So had Saul smitten Nob, the city of priests. All had died with the exception of Abiathar, one of Ahimelech’s sons.
David, at the time, was in hiding in the forests of Hareth in the territory of Judah. Hither he had removed with his men in obedience to the Lord’s command communicated to him by the prophet Gad, “Abide not in the hold; depart and get thee in the land of Judah.” “The hold”, it will be recalled, was the “mountain height” in the land of Moab, where David for a while had been entrenched after his escape from Gath. As driven by fear of Saul, he had once more departed from the “land of the living”, and cast himself, his men, and his father’s house upon the mercy of a heathen king. The Lord had ordered his servant to return to God’s country”, definitely to Judah. For here He had work for David to do. The Philistines had to be repulsed; they were making inroads into the territory of Judah and plundering God’s
No sooner has David arrived with his men in the forests of Hareth than he receives tidings that the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and rob the threshing floors. The latter are situated in the open country outside the walls of the city. David is eager to attack the adversary. Before he bestirs himself, however, he enquires of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and smite these Philistines?” The Lord answers him, “Go and smite the Philistines and save Keilah.” Keilah is a fortified city (vs. 7) in the lowland of Judah (). David’s men object to the venture. They say to him, “Behold, we are afraid in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines.” These men are not cowards. It is not the prospect of a clash of arms with the Philistines that makes them afraid. Their fear has another cause. Saul had just smitten the city of priests; and thereby he let it be known that any man or community of men failing to assist him in apprehending David may look forward to being destroyed on the ground of treason. As can be expected and as also the sequel reveals, the king’s terrible threat has its effect. The people are afraid. Taking thought of their lives, only too many stand ready to give Saul their fullest co-operation in ridding the earth of David. Let men but catch sight of him and his band, and before long the reports will come pouring in at Saul’s place of residence that David has been seen and can be captured at the place designated.
Humanly speaking, David’s danger is great, and likewise that of his men. And they are afraid. But they realize that their danger would increase a hundred fold should they leave the forests in whose thickets they are hidden and venture into the open spaces of the country. Yet, their leader requests that they do just that; he is urgent on them that they follow him to Keilah to fight the Philistines. But they demur. It is not the Philistines as such that they fear; the object of their dread is Saul. He will learn of their venture; seeing his opportunity, he will not sit still. Suddenly and without warning he will come upon them there in the lowlands of Judah perhaps just at the time when the battle with the Philistines is in full progress. Opportunity for flight there will not be; fight Saul they may not. What hope of escape will there be then to them? None whatever.
But David is insistent. The Philistines harass his brethren in Keilah; and there is no one to help. He will come to their rescue. And the venture will succeed. David will save Keilah. The Lord had said; and therefore there need be no fear of Saul. But the men are still afraid. For their sakes, David again enquires of the Lord; and back comes the answer, “Arise, go down to Keilah; for I will deliver the Philistines into thy hand.” The men are now quiet. Reassured, they follow David to the theatre of the impending conflict. They go to Keilah, and fight with the Philistines, “and brought away their cattle, and smote them with a great slaughter. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.”
(An additional word about the fear of David’s men. The interpretation according to which the object of their dread was the Philistines as such cannot well be harmonized with the glowing account that the Chronicler gives of the deeds of valor of these men. As we saw, he sets them before us “mighty men, helpers of the war, men of war, fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roe on the mountains.” Besides, David’s men do not say that they dread to clash arms with the Philistines. What they say in effect is that if they have reason to be afraid in Judah, Judah’s forest of Hareth, where they are now in hiding, they have much more reason to be afraid in Keilah. Their presence there soon will be reported to one—king Saul—who seeks their lives but against whom they are not allowed to defend themselves by force of arms. How with such an adversary to cope can they risk appearing in the open spaces of the lowlands of Judah to fight Philistines? With Saul on their hands they cannot engage in wars with foreign dominations. They have all they can do to keep themselves from being trapped by Saul’s troops. The complaint of the men, so construed, agrees fully with the inquiry that David directed to the Lord, “Shall I go and smite the Philistines”? That precisely was the question with all concerned. And the Lord’s promise of victory necessarily implies that He would be to them a shield against Saul.)
So did David; fugitive and outlaw, do the men of Keilah, his own tribesmen, a great service by a successful feat of arms against the hereditary enemy. He delivered them out of the hands of the Philistines. There is evidence in the text that they are keenly aware of their great indebtedness to David. After the battle they allow him and his men to retreat into their city. And they refrain from telling Saul that they have the fugitive in their midst. The text makes also this plain. Hearing that David has come to Keilah, Saul calls all the people together to war to go down to the city to besiege David and his men. Saul would have no reason to form that purpose—he purposes to besiege the city—had the men of Keilah sent the king word that David had entered their city and that they are holding him captive for their master. No such communications were sent by them to Saul. It is plain from David’s prayer that they do not even order the son of Jesse to depart out of their midst. But neither are they saying that they will stand by him in a crisis. For they are agreed that they cannot very well allow themselves to be destroyed for David’s sake. But they lack the courage openly to declare their intention, seeing that they are indebted to him for their very lives. But it is imperative that David learn what they purpose doing with him and his men. If their intentions are evil, he must leave at once; for there are gates and bars to their city; it is a walled town so that, should Saul arrive on the scene with him and his men still in their midst, he is trapped. So he puts the question to the Lord, “O Lord God of Israel,” he prays, “thy servant hath certainly 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 has heard ? O Lord God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the Lord said, He will come down. 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 thee up”.
The prayer is formed of two distinct questions. “Will Saul come down?” is the one to which the Lord first replies. Saul will come down. But will the men of Keilah deliver him into Saul’s hand? Or will they shield him, their savior, against Saul’s wrath even unto the death? That he asks the Lord to tell him would seem to imply that, if the answer would have been favorable, he would have abided in the city, to continue taking advantage of the protection of its gates and bars. It shows how he dreads being chased about by the man Sauk It is a hard and dangerous way of life in which he walks. He hopes that the men of Keilah will take him in permanently. Has he not a right to expect it? He has just saved them. But the Lord’s will is otherwise. David’s training is not yet completed. The Lord has not yet done with him. There are still some lessons to be learned before he is meet for the Master’s use. “They will deliver thee up”, is therefore the Lord’s answer to him. Then David and his men—about six hundred—arose and departed out of Keilah.”
Whether David communicated his revelation to the men of Keilah is not stated. If so, they might have shown surprise at hearing what, according to the Lord’s own word, they would do with David, the Lord’s righteous servant and their savior, if taking his side was to run the risk of losing their skins. They might have shown surprise at hearing that they would not run that risk, but would join hands with the wicked to destroy him. But their surprise would be feigned. For in their hearts they know themselves to be such men,—men who will do no wrong unless doing right clashes with their interests. And therefore they are glad that he has departed. His going freed them from a painful task. Indeed, how it would have hurt them to have been compelled to deliver such a man into Saul’s hand. David was not deceived by these men. He took to heart what the Lord told him about them, and departed out of their city. Had he ignored that revelation, and remained in their midst, all the while prating about the good that sinners do, he would have perished at their hands.
Notice still must be taken of Saul’s reaction to the tidings that David has come to Keilah. He jubilantly exclaims, “God has delivered him into my hands; for he is shut m by entering into a town that has gates and bars”. Saul is certain that the men of Keilah are holding David captive for him or that the fugitive of his own accord will remain in the city until the king can get there to take him prisoner. He imagines therefore that David is as good as in his hands. For he wants to believe that David has committed and persists in committing a blunder of such amazing stupidity as to allow but one explanation: The Lord has rejected David into Saul’s hand (rejected is the word found in the original text). The implications of his imaginings are terrific, to wit, David is accursed of God. Samuel is a false prophet who spake words of vanity. The blessed of the Lord is Saul; his kingdom will be established, and his house will stand for aye. Such are the dreadful illusions into which Saul has fallen by blinding and self-deception.
But he soon receives new evidence of his being occupied with false images, lying imaginings. It is told him that David is escaped from Keilah. The most he can say now is that the Lord will deliver David into his hands in the way of his persistent endeavor to get the son of Jesse in his hands. But it is the same terrible lie with the same dreadful implications. And this lie, that Saul, as instructed by the Lord, well knows to be a lie, Saul loves, thinks, wills and walks in with all his heart and mind and will and strength. For the Lord hardens his heart. Thus we read, “Then David and his men departed out of Keilah, and went withersoever they could go. . . . And David abode in the wilderness in strongholds and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph.” And, mark you, “Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand.”
“Saul sought him every day,” continually, without interruption. All his thoughts continue to be, ‘Samuel is an imposter, a prophet of lying words; David is reprobated; Saul is the blessed of the Lord. God will surely deliver him into my hand’. This—David will one day perish by my hand—is Saul’s prophecy, which he opposes to that of Samuel. And his whole ambition of life now is to fulfill his lying prediction and to slay the prophecy of Samuel by destroying David. But every attempt of his to capture David ends in failure. For the Lord does not deliver David into his hand; and thus the evidence of the vanity of Saul’s prophecy continues to accumulate. But by this very accumulation of evidence God hardens his heart and thus, terrible to say, urges him on to his eternal doom through the lusts of his heart.
Saul then, taking him now at his word, has no quarrel with God nor God with him. It is men whom he fights and who fight him—Samuel and David and their party. With God he dwells on the best of footing; and his spiritual life flourishes. So says Saul. For, however perverse, he is a pious man. He makes mention of the name of the Lord. Says he not, “God hath delivered him into mine hand.”
As to David and his man, “they went about wither they went,” as circumstances dictated, without fixed plan or purpose. Learning that David escaped from Keilah, Saul abandons his march thither. He does not call the Keilites to account on account of their allowing David and his men to depart out of their midst.
Escaping from Keilah, David henceforth wanders from one sheltering height to another in the wilderness of Judah, a large tract stretching along the territory of Judah between the mountains of Judah and the Dead Sea. It was distinguished in various parts as the “wilderness of Ziph,” “of “Moan,” etc., probably from the names of the neighboring towns. During the course of this period of his wanderings, David has his head-quarters on the “mountain-heights” (vs. 14), where he can observe the approach of the adversary. “And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.”
Now the text (vs. 15) makes mention of the first special case of persecution, “And David saw that Saul was come to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood,” that is, he saw, received information of Saul’s pursuit and retreated in the thick wood. The forest was his chief means of concealment.
While David is in “the wood” in the very height of these first persecutions, he is visited by Jonathan who strengthens his hand in God. David is not to fear: for the hand of Saul his father shall not find him. He shall be king over Israel and Jonathan shall be next to him. And that Saul well knows. A new covenant is made by the two men before the Lord (vss. 16-18). David remains in the wood and Jonathan goes to his house. The two friends here meet for the last time in life. It was not ambition but his love of David and his desire to be near David that made Jonathan want to be next to the throne, when his friend should have come into his kingdom. How it would have been if Jonathan had lived, cannot be said. There might have been complications all of which were avoided by his death. Jonathan’s life is the picture of the undying devotion of believing men to the Hope of Israel, which is Christ Jesus. David has now to make another bitter experience. The Ziphites come to Saul to Gibeah and betray to him David’s hiding place among them. And they are his own tribesmen. They are passionate adherents of Saul, and acquainted with his desires. Two things they say to him: 1) Come down to us, for all thy desire to get David in thy power may now be fulfilled; 2) We make it our affair to deliver him into thy hand. Saul is elated. “Blessed be ye of the Lord,” says he to them, “Ye have compassion on me.” Thus he remains true to all his willful illusions. David is plotting to capture his throne; and, accordingly, he seeks his life. Saul imagines that he is in a dangerous situation and that the Ziphites sympathize with him. He instructs them how to go about gaining information of every retreat of David in his shifting of place. “Go, I pray you, prepare yet, that ye may learn, and that ye may see in what place his foot be,” that is, where he fixes himself in his wanderings. Saul affirms the necessity of this espionage in the words, “For it is told me that he is very subtle.” Saul cannot say enough to satisfy himself in exhorting them to search in every place. “Return to me unto what is certain,” that is, when ye have obtained reliable information. He with confidence declares that he will then seize him “among all the thousands of Israel.” The Ziphites return to their region before Saul, who, according to the agreement, is to follow.
The danger which now threatens David is greater than any previous or afterwards. Perceiving his predicament, he marches further southward to the wilderness of Moan. Having gotten information from the Ziphites, Saul and his men go to seek David. He is told and descends “the rock” in order to conceal himself in the lowland, and here he abides. Saul pursues and David has great difficulty to escape him. For
Saul attempts to surround and seize him. He has nearly succeeded, when he receives information of a new Philistine incursion. He must desist from further pursuit. So does the Lord save His servant. The Philistines had seized on the moment when Saul had withdrawn his men to the south in pursuit of David.
How David cries out to the Lord in this danger, we learn from Psalm 54: “Save me, O God, by thy name, and judge me by thy strength………………………. For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. . . . He hath delivered me out of all my trouble: and mine eyes have seen my desire upon my enemies.”
The place was called Selam hamahlekoth, meaning rock of smoothness or escape. As often as David would pass that rock and look up at its face, he would remember that God is “the escape” of His people.
And David went up from thence and dwelt in the strongholds of Engedi.