I Samuel 23:14 – 29
14 David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.15 While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” 18 The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh. 19 The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hakilah, south of Jeshimon? 20 Now, Your Majesty, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for giving him into your hands.” 21 Saul replied, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me. 22 Go and get more information. Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty. 23 Find out about all the hiding places he uses and come back to me with definite information. Then I will go with you; if he is in the area, I will track him down among all the clans of Judah.” 24 So they set out and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, in the Arabah south of Jeshimon. 25 Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon. When Saul heard this, he went into the Desert of Maon in pursuit of David. 26 Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” 28 Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth. 29 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi.
1. A visit from a Godly Friend. 14-18 David departed in a sudden secret manner to escape capture. He “stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph.” We must commend his obvious virtues on display even as he escaped: his humility, modesty, loyalty to his king, and patient dependance on the providence of his God. He did not gather his forces against Saul, fight him in the field, or surprise him by some military strategy or other, and so avenge his own quarrel and that of the Lord’s priests, or seek to take matters into his own hands and put an end to his own troubles and the calamities of the country under Saul’s tyrannical government. No, he made no such attempt; he kept God’s way, waited for God’s time, and was content to secure himself in the desert and wildernesses. This, in spite of the fact that it might seem a departure from the courage for which he had been famous.
And we must also lament his hard fate, that such an innocent man should be so terrified and put in fear of his life, that a man of such honor should be disgraced like this, a man of merit rewarded like this for his valiant, and patriotic military services, and that a man that delighted in the service both of God and his country should be expelled from both and wrapped up in obscurity. What shall we say about this? Let it make us think the worse of this world, which often gives such bad treatment to its best men; let it encourage other valiant men, even great and active men, to quietness and restraint, when that is appropriate. If life gives us such circumstances like David’s, let it make us long for that other future kingdom where goodness shall forever be in glory and holiness in honor, and the righteous shall shine as the sun, which cannot be put under a bushel, so that we try even harder here and now to act like statesmen in that future estate.
Saul hunted him, as his unreconcilable enemy. He sought him every day, so restless was his hatred and jealousy (1 Sam. 23:14). He sought no less than his life, so cruel was his contempt, bitterness and animosity (1 Sam. 23:15). Galatians 4:29 speaks pointedly and insightfully about “. . .the son born according to the flesh who persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.” A rivalry of sorts existed between the usurper and the legitimate, the flesh and the spirit, the law and God’s grace, even between Herod, the descendant of Edom, and Isaac, the descendant of Abraham, and in you! . . . what is born in your fleshly nature and what is born of God’s Spirit in you? Are you listening to your demons or to your better angels? The war rages in all of us; between your flesh and your spirit. Which will win? What happened in the dessert of Ziph between Saul and David is also happening in your heart, even today.
God defended him, as his powerful protector. God did not deliver him into Saul’s hand, as Saul hoped (1 Sam. 23:7); and, unless God delivered him into his hand, he could not prevail against him. Jesus said to Pilate in John 19:11: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of the greater sin.” God is above whatever authority He has allowed to apparently also be over you. Saul thought God had put David in his hand, but actually God delivered David from his hand.
In the Dessert of Ziph, even with Saul chasing him, David was safe. Even before David’s friend, Jonathan, came to visit him, David was safe because his even better friend than Jonathan was already there visiting him.
Jonathan comforted him as his faithful and constant friend. True friends will figure out a way to get together. David, it is likely, appointed the time and place for this interview, and Jonathan observed the appointment, though in doing so he exposed himself to his father’s displeasure, and, had it been discovered, it might have cost him his life. True friendship will not shrink from danger, but can easily venture, will not shrink from lowering oneself, but can easily stoop, and exchange a palace for a desert, to serve a friend.
The very sight of Jonathan would have been reviving to David; but, besides this, Jonathan said things to David which were very encouraging. As a righteous friend, he directed him to God, the foundation of his confidence and the fountain of his comfort: He “helped him find strength in God.” David, though a strong believer, needed the help of his friends for the perfecting of what was lacking in his faith; and in this Jonathan was helpful to him, by reminding him of the promise of God, the holy oil with which he was anointed, the presence of God with him so far, and the many experiences he had had of God’s goodness to him. He was able to strengthen his hands for action, by encouraging his heart, not in the creature, but in God. Jonathan was not in a capacity of doing anything to strengthen him, but he assured him God would.
As a self-denying friend, he took a pleasure in the prospect of David’s advancement which he as prince in Israel might have received. (1 Sam. 23:17). He said something like “You will live to be king, and I will think it good enough for me to be next to you, and near you, even though under you, and will never be a rival with you.” This resignation of his title which Jonathan made to David would be a great satisfaction to David, and make his way more clear. This, Jonathan tells him, Saul knew very well, Jonathan probably having sometime heard his father say as much. This makes that wicked man, Saul, an even worse man in that he persecuted the one whom he knew God favored. What a foolish man he was to think he could prevent something God had determined and which would certainly come to pass! How could he cancel or make of no effect something that God had purposed?
As a constant friend, he renewed his league of friendship with him. They made a covenant now, this third time, before the Lord, calling him to witness to it. (1 Sam. 23:18) True love takes delight in repeating its engagements, giving and receiving fresh assurances of the firmness of the friendship. Our covenant with God should be often renewed, and therein our communion with him kept up. David and Jonathan now parted, and never came together again, that we find, in this world. Jonathan had said what he wished, not what he had good reason to expect, when he promised himself that he would be next to David in his kingdom. And so the last visit from his friend Jonathan ended.
2. An Ungodly Axis 19 – 23
The Ziphites now offer their service to Saul, to betray David to him. (1 Sam. 23:19, 20). He was sheltering himself in the wilderness of Ziph (1 Sam. 23:14, 15), putting more confidence in the people of that country because they were of his own tribe, Judah. They had reason to think themselves happy that they had an opportunity of serving one who was the ornament of their tribe and was likely to be much more so, who was so far from plundering the country, or giving it any disturbance with his troops, that he was ready to protect it and to do for them whatever they needed. (As he later did for Abigail’s husband, Nabal’s, shepherds in a near area—the dessert of Maon where David went next.)
But, to win favor with Saul, they went to him, and not only informed him specifically where David was staying (1 Sam. 23:19), but invited him to come with his forces into their country in pursuit of him, and even promised to deliver him into his hand, (1 Sam. 23:20). Saul had not sent anyone to inquire, examine or threaten them, but of their own accord they offered to betray David. They did not even ask for a reward. When Judas betrayed Jesus he at least wanted payment: “What will you give me?” But they knew Saul wanted David’s blood and initiated the offer.
Saul thankfully received their good news and gladly laid hold of the opportunity to hunt David in their wilderness. Was it a sport with this wicked king to make a prey of him as hunting is a sport to some. He indicated to them how kindly he took it (1 Sam. 23:21) and notice how near is God to his mouth, though far from his heart, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me,” It seems he looked upon himself as a miserable man and an object of pity not realizing that his own envy and ill-nature had made him that way. He was king, he might have had life easy and have needed no man’s compassion.
He likewise insinuated the little concern that the generality of his people showed for him as though to say “You have compassion on me, which others have not.” Saul gave them instructions to search more particularly for David’s hiding places (1 Sam. 23:22), “for” he says they "tell me he is very crafty.” representing him as a man astute, devious and shrewd to do mischief, whereas all David’s calculations were simply to protect himself.
It was strange that Saul did not go down with them immediately, but he hoped by their means to gain his own objectives with the more certainty, and in this tactical mistake God gave David more time to shift for himself. But the Ziphites had laid their spies in all the places where he was likely to be discovered, and therefore Saul might come and seize him if he was in the land, (1 Sam. 23:23). Now Saul thought himself sure of his prey and flattered himself with the thoughts of devouring it. Satan too, like a roaring lion seeks whom he may devour. Will he devour you?
The closer danger that David now experienced and knowing that the Ziphites had betrayed him, he retired from the hill of Hachilah to the wilderness of Maon (1 Sam. 23:24), and at this time he evidently wrote Psalm 54:1-7, as appears by the title. In it he calls the Ziphites “arrogant foes . . . ruthless people,” though they were Israelites, probably because they used him barbarously; but he put himself under the divine protection: “Surely God is my help,” and then all will be well. Here is what David wrote then:
Psalm 54 For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, “Is not David hiding among us?”
- Save me, O God, by your name; vindicate me by your might.
- Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.
- Arrogant foes are attacking me; ruthless people are trying to kill me — people without regard for God.
- Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.
- Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them.
- I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good. 7 You have delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.
Saul, having got intelligence of him, pursued him closely (1 Sam. 23:25), until he came so near him that there was but a mountain between them (1 Sam. 23:26), David and his men on one side of the mountain flying and Saul and his men on the other side pursuing; David in fear and Saul in hope. But this mountain was an emblem of the divine Providence coming between David and the destroyer, like the pillar of cloud between the Israelites and the Egyptians. David was concealed by this mountain and Saul confounded by it. David now fled as a bird to his mountain (Ps. 11:1) and found in God the shadow of a great rock. Saul hoped with his numerous forces to enclose David, and compass him in and his men; but the ground did not prove convenient for his design, and so it failed. A new name was given to the place to remember this (1 Sam. 23:28): Selah-hammah-lekoth—the rock of division, because it divided/separated between Saul and David.
3. He (God) Will also Provide a Way Out 24 – 29
Notice he deliverance of David out of this danger. God gave Saul a timely diversion just when he was ready to lay hold of David. Intelligence was brought to Saul that the Philistines were invading the land (1 Sam. 23:27), possibly that part of the land where his own estate lay, which would be seized, or at least spoiled, by the invaders. Remember the little notice he earlier took of Keilah’s distress and David’s relief of it. Now he is suddenly concerned about the invasion of the Philistines. Could it be because of some private interests regarding his own land? Why is he suddenly concerned about the Philistines invasion when he was not concerned when they invaded Keilah? Why does he now leave off pursing David and has gone so quickly to oppose the Philistines? However it was, whatever the difference between then and now and whatever his motive for leaving David to pursue the Philistine this time, he found himself under a necessity of going against the Philistines. (1 Sam. 23:28) “Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines” and by this means David was delivered when he was on the brink of destruction. Saul missed his catch and God was glorified as David’s wonderful Protector.
When the Philistines invaded the land they were far from intending any kindness to David by it, yet the overruling providence of God, which orders all events and times made it very useful to David. The wisdom of God is never at a loss for ways and means to preserve his people. Just as this Saul was diverted and David was safe, so another Saul was converted, just when he was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1. 5) and God’s Church was safe.
David, having escaped, took shelter in some natural fortresses, which he found in the wilderness of En-Gedi, (1 Sam. 23:29). (Remember the words for cave and stronghold are almost interchangeable; almost the same.) En Gedi and its nature reserve on the western shore of the Dead Sea, is where the fauna and flora of a splendid nature reserve today intersects with great biblical adventures. En Gedi, in the wilderness of Judah is quite possibly the place where David wrote Psalm 63:1-11. This Psalm breathes as much pure and devout affection as almost any of his psalms; for in all places and in all conditions David still kept up his communion with God. Very possible it was there that David wrote:
Psalm 63 A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.
- You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
- I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
- Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
- I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
- I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
- On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
- Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. 8 I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.
- Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth.
- They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals.
- But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
I wish I could tell you that Christian leaders in God’s Church today do not and will not face difficulties such as David experienced. But if I said that I would be lying. The same devil and demons who worked through people—human beings—in David’ day are at work today. If we cannot, or do not, learn to continue to praise and worship God, keep our spirits strong and maintain a daily and dynamic relationship with God through the difficulties He allow satan to bring upon us, we will never succeed in Christian ministry. This is why a series of teachings about David and how he maintained his faith and his joy through life’s problems is so useful and beneficial for Christian ministers. You will meet a “Saul” and plenty of “Ziphites” in your lifetime. How you respond to them will either make you stronger or destroy you.
And if you have a “Jonathan” in your life, thank God for that.