Doeg, A Shadowy Figure with a Huge Impact
Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 12, Sep 2019
Scripture Reading: Psalms 52:1-9; 1 Samuel 22:9-13; 18-19
‘Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually. The tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue. God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah. The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness. But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.’
Then answered Doeg the Edomite, which was set over the servants of Saul, and said, I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. And he enquired of the LORD for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine. Then the king sent to call Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s house, the priests that were in Nob: and they came all of them to the king. And Saul said, Hear now, thou son of Ahitub. And he answered, Here I am, my lord. And Saul said unto him, Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, in that thou hast given him bread, and a sword, and hast enquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?
And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword.
David was on the run. King Saul, now possessed by an evil spirit, was after him. In his escape, he stops for food at Nob, where the Ark resided in the ancient tabernacle. Ahimelech was priest on duty. David asked for bread. In a historic move about which Jesus later would comment, Ahimelech gave him the loaves of the consecrated bread that sat that week on the table in the Holy Place. But David also needed a weapon. He had left with none at all. “Is there not a spear or a sword on hand?” Lying behind the ephod, a special priestly garment, was the spear of Goliath himself. “There is none like it; give it to me.” And why wouldn’t it be given to David, the one who killed Goliath a short time before? Nestled in this fascinating text in 1 Samuel 22 are these foreboding words, “Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord; and his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds.” When Saul arrived,
Doeg speaks up, a man ready with an inside word. “I saw the son of Jesse (David) coming to Nob, to Ahimelech . . . . He inquired of the Lord for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” That was all it took. Ahimelech the priest was summoned immediately by Saul, and he dutifully came with his entire household—a large number of fellow priests. In a moment he was tried and condemned to die, though he was an innocent man. But no servant of the King would do Saul’s bidding, indicating that they were afraid to kill God’s anointed priests or that they privately had sympathies for David. But one man will do it: Doeg. Doeg killed 85 priests that day, and “he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep he struck with the edge of the sword.” Only a Doeg could be so thorough.
If you wanted to put together a list of the “bottom 10” people in the Bible you would have a lot of folks to choose from. Genesis would be a good place to start: Cain; the first murderer, Ahab and Jezebel; a team of badness (Ahab is equally as bad as his wife Jezebel. And nobody wants his daughter to be named Jezebel), Manasseh; child sacrificer, Jeroboam; who started all the badness for the Northern Kingdom, Herod the Great; slaughterer of children, Herodias at her instigation John the Baptist was beheaded, Judas; for obvious reasons, Pontius Pilate; the hand-washer. I want to argue that the tenth should be a little-known figure buried in 1 Samuel 22, named Doeg the Edomite. Doeg the Edomite is only mentioned 3 more times in the bible (1 Samuel 22:9, 18, 22). He appears on the scene and then disappears. But the damage was done, he wreaked havoc and then disappears. There are some people that way; they come into our lives, wreak havoc and then disappear. I remember that during the Rodney Howard Browne revival; a pharmaceutical agent with his wife came to our church. We were excited to have them; help them to transfer house even with our vehicle, fellowshipped with them. Then when we had the revival, they were the number one criticizer of the move of God that causes a lot of members to leave our church and then the next moment they disappeared from our lives. This story offers a great case study about how God relates to evil. Doeg is a shadowy character with a Huge Impact. They appear in your life and then they fade away. Doeg the Edomite though mentioned only 3 times; his impact is tragic: he divulges the actions of Ahimelech to the maniacal Saul, then proceeds to kill 85 priests of Nob, and then without explanation, slaughters the entire city – men, women, children and livestock. We are left stunned at the simplicity of his wickedness. He was responsible for the massacre of an entire city of innocent people. That is pretty evil. If that doesn’t get you on the bottom 10 list, I’m not sure who would. I wouldn’t want to be involved in the destruction of priests; God’s chosen people. I wouldn’t want to be the cause of splitting churches, causing churches never to recover and even closed down. Pastor Ian Peter had to close down his church because of a Doeg. Members losing their faith and never achieving the great purpose of God for their lives. This Doeg killed everybody that were serving in the Tabernacle. This church nearly closed down if not for God’s intervention. They served the Temple and their service are sacred. Psalms 78:80 mentioned about God calling the Tabernacle his Tabernacle at Shiloh where he had lived among mankind. So if YHWH ever lived on earth, it is the Tabernacle, the Temple, The Synagogues and the Church. I would really be extra careful not to harm any priests (servants of God) or committed members of the church. Yet Doeg slaughtered 85 of them. The priests at Nob are not just any priests. They are, in fact, direct descendants of Eli: Ahimelech is the son of Ahitub, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli. They possess the linen ephod, enabling them to communicate with God, and they serve as likely the core group of remaining priests in Saul’s time. These are no ordinary priests. The terrible event prompted this Psalms written by David himself. What can we learn from Psalms 52?
1. The Speech of Doeg.
Psalms 52:1-4 says, ‘Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? The goodness of God endureth continually. The tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Thou lovest evil more than good, and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue.’
This Psalms is addressed to wicked Doeg. You will notice that it is the speech of Doeg that was addressed first. His speech reveals his heart. What we say tells on us. We made statements or tell people our thoughts but our speech tells on us. Matthew 12:34-35 says, ‘How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.’
Notice how David describes Doeg in Psalms 52:1. First David called him the mighty one in Psalms 52:1. Doeg seems quite a powerful fellow. He seems quite an imposing and frightening figure. He is also mighty in his boasting about his sin. He boasted about his killing of the 85 priests and their entire household at Nob. Some people did evil and harm people and still boasted how they harmed these people. That is Doeg. David goes on to call him worker of deceit and one with a deceitful tongue. Second David mentioned his boast. The word boast is often used of self-praise. This wicked Doeg is involved in self-praise. After all he had done, he boastfully congratulated himself. Speech is a vital part of our personhood. It enables us to communicate to others how we feel about life. Therefore it reveals who we really are. There are tremendous power in human speech. It has the power to curse and to destroy. I can never forget the speech of people that were used to curse and destroy my life. Their words keep ringing in my life for long long time. They were cocky about what they had done to me. But they will be judged by their words. Finally they will reap what we sow. I know that in this congregation there are members in whom death words were said to you and you are deeply affected. You never really recover because of the speech of someone concerning you. I remember someone said to Pastor Lily ‘You are an evil wife’ and she continually boasted of her way she Rambo her workers. I also remembered on the same day we were having our church dedication, someone said, ‘something bad and big is going to happen to Etab.’ Many suffered tremendously and took years to recover because of death words. Their words were meant to devour or swallow you up. Well, I need to tell you that in the midst of the speech, David also says, ‘the goodness of God endureth continually.’ You are different because you have God. These people that made death words will reap what they sow one day. But for you, what they say will not come true because the goodness of God endueth continually. In some translation, it says, the lovingkindness of God endures all day long. All day long means God’s lovingkindness is for extended period of time and in this case it is forever. The concept of forever is repeated several times in this psalm. Firstly God’s judgment is repeated on these people that bring forth death words. Secondly the righteous’ trust in God’s lovingkindness. You are considered God’s righteous one and you are told to trust in his goodness and not to be affected by the speech of mighty evil people. Thirdly the righteous thanksgiving to God is repeated continually. You are told to praise him in the midst of death words. They seemed mighty but they will reap what they sow. For me what death words, threatening words, frightening words that was said about me did not come to pass. Actually what was said fall upon these people themselves in the end. And they had to give an account of what they say. God’s goodness will outlast his evil. It is true that Doeg was a mighty man, but that was nothing compared to God and His never-ending goodness.
Doeg is a loyal servant to Saul. Doeg loves to parrot Saul’s wording. He had unswerving loyalty to the king. In contrast to other servants of King Saul who were ready to side with David in exchange for some benefits and who refused to submit information about David’s whereabouts, Doeg was the only one who informed the king of the assistance which had been extended by Abimelech to David. He was also the only one of the loyal runners who was ready to kill on the King’s order.
Look at the character of Doeg. Psalms 52:2 says, ‘Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.’ I say our speech tells on us. Doeg’s speech reveals his character.
2. Doeg’s Background
Rabbinic tradition tells us that Doeg is actually a sage. A sage is a wise man. Doeg is regarded within much rabbinic literature as the greatest scholar of his time. He could bring forth hundreds of arguments for any single legal case, his argumentation far surpassed his peers and the Babylonian Talmud even describes how Doeg shared the values of the rabbis and used his capabilities even against King David at times. So actually Doeg is not some guy that is stupid but an intelligent man. That is why he is called the mighty one. But he used his intelligence for his sinfulness. Some scholars have called him the most loyal of Saul’s men. Doeg the Edomite is actually a morally complex person that one cannot really fathom. When we look at his characterization in 1 Samuel, his role in the unfolding plot, and the redemptive historical implication of the massacre at Nob, we find in Doeg a case study of the mystery of God’s providence in using evil men to further his will.
3. Doeg Detained Before the LORD
1 Samuel 21:7, ‘Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chiefest of the herdsmen that belonged to Saul.’
We are given two information here. First Doeg is called ‘the Edomite’ both in this verse and in all other 3 instances. The plain sense of this title is that Doeg is a man of Edomite origin, and it is interesting that an Edomite is running around with King Saul and his men. Some believe that Doeg held a high official role in Saul’s household. He took care of Saul’s household. Doeg is a man that is after Saul’s own heart. But his master is possessed by this time by an evil spirit. And Doeg is that kind of guy that would follow his master even if his leader is evil. Doeg is one who would follow after a man’s heart rather than God’s heart.
Second, we are told that Doeg was ‘detained before the LORD’. What exactly does that mean? It is just saying he was hanging around with the priests at Nob. Doeg is the modern guy who has been in church a long time. Also the word ‘detain’ is translated as ‘restrain’. It implies that he was restrained actively by YHWH. Maybe the LORD has restrained him from doing evil until that day. Doeg is that kind of guy that is restrained and prevented by God from committing evil for a while. Some scholars think that this phrase implies that Doeg was in fact an Israelite proselyte or convert who wished to be received into the religious community of Israel and, hence was seen visiting the priest at Nob frequently. It is this condition which make him a part of the church which cause his act to be more despicable. The bible also says he was the chief shepherd suggesting that he was in some way responsible for Saul’s animal properties. Doeg hold some positional authority with Saul. Doeg is a person who holds some authority even in church. Doeg is that kind of servant that loves to parrot Saul’s wordings.
In today’s context he is found in the church but he reigned religiosity among God’s people. He walks among us. 1 John 2:19 says, ‘they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.’ Right now I think of Joshua Harris. He was restrained and prevented by the LORD for a while. Then suddenly he denies his faith and declares he is LGBT. I think his speech has brought destruction to many weak believers. Remember 1 John was written about the last days. And this is the characteristics of the last days. The mighty Doegs who came out of us. The moral of the story is that you cannot tell a man by where he worships but only by his heart.
It means that Doeg was in fact an Israelite proselyte or convert who wished to be received into the ceremonial community of Israel and hence, was visiting the priests of Nob at that time.
4. Expediting the Demise of Saul
Doeg became the executioner. He is the hatched man. He is the executioner for Saul but he was also responsible for accelerating the downfall of Saul. He execute the dirty works of Saul but also harm Saul finally. Saul turned to Doeg who carried out the executions. As it so happens to those who strive for something to which they are not entitled, he lost that which he possessed. Probably Doeg was striving for something he is not entitled to and in the process, he lost that which he possessed. Doeg is among those who forfeited their portion in the future world by their wickedness. Doeg is an instance of the evil consequences of Calumny (slander, defamation), because by calumniating the priests of Nob he lost his own life, and caused the death of Saul, Ahimelech, and Abner. To put it correctly Doeg’s lifestyle left a trail of death everywhere. Members of church people left their faith, character destroyed and even are no more useful because of a Doeg in their lives. I have seen in this 33-year countless of people who once attended a church, and even were leaders but are now living no different from an unbeliever because of a Doeg that split the church and cause the sheep to scatter. These people can only reminisce their past glorious church day.
Saul is possessed by an evil spirit. Saul is characterized as a faltering shepherd. Saul utterly fails as Israel’s shepherd king. Actually it talks about the danger of following a leader blindly even in the church. Saul has rejected the word of God and God has rejected him. How do you know a leader in the church is not worth following? By their works. The murder of the priests symbolizes YHWH”s complete withdrawal from Saul. One of the chief characteristics of Saul is he is always paranoid and that lead to evil actions. Subsequently events show Saul’s continuing his insane pursuit of David, losing his family’s support, resorting to necromancy and ultimately dying a cowardly death in a losing battle. All these events reveals that God has indeed abandoned Saul.
5. The Destruction of Doeg Predicted
Psalms 52:6-7 says, ‘But God will break you down forever; he will snatch you up and tear you away from your tent. And uproot you from the land of the living. Selah. The righteous will see and fear, and will laugh at him, saying, ‘Behold, the man who would not make God his refuge. But trusted in the abundance of his riches and was strong in his evil desire.’
These few verses contrasts what God will do with the wicked Doeg and the response of the righteous. God’s actions towards the wicked result in his death.
a. He will break, literally pull him down forever.
b. He will snatch up. This is a rare word only here in the Psalms but note its three other occurrences refer to ‘fire taken to oneself’. Doeg has taken fire into his bosom.
c. He will tear Doeg away from his tent. Tent refers to his household, his dwelling place.
d. He will uproot him from the land of the living. This refers to death of course. The judgement is not just temporal but eternal. He will be like a tree uprooted. As he has destroyed the LORD’s priests, and their whole city, razing and harassing it; so God will demolish and destroy him utterly as a house pulled down to the ground, so that one stone is not left upon another.
The reaction of the righteous to God’s acts of judgement.
a. They will see. Actually they will get to see what will happen to Doeg
b. They will fear. It cause them to be in awe and repent in submission to YHWH
c. They will laugh at his judgment. Here the righteous laugh when the judgment falls on those who have persecuted them. They laugh in the sense of Doeg ‘reaping what he sowed.’
6. How God Relates to Evil
There is God. Then there is the Doeg. How does God relate to this Doeg especially involving us? On one level, we may validly connect the figure of Doeg to today’s current affair by envisioning him as a representative of the world system set against God’s people. But on the other hand the true reality is Doeg is found within the church. It is so easy to forget this reality when we are mired in the day to day activities meeting deadlines, packing lunches for kids and teaching children’s church on Sunday. There is real evil that is diabolically opposed and even violently persecuting the church of Christ. And many times that evil spring up from among us who like Doeg are running in our midst as wolves, not shepherds. But God is good and even a seemingly minor character (like Doeg) is taken up by God as his instruments to achieve a stunning array of sovereign purposes. All things work together for good to those who loves God and are called according to his purpose. Through Doeg’s evil deeds, God fulfills his curse against the house of Eli, chastises David for his sinful deception at Nob and accomplishes the prophesied rise of the Zadokite priesthood, set in motion the final collapse of Saul’s reign and drives forwards the conflict of the seeds one step closer to the redemption promised in the messianic seed of the woman. It is quite shocking really that God achieves through such a massively evil event. In the balance then, Doeg is a nuanced example of the complex way in which God providentially achieves his decree even through the sinful deeds of man. I look at my life, I realize the Doegs in my life, is taken up as God’s instruments to achieve a stunning array of sovereign purposes. God fulfills his curse against the people who despises the word of God, chastises me for my sinful deception and accomplishes the prophesied rise of the new Joshua generation, set in motion the final collapse of evil Christian leader’s reign and preparing us for the Second Coming of Christ. So recognizing the rise of evil set against God’s people we need to responds to some eternal truths in life.
Firstly when faced with evil deed, we want a simple answer and even our opponents want us to provide one too. But this is not the case with God. There are simply many times God does not provide an answer but he just intervenes in our lives.
Secondly sometimes we want to defend God by taking him out of the picture when Doeg appears in our life. The truth of the matter is God knows what is happening to us and he uses it to pursue his purposes even for our lives.
Thirdly we cried and want simply to say, ‘God can bring good out of this’. But the truth of the matter is God is the one who brought us into the affairs of our life; not just to bring good out of it but to perfect our lives.
Fourthly the bible is not always tidy and so we are left with a tension: God is good, God is not sinful, God is morally perfect, God is wise, but God also directs wickedness to achieve his ends in ways far beyond our simple understanding.
Fifthly we can ironically find rest in God’s dealing. We can mourn evil, but rejoice in God’s good purposes, ultimately being reminded on Acts 2:23 how ‘this Jesus delivered up according to the definitely plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men’. In the cross the goodness and totally sovereignty of God intersect with the wickedness of men (like Doeg) in ways that are hard to wrap our heads around but which further God’s redemptive plans in ways we could never have imagined.