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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 23

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-12

First Samuel - Chapter 23

Ungrateful Keilah, vs. 1-12

David is now hiding with his men in the wildnesses of the tribe of Judah, according to the command of the Lord, through the prophet Gad (1 Samuel 22:5). During the time the Philistines made a foray into Judah, attacking the town of Keilah, which was about fifteen miles northwest of Hebron, next to the Philistine lowlands. They were robbing the people of their grain as it was threshed, and David hit upon the idea of attacking them. His men thought, however, it would be a foolish move, for they were afraid of Saul, and David was proposing assaulting the might Philistine army with their few hundred men.

When Abiathar fled form the slaughter of the priests he had brought with him the ephod by which the priests could inquire and find out the will of the Lord. Therefore David called for the ephod and asked the Lord if he should attack the Philistines and save Keilah, receiving an affirmative answer. At the protest of his men David made a second inquiry, also, and again the Lord said, "Arise and go, for I will deliver the Philistines into your hand." So they went and won a great victory over the Philistines, slaughtering many and taking the cattle which they had with them, probably as food for their army.

Why was David able to get answer from the Lord through the ephod in the hands of Abiathar, who like his father was of the family of the rejected Eli? It would appear that the Lord answered David, in spite of Abiathar, because David was chosen of Him, and David sought His will contrary to the way of Saul.

When news reached Saul that David had moved into the walled city of Keilah he concluded that the Lord had put David within his grasp, because he was inside a walled city. But David heard that Saul planned to trap him in Keilah and to take him. Again he called for the ephod and inquired of the Lord whether Saul would surely come to take him. The Lord answered David in the affirmative. David again asked the Lord whether the people of Keilah would deliver him into Saul’s hands. The Lord informed David that the men of Keilah would certainly deliver him and his men to Saul.

One cannot censure the Keilah populace too much, for they doubtless knew the temperament of the king. They knew he would slaughter entire towns (as witness the priest city of Nob, chapter 1 Samuel 22:17­-19), and would have no scruples about destroying Keilah if they succoured David.

Verses 13-18

Last Meeting with Jonathan, vs. 13-18

So David and his men, now grown in number to six hundred, escaped out of Keilah and wandered rather aimlessly around the tribe of Judah, wherever he could find refuge. When Saul learned that David had gotten away from Keilah he made no further effort to go there. David and his men mostly remained in the wilderness area of Judah, coming eventually to the wilderness of Ziph.

Ziph is to be located a small distance slightly southeast of Hebron, towards the dead Sea and the rocky caves of En-gedi. Ziph was a small town in the allotment of territory to Caleb (see 1 Chronicles 2:42). It was surrounded by wilderness country, covered with trees.

Here in this place Jonathan came seeking David, and the two men met for the last time in their mortal bodies. While Saul was diligently attempting to take David and not succeeding, it seems that Jonathan knew where to find him. The older prince and the younger anointed of the Lord understood one another. Jonathan sought to encourage David, telling him to have no fear of Saul, for in time he would certainly be king of Israel and Jonathan would be his prime minister. This, Jonathan said, his father, Saul, was well aware of. The two emphasized the covenant between them for the third time (see 1 Samuel 18:3 ff; 1 Samuel 20:14-17).

Verses 19-29

Tattling Ziphites, vs. 19-29

Human fear led the Ziphites to report the whereabouts of David to Saul. Apart from divine protection they knew that Saul could well take revenge on their town if he should learn that they had known of David’s presence and not told him. thus they gave the king precise information as to the hiding place of David, the hill of Hachilah on the side of Jeshimon. Hachilah is thought to have been a high ridge on the western side of the wilderness of Jeshimon next to Ziph. Jeshimon is the Old Testament name of the wilderness of Judah.

The Ziphites agreed to deliver David into the hand of Saul if he would come down to them. Saul uttered his blessing on the Ziphites for their concern for him, but he knew how easily David could slip out of one’s clutches. He asked the Ziphites to get absolute and complete information about David’s place of concealment. Then he would go down and take the fugitive though he had to search through all the towns of Judah.

Saul gathered his men and did proceed to Ziph. But in the meantime David had removed to the south side of Jeshimon, the wilderness of Maon. This place was seven miles south of Hebron and only about three miles from Ziph. This was rocky and difficult terrain, where David hoped to secure from Saul. Saul learned that David was removed to Maon and came on relentlessly.

It seemed that Saul would overtake David this time, and that David’s men would be captured or forced to fight Saul. Surely if David’s men were able to defeat the Philistines they could have overcome Saul’s army as well. But David seems to have been aware that he should take no steps to end the pursuit of Saul until the Lord was ready to end the matter, so he feared to enter conflict with the king. While David and his men passed around the far side of the mountain Saul and the army of Israel was coming around the other. David’s men were surrounded, but the Lord rescued them. A messenger came to hasten Saul back to the north, reporting that the Philistines had invaded. Saul was compelled to leave off his pursuit of David. Thus the Lord protected him.

The place was called Sela-hammahlekoth because of this, meaning "the rock of divisions." David moved on to the cliffs and caves of En-gedi, known for its wild goats, on the west shore of the dead Sea. Psalms 54 is David’s poetic account of his feelings on this occasion.

Some lessons: 1) one may not receive good in turn from those he helps, but 2) it is still right to befriend those in need; 3) true friendships never fail one another; 4) craven fear will cause one to go against the will of God; 5) when one leaves answers to his problems with the Lord the Lord will take care of them in the proper way.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 23". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-23.html. 1985.
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