Priests of the Bible – 7. Abiathar

Priests of the Bible – 7. Abiathar

We first come across Abiathar, after his father, Ahimelech the High Priest, and the rest of his family were killed by Doeg the Edomite on the orders of King Saul because he had assisted David who was fleeing from him. He joined David’s band of discontents and was with him right up to David’s death, serving as a priest and trusted counselor, including in the time when David, who then was king, had again to flee, this time from his son, Absalom. His priestly duties included wearing the High Priest garments, also including the Urim and the Thumin that was used to find out God’s will.

Another priest later appears on the scene, Zadok, who we will discuss in the next instalment. It is not clear in David’s time who was the High Priest, but we do not read of any conflict between the two and both carried out their priestly duties faithfully and were both loyal to King David. The parting of the ways occurred when David was about to die and the question arose who would take over as king – Solomon (David’s named successor) or Adonijah (who strictly speaking was next in line). While Zadok sided with Solomon, Abiathar supported Adonijah. But it was Solomon, understandably upset Abiathar had supported his brother rather than him, who eventually prevailed, and so Abiathar was removed from his priestly duties. As far as the line of priests from Eli to Abiathar went, this was the end of the line: “So Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest unto the Lord; that he might fulfil the word of the Lord, which he spake concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh” 1 Kings 2:27.

Abiathar was referred to by Jesus: “And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?” Mark 2:24-26. Commentators differ concerning his character, for in the end he supported the “wrong” candidate for king, although some point out Adonijah was the legal heir that, as a stickler for the Law, Abiathar will have understood.

One lesson I take from this story is Abiathar was a good example of someone who carried out his duties diligently, and he was part of a family that adapted when needed. Other than in the case of the succession as King of Israel, everywhere else where Abiathar had a part of play, he was a faithful priest and was a loyal supporter of God’s choice for king: David, including sharing in David’s many hardships. His departing was sad given his years of dedicated service. As we will see even more when we consider Zadok, named High Priest instead, the prophecy given by the unnamed prophet in the time of Eli, while often overlooked is particularly significant.

Note: During these studies of named priests of the Bible, I often check out YouTube for sermons or the like on the subject being investigated. I stumbled across this unlikely fellow for some of them. I like his thoroughness in his coverage: “ABIATHAR – SON of AHIMELECH (Bible Character Study)


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