1 Samuel 22:17
And the king said to the footmen that stood about him, Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD: because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not show it to me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall on the priests of the LORD.
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(17) The footmen.—“Footmen,” literally runners. These “guards,” or “lictors,” were men who ran by the royal chariot as an escort. They are still the usual attendants of any great man in the East. From long habit they were able to maintain a great speed for a long time. (See 1Samuel 8:11, where Samuel tells the children of Israel how the king of the future, whom they asked for, would take some of them to “run before his chariot.” See, too, for an example of the power of running in old times, 1Kings 18:46, when Elijah outstripped the chariot of Ahab.)

But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand.—“And thus they were more faithful to Saul than if they had obeyed his order, which was against the commandment of the Lord, whose servant the king was no less than they.”—Wordsworth.

22:6-19 See the nature of jealous malice and its pitiful arts. Saul looks upon all about him as his enemies, because they do not just say as he says. In Ahimelech's answer to Saul we have the language of conscious innocence. But what wickedness will not the evil spirit hurry men to when he gets the dominion! Saul alleges that which was utterly false and unproved. But the most bloody tyrants have found instruments of their cruelty as barbarous as themselves. Doeg, having murdered the priests, went to the city, Nob, and put all to the sword there. Nothing so vile but those may do it, who have provoked God to give them up to their hearts' lusts. Yet this was the accomplishment of the threatenings against the house of Eli. Though Saul was unrighteous in doing this, yet God was righteous in permitting it. No word of God shall fall to the ground.Did I then begin ... - Some lay the stress upon the word "begin," as though Ahimelech's justification was that he had often before inquired of the Lord for David when employed on the king's affairs. But it is much better to understand the words as Ahimelech's solemn denial of having inquired of the Lord for David, a duty which he owed to Saul alone as king of Israel. The force of the word "begin" lies in this, that it would have been his first act of allegiance to David and defection from Saul. This he strenuously repudiates, and adds, "thy servant knew nothing of all this" conspiracy between Jonathan and David of which Saul speaks: he had acted quite innocently. 1Sa 22:17-19. Saul Commands to Kill the Priests.

17, 18. the footmen that stood about him—his bodyguard, or his runners (1Sa 8:11; 2Sa 15:1; 1Ki 1:5; 1Ki 14:28), who held an important place at court (2Ch 12:10). But they chose rather to disobey the king than to offend God by imbruing their hands in the blood of his ministering servants. A foreigner alone (Ps 52:1-3) could be found willing to be the executioner of this bloody and sacrilegious sentence. Thus was the doom of the house of Eli fulfilled [1Sa 2:30-36].

Choosing rather to offend the king, by disobeying his wicked and bloody command, than to offend God, by shedding the blood of such innocent and sacred persons. And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him,.... Or the "runners" (f); the running footmen, that used to run before him when he went out from place to place, and were here waiting on him, ready to set out whenever he should give the orders to go elsewhere. The tradition of the Jews is, that these were Abner and Amasa (g); but, as Kimchi observes, they were not footmen, but princes, captains in the army, and the first of them the general of it:

turn and slay the priests of the Lord; he owns them to be the priests of the Lord, and calls them so, and yet gave orders to put them to death, though innocent; one would have thought this their character would have flown in his face, and stung his conscience, and deterred him from so foul a fact:

because their hand also is with David; as well as Ahimelech; which did not at all appear, nor that they had so much as seen him at Nob, only Ahimelech; and still less that they had entered into a conspiracy with him:

and because they knew when he fled, and did not show it to me; which also was false; they knew nothing of the flight of David, and therefore could not discover it to the king:

but the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the Lord; their consciences would not suffer them to do it; they refused to obey the king's orders, and chose rather to expose themselves to his resentment, than to be guilty of such a crime. Saul's footmen had more sense of honour, justice, and truth, than he himself had, and were worthy of praise; but they would have been deserving of more, if they could not have prevailed upon him by entreaties and remonstrances to have forborne such a bloody execution, instead of being the tame spectators of it, they had taken him, and bound him as a madman, and so facilitated the escape of the priests, and prevented this shocking scene of wickedness.

(f) "cursoribus", Pagninus, Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator. (g) Midrash Tillim apud Abarbinel. in loc.

And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him, Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to me. But the servants of the king {k} would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the LORD.

(k) For they knew that they should not obey the wicked commandment of the king in slaying the innocent.

17. the footmen] Lit. “the runners.” See on ch. 1 Samuel 8:11; and for their employment as executioners comp. 2 Kings 10:25 (E. V. guard).

would not put forth their hand] They shrank from executing a command at once so cold-blooded and sacrilegious.Verses 17-19. - Footmen. Hebrew, "runners." They were the men who ran by the side of the king's horse or chariot as his escort (see on 1 Samuel 8:11). In constant training, they were capable of maintaining a great speed for a very long time. Here they were present at the king's council as his bodyguard, but when commanded to commit this horrid deed not one of them stirred from his place. Saul might have seen by this that he was alienating the hearts of all right minded men from him; but, unabashed, he next orders Doeg to slay the priests, and he, aided probably by his servants, slew in that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. The fact that they were thus clad in their official dress added not to the wickedness, but to the impiety of this revolting act. And, not satisfied with thus wreaking his rage on innocent men, he next destroyed the city of the priests, barbarously massacring their whole families, both men and women, children and sucklings, and even their oxen, asses, and sheep, as if Nob was a city placed under the ban. It is a deed in strange contrast with the pretended mercy that spared Agag and the best of the Amaleklte spoil on the pretext of religion. Only once before had so terrible a calamity befallen the descendants of Aaron, and that was when the Philistines destroyed Shiloh. But they were enemies, and provoked by the people bringing the ark to the battle, and even then women and children escaped. It was left to the anointed king, who had himself settled the priests at Nob and restored Jehovah's worship there, to perpetrate an act unparalleled in Jewish history for its barbarity. Nor was it an act of barbarity only, but also of insane and wanton stupidity. The heart of every thoughtful person must now have turned away in horror from the king whom they had desired; and no wonder that when, two or three years afterwards, war came Saul found himself a king without an army, and fell into that deep, despondent melancholy which drove him, in need of some human sympathy, to seek it from a reputed witch. ESCAPE OF ABIATHAR TO DAVID (vers. 20-23). On receiving this information, Saul immediately summoned the priest Ahimelech and "all his father's house," i.e., the whole priesthood, to Nob, to answer for what they had done. To Saul's appeal, "Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, by giving him bread?" Ahimelech, who was not conscious of any such crime, since David had come to him with a false pretext, and the priest had probably but very little knowledge of what took place at court, replied both calmly and worthily (1 Samuel 22:14): "And who of all thy servants is so faithful (proved, attested, as in Numbers 12:7) as David, and son-in-law of the king, and having access to thy private audience, and honoured in thy house?" The true explanation of אל־משׁמעתּך סר may be gathered from a comparison of 2 Samuel 23:23 and 1 Chronicles 11:25, where משׁמעת occurs again, as the context clearly shows, in the sense of a privy councillor of the king, who hears his personal revelations and converses with him about them, so that it corresponds to our "audience." סוּר, lit. to turn aside from the way, to go in to any one, or to look after anything (Exodus 3:3; Ruth 4:1, etc.); hence in the passage before us "to have access," to be attached to a person. This is the explanation given by Gesenius and most of the modern expositors, whereas the early translators entirely misunderstood the passage, though they have given the meaning correctly enough at 2 Samuel 23:23. But if this was the relation in which David stood to Saul, - and he had really done so for a long time, - there was nothing wrong in what the high priest had done for him; but he had acted according to the best of his knowledge, and quite conscientiously as a faithful subject of the king. Ahimelech then added still further (1 Samuel 22:15): "Did I then begin to inquire of God for him this day?" i.e., was it the first time that I had obtained the decision of God for David concerning important enterprises, which he had to carry out in the service of the king? "Far be from me," sc., any conspiracy against the king, like that of which I am accused. "Let not the king lay it as a burden upon thy servant, my whole father's house (the omission of the cop. ו before בּכל־כּית may be accounted for from the excitement of the speaker); for thy servant knows not the least of all this." בּכל־זאת, of all that Saul had charged him with.
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