On Sunday at Capitol City, we unpacked the narrative of 1 Samuel 22:6-23. For the sake of time, I didn’t make these comments – though they are pertinent to the text and, in the end, precious to the Christian faith.
In 1 Samuel 22, King Saul – clearly descending into a narcissistic madness that will soon end his life – takes a giant leap down his path of self-destruction. Enraged at the fact that Ahimelech, a priest, offered David aid in a moment of need (see 1 Sam 21:1-9), he orders the brutal murder of Ahimelech, Ahimelech’s entire family, and every resident of Ahimelech’s city. It’s an unholy war, pitting God’s rejected king against God’s holy priests. Every priest in Israel, save one – Abiathar, Ahimelech’s son (see 1 Sam 22:20-23) – perishes as a result.
Saul’s evil attack against these helpless and innocent priests is just that – evil. But it reveals something profoundly encouraging and hopeful for Christians today: even God’s enemies prove the truthfulness of God’s Word.
While the murder of Israel’s priests is absolutely wicked, it is also exactly what God promised to do. In 1 Samuel 2, because of the wickedness of Eli’s sons, God condemned Eli (the priest) and the priestly line that would come after him: Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house….The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men (1 Sam 2:31, 33).
Saul’s unholy war is the fulfillment of that promise of judgment. In the story, every descendant of Eli’s house dies by the sword of men, save the one who was spared to weep his eyes out – Abiathar.
Yes, indeed, the events of 1 Samuel 22 are wicked and evil. But that does not mean that the Lord cannot – or does not – use them to accomplish his purpose. The Lord can – and does – use even his enemies to prove the truthfulness of his Word. He can – and does – use even his enemies to keep his promises.
As Christians, we see that principle even more vividly in the crucifixion of our Lord. The death of Jesus was no less the promise of God. God ordained that Christ would come, that he would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and that those sinful men would try, torture, and crucify him. It was evil that nailed Jesus to the cross. But that evil nonetheless fulfilled God’s Word and purpose.
Peter said as much, in his sermon on Pentecost: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23).
It is a mystery to us how God can ordain evil to accomplish his purposes without becoming evil himself, but this is what his Word says he does. Even God’s enemies, in the end, serve his good purposes. Even evil done by the hands of sinful men proves the truthfulness of God’s Word.
That should encourage us in two ways.
First, though this will not take away the grief and pain we feel when we see evil in the world, it can give us assurance that evil will not win. If God uses even his enemies to accomplish his purposes, then no enemy of his or ours can ever overcome his purposes. God’s victory over Satan, sin, and death is secure. He cannot be overcome. We can – and should – take such comfort in that.
If God uses even his enemies to accomplish his purposes, then no enemy of his or ours can ever overcome his purposes.
Second, if God is able to keep his word of judgment no matter what, then surely his promises of consolation and mercy are just as sure! If God can use evil Saul to fulfill his Word, then his Word is a sure and steady anchor beneath us. If God can use wicked Saul to keep his promises, then surely his promises of grace, forgiveness, resurrection, salvation, and our eternal inheritance in Christ are sure, certain promises!
If God is able to keep his word of judgment no matter what, then surely his promises of consolation and mercy are just as sure.
May we hold on to those promises, taking God at his Word. He will do what he says he will do!