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David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Samuel 23

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David Saves Keliah; David Escapes from Saul

A. David saves Keliah from the Philistines.

1. (1Sa 23:1-4) God directs David to fight against the Philistines and deliver the city of Keliah.

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. Then they told David: When David was hiding out in the stronghold (1 Samuel 22:5) he was safe, but he couldn't be reached in a time of need to help God's people. One of the great reasons why God called David out of the stronghold, into a place of greater danger (the land of Judah), was so that he could serve and bless God's people more effectively.

b. The Philistines are fighting against Keliah, and they are robbing the threshing floors: Why did they bring 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 Keliah, it was Saul's job to fight against the Philistines, but Saul wasn't doing his job, so the LORD called David to do it.

i. God loved His people too much to let them suffer with 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.

c. Therefore David inquired of the LORD: This shows David's wisdom and godliness. Some might have immediately said, "This isn't my responsibility, it is Saul's. Let him deal with it." Others might have immediately said, "Let's go! I can fix this problem! Get out of my way and let's do it!" Either course was foolish, but David was wise because he inquired of the LORD.

i. When David inquired of the LORD, he was willing to do just as the LORD commanded. Sometimes we inquire of the LORD, but our minds are already made up - we will do certain things, and we will not do certain things. That isn't really inquiring of the LORD at all!

d. David inquired of the LORD - but how? 1 Samuel 23:6 says, Now it happened, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keliah, that he went down with an ephod in his hand. An ephod was a special apron that priests would wear, to cover over their clothing, so the sacrificial blood and gore would splash on the ephod, not so much on their clothing.

i. It is likely that this wasn't just any ephod; this was the ephod of the High Priest, which had the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:15) attached to it (Exodus 28:28). The breastplate had in it a pouch with two stones, known as the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30). When David inquired of the LORD, he probably asked Abiathar to use the Urim and Thummim.

ii. How did the priest use the Urim and Thummim to inquire of the LORD? The names Urim and Thummim mean "Lights and Perfections." We aren't sure what they were or how they were used. Most think they were a pair of stones, one light and another dark, and each stone indicated a "yes" or "no" from God. The idea is that High Priest would ask God a question that could be answered with a "yes" or a "no," reach into the breastplate, and pull out the stone indicating God's answer. This ephod, with the Urim and Thummim, was more helpful to David than a thousand soldiers, because it helped him discern the will of God.

iii. Many Christians today would consider the Urim and Thummim as crude tools of discernment; sort of an Old Testament "Magic 8-Ball." In fact, using the Urim and Thummim was superior to the tools many Christians today use: relying purely on feeling, or on outward appearances, or simply using no discernment at all.

iv. "Each child of God has his own Urim and Thummim stone, which is a conscience void of offense, a heart cleansed in the blood of Christ, a spiritual nature which is pervaded and filled by the Holy Spirit of God." (Meyer)

v. The key to the effectiveness of the Urim and Thummim was that God's Word gave them. In seeking God through the Urim and Thummim, one was really going back to God's Word for guidance, because it was the word of God that commanded their place and allowed their use. Today, if we have the same focus on God's Word, He will guide us also. One old preacher was asked to explain the Urim and Thummim. He said, "Well, this is how I understand it. When I need to know God's will, I get out my Bible and I do a lot of usin' and thummin' through my Bible, and God always speaks to me." More Christians would know God's will if they did more usin' and thummin'!

vi. Also, notice that David was not asking God about something that God had already revealed in His Word. David didn't ask, "Now LORD, do You really want me to keep that third commandment?" David was fulfilling the LORD's revealed will to the best of his ability, and trusted that God would lead him in His specific will.

e. Go, and attack the Philistines, and save Keliah: By all outward appearance, this was a crazy thing to do. First, David had 400 men whose had thin resumes and bad credit reports (everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him, 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, and expose him to that enemy also. This was a dangerous course of action!

i. Then why do it at all? David had two great reasons: the command of God, and the need of the people. David was willing to spend himself, to endanger himself, so that he obey the command of God, and meet the need of the people.

f. But David's men said to him, "Look, we are afraid here in Judah." David's men counseled him to not go to Keliah. We can understand their counsel; but we should not agree with it. We should thank God at this point that David became captain over them (1 Samuel 22:4), and that this wasn't a democracy.

g. 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.

h. Arise, go down to Keiliah, 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 it: I will deliver the Philistines into your hand.

i. The promise was intended to give both David and his men more and more confidence in God and His command.

2. (1Sa 23:5) David rescues the people of Keliah.

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 Keliah and fought: It isn't enough to inquire of God's will, or even to know God's will. We must have a commitment to obey God's will, even when it is difficult.

b. God blessed the obedience of David: Struck them with a mighty blow … David saved the inhabitants of Keliah. We also see that God perfectly kept His promise to David (I will deliver the Philistines into your hand, 1 Samuel 23:4).

3. (1Sa 23:6-8) Saul comes against David at Keliah.

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 Keliah, and it was 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.

i. "He easily believed what he greedily desired, though his own experience had oft showed him how strangely God had delivered [David] out of his own hands, and what a singular care God had over [David]." (Poole)

b. Saul is in no place to discern the will of God, because he cares nothing for the worship or service of God. Indeed, Abiathar the priest is with David, not Saul, and he has the things of the priesthood with him (an ephod in his hand). But Saul doesn't care about losing the priesthood and the true worship of God. All he cares about is getting David.

c. The Saul called all the people together for war: For war? Against whom? Against the Philistines? Against the Edomites? Against the Amelekites? Against the Moabites? No, against David, the one who had served Saul faithfully, and the one whom God has anointed and blessed! Saul makes 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 Keliah to save the people of Keliah against the Philistines, but he would go there to try and save himself against David. Saul is totally motivated by self-interest.

4. (1Sa 23:9-13) David escapes from Keliah.

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 might be angry with the LORD, and even give a "I told You this would happen!" to God. Instead, 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 the 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. They will deliver you: Why would the people of Keliah betray the man who just saved their city? No doubt, they heard of Saul's brutal massacre of the priests (1 Samuel 22:16-19), so they knew Saul would stop at nothing to kill David. David knew this also (Saul seeks to come to Keliah to destroy the city of my sake).

ii. "They look upon Nob so lately razed and harassed, and fear to fare accordingly." (Trapp)

iii. Was this word of the LORD demonstrated to be false? Not at all. Obviously, the word of the Lord to David was true depending on David's actions. If David would have stayed in Keliah, the word would have surely come to pass. "We may observe from this that, however positive a declaration of God may appear that refers to any thing in which man is to be employed, the prediction is not intended to suspend or destroy free agency, but always comprehends it in some particular condition." (Clarke)

c. So David and his men … arose and departed from Keliah: 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.

i. Saul … halted the expedition: David's humble heart saved the city of Keliah. In this, he shows the same heart as the greater Son of David, Jesus, who through His humble action spared us against not only Satan, but against the righteous judgment of God. Saul directed his attack against David instead of Keliah, and so did God pour out His judgment on Jesus, the Son of David, instead of us.

B. David narrowly escapes Saul in the Judean wilderness.

1. (1Sa 23:14-15) David takes refuge in 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.

i. This 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, and unrelenting in pursuit of David. Saul has become so obsessed with killing David that he doesn't give attention to the work God had called him to do.

c. But God did not deliver him into his hand: Saul can be as determined as he pleases, but he is not dictating these events - God is. Man can intend, attempt, and work all kinds of evil, but God is still in charge.

2. (1Sa 23:16-18) 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. What did Jonathan do for David? Jonathan strengthened his hand in God. 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. What a precious gift Jonathan gave David!

i. "He comforted and supported him against all his fears, by minding him of God's infallible promises made to him, and his singular providence which hitherto had and still would be with him." (Poole)

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. In this wonderful encouragement, Jonathan would be proved mostly correct, but not completely correct. God had promised that David would be the next king when Samuel anointed David (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Based on that, Jonathan could know that my father will not find you, and that David would be king over Israel. Jonathan had known these things for a long time (1 Samuel 18:4), and could say them confidently in the LORD. But then Jonathan added his own desire and aspiration: I shall be next to you. Because of their great friendship, David and Jonathan looked forward to the day when David would be king and Jonathan would support him and help him. But it would never come to pass, because Jonathan would die before David came to the throne. We see in Jonathan's encouragement a mix of a word from God 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 fights against the will of God with everything he has. Sometimes we do the same thing; we know what God's will is, but we oppose it by not doing it. How foolish!

d. The two of them made a covenant before the LORD: David and Jonathan had already 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. Was Jonathan being disloyal to his father here? Not at all. "Now all this Jonathan could do, consistently with his duty to his father and his king. He knew that David had delivered the kingdom; he saw that his father was ruling unconstitutionally; and he knew that God had appointed David to succeed Saul. This he knew would come about in the order of Providence; and neither he nor David took one step to hasten the time." (Clarke)

ii. This was the last time David and Jonathan would ever see each other on the earth, and their relationship was still confirmed in the commitment of covenant.

3. (1Sa 23:19-23) 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 is also a Ziphite, someone 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 could say 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 had kept him from Saul's clutches so far. It was the goodness and faithfulness of the LORD. But Saul doesn't want to believe that, so he thinks and says David's protection is due to his being very crafty.

d. At this time, David expressed his feelings to the LORD in song, and that song is preserved for us in 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. "Observe how David left the treachery of his supposed friends with the One who is sufficient to deal with them. 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. (1Sa 23:24-29) 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, "Hasten 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 had known that David was so close! They are 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.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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