by John Thomas Lowe
When Absalom rebelled against his father and attempted to seize the throne, Abiathar remained loyal to David. Abiathar was among those who fled the capital city with David (2 Samuel 15:24). Zadok and the Levites carried the ark of the covenant, "and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city" (2 Samuel 15:24). Although David admired the loyalty and faithfulness of the priests, he ordered them to return to the city with the ark. This proved helpful because they could then send word to David about Absalom's plans (2 Samuel 15:27–29; 17:15–16). David was restored to his throne, and Abiathar to his priestly office.
Things changed as David's son Solomon took the throne. Abiathar was not loyal to the new king. Adonijah, another of David's sons, put himself forward as king with the help of Joab (one of David's nephews) and Abiathar (1 Kings 1:5, 7). Once the threat from Adonijah was neutralized, King Solomon dealt with the conspirators. One of Solomon's actions was to remove Abiathar from the priestly office. This fulfilled the Lord's word of judgment over Eli and his descendants, which impacted Abiathar since he was related to Eli (1 Samuel 3:12–14; 1 Kings 2:27). It was only because of the priest's loyal service to David that Solomon did not kill him. Solomon told Abiathar, "Go back to your fields in Anathoth. You deserve to die, but I will not put you to death now, because you carried the ark of the Sovereign LORD before my father David and shared all my father's hardships" (1 Kings 2:26). Zadok replaced Abiathar as a priest under Solomon (1 Kings 2:35).
Abiathar lived most of his life in faithful service to the Lord, but he did not finish well. Instead of siding with the rightful king of Israel (2 Samuel 7:12; 1 Kings 1:17), Abiathar assisted one of David's rebellious sons who desired to rule. He allowed earthly matters to become his focus, which cost him the priestly office. Like Abiathar, we can easily get caught up in worldly schemes and lose sight of God's plan. Rather than seeking our way or chasing what seems politically expedient, we should seek to follow God faithfully. Then, when our time on earth is done, we can state with the apostle Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful" (2 Timothy 4:7, NLT).
father of abundance, or my father excels, the son of Ahimelech, the high priest. He was the tenth high priest and the fourth in descent from Eli. When his father was slain with the priests of Nob, he escaped, and bearing with him the ephod, he joined David, who was then in the cave of Adullam ( 1 Samuel 22:20-23; 23:6 ). He remained with David and became a priest of the party of which he was the leader ( 1 Samuel 30:7 ). When David ascended the throne of Judah, Abiathar was appointed high priest ( 1 Chronicle 15:11; 1 Kings 2:26 ) and the "king's companion" ( 1 Chronicle 27:34 ). Meanwhile Zadok, of the house of Eleazar, had been made high priest. These appointments continued in force till the end of David's reign ( 1 Kings 4:4 ). Abiathar was deposed (the sole historical instance of the deposition of a high priest) and banished to his home at Anathoth by Solomon because he took part in the attempt to raise Adonijah to the throne. Thus, the priesthood passed from the house of Ithamar ( 1 Samuel 2:30-36; 1 Kings 1:19; 1 Kings 2:26, 1 Kings 2:27 ). Zadok became the sole high priest. In Mark 2:26, reference is made to an occurrence in "the days of Abiathar, the high priest." However, from 1 Samuel 22, we learn that this event occurred when Ahimelech, Abiathar's father, was a high priest. The apparent discrepancy is satisfactorily explained by interpreting the words in Mark as referring to the lifetime of Abiathar and not to the term of his holding the office of the high priest. It is not implied in Mark that he was an actual high priest at the time referred to. Others, however, think that the loaves belonged to Abiathar, a priest, at that time ( Leviticus 24:9 ) and that he either gave them to David or persuaded his father to give them.
The Biblical Account
The Scriptures represent Abiathar descended from Phineas, the son of Eli, and through him from Ithamar, the son of Aaron. He had two sons, Ahimelech and Jonathan, the former of whom was, in Abiathar's lifetime, prominent in the priestly service. He was the son of Ahimelech, the head priest at Nob, who, with his associates, was put to death by King Saul for alleged conspiracy with David.―1 Sam 21:1-9; 22:7 ff; 2 Sam 8:17; 15:27 ff; 1 Ch 18:16; 24:3,6,31.
Abiathar escaped from the massacre of the priests at Nob and fled to David, carrying the ephod with him. This was a fantastic accession to David's strength. Public feeling in Israel was outraged by the slaughter of the priests and turned firmly against Saul. The heir of the priesthood, and in his care the holy ephod, was now with David, who gave his cause prestige and a particular character of legitimacy. David also felt bitterly his having been the unwilling cause of the death of Abiathar's relatives, which made his heart warm toward his friend. Presumably, also, there was a deep religious sympathy between them.
Abiathar seems to have been recognized as David's priest, the medium of consultation with Jehovah through the ephod (1 Samuel 22:20-23; 23:6,9; 30:7-8). He was at the head of the priesthood, along with Zadok (1 Ch. 15:11), when David, after his conquests (1 Ch 13:5; compare 2 Sam. 6), brought the ark to Jerusalem. The two men are mentioned together as high priests eight times in the narrative of the rebellion of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:24 ff). They are mentioned in the last list of David's heads of departments (2 Sam 20:25). Abiathar joined Adonijah in his attempt to seize the throne (1 Ki 1:7-42) and was, for this, deposed from the priesthood. However, he was treated with consideration because of his early comradeship with David (1 Ki 2:26-27). Possibly, he remained high priest emeritus, as Zadok and Abiathar still appear as priests in the lists of the heads of departments for Solomon's reign (1 Ki 4:4). Particularly apt is the passage in Ps. 55:12-14, if one regards it as referring to the relations of David and Abiathar in the time of Adonijah.
There are two additional facts, which, considering the close relations between David and Abiathar, must be regarded as significant. One is that Zadok, Abiathar's junior, is uniformly mentioned first in all the passages in which the two are mentioned together and is treated as the one who is primarily responsible. Turn to the narrative, and see how marked this is. The other similarly significant fact is that in certain incredibly responsible matters (1 Ch 24; 18:16; 2 Sam 8:17), the interests of the line of Ithamar are represented not by Abiathar but by his son Ahimelech. There must have been something in the character of Abiathar to account for these facts, as well as for his deserting David for Adonijah. To sketch his character might be a work for the imagination rather than critical inference. However, it seems clear that though he was a man worthy of David's friendship, he had weaknesses or misfortunes that partially deprived him of effectiveness.
Solomon thus expresses the characteristic priestly function of Abiathar: "because you carried the ark of the Lord Jehovah before David, my father" (1 Kings 2:26). By its tense, the verb denotes not a habitual act but the function of ark bearing, taken as a whole. Zadok and Abiathar, as high priests, had charge of bringing the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chronicle 15:11). We are not told whether it was again moved during the reign of David. Necessarily the priestly superintendence of the ark implies the sacrifices and services that were connected with the ark. The details in Kings indicate the existence of much of the ceremonial described in the Pentateuch, while numerous additional Pentateuchal details are mentioned in Chronicles.
A priestly function much emphasized is that of obtaining answers from God through the ephod (1 Sam 23:6,9; 30:7). The word ephod (see 1 Sam 2:18; 2 Sam 6:14) does not necessarily denote the priestly vestment with the Urim and Thummim (e.g., Lev. 8:7-8), but if anyone denies that this was the ephod of the priest Abiathar, the burden of proof rests upon him. This is not the place for inquiring as to the method of obtaining divine revelations through the ephod.
Abiathar's landed estate was at Anathoth in Benjamin (1 Kings 2:26), one of the cities assigned to the sons of Aaron (Joshua 21:18).
Apart from the men who are expressly said to be descendants of Aaron, this part of the narrative mentions priests three times. David's sons were priests (2 Sam 8:18). This is of a piece with David's carrying the ark on a new cart (2 Sam 6) before the death of Uzza had taught him. "And Ira the Jairite was also David's priest." (2 Sam 20:26). "Zabud the son of Nathan was priest and king's friend" (1 Kings 4:5). These instances seem to indicate that David and Solomon had each a private chaplain. As to the descent and function of these two "priests," we have not a word of information, and it is illegitimate to imagine details concerning them that conflict with the rest of the record.
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