The Great Exchange

David is in the Forest at Hereth with his 400 renegades. Saul has received news of David’s presence in Judah. In today’s passage, we see two different mentalities presented. Saul concerns himself with casting blame on others while David imputes Saul’s guilt to himself. In this passage, we are led to consider the doctrine of imputation and the great exchange. We consider what it means for us to bear fruit consistent with repentance because of Christ’s finished work on the cross.

1 Samuel 22:11-23

Then the king sent someone to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s household, the priests who were in Nob; and all of them came to the king. Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” Saul then said to him, “Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, so that he would rise up against me by lying in ambush as it is this day?”

Then Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, even the king’s son-in-law, who is captain over your guard, and is honored in your house? Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any of the household of my father, for your servant knows nothing at all of this whole affair.”

But the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s household!” And the king said to the guards who were attending him, “Turn around and put the priests of the Lord to death, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was fleeing and did not reveal it to me.” But the servants of the king were not willing to put forth their hands to attack the priests of the Lord.

Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 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. 

But one son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord.

Then 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. “Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life, for you are safe with me.”

Unjust judgment (v. 11-15)

Then the king sent someone to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s household, the priests who were in Nob; and all of them came to the king. Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” Saul then said to him, “Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, so that he would rise up against me by lying in ambush as it is this day?”

Saul has misread the situation. David is fleeing Saul because Saul is really trying to kill him. In Chapter 20, we saw that David was trying to judge justly by inquiring as to what Saul’s intentions were. Saul does not. Saul perceives a threat. He does not judge justly but assumes David is lying in ambush. Based on his assumption, he interrogates Ahemelech and accuses Ahimelech of aiding and abetting a fugitive.

Then Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, even the king’s son-in-law, who is captain over your guard, and is honored in your house? Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any of the household of my father, for your servant knows nothing at all of this whole affair.”

In his own defense, Ahimelech presents evidence as to why he would be ignorant of David’s fugitive status. David proved to be faithful to the king, even more faithful than Saul’s other son-in-law—probably Adriel (Cf. 17:19). Ahimelech asks King Saul not to impute, or assign, anything to him or any of his household. Ahimelech desired that Saul judge justly rather than from his own assumptions about things. Ahimelech claimed to know nothing of the whole affair. As far as we know, he did not. Remember, David lied to Ahimelech so that Ahimelech did not know. David provided him plausible deniability. 

Unjust action (v. 16-19)


But the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s household!” And the king said to the guards who were attending him, “Turn around and put the priests of the Lord to death, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was fleeing and did not reveal it to me.” But the servants of the king were not willing to put forth their hands to attack the priests of the Lord.

Saul chooses not to judge justly and commands his servants to kill the priests of the Lord because, according to his own assumptions and not even reality, they aided and abetted David. In Saul’s mind, high treason of this sort is punishable by death. The kings servants refuse the order.

Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 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.

Doeg, the one who told Saul about David and Ahimelech (Cf. v. 9), was willing. At Saul’s command, he strikes down 85 priests, the families in Nob, and their livestock. Saul’s concern about preserving himself and his own power leads him to judge unjustly and to commit one of the most grievous crimes against humanity we can think of—genocide. The priests, those sincerely trying to do some good in this world, pay the ultimate price for Saul’s selfishness.

Fruit of repentance (v. 20-23)

But one son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord.
Then 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. “Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life, for you are safe with me.”


Abiathar escapes and reports what happened to David in the Forest at Hereth. While Saul was interested in casting blame (imputing guilt onto others), David takes the blame for what happened upon Himself. This is one of David’s more redeemable qualities—the quality of a Christian. When John the Baptist will later preach in the Gospels, he will instruct God’s people to bear fruit that is consistent with repentance. Rather than justify themselves and defend their own statuses or authorities, God’s people come to live repentant lives because they have been transformed. As faithless as David has been, he proves here to bear the fruit of salvation while Saul does not. David invites Abiathar to remain with him because he is concerned about Abiathar’s safety.

The Great Exchange: David is a type of Christ. He is the one through whom God will prepare Jesus Christ’s throne within His creation. Here, David imputes Saul’s sin to himself and offers to safeguard Abiathar from the consequences of Saul’s sin. Christ took our sin upon Himself. Our sin was imputed to Him and His righteousness is imputed to His people. He died a substitutionary atoning death so that His people would not be subject to the consequences of their sins. We call this the great exchange. Those who are in Christ are clothed in His righteousness and free from their sins and insufficiencies. What a blessing to know that when God looks at us and measures us, we are measured by Christ’s person and work rather than our own works—which are like filthy rags according to Scripture (Isaiah 64:6). This is why the true Christian is free from the burdens of the Law and popular works-based religion. We are truly saved by grace alone.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus will teach:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:1-6).

Remembering back to Leviticus 19:15-18 and James 2:1-7 based on our conversation last week, we see that Jesus consistently taught His people to judge justly. The predisposition for the Christian is to ask, “How is God working on my life?” rather than “What do I need to correct in others?” He or she bears the fruit of repentance rather than the fruit of self-justification. When we are merely focussed on defending ourselves, we tend to think more about how others have wronged us. Many times, our thoughts are unjust and cause us to make assumptions about others and act out in unjust ways. If we have eternal life, our attention is fixed upon Christ as He builds us up. Without first being built up, we cannot build others up. After all, that is the purpose of discipleship and even church discipline, which we see in Matthew 18—for the building up of Christ’s body. When we are wronged, we remember David and Jesus. With them, we honor God’s work of justification. Rather than being accusatory concerning issues of morality or wrongdoing, we take those opportunities to practice discipleship rather than point fingers. This is how iron sharpens iron in the local church.

Leave a Reply