Abiathar, the Priest
The author of our lesson states that we're not told how Abiathar escaped the slaughter of his family. We're told only that he escaped and made his way to David. However, before fleeing, Abiathar managed to save the ephod (1 Samuel 23:6), one of the most important objects of priesthood (a sacred vestment worn by the priests; see Exodos 28:6; 39:2–7), which was used to seek God's will when making decisions. On at least two occasions, the biblical author reports that David called for Abiathar and the ephod (1 Samuel 23:9–12; 30:7, 8)
What is the ephod?
The ephod was a sacred linen garment worn by the high priests of Israel. It was in two parts-one covering the back, one the front of the body to the hips-and was fastened at the shoulders by two clasps of onyx on which were engraved the 12 tribal names, six on each. This probably symbolized that the tribes were to be their burden since they were on their shoulders. The vestment was held in at the waist by a twined linen girdle of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet; on the ephod was the breastplate - with four rows of gemstone (totaling twelve – one per tribe) and with the Urim and Thummim - hung by golden chains and rings. It is possible that since the twelve gemstones representing the 12 tribes of Israel were on the breastplate this then symbolized that Israel should be close to their hearts.
What were the Urim and Thummim?
The Urim "lights" and Thummim "perfections" were gemstones that were carried by the High Priest of Israel on the ephod / priestly garments. They were used by the High Priest to determine God's will in some situations. Some propose that God would cause the Urim and Thummim to light up in varying patterns to reveal His decision. Others propose that the Urim and Thummim were kept in a pouch and were engraved with symbols identifying yes / no and true / false.
It is unclear whether the Urim and Thummim were on, by, or in the High Priest's ephod. No one knows the precise nature of the Urim and Thummim or exactly how they were used. The Bible simply does not give us enough information. References to the Urim and Thummim are rare in the Bible. They are first mentioned in the description of the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8). When Joshua succeeded Moses as leader over Israel, he was to receive answers from God by means of the Urim through Eleazar the High Priest (Numbers 27:21). The Urim and Thummim are next mentioned in Moses' dying blessing upon Levi (Deuteronomy 33:8). The following Scripture likely also speak of the Urim and Thummim: Joshua 7:14-18; 1 Samuel 14:37-45; and 2 Samuel 21:1.
Abiathar escaped with this ephod providentially, in other words: by Divine design. God used Abiathar and the ephod to speak to David. David now had a way to know God's will himself. God now had a way to speak to David, his persecuted chosen one. According to Ellen White, "Still hunted by the king, David found no place of rest or security. At Keilah his brave band saved the town from capture by the Philistines, but they were not safe, even among the people whom they had delivered. From Keilah they repaired to the wilderness of Ziph" (Patriarchs and Prophets, page 660). God saw that Abiathar and the ephod were available to David. David was not left to run alone without any help. What was meant for evil God worked for good.
After a whole week of study we are left with not much knowledge about Abiathar. Abiathar does not speak in the Holy record. From the time he runs away to David all the way to when Solomon banished Abiathar to his house we do not know what motivates his actions. Paul says in Romans 14:23 "… whatsoever is not of faith is sin." If Abiathar's escape was motivated because he feared for his life and not because of faith in Jesus then to Abiathar it is Sin. We do not truly know his heart. Being faithful to David cannot be taken as an assumption of loyalty toward God.
We do know that at the end of his career Abiathar makes a choice. He chooses a man God did not choose, which to God it is a rejection of Himself (1 Samuel 8:7). This choice expresses what is in Abiathar heart already. But, at what point, how and why did Abiathar switch loyalties we do not know. Abiathar who was high Priest because he was Aaron's descendent, who for most of his life was entrusted to the precious ephod, now finds out that it takes more than lineage to serve God. As Jesus told Nicodemus, "you must be born again" (John 3:3). Could we be like Abiathar or even Nicodemus?