Reading Signs

First Samuel 23

When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah” (verses 1-2).

This battle was two-thirds won when David asked God if he should fight it. Do you remember why Saul would not inquire of the Lord? He didn’t want to know what the Lord wanted him to do if it meant he was going to have to trust God. David, (as a fugitive), had every reason not to even consider going out and attacking the Philistines. After all, wasn’t fighting those guys the responsibility of the king of Israel and his army? If David had been even slightly bitter, he would have refused to consider doing the job of the man who was persecuting him.

Also, he bravely ignored the indelicate situation that would likely arise when Saul learned where he was.

The David Heart—Faithful and Humble

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!” (verse 3)

These men were not yet “David hearts”. It took David a while to impart his heart to his men.

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” (verse 4).

Some teach that asking God for something twice is not faith. I believe at times God considers it VERY GREAT faith to ask twice. In Gethsemane, Jesus asked for something more than once, as did Paul when he prayed about his thorn. I believe God considered David such a hero for wanting to go rescue Keilah that David’s perseverance was not only inoffensive to Him, it pleased Him greatly! David was mustering the faith to overcome his men’s fear. Saul, on the other hand, always gave in to the least amount of pressure from his men. They often seemed to lead him more than he led them.

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.

(Now Abiathar son of Ahimelech had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.) (verses 5-6)

God is good. The one who really desired to inquire of the Lord inherited access to the ephod with its Urim and Thummim. The one who refused to make use of his right to inquire of the Lord, (Saul), lost it.

But Saul still had official God-given authority as well as anointing. For this reason David was submissive toward him.

David was also anointed, but he had no official authority yet. He prized what he did have even more highly than official authority: He had God’s favor and His manifest presence. Saul had to make hard choices about what he really wanted most. He wanted authority and position before men, and he received it. He despised intimacy with the Lord, and he was stripped of it. God often judges us by giving us what we really want.

The actual event that brought the ephod to David was Saul’s slaughter of almost all those even remotely qualified to hear from God through it. Saul exterminated the priests because they had given David bread and a sword, but even more because they talked to God for him. It appears that if Saul couldn’t hear from God, he didn’t want anyone to hear from Him either.

Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and he said, “God has handed him over to me, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars.”

And Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men (verses 7-8).

Saul here prophesied his interpretation of the turn of events before him. He was saying basically that God had chosen to set David up so that it would be easy for Saul to trap him and kill him. Nothing could have been further from the truth! David was seeking and trusting the Lord with all his heart and God was pleased with his faith. A truer interpretation of the events that were transpiring would be that the official shepherd of Israel had become so much like the Philistines that he would not defend Israel from them. Because he would not do his job, the unofficial shepherd of Israel was defending Israel from the Philistines.

The Saul heart could not hear from God even when he had the Urim and Thummim in his possession. In this situation his conscience should have been screaming at him. It was obvious that David’s rescue of Keilah was a rebuke to Saul and his administration.

Sin is not static. It takes more and more until it owns all of you. Saul was a good man when he began his kingship, but he allowed sin to feed on his flesh. On this sad day he called that which was dead wrong the will of God, and sin had him by the throat.

When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.”

David said, “O Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me.

“Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will” (verses 9-11).

The way David asked for two things at once makes me think he was a little on edge. Maybe he was anticipating that the citizens of Keilah would not stand up for him. Regardless of what his emotions were, he poured them out to his best friend, Yahweh.

Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will.”

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 (verses 12-13).

I’m sure it was not lost on Saul’s men that his prophecy had been false, both in motive and in result. We may well presume they were discreet enough not to point out this fact.

David stayed in the desert 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.

While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life.

And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God (verses 14-16).

Jonathan knew his covenant brother might be feeling a little low at this point, so he encouraged him and helped him find faith. This from the man whose father and sister were the reason David was in this valley of trial. It seems that the spirit of prophecy came on Jonathan at this point and he heard from God in this chapter. Notice that he made three prophecies:

“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” (verse 17).

His first two prophecies were accurate. Tragically, Jonathan and David did not see the third prophecy fulfilled.

For some prophecies to be fulfilled, a certain response by the concerned parties must be forthcoming. The Lord greatly desired Jonathan to go over to David’s side. Had Jonathan been able to overcome the spell of manipulation-through-condemnation that his father had put on him, he would have indeed ruled at David’s right hand. David would have been given relief, and many years of bloodshed would have been prevented. What follows is possibly the saddest verse in this book.

The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh (verse 18).

David was alone. Jonathan was alone. They never saw each other again. Jonathan missed a great opportunity to both hear, and obey, God.

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?

“Now, O king, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for handing him over to the king” (verses 19-20).

It seems there were whole clans of Saul hearts in Israel. And listen to how religious and fatherly Saul sounds in response to their self-serving manipulation:

Saul replied, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me.

“Go and make further preparation. Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty.

“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” (verses 21-23).

Second Timothy 3:12-13 says: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Saul was being willingly deceived. The Ziphites knew he was an insecure, paranoid despot and they were aware of David’s faithful character. They were cooperating with Saul in his self-deception to further their own status in the kingdom.

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.

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.

Saul was going along one side of the mountain [apparently the rock was this 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 (verses 24-26).

At this point there was nothing between David and Saul but a rock. That rock, however, was a picture of Jehovah. David, by outward appearances, seemed to be “only a step from death,” as David himself had said while under the Saul spirit. Surely it seemed that God was saying through the circumstances and through the consensus of the Ziphites that David was a doomed criminal. But in reality, he was as safe and secure as he was innocent.

a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.”

Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth.

And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi (verses 27-29).

It was clear at this point that God had not handed David over to Saul. Even though God let Saul come tantalizingly close to capturing him, He delivered David at the last moment, by the hand of the Philistines, no less.

Our chapter ends as it began with two hearts interpreting an incursion by the Philistines in two polar opposite ways. One heart was thrashing blindly in fear and anger; the other was given renewed vision through trust and love.