1 Samuel 23 – David Saves Keilah; David Escapes from Saul
A. David saves Keilah from the Philistines.
1. (1-4) God directs David to fight against the Philistines and deliver the city of Keilah.
Then they told David, saying, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and they are robbing the threshing floors.” Therefore David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines, and save Keilah.” But David’s men said to him, “Look, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” Then David inquired of the Lord once again. And the Lord answered him and said, “Arise, go down to Keilah. For I will deliver the Philistines into your hand.”
a. The Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and they are robbing the threshing floors: They brought this plea for help to David and not to King Saul because Saul was not fulfilling his role as king over Israel. It was Saul’s job to protect Keilah and it was Saul’s job to fight the Philistines, but Saul wasn’t doing his job and the Lord called David to do it.
i. God loved His people too much to let them suffer under an unfaithful king. If Saul wasn’t up to the task, God would raise up a man who was, and David was the one. God directed David to act like a king even if he was not the king yet.
b. Therefore David inquired of the Lord: This showed David’s wisdom and godliness. Some might have immediately said, “This isn’t my responsibility, let Saul deal with it.” Others might have immediately said, “Let’s go! I can fix this problem!” Either course was foolish, but David was wise because he inquired of the Lord.
c. Go, and attack the Philistines, and save Keilah: By all outward appearance, this was a crazy thing to do. First, David had 400 men with thin resumes and bad credit reports (1 Samuel 22:2) – not exactly a regular army. Second, David had enough trouble with Saul and he didn’t need to add trouble from the Philistines – one enemy is usually enough. Third, this would bring David wide open out before King Saul. This was a dangerous course of action.
i. David did this for two reasons. He had the command of God and the need of the people. David was willing to endanger himself to obey the command of God and to meet the need of the people.
d. But David’s men said to him, “Look, we are afraid here in Judah”: David’s men counseled him to not go to Keilah. We can understand their counsel, but we should not agree with it. It was good that David became captain over them (1 Samuel 22:2) and that this wasn’t a democracy.
e. David inquired of the Lord once again: Wisely, David took the words from his men into great account. He wrestled with their advice and saw that in many ways it made a lot of sense. At the same time, he knew this was an issue that had to be decided before the Lord.
f. Arise, go down to Keilah. For I will deliver the Philistines into your hand: God likes to confirm His word, especially when He directs us to do something hard or unusual. This time the Lord not only confirmed His previous command, but He also gave a promise with the confirmation: I will deliver the Philistines into your hand.
2. (5) David rescues the people of Keilah.
And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines, struck them with a mighty blow, and took away their livestock. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
a. So David and his men went to Keilah and fought: David did what God told him to do. It isn’t enough to ask or know God’s will. We must have a commitment to obey God’s will, even when it is difficult.
b. Struck them with a mighty blow…. David saved the inhabitants of Keilah: God blessed the obedience of David. God perfectly kept His promise to David (1 Samuel 23:4-5).
3. (6-8) Saul comes against David at Keilah.
Now it happened, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, that he went down with an ephod in his hand. And Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah. So Saul said, “God has delivered him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” Then Saul called all the people together for war, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.
a. So Saul said, “God has delivered him into my hand”: Saul thought that God had blessed him and given him victory over David. It was true that God lead David to Keilah and it was true that this exposed David to Saul’s attack. But it was not true that the Lord had delivered him into my hand, as Saul said.
b. Then Saul called all the people together for war: This was not a war against the Philistines, against the Edomites, against the Amalekites, or against the Moabites. This was against David. Saul made the common mistake of assuming that someone is an enemy of the Lord just because they are our enemy.
i. Saul wouldn’t go to Keilah to save the people from the Philistines, but he would go there to try and save himself from David. Saul was completely motivated by self-interest.
4. (9-13) David escapes from Keilah.
When David knew that Saul plotted evil against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Then David said, “O Lord God of Israel, Your servant has certainly heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah to destroy the city for my sake. Will the men of Keilah deliver me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as Your servant has heard? O Lord God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will deliver you.” So David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah and went wherever they could go. Then it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah; so he halted the expedition.
a. Bring the ephod here: David was in a bad place, and he was in a bad place because the Lord led him there. Some people might be angry with the Lord but David did the right thing – he inquired of the Lord again.
i. “Here is a second inquiry. God loveth to be often sought unto by his praying people (Luke 18:1), and therefore answereth them by degrees, that he may frequently hear from them.” (Trapp)
b. He will come down…. They will deliver you: This is another example of David seeking God through the priest using the Urim and Thummim. Notice how the questions are presented in a “Yes or No” format because that is how the Urim and Thummim were used.
i. This was a true word of the Lord. Obviously, the word of the Lord to David was true depending on David’s actions. If David stayed in Keilah the word would have surely come to pass.
c. So David and his men…arose and departed from Keilah: David could have stood and fought and there was something in him that probably wanted to. But David knew that it was not of the Lord and that a lot of innocent people would get hurt in the battle. So, David, who was a great warrior, humbled himself and escaped. David was not the kind of man to sneak away from a battle, but he didn’t let his pride get the best of him in this matter.
d. Saul…halted the expedition: David’s humble heart saved the city of Keilah. In this, he shows the same heart as the greater Son of David, Jesus, who through His humble action spared us from not only Satan, but also from the righteous judgment of God.
B. David narrowly escapes Saul in the Judean wilderness.
1. (14-15) David takes refuge in the Wilderness of Ziph.
And David stayed in strongholds in the wilderness, and remained in the mountains in the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand. So David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. And David was in the Wilderness of Ziph in a forest.
a. The Wilderness of Ziph: Ziph was a town below the southern tip of the Dead Sea, with a dramatically varied landscape. It was not a comfortable or easy place to be. God guided and protected David, but it wasn’t comfortable or easy. This was an essential time for God’s work in David’s life. He became a man after God’s heart in the shepherd’s field, but he became a king in the wilderness.
b. Saul sought him every day: Saul was a determined enemy, unrelenting in his pursuit of David. Saul was so obsessed with killing David that he didn’t give attention to the work God called him to do.
c. But God did not deliver him into his hand: Saul can be as determined as he pleases but he does not dictate these events – God does. Man can intend, attempt, and work all kinds of evil but God is still in charge.
2. (16-18) Jonathan and David meet each other for the last time.
Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.
a. Strengthened his hand in God: This is what Jonathan did for David. Jonathan could not rescue David, but he strengthened his hand in God. Jonathan couldn’t give David all the answers, but he strengthened his hand in God. Jonathan couldn’t stay with David, but he strengthened his hand in God. This was a precious gift.
b. Do not fear: In encouraging David, Jonathan gave him reasons to not fear. David could reject fear because God would ultimately protect him (Saul my father shall not find you). David could reject fear because God’s promise would come to pass (You shall be king over Israel). David could reject fear because he had loyal friends like Jonathan (I shall be next to you).
i. Because of their great friendship, David and Jonathan looked forward to the day when David would be king, and Jonathan would support and help him. But it would never come to pass because Jonathan would die before David became king. Jonathan’s encouragement was a mix of divine promises and an expression of hope and desire.
c. Even my father knows that: Saul knew that David would be the next king, that the Lord had ordained it. Yet he fought against the will of God with everything he had.
d. The two of them made a covenant before the Lord: David and Jonathan already made a covenant (1 Samuel 18:3, 20:16) but now they confirm it again. Renewing or reconfirming a covenant does not make the previous covenant less precious; it makes it more precious and valid.
i. This was the last time David and Jonathan saw each other on earth and their relationship was still confirmed in a covenant.
3. (19-23) The Ziphites betray David.
Then the Ziphites came up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is David not hiding with us in strongholds in the woods, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of your soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand.” And Saul said, “Blessed are you of the Lord, for you have compassion on me. Please go and find out for sure, and see the place where his hideout is, and who has seen him there. For I am told he is very crafty. See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hides; and come back to me with certainty, and I will go with you. And it shall be, if he is in the land, that I will search for him throughout all the clans of Judah.”
a. Our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand: For every faithful Jonathan, there were also Ziphites willing to betray. Many a godly man or woman has known both friends and betrayers, just as Jesus did.
b. Blessed are you of the Lord: Saul was so spiritually warped that he said to the betrayers of an innocent man, “Blessed are you of the Lord.”
c. I am told that he is very crafty: It wasn’t David’s craftiness that kept him from Saul’s clutches; it was the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. Saul didn’t want to believe that, so he thought and said David’s protection was due to being very crafty.
d. At this time, David expressed his feelings to the Lord in song, and that song is Psalm 54. The title to that Psalm reads, A Contemplation of David when the Ziphites went and said to Saul, “Is David not hiding with us?”
i. In Psalm 54, David called out to the Lord for help: Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your strength (Psalm 54:1).
ii. In Psalm 54, David understood his enemies: For strangers have risen up against me, and oppressors have sought after my life; they have not set God before them (Psalm 54:3).
iii. In Psalm 54, David expressed his confidence in the Lord: Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is with those who uphold my life (Psalm 54:4).
iv. In Psalm 54, David let go of the bitterness and fear and praised the Lord instead: I will freely sacrifice to You; I will praise Your name, O Lord, for it is good (Psalm 54:6).
v. “He is now looking at God. First he was looking at his enemies and these supposed friends of his, but now he sees them through God. If you begin with God, your enemies grow small. If you begin with the enemy, you may never reach God.” (Redpath)
4. (24-29) David’s dramatic, narrow escape.
So they arose and went to Ziph before Saul. But David and his men were in the Wilderness of Maon, in the plain on the south of Jeshimon. When Saul and his men went to seek him, they told David. Therefore he went down to the rock, and stayed in the Wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued David in the Wilderness of Maon. Then Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. So David made haste to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were encircling David and his men to take them. But a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have invaded the land!” Therefore Saul returned from pursuing David, and went against the Philistines; so they called that place the Rock of Escape. Then David went up from there and dwelt in strongholds at En Gedi.
a. Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain: If only Saul knew David was so close! They were on the same mountain (what we would think of as a large hill), separated by the ridge. Saul did his best to trap David, and it looked like he would.
b. But a messenger came to Saul: Out of the blue – actually, out of heaven – a messenger came to Saul, and drew him away from David to fight the Philistines. The hand of God was so evident that David and his men made a memorial of the spot: they called that place the Rock of Escape.