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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 23

Parker's The People's BibleParker's The People's Bible

Verses 1-29

Still Protected

1 Samuel 23:0

GAD is still accompanying the fugitive David and assisting him in the interpretation of the divine will. When David is said, in the second verse, to have inquired of the Lord whether he should go and smite the Philistines, the inquiry was made through the prophet. That such inquiries were made through prophets is proved by the narrative given in 1 Kings xxii. When the Urim and Thummim were not available it was lawful to consult the prophet instead of the priest. The lesson to ourselves is that religious instrumentalities are to be adopted according to our opportunities. Men cannot always go up into the public sanctuary to offer worship to God; but for that reason they need not be silent or irreverent. On many occasions usual opportunities are foreclosed, as when men are travelling, or in sickness, or in circumstances of distress, but under such conditions access to the divine throne is as open and free as ever. Herein is the glorious liberty of the Gospel of Christ; wherever we are, we can address the divine majesty and come boldly to the throne of mercy to obtain grace to help in time of need. On the second occasion David had an opportunity of consulting God through the medium of the ephod. Abiathar the priest, with the ephod, had arrived. In the ephod were set twelve precious stones, one for each of the twelve tribes. The names of the tribes were engraved on these gems, together with other sacred words. According to high authority, the common belief was that the ephod stones gave their answer to the royal and high-priestly questions by some peculiar shining. Upon these matters we can, of course, have no certain information, but there remains the moral and permanent lesson that David never took any important step in life without endeavouring to discover the divine will. That is the point upon which our attention has to be fixed. Whilst we are wasting our time in propounding unanswerable questions, we may be depriving the soul of vivid personal communion with God. If there is one Christian doctrine clearer than another, it is that every man may by prayer and supplication make known his requests unto God and receive from Heaven the light which he needs to guide him all the days of his life.

In the fourteenth verse we have a picture of a divinely protected man:

"And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand." ( 1Sa 23:14 ).

In the sixteenth verse we have a beautiful exemplification of social ministry:

"And Jonathan, Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God." ( 1Sa 23:16 ).

Jonathan took the larger view of life; that is to say, when he looked out upon things he took in more field and more horizon than is generally included within the scope of inferior men. He said: "Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth" ( 1Sa 23:17 ). Jonathan thus fixed his vision upon destiny, and accepting that stern fact, he ordered his conduct accordingly. Here we have two different ways of acting in the matter of destiny: we have Saul's way, and we have Jonathan's. What was Saul's? It was a way of peevishness, opposition, and bitter hostility; it was a strenuous and even desperate attempt to turn back the purposes of Providence and reverse the decrees of Heaven. Saul kicked against the pricks; Saul seemed to apply his poor hands to smite the forces of Omnipotence, and he only suffered in the unequal contest. What was Jonathan's method of looking upon this solemn question of destiny or predestination? His way was to adopt it, to act in harmony with it, to believe that in the outworking of it the most gracious results would accrue. This was profound philosophy. When we see any man evidently called to a great leadership or to supreme influence, however much our personal dignity may be supposed temporarily to be injured, depend upon it, we are only wise in proportion as we accept the new primacy and bid it good-speed, in the name of the Lord. The process indeed is not always easy; sometimes it amounts to little less than a living sacrifice, a burning out of the soul of the most inveterate elements of evil, the destruction as by fire of the spirit of envy, jealousy, and malice. If, however, we do not submit to undergo this process of purification, we shall become the victims of our own insanity, and be ground to powder by the calm but irresistible march of events. These reflections have their great spiritual application, as we have already seen. The coming King is the Son of God, and it is hard for any man to oppose his enthronement. In such a contest it is man who must go down, yea, even go down to the point of destruction. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." It is in vain for any infuriated Saul to oppose the coronation of Christ in the world. "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth." He shall "break them with a rod of iron," and "dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." It is remarkable that not only are the most gracious promises written in connection with the name of Christ, but also in association with that name are the most tremendous threatenings that ever appalled the human imagination. "And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." Blessed are they who accept the kingship of Christ and prostrate themselves before his throne in reverent loyalty and loving homage. "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." Here is the great Gospel which Christian apostles have never failed to preach, saying, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ."

When the case went hard with David a providential surprise came to his deliverance. When "Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain," there was but an inch of space between David and destruction. But at that very moment there came a messenger to Saul, saying, "Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land." Saul then turned back from following David, and the place was called "Sela-hammahlekoth" namely, the rock of divisions. So again we come upon the doctrine, so often enforced, that "man's extremity is God's opportunity." Steadfastly abide in this doctrine, for it is no heathen proverb, but a part of the very philosophy of the divine government. Only when we are at the very edge of things, and are even looking over into the precipice below, can we know how near is the arm and how tender is the grace of God. "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Even death shall not separate us from the arms of God. Upon all these matters the Church should utter no uncertain tone. Find a Church dejected, despairing, moaning about its difficulties and its sorrows, and lamenting its exposure to imminent danger, and you find a Church which has not entered into the spirit of a triumphant Christ. Rather should we say, "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." That is the tone of triumph which alone becomes true faith; any other tone should be described not so much as a spiritual infirmity, as involving spiritual treachery. What did the heroic apostle say? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Nor did Paul exceed the saints of the Old Testament in the completeness and emphasis of his triumph. Did not the Psalmist say, "The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid"? And again, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?" And did not the holy prophet say, "There be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles "? History is wasted upon us if we are still wondering how the battle will go. To Christian faith the battle can only go in one way, and that is the way of triumph for the Son of God. We must prove our faith by our steadfastness and willingness to suffer. We have not attained the manhood to which we are called in Christ Jesus until we can say, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." When we can say these words, and exemplify them in actual life, we need have no fear of Saul, though we can feel his hot breath upon us; and no fear of the evil spirit, though all his legions be embattled against our life. "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." "Lord, increase our faith."

Selected Note

" And Jonathan, Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood " ( 1Sa 23:16 ). Jealousy and every mean or low feeling were strangers to the generous heart of Jonathan. Valiant and accomplished himself, none knew better how to acknowledge valour and accomplishment in others. The act of David in meeting the challenge of Goliath, and in overcoming that huge barbarian, entirely won his heart; and from that day forward the son of Jesse found no one who loved him so tenderly, who admired his high gifts with so much enthusiasm, or who risked so much to preserve him from harm, as the very prince whom he was destined to exclude from a throne. Jonathan knew well what was to happen, and he submitted cheerfully to the appointment which gave the throne of his father to the young shepherd of Bethlehem. In the intensity of his love and confidence he shrank not to think of David as his destined king and master; and his dreams of the future pictured nothing brighter than the day in which David should reign over Israel, and he be one with him in friendship, and next to him in place and council not because he was covetous even of this degree of honour, but because "next to David" was the place where he wished always to be, and where he desired to rest.

When Saul began to hate David as his intended successor, he was highly displeased at the friendship which had arisen between him and his son. This exposed Jonathan to much contumely, and even to danger of life; for, once at least, the king's passion against him on this account rose so high that he cast a javelin at him "to smite him to the wall."

This unequivocal act taught Jonathan that the court of Saul was no safe place for David. He told him so, and they parted with many tears. David then set forth upon those wanderings, among strangers and in solitary places, which lasted all the time of Saul. The friends met only once more. Saul was in pursuit of David when he was in the wilderness of Ziph; and Jonathan could not forbear coming to him secretly in the wood to give him comfort and encouragement ( 1Sa 23:16-18 ). Nothing more is related of Jonathan till both he and his father lost their lives in the fatal battle of Gilboa, combating against the enemies of their country. When informed of this catastrophe David uttered a lamentation ( 2Sa 1:17-27 ) over his lost friend, than which there is, perhaps, nothing in Hebrew poetry more beautiful and touching, or more full of fine images and tender thoughts.

Verse 19

"Doth not David hide himself with us in strong holds?" 1 Samuel 23:19 .

A useful spiritual application of these words instantly suggests itself; still we are simply on the ground of accommodation, and not on the ground of critical exposition. The great spiritual lesson is that the good man is always hidden in a stronghold. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." We are to be hidden in the Rock of Ages. We are not protected merely by the shadow of some perishing substance; we are hidden under the wings of the Almighty. The Lord is our shield and buckler, our sword and our invincible defence. There are strongholds of faith, reason, experience; there are strongholds of history, of general testimony on the part of Christian believers, and above all in our own consciousness of the divine nearness and the divine ministry in our personal life. We know in whom we have believed, and we know that he is able to keep that which we have committed to his charge. It is in no poor hut that the Christian lives, but in the very centre of the pavilion of God. Our citizenship is in heaven: we seek a country out of sight: we have bread to eat that the world knoweth not of. They who take the soul of the Christian captive must first overcome the Almightiness which guards it. Being assured that we are in a stronghold, let us be cautious how we adventure out of it. Imagination may tempt us, speculation may promise us glittering rewards, foolish friends may implore us to come away and to range the larger country and increase our experience of life and nature: all these temptations may be addressed to us without any purpose of mischief: we should therefore so know ourselves as to realise our weakness, and so far be assured of our need of divine help as never to go beyond the limit which God has imposed upon us; Let the soul say morning by morning, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help: my help cometh even from the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth." We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us. Our sufficiency is of God. All these promises are full of sacred and tender comfort, and were written not to be looked upon with the eye of the body only but to be gazed upon with the vision of the soul, until all that is most beautiful in them passes into the spirit and becomes part of our manhood. Whenever the enemy rises against us may we remember that we are hidden in a stronghold; may we never live so loosely and vainly as to give that enemy the impression that we can be found wandering alone in any place at any hour; may our steadfastness and our zeal be such that we shall be found evermore within the sacred and impregnable enclosure of the divine sovereignty and protection.

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 23". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/1-samuel-23.html. 1885-95.
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