[Jesus] said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt 19:5)
“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement…” – Then President Bill Clinton’s testimony before the Starr Commission, 1998
In Galatians 3:16 Paul seems to pull a linguistic fast one almost Clinton-ian in magnitude in order to make his point. The Hebrew word zera is translated by the Greek word sperma which is translated into English as either “seed” or “offspring”. These words are “collective nouns” which means that though they are in the singular form, they actually refer to many. “Seed” can be singular as in “I swallowed an apple seed” or it can be collective as in “I believe we got enough seed for next year’s planting” or it can be plural as in “I got a bunch of blackberry seeds stuck in my teeth.” And that goes for zera and sperma in their respective languages also. So how do you know if the word is singular or collective? The only way to tell the difference between singular and collective is by the context. Plural is obvious.
So here’s what Paul says:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)
There are a handful of places Paul may be quoting from in Genesis, God told Abraham this often. Something else God says to Abraham about his offspring is really important.
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6)
This is very important for two reasons. First, Paul has already cited this verse as proof that we’re justified by faith, not works. Second, the context is abundantly clear that “offspring” is collective and not singular. So no matter how you slice it, Paul is clearly aware of the plurality of Abraham’s offspring.
So what do you think? Is Paul pulling some funny business with words in order to make his point? I don’t believe he is. Though the point seems strained here, Paul is really just following God’s lead. Consider this:
The LORD God said to the serpent…
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14)
Did you see what God did there? He started by talking about “offspring” which sounded like warfare between Eve’s children and Satan’s. But then God switched to a singular pronoun “he”. So we understand it to be a singular person because the context made it clear. Or did it? Consider Romans 16:20 “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” The “your” there is plural, as in ya’ll or you’uns. What it shows is that this is a more complex issue than at first blush. When it comes to these covenant promises, there is a way in which the “seed” is singular and in which it is collective.
So it appears that Paul picked up on the thread of the promised seed, which is Jesus, and he just read Abraham that way. He didn’t quote Genesis 15:5-6, which clearly is talking about a collective seed but rather any of the other places where God makes a promise to Abraham and to his seed and Paul’s explanation is that God’s promise is to Jesus through Abraham. I’ll come back to how the collective can be true at the same time the singular is in a moment.
I think the singular interpretation that Paul uses in 3:16 actually helps in verses 19 & 20, which are a bit confusing:
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Tim Keller in his brief commentary/study guide, Galatians For You said, “The rest of verse 19 and verse 20 are extremely cryptic…No one is sure what Paul means or how this fits into the argument” but Keller then reassures us that it wasn’t crucial to the rest of Paul’s point. And really, he’s right. I can’t be really certain that the way I’m reading this is best and the rest of Paul’s case is so clear that we’re okay if we leave this cloudy. But I think Paul’s handling of collective nouns earlier in chapter 3 gives us some trajectory to think along when we get here.
The law was given to Moses by the instrumentality of angels. I don’t know what they actually did, maybe they were the ones holding the stone tablets as God used his finger to engrave them with the Ten Commandments. But the angels were there when God gave the law to his intermediary, Moses. God spoke to Israel and they freaked out, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exod. 20:19) But the promise didn’t have an intermediary, God spoke it directly to Abraham. But, according to Galatians 3:16, the promise was to Jesus so wasn’t Abraham the intermediary in that case? Nope, since God is one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there was no intermediary when the Father spoke the promise to the Son. Abraham was not an intermediary, he was simply a witness.
So what about the collective nature of the word “offspring”? That is, of course, true also. And, not surprisingly, Paul answers that for us in Galatians chapter 3 as well. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” The promise is to Abraham’s Seed, Jesus, and we’re heirs to the promise as we’re in Christ. So the promise is made to singular Seed and collective seed since Jesus is bringing in the gentiles to the promise as well.
He was the son of a prostitute and so he was thrown out of the house by his father’s wife when she had kids of her own. He moved away and fell in with a bad crowd but he was great in a fight. You learn to be good with your hands when you have that kind of a background. But when things got bad back in his home town, the leaders came to him for help. After reminding them of how they treated him he agreed to help only if they themselves would escort him back. They agreed. He fought hard and won but his promise before the battle cost his only child her life.
Sounds like Western, doesn’t it? It is however, as the title of this post implies, the story of Jephthah, a judge of Israel as told in the book of Judges, chapter 11. Jephthah vowed that if he returned victorious after fighting the Ammonites, the first thing to come out his front door to meet him would be offered as a sacrifice. It wasn’t uncommon for sheep and goats to be kept in homes back then so perhaps he was expecting livestock but it was his only child, his daughter, who was first to rush out the front door to welcome him home.
I have heard this called “Jephthah’s rash” or “foolish vow” and people are puzzled over it. Did God accept this sacrifice even though he refused human sacrifices? Why didn’t God intervene and stop this madness? Isn’t the Old Testament simply barbaric?
I don’t want to defend the practice of anyone offering any of their children nor any other human being as a sacrifice to any God, god, or gods. However, the issue with Jephthah is more complicated than I’ve just made it sound. First, right before he made his vow, “the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah” (Judges 11:29). So it isn’t like he was a hot headed pagan vowing the blood of his foes to his warrior god. Furthermore, “it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year” (Judges 11:39-40). The thing that really puzzles some Christians is how Jephthah winds up being praised for his faith in Hebrews 11. The whole thing seems messed up all around.
But is it? Is it any more messed up than the fact that I have done some rash, foolish, and sinful things that God would in no way accept, and yet he continues to use me and work through my strengths and my weaknesses?
We focus on the tragic part of his story but what the Bible remembers Jephthah for is something very different. The Hebrews passage isn’t much help because the author admits that he can’t go into more detail right then: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32). Yet, that isn’t all the Scriptures have to say about him.
The author of Hebrews seems to pick up the idea that Jephthah is praise-worthy from none other than the prophet Samuel. When Samuel is installing Saul as king, he recounts Israel’s history. He reminds them that “the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety” (1 Samuel 12:11). It is pretty clear that the author of Hebrews is just echoing what Samuel said, after all, Jerubbaal is the other name for Gideon (Judges 6:32). Personally, I’m more confused as to why Sampson is in there than Jephthah is. That guy was a jerk right up till the end.
And don’t forget that Samuel was chronologically closer to the events of Judges 11 than we are; even closer than the author of Hebrews was. What they remember Jephthah for, in both the Old and New Testament, is not the sacrifice of his daughter but for his faith when he delivered Israel. Though he’d been rejected by his people for being born to the “wrong” woman, he called on the LORD and God used him to defeat the Ammonites. And the Bible doesn’t celebrate the sacrifice of his daughter. Jephthah, his daughter, and the daughters of Israel lamented it. God is silent about it. Sometimes we have to live with the consequences of our bad decisions (Psalm 15).
The term “Replacement Theology” is a pejorative term used to describe some aspects of Reformed Theology and so it is usually said with a slight sneer like in the clip above. I believe the scare quotes are inferred so I’m going to use them consistently in this post. What “Replacement Theology” means and Reformed Theology doesn’t mean is that the church replaces Israel in God’s plan. Well, Reformed Theology kind of means that but not in the way that would necessitate scare quotes. Or the word “Replacement”. But “Theology” is fine.
What we Reformed types do mean is that the true Israel, the Israel of God is the Church which is made up of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, not just ethnic Jews. Where do we get such scare quote inducing theology? Mostly from St. Paul. We get it from his explicit statements like Colossians 3:11, “Here there is not Greek and Jew…but Christ is all, and in all.” Or from Romans 11 where he is talking about the gentiles being grafted in, “until the fullness of the gentiles is brought in.” Brought in to what? Can’t be grafted into Christ, otherwise, how did the unfruitful branches get there? They get grafted into the group known as “God’s people” or Israel/the Church.
So it isn’t like the church “replaced” Israel as God’s people. Rather, as was promised in Isaiah 54:1-3, Israel is expanded as the nations come in to her. This was pictured in Noah’s blessings on his sons in Genesis 9 where he blesses the LORD, the God of Shem, and his blessing on Japheth is that he would dwell in Shem’s tents. That sure sounds like the nations come in to the Shemites or Semites or Jews. And the other part of Romans 11 is that unbelieving Jews are cut off and removed, after all, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” (Rom. 9:6)
I recently came across another example of Paul’s “Replacement Theology” and this one jarred even me at first. As I waded thorugh websites that listed the “errors” of “Replacement Theology”1Obviously, I’m not persuaded by their arguments. Some portrayed “Replacement Theology” in a manner I would not even recognize as my theology on the issue. One site, though, was honest enough to acknowledge that this “error” was introduced when the first gentiles were converted to Christ and that it, in one form or another, had dominated the church for 1,900 years. That is to say, the universal Church was wrong on this doctrine until J. N. Darby invented Dispensationalism. I did not see anyone address this verse so it looks like it might have slipped under the radar.
In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul uses an allegory to sum up all that he’s spent two chapters defining and defending: the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Here’s a quick recap of that exposition. At the end of chapter 3 he said the law was like a prison guard holding all things captive (Gal. 3:23). Then he compared the law to child-minder, an attendant who would get the kids off to school and back home safely and ensure they behaved themselves (Gal. 3:24). Then he explained that while the heir is a child, he looks like a slave in the house since he has these people looking over him, telling him what to do. That lasts till the day the heir comes of age then he no longer looks like a slave (Gal. 4:1-3). That happened, Paul said, when Jesus came. Then we received adoption as sons and heirs.
Nothing jarring there, but that’s just the set up. Where it gets interesting is in the allegory. He says that present Jerusalem is in slavery (Gal. 4:24, 25). And what is the fate of the children of the slave? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” (Gal. 4:30, cf. Gal. 3:29) Whoa. So those who Jesus set free were the children of the free women. They looked like the slaves in the house while they were under law but once Jesus came they were shown to be heirs. Where does that leave those Jews who rejected Jesus? Cast out. So to Paul, the Jerusalem of his day, like Ishmael, would not inherit the covenant promises made to Abraham. What is amazing is to think that it was not that many years since Paul was in the group. He was a “Pharisee of Pharisees” and persecuted the church. So his “Replacement Theology” was personal.
As long was we want to establish our right staining before God on the basis of our performance rather than Jesus’, we are children of Hagar, members of the covenant made at Sinai, we’re Ishmael, cut off and sent away, inheritance-less.
So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:31)
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|1.||↩||Obviously, I’m not persuaded by their arguments. Some portrayed “Replacement Theology” in a manner I would not even recognize as my theology on the issue. One site, though, was honest enough to acknowledge that this “error” was introduced when the first gentiles were converted to Christ and that it, in one form or another, had dominated the church for 1,900 years. That is to say, the universal Church was wrong on this doctrine until J. N. Darby invented Dispensationalism.|
When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. – Rev. 6:3-4
Sin and human death are foreigners in this world. They weren’t supposed to be here, they came because of the fall. And now since the fall, peace is a alien because the other two strangers chased it off. Peace is not a normal function of the fallen order. God grants it and God removes it.
World War II was a shock to the world. Everyone assumed that World War I, the Great War was the War to End All Wars. The enlightenment of evolution that swept the West at the turn of the twentieth century was supposed to banish such barbarism as war and poverty and human suffering. Education would deliver us. Eugenics would cleanse us. Science would give us light. World War I was supposed to be the last vestiges of humanity’s past. That’s why World War II was such a shock; when it became apparent what Germany was really up to with that whole “Master Race” thing, the world’s optimism began to sag.
So here we are today, in the twenty-teens, and the Cold War is dead and, well, cold. The West won and freedom’s greatest enemy is dead(ish) so where is the peace and prosperity we were promised? Right there with the jetpacks, flying cars, and a silver jumpsuits with transparent rings on the shoulders I guess.
Today’s horrific violence, events too numerous and gruesome to list, is not the stranger. Tragically, it is the norm. The nuclear-backed calm of the Cold War wasn’t really peace anyway.
This all sounds horribly pessimistic but it really isn’t. There is a day coming when the lamb and the lion will lay down together. When a child can safely play around a viper’s hole. Jesus, this world’s real king, is going to return and whistle for that red horse so he can take peace out of her saddle bags and secure it in place. The government shall be upon his shoulders and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else more. – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” – Gen. 20:3-7
God prevented Abimelech from sinning. He acted to protect the promise he had made to Abraham and Sarah. God restrained Abimelech’s evil, why didn’t he do it for Sodom and Gomorrah in the previous chapter?
Why didn’t he do it for all of humanity before the flood?
Why didn’t he do it in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve before they fell?
Why doesn’t he do it today for Eric Garner and the two cops killed in Brooklyn?
If God is able to restrain evil, as he demonstrated here, and yet he doesn’t, does that mean he is wrong and at least complicit in the evil?
A few thoughts on this:
- We are not robots. God spoke with Abimelech and Abimelech responded. Abimelech was a free moral agent in this transaction. God didn’t make a race of robots, he made image bearers with whom he wants to have a relationship. “We are free to choose, but we are always a slave to our greatest desire.” – Jonathan Edwards
- When the men of Sodom saw the visiting angels, they attacked, unlike righteous Lot who sought to protect them. Noah preached righteousness as he built the ark and no one listened to him. God sent prophets to Israel and Judah and they ignored, imprisoned, and murdered them. God himself took on flesh and came to the world and Jews and Gentiles illegally nailed him to a cross. There is a measure of wickedness that can occur in the human heart which will cause a person to not listen to pleas for righteous behavior. We don’t know that level but God does.
- Evil came into this world through the voluntary act of Adam. God had already announced what the price of that would be: death. All of humanity is engaged in treason against him. God is not obligated to restrain evil caused by free moral agents. The situation he announced to Adam was that sin would be met with death. And yet, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree and did not die in that day. God had mercy on them. It is mercy that God warned Abimelech or has ever warned anyone. But he did and he continues to.
- God is no stranger to personal injustice. Jesus Christ was the most innocent, the least deserving prisoner ever executed. God entered into our suffering and sorrow. He does not stand aloof from it and look on as an uncaring voyeur. God can restrain and sometimes does evil but Jesus came and bore it in order not to just restrain it, though he is for a while, but ultimately to destroy it. To judge it as evil. He is reconciling everything through the blood of his cross.
- At the same time, the Bible is clear that faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8, Heb 12:2) and so is repentance (2 Tim 2:25). He appoints some to eternal life (Acts 13:48) and Judas was predestined to betray Jesus (Acts 1:16). God choses to grant faith and repentance to some but not all. In the end, God does deal with all sin, one way or another. Either in hell or at the cross of Christ.
So why didn’t he restrain the evil in Sodom? It appears that Lot was resented in Sodom (Gen 19:9) so God may have been restraining it to some degree through Lot’s presence. Also, God agreed to spare the entire city the punishment for their evil if there were ten righteous people found in it. But there weren’t. God is not a sadist waiting to chuck another soul into hell. But he will not nod at evil either. Bottom line: Abimelech feared God and Sodom feared nothing.
In both Sodom and Gerar, where Abimelech was king, God dealt with evil. In Sodom, he judged it, in Gerar he restrained it. He doesn’t sit idly by while evil ravages his creation and his creatures.
Jer. iii. 22 Hos. xiv. 4.
by Mrs. Anne Steele
How oft, alas, this wretched heart
Has wander’d from the Lord!
How oft my roving thoughts depart,
Forgetful of his word.
Yet sov’reign mercy calls, Return;
Dear Lord, and may I come?
My vile ingratitude I mourn;
Oh take the wand’rer home.
And canst thou, wilt thou yet forgive,
And bid my crimes remove?
And shall a pardon’d rebel live
To speak they wondrous love?
Almighty grace, thy healing pow’r
How glorious, how divine!
That can to bliss and life restore
So vile a heart as mine.
They pardoning love, so free, so sweet
Dear Savious, I adore;
O keep me at thy sacred feet,
And let me rove no more.
He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
They turn around and around by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.
Whether for correction or for his land
or for love, he causes it to happen. – Job 37:11-13
In our Modern or even in our Post-Modern view of the world, we can suffer from chronological snobbery. “Early man was a primitive brute who didn’t understand the world with the complexity and sophistication we enlightened beings do. We pity them.”
This mindset leads to the common notion that religion is an expression of fear early man had of the universe around him. Lightening was scary and the notion that it might be uncontrolled was terrifying so they invented a god or gods to wielded it. This meant there was purpose behind lightening strikes that set forests ablaze and that man could influence them by appeasing a particular god.
A lot of that is hogwash and this quote from the book of Job is a great comment on that. Elihu, the one who said the above phrase, shows that at least this ancient man, he and Job were probably contemporaries of Abraham, didn’t have an understanding of metrology that was rooted in fear or superstition. His description above is fairly accurate. Clouds are moisture and they do produce lightening. But Elihu wasn’t materialistic either. He didn’t view these things as purposeless, unguided events that were solely the product of natural causes. Elihu understood that God was sovereign over these things and that they achieved his purposes.
Don’t believe the caricature of religion that is being propagated today. Like Elihu 4,000 years ago, we aren’t afraid of or ignorant of the natural processes the universe runs on. At the same time, we don’t for a moment believe that those natural processes dismiss God by explaining him away. “Eliminate the need for a god and the god simply disappears,” so the reasoning goes. This is why materialistic atheism has such high hopes for evolution. Douglas Adams summed it up nicely in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe with the Babel fish:
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
“But,” says Man, “The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.
“Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo’s kidneys, but that didn’t stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his best-selling book Well That About Wraps It Up For God.
We can and should explore the natural processes that lead to things like rain and lightening and earthquakes and solar eclipses. God made a universe that produces such things, so to understand them is to understand what God has done and what he is like. Materialism, the theory that physical matter is all that there is, is not a foregone conclusion; it is a theory about the universe that has some tremendous problems with it and a lot of explaining to do. Elihu has a better answer.
Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away. – 1 Sam 21:1-6
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:23-28
Really, we need to slow down a bit and read what Jesus actually said before we get too excited or upset. Jesus didn’t say that Abiathar gave David the bread, he said that in the days when Abiathar was the high priest David ate the bread of the presence. That doesn’t conflict with 1 Samuel at all. Ahimelech was the priest on duty when David came looking for food. Abiathar was the high priest but that didn’t mean that he was at the tabernacle at that time. He had specific duties and at appointed times he would be there. But he wasn’t when David came.
But the panic isn’t over yet. In 1 Samuel what happened next is that Saul found out what the priest had done for David and he slaughtered them. Only Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech survived and escaped (1 Sam 22:20). But how could Abiathar be the high priest and the son of a serving priest? Actually, it could happen. It isn’t clear at this point in Israel’s history how a high priest was chosen. If you look in the Law (Exodus through Deuteronomy) you’ll find that the term “high priest” is only used a few times in Numbers. There is no biblical criteria for who would be the high priest so it could have been Ahimelech’s son. Or another priest name Abiathar. Again, not a big deal.