I Samuel 23:1-13
23:1 When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” 2 he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” 3 But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” 4 Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. 6 (Now Abiathar son of Ahimelek had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.) 7 Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and he said, “God has delivered him into my hands, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars.” 8 And Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men. 9 When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.” 10 David said, “Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. 11 Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will.” 12 Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will.” 13 So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there.
1. There are many voices; which one will we listen to? I Samuel 23:1-4 To Whom did David listen? Now we find out why the prophet Gad probably by divine direction, ordered David to go into the land of Judah: (1 Sam. 22:5). It was that, since Saul neglected his duty to protect Israel, David might take care of it, in spite of the bad treatment he received. He must render good for evil, and thereby became a type of Him who not only ventured His life, but laid down His life, for those that were His enemies.
News is brought to David, as though he, not Saul, were the patron and protector of his country’s liberties, that the Philistines had overtaken the city of Keilah and plundered the surrounding countryside 1 (I Sam. 23:1). Possibly it was the departure both of God and David from Saul that encouraged the Philistines to take advantage of a perceived weakness in Israel. Saul opposed God’s will, so God opposed him. When political leaders begin to persecute God’s people, the church, let them expect opposition and difficulties on all sides. One way for any country to be at peace is to let God’s Church be at peace in it. If Saul fights against David, the Philistines shall fight against David’s country.
David is willing enough to give relief to the citizens of Keilah, but first he wanted to enquire of the Lord. Here we can see David’s generosity and public-spiritedness. Though his head and hands were full of his own business, and he had enough to do with the little force he had to protect himself, yet he was concerned for the safety of his country and could not sit still and see his fellow Israelites ravaged.
Even though Saul, whose business it was to guard the borders of his land, hated him and sought his life, yet David was willing, to the utmost of his power, to serve him and his interests against the common enemy, and bravely rejected the thought of yielding up the peace that God wanted for His people Israel just because of his own private issues with Saul.
Those are unlike David who sadly are unwilling to do more good just because they have not been appreciated for the good services they have already done.
In 22:5 God took the initiative to direct David through Gad, but now David is asking. David took the initiative. Perhaps he asked because David had recently gone to Gath for safety from Saul, now before he attacks them at Keilah he wanted to know the mind of the Lord.
Scripture does not say whether David consulted with Gad or Abiathar. Maybe he asked both of them—the prophet and the new young High Priest. Both were there. David certainly honored God either way when he enquired of the Lord; but it seems (by 1 Sam. 23:6) that Abiathar was there already with the ephod. His enquiry is, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” It is possible that David’s question had two meanings: he enquired whether he might lawfully take Saul’s work upon himself, and act without being sent by him and also concerning this specific event, whether he might safely venture against such a great force as the Philistines had with such a small handful of men with himself while also having such a dangerous enemy as Saul at his back. It is our duty, and will be our ease and comfort, whatever happens, to acknowledge God in all our ways and to seek direction from him. God will direct us if we ask. Our problem often is that we don’t ask. Maybe we don’t want to know. Or don’t want to know from Him. Or prefer to lean on our own understanding. David knew because David asked.
Israel’s king Ahaziah years later, by contrast, asked the wrong god—Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron—in II Kings1:2, but Elijah set that situation straight.
God appointed David once and now again to go against the Philistines, (against the giant and now against the Philistines at Keilah) and promised him success: “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” This would have been encouraging, but then no sooner did he begin to have soldiers of his own than he found it hard enough to manage them. They objected that they had enemies enough among their own countrymen, they needed not to make the Philistines their enemies. Their hearts failed them when they they realized they were in enough danger from just Saul’s band of pursuers, but much more now if they engaged the Philistine armies. To satisfy them, therefore, “Once again David inquired of the Lord” and received, not only a full commission, which would warrant him to fight though he had no orders from Saul, but also a full assurance of victory: “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” This should have been enough to animate the greatest coward he had in his regiment. So what about us? We should not throw caution to the wind and move out carelessly or presumptuously, but rather ask and when we have the signal from the Lord, when the wind is blowing in the Mulberry trees or the dew is on the fleece only, we should confidently and bravely make our move. Presumption and to lag are both wrong.
David took action; he went accordingly against the Philistines, routed them, and rescued Keilah, (1 Sam. 23:5), and it appears that he also advanced into the country of the Philistines, for he carried off their cattle in pay-back for the wrong they did to the men of Keilah in robbing their threshing-floors.
Earlier we asked the question about to whom did David direct his question—Abiathar or Gad. Now, 1 Sam. 23:6 seems to give an explanation for how David was able to know God’s answer to his questions. It says “ (Now Abiathar son of Ahimelek had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.)” The preceding chapter tells of Abiathar’s arrival, but it does not say that he brought the ephod with him. Now we learn that he evidently had. The ephod included the urim and thummim. They were only physical things, instruments, but their value far surpassed the monetary value of the cloth and stones of which it was made. It represented the way God ordained for his representative, the high priest, to discern the will of God. It surely would have been a great comfort to David, in his banishment, that when he could not go to the house of God, he had some of the choicest treasures of that house brought to him, the high priest and his breast-plate of judgment. The man who can reveal the will and plan of God is a much greater prize than the greatest army. This was a true blessing. He had a prophet and a High Priest.
2. (After victory over the Philistines) David experienced danger again from his own king. Saul contrived within himself the destruction of David (1 Sam. 23:7, 8): He heard that he had come to Keilah; and did he not hear what brought him? Was it not told him that he had bravely relieved Keilah and delivered it out of the hands of the Philistines? This, one would think, should have motivated Saul to consider what honor and dignity should be given to David for this. But, instead of that, he snatches it as an opportunity of doing David a mischief. An ungrateful wretch he was, and forever unworthy to have any service or kindness done to him. Well might David complain of his enemies that they rewarded him evil for good, and that for his love they were his adversaries, 35:12 says, “They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved” and Psalm 109:4 says, “in return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.” Christ was also misused like this, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” (John 10:32). Wonderful examples to follow!
Notice with me how Saul abused the God of Israel, in seeming to make Him a partner in his evil intentions and promise success to himself because God was supposedly on his side: “God has delivered him into my hands, as though the one who was rejected by God for disobedience were suddenly favored by him, and David was rejected. He vainly triumphed before the victory, forgetting how often he had had greater advantages against David than now and had yet missed his aim. He foolishly, sanctimoniously and pompously connected God with his cause, because he thought he had gained an advantage—David was trapped in Keilah. When God is truly on our side that is great, but let us not arrogantly presume so.
Therefore David prayed, “Do not grant the wicked their desires, Lord; do not let their plans succeed” (Psalm 140:8). We must not think that smiling and claiming God’s favor either justifies an unrighteous cause or secures its success. Saul abused the Israel of God, in making his men servants of his malice against David. He called all the people together to war, and they must with all speed march to Keilah to besiege David and his men, though concealing that design; for it is said, “ Saul was plotting against him” (v 9) and his loyal men were made to be tools of adversity against God’s chosen future king for Israel. We are Christian leaders yet sometimes our actions are evil and we are to blame, but pity the underlings who have no choice in their actions; they obey, but innocently become tools of unrighteousness. Some people suffer under poor leadership; that is sad, but worse than that, others are made servants and instruments of unrighteousness and that is even more sad. Saul’s attitude and behavior provides us with an opportunity to examine our leadership style. What kind of leader are you?
3. David consulted with God concerning his own preservation. He knew by the information bought to him that Saul was plotting his ruin and therefore appealed to his great Protector for direction. No sooner is the ephod brought to him than he makes good use of it: Bring the ephod. Today we do not have or need an ephod. We have the Scriptures, the living Word of God, in our hands; let us take advice from it when we do not know what to do. Instead of saying “Bring the ephod”, say, “Bring the Bible.”
David’s prayer to God on this occasion was very solemn and reverent. Twice he called God the Lord God of Israel, and three times called himself his servant, (vs 10-11) Those that talk to God must know their distance, and to Whom they are speaking.
His prayer is also very specific and expressive. His representation of the case is: (23:10): “Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me.” David would not call for the ephod upon every idle rumor. He does not say, “to destroy me,” but, “to destroy the city,” perhaps as Doeg had recently done to the city of Nob, “on account of me.” He is as concerned for their safety as for his own, and will expose himself anywhere rather than that they would be troubled merely by his being among them. Generous souls are like that. His petition is very particular. God allows us this privilege in our prayers to him: “Lord, direct me in this matter, about which I am now at a loss.”
David heard “definitely” about Saul’s “plan.” This is an interesting juxtaposition of two antonyms. The message was definite, but the plan was not; Saul did not succeed, because David fled under the direction of David’s Protector.
We do not know why David reversed what would have been a more natural sequence for the two questions of verse 11: “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard?” But God in his answer puts him in the right order. That second question should have been put first, and was first answered, “Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard?” “Yes,” says God’s answer, “he will come down; he has resolved it, is preparing for it, and will do it, unless he hears that you have left the town.” “Okay, if he does come down will the men of Keilah stand with and defend me or will they open the gates to him, and give me to him?” God said “Yes” and “Yes.”
If he had asked the men, the magistrates or elders, of Keilah themselves what they would do in that case, they could not have told him, not knowing their own minds. They would not have known what they would do. Nor what they should do. Nor at the time of decisions which way the greater number of votes in their council would go. They might have told him they would protect him, and yet afterwards betray him; but God could tell him perfectly and infallibly: “When Saul besieges their city, and demands of them that they surrender you into his hands regardless of how fond of you they now seem to be as their savior, they will deliver you up rather than face Saul’s fury.” Note, [1.] God knows all men better than they know themselves, knows their length, their strength, what is in them, and what they will do if they come into such and such circumstances. [2.] He therefore knows not only what will be, but what would be if it were not prevented; and therefore knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and how to render to every man according to his works.
David, now knowing from God about of his real danger, left Keilah, 1 Sam. 23:13. His followers had now increased in number to 600; with these he went out, not knowing where he would go, but resolved to follow God’s protection and therefore put himself under it. This broke up Saul’s plans. Saul claimed that God had delivered David into his hand, but the story actually proved that God delivered him out of his hand, as a bird out of the snare of the fowler. “When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there” with the body of the army, as he intended (1 Sam. 23:8), and resolved to take only his own guards, and go in quest after him. And you and I see another illustration that God does baffle the designs of his people’s enemies and turn their counsels around. God knows how to turn the tables. That is why it is good for you and me and all Christian leaders, pastors, evangelists and missionaries to learn the value of and how to receive direction from God. Don’t leave home without it.