The Pain of Abiathar

What do you do when regrets gnaw away inside of you and make you cringe? This sermon gives some practical steps on how to be forever rid of the debilitating feelings of regret that keep people from serving well.


J. I. Packer once said, "There are two sorts of sick consciences, those that are not aware enough of sin and those that are not aware enough of pardon." You probably all know people who can sin with a high hand and it never seems to bother their conscience. They can go on in their sin, happy as a lark, indicating a sick conscience. But you probably also know people who are constantly troubled with conscience issues and can't seem to get past the bad things they have done.

Perhaps you have done something really bad in the past, and every time you think about it you cringe. It's just so embarrassing. Regrets can sometimes grind at you and gnaw at you for a long time. Just when you think you have put them away into the recesses of your consciousness (where they can hopefully dissipate), a little reminder of the deed makes the monster of regret come rising up out of the swampy waters and you are stressed out all over again. You have a hard time moving on. I can imagine that the apostle Paul struggled with that after he became a Christian, and Christians whose loved ones he had killed didn't like him. I'm sure it would have been easy for Peter to continually cringe over his betrayal of Christ. Well, if that is true of you with something (or several things) that you have done, this is a great passage to consider.

Abiathar had a family history that was shameful. His great grandfather was one of the three sons of Eli who slept with the women in the temple, robbed people who came to worship, and basically made a stench of their whole family. The reputation of this family was not great.

David feels the weight of having done something that resulted in the death of an entire city, including 85 priests, and all the relatives of Abiathar. And when Abiathar comes to him, it just makes him cringe, realizing what he had done. Let's look first at the pain of Abiathar.

The Pain of Abiathar

When your family history catches up with you – see mercy in the midst of judgment (v. 20a; 1Sam. 2:27-36; 3:11-14; 1Kings 2:27)

Verse 20 begins: "Now one of the sons of Ahimelech, the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar… Anybody who has been reading this book from the beginning knows the two prophecies against the whole house of Eli that were made in chapters 2 and 3. Let me read sections from those two prophecies to you. This gives the family history that was catching up with him. I'm going to start at chapter 2:31.

1Samuel 2:31 "Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father's house, so that there will not be an old man in your house."

1Samuel 2:32 "And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever."

1Samuel 2:33 "But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age."

1Samuel 2:34 "Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them."

1Samuel 2:35 "Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest" [That would be the faithful line of Zadok – 2Sam. 8:17; 15:24,35; 20:25) "who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever."

But here comes a note of mercy in the midst of judgment…

1Samuel 2:36 "And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left in your house" [Oh. So there is a remnant – "everyone who is left in your house…"] "will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and say, "Please, put me in one of the priestly positions, that I may eat a piece of bread." 

Zadok and his family would eventually replace this whole family for the High Priestly offices. And the survivors of Eli (that's a mercy) would be able to use their gifts by serving the priests (that's another mercy), even though they would not themselves be able to have their former position. So God welcomes some survivors and lets them minister, but they don't have the office. In chapter 3 he gives another prophecy from God that describes how abominable this house was to God. Beginning at verse 11.

1Samuel 3:11 "Then the LORD said to Samuel: "Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle."

1Samuel 3:12 "In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end."

1Samuel 3:13 "For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them."

1Samuel 3:14 "And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever."

Ouch! No sacrifice would make them fit for office. That curse of God hung over his whole family. God had rejected Eli and his family from being priest just as surely as God had rejected Saul and his family from kingship. And by the way, even the mention of Saul gives a hint. Jonathan broke out of the curse of Saul and was a man whom God loved. And Jonathan too was a man who clung to God's mercy when the shame of his house caught up with him.

But back to Abiathar, there was a curse hanging over that family, and there was a reputation of immorality, corruption, theft, pride, and rebellion, that they could not live down. It's almost like being born into a Mafia family; or like being the son of Judas Iscariot. And this judgment was from the very hand of God, wiping out all of the descendants of Eli except for one.

How do you live with a reputation like that? Do you just keep on cringing? Abiathar did not. He knew that his family deserved God's judgment, and instead of railing against God, he justified God and sought God's mercy. If there is one thing that God cannot say "No" to it is a humble cry for mercy and faithful seeking of Him. Be convinced of that. It doesn't matter how deep down the gutter you have fallen, you can still taste of God's mercies and of His goodness if you will turn to Him and cry for His mercy.

Abiathar went on to live a life of faith in God, and its almost as if he stepped out of his family's identity and developed a new one. Some of you are in that situation. God is starting afresh with your generation. Unfortunately, toward the end of his life he reverted to the rebellion of his family. Old habits are hard to die. And here is what 1Kings 2:26-27 says:

1Kings 2:26 "And to Abiathar the priest the king said, "Go to Anathoth, to your own fields, for you are deserving of death; but I will not put you to death at this time, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before my father David, and because you were afflicted every time my father was afflicted."

1Kings 2:27 "So Solomon removed Abiathar from being priest to the LORD, that he might fulfill the word of the LORD which He spoke concerning the house of Eli at Shiloh."

By removing this last descendent of Eli from office, he was fulfilling the final detail of the prophecy in 1Samuel 3. So what do you do when your family history catches up with you? You continue to plead God's mercy. And even after that final act of blowing of it, Abiathar repented and continued to taste of the sweetness of God's mercies, which are new every morning.

In fact, Abiathar illustrates the difference between removal of sin and removal of the consequences of sin. God forgave Abiathar's sins – all of them. But there were consequences for office. To use an analogy – just because a homosexual repents, is forgiven, and comes into fellowship with the church, does not mean that he will be cured of his AIDS, which is one of many harvests that come from the seeds he had sown.

Now let's apply that to Abiathar's office. I remember a guy who came to me for counsel back in the Trinity PCA days. He had been a pastor and had divorced his wife and got an unbiblical remarriage. He then divorced that second wife and got another unbiblical remarriage. His question to me was: What do I do? I know I sinned. I know the Bible says that I am unqualified for office. But I have asked God's forgiveness and I feel that I am forgiven. And I agreed with him that God's mercies cover all of these things. And I told him that he needed to stick with his third wife and make it work.

But then he said that since God had forgiven him and had gifted him to be a pastor and called him to be a pastor, he should be able to serve as such, shouldn't he? When I told him that the Scripture is quite clear that he was disqualified for office – that the standard of office is higher than that of members, he said, "Well, what about Romans 11:29? It says, "The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." I told him that even though his sins were forgiven, and even though we welcomed the use of his gifts and calling to minister the word, that the bible was still clear that he could not serve in the office. He said, "But why would God have gifted me in this way?" I told him that he could continue to use God's gifts freely within the church, just like Abiathar did. You don't have to be a pastor to teach and to help in other ways. But the office was forever closed to him. So God's mercies were present by giving him full status as a member, and the body continued to love him and be loved by him. And rather than getting bitter over the fact that the office was closed to him, he could start to serve the church with all of his gifts without office. I think that illustrates how we cling to God's mercies and graces even when we have disqualified ourselves in other things. We don't live in regrets. We move on and make the most of our lives. And we relish the mercy that God gives.

When your life is turned upside down – identify with a God-centered faith (v. 20b)

A second pain that Abiathar experienced was losing everything and having his life turned upside down. Verse 20 goes on to say that Abiathar "escaped and fled after David." David was the one who had in part precipitated this pain in his life by involving Abiathar's father in his fleeing. It would have been very easy for Abiathar to be bitter against David. He was not. It would have been easy for him to become bitter against God. He was not. It would have been easy for him to realize that it was the sins of his family that had caused this and to become bitter against them. He was not. This little phrase of fleeing after David is a symbol of his identifying with a God-centered faith.

When your life has been turned upside down it is easy to spend years mourning the losses. I have known people who have been bitter, and angry, and upset over losses in their family, the loss of a house, the loss of money, the loss of reputation. But Abiathar refused to do that. Unlike his family, his identity was wrapped up in God. And because God was his treasure, he was able to say with Job, in the midst of his tears, "The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." You can't do that if your children, your house, and your things are your treasure. And you can't do that if you constantly replay the regrets of the past. God was sovereign over even those mistakes, and it is important that we learn to move past them.

A pastor wrote that he had been living with constant regrets over the past and fear of what the future might hold, and the Lord powerfully spoke to him from God's name "I AM." And it was as if the Lord was opening the passage to him and making him realize that God is not "I WAS," but "I AM." And God was convicting the pastor that he was allowing himself to lose his present relationship with God because of his past regrets. That's what faith is about. It is looking to the Great I AM. The past cannot control you unless you let it. The uncertain future cannot control you unless you give in to fear. Fix your eyes on Jesus who is the author and finisher of your faith. Don't fix your eyes on those around you who condemn you; and don't fix your eyes on the sins that condemn you.

When crushed with the cruelty of life – see the ugliness of humanism, not of God (v. 21)

Verse 21 says, "And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the LORD's priests." Even the present can have its own pain. His entire family and his entire town had been killed. He no doubt felt crushed with the cruelty of life. Who would have thought that a king of Israel would kill 85 pastors, and all of their relatives, their wives, their children, their animals, and basically scorching the earth of their hometown? It was devastating. It would have been very easy for Abiathar to despair. But he did not. While this caused him to gain a hatred for humanism (and rightly so), it did not make him hate God. Though it caused him to see the ugliness of humanism, he saw the goodness of God's hand in the midst of these affairs. And he grew through it instead of becoming bitter through it. The later chapters make that clear.

Some people have rightly pointed out that Philippians 3 and the book of1Peter say that the fires of suffering cause God's people to grow. They are designed to squeeze the impurities out of our lives and to draw us closer to the Lord. But I would hasten to add that not all Christians do grow better. Many of them grow bitter. Yes fire can purify, but it can also destroy. Why is it that some people grow through tribulations and others fall apart?

Perhaps an illustration would help. A diamond is formed by coal being brought under intense heat and pressure. But it's not pressure alone that produces the diamond. And when scientists first tried to make artificial diamonds for saws and drills and things like that, they discovered this. They subjected coal to heat and pressure over and over again, and were never able to produce those elusive diamonds. They knew theoretically that it should work. One day someone discovered that the transformation does not occur without the presence of a catalyst – and the catalyst initially was iron, and then they used molten nickel, and cobalt as well in 1954. As soon as they introduced the solvent catalyst, they were easily able to produce the diamonds, and now diamonds can be produced extremely cheaply and easily. And they actually have about four different processes that they use now. But it was that catalyst that made all the difference.

In a similar fashion, people can be subject to trials and tribulations, but it doesn't make them stronger unless they turn to Christ by faith. In His presence they become like diamonds. But instead of faith, we tend to engage in the very things that kills faith – complaining, grumbling, expressing Murphy's laws of how everything is going to go wrong or has gone, moving to self-pity. The way you can tell if you are living by faith in the midst of your trials is by the degree of joy you have. 1 Peter speaks of the joy indescribable and full of glory that the people in his church were able to have in the midst of persecution. Paul said something similar in Philippians. In chapter 4 he said, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice." Faith sees the big picture that enables us to rejoice. Paul goes on in the next verse, "Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand." Seeing God close to you in the midst of your trials keeps you from lashing out at others. If you are lashing out at others you are not living by faith, and you don't have the catalyst of the Lord that can turn the pressures into diamonds. He goes on, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." If we offer up those kinds of prayers in everything with thanksgiving, we will have a God-ward focus that will turn trials into diamonds.

So if you have experienced the pain of Abiathar, don't let the pain rob you of your blessings. See God's mercies in the midst of judgment rather than only focusing on the judgment, live by faith, and see the goodness of God in your situation so that you can turn your coal into diamonds.

The Pain of David

When you groan over miscalculations – own up (v. 22a)

Let's look next at the pain of David. Verse 22: "So David said to Abiathar, ‘I knew that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul.'" He knew it, but made a gamble that it wouldn't make any difference. Well, his gamble proved wrong. And it was a gamble that cost the lives of many people. And David is saying, "Ohhhh!!! I knew that Doeg was there!!!! Why did I do that?!?"

David could have gone to one of two extremes when this news came to him. He could have tried to protect his pride by deflecting blame from himself and going on the attack against Saul, or he could have nursed his pride by groaning over his miscalculations and been unable to forgive himself. Neither one would have been living by faith. And both temptations would have arisen from the fear of man and the desire to please man.

But you will notice that David does neither. He does not start justifying himself and explaining all the reasons why Saul was wrong and he was innocent. He owns up to his part of the blame. It's a sign of a good leader. The buck stops with him.

But he could have just as easily have allowed the fear of man to make him cringe, groan, and fear what others might think of him in the future. But David owns up to his part of the fiasco. This is an amazing admission. Look at the rest of verse 22.

When you cringe over what others will think – own up (v. 22b)

David says,

"I have caused the death of all the persons of your father's house."

Wouldn't you have been tempted to start railing against king Saul? Saul had obviously engaged in murder, had overstepped his jurisdiction, was out of control, and was unworthy of being a king. This would have been a great time for David to beat Saul down so that people would want him to be the king. But David sees his own fault first and owns up to his own fault even if king Saul refused to own up to his fault. Wow!

And this too is a sign that you are walking by faith rather than by sight. When you get into a fight with your spouse and the Spirit of God convicts you that you need to repent and confess your sin, there's little calculators that start whizzing in your brain that say, "She is 90% at fault, and I will own up to my 10% so long as I can point out her 90%." And here is the amazing thing. David doesn't do that. He doesn't care how others might view this confession. He just wants to be clear before the Lord, and he owns up to his fault. You ought to try that sometime. Maybe you are only 5% at fault. Isn't that the way we tend to think? We tend to minimize our own sins and magnify the other persons. But for the sake of argument, just assume that you are only guilty of 5%, and God has been convicting you about that 5%. God has been convicting you to repent and ask forgiveness for what you have done wrong. You ought to try confessing your own sin and not mentioning a thing about the other person's sin, just trusting God with as to whether the other person will end up confessing or not.

In my teens and twenties this was brutal hard for me to do, because inevitably after I had asked forgiveness for my "5%", the other person brightened, graciously forgave me and you could tell that he was pleased as punch that I was admitting to guilt in our quarrel. Now I didn't admit that he was right. But he took it as an admission. Even though I had only confessed to my own guilt, the other person had taken my confession as being an admission to the whole guilt. And I wanted to say something, but God convicted me that I should shut my mouth and just leave it there – to trust Him to do the convicting. And then I would ask God, "OK, Lord, but when you are you going to convict him of what he has done?" And it was as if the Lord would tell me that it is none of my business – to just do what is right. And yet as I trusted God on this, and began the process of crucifying my pride, my fear of man, and my idol of reputation, I began gaining more and more of God's joy. I had joy first of all because I was clear before man and God in my conscience. But as I crucified my pride and put on humility, I began to sense more and more of God's authority in my life, His joy, His presence, and His approval. I highly recommend what David was doing here. Own up to your own mistakes, failures, and sins without feeling like you have to point out everybody else's. It is a wonderful way to crucify pride, to put on humility, and with it to find the presence, comfort, power, and authority of the Lord to come back into your life.

Moving beyond the pain (v. 23)

Connect with imperfect saints (v. 23a)

Let me end with four more things you can do to help you move beyond the pain and the shame permanently. First, David said, "Stay with me…" Be willing to connect with other imperfect saints. David was willing to model the admission that he was imperfect, and it attracted other imperfect saints to join him. But when we are quicker to see the imperfections of others than we are our own, what happens is the reverse. We will attract more and more people who pretend that there is nothing wrong with them. We call this hypocrisy. Hypocrites are blind to their own failings, but constantly see the failings of others. May this congregation be a congregation that comforts those in pain because we know the pain of shame ourselves. May it be a congregation that welcomes imperfect saints who are honest about their mistakes and sins and want to gain victory and want to grow. It will happen if all of us embrace the attitudes of David and Abiathar.

Reject fear (v. 23b)

The second step that is very helpful is given in David's next words: "do not fear." When you blow it, it is very easy to fear trying again. We must resist that temptation. One of the famous football stories that has been around for a long time is the story of how Roy Riegels learned to reject fear.

It was back on New Year's day, 1929. The California Golden Bears team was playing Georgia Tech at the Rose Bowl. In that game, Roy Riegels scooped up a George Tech fumble, somehow became confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. His teammate Benny Lom tried to tackle him at the three-yard line, but he kept running and was knocked down by a wave of Yellow Jackets at the one-yard line. The Golden Bears tried to punt it away, but it got blocked, leading to a safety, giving just enough lead that it made the difference for the game. The strange play came in the first half of the game, and the announcers were wondering what Coach Price would do with Roy Riegels in the second half. Everyone was just stunned with this turn of events.

Well, at half time, Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, "Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second." The players got up and started out, all except for Riegels. The coach looked back and called to him, but Riegels did not move. Coach Price went over to Riegels and said, "Roy, didn't you hear me?" Then Roy looked up, his cheeks wet with a strong man's tears, and he said, "Coach, I couldn't face that crowd in the stadium to save my life." Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegel's shoulder and said to him: "Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over." And Roy Riegels went back and played his heart out. In fact, he probably played better than he had ever played before. They lost, and it was a heartbreaker. But he proved himself in the second half.

The Bible teaches us that what is done is done. There is no going back and reliving it and redoing it. Too many of you are living in the past, constantly replaying your regrets in the video of your mind, and cringing, and thinking, "I can't face that crowd even if it was to save my life." But you need to be like David. David put away his grief and got back in the game. The apostle Paul could have replayed the video of regrets forever. After all, he had imprisoned and killed many Christians. Every time he met a new Christian, Paul could have had twisting fear in his chest wondering what this Christian thought of him. But he refused to be paralyzed by his past. He said,

"…one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind" [that's a deliberate act brothers and sisters. It's not having a bad memory. It's refusing to meditate on the past. It is refusing to play that video over and over again of how many Christians he had killed. He said, "forgetting those things which are behind"] "and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." [That's where his focus was – "What does God think of me?" not "What do other people think of me?" He goes on.] "Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you." (Phil. 3:13-15)

He is saying, "Don't let the past tie you down. Make something of your life by moving forward." And the same attitude that Paul says you should have over your own past regrets you need to have to each other. Let their past be done with. Move on. Quit picking up the pains, and the shames of the past. Don't hold on to the sins of your spouse. Can you imagine what would have happened if the church had just kept holding on the sins that Paul had committed against Christians? But they did not. They forgive Paul and forgave as God in Christ had forgiven them. And you know what? Jesus said that if you are not willing to forgive your brother or your sister, and you keep hauling their sins out of the trash can and shaming them with those sins, Jesus said He will not forgive you. You don't believe me? Read Matthew 6:14-15. God wants you to move forward. If you keep playing the videos of your own sins in your mind, God will bench you. If you keep playing the videos of your brother or sister in the Lord in your mind, God will bench. It will keep you out of game.

So point A, reconnect with the team; reconnect with imperfect saints. Be a Coach Price who welcomes imperfect saints on the team, and be a Roy Riegels yourself and get yourself back on the team. Point B, reject fear and live by faith. Fear of what others will think is utterly incompatible with faith. War against it; fight against it. Do not give in to. God says that we are not to live as men-pleasers. In fact, in Galatians 1:10 Paul said, "If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ."

Realize that you are not alone in the fight (v. 23c)

Point C: Realize that you are not alone in the fight. In verse 23 David said, "For he who seeks my life seeks your life." We are both in this together. If you think you are the only one who has these pains and these shames, you are going to feel isolated. And if you are on the other side and you feel others are the only ones who have these pains and these shames, you are going to feel isolated. The Bible calls us to realize that all of us are wounded sinners in need of Christ and in need of each other. All of us are under attack by the world, the flesh, and the devil. If you are too good for us or we are too good for you, you have missed the point. Even the apostle Paul still sensed at the end of his life that he was the chief of sinners. And people might have looked at Paul with skepticism and think, "No way. Paul is the most holy person I have known. He is certainly closer to God than I am. How can he say that he is the chief of sinners?" But the reason Paul could sense that he was the chief of sinners was that the closer he got to the brightness of God's light, the more that light exposed things in him that he couldn't see in his earlier years. He could see his own sins much more clearly than he could see the sins of other people. We are all in this fight together. Think of it this way – our church is a team completely made up of Roy Riegels. Don't think of yourself as the only Roy Riegel with shameful regrets from the past. We are in this fight together.

Believe God's Word implicitly (v. 23d)

The last step that we see in David's speech here is that we need to believe God's Word implicitly. Verse 23 ends by saying, "but with me you shall be safe."

Actually, if you want to throw an extra point into your outlines, it is this: We want to be a church that can tell every Roy Riegels, "You are safe with me. You are on this team. If you will play your heart out for us, we will play our hearts out for you." Of course, if a Roy Riegels insists that he wants to run the ball the wrong way and he insists that he has a right of running the ball the wrong way, we will knock him down and bench him for a while. That's not what a Christian should do. But Roy Riegels don't want to run the balls the wrong way. They hate what they have done, and they want to play their hearts out for the Lord Jesus Christ, their coach. And because of that, they are safe here, despite their ugly past.

But now point D, which I guess is the new point E. They weren't safe because they were trusting in themselves. They were safe because they were trusting in God's promises. The next chapter makes that clear. Both David and Abiathar brought God's revelation with them. Abiathar brought the Ephod that had the Urim and Thumim stones that miraculously gave God's guidance, and David occasionally got divine inspiration. But both brought with them the written revelation of the Bible. And what had God's revelation already said? It already said that David was going to be king. Even when everything appeared to be saying the opposite, both trusted God's Word implicitly. It is the only sure foundation that will enable you to get up and move on.


In conclusion let me say that although none of us have much to offer to the Lord, since our lives are so feeble, we can offer Him our all. Nathan Hale is famous in American history books. Though he was admired by his friends for his dedication, he wasn't super-famous until his death. In 1775, Hale accepted a commission as 1rst lieutenant in the Connecticut Regiment and later served under Washington as the commander of a ranger company whose mission was forward reconnaissance. In September of 1776 he was captured as a spy. After making what was called "a sensible and spirited speech" to those who were there, he was executed by hanging. Hanging was considered by most to be a shameful way to go – especially for one of his high class. But at his hanging he said these words that are in our textbooks: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." He didn't regret the shame of his hanging. He regretted that he couldn't give more than one life for his country. And that statement inspired many contemporary Americans.

Circian said this:

… An insignificant schoolteacher who never wrote anything important, never owned any property, never had a permanent job, never married or had children, never fought in a battle and who failed in his final mission—made history in the last few seconds of this life.1

Brothers and sisters, whether you only have a few more seconds left to live, or whether you have 80 more years to live, you can end your life with God's commendation of "Well done, though good and faithful servant," if you for the rest of your life can say, "I regret that I have but one life to give for Christ." That's the only regret that's legitimate to have. Get rid of your other regrets and focus on Christ. Leave your regrets and begin devoting yourself to pleasing Christ. Amen.


  1. Circian. "A Time for Heroes—The Story of Nathan Hale.\_summer\_fall/n\_hale.html

The Pain of Abiathar is part of the Life of David series published on July 31, 2011

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