. And it is was probably not mentioned there because it never really happened. Doeg is simply telling Saul what he wants to hear.
Now, Saul is even more incensed. He summons Ahimelech and all of his kinsmen, all of the priests at Nob. Notice how Saul addresses Ahimelech in verse 12. “Son of Ahitub”. It's the same way he talks about David: “son of Jesse”. You can hear the disdain dripping off his lips, can't you? Even though this is God's priest, even though there is no proof of wrongdoing, Saul treats him like a criminal...like a traitor.
But Ahimelech responds not only in a respectful tone, but also with a very well-reasoned, well-crafted, and prudent answer. Notice how he uses rhetorical questions to establish his innocence: “Of course I helped David, isn't he your top soldiers and son-in-law?” His second question, from verse 15, might be better phrased as “Did I start, in this instance, inquiring of God for David? No!” It seems the custom was that only the king should inquire of God, as Saul had done in chapter 14.
Finally, Ahimelech clearly tells Saul in verse 15 that he knows nothing of what is happening between David and Saul. He and his kinsmen are innocent.
But as we in verse 16, the momentum of Saul's jealousy and suspicions and anger is unstoppable. He seems to ignore everything God's own priest has declared and announces his verdict, not only on Ahimelech, but also on all of God's priests: You shall surely die...you and all your father's house.”
C. Murdering with Doeg (22:17-19)
Look with me at verses 17-19: And the king said to the guard who stood about him, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me.” But the servants of the king would not put out their hand to strike the priests of the Lord. 18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. 19 And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.
Saul wants his death sentence to be carried out immediately, but his servants will not do it. They will not strike down God's priests, especially given everything they've seen and heard. So Saul turns to Doeg. There is no mention of any hesitation with Doeg. He appears to be a man who will do whatever it takes to get ahead.
And so Doeg takes his sword and kills Ahimelech. And then, one by one, he kills the other eighty four priests who came from Nob to Gibeah. But he doesn't stop there. Most likely gathering a small militia of worthless men, Doeg goes after the wives of these priests, and the children, and the babies, and all the livestock. Everyone, everything is destroyed.
David would later write about Doeg in Psalm 52. He wrote: Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. 2 Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. 3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. 4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5 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. (Psalm 52:1-5)
And while we're not told that Saul commanded this massacre, he certainly must have condoned it.
Stop for a minute, and as hard as it is, let these details sink in. Do you hear the cries? Do you see the bodies? The quiet scene we saw in verse 6 has become a chaotic bloodbath.
III. Perspective: The Bitter Fruit of Disobedience
As we think about what God wants to say to us this morning through this passage, we need to think why this passage is here; why the human writer of Samuel included this story about Saul and Ahimelech and Doeg the Edomite.
Obviously any half decent Israelites would be horrified by this story about the massacre of God's priests, especially at the hands of an Edomite. But But remember the larger story here. This is the story of David and Saul. Beginning in chapter 16, everything we've looked at is part of the larger story of how David rose to power in Israel; David's path to the thone. And one of the key aspects of David's rise is Saul's fall.
In some sense, if we're talking about David's rise and Saul's descent, this story is proof positive that Saul has finally reached the bottom of the pit.
How did the young man who used to spend his time searching for his father's donkeys, the young man who was hiding out among the gear because they were coming to anoint him king back in chapter 10, how did he become this paranoid, unstable dictator whose hands are now covered with blood. Well, remember where it all began:
Chapter 13: Even though he was anointed king and blessed with God's Spirit, instead of obeying Samuel's word and waiting for the prophet to arrive, Saul foolishly offers the sacrifice himself. When Samuel arrives, he condemn Saul's decision and announces the loss of a dynasty for Saul's descendants. Even though God's prophet has spoken and God's judgment has been declared, there is no mention of remorse or repentance from Saul.
Chapter 14: Saul makes a rash vow, subjecting his men to unnecessary hardship in battle. This leads to Saul's intention to kill Jonathan who has broken his father's ban. The people intervene and Jonathan is spared, but there is no mention of Saul regretting his decision.
Chapter 15: Even though he is explicitly told by God to utterly destroy the Amelkites, Saul saves some of the plunder and spares Agag the Amelkite king. When confronted, Saul explains that he has saved the best plunder for God. After Saul announces God's rejection of Saul as king, Saul exhibits a suspicious repentance, alluding to how the people pressured him; he even grabs and tears Samuel's robe in desperation.
Chapter 16: Saul is tormented by a harmful spirit from God, but fails to repent and acknowledge his previous failures.
Chapter 17: Even though he is the king and the largest of all Israelites, Saul fails to lead God's people against Goliath and the Philistines. A young David does what the king would not do.
Chapter 18: Saul is jealous of David's success and fears that David will take the throne of Israel from him, a position God already told him he had lost. Even though David is achieving military success for Israel, as the harmful spirit torments Saul, he tries to impale David with a spear. When he fails, he uses marriage to his daughters as bait in order to expose David to more warfare in the hopes he will be killed.
Chapter 19: Even though God's presence is clearly with David, and in spite of the fact that David is now his son-in-law, Saul fails to accept what God is doing and he orders his men to kill David. But Jonathan intervenes and Saul relents. But very quickly, David is once again in the crosshairs of Saul's spear. David agains escapes, and then escapes once more when Saul sends men to David's house. When Saul goes to Ramah to capture David, who is with Samuel, he is supernaturally stopped by the Spirit of God. But even this does not deter Saul.
Chapter 20: When David fails to return to the court for a festival, Saul is enraged. Jonathan tries to intervene again and reason with his father, but this time it is Jonathan who is almost impaled by Saul's spear. Even though he has almost killed his own son, Saul refuses to come to his senses.
Chapter 22: Saul blames his servants who he believes are conspiring against him. Saul ignores the reasonableness of God's high priest. Saul orders the murder of eighty-five priests and condones the destruction of everyone and everything in Nob.
Do you see the progression? What began with impatience and Saul's decision to ignore God's word in chapter 13 has brought Saul to the point of presiding over a massacre. Every step on the slippery slope of disobedience led Saul gradually but inexorably to disaster.
How many times did someone try to reason with Saul? How many times did God bring a consequence into Saul's life? How many times, in one way or another, did God confirm Saul's rejection? How many times did Samuel speak God's word to Saul? How many chances did Saul have to wake up, to sober up, to repent, to yield, to seek God?
Along with the first readers of Samuel, we need to be reminded of this slippery slope. We need to be reminded of the fact that there are no safe sins. Every disobedience, every rejection of God's word and God's will, whether we judge it to be minor or major, slight or serious, harmless or hazardous, every disobedience is a step sideways in the slippery slope of disobedience.
With God, we are on a path like David's. Bumpy, but leading to glory. Suffering, but sustained. Without God, we are on a path like Saul's. Descending, steeper, muddy, dangeous..lost in the warped reality of our own sin.
IV. Practice: Willing to Lose a Hand...Or an Eye
This morning, God wants us to look intently at the bloodbath in Gibeah. He doesn't want us to avert our eyes. Why? Because he wants us to look at the bitter fruit of disobedience. He wants us to see where that slippery slope of sin leads. He wants us to be horrified by what we find, by what is possible.
Commenting on a strange tension in the small letter we call I John, Dr. Don Carson writes:
For the moment, it is worth recalling John’s insistence that believers do sin, and people who claim they do not are liars, self-deluded, and guilty of charging God with falsehood (1 John 1:6ff.). At the same time, he repeatedly insists that sinning is not done amongst Christians. Various explanations have been advanced [to explain this tension], but the most obvious is still the best: although both our experience and our location between the “already” and the “not yet” teach us that we do sin and we will sin, yet every single instance of sin is shocking, inexcusable, forbidden, appalling, out of line with what we are as Christians.
How seriously do you take sin? How vigilant are you against it? When you recognize sin in your life, do you compromise? Do you minimize? Do you rationalize?
“Well, know one will ever know...it's not like anyone is getting hurt...well, I had to make a statement...she clearly had it coming...well everyone struggles like this; that's just how it is... well the government takes to much anyway...well he should have known better...it's not like I'm an addict...but you don't know what I've been through...it's just a slight case of impatience..of envy...of denial...of anxiety...of lust...of greed...of anger...I've got everything under control.”
Brothers and sisters, we do and we will stumble, we will transgress, we will go astray...we will sin. And when we do, we need to see, in the words of Dr. Carson, every single instance of sin [as] shocking, inexcusable, forbidden, appalling, out of line with what we are as Christians. And we need to remember that part of the appalling nature of disobedience is the reality that sin is a slippery slope.
In Ephesians 4, Paul warns the Christians in Ephesus: do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. If you keep cracking the door, even just a little, it will soon be swinging wide open. If you feed that lion even just a scrap, he will quickly have the strength to devour you.
Paul goes on just a few verses later to write: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:30-32)
If we truly belong to Jesus by grace through faith, then we have God's Spirit within us. And when we sin, God's Spirit is grieved. In contrast to Saul, we need to be grieved when the Holy Spirit. We need to be sensitive to the reality of sin. We need to take sin seriously. Jesus talked about being serious about sin, about recognizing the danger of it. He told us...
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29, 30)
Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation here. But He is advocating self-denial, radical self-denial. He calling us to take sin so seriously that we are willing to give up certain freedoms, certain pleasures, certain relationships, certain advantages in order to walk in obedience.
We need to learn from Saul's failures. We need to be scared by Saul's failures. When those around us say something is wrong, we need to listen. When we endure the consequences of our actions, we need to remember how much worse it could be. When we hear God's word, we need to let us pierce us and expose us and convict us, not be stubborn and self-justifying.
I've seen the devastation of sin...how it massacres marriages...how it massacres families... how it massacres ministries... how it massacres consciences... how it can slaughter or ability to love, to hear, to believe.
But look...look at the very end of this chapter. There are four verses we didn't talk about. Look at 20-23 with me:
But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21 And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 22 And David said to Abiathar, “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. 23 Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.”
There is a very small beam of hope shining here, isn't there?God's anointed priest has found refuge with God's anointed king. In providing refuge for Abiathar, God will provide spiritual guidance for David. Even though Saul tried to wipe out God's priesthood, he drove one priest right to David's doorstep. And as mysterious as it is, Saul's murderous decree was actually the fulfillment of God's judgment against the house of Eli way back in I Samuel 2:31-33. In trying to stop God's plan, Saul was actually fulfilling it. The enemies of God cannot stop His purposes.
Doesn't all of this remind you of another king, a king who was struck down, even though he was innocent; struck down because of jealousy, struck down because of a ruler's decree? And when God's enemies killed this king, lthey were, just like here in Samuel, they were also fulfilling God's plan. And it is to this king that we can run for safekeeping, even this morning.
Just as David spoke to Abiathar, saying “do not be afraid”, so too does Jesus speak to us. Be scared of where sin can lead, but do not be afraid of its power. There is refuge in Jesus Christ.
Which sin or sins have you labelled as safe? Well, this morning God wants you to look at the cross and see how dangerous all sin really is. The Son of God suffered and was slaughtered because of sin. Look intently. Don't avert your eyes from the beaten, bruised, and bloody Jesus.
But God also wants us to look at that cross and see our refuge. Like Abiather, he wants us to flee to God's anointed. Sin is always a slippery slope. The only firm path is Jesus...who is the way, the truth, and the life.