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David’s rescue of Keilah 23:1-5
Keilah was about three miles southeast of Adullam in the Shephelah, the foothills between the coastal plain on the west and the hill country of Judah on the east. The Philistines were plundering the threshing floors there. The threshing floors were places where the Israelites stored their threshed grain after threshing it (cf. 2 Kings 6:27; Joel 2:24). David sought to defend his countrymen and fellow Judahites from their hostile foreign enemy, even though he was also watching out for Saul. Saul should have come to their rescue since he was the king, but there is no mention of him doing so.
The writer recorded in this passage that David inquired of the Lord four times (1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:10-11). He placed himself under God’s authority, though Saul did not. For this reason God could and did work through David as His vice-regent. God manifested His will through the Urim and Thummim in the priestly ephod (1 Samuel 23:6; 1 Samuel 23:9; cf. Exodus 28:30). The Urim (lit. lights) and Thummim (lit. perfections) were evidently two stones or similar objects, one light and the other dark in color. The high priest carried them in the pocket on the front of his ephod (apron). He ascertained God’s will by drawing one out after mentally assigning a meaning to each. Evidently Abiathar interpreted the will of God for David.
David was not just defending himself during this period of his life. He was aggressively carrying out the will of God by defeating Israel’s enemies as the Lord’s anointed servant. God told David to go against the Philistines first. Then, in response to David’s second prayer, He promised that He (emphatic in the Hebrew text) would give the Philistines into David’s hand. David’s men were understandably afraid to attack the Philistines who had greater numbers and stronger forces. Nevertheless David attacked and soundly defeated the Philistines because of God’s promise and power. The writer gave credit to David for the victory (1 Samuel 23:5), but clearly it was God who enabled him to win against such a daunting foe (1 Samuel 23:4).
David at Keilah 23:1-14
David went to rescue the people of Keilah from the Philistines, but then he had to flee from that town because the citizens were going to hand him over to Saul.
2. Saul’s pursuit of David ch. 23
The literary spotlight now moves back from Saul to David and his activities.
"We have just witnessed how Saul, in an outburst of rage, became responsible for the destruction of the priestly city of Nob. In ch. 23, David, even while on the run from Saul, is shown saving a city from Philistine attack." [Note: Gordon, I & II Samuel . . ., p. 175.]
David’s escape from Keilah 23:6-14
Abiathar had evidently remained in the forest of Hereth when David took his men to attack the Philistines in Keilah (cf. 1 Samuel 22:20-23). Now the priest joined David at Keilah (1 Samuel 23:6). The presence of the ephod made it possible for David to continue to obtain guidance from the Lord in answer to his prayers.
Saul piously claimed that God had delivered David into his hands (1 Samuel 23:7). Obviously God had not done this since David was the Lord’s anointed king-elect. God did not want Saul to hunt him down, much less kill him. Keilah evidently had only one gate by which people could enter and exit the town. Saul felt confident that he could control the gate and so trap David.
Saul summoned soldiers to accompany him to Keilah (1 Samuel 23:7), but there is no mention that he prayed for divine guidance as David had done (1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4). David prayed again and requested answers to two questions (1 Samuel 23:10-11). He opened and closed his prayer with an appeal to the "LORD God of Israel," the ultimate ruler of His people. He also described himself as the Lord’s "servant" twice. David voiced concern for his men (1 Samuel 23:12) as well as for himself (1 Samuel 23:11). God gave the answer to David’s second question first, and then He answered his first question.
The willingness of the people of Keilah to hand their savior over to Saul demonstrates base ingratitude for David’s deliverance of them. It also reveals how fearful they were of Saul who had recently destroyed another town, Nob, for harboring David (1 Samuel 22:19).
David left Keilah after he learned that he would be vulnerable if he stayed there (1 Samuel 23:13). He did not take revenge on the citizens of Keilah for telling Saul where he was. Saul had taken revenge on the citizens of Nob for not telling him where David was. The number of David’s supporters had grown from 400 (1 Samuel 22:2) to 600. More people were siding with David and were turning from Saul. Saul abandoned his plans to attack Keilah, and David moved on to the wilderness near Ziph.
Jonathan’s encouragement of David 23:15-18
The town of Ziph was 12 miles southeast of Keilah, and the wilderness of Ziph was near the town. Ziph stood in the wilderness area of Judah whereas Keilah was in the more hospitable Shephelah. The sites of Horesh (1 Samuel 23:15) and Hachilah (1 Samuel 23:19) are not certain.
Jonathan risked his own safety to encourage his friend again. God had used Abiathar to encourage David recently in Keilah (1 Samuel 23:6). Jonathan encouraged David "in God" (cf. 1 Samuel 30:6). What he said to David rested on God’s promises and plans for David that both Jonathan and Saul now knew (cf. 1 Samuel 20:2; 1 Samuel 20:31). Jonathan cooperated with God’s plans, but Saul resisted them. It is curious that Jonathan could find David, but Saul and his intelligence experts could not locate him. God was protecting His servant. Jonathan and David made another covenant (cf. 1 Samuel 18:3; 1 Samuel 20:8; 1 Samuel 20:12-17). This is the last meeting of these "soul brothers" that the text records.
David in the wilderness of Ziph 23:15-23
David had sought and received divine guidance and had succeeded at Keilah (1 Samuel 23:1-14). Now Saul sought and received human guidance and failed near Ziph (1 Samuel 23:15-23). Jonathan visited David to encourage his friend in this wilderness, but David had to flee again because the inhabitants of Ziph also threatened to betray him.
David’s escape from the wilderness of Ziph 23:19-23
Again the writer directed our attention back to Saul. Psalms 54 tells us what David was thinking and praying during this experience. He trusted in God.
Evidently the Ziphites thought that they would be better off if they informed Saul of David’s presence in their area than if the king discovered that he was there. He might have blamed them for sheltering David and taken revenge on them as he had on the people of Nob.
Again Saul spoke piously (cf. 1 Samuel 23:7) and praised the Ziphites for having compassion on him. Really it was David who was in need of compassion from these people, but he found none. Saul proceeded to seek human help in finding David from his allies ("go," "make more sure," "investigate," "see," "look," "learn;" 1 Samuel 23:22-23). However there is no mention of his seeking divine help in prayer (cf. 1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:11-12). He attributed cunning to David, but Saul was really the cunning hunter in this story. Herod the Great was another cunning ruler, who also was not worthy to be king, who tried to execute the Lord’s anointed, Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 2:1-12). Saul was projecting his own deceitful behavior onto David. Whereas God promised to go with David and deliver the Philistines into his hands (1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4), Saul promised to go with the Ziphites to destroy David among the Judahites (1 Samuel 23:23).
David in the wilderness of Maon 23:24-29
Maon stood about five miles south of Ziph in the wilderness of Judah. The "Arabah" describes the low-lying area that extends from Mt. Hermon to the Red Sea, including the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea regions. Jeshimon means "desert" or "waste" in Hebrew, so it may have been the name of a region east of Ziph.
Some of David’s sympathizers ("they," 1 Samuel 23:25) informed him that Saul was approching with soldiers. David and his men then sought refuge behind a huge rock in the area. Just as Saul’s men were about to close in on David, news reached Saul that the Philistines had invaded an unspecified area of Israel. Saul had to break off his personal vendetta to respond to the Philistine danger (cf. 1 Samuel 23:1). David then moved on to Engedi, 14 miles east of Ziph, to increase his safety.
This chapter encourages all of God’s servants who, like David, feel vulnerable to attacks by people who do not fear the Lord.
How did God deliver David? He saved him by bringing information to his ears that David needed to protect himself (1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:11-12; 1 Samuel 23:25). He also did it by distracting David’s enemy (1 Samuel 23:27-28).
What did David do while he trusted God? He did not become anxious and just wait. He sought God in prayer (1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:11-12; cf. Psalms 54; Philippians 4:6), and he proceeded to serve God (1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:5; cf. Matthew 28:19-20).
How did David receive strength during his trials? God answered his prayers (1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:11-12; cf. Saul). Moreover, other godly people encouraged David, namely, Abiathar the priest, who helped him in prayer (1 Samuel 23:6), and Jonathan the prince, who reminded him of God’s promises (1 Samuel 23:16-18).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 23". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany