1. Then they told David, saying, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and they are robbing the threshing floors.”
Now a report reaches David that the Philistines are fighting with the city of Keilah, a city in the lowlands of Judah northwest of Hebron. Keilah means “Fortress,” and assuming this city lived up to its name it had little to fear from a siege. Yet this does not seem to be the object of the Philistines in this battle. Instead, they have come at harvest time, and are robbing their threshingfloors. At harvest time, the fields would have been full of what would have amounted to great wealth, and those fields were outside the walls of the city. Thus the Philistines were raiding to steal their crops, which would mean the impoverishment of the city, and could even mean death by starvation for its people.
2. Therefore David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”
And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines, and save Keilah.”
David is incensed against this affront to God’s people, and his response is immediate. He goes to the LORD and asks Him if he should attack these Philistines. Yet consider that he is asking about fighting the LORD’s enemies while he is a fugitive himself! David is currently an outlaw, yet he is acting with the heart of a king, and as if he is king already! David’s zeal for the LORD has not cooled due to his enforced exile. Moreover the LORD likes David’s suggestion, and tells him in answer that he should go and attack the Philistines in order to save Keilah.
3. But David’s men said to him, “Look, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?”
David’s focus on the LORD may have made him zealous and courageous in spite of his current, humble circumstances, but his men were more aware of their present circumstances and less aware of the power of God than David was. Thus his men try to talk him out of what must have seemed to them a crazy plan. Here they were, hiding out in the land of Judah, living in constant fear of the army and the hatred of Saul. In this situation, David wants them to heroically go off to war against the Philistines, inviting the wrath of another army against them? No wonder they thought this idea to be foolish.
4. Then David inquired of the LORD once again.
And the LORD answered him and said, “Arise, go down to Keilah. For I will deliver the Philistines into your hand.”
His plan did not seem crazy or foolish to David, due to his focus on the Jehovah. Yet at his men’s insistence, David inquires of Jehovah once again to confirm that this is indeed His will. Again Jehovah answers the same way, telling him to go to Keilah, and this time flatly promising him victory over the Philistines. David had realized that the first message implied that, of course, but this more specific message is doubtless given to comfort the fears of David’s men.
5. And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines, struck them with a mighty blow, and took away their livestock. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
At Jehovah’s command, David and his men go to war against the Philistines at Keilah. True to Jehovah’s word, David not only wins and saves Keilah, but he strikes the Philistine army a mighty blow and spoils their army of their cattle! This was doubtless part of the provisions they had brought along to feed their army while they were in the field. Thus David saves the inhabitants of the city, proving himself once again a mighty hero for Jehovah, which he always was as long as he trusted in Him.
6. Now it happened, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, that he went down with an ephod in his hand.
Here we learn how it is that David could enquire of Yahweh. When Saul had slaughtered Yahweh’s priests and Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David, he had brought the ephod with the Urim and Thummim along with him in his flight. This matter of the ephod with the Urim (pronounced oo-REEM) and the Thummim (pronounced toom-MEEM) is a rather mysterious thing. The word “ephod” is actually a Hebrew word transliterated to English, and was a word for the priestly garment. In a pouch in the breastplate of the priestly garment, called the “breastplate of judgment” in Exodus 28:30, were kept the Urim and Thummim.
30. And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually.
There is some controversy as to what exactly the Urim and Thummim were, but it seems likely that they were smooth, round stones, much like our marbles, indistinguishable by feel but different in appearance, which would be kept in a pouch in the ephod in the breastplate of judgment. Urim literally means “Lights,” and was perhaps a black stone. It was used in questions of guilty or innocent as meaning “guilty,” since it brought the guilt to light. In yes or no questions it meant “yes.” The Thummim, on the other hand, means “Perfections,” and was perhaps a white stone. In questions of guilty or innocent it meant “innocent,” and in yes or no questions it meant “no.”
Whenever a question was to be asked of Yahweh through the priest, he would reach his hand into the pouch in the front of his ephod and would pull out one of these two stones. Remember, they were indistinguishable by feel, so which one he pulled out should have been completely random. However, this was not an instance of random chance, for as long as this was Yahweh’s priestly garments with Yahweh’s priest wearing them and Yahweh’s Urim and Thummim in the garment, He would use the Urim and Thummim to give His right answers. Every time either Urim or Thummim was pulled out of the ephod, the will of Yahweh was revealed. There was nothing random about it, for through the Urim and Thummim, the will of Yahweh would be made plain.
Thus we see that when Saul slaughtered Yahweh’s priests, he not only lost the ability to use the Urim and Thummim himself, but he also sent that ability away into David’s hands. Of course, this was not the only way Yahweh could communicate with His people, since He could use prophets, dreams, and so forth, but now this just becomes another means of communication between Yahweh and His servant David, and David is about to use it.
7. And Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah. So Saul said, “God has delivered him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.”
Now Saul’s spies report to him that David is in Keilah. Saul rejoices, for he has never been able to capture David while he was in the open country and could flee away. Now he thinks he will be able to capture David as long as he stays in a town where he can be surrounded and shut in. David may close and bar the town gates, but as long as Saul can besiege the town, he is confident that he will have him eventually.
Notice how quick Saul is once more to bring the name of God into this. The reality is that Saul is dead set against the true God and His servant David, and he is well aware of this. Yet that does not stop him from irrationally acting like God might change His mind and decide to help Saul instead. Saul likes to think of God as a mysterious, capricious being whose ways are inscrutable, when in fact he knows much of the true God and is well aware that He supports David and is against Saul. Those who reject the true God always like to remake Him into their own image the way they would like Him to be in their own minds. Saul does this, and is so foolish as to make irrational statements like this. Of course God was not going to deliver His servant into the wicked hands of Saul! But Saul has so far denied reality that he will not admit this.
8. Then Saul called all the people together for war, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.
Now Saul calls his army together to go to war against Keilah, hoping to carry out his plan to besiege David and his men. Notice the interesting fact that the king of Israel is preparing to attack the same city of Israel that David just heroically saved from the Philistines! Saul no longer cares for his God, his priests, or his people. All he cares about is himself and hanging on to his own, doomed throne as long as he can. Sad that this once promising king has now come to this!
9. When David knew that Saul plotted evil against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.”
David is not without his own spies, however. David had been very popular before Saul made him a fugitive, the army hero of the men and the heartthrob of the women. Moreover, it must be becoming known by now that David is God’s choice. Therefore, there are plenty who are willing to align with David at least secretly, and to bring him word of the activities of Saul.
Thus David comes to know that Saul is plotting secretly to trap him and bring disaster upon him. Now he will take advantage of the presence of the Urim and Thummim with him. He tells Abiathar to bring him the ephod so he can ask the LORD what to do.
10. Then David said, “O LORD God of Israel, Your servant has certainly heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah to destroy the city for my sake.
Having the Urim and Thummim ready with Abiathar, David now prays to Jehovah God of Israel. He tells Jehovah what he has heard from his informants: that Saul is coming to Keilah to destroy the city in order to capture David. Again we would note the fact that Saul plans to destroy the city that Jehovah and David had saved!
11. Will the men of Keilah deliver me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as Your servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.”
And the LORD said, “He will come down.”
David asks Yahweh if the men of Keilah will surrender him to Saul? After all, he had saved them. Will they then be loyal to him, or will the possibility of disgraceful destruction at the hands of their own king cause them to forget the heroic service David and his men have done for them? Then as an afterthought, David asks if Saul is really coming, as he has heard. This, of course, would confirm the report he has heard.
The final question, it seems, is the one asked as the priest puts his hand into the ephod to pull forth the answer. He does so, and pulls out the Urim, meaning “yes.” Yahweh correctly informs him that Saul is indeed coming down to Keilah.
12. Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?”
And the LORD said, “They will deliver you.”
David’s next specific question to be answered is if the men of Keilah will surrender him. The Urim comes out to signify “yes,” and thus the LORD assures him that they will deliver him to Saul. Their gratitude to David will quickly disappear when their lives are in danger from their own nation’s army.
13. So David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah and went wherever they could go. Then it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah; so he halted the expedition.
David now knows that Keilah is not safe for him, so he and his men arise and flee from Keilah back into exile, hidden in the wilderness. Notice that the number of David’s men has grown since the last count we heard, which back in I Samuel 22:2 was four hundred men. Two hundred more have joined David, and the total number of his followers is now six hundred. David was indeed more and more in the public consciousness of Israel, and as I said back in comments on I Samuel 22:2, there were men in Israel who had “a vision of a better kingdom, a kingdom from God, ruled over by David, God’s man.” More of these men have now arisen and joined David, and his faithful six hundred are now more or less complete.
Once David and his six hundred have left Keilah, Saul hears of this from his spies. Realizing that David will no longer be easy to capture inside the city walls of Keilah, he calls off his expedition, and so does not march out with his army.
14. And David stayed in strongholds in the wilderness, and remained in the mountains in the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand.
David hides out in places of shelter in the wilderness, called here “strongholds.” At this point, he and his men remain for a time in the mountains in the wilderness of Ziph. Ziph, which means “Battlement,” was a city in Judah southeast of Hebron, and was also the name of a wilderness near there. As long as David remains in hiding there, Saul is constantly looking for him. Yet his efforts are futile, for God interferes to keep him from finding him. God does not deliver David into Saul’s hand, as Saul so foolishly suggested He had done or would do back in verse 7.
15. So David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. And David was in the Wilderness of Ziph in a forest.
David realizes, probably through his spies again, that Saul is actively seeking to find him and kill him. Whether or not Saul was personally leading those in the search party for David, he certainly was behind it, and he wanted David dead, not merely captured. During this time, we are informed, David was still in the Wilderness of Ziph, hiding there in a forest.
16. Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God.
At this point his good friend Jonathan decides to go into action and to go out to find David. He goes to the woods where he was. The interesting thing is that he goes right to him. Jonathan seems to have no trouble finding David. Why were all Saul’s search parties so ineffective, then? Perhaps because their searching was contrary to the will of God.
Yet we cannot say for certain this was a miraculous thing, either in the easy manner in which Jonathan finds David or in the difficulty Saul’s men have in finding him. David and Jonathan, good friends as they were, were probably in communication during David’s exile. Yet we cannot deny that God was not hiding David from Jonathan, as He was hiding him from Saul, and this may have had something to do with it.
Regardless of how he found him, Jonathan comes to David to strengthen and encourage him. He strengthens David indeed, since he strengthens him in God. Their mutual love for God made them excellent companions and friends. If only David could always have had such friendship!
17. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.”
Jonathan expresses his confidence that all God has said about David will come true. If he did not know of it before, Jonathan has had plenty of time since David’s flight to look into it and to learn of Samuel’s prophecies of another who would take the throne from Saul and his family, and to have considered the evidence that David was indeed the man the LORD was talking about. Yet learning for certain the truth of this did nothing to change the mind of David’s true friend about supporting him.
Jonathan knows that his father will never find and capture David in order to kill him as long as the LORD has plans for David that are not yet fulfilled. He knows that David is the one whom the LORD has determined should take the throne after Saul, and he is content to take second place to David. If he had lived, no doubt that is exactly what would have happened, and David would have made him his second-in-command. Yet still Jonathan’s attitude towards the man he could have considered his rival is very commendable. Again, Jonathan’s loyalty and Godliness must have helped later to inspire David to display a good and gracious attitude towards the remains of Saul’s family once he became king. How could he do less than his friend Jonathan had done for him?
18. So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.
Jonathan and David take this opportunity to make another covenant or agreement before the LORD. No doubt this agreement was along the lines of what Jonathan just said. He was willing to support David for the throne after Saul instead of trying to take it himself, and David was willing and happy to make Jonathan his second-in-command once his throne was indeed established.
Yet now the sad parting comes again. David stays in the wood, but Jonathan returns home. What a disappointing outcome this is once again! Jonathan proved he was able to find David. I Samuel 30 proves to us that some at least of David’s men had families with them as they secretly followed David in the wilderness. Why could Jonathan not have smuggled those of his family who were willing out to the wilderness with him in order to stay with David from this point on? Why, instead of making David agree to have him as his second-in-command at some later date, did he not throw in his lot with David and become his second-in-command right now?
The sad reality is that Jonathan supported and sided with David in words, but in body he returned home to live with Saul. The LORD had made him no promise that he would be safe by doing this. By his choice, by taking the comfortable life with his father now he guarantees disaster for himself along with his father later. How much better had he chosen rather the fugitive’s life with David, in which case he would have enjoyed the glory with David later! This was really Jonathan’s last chance to throw in his lot with David, though both of them might have wished for another. Now, Jonathan will fall with his father Saul rather than rising with David. That happy future day when he would become David’s second-in-command never came, at least not in this life. Let us all take a lesson from this. If we see what is good and right, if we can tell what side the LORD is on and where He is working, let us get on that side now, not wait for that side to succeed and win out later. If we wait instead of throwing in our lot, that later day for joining the LORD’s cause might never come.
19. Then the Ziphites came up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is David not hiding with us in strongholds in the woods, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon?
The Ziphites decide to betray David to Saul, telling him his exact location. Ziph can mean “Smelters,” or “Borrowed,” or “Flowing.” Apparently this was a town in Judah near where David and his men were hiding. These men decide that this is their chance to curry favor with the king, and so they go to him with this report. They reveal that David is hiding in the strong holds in the wood in the hill of Hachilah. Hachilah means “Dark,” and this may mean that David was hiding in a place on the summit of this hill. They identify this hill, in case Saul is unaware of its location, as being on the south of Jeshimon. Jeshimon means “Wasteland” or “A Desert,” and this was a place which would have been known to Saul.
20. Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of your soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand.”
They encourage Saul to come down. They realize that the desire of Saul’s soul is to come down. The Hebrew word for “soul” is nephesh, and is often connected with the emotions and the desires. They are aware of Saul’s desire to destroy David. They promise that if he will come down, they will betray David to him.
21. And Saul said, “Blessed are you of the LORD, for you have compassion on me.
Saul blesses them in Jehovah’s name. This is a rather pathetic thing, when we think about it. We know that Saul is trying to kill David, Jehovah’s man, and he has already slaughtered Jehovah’s priests. He is dead set against Jehovah at this point, and he certainly has no right to bless anyone in His name. Yet that does not stop Saul from doing so! He never stops pretending that Jehovah might still be on his side, or at least maintaining his outward support of Jehovah’s religion in the sight of his men. Yet these words he spoke were just empty. Jehovah was with David, and He had left Saul. Saul could bless no one in the name of Jehovah.
Saul claims that the Ziphites have had compassion on him. This is based on his delusional notion that David with Jonathan’s help had planned to assassinate him, which of course was entirely untrue. Saul was the only one trying to assassinate anyone. Yet he credits the Ziphites with compassion. We would suspect that it was far more their own advantage they were thinking of, rather than compassion for Saul. The sad thing is that these Ziphites were of David’s own tribe of Judah. David certainly might have had plenty of reasons to hold grudges against certain people when he became king, yet we have no indication that he ever did so. Yet we might suppose that the Ziphites were perhaps not the most favored people during his reign.
22. Please go and find out for sure, and see the place where his hideout is, and who has seen him there. For I am told he is very crafty.
He encourages them to spy out David’s location even more carefully and confirm this report of the location of his hideout, even bringing witnesses who have actually seen him there. Saul credits David’s eluding him to his own cleverness, rather than to Yahweh helping David. Yet as we noticed before, Jonathan seems to have had no trouble going right to David’s camp! David was hidden, not by cleverness, but by God.
23. See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hides; and come back to me with certainty, and I will go with you. And it shall be, if he is in the land, that I will search for him throughout all the clans of Judah.”
Saul wants them to search out all David’s hiding places so he cannot escape. If he only knows of one hiding place, Saul figures that David will slip away from there to another. Yet if he knows of all David’s hiding places, he will have nowhere to escape. This was indeed clever of Saul. He is confident that, once his intelligence on David is complete, he will be able to find him anywhere in the land he may hide, even if he has to search him out among all the clans of Judah.
24. So 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.
The Ziphites return home before Saul to carry out his orders. Meanwhile, David is in the wilderness of Maon in the plain on the south of Jeshimon. Perhaps he had moved there off the hill he had been on. “Maon” means “A Dwelling,” and is sometimes used for a den of wild animals. In this case, it could mean a cave, and this could be the stronghold spoken of before, perhaps a cave in the hill of Hachilah.
25. When Saul and his men went to seek him, they told David. Therefore he went down to the rock, and stayed in the Wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued David in the Wilderness of Maon.
Saul meanwhile prepares his forces and then moves out with his army to find David. Now David’s own spies discover this, and so he hears of it. He tries to hide in a fortress in the wilderness of Maon, but Saul is well informed this time, and hears of it from his spies. He chases David out of his hiding place and through the wilderness. Things are looking grim indeed for David and his few men, chased by the king and his whole army!
26. Then Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. So David made haste to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were encircling David and his men to take them.
Finally David is cornered on one side of a mountain with Saul and his army on the other side. David tries to run to get away from Saul, but he and his men are not fast enough. Saul’s army surrounds them, and then they prepare to move in to capture him. Death is very near to David at this point!
27. But a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have invaded the land!”
Just when it appears that Saul will succeed in his plan to murder David, a message comes for Saul that the Philistine army has invaded the land! This messenger arriving in the nick of time to save David was no coincidence. God was watching out for His chosen king, just as Jonathan had said to him back in verse 17.
28. Therefore Saul returned from pursuing David, and went against the Philistines; so they called that place the Rock of Escape.
Saul has to give up chasing David to defend his land from the Philistine invaders. Even his jealousy could not justify him neglecting his duties to his people and his country. Perhaps there were some in his army who thought very little of chasing fellow Israelites as Saul was, and they were eager to defend Israel against her real enemies. Saul could ill afford to hold the army back and fail to respond to this threat. Thus, the LORD easily deflects this attempt of Saul, though certainly at the very last minute!
They name the place where David escaped Saul’s trap Selahammahlekoth, which means “The Cliff of Divisions” or “The Rock of Escape,” as the New King James has it. We realize that the true Rock Who rescued David was the LORD, not any dividing mountain. Surely no one could doubt that after this narrow escape. The LORD truly was with David, and there was nothing Saul could do to stop His plans.
29. Then David went up from there and dwelt in strongholds at En Gedi.
David must realize that the inhabitants of that part of the land have betrayed him. Therefore, he leaves that place and moves to a town on the western shore of the Dead Sea called En Gedi or “Fountain of the Kid.” He lives in strongholds in that area. Yet again, it is Jehovah Who is His true hiding place. He was the One Who rescued David to this point, and He will continue to do so as long as need be. Saul cannot stop David with Jehovah on his side!