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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 SAMUEL 23

DAVID'S EXPERIENCES AT KEILAH AND AT ZIPH

This and the following chapters of First Samuel relate a number of David's experiences during that long period in which he was an outlaw and a fugitive, always fleeing from one place to another, ever striving to avoid the constant efforts of King Saul to bring about his death.

DAVID RESCUES KEILAH FROM THE PHILISTINES


 
Verses 1-5
And they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and are robbing the threshing-floors. Therefore David inquired of Jehovah, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And Jehovah said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah. And David's men said unto him, Behold, we are afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines? Then David inquired of Jehovah yet again. And Jehovah answered him, and said, Arise, go down to Keilah; for I will deliver the Philistines into thy hand. And David and his men went to Keilah, and fought with the Philistines, and brought away their cattle, and slew them with a great slaughter. So David save the inhabitants of Keilah.

Keilah was located near the Philistine border. "It was a fortified city allotted to Judah (Joshua 15:44). It was mentioned in the Tel el-Amarna letters as Qilti and identified with Khirbet Qila, located eight miles northwest of Hebron overlooking the Elah Valley road to Hebron. In the times of Nehemiah, the city was reoccupied by the Israelites returning from the captivity in Babylon (Nehemiah 3:17-18)."F1

At the time of this episode, the citizens of Keilah were harvesting their grain crops, which afforded the principal means of their livelihood. It seldom rained in the summer; and the threshing floors were loaded with the grain being threshed out by the people. The Philistines, desiring to keep Israel in subjection by starvation, came up to rob the people of their grain, even bringing along their oxen and asses for the purpose of carrying away the loot. "In the East, even today, the principal source of food supply remains -- bread."F2

The mention of their cattle (1 Samuel 23:5) is supposed by some scholars to mean that the Philistine raiding party had also brought with them flocks of goats and sheep which they had probably robbed from others. In any case, it must indeed have been a tremendous shock to them when David suddenly fell upon them, slaughtered a great many of them and took charge of all they left behind. And they told David, Behold the Philistines are fighting against Keilah
(1 Samuel 23:1). Nothing is said here about who told David this news, but it seems to have been the leaders of Keilah, hoping for assistance from David and his men.

David inquired of the Lord
(1 Samuel 23:1). We are not told how David did this, but 1 Sam. 23:6-14, below, explains that Abiathar had joined David's forces, bringing the ephod with him.

Arise, go down to Keilah
(1 Samuel 23:4). The Judean hills, where David and his men were hiding, were at a higher elevation than Keilah.F3

DAVID WARNED BY GOD TO LEAVE KEILAH


 
Verses 6-14
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. And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into my hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars. And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. And David knew that Saul was devising mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar the priest, Bring hither the ephod. Then said David, O Jehovah, the God of Israel, thy servant hath surely heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake. Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O Jehovah, the God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And Jehovah said, He will come down. Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver up to me and my men into the hand of Saul? And Jehovah said, They will deliver thee up. Then David and his men, who 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 the strongholds, and remained in the hill-country in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.

Abiathar the son of Ahimelech. came (to David) with an ephod in his hand
(1 Samuel 23:6). Scholars disagree as to the point in time when Abiathar came to David. Willis placed their coming together here at Keilah.F4 Matthew Henry's commentary supports Willis in this understanding of the passage;F5 however, Keil wrote that, The words `to David to Keilah' are not to be understood as signifying that Abiathar did not come to David until he was in Keilah. What is meant is that, `when he fled after David (1 Samuel 22:20), he met with him as he was already preparing to march to the aid of Keilah and proceeded with David to Keilah.'F6 Of course, the International Critical Commentary would place 1 Sam. 23:6 at some other place in the narrative.F7 This writer fails to see how the solution of this question involves anything very important.

Saul said, `God has given him into my hand'
(1 Samuel 23:7). It is ironic that Saul would think that God had delivered David into his hand, since Samuel had declared to him emphatically that God had rejected him because of his sins (1 Sam. 13:13-14; 15:23,26).F8

It is a mark of Saul's paranoid hatred of David that, at the very moment, "When Israel's king (Saul) should have been considering what honor and dignity should be done to David for his deliverance of Keilah from the marauding band of the Philistines, he caught at the situation as an opportunity for killing David. What an ungrateful wretch Saul was!"F9

And the Lord said, `They will surrender you'
(1 Samuel 23:12). The men of Keilah, the people of whom the Lord here spoke, does not refer to the general population of the place but to its leaders, elders or civic leaders. David doubtless enjoyed widespread popularity with the people; but the leaders, through abject fear of the murderous Saul, would have surrendered David at once rather than risk the extermination of the whole city like that suffered by Nob.

In spite of David's tremendous popularity throughout Israel, there were many situations like that at Keilah where there continued to be a residual loyalty to Saul. "This chapter gives two instances in which the people would gladly have turned David over to Saul."F10

There seems to be some confusion in 1 Sam. 23:10-12 regarding the inquiring of the Lord by means of the Urim and Thummim. We do not believe that any part of these verses needs to be omitted or moved. Keil has an excellent explanation of them just as they appear in the text.

It is evident that when the will of God was sought through the Urim and Thummim, the person making the inquiry placed the matter before God in prayer and received an answer, but always to one particular question only. David asked two questions in 1 Sam. 23:11, but received an answer to only one of them, so he had to ask the first question a second time.F11

And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph
(1 Samuel 23:14). John Rea writes that, Ziph was a town in the hill country of Judah (Joshua 15:55), located five miles south southeast of Hebron, sometimes identified as El Zif, which had a strategic position commanding the desert. It was founded by Mesha, a son of Caleb (1 Chr. 2:42, NEB). It was near this place that David twice hid from Saul; and the citizens of this place twice betrayed the secret of David's hiding place to Saul (1 Sam. 23:19; 26:1).F12

JONATHAN VISITS DAVID IN THE WILDERNESS


 
Verses 15-18
And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in the wood. And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said unto him, 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. And they two made a covenant before Jehovah: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.

How strange it is that Jonathan so easily found David and visited him in his hiding place; and yet Saul seldom knew David's whereabouts.

Saul my father knows this
(1 Samuel 23:17). Henry believed that, Jonathan had sometimes heard his father say that David would be king.F13 In fact, David's tremendous success in so many different enterprises, and his countless providential escapes from danger must long ago have convinced Saul that David would be his successor. This only accentuates the perverse wickedness of Saul who thus set himself adamantly opposed to what he knew to be the will of God.

Willis pointed out three things which Jonathan did for David by way of encouraging him. (1) Saul would not be able to find him, for God would protect David; (2) David would indeed be king; and (3) Saul himself was perfectly aware of all this.

The two of them made a covenant
(1 Samuel 23:18). In all probability, this was a renewal of the covenant mentioned earlier in 1 Sam. 18:3 and 1 Sam. 20:8.F14

THE ZIPHITES DISCLOSE DAVID'S HIDEOUT TO SAUL


 
Verses 19-23
Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself with us in the strongholds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of the desert? Now therefore, O king, come down, according to all the desire of thy soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him up into the king's hand. And Saul said, Blessed be ye of Jehovah; for ye have had compassion on me. Go, I pray you, make yet more sure, and know and see his place where his haunt is, [and] who hath seen him there; for it is told me that he dealeth very subtly. See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking-places where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me of a certainty, and I will go with you: and it shall come to pass, if he be in the land, that I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.

The strongholds of Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah
(1 Samuel 23:19). G. W. Grogan of Glasgow identifies Horesh merely as a place in the wilderness of Judea.F15 J. D. Douglas identified Hachilah as, a hill in the wilderness of Judah where David was hidden when the Ziphites plotted to betray him to Saul. The site is not accurately known but generally regarded as being near Dahret el Kola, between Ziph and Engedi.F16

Our part shall be to surrender him into the king's hand
(1 Samuel 23:20). This, of course, was the Ziphites promise to betray David. The reason for the Ziphites betrayal was either their zeal for Saul or the fact that David levied protection money against them as he did against Nabal (1 Sam. 25).F17 Willis pointed out another possible reason, namely, that, The Ziphites might have feared that Saul would slaughter them, if he discovered that they knew where David was and did not tell him.F18 The knowledge of what Saul did at Nob was known to all Israel. Any or all of these reasons might have motivated the Ziphites. This shameful deed of the Ziphites is mentioned in the superscription of Ps. 54.

For you have had compassion on me
(1 Samuel 23:21). Saul's miserable unhappiness and grief were very real, and not less so because his sins had brought all of his misfortunes upon him. This is an accurate detail of what always happens when any person whomsoever decides to forsake God and live his own way.

DIVINE INTERVENTION SAVES DAVID FROM CAPTURE


 
Verses 24-29
And they arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the Arabah on the south of the desert. And Saul and his men went to seek him. And they told David: wherefore he came down to the rock, and abode in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard [that], he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them. But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have made a raid upon the land. So Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore they called that place Sela-hammahlekoth. And David went up from thence, and dwelt in the strongholds of En-gedi.

The place names of this passage are of significant interest.

The Arabah
(1 Sam. 23:24b). This was the name of that great geological rift that includes the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan river and the Dead Sea. Biblical mention of it sometimes refers to the northern part of that great valley and sometimes to the southern part. The Dead Sea is called, The Sea of the Arabah.F19 The Arabah ended in the Gulf of Aqabah. The Arabah here is in the vicinity of the Dead Sea.

The wilderness of Maon
(1 Samuel 23:25). Maon is a city in the hill country of Judah, and the home of Nabal the wealthy flock master. The site is now called El Ma'in, eight miles south of Hebron.F20

Jeshimon
(1 Sam. 23:24b). There were two places called Jeshimon, (1) a barren place northeast of the Dead Sea, and (2) a place north of the hill Hachilah in the wilderness of Maon.F21 It is the second of these that is referred to here.

One of David's most urgent problems was that of feeding his little army of some six hundred men. This was the urgent problem lying back of the many raids that David and his men conducted against the Philistines. Also, it is evident that he protected some of the border cities against Philistine raids and required of them contributions of food and money.

A messenger came to Saul. Make haste and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land
(1 Samuel 23:27). Providence gave Saul a diversion.F22 It is generally agreed among scholars that without that providential intervention David would almost certainly have been captured. It is interesting to speculate on just what part of Israel the Philistines had attacked. Saul paid no attention whatever when Keilah was attacked; why his haste to leave on this occasion? As Henry suggested, It was probably that part of Israel where Saul's own estates were located.F23 If this had not been the case, it is difficult to believe that Saul, otherwise, would have interrupted his pursuit of David.

That place was called the Rock of Escape
(1 Samuel 23:28). This was that rock in the wilderness of Maon (1 Samuel 23:25). There is some uncertainty about the name given to it. The Hebrew name is, Sela-hammah-lekoth, i.e., Rock of Smoothness (in the sense of slipping away, or escaping).F24 Matthew Henry thought that the name meant, The Rock of Division, because it divided between Saul and David. This mountain (the rock) was an emblem of the Divine Providence coming between David and the destroyer.F25

The strongholds of Engedi
(1 Samuel 23:29). In the terrain overlooking the Dead Sea, there is a freshwater spring, a marvelous oasis in the midst of some of the most desolate country on earth. In ancient times, there were groves of date palm trees here, making it, An ideal place for an outlaw for food and for a hiding place.F26 With such a safe hiding place, David would wait, as he said, until he would see what God would do for him (1 Samuel 22:3).


Footnotes for 1 Samuel 23
1: Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 985.
2: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 289.
3: John T. Willis, p. 232.
4: John T. Willis, p. 232.
5: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 403.
6: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol, 2b, p. 229.
7: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 210.
8: John T. Willis, p. 232.
9: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 404.
10: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 175.
11: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 230.
12: Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, p. 1848.
13: Matthew Henry's Commentary, op. cit., p. 406.
14: John T. Willis, p. 234.
15: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 537.
16: Ibid., p. 497.
17: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 290.
18: John T. Willis, p. 234.
19: J. M. Houston in The New Bible Dictionary, p. 51.
20: Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, p. 1076.
21: Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 912.
22: Matthew Henry's Commentary, op. cit., p. 407.
23: Ibid.
24: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 233.
25: Matthew Henry's Commentary, op. cit., p. 407.
26: R. J. Way in The New Bible Dictionary, p. 369.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 23". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1sa&chapter=023>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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