The Life of David, Vol. I.
by A. W. Pink
1 Samuel 23
The first section of 1 Samuel 23 (which we are now to look at) presents some striking contrasts. In it are recorded incidents exceedingly blessed, others fearfully sad. David is seen at his best, Saul at his worst. David humbly waits on the Lord, Saul presumes upon and seeks to pervert His providences. Saul is indifferent to the wellbeing of his own subjects, David delivers them from their enemies. David at imminent risk rescues the town of Keilah from the marauding Philistines; yet so lacking are they in gratitude, that they were ready to hand him over unto the man who sought his life. Though the priests of the Lord, with their entire families, had been brutally slain by Saul’s orders, yet the awful malice of the king was not thereby appeased: he is now seen again seeking the life of David, and that at the very time when he had so unselfishly wrought good for the nation.
It is instructive and helpful to keep in mind the order of what has been before us in previous chapters, so that we may perceive one of the important spiritual lessons in what is now to be before us. David had failed, jailed sadly. We all do; but David had done what many are painfully slow in doing: he had humbled himself before the Lord, he had repented of and confessed his sins, in our last chapter, we saw how that David had been restored, in considerable measure at least, to communion with the Lord. God had spoken to him through His prophet. Light was now granted again on his path. The word was given him to return to the land of Judah (22:5). That word he had heeded, and now we are to see how the Lord used him again. Strikingly does this illustrate 1 Peter 5:6: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time."
"Then they told David, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshingfloors" (1 Sam. 23:1). Here we may see another reason (more than those suggested at the close of our last chapter) why God had called David to return to the land of Judah: He had further work for him to do there. Keilah was within the borders of that tribe (Josh. l5:21, 44). It was a fortified town (v. 7), and the Philistines had laid siege to it. The "threshingfloors" (which were usually situated outside the cities: Judges 6:11, Ruth 3:2, 15) were already being pilfered by them. Who it was that acquainted David with these tidings we know not.
"Therefore David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines?" (v. 2). Very blessed is this, and further evidence does it supply of David’s spiritual recovery. Saul was neglecting the public safety, but the one whom he was hounding was concerned for it. Though he had been ill treated, David was not sulking over his wrongs, but instead was ready to return good for evil, by coming to the assistance of one of the king’s besieged towns. What a noble spirit did he here manifest! Though his hands were full in seeking to hide from Saul, and provide for the needs of his six hundred men
"Therefore David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines?" This is very beautiful. Having been anointed unto the throne, David considered himself the protector of Israel, and was ready to employ his men for the public weal. He had an intense love for his country, and was desirous of freeing it from its enemies, yet he would not act without first seeking counsel of the Lord: he desired that God should appoint his service. The more particularly we seek direction from God in fervent prayer, and the more carefully we consult the sacred Scriptures for the knowledge of His will, the more He is honored, and the more we are benefited.
"And the Lord said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah" (v. 2). Where God is truly sought—that is, sought sincerely, humbly, trustfully, with the desire to learn and do that which is pleasing to Him—the soul will not be left in ignorance. God does not mock His needy children. His Word declares, "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:6). So it was here. The Lord responded to David’s inquiry—possibly through the prophet Gad—and not only revealed His will, but gave promise that he should be successful.
"And David’s men said unto him, Behold, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?" (v. 3). This presented a real test to David’s confidence in the Lord, for if his men were unwilling to accompany him, how could he expect to relieve the besieged town? His men were obviously "afraid" of being caught between two fires. Were they to advance upon the Philistines and Saul’s army should follow them up in the rear, then where would they be? Ah, their eyes were not upon the living God, but upon their difficult "circumstances," and to be occupied with these is always discouraging to the heart. But how often has a man of God, when facing a trying situation, found the unbelief of his professed friends and followers a real hindrance. Yet he should regard this as a test, and not as an obstacle. Instead of paralyzing action, it ought to drive him to seek succor from Him who never fails those who truly count upon His aid.
"Then David inquired of the Lord yet again" (v. 4). This is precious. David did not allow the unbelieving fears of his men to drive him to despair. He could hardly expect them to walk by his faith. But he knew that when God works, He works at both ends of the line. He who had given him orders to go to the relief of Keilah, could easily quiet the hearts of his followers, remove their fears, and make them willing to follow his lead. Yes, with God "all things are possible." But He requires to be "inquired of" (Ezek. 36:37). He delights to be "proved" (Mal. 3:10). Oft He permits just such a trial as now faced David in order to teach us more fully His sufficiency for every emergency.
"Then David inquired of the Lord yet again." Yes, this is blessed indeed. David did not storm at his men, and denounce them as cowards. That would do no good. Nor did he argue and attempt to reason with them. Disdaining his own wisdom, feeling his utter dependency upon God, and more especially for their benefit—to set before them a godly example—he turned once more unto Jehovah. Let us learn from this incident that, the most effectual way of answering the unbelieving objections of faint-hearted followers and of securing their co-operation, is to refer them unto the promises and precepts of God, and set before them an example of complete dependency upon Him and of implicit
"And the Lord answered him and said, Arise, go down to Keilah: for I will deliver the Philistines into thine hand" (v. 4). How sure is the fulfillment of that promise, "Them that honor Me, I will honor" (1 Sam. 2:30)! We always lose by acting independently of God, but we never lose by seeking counsel, guidance and grace from Him. God did not ignore David’s inquiry. He was not displeased by his asking a second time. How gracious and patient He is! He not only responded to David’s petition, but He gave an answer more explicit than at the first, for He now assured His servant of entire victory. May this encourage many a reader to come unto God with every difficulty, cast every care upon Him, and count upon His succor every hour.
"So David and his men went to Keilah, and fought with the Philistines, and brought away their cattle, and smote them with a great slaughter. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah" (v. 5). Animated by a commission and promise from God, David and his men moved forward and attacked the Philistines. Not only did they completely rout the enemy, but they captured their cattle, which supplied food for David’s men, food which the men greatly needed. How this furnishes an illustration of "Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph. 3:20)! God not only overthrew the Philistines and delivered Keilah, but as well, bountifully provided David’s army with a supply of victuals.
"And it came to pass, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David to Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand" (v. 6). This was a further reward from the Lord unto David for obeying His word. As we shall see later, the presence of the high priest and his ephod with him, stood David in good stead in the future. We may also see here a striking example of the absolute control of God over all His creatures; it was David’s visit to Ahimelech that had resulted in the slaying of all his family; well then might the only son left, feel that the son of Jesse was the last man whose fortunes he desired to share.
"And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars" (v. 7). Surely David’s signal victory over the common enemy should have reconciled Saul to him. Was it not abundantly clear that God was with him, and if He were with him, who could be against him? But one who is abandoned by the Lord can neither discern spiritual things nor judge righteously, and therefore his conduct will be all wrong too. Accordingly we find that instead of thinking how he might most suitably reward David for his courageous and unselfish generosity, Saul desired only to do him mischief. Well might our patriarch write, "They regarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul" (Ps. 35:12).
"And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars." How easy it is for a jaundiced mind to view things in a false light. When the heart is wrong, the providences of God are certain to be misinterpreted. Terrible is it to behold the apostate king here concluding that God Himself had now sold David into his hands! That man has sunk to a fearful depth who blatantly assumes that the Almighty is working to further his wicked plans. While David was at large, hiding in caves and sheltering in the woods, he was hard to find; but here in a walled town, Saul supposed he would be completely trapped when his army surrounded it.
"And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men" (v. 8). if we omit the last clause and read on through the next verse, it will be seen that the unscrupulous Saul resorted to a dishonest ruse. To make war against the Philistines was the ostensible object which the king set before his men; to capture David was his real design. The last clause of verse 8 states Saul’s secret motive. While pretending to oppose the common enemy, he was intending to destroy his best friend. Verily, the devil was his father, and the lusts of his father he would do.
"And David knew that Saul secretly practiced mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar, the priest, Bring hither the ephod" (v. 9). Yes, "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him" (Ps. 25:14). Ah, but only with them that truly "fear" Him. "If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not" (John 11:9). "He that followeth Me," said Christ, "shall not walk in darkness" (John 8:12). O what a blessed thing it is, dear reader, to have light upon our path, to see the enemy’s snares and pitfalls. But in order to this, there must be a walking with Him who is "the Light." If we are out of communion with the Lord, if we have for the moment turned aside from the path of His commandments, then we can no longer perceive the dangers which menace us.
"And David knew that Saul secretly practiced mischief against him." This is very blessed, and recorded for our instruction. We ought not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11), nor shall we be if our hearts are right with God. Observe carefully that this 9th verse opens with the word "And," which announces the fact that it is connected with and gives the sequel to what has gone before. And what had preceded in this case? First, David had sought counsel of the Lord (v. 2). Second, he had refused to be turned aside from the path of duty by the unbelieving fears of his followers (v. 3). Third, he had maintained an attitude of complete dependency upon the Lord (v. 4). Fourth, he had definitely obeyed the Lord (v. 5). And now God rewarded him by acquainting him with the enemy’s designs upon him. Meet the conditions, my brother or sister, and you too shall know when the devil is about to attack you.
David was not deceived by Saul’s guile. He knew that though he had given out to his men one thing, yet in his heart he purposed quite another. "Then said David, O Lord God of Israel, Thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake" (v. 10). This too is very blessed; once more David thus turns to the living God, and casts all his care upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). Observe well his words: he does not say "Saul purposeth to slay me, but he seeketh to destroy the city for my sake," on my account. Is it not lovely to see him more solicitous about the welfare of others, than the preserving of his own life!
"Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hands? will Saul come down, as Thy servant hath heard? O Lord God of Israel, I beseech Thee, tell Thy servant. And the Lord said, He will come down" (v. 11). It is to be noted that the two questions here asked by David were not orderly put, showing the perturbed state of mind he was then in. We should also observe the manner in which David addressed God, as "Lord God of Israel" (so too in ver. 10), which was His covenant title. It is blessed when we are able to realize the covenant-relationship of God to us (Heb. 13:20, 21), for it is ever an effectual plea to present before the Throne of Grace. The Lord graciously responded to David’s supplication and granted the desired information, reversing the order of his questions. God’s saying "he (Saul) will come down" (that is his purpose), here manifested His omniscience, for He knows all contingencies (possibilities and likelihoods), as well as actualities.
"Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?" (v.12). Wise David, He had good cause to conclude that after so nobly befriending Keilah and delivering it from the Philistines, that its citizens would now further his interests, and in such case, he and his own men could defend the town against Saul’s attack. But he prudently refrained from placing any confidence in their loyalty. He probably reasoned that the recent cruel massacre of Nob would fill them with dread of Saul, so that he must not count upon their assistance. Thus did he seek counsel from the Lord. And so ought we: we should never confide in help from others, no, not even from those we have befriended, and from whom we might reasonably expect a return of kindness. No ties of honor, gratitude, or affection, can secure the heart under powerful temptation. Nay, we know not how we would act if assailed by the terrors of a cruel death, and left without the immediate support of divine grace. We are to depend only upon the Lord for guidance and protection.
"And the Lord said, They will deliver thee up" (v. 12). This must have been saddening to David’s heart, for base ingratitude wounds deeply. Yet let us not forget that the kindness of other friends whom the Lord often unexpectedly raises up, counterbalances the ingratitude and fickleness of those we have served. God answered David here according to His knowledge of the human heart. Had David remained in Keilah, its inhabitants would have delivered him up upon Saul’s demand. But he remained not, and escaped. Be it carefully noted that this incident furnishes a clear illustration of human responsibility, and is a strong case in point against bald fatalism—taking the passive attitude that what is to be, must be.
"Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah, and he forbare to go forth. And David abode in the wilderness in strongholds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand" (vv. 13, 14). This too is blessed: David was willing to expose himself and his men to further hardships, rather than endanger the lives of Keilah! Having no particular place in view, they went forth wherever they thought best. The last half of verse 14 shows God’s protecting hand was still upon them, and is Jehovah’s reply to Saul’s vain and presumptuous confidence in verse 7.