1 Samuel 23
Saul, having made himself drunk with the blood of the priests of the
Lord, is here, in this chapter, seeking David's life, who appears here
doing good, and suffering ill, at the same time. Here is,
I. The good service he did to his king and country, in rescuing the
city of Keilah out of the hands of the Philistines,
1 Samuel 23:1-6.
II. The danger he was thereby brought into from the malice of the
prince he served and the treachery of the city he saved, and his
deliverance, by divine direction, from that danger,
1 Samuel 23:7-13.
III. David in a wood and his friend Jonathan visiting him there and
1 Samuel 23:14-18.
IV. The information which the Ziphites brought to Saul of David's
haunts, and the expedition Saul made, in pursuit of him,
1 Samuel 23:19-25.
The narrow escape David had of falling into his hands,
1 Samuel 23:26-29.
"Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them
out of them all."
|David Delivers Keilah.
||B. C. 1057.|
1 Then they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines fight
against Keilah, and they rob the threshingfloors.
2 Therefore David enquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go and
smite these Philistines? And the LORD said unto David, Go, and
smite the Philistines, and save Keilah.
3 And David's men said unto him, Behold, we be afraid here in
Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies
of the Philistines?
4 Then David enquired of the LORD yet again. And the LORD
answered him and said, Arise, go down to Keilah; for I will
deliver the Philistines into thine hand.
5 So David and his men went to Keilah, and fought with the
Philistines, and brought away their cattle, and smote them with a
great slaughter. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
6 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
Now we find why the prophet Gad (by divine direction, no doubt) ordered
David to go into the land of Judah,
1 Samuel 22:5.
It was that, since Saul neglected the public safety, he might take care
of it, notwithstanding the ill treatment that was given him; for he
must render good for evil, and therein be a type of him who not only
ventured his life, but laid down his life, for those that were his
I. Tidings are brought to David, as to the patron and protector of his
country's liberties, that the Philistines had made a descent upon the
city of Keilah and plundered the country thereabouts,
1 Samuel 23:1.
Probably it was the departure both of God and David from Saul that
encouraged the Philistines to make this incursion. When princes begin
to persecute God's people and ministers, let them expect no other than
vexation on all sides. The way for any country to be quiet is to let
God's church be quiet in it. If Saul fight against David, the
Philistines shall fight against his country.
II. David is forward enough to come in for their relief, but is willing
to enquire of the Lord concerning it. Here is an instance,
1. Of David's generosity and public-spiritedness. Though his head and
hands were full of his own business, and he had enough to do, with the
little force he had, to secure himself, yet he was concerned for the
safety of his country and could not sit still to see that ravaged: nay,
though Saul, whose business it was to guard the borders of his land,
hated him and sought his life, yet he was willing, to the utmost of his
power, to serve him and his interests against the common enemy, and
bravely abhorred the thought of sacrificing the common welfare to his
private revenge. Those are unlike to David who sullenly decline to do
good because they have not been so well considered as they deserved for
the services they have done.
2. Of David's piety and regard to God. He enquired of the Lord by the
prophet Gad; for it should seem (by
1 Samuel 23:6)
that Abiathar came not to him with the ephod till he was in Keilah. His
enquiry is, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? He enquires
both concerning the duty (whether he might lawfully take Saul's work
out of his hand, and act without a commission from him) and concerning
the event, whether he might safely venture against such a force as the
Philistines had with such a handful of men at his feet, and such a
dangerous enemy as Saul was at his back. It is our duty, and will be
our case and comfort, whatever happens, to acknowledge God in all our
ways and to seek direction from him.
III. God appointed him once and again to go against the Philistines,
and promised him success: Go, and smite the Philistines,
1 Samuel 23:2.
His men opposed it,
1 Samuel 23:3.
No sooner did he begin to have soldiers of his own than he found it
hard enough to manage them. They objected that they had enemies enough
among their own countrymen, they needed not to make the Philistines
their enemies. Their hearts failed them when they only apprehended
themselves in danger from Saul's band of pursuers, much more when they
came to engage the Philistine-armies. To satisfy them, therefore, he
enquired of the Lord again, and now received, not only a full
commission, which would warrant him to fight though he had no orders
from Saul (Arise, go down to Keilah), but also a full assurance
of victory: I will deliver the Philistines into thy hand,
1 Samuel 23:4.
This was enough to animate the greatest coward he had in his
IV. He went accordingly against the Philistines, routed them, and
(1 Samuel 23:5),
and it should seem he made a sally into the country of the Philistines,
for he carried off their cattle by way of reprisal for the wrong they
did to the men of Keilah in robbing their threshing-floors. Here notice
(1 Samuel 23:6)
that it was while David remained in Keilah, after he had cleared it of
the Philistines, that Abiathar came to him with the ephod in his hand,
that is, the high priest's ephod, in which the urim and thummim were.
It was a great comfort to David, in his banishment, that when he could
not go to the house of God he had some of the choicest treasures of
that house brought to him, the high priest and his breast-plate of
|David Escapes from Keilah.
||B. C. 1057.|
7 And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul
said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in,
by entering into a town that hath gates and bars.
8 And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to
Keilah, to besiege David and his men.
9 And David knew that Saul secretly practised mischief against
him; and he said to Abiathar the priest, Bring hither the ephod.
10 Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath
certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy
the city for my sake.
11 Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will
Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel,
I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the LORD said, He will come
12 Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my
men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver
13 Then David and his men, which 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.
I. Saul contriving within himself the destruction of David
(1 Samuel 23:7,8):
He heard that he had come to Keilah; and did he not hear what
brought him thither? Was it not told him that he had bravely relieved
Keilah and delivered it out of the hands of the Philistines? This, one
would think, should have put Saul upon considering what honour and
dignity should be done to David for this. But, instead of that, he
catches at it as an opportunity of doing David a mischief. An
ungrateful wretch he was, and for ever unworthy to have any service or
kindness done him. Well might David complain of his enemies that they
rewarded him evil for good, and that for his love they ere his
Christ was used thus basely,
1. How Saul abused the God of Israel, in making his providence
to patronise and give countenance to his malicious designs, and thence
promising himself success in them: God hath delivered him into my
hand; as if he who was rejected of God were in this instance owned
and favoured by him, and David infatuated. He vainly triumphs before
the victory, forgetting how often he had had fairer advantages against
David than he had now and had yet missed his aim. He impiously connects
God with his cause, because he thought he had gained one point.
Therefore David prays
Grant not, O Lord! the desires of the wicked; further not his wicked
device, lest they exalt themselves. We must not think that one
smiling providence either justifies an unrighteous cause or secures its
2. How Saul abused the Israel of God, in making them the servants of
his malice against David. He called all the people together to war, and
they must with all speed march to Keilah, pretending to oppose the
Philistines, but intending to besiege David and his men, though
concealing that design; for it is said
(1 Samuel 23:9)
that he secretly practised mischief against him. Miserable is
that people whose prince is a tyrant, for, while some are sufferers by
his tyranny, others (which is worse) are made servants to it and
instruments of it.
II. David consulting with God concerning his own preservation. He knew
by the information bought him that Saul was plotting his ruin
(1 Samuel 23:9)
and therefore applied to his great protector for direction. No sooner
is the ephod brought to him than he makes use of it: Bring hither
the ephod. We have the scriptures, those lively oracles, in our
hands; let us take advice from them in doubtful cases. "Bring hither
1. David's address to God upon this occasion is,
(1.) Very solemn and reverent. Twice he calls God the Lord God of
Israel, and thrice calls himself his servant,
1 Samuel 23:10,11.
Those that address God must know their distance, and who they are
(2.) Very particular and express. His representation of the case is so
(1 Samuel 23:10):
"Thy servant has certainly heard on good authority" (for he would not
call for the ephod upon every idle rumour) "that Saul has a design upon
Keilah;" he does not say, "to destroy me," but, "to destroy the city"
(as he had lately done the city of Nob) "for my sake." He seems more
solicitous for their safety than for his own, and will expose himself
any where rather than they shall be brought into trouble by his being
among them. Generous souls are thus minded. His queries upon the case
are likewise very particular. God allows us to be so in our addresses
to him: "Lord, direct me in this matter, about which I am now at a
loss." He does indeed invert the due order of his queries, but God in
his answer puts him into method. That question should have been put
first, and was first answered, "Will Saul come down, as thy servant has
heard?" "Yea," says the oracle, "he will come down; he has resolved it,
is preparing for it, and will do it, unless he hear that thou hast
quitted the town." "Well, but if he do come down will the men of Keilah
stand by me in holding the city against him, or will they open to him
the gates, and deliver me into his hand?" If he had asked the men (the
magistrates or elders) of Keilah themselves what they would do in that
case, they could not have told him, not knowing their own minds, nor
what they should do when it came to the trial, much less which way the
superior vote of their council would carry it; or they might have told
him they would protect him, and yet afterwards have betrayed him; but
God could tell him infallibly: "When Saul besieges their city, and
demands of them that they surrender thee into his hands, how fond
soever they now seem of thee, as their saviour, they will deliver thee
up rather than stand the shock of Saul's fury." Note,
[1.] God knows all men better than they know themselves, knows their
length, their strength, what is in them, and what they will do if they
come into such and such circumstances.
[2.] He therefore knows not only what will be, but what
would be if it were not prevented; and therefore knows how to
deliver the godly out of temptation, and how to render to every man
according to his works.
2. David, having thus far notice given him of his danger, quitted
1 Samuel 23:13.
His followers had now increased in number to 600; with these he went
out, not knowing whither he went, but resolving to follow Providence
and put himself under its protection. This broke Saul's measures. He
thought God had delivered David into his hand, but it proved that God
delivered him out of his hand, as a bird out of the snare of the
fowler. When Saul heard that David had escaped from Keilah, he
forbore to go forth with the body of the army, as he intended
(1 Samuel 23:8),
and resolved to take only his own guards, and go in quest of his
people's enemies and turn their counsels head-long.
|David in the Wilderness of Ziph.
||B. C. 1057.|
14 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.
15 And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and
David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood.
16 And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the
wood, and strengthened his hand in God.
17 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
18 And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David
abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.
I. David absconding. He abode in a wilderness, in a mountain
(1 Samuel 23:14),
in a wood,
1 Samuel 23:15.
We must here,
1. Commend his eminent virtues, his humility, modesty, fidelity to his
prince, and patient attendance on the providence of his God, that he
did not draw up his forces against Saul, fight him in the field, or
surprise him by some stratagem or other, and so avenge his own quarrel
and that of the Lord's priests upon him, and put an end to his own
troubles and the calamities of the country under Saul's tyrannical
government. No, he makes no such attempt; he keeps God's way, waits
God's time, and is content to secure himself in woods and wildernesses,
though with some it might seem a reproach to that courage for which he
had been famous. But,
2. We must also lament his hard fate, that an innocent man should be
thus terrified and put in fear of his life, that a man of honour should
be thus disgraced, a man of merit thus recompensed for his services,
and a man that delighted in the service both of God and his country
should be debarred from both and wrapped up in obscurity. What shall we
say to this? Let it make us think the worse of this world, which often
gives such bad treatment to its best men; let it reconcile even great
and active men to privacy and restraint, if Providence make these their
lot, for they were David's; and let it make us long for that kingdom
where goodness shall for ever be in glory and holiness in honour, and
the righteous shall shine as the sun, which cannot be put under a
II. Saul hunting him, as his implacable enemy. He sought him every day,
so restless was his malice,
1 Samuel 23:14.
He sought no less than his life, so cruel was his malice,
1 Samuel 23:15.
As it had been from the beginning, so it was now, and will be, he
that is born after the flesh persecuteth him that is born after the
III. God defending him, as his powerful protector. God delivered him
not into Saul's hand, as Saul hoped
(1 Samuel 23:7);
and, unless God delivered him into his hand, he could not prevail
IV. Jonathan comforting him as his faithful and constant friend. True
friends will find out means to get together. David, it is likely,
appointed time and place for this interview, and Jonathan observed the
appointment, though he exposed himself thereby to his father's
displeasure, and, had it been discovered, it might have cost him his
life. True friendship will not shrink from danger, but can easily
venture, will not shrink from condescension, but can easily stoop, and
exchange a palace for a wood, to serve a friend. The very sight of
Jonathan was reviving to David; but, besides this, he said that to him
which was very encouraging.
1. As a pious friend, he directed him to God, the foundation of his
confidence and the fountain of his comfort: He strengthened his hand
in God. David, though a strong believer, needed the help of his
friends for the perfecting of what was lacking in his faith; and herein
Jonathan was helpful to him, by reminding him of the promise of God,
the holy oil wherewith he was anointed, the presence of God with him
hitherto, and the many experiences he had had of God's goodness to him.
Thus he strengthened his hands for action, by encouraging his heart,
not in the creature, but in God. Jonathan was not in a capacity of
doing any thing to strengthen him, but he assured him God would.
2. As a self-denying friend, he took a pleasure in the prospect of
David's advancement to that honour which was his own birthright,
1 Samuel 23:17.
"Thou shalt live to be king, and I shall think it preferment enough to
be next thee, near thee, though under thee, and will never pretend to
be a rival with thee." This resignation which Jonathan made to David of
his title would be a great satisfaction to him, and make his way much
the more clear. This, he tells him, Saul knew very well, Jonathan
having sometimes heard him say as much, whence it appears what a wicked
man Saul was, to persecute one whom God favoured, and what a foolish
man he was, in thinking to prevent that which God had determined and
which would certainly come to pass. How could he disannul what God had
3. As a constant friend, he renewed his league of friendship with him.
They made a covenant now, this third time, before the Lord, calling him
to witness to it,
1 Samuel 23:18.
True love takes delight in repeating its engagements, giving and
receiving fresh assurances of the firmness of the friendship. Our
covenant with God should be often renewed, and therein our communion
with him kept up. David and Jonathan now parted, and never came
together again, that we find, in this world; for Jonathan said what he
wished, not what he had ground to expect, when he promised himself that
he should be next to David in his kingdom.
19 Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth
not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in
the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon?
20 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
into the king's hand.
21 And Saul said, Blessed be ye of the LORD; for ye have
compassion on me.
22 Go, I pray you, prepare yet, 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 subtilly.
23 See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places
where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me with the
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 throughout all the
thousands of Judah.
24 And they arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and
his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the plain on the
south of Jeshimon.
25 Saul also and his men went to seek him. And they told
David: wherefore he came down into a rock, and abode in the
wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after
David in the wilderness of Maon.
26 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.
27 But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee,
and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land.
28 Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went
against the Philistines: therefore they called that place
29 And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at
1. The Ziphites offer their service to Saul, to betray David to him,
1 Samuel 23:19,20.
He was sheltering himself in the wilderness of Ziph
(1 Samuel 23:14,15),
putting the more confidence in the people of that country because they
were of his own tribe. They had reason to think themselves happy that
they had an opportunity of serving one who was the ornament of their
tribe and was likely to be much more so, who was so far from plundering
the country, or giving it any disturbance with his troops, that he was
ready to protect it and to them all the good offices that there was
occasion for. But, to ingratiate themselves with Saul, they went to
him, and not only informed him very particularly where David quartered
(1 Samuel 23:19),
but invited him to come with his forces into their country in pursuit
of him, and promised to deliver him into his hand,
1 Samuel 23:20.
Saul had not sent to examine or threaten them, but of their own accord,
and even without asking a reward (as Judas did--What will you give
me?), they offered to betray David to him who, they knew, thirsted
after his blood.
2. Saul thankfully receives their information, and gladly lays hold of
the opportunity of hunting David in their wilderness, in hopes to make
a prey of him at length. He intimates to them how kindly he took it
(1 Samuel 23:21):
Blessed be you of the Lord (so near is God to his mouth, though
far from his heart), for you have compassion on me. It seems he
looked upon himself as a miserable man and an object of pity; his own
envy and ill-nature made him so, otherwise he might have been easy and
have needed no man's compassion. He likewise insinuates the little
concern that the generality of his people showed for him. "You have
compassion on me, which others have not." Saul gives them instructions
to search more particularly for his haunts
(1 Samuel 23:22),
"for" (says he) "I hear he deals very subtilely," representing him as a
man crafty to do mischief, whereas all his subtlety was to secure
himself. It was strange that Saul did not go down with them
immediately, but he hoped by their means to set his game with the more
certainty, and thus divine Providence gave David time to shift for
himself. But the Ziphites had laid their spies upon all the places
where he was likely to be discovered, and therefore Saul might come and
seize him if he was in the land,
1 Samuel 23:23.
New he thought himself sure of his prey and pleased himself with the
thoughts of devouring it.
3. The imminent peril that David was now brought into. Upon
intelligence that the Ziphites had betrayed him, he retired from the
hill of Hachilah to the wilderness of Maon
(1 Samuel 23:24),
and at this time he penned the
as appears by the title, wherein he calls the Ziphites
strangers, though they were Israelites, because they used him
barbarously; but he puts himself under the divine protection:
"Behold, God is my helper, and then all shall be well" Saul,
having got intelligence of him, pursued him closely
(1 Samuel 23:25),
till he came so near him that there was but a mountain between them
(1 Samuel 23:26),
David and his men on one side of the mountain flying and Saul and his
men on the other side pursuing, David in fear and Saul in hope. But
this mountain was an emblem of the divine Providence coming between
David and the destroyer, like the pillar of cloud between the
Israelites and the Egyptians. David was concealed by this mountain and
Saul confounded by it. David now flees as a bird to his mountain
and finds God to him as the shadow of a great rock. Saul hoped with his
numerous forces to enclose David, and compass him in and his men; but
the ground did not prove convenient for his design, and so it failed. A
new name was given to the place in remembrance of this
(1 Samuel 23:28):
Selah-hammah-lekoth--the rock of division, because it divided
between Saul and David.
4. The deliverance of David out of this danger. Providence gave Saul a
diversion, when he was just ready to lay hold of David; notice was
brought him that the Philistines were invading the land
(1 Samuel 23:27),
probably that part of the land where his own estate lay, which would be
seized, or at least spoiled, by the invaders; for the little notice he
took of Keilah's distress and David's relief of it, in the beginning of
this chapter, gives us cause to suspect that he would not now have left
pursuing David, and gone to oppose the Philistines, if some private
interests of his own had not been at stake. However it was, he found
himself under a necessity of going against the Philistines
(1 Samuel 23:28),
and by this means David was delivered when he was on the brink of
destruction. Saul was disappointed of his prey, and God was glorified
as David's wonderful protector. When the Philistines invaded the land
they were far from intending any kindness to David by it, yet the
overruling providence of God, which orders all events and the times of
them, made it very serviceable to him. The wisdom of God is never at a
loss for ways and means to preserve his people. As this Saul was
diverted, so another Saul was converted, just then when he was
breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the saints of the
5. David, having thus escaped, took shelter in some natural fortresses,
which he found in the wilderness of En-gedi,
1 Samuel 23:29.
And this Dr. Lightfoot thinks was the wilderness of Judah, in which
David was when he penned
which breathes as much pious and devout affection as almost any of his
psalms; for in all places and in all conditions he still kept up his
communion with God.