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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 23

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2942. B.C. 1062.

David saves Keilah from the Philistines, 1 Samuel 23:1-6 . His danger there, and deliverance from it, 1 Samuel 23:7-13 . He remains in the wilderness of Ziph, and is visited by Jonathan, 1 Samuel 23:14-18 . Saul pursues him, 1 Samuel 23:19-25 . His narrow escape, 1 Samuel 23:26-29 .

Verse 1

1 Samuel 23:1. Then they told Or rather, Now they had told David. For it is evident from 1 Samuel 23:6, that David had received the information here referred to, and had even delivered the inhabitants of Keilah before Abiathar came to tell him of the slaughter of the priests. The Philistines fight against Keilah Probably the Philistines were encouraged to make this inroad into the land of Israel by hearing that David was forced to flee his country, and that God had departed from Saul. When princes begin to persecute God’s people and ministers, let them expect nothing but vexation on all sides. Keilah was a city in the tribe of Judah, Joshua 15:44. They rob the thrashing-floors Which were commonly without their cities, for the convenience of wind, to separate the chaff from the corn. See Ruth 3:2.

Verse 2

1 Samuel 23:2. David inquired of the Lord In what way he made inquiry is not certain, as it seems from 1Sa 23:6 that Abiathar had not yet brought to David the sacred ephod, with all things belonging to it that were made use of in consulting God. Shall I go and smite these Philistines? We have here a remarkable instance of David’s love to his country; unto which he did not become an enemy when he was banished from it. On the contrary, he hasted to its assistance unsolicited. This action of David’s, in going to the relief of Keilah, is one of the most extraordinary ones recorded in history. “Another man, in David’s place, would have rejoiced at this invasion, and perhaps encouraged it; and this both from self-preservation and policy; first, because he had nothing to fear for himself, while Saul had such an enemy upon his hands; and secondly, because the distress of his country was the likeliest means to bring Saul to reason, and force him to recall, and be reconciled to, his best champion. But David was governed by other than these narrow views; nor safety nor honour was desirable to him, purchased by the distress of his country and his friends. His bosom beat with an eager desire to relieve Keilah; but it was not an adventure to be unadvisedly undertaken; and therefore he inquired of God, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? This is one of those passages of Scripture that give evidence of their own truth. None but a hero could put the question; and none but God could resolve it: And the Lord said unto David. Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah.” Delaney.

Verses 3-4

1 Samuel 23:3-4. David’s men said, Behold, we are afraid here in Judah “They had more than difficulty enough to defend themselves against Saul where they were; and could it be less than madness to provoke more and greater enemies? Doubtless Saul would send forces to beat off the Philistines, and then they should be pent in between two hostile armies. And yet, notwithstanding all this, David undertook and achieved the adventure; which it was impossible he should, against such fears, and such reasonings of his forces, from any motive other than the assurance of divine protection and aid. Which fully confirms the Scripture account of this matter, that he did not undertake it until he had, for the fuller satisfaction of his associates, again consulted, and was again assured of success by the divine oracle.”

Verse 5

1 Samuel 23:5. So David and his men went to Keilah, &c. “His success on this occasion was very extraordinary; he saved the city and the inhabitants; he delivered the country all around from the ravages of the enemy; he smote the Philistines with great slaughter, and brought away their cattle, by which means he was enabled to subsist himself and his forces, without being a burden to his country. One would have imagined that this extraordinary success and deliverance of so great a city might have secured David a safe retreat among the men of Keilah; but it was not so; such is the nature of man, present dangers quickly obliterate past obligations! Gratitude is, without question, a most lovely virtue, but seldom lives in the extremes either of adversity or success! It is like those fine colours which storms and sunshine equally deface.” Delaney.

Verse 6

1 Samuel 23:6. He came down with an ephod Rather, with the ephod, namely, the high-priest’s ephod, wherein were the Urim and Thummim. For Abiathar, being left, it is probable, to keep the sanctuary, while his father Ahimelech and the rest of the priests went to wait upon Saul, as soon as he heard of their slaughter he took this principal vestment of the high-priest, and carried it to David. Thus God, in the course of his providence, gave him an opportunity, while Doeg, the butcher, was killing his brethren, both of escaping himself and of bringing to David the ephod, of which now Saul was justly deprived.

Verse 7

1 Samuel 23:7 . Saul said, God hath delivered him into my hand David, who judged of other men’s generosity by his own, hoped he should be protected in Keilah; and Saul, who judged in the same manner of their baseness, believed he should not; and therefore he rejoiced upon receiving the news of David’s being shut up there, persuaded he should now get possession of his person. But it was strange he should imagine that God had taken measures to bring an innocent and pious man into his power, who was a contemner of God, a breaker of his commandments, and one that trampled on all laws, human and divine.

Verses 9-11

1 Samuel 23:9-11. Bring hither the ephod Which, doubtless, Abiathar put on; otherwise he could not have inquired of the Lord by it. The Lord said, He will come down He purposeth to come if thou continue here. For still both David’s question and God’s answer are conditional, upon supposition. As David’s being there was the only motive for Saul’s coming, so, if he departed, Saul could have no inducement to come. And accordingly we find he laid aside his design so soon as he was informed that David had escaped. It seems probable from this place that God’s answer by Urim and Thummim was not by any change in the colour or situation of the precious stones in the breast-plate of the ephod, but by a voice or suggestion from God to the high-priest.

Verse 12

1 Samuel 23:12. The Lord said, They will deliver thee up God saw the base and cowardly disposition of the inhabitants of Keilah, who, though they had been so lately delivered by David, yet would have given him up, had he stayed among them, at the first appearance of Saul’s army coming against them. “And here, methinks,” says Delaney, “is an event that will easily solve that hard question, about the consistency of the divine prescience with human free-will. A good politician, who was let into the course of Saul’s secret practices with the men of Keilah, and had fair opportunities of sifting their dispositions upon the point, might fairly pronounce upon the event; how much more, then, that all-seeing God, who searcheth the secrets of the heart, and seeth the thoughts afar off seeth them in all their secret workings, tendencies, and temptations, and through all their mazes and masks.” To explain this a little further: the inhabitants of Keilah acted freely, just as their own hearts dictated to them; they were at liberty to behave faithfully to David, had he stayed among them, as well as to betray him. God did not, therefore, pronounce that they would deliver him up to Saul, because he had laid them under any absolute necessity of so doing; but because he saw Saul’s secret designs, on the one hand, and the secret workings of their minds, and their tendency to fear and baseness, on the other. And, therefore, when David inquired of him, he pronounced, They will deliver thee up. If any person could have known as much of their hearts as God, he might have pronounced the same concerning them. It is, however, the property of God only to see the secrets of the heart. And as this power in him extends to every man that cometh into the world, as folly as it did to the people of Keilah, we may easily conceive how God foreknows all the changes of events in this world from the beginning to the end, though he leave the human mind to act of itself freely; and only by his superintending wisdom directs all, to bring about his gracious purposes, and to educe good from evil.

Verses 13-14

1 Samuel 23:13-14. Which were about six hundred His forces were increased two hundred since his famous victory over the Philistines at Keilah. Whithersoever they could go To the first convenient place of safety to which a way lay open. In the wilderness of Ziph A mountainous wilderness, within the precincts of the tribe of Judah, and upon the confines of Edom, Joshua 15:2. It was not far from Maon and Carmel, 1 Samuel 23:25, 1 Samuel 25:5. God delivered him not into his hand Saul confidently pronounced, when he found David had entered into Keilah, that God had delivered him into his hand. And, therefore, to show the vanity of that ill-grounded confidence, the sacred writer makes use of the very same expression reversed, and declares God delivered him not into his hand, though Saul sought him every day.

Verse 16

1 Samuel 23:16. Jonathan went and strengthened his hand in God He comforted and supported him against all his fears, by considerations on the divine goodness and power, and by reminding him of God’s faithful promises made to him, and of his singular providence, which hitherto had been, and still would be with him.

Verse 17

1 Samuel 23:17. Thou shalt be king, and I shall be next unto thee Or, hold the second place in the kingdom; which words import thus much: I do not look to be king myself, as by my birth I might expect, but that thou shalt be king, God having so appointed, and I but in a secondary place, inferior to thee. The first part of this sentence Jonathan might well speak, as he had the promise of God for it, which must stand; but the other he spoke in human confidence, and the event showed how little is to be built on that. He ought, as we ought all to do with respect to what is future and only in expectation, to have spoken in the language of St. James: “If the Lord will, I shall be next unto thee.” And that also my father knoweth For he could not but remember what Samuel told him, (1 Samuel 15:28,) and, from David’s wonderful successes, he probably inferred that he was the person of whom Samuel spake.

Verse 18

1 Samuel 23:18. They two made a covenant before the Lord We have reason here to admire the sincere friendship of Jonathan, which remained so unshaken to David in all events, as well in his adversity and dangers, as in his prosperity and successes. It is to be observed, that, after making this covenant, they never came together again, that we find, in this world.

Verses 19-22

1 Samuel 23:19-22. Then came the Ziphites to Saul They were of David’s own tribe, though for this unnatural carriage to him he calls them strangers. Saul said, Blessed be ye of the Lord Saul, notwithstanding all his injustice and cruelty to David, still supposes himself to be the injured person, and his cause the right one. Thus too often do men let their passions blind them so as to persuade themselves that the most unjust things are equitable. Go, I pray you, prepare yet Or rather, Make yourselves more certain of this, as the words may be translated, and more agreeably to what follows.

Verses 24-25

1 Samuel 23:24-25. But David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon Having heard what the Ziphites had undertaken, David disappointed their design by going into another place, with which, it is likely, they were not so well acquainted. For Maon was a distant wilderness from Ziph, though both were in the tribe of Judah. Saul also and his men went to seek him Hearing, it is likely, by the Ziphites, whither he was gone. Therefore he came down into a rock Some craggy, desolate place, where he thought Saul would not find him; or rather, into a cave which was in the rock, where, at first, he might think to hide himself; but, on further consideration, he removed from thence upon Saul’s approach.

Verses 27-28

1 Samuel 23:27-28. There came a messenger unto Saul See the providence of God! His wisdom is never at a loss for ways and means to preserve his people. Nothing could be more distressful, nothing more hopeless than the situation of David at this time. He was surrounded on all sides, and there seemed no way left for escape; but as we learn from the fifty-fourth Psalm, composed by him on this occasion, he addressed himself in prayer to his almighty Saviour, who soon showed him that he can deliver at all times, and in all circumstances, however dangerous and distressing. They called that place [ סלע המהלקות ] Sela-hammah-lekoth That is, the rock of divisions. Because God, by this interposition of the Philistines invading the land just at this time, separated Saul from David, and in a manner pulled him away, when the latter was now almost within his reach.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 23". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/1-samuel-23.html. 1857.
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