In the Book of First Samuel, David appears to take the blame for the massacre of the priests (and the entire city) of Nob:

1 Samuel 22:20-23: "But one son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD. 22Then David said to Abiathar, 'I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father’s household. 23Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life, for you are safe with me'" (emphasis added).

Was really responsible for the acts of a lunatic like King Saul, or did the blame not fall squarely on Saul and his executioner, Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 22:22)?

  • If [you] סַבֹּ֔תִי Sibati "caused" others to close your question, did you really close it? Sep 9, 2021 at 18:51

4 Answers 4


Was David responsible for Saul's insane order to slaughter everyone in the city of Nob (1 Sam. 22:22)?

A similar question was asked in the Questions From Readers in the Watchtower November 15, 1986 issue.

Why did David knowingly endanger Ahimelech the high priest, leading to the priest’s death, as David confessed in 1 Samuel 22:22?

Actually, 1 Samuel 22:22 does not indicate that David knew beforehand that his course would lead to Ahimelech’s death. The verse states: “At this David said to Abiathar [son of Ahimelech]: ‘I well knew on that day, because Doeg the Edomite was there, that he [Doeg] would without fail tell Saul. I personally have wronged every soul of the house of your father [Ahimelech].’”

David, fleeing from enraged King Saul, went to Nob, where high priest Ahimelech was. Perhaps out of a concern that the high priest would feel obliged to report David’s whereabouts to the king, David did not reveal the precise reason for his being out of Jerusalem. Yet his presence in Nob was noticed. The Edomite named Doeg saw David and afterward reported the matter to angry Saul.

There is nothing in the account, though, that proves that David knew beforehand of Doeg’s presence. Doeg “was there on that day, detained before Jehovah.” (1 Samuel 21:7) Likely, David was surprised, even shocked, that the unprincipled Doeg saw him with Ahimelech. Once it was done, however, it was done. David could not change that; nor could he prevent the awful consequences that Saul’s rage brought on the high priest and scores of other priests, as well as women, children, and animals in Nob.​—1 Samuel 22:9-19.

With this in mind, note again David’s sad words to Abiathar, who had escaped the massacre: “I well knew on that day, because Doeg the Edomite was there . . . ” We can understand David’s point to be, ‘I knew that day, just as soon as I saw that Doeg had observed me with Ahimelech . . . ’ But it was too late. Doeg unexpectedly was there and noted David’s contact with the high priest. So David immediately concluded that Doeg would report the matter to Saul. That is why David later admitted to Abiathar a feeling of some guilt, even if David had contributed only indirectly to the subsequent massacre. He urged Abiathar to remain with him, for David trusted in Jehovah’s guidance and protection.​—1 Samuel 22:22, 23.


This question concerns the tension between an immediate cause vs an ultimate cause. Here are some examples:

  • If I spend a lifetime of chain-smoking that kills me, the immediate cause of death is (say) slow asphyxiation via emphysema; the ultimate cause is my continuing decision to smoke
  • If I give a group of young children matches to play with and the house is burned down, then the immediate cause of the house destruction is the fire, but the ultimate cause is my inexcusable decision to give young children matches to play with.

The same is arguably true in the case of the appalling incident of the murder of the priests of Nob.

  • The immediate cause of the death of the priests was Saul order and then those that implemented it, Doeg and his helpers
  • However, as David correctly observes, he felt responsible for the death of the priests because, had he been thinking more clearly, he could has foreseen that his visit to Nob might well precipitate a series of events that would arouse the angry, irrational jealously of Saul that Saul would kill the priests of Nob. In this sense, David was the ultimate cause as he correctly observes in 1 Sam 22:22.

Indeed, the reaction of the priests of Nob is explicitly described in 1 Sam 21:1, 2

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And when Ahimelech met David, he trembled and asked him, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” “The king has given me a mission,” David replied. “He told me no one is to know about the mission or charge. And I have directed my young men to meet me at a certain place.

Notice that David is not truthful here - the king had NOT given David a mission - in fact, David was fleeing from the king! Abimelech the priest was very frightened to see David and sensed that something was wrong.

Again, had David not been so flustered by his eagerness to escape Saul and his own hunger, he might have thought ahead more clearly and avoided the massacre that followed.

  • When I read this verse I wondered if we too might need to accept the guilt of something we did (rather innocuous lying by David's requesting food and supplies "on his mission for Saul"), and the consequences by someone who has taken our actions, distorted them beyond human reason, and, therefore, unleashed such a vicious slaughter of innocent men (including priests), women, children, and infants, including all livestock (22:19). It's also interesting the Doeg, a vicious murderer, accomplished that which Saul did not do to the Amalekites. +1.
    – Xeno
    Sep 9, 2021 at 22:41
  • Recently, someone suggested that this slaughter may have been a fulfillment of the curse on Eli. Do you know if this could be true from the text?
    – Xeno
    Sep 10, 2021 at 18:05
  • @Xeno - the slaughter fulfilling the prophecy about Eli's house is quite probably correct, but only in part. The final fulfillment, however, came in the time of Solomon when the high priest was replaced with Zadok.
    – Dottard
    Sep 10, 2021 at 21:27

Was David responsible for Saul's insane order to slaughter everyone in the city of Nob (1 Sam. 22:22)?

No, not really, but the buck stopped at David.

1 Samuel 22:

20 But one son of Ahimelek son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David. 21He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 22Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.

Abiathar was in tremendous distress. David personally apologized to him and accepted responsibility. David was not admitting this in front of Saul or Doeg. He was speaking comforting words to Abiathar.

23 Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”

This contrasted Saul's behavior 7 chapters earlier in 1 Samuel 15:

7Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. 8He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

Saul sinned for failing to completely followed God's command.

13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

Excuses, excuses. Saul was the king; he could have ordered the soldiers to follow orders. Instead of taking personal responsibility for his own sin, he blamed his soldiers.

Was David really responsible for the acts of a lunatic like King Saul?

No. Yet, David accepted responsibility contrasting Saul's shifting responsibility to his inferiors.

Did the blame not fall squarely on Saul and his executioner, Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 22:22)?

I think so and many others also in 1 Samuel 22:

17Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.”

But the king’s officials were unwilling to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord.

They disagreed with Saul.

18The king then ordered Doeg, “You turn and strike down the priests.” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep.

Those who disagreed with Saul didn't think that David was responsible but Doeg was responsible for the killing.


Yes and no.

Yes, because David, acting out of fear, deceived the priest into thinking he has been sent by Saul on a special mission. He also failed to act on his intuition that Doeg was a spy for Saul. David should have been truthful and alerted the priests to the fact that Saul was chasing him, and the priests may have been more vigilant. He also should have respected his intuition and been more careful saying or doing anything around Doeg that might endanger the priests. How strong that intuition was, we can’t say, so it is possible that David was also feeling a lot of guilt about the situation. But it is important to understand that even what we may perceive as minor sins often bring unintended consequences.

On the other hand, nothing that David did justifies Saul’s or Doeg’s response in killing the priests of God. David’s error in judgment would have been viewed as minor if those two hadn’t used it to commit a heinous crime against men and God.

In the end, who will be held accountable for the great evil committed against the priests? Saul and Doeg.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.