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David remains devoted to his people Israel. It is disturbing to him to hear that the Philistines were fighting against Keilah and robbing grain from the threshing floors. Saul shows no concern for the welfare of these persecuted Israelites, but David enquires of the Lord as to whether he should attack the Philistines and save Keilah. The Lord's answer is definite and clear: they spoke of being afraid even where they were in hiding: how much more if they came into open warfare with the Philistines? Saul would certainly then know of his whereabouts.
David then goes back to enquire of God a second time (v.4). Evidently it was simply confirmation he desired in order to convince his men. The Lord's answer is positive: He would deliver the Philistines into David's hand. Therefore David and his men act on this word, attacking the Philistines at Keilah, winning a complete victory, gaining the spoil of their cattle and saving the inhabitants of the city from their oppressors.
Verse 6 intervenes here to tell us that Abiathar had brought an ephod with him when he had come to David. In this ephod (or tunic) was set the urim and thummim, the breastplate with its twelve precious stones. This had special significance in inquiring of God because in this ALL the tribes of Israel were represented. If any wanted God to show favoritism, the ephod was a rebuke to this, for God would do only what was right for the sake of ALL of the tribes, and would not take sides with one against another. We too today must remember never to ask God for something that is inconsistent with the unity of the entire body of Christ, the Church. This would be sectarianism of which God can never approve.
The report came to Saul that David was at Keilah, and Saul thinks that God was favoring him by putting David in that critical position where Saul could apprehend and kill him (v.7). This glib talk about God shows how seared his conscience was. He would not go to Keilah to save the people there from the Philistines, but he would take his army there to fight against David, who had been willing to fight for Keilah!
David however had well learned to be on guard. He called for Abiathar to bring the ephod in order to enquire of God. His prayer to the Lord tells us that Saul was willing to go so far as to destroy Keilah in order to kill David. David understood this, but wanted confirmation from God as to what might transpire. His first question is, would Saul come? God answers, Yes, he would come (v.11). Of course it is understood that his coming would be only because David was there. He questions then, would the men of Keilah give David and his men up to Saul'? The Lord answered, Yes, they would do so (v.12). Of course we see in this that their attitude to David was not as strong as their fear of Saul. Yet we can understand their very natural thoughts: It was either this or their city would be destroyed. Terrible alternative!
David realized that his only course therefore was to leave the inhabited area and find a dwelling for himself and his 600 men elsewhere. They would not be safe in any city: they must accept the status of fugitives. When Saul heard they had left Keilah, he did not go there (v.13), but tried every day to find where David was (v.14). David and his men found strongholds in the mountainous area of the wilderness of Ziph. It was no small thing for 600 men to remain hidden: they would have to be ceaselessly on guard.
Yet Jonathan knew where David was, possibly through a messenger sent to him by David. He went, evidently alone, and found David in the woods, where he "strengthened his hand in God" (v.10). David would certainly be grateful for this true hearted encouragement. Jonathan confidently assures him that Saul will not find him. He had no doubt that God's having had David anointed was an absolute promise that David would yet be king. He added however, "I shall be next unto thee." This was a sad mistake, for though Jonathan was devoted to David, he did not take the path of suffering with him, and later died with Saul. He said too, "that my father knoweth," indicating that Saul knew David was God's choice for king, though he was determined to prevent it if he could.
When Jonathan had come to encourage David in the woods, we are told they made a covenant before the Lord. This was likely a confirmation of a previous covenant of which David speaks in chapter 20:8. David remained a fugitive, however, but Jonathan went to his house, and there is no record that they ever had the joy of seeing one another again.
The Ziphites were not honorable men, and were willing to betray David in order to be in Saul's favor. They informed Saul of David's hiding in strongholds in their area (vs.19-20). David did not confine himself to one location, however, but they thought that if Saul came to seek him, they would be able to pinpoint his location for Saul. Saul's answer to them is despicable. He tells them they are blessed of the Lord because they were showing compassion to Saul (v.21). He was determined to show the opposite of compassion to David by murdering him. David was no threat to him whatever, but Saul considered them compassionate because they were willing to implicate themselves in the murder of David!
Saul however wanted more certainty of finding David, and urged them to obtain all the information they possibly could as to all the places David might be likely to hide (vs.22-23). He uses words in speaking to them that were only the figment of his imagination: "It is told me that he dealeth very subtly." Saul had himself dealt this way with David, but David's dealings with Saul had been frank and open until he had to flee for his life.
Saul did take advantage of the information he had received, however, to take his men with him to Ziph. When David heard this he changed his location to a rocky area of Maon. Saul gets information of this move, and pursues David at close proximity, evidently only a small mountain separating them. It seemed imminent that Saul and his men would surround David and his small company.
But God intervened. A messenger came to Saul to tell him that the Philistines had invaded the land (v.27). This was a jolting reminder to Saul that he ought to recognize who his actual enemies were. He had to leave in order to defend his own land. All this history had pertinent lessons for David. He had been on the verge of discovery and death. But God had decreed he would be king. There was no possibility that Saul would kill him. Did the Lord not put him directly in the face of danger in order to show him that the Lord is greater than all the circumstances, and therefore that David had no reason for fear, but every reason for unfaltering confidence in God? Should not we today -- every believer - have such living, practical faith in the living God?
The place was called Sela-hammalekoth, meaning "the rock of divisions." Divisions in Israel are not pleasant to contemplate, no more than they are in the Church of God, but when division was forced upon David, God could yet sustain him in maintaining a right attitude toward all Israel, just as He can do for believers who by necessity are separated from others whom they love. David then finds another place of dwelling at En-gedi ("fountain of the kid"), a place of refreshment, even though he was as a helpless, sensitive kid surrounded by beasts of prey
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 23". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany