Doeg: Evil in the Hands of a Good God

If you wanted to put together a list of  the “bottom 10” people in the Bible (excluding Satan, to be fair, since it wouldn’t be right to put God or Jesus in the “top 5” people), you would have a lot of folks to choose from. These would be a good place to start: Cain (first murderer, not including Satan), Ahab / Jezebel (a tag-team of badness), Manasseh (child sacrificer), Jeroboam I (who kicked off all the badness for the Northern Kingdom), Herod the Great (slaughterer of children), Herodias and Herod Antipas (beheaded John the Baptist), Judas (for obvious reasons), Pontius Pilate (the hand-washer), and Saul/Paul.*

I want to argue that the tenth should be a little-known figure buried in 1 Samuel named Doeg the Edomite. The way in which Doeg appears on the scene, wreaks havoc, and disappears offers a great case study about how God relates to evil.

A Shadowy Character with a Huge Impact

Is Saul cheering here?
Is Saul cheering here?

The scene begins somewhat questionably with David on the run from King Saul; his men are hungry, and so he stops in with priest Ahimelech for refreshment. One can feel the tension when the writer of Samuel inserts an ominous side reference to a previously unknown figure. Making an abrupt pause between David’s request for bread from Ahimelech and his appeal for a weapon, the text reads, “Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD. His name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen” (1 Sam 21:7). Though little is divulged at this point about his future role, the way he is obliquely introduced is designed to catch the reader’s attention. In the subsequent chapter, Doeg the Edomite is mentioned only three more times – but his impact is tragic. He divulges the actions of David to the maniacal Saul, proceeds to kill the eighty-five priests of Nob, and then, without explanation, slaughters the entire city – man, woman, and child – in the form of the cherem (“ban”). We are left stunned at the simplicity of his wickedness: on the surface, Doeg seems little more than a flat, underdeveloped epitome of evil.

Or is he? Later rabbinic tradition treats Doeg, shockingly, as a wise sage; some scholars have called him the most loyal of Saul’s men; and many interpreters have asked whether Doeg is actually the guilty one in the Nob massacre. When the layers are peeled back, Doeg the Edomite emerges as more morally complex than at first glance. When we look at his characterization in 1 Samuel, his role in the unfolding plot, and the redemptive-historical implications of the massacre at Nob, we find in Doeg a nuanced case study of the mystery of God’s providence in using evil men to further his will.

The Characterization of Doeg: Evil, Wise, or In Between?

While the Bible undoubtedly presents Doeg in an unfavorable light, some interpreters have portrayed seen him as far more complex than a simple henchman / mass killer.

A. Biblical Characterization: Prototype of Evil
Let us begin with the data we get in 1 Sam 21:7 about Doeg, which is not much. However, all three pieces of information have been subject to much debate.

  • First, Doeg is called “the Edomite” both in this verse and in all other instances (1 Sam 22:9, 18, 22; also superscript of Psalm 52). In the LXX, he is called “the Syrian” or the “Aramaen” (Δωὴκ ὁ Σύρος). The plain sense of this title is that Doeg is a man of Edomite origin, but why would an Edomite be running around with King Saul and his men?
    1. The leading view holds that Saul conscripted Doeg as a mercenary after his military campaign against Edom (1 Sam 14:47). Given his prominence in the narrative, some also believe Doeg held a high official role previously in Edom. If Doeg is indeed an ethnic Edomite with a long-standing animosity towards Israel, his willingness to slaughter the Israelite priests in chapter 22, in stark contrast to the refusal of Saul’s Benjaminite courtiers, becomes more readily explainable: his ethnic tribe had a long-held hatred of Israel.
    2. However, some later rabbinic writings question this ethnic tie and instead conclude that Doeg is called “the Edomite” because he  was able to make others blush (adom, ‘ruddy’ or ‘red’) in shame when he debated with them. This interpretation softens the issue by drawing the connection along linguistic lines to the original meaning of Edom rather than ethnic lines.
  • Second, a difficult portion of the verse mentions that Doeg was “detained before the LORD.” What exactly does that mean? Why was he hanging around with the priests of Nob so that he could see this scene play out in the first place? Again, there are two possibilities:
    1. One interpretation is that Doeg was “restrained” actively by Yahweh so that he could play the pivotal role at Nob.
    2. However, some scholars who deny such providence and / or think this somehow impugns God’s goodness take this verb as a ceremonial detention showing that Doeg was in fact an Israelite proselyte or convert who wished to be received into the religious community of Israel and, hence, was visiting the priests of Nob to do so. While the former is more likely, the latter would actually make Doeg’s ensuing actions all the more despicable.
  • If you look closely, you'll see Doeg there in the middle, the chief of the guard.
    If you look closely, you’ll see Doeg there in the middle, the chief of the guard.

    The third and most challenging piece of information provided in 21:7 is Doeg’s official title, which reads in Hebrew אביך הרעים. A strict rendering of these two words is “chief herdsman” (ESV, KJV, ASV), “mighty one of the herdsman,” “mightiest of herdsman,” or “chief shepherd.” In short, his shepherding-related title suggests that he was in some way responsible for Saul’s animal properties. However, scholars have pointed out two disconnects: (a) what exactly is this role, which lacks precedent anywhere else in the Bible, and (b) how would a simple shepherding role, if that is what it is, enable Doeg the positional authority to enact the murders and ban in chapter 22? Three solutions have been proposed.

    1. The first connects this title in 21:7 to another data point provided in 22:9, which describes Doeg as נצב על־עבךי־שאול (“who stood by the servants of Saul,” emphasis added). This phrase’s preposition על (which is quite flexible in Hebrew) could be taken as “over” instead of “by,” thus implying that “chief shepherd” also means that Doeg was the head over Saul’s entire court, not just a peer alongside all his men.
    2. A second proposal offered by some scholars assumes a scribal error and offers a textual emendation to resolve the problem: רעים (“shepherd”) should actually read רצים (only one letter difference), which is used in 22:17 to describe Saul’s “runners” or “guard.” This change would make Doeg not a “chief shepherd” but the “chief [of the] guard,” which potentially resolves why he steps up to execute Saul’s murderous plan when no one else will. However, the LXX rendering (νέμων τὰς ἡμιόνους, or “driver of mules”), coupled with all manuscript data available, militate against such a textual emendation.
    3. The third and most likely explanation proposes that “chief shepherd” in the ANE context can include a military role. Neo-Assyrian, Ugaritic, and Hittite documents mention a similar role of “chief shepherd” and connect it in many cases to men who served as princes or leaders of soldiers; moreover, parallels to Doeg’s role as executioner can be found in Joab (2 Sam 20:22), Absalom (2 Sam 8:14), and Benaiah (1 Kgs 2:34).

Doeg’s characterization in the Bible is rounded out in 1 Sam 22:7–10, where Doeg, who is standing among Saul’s servants, breaks the silence imposed by Saul’s paranoid accusation that all his men are in conspiracy with “the son of Jesse.” Doeg parrots Saul’s wording by likewise referring to David with the pejorative “son of Jesse,” and he proceeds in strongly arguing that Ahimelech’s aid of David was, in fact, treason against Saul. After the priests are called forth from Nob, Doeg again steps up when the other men refuse to comply with Saul’s orders: Doeg “turned and struck down the priests [all 85 of them!]” (1 Sam 22:18), and “Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword” (22:19; emphasis added). The text notably highlights the pivotal role that Doeg plays in the massacre: Saul explicitly says “you” (אתה) kill the priests, and the pronoun הוא is likewise added unnecessarily to the subsequent verb to emphasize that “he,” Doeg alone, committed the massacre of the priests.

In short, the biblical data leaves the reader with the following picture of Doeg: an ethnic Edomite, a possible Israelite proselyte, a high-ranking official in Saul’s court, becomes a zealous executioner of God’s chosen priests and an entire city of innocent people. That’s pretty evil. If that doesn’t get you on the “bottom 10” list, I’m not sure what would.

Two competing characterizations of Doeg, however, have attempted to blur this simple portrait.

B. Rabbinic Characterization: A Sinful Sage?
Somewhat surprisingly for such a seemingly minor character – less than a handful of references total – there is a wealth of Jewish rabbinic literature and legend surrounding Doeg the Edomite. Somewhat perplexingly, 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.

However, rabbinic tradition balances this very positive portrayal of wise Doeg with an equally strong emphasis on his sinfulness, which made him what one scholar calls an “anxiety provoking anomaly” for the rabbis. Though the wisest of all rabbis, Doeg is listed as one of the men alongside Cain, Adonijah, Absalom, Haman, and others who will have no share in the world to come. More strongly, other mishnah describe how Doeg’s rabbinic learning was purely from his lips and that three destroying angels burned Doeg’s soul and scattered his ashes in the synagogues as punishment for his sins (rough ending!). While these mishnaic legends have no real basis in the biblical text, it is notable that a lengthy tradition surrounding Doeg holds in tension how he was both a great rabbinic sage and a monster. If nothing else, they have their finger on the right pulse: evil is often mixed with good.

C. Critical Characterization: A Loyal Servant?
While many scholars have rightly emphasized Doeg’s essential evilness, there is a minority strand within critical scholarship that upholds Doeg as Saul’s only trusted advisor. From this angle, Doeg may be nearly seen as a laudable example of dedication:

[He had] unswerving loyalty to the king. In contrast to the servants of the king who betrayed him and 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 to inform the king of the assistance which had been extended by Ahimelech … He was also the only one of the royal runners who was ready to kill on the king’s orders. (“Doeg,” Encyclopedia of Judaism, 6:146)

Here’s the key: while this perspective seems to be understating the negative character of Doeg’s role, it does open the way for further inquiry relating to Doeg’s specific role in the chain of events at Nob. Specifically, how does the author use him in the broader plot, and what implications does this bear on guilt?

Put differently, the complex characterization of Doeg raises a ton of questions for the biblical interpreter: if he was THAT evil (even acknowledged by the rabbis who thought he was also very brilliant), how was he used by God, and what does that tell us about God’s providence in evil events?

Plot Analysis: Doeg’s Role in an Multi-Faceted Series of Events

The massacre at Nob, in which Doeg plays a central role, unfolds in two stages.

Stage 1: Ahimelech’s Aid to David (1 Sam 21:1–10)
Map of NobThe first plot sequence introduces the central tension that plays out at Nob: David, fleeing from Saul, brings the ostensibly innocent priests at Nob and, specifically, Ahimelech, into danger through what amounts to lies and deception. Nob was a central worship sanctuary at the time, and many of the priests serving (with the ephod) were descendants of the sons of Eli. Ahimelech, either out of fear or respect, questions David about why he has come alone. David’s provides a deceptive reply in claiming that Saul has sent him on a mission – deliberately misrepresenting the reality that David has fled to Nob directly as a result Saul’s anger and David and Jonathan’s escape plan in chapter 20. David, by prioritizing his need for food and weapons, subordinates Ahimelech’s safety and knowingly, it seems (1 Sam 22:22, “I knew on that day…”), endangers the priests in a big way.

In fact, we might even think David would eventually get away with this ruse, were it not for the insertion of the reference to the Edomite Doeg in 21:7, which immediately escalates the stakes and points to the central conflict in the narrative: one of Saul’s trusted men has witnessed the priests provide shelter and aid to his sworn enemy David.

Stage 2: Saul’s Order of the Massacre (2 Sam 22:6–23)
The mentioning of Doeg bridges the action of chapter 21 (excluding an interlude in 22:1–5 showing David’s further flight) to the scene wherein Saul sits under a tamarisk tree in the nearby Gibeah. Saul accuses his entire Benjaminite guard of being in league with David in order to obtain material benefits (22:7), and he concludes that “all of you have conspired against me” because “no one discloses to me” the activities of David (22:8). Saul’s statement reveals how much of the plot, in fact, hinges on the issue of disclosure.

  • David has brought the priests into the ensuing predicament by failing to disclose to Ahimelech the full truth.
  • Saul then accuses his tribesmen of a similar failure to disclose the truth.
  • Doeg, not a Benjaminite but an Edomite, alone steps forward to provide the devastating full disclosure.
  • Saul calls Ahimelech and the priests from Nob to Gibeah (22:11) and accuses them of conspiracy: the priests’ crime was in failing to disclose to Saul the news about David’s visit
  • Ahimelech responds as best he can: he discloses that he indeed helped David and inquired of the Lord on his behalf, but “your servant has known nothing” about the broader conflict between David and Saul (22:15), apparently due to David’s lack of full disclosure.

Saul reacts irrationally and commands his men to kill the priests, but they refuse out of their whatever remaining respect they have for the priesthood of Yahweh. Saul turns to Doeg and issues the command, which is immediately obeyed. Perplexingly, Doeg in his zeal to obey Saul goes beyond the scope of the command, extending the massacre to the entire city (22:19).

The Question: Who is Truly Guilty in this Unmitigated Disaster?
The plot development outlined above appears to position Doeg as the pivotal player who discloses of the alleged conspiracy at Nob and executes bloody vengeance. Only it is not quite so straightforward:

  • Doeg: "No sir, this must be Saul's glove."
    Doeg: “No, your honor, this must be Saul’s glove…or maybe Jonathan’s.”

    The subject of 22:19 (the massacre verse) is not explicitly stated but rather implied in the verb (third masculine singular הכה) and could refer to either Saul or Doeg, which is understandable given that Saul issued the decree that Doeg carried out.

  • Moreover, the appendix to the drama in 22:22 associates significant guilt with David: “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father’s house” (emphasis added). Though, for instance, the Jewish historian Josephus squarely blames Doeg and Saul, later rabbinic tradition assigned some of the blame to David, given his role in the precipitating event at Nob to begin with. This bears some credence on the surface given that David indeed appears to be shouldering the blame in this verse. Yet in Psalm 52, which is directed against Doeg, as well as Jesus’ recollection of the event in Matt 12:1–8 (and par.), David is portrayed as righteous despite his contribution to the events.
  • Interestingly, other rabbis have assigned blame to Jonathan: “Had but Jonathan given David two loaves of bread for his travels, Nob, the city of priests would not have been destroyed” (Sanhedrin 104b)
  • Finally, the writings of Pseudo-Philo (ca. 2nd century AD) are unique in actually placing the guilt for Doeg’s massacre on the priests themselves. Beginning from the observation that the Bible nowhere condemns Saul for the act, Pseudo-Philo argues that the “priests of Nob were being punished by God” for the cultic sins of “the defiling of the sacrifices and the abasement of the firstfruits” (Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 63:1–2). 

At first glance, it seems that the assignment of blame to other parties (Saul, David, Jonathan, and the priests) is off-base. Doeg is clearly the villain, right? He turns Ahimelech in; he corroborates the charge of conspiracy; he kills the priests; he conducts the violent “ban” on Nob. So what do we make of these other interpretations that spread the guilt elsewhere?

If nothing else, they rightly indicate that the sequence of events is more morally complex than meets the eye: Doeg’s actions facilitate numerous providential events that achieve the will of God in the end, raising profound questions about the ways in which God relates to evil deeds. In other words, Doeg is undoubtedly evil, and his activities are undoubtedly sinful and wretched in God’s eyes – but the relationship between God, instruments of evil, and ultimate good is quite complex in the Bible.

Redemptive-Historical Analysis: Doeg and the Ambiguity of Providence

For those (including critics of the Bible) who demand a simplistic formula between God (who is good) and tragic events (which are bad), it may come as a bit of a shock to discover how God uses Doeg’s massacre as a critical link in three important dimensions of his redemptive plan, which come to a head at Nob.

A. Securing The Change of Priesthood.

No, not THAT curse on Eli.
No, not THAT curse on Eli.

The priests at Nob are not just any priests. They are, in fact, direct descendants of Eli: Ahimelech is the son of Ahitub (1 Sam 22:20), the son of Phinehas (1 Sam 14:3), the son of Eli (1 Sam 4:4). They possess the linen ephod (1 Sam 22:18), enabling them to communicate with God, and they serve as likely the core group of remaining priests in Saul’s time. These were no ordinary priests.

Many commentators have observed that Doeg’s massacre of all these priests (except one) is more than just a random evil act: it is, rather, the fulfillment of the Lord’s promised judgment against the priestly house of Eli. Years before, God had sent a prophet to Eli, in response to his sons’ escalating wickedness, to declare, “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” (1 Sam 2:31). His two sons Hopni and Phinehas died in battle, but it is not until the massacre at Nob that God makes good on this promise by ending Eli’s line entirely. The lone survivor Abiathar escapes Doeg’s wrath and joins David’s cause; however, later Abiathar supports Adonijah instead of Solomon, and Solomon subsequently exiles Abiathar (1 Kgs 2:26), which completes the curse against Eli.

Furthermore, Doeg’s destruction of the remaining priests in the line of Eli prepares the way for the rise of the new line that God had foretold to Eli: “And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind” (1 Sam 2:35). This faithful priest is Zadok, who originally serves alongside Abiathar (the survivor) and becomes the founder of the all-important Zadokite line that would rise to prominence under David and continue for centuries thereafter, retaining significant importance through the major and minor prophets, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Sadduccees of Jesus’ day.

Therein lies our first major surprise: Doeg’s massacre of the priests at Nob – though clearly tragic – is the historical circumstance God uses to fulfill his curse against Eli and his promise to raise up a new righteous line of priests.

B. Expediting the Demise of Saul.
Doeg’s actions also act as both a foil to Saul and a catalyst for his ultimate demise, which brought judgment on Israel for demanding a king that was not of God’s own choosing and prepared the way for the real king, the one after God’s own heart, King David. Let us make a few observations on this note:

  • First, it is ironic that Doeg is described as Saul’s “chief shepherd” or “driver of mules” (LXX), because Saul himself is characterized as a faltering shepherd who cannot find his father’s donkeys (1 Sam 9:3) and who utterly fails as Israel’s shepherd-king (2 Sam 5:2).
  • Second, Doeg’s inexplicable decision to put all of Nob “to the sword” (1 Sam 22:19) after the fashion of the cherem (“ban”) stands in sharp contrast to Saul’s own failure to do the same thing when God commanded it against the Amalekites (“Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have,” 1 Sam 16:3). Strikingly, it is this very disobedience of Saul to execute the “ban” (1 Sam 16:19) that results in God’s decisive pronouncement of rejection: “For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel” (1 Sam 16:26).
  • Third, Doeg’s massacre at Nob facilitates this events leading to promised demise of Saul itself.
    1. Previously, Saul had rejected Samuel and replaced him with the priest Ahijah (1 Sam 14:3ff), who was a descendent of Eli.
    2. Due to Saul’s continuing spiral into chaos, the prophets and priests (including those at Nob) turn against him and instead support David.
    3. Having been rejected in principle by God, and having turned away from God’s Word, Saul seals his fate by having Doeg kill the very priests who, bearing the ephod, can inquire of God for Saul.
    4. Doeg’s slaughter of the priests, therefore, is a major transition point in the narrative of the fall of Saul. The murder of the priests symbolizes Yahweh’s complete withdrawal from Saul. Subsequent events show Saul continuing his insane pursuit of David, losing his family’s support, resorting to necromancy, and ultimately dying a cowardly death in a losing battle. God’s rejection of Saul happened early on, of course, but the events at Nob reveal that God has indeed abandoned Saul.

Thus, Doeg’s cherem has multiple levels of meaning with respect to Saul. The “ban” is intended for God’s enemies, but Doeg directs it at the priests who are Saul’s enemies and, in theory, the allies of God. Yet, these same priests are under God’s curse to Eli and are, in a sense, God’s enemies. Finally, this juxtaposition of Doeg’s successful (but unlawful and, thus, evil) cherem with Saul’s failed (but lawful) cherem serves to escalate the very downfall of Saul that God promised as a result of his failure in the first place. It is really quite profound and complicated after all!

C. Perpetuating Seed Conflict.

This is a fantastic, if bizarre, picture.
This is a fantastic, if bizarre, picture.

Finally, the fact that an Edomite stands at the center of such a complex sequence of events involving Israel’s present king, future king, and priests must not pass unnoticed. The Edomites descend, as the biblical record holds, from Esau (Gen 36:1), the brother of Jacob, the patriarch of the twelve tribes. The perpetual antagonism between the descendants of Esau and those of Jacob is a manifestation of a larger pattern that scholars have labeled the “conflict of the seeds,” referring to the enmity God imposed between the “seed” (זרע) of the woman and the “seed” of the serpent (Gen 3:15). This enmity erupts at numerous points in Israel’s history: Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Ham and Shem, Isaac and Ishmael, Egypt and Israel – and Jacob and Esau, or Edom (of which Doeg was one).

  • The first true war with Edom transpires under none other than Saul (1 Sam 14:47).
  • This sets the stage for further conflict with Edom under David (2 Sam 8:13ff), Solomon (1 Kgs 11:14–15), Jehoshaphat (1 Kgs 22:47), Jehoram (2 Kings 8:20ff), and Amaziah (2 Kgs 14:7), culminating at last in Obadiah’s bitter prophecy against Edom (“because of the violence done to your brother Jacob”; Obad 10).

Against this backdrop, it becomes evident that Doeg the Edomite, whose ethnic identity immediately marks him as bad news for Israel, is perpetuating another stage in the seed conflict: he opposes David, betrays the high priest Ahimelech, further exacerbates the collapse of Saul, murders Israel’s priests, and destroys its cultic center of Nob. For good reason David attacks Doeg in Psalm 52, stating that God’s everlasting חסד (“covenant love”) – the very power behind His promise to redeem the seed of the woman against the seed of the serpent – will triumph (Ps 52:1,8). David proclaims that God will ultimately crush Doeg and the serpent’s seed, saying, “God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent” (Ps 52:5).

Doeg the Edomite is, in other words, God’s ordained instrument to perpetuate the seed conflict at Nob, which nevertheless results in God’s judgment upon him for his evil deeds.

So what? Connecting to the pew

Rabbinic legends aside, the biblical portrayal of Doeg the Edomite overwhelms the reader with his intense, one-dimensional wickedness towards the priests and innocent people of Nob. However, as surveyed above, his characterization and role are actually somewhat complicated. Who exactly was he, and why did he do what he did? What is the significance of his dual appellations of “the Edomite” and “chief herdsman”? Is he a purely evil figure or the last loyal follower of Saul? Who exactly bears the guilt of the massacre: Doeg, Saul, David, Jonathan, or the priests themselves? What is God accomplishing through this tragic event? I will conclude with two implications.

  • There is real evil in the world, set against God’s people. On one level, we may validly connect the figure of Doeg to today’s Christian reader by envisioning him as a representative of the world system that sets itself against God’s people in perpetual “seed conflict” until the return of Christ. The cherem of Israel against the enemies of God (e.g., as seen in the book of Joshua) was meant to be an intrusion of Christ’s final judgment, a foreshadowing of how he will ultimately defeat the serpent’s seed. By inverting this pattern and turning the cherem against God’s own priests, Doeg shows the extent of the evil that God’s people are up against and our need for a conquering King. It is easy to forget this reality when we are mired in the day-to-day of commutes, deadlines, packing lunches for kids, and teaching children’s church on Sundays. There is real evil in the world that is diabolically opposed – even violently (cf., persecution of the Christians in Egypt and Pakistan, of late) – to the church of Christ. And sometimes that evil can spring up from among those who, like Doeg, are running in our midst as wolves, not shepherds.
  • God is good and uses evil sinlessless – but he still uses it, nonetheless. We may also draw conclusions from the very ambiguity of Doeg’s legacy itself. In the figure of Doeg we find a seemingly minor character being taken up by God as his instrument to achieve a stunning array of sovereign purposes. Through Doeg’s evil deeds, God (a) fulfills his curse against the house of Eli, (b) chastises David for his sinful deception at Nob, (c) accomplishes the prophesied rise of the Zadokite priesthood, (d) sets in motion the final collapse of Saul’s reign, and (e) drives forward the conflict of the seeds one step closer to the redemption promised in the messianic seed of the woman. It’s quite huge, really, what 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.
    1. When faced with evil deeds in the world, we want a simple answer (and our opponents want us to provide one, too).
    2. Sometimes we want to defend God by taking him out of the picture (the “free will argument” that denies God’s sovereignty).
    3. Other times we want simply to say, “God can bring good out of this” and hope that solves it. But that answer sometimes feels a bit pat or boilerplate.
    4. In reality, the Bible often simply juxtaposes God’s goodness and his sovereign, all-encompassing will up against very wicked human deeds. It is not always tidy, 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.
    5. We can, ironically, find rest in that. We can mourn evil, but rejoice in God’s good purposes, ultimately being reminded how “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). In the cross the goodness and total 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.


* This used to read, “Saul (before he became Paul).” This was brought to my attention by a friend who pointed out that I have now contradicted myself in a 2017 post where I correct this misconception (No … “Saul the Persecutor” did not become “Paul the Apostle”). Even I was under this opinion 3 years ago!

1 Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, 1 & 2 Samuel: A Commentary (OTL; 4th printing; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976).

2 Richard Kalmin, “Doeg the Edomite, From Biblical Villain to Rabbinic Sage,” Pages 390-405 in The Interpretation of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Studies in Language and Traditions (ed. Craig Evans; New York: T&T Clark International, 2000).

3 Ronald F. Youngblood, 1 & 2 Samuel (EBC 3; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).

4 W. Ewing, “Edom,” ISBE, 2:899-900.

5 Bernard Alwyn Taylor, Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009).

6 Shawn Aster, “What Was Doeg the Edomite’s Title? Textual Emendation Versus a Comparative Approach to 1 Samuel 21:8,” JBL 122/2 (2003), 353.

7 Rabbinic literature: Sanhedrin, Midr. Teh. lii. 4, Ḥag. 15B; Herbert Danby, Tractate Sanhedrin Mishnah and Tosefta (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1919).

8 Josephus, Antiquities VI.12.6-7

9 Ralph W. Klein, 1 Samuel (Word 10; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983)

10 Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005).

11 Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975).

12 J.P.U. Lilly, “Understanding the Herem,” TynBul 44.1 (1993).

13 James Hamilton, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham,” TynBul 58.2 (2007).

6 thoughts on “Doeg: Evil in the Hands of a Good God”

  1. This was a good article. Thanks for posting it. I’ve been reading about Doeg on my own and appreciated the insight on how God used him to fulfill his curse against the line of Eli. I very randomly arrived at your blog and thought you might be crazy because of the pictures- but then I realized you have a sense of humor. So thanks for that as well. Cheers.

  2. Greg–appreciate your nuanced approach to OT characters like Doeg.

    I would very much like to read an extended essay of similar insight into David’s treatment of Mephibosheth, especially after David’s return from exile while fleeing from Absalom.

  3. Mr. Lanier,
    I found your post on Doeg to be very insightful and a great help in understanding the difficult situation with the priests at Nob. The subject matter was so serious and your post so compelling, that I became quite absorbed in it, but was quite taken aback by the photographs. I found them to be inappropriate and distracting from the subject matter and not in any way entertaining.

  4. Loved reading this and gaining insight especially in the line of Eli. Great writing, however, in ‘Expediating the demise of Saul’ the verses in the bible are in 15 not 16…1 Samuel 15.3, 1 Samuel 15.19, 1 Samuel 15.26, however, as said earlier, I thoroughly enjoyed your writings.

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