David and the Ziphites

Save me, O God, by thy name, and judge me by thy strength. 

Here my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. 

For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul; they have not see God before them. Selah. 

Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. 

He shall reward evil unto mine enemies: cut them off in thy truth. 

I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O Lord; for it is good. 

For he hath delivered me out of all trouble: and mine eye hath seen his desire upon mine enemies. 

Psalm 54

Escaping from Keilah before Saul could gather his forces to march against him, David was left no choice but to return to the wild hills, valleys and woodlands of southern Judah. It was in the mountain territories that David found the best protection; but finding sufficient food for his soldiers was difficult there. Thus it was that David finally moved down into the woods close by the town of Ziph. From many points of view, it appeared to be an almost ideal location. The woods were thick and few people thought to pass through them, providing an opportunity for David and his men to make camp, with very few being conscious of their exact location. Much more than in the mountains, there was the possibility of catching game for food and even farming a little in the small clearings that were found amid the trees. In addition, the town of Ziph was close. They could go there to do their necessary trading, and there was the possibility of holding what small bit of fellowship their life allowed with people of their own nation. Nor was it infrequent that they found for themselves opportunities to aid and assist the peoples of the territory with the kind of deeds of kindness they were much prone to perform. Next to the actual convenience of living in a town itself, as they had done in Keilah, it was about the best situation that they could hope for. Gradually the wound that had been inflicted upon their hearts by the treachery of Keilah began to heal. 

It was during this time that David was staying with his men in the woodlands of Ziph that there came to him one of the most impressive events of that period of his life; he was visited by Jonathan. 

Undoubtedly, Jonathan stands upon the pages of Scripture as one of the most amazing persons in the history of the church. The son of a viciously proud and wicked father, his own disposition was one of meekness and kindness throughout. A man through whom some of the greatest victories to come to Israel were brought about, he had no desire at all to receive a hero’s reward. Himself being the seed royal of the nation, he might well have taken to himself airs above everyone else in Israel; but he was quite willing to conduct himself as a servant to all. Through his heart ran the love and faithfulness of friendship so that his name stands as a symbol of the same to this day. Even when it became evident that his best friend was ordained to receive the throne of Israel instead of himself, he was the first to acknowledge it openly and without one trace of bitterness or regret. His life held as its fountain-spring, the love of God and a childlike devotion of true faith. It was this finally which bound him so closely to David with a bond of love and faithfulness which could not be broken. 

It came out most beautifully in an event that we are often inclined to overlook completely ─ the visit of Jonathan to David while he was living in the woodlands of Ziph. The mere fact that he should have made that visit is in itself touching and goes far to demonstrate the meekness and beauty of his love. Here he was the seed royal, living in all of the splendor and ease of the royal court. The opportunities which he had to pursue almost any interest or diversion he might desire were present. But his life in the court of Israel was to him one constant source of grief and sorrow, for, through the months and years, the palace of Israel had become more and more dominated by one thing ─ the overwhelming hatred of his father for David. Never had any heathen nation been hated so bitterly by the royal court, never had the vile Philistines been so derided as David was, never had strategy against any enemy of Israel been so determinedly pursued as the various plots to destroy David and his small but valiant force. In the midst of it Jonathan was forced to live, and under it his soul suffered and wept. No dungeon could ever have become so oppressive to him as the atmosphere in his father’s court where he had to dwell. Undoubtedly he himself would have fled to live with David in the wilderness had not his own duties in the court been of such responsibility that they were necessary to keep Israel functioning as a nation: and, of course, his presence as the royal seed of Israel in the camp of David would have done more to confuse the situation than to help it. Nevertheless, when there came through to his attention the news that David was encamped in the woods of Ziph, Jonathan determined that he would go down to render what little help and encouragement he could. Thus it was that Jonathan all by himself left the court of Saul and made his way down to the forest of Ziph. 

One can well imagine, although it is not recorded for us, the emotion with which David and Jonathan met there under the canopy of the trees. Nevertheless, we are given Jonathan’s reason for coming to David and the words that he spoke. He came to strengthen David’s hand in the Lord, and his words were these, “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.” It was not a prophecy which Jonathan had received directly from God; for, Jonathan was not a prophet and his words contained an error. He would not serve as second man under the throne of David; but he would himself be privileged to precede David to a far more wonderful throne in glory. It was only Jonathan’s personal conclusion which he had observed from watching the workings of Jehovah in Israel. And yet, by that very measure, was it so wonderfully great for it was completely contrary to what the present circumstances suggested and was based alone upon the faith that God would reward his servants according to their faithfulness. Thus it was that once again the two friends renewed their friendship in a covenant before their God. Little did they realize that they would never meet again until their covenant had obtained its perfect fulfillment in the presence of God. 

It was not long after Jonathan returned from his visit with David that the situation of David changed and the need for the encouragement that Jonathan had provided became evident. Once again, it was the treachery of David’s own countrymen with whom he had taken up his dwelling. David had never done anything but good to the inhabitants of Ziph and it was to be expected that he had nothing to fear from them. But these men knew, as did everyone in Israel, that David was hated by Saul, and that Saul wanted desperately to kill David. To them it appeared to be a perfect opportunity to ingratiate themselves to the king. Secretly they sent a delegation to Saul, saying, “Doth not David hide himself with us in strongholds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? 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.” 

The response of Saul was quick and elated and expressed itself in words that are apt to make us wince. He said, “Blessed be ye of the Lord; for ye have compassion on me. 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. 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.” 

The depravity of King Saul had reached a new level of perversity and hardness. Although he had never been a sincerely religious man, of course, it had not become openly evident until after his battle with Amalek when Samuel had informed him that God had rejected him and his family from continuing upon the throne of Israel. This had hit him hard, for he had always considered himself to be somewhat of a favorite with the God of Israel even though religion itself did not appeal particularly to him. At the pronouncement of Samuel it seemed as though the spirit which had been upholding him had suddenly vanished from him and he had been cast into a fit of deep depression. It was a long time before Saul was able to cast this off completely, and then it was only to have it replaced by a much greater form of wickedness. He determined that David was ordained to be king after him, and somehow it relieved him to have a specific enemy upon which to focus his hatred. At first, he had more or less felt that in fighting against David, he was also fighting against God. But now time had passed and he had spent so much time mulling over his plans to destroy David that he had finally even convinced himself, at least at times, that it was a righteous battle that he was fighting, that David was a man of wickedness, and God was on his own side. It was this that he was expressing when he assured the Ziphites that he considered them to be blessed of God in their betrayal of David. 

Soon, once again, David found himself in a most critical position. Without warning one day, the Ziphites appeared at the edge of the wood where he and his men were camped leading a great army of Israelites. The situation was as crucial as any he had ever before confronted. He had indeed been surrounded by Saul’s men before; but that was when he was alone and able to slip through the enemy lines undetected. Now he had four hundred men with him, and he could not escape himself without seeing them through to safety also. Quickly David did what he could to try to evade Saul’s forces. The territory was large and he made every possible evasive move. First he brought the men up into the rocky hills and then down into the open plains; but Saul was prepared this time and with the men of Ziph to guide him he was able to keep in very close pursuit of David. At last, there was only a small mountain between them, and every possible route of escape for David was cut off. David was shut in by an army many times the size of his own force and one made up of his own countrymen against whom he was most hesitant to do battle. David’s whole being drew back with revulsion from the very thought that he might have to fight against his own king and destroy his own countrymen. But what could he do?’ It appeared truly unavoidable. 

But God was with David, and at the last moment there came a messenger running desperately into the camp of King Saul. His message was this, “Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land.” To Saul it was the most terrible news imaginable, not because he feared to fight the Philistines, but because he wanted so badly to have out this battle with David. But there really was no choice. With an anguished sigh he signaled the men to turn back from their pursuit of David and to follow him back to the borders of Philistia; and as he went he knew deep down in his heart that so all of his efforts against David would have to come to naught. But this was a voice to which he would never listen. 

It was David alone that openly recognized and acknowledged that true power which had saved him once again. It was then, at that moment, that he began to compose the words of Psalm 54, “Behold, God is mine helper…For he hath delivered me out of all trouble: and mine eyes hath seen his desire upon mine enemies.”