David and his men were hiding in Judah when word came to them that the Philistines were raiding the threshing floors of Keilah. Even though strategically Keilah was part of Judah, its close proximity to Philistine territory made it a frequent target for looters who would raid the town during the harvest season. When David heard about the happenings at Keilah, he immediately inquired of the Lord whether he and his men should go and attack the Philistines.
…the LORD answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.1 Samuel 23:4 (NIV)
However, David’s men did not have the courage to go on this rescue mission. So David inquired of the Lord once more using the ephod that Abiathar, the son of Ahimelek, had brought along with him when he fled from Saul. Now David had started gathering more and more men into his fold after Saul’s massacre of the priests of Nob, as he was forming an army of his own. However, with more men under his care, we see a stark contrast in his relationship with God, as he is now dependent on ephod (Urim and Thummim) to communicate with his Creator.
Trapped in Keilah
After getting confirmation from the Lord, David and his men went to Keilah and fought the Philistines and were able to carry off their livestock. They annihilated the Philistine army and saved the people of Keilah. Saul heard about David’s rescue mission in Keilah and was salivating at the prospect of finally capturing David. He thought that God had delivered David into his hands as Keilah was a gated town with bars and probably had a single road leading out of it.
Saul is attributing what he wants as being the will of God, thinking that God has given David into his hands. To him, David is the evil person who is after his throne. Saul was against David due to jealousy, which led to hatred and he spent his entire reign chasing David. Due to our evil thinking, whenever we assume things by ourselves, we take cover by thinking that it is by the will of God. Due to self-righteousness and hastiness, Saul lost track of what God wanted from him and why he was anointed.
Sometimes even after knowing their disconnect with God, people put on a facade to fool those around them and to give themselves consolation. Saul knows that the hand of God has left him but still does not want to admit it to himself as that would mean he is no longer the anointed king of Israel. We can never know what is in the heart of a believer. We can only know what is in our hearts and some so-called believers are simply carrying on the facade of being a Christian when in their hearts they have no experience with Christ. They are too scared to admit this truth as that would mean that they are on the other side. Rather than accepting their faults and asking God for forgiveness, we continue to live the lie and are satisfied with our meaningless fellowships.
When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.” David said, “LORD, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? LORD, God of Israel, tell your servant.”
And the LORD said, “He will.”
Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?”
And the LORD said, “They will.”1 Samuel 23:9-12 (NIV)
The people of Keilah would have heard what had happened in Nob and would be fearing Saul. Because the town of Keilah was inhabited by people who were from David’s own tribe of Judah, he is unable to believe that his own, whom he had just saved, would hand him over to Saul. We too believe our own flesh and blood, our friends and people from our community over any stranger. It is a pity that we treat God like a stranger and the people who wish us ill as our own. We tend to take people at their word rather than obeying God’s commands. To his credit, David eventually listens to God’s voice. We don’t do the same when we are told about the intentions of someone but we try to please them rather than run for the hills.
On the Run
So David and his men left Keilah and kept running from place to place, staying in wilderness, strongholds and in the Desert of Ziph. Saul spent all his energy in his search for David but God did not allow David to ever be captured. God even sent Jonathan to Horesh to encourage David and help him find strength and carry on.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.”1 Samuel 23:17 (NIV)
While Saul was at Gibeah, the Ziphites came up to him with a proposition to trap David. Saul blessed them for the initiative that they had shown and sent them to get more information about David and his favoured hideouts. While Saul was in hot pursuit of David and his men, a messenger came to him informing him about the Philistine raiding party, that was looting their land. So Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to deal with the opposing army for a change.
David Cuts Off Saul’s Robe
After pursuing the Philistines, Saul returned on the trail of David and was told that his son-in-law was hiding in the desert of En Gedi. Taking three thousand able-bodied men along with him, he set out to look for David near the Crags of the Wild Goats.
He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe.1 Samuel 24:3-5 (NIV)
The robe is a symbol of royal authority, and in the case of Saul, it is God’s appointed authority. In those days, people were afraid of God’s anointed as God’s hand was upon them. They had seen and heard the punishments suffered by those who went against the anointed. On the other hand, David’s men were pressuring him to kill Saul. God would have dethroned Saul in His time and having it done by the hands of David would have been against the will of God.
David knew that Saul had been rejected by God and an evil spirit was residing in his father-in-law. Moreover, Samuel had anointed David as the king of Israel a while back and God had been doing wonderous works in the life of David. But in his heart, David still had reverence for Saul, if not for the king himself but at least for the post. The same was the case with Saul who could not bring himself to kill the priests at Nob even though they too were a rejected lineage.
Not saying that David should have killed Saul, as that would have been wrong but giving respect to anyone that is not from God is not right. When it is clear that a person is not from God and is operating under the control of an evil spirit, we must stand with God and categorically reject any alliance with that person. These can even be members of the clergy or people whom God had called once into his fold. However, when they are not in God anymore we must not waste our time paying them respects rather than standing strong with God.
After Saul had gone a considerable distance, David went out of the cave and called out to him. He showed the piece of the robe that he had cut as proof that God had handed Saul into his hands that day. David hoped that this act of kindness and mercy would finally convince Saul that he was not the bad guy and that this would make Saul relent in his pursuit to capture him. Saul reciprocated just the way David had expected him to as he was thankful that David did not kill him that day. But both men still could not trust each other as they parted ways and headed off in different directions.
I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.1 Samuel 24:20-21 (NIV)
The rousing speeches by both David and Saul were more for the benefit of their audiences rather than each other. As David knew the plans that were hatching in Saul’s heart and Saul knew that David would be the man who will eventually dethrone him. Both men were trying to garner the favour of the people of Israel during their inspiring speeches.
People who are controlled by satan will say anything to get us to put our guard down and when we least expect it, then satan would attack us through them. David did not go by Saul’s words but by the leading of God as he made his move. We must not callously choose our next steps and fall prey to the schemes of the evil one but must completely depend on God for everything. While we are on trial, the judicial system ensures that everyone is represented by a qualified member of the bar. If instead, we try to foolishly defend ourselves, we lose that right to an attorney. Likewise, if we try to defend ourselves in the sight of our fellow believers, colleagues, relatives or even God, we will lose the greatest defender who is working for us continuously and who has the highest authority.
- 23:7 – Does Saul really think that it is God who is delivering David into his hands?
- 23:12 – Why is David reconfirming the betrayal by the people of Keilah?
- 24:5 – Why was David guilt-stricken after cutting the robe of Saul?
- 24:22 – Even after Saul gave his oath to David and the pair supposedly buried the hatchet then why is David going his separate way?