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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 23

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Verses 1-5

David Delivers Keilah

Keilah, a city in Israel, is besieged by the Philistines. This enemy plunders the threshing floors and robs the city of its food. The Philistines come to plunder what God’s people have brought in from the blessing of the land. We can apply this to ourselves as follows. If Philistine principles, if rituals for example, take hold of us, we will lose what we discovered in God’s Word about the Lord Jesus and His work.

Instead of going to Saul, David is informed of the situation, although he was far from that place. The people seem to have more faith in David than in Saul. David wants to know what to do and asks the LORD. In the same way, we must assure ourselves of the will of God before we do anything. David gets an answer.

David also must deal with his men. When David communicates to his men the answer he has received, they say they are afraid. They are already afraid in Judah, where are not sure of their lives because of Saul, and for the Philistines they are even more afraid. Where these enemies are, they do not want to go at all (cf. John 11:7-Ruth :).

When his men express themselves like this, David bursts not out against them, nor blames them for a lack of trust. He gives them the space to confess their fear to him. To meet them he inquires of the LORD again. After the assurance that the LORD will give him victory, his men are also convinced. They go with him to Keilah and he delivers the inhabitants of Keilah.

David not only defeats the Philistines, but also leads away their livestock. He confiscates the enemy’s possessions and takes back more than they have robbed. Faith is always enriched by a battle. Every battle with victory gives us a new perspective on Christ. We learn to see a little more of Him again.

Verses 6-8

Saul Goes Down to Keilah

When David is in Keilah, Abiathar joins him. Abiathar has the ephod in his hand. With this David has the person and the means at his disposal by which he can ask the LORD (1 Samuel 23:9). It seems that David hopes that he will find a safe haven in that city, especially after his deliverance action. Saul thinks about that in another manner. When he is informed that David is in Keilah, he sees his chance to get David into his hands. That David is in the city of Keilah means to him that David is in the trap.

Now that he hears that David is in Keilah, he goes there with a whole army, while he did not go there when the Philistines besieged the city. He mobilizes the whole people against the one man David. Do we not see in this a picture of people who do not lift a finger when the work of the gospel is to be done, but who are quick to take up the weapons of the flesh against a servant of the Lord? Where the spirit of jealousy and criticism is at work, frantic attempts are made to prevent the work of the Lord.

Verses 9-14

David Consults the LORD

When David comes to know what Saul intends to do, he asks the LORD, the God of Israel – he sees the whole people in connection with God – what Keilah will do. He asks specific questions and gets a clear answer. First the LORD tells him that Saul will come, for the answer to this question is first important. If David knows that, the next question is what the people of Keilah will do. David is not so naive that he thinks they will not surrender him as their benefactor to Saul. He also receives an answer to this question from the LORD. The shocking answer is that they will surrender him and his men into the hand of Saul.

The considerations of the inhabitants of Keilah are not disclosed. Perhaps they have not thought about it at all, but the LORD knows that they will succumb if Saul pressurizes them. Only the LORD can predict reactions. Only He can say what would happen if a case had developed differently. We cannot do that. We can guess but say nothing with certainty.

One assumption, for example, is that they will hand him over to Saul because, as they might think, they have certainty in Saul. As they may have thought, they did not have that in the fugitive David. Choosing the rulers of the world seems wiser than choosing someone who has been rejected and is a target of the rulers.

After this answer David leaves the city. He is not stubborn and does not count on the solidarity of the inhabitants of Keilah. The LORD has not said that he should leave the city, but David sees the answer of the LORD as an indication to leave there. He leaves in confidence in God. He chooses the uncertainty of fleeing, but under the protection of God, and leaves the security of the city which without God cannot protect him.

Verses 15-18

Jonathan Encourages David

David cannot stay long anywhere. He must flee from place to place. At the same time God protects him and does not deliver him into Saul’s hand. During the run there is an unexpected encounter with Jonathan who “encouraged him in God”. Jonathan strengthens David in his trust in God.

Spiritual fellowship and fraternal compassion during trials are a refreshment. It feels like the dew of heaven. It is not so much about where we can get it, but where we can give it. Jonathan’s arrival at David in the wilderness is as divinely timed as Titus’ arrival at Paul in Macedonia: “For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more” (2 Corinthians 7:5-Judges :).

Jonathan encourages David by telling him not to be afraid of his father. He knows that his father will not succeed in killing him. He reminds him that he will become king. That is what God promised him and for Jonathan it is therefore certain that David will be the same. Until now Jonathan speaks the language of faith. That is the only way that someone can be encouraged.

What he adds regarding himself is not the language of faith. It is the language of humility when we see that he wants to take second place. Yet that will not happen. It is not for him to reserve that place for himself (cf. Matthew 20:21; Matthew 20:23). The reason is that he does not follow David in his rejection. Only those who suffer will also reign. This also applies to us: “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).

As son of Saul, Jonathan cannot be connected to David as ruler either, because nothing of Saul’s house can be connected to the government of God’s people. David does not succeed Jonathan’s father, but takes his place. Saul is a king to the heart of the people. With David begins a completely different kingship, a kingship of the man after the heart of God.

What Jonathan says of his father, makes clear Saul’s terrible apostacy. Saul acts against better judgement. After having said this, they again made a covenant. Then comes the final separation. Jonathan goes back to his house and David flees on. From Jonathan we do not read that he returns to the palace, or that he takes a seat in the ranks of the persecutors of David, but that he goes to his house.

He is not a follower of the persecuted David, nor is he a persecutor. We can make a hard judgment about Jonathan, but let us be careful. His love for David has been shown in many ways. We hear David impressively testify of his love for Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:26). On David’s side there is no blame for Jonathan. Well, let us not do that either.

Verses 19-24

The Ziphites Betray David

The Ziphites act even worse than the inhabitants of Keilah. They betray David to Saul from themselves, they take the initiative themselves. This is an act of Judas. Saul expresses the wish that these men will be blessed by the LORD for this advice. Then he speaks very badly of David. It is true that David is very cunning in his work, but for the enemies of God’s people, and not for Saul and God’s people. Saul speaks of David as a cunning enemy. The character of Saul, initially noble, is increasingly sinking into darkness and becoming more and more characteristic of the devil. He therefore ends in total darkness.

Saul tells them what to do to make sure they can get hold of David.

Verses 25-29

David’s Narrow Escape

Saul almost seizes David. He has surrounded David, that there may be no way out for him. Then, through God’s providence, the outcome will come for David. The LORD makes use of the Philistines by having them invading the land. The news of this causes Saul to stop David’s pursuit for a moment, because he must fight the Philistines. When David has not fallen into the hands of Saul by God’s providence, he takes refuge in the strongholds of Engedi.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-samuel-23.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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