David saves the town of Keilah

Chapter 23

David saves the town of Keilah

v1 Someone told David that the *Philistines were attacking the town of Keilah. And they were stealing the grain when the *Israelites had just harvested it. v2 So David asked the *Lord, ‘Shall I go and attack these *Philistines?’

The *Lord answered him, ‘Go and attack the *Philistines. Save Keilah’.

v3 But David’s men said to him, ‘We are afraid here in *Judah. We will be more afraid if we go and attack the *Philistine army at Keilah’.

v4 So David asked the *Lord again. The *Lord answered, ‘Go to Keilah. I will help you to defeat the *Philistines’. v5 So David and his men went to Keilah. They fought the *Philistines and killed many of them. Also, they took all their animals. So David saved the people of Keilah. v6 (When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech ran away he came to David at Keilah. And he brought the *ephod with him.)

The town of Keilah was about 29 kilometres (18 miles) south-west of Jerusalem. And it was about 5 kilometres (3 miles) from the cave of Adullam (22:1). Keilah was in the country of *Judah. King Saul and his army should have been fighting the *Philistines here. But Saul spent most of his time trying to catch David. David was a leader in Saul’s army. David had often attacked the *Philistines and saved *Israelite towns. He now wanted to save Keilah. But he did not do anything until he had asked God. David knew that only God could give him success. Abiathar the priest had joined David and had brought the *ephod with him from Nob (21:9). This was the special *ephod for the chief priest. He wore it when he wanted to know what Gods’ decision was (see Exodus 28).

God had told David’s men to attack the *Philistines. But the men were afraid. The *Philistines were good soldiers. Their army was large. David wanted to be certain that he should attack. So David asked God a second time. God said that he would help David. So David and his men attacked and defeated the *Philistines. The *Philistines may have used animals to carry the men’s bags. Or perhaps *Philistines stole these animals in earlier battles. The end of verse 5 says, ‘David saved the people of Keilah’. This does not mean that David did it on his own. It means David and his men. The writer often uses just a leader’s name to refer to the leader and his group.

Saul chases David

v7 Someone told Saul that David was now at Keilah. Saul said, ‘God has handed over David to me. David has gone into a town that has a strong gate. He can not escape’. v8 So Saul sent for all his soldiers. They prepared to go to Keilah and attack David and his men.

v9 David heard that Saul was preparing to attack him. David said to Abiathar, ‘Bring the *ephod here’. v10 David prayed, ‘*Lord, you are the God of *Israel. I have heard that Saul is preparing to come to Keilah. He intends to destroy this town because I am here. v11 Will the people of Keilah hand me over to Saul? Is Saul really going to come here? *Lord, God of *Israel, I am your servant so please tell me’.

The *Lord answered, ‘Saul will come’.

v12 David asked the *Lord again, ‘Will the people in Keilah hand me over to Saul?’

And the *Lord said, ‘They will’.

v13 So David and his 600 men left Keilah. They had to keep moving from one place to another. Saul heard that David had escaped from Keilah. So Saul did not go there.

v14 David stayed in the safe places in the desert. He also stayed in the hills in the wild country at Ziph. Saul looked for David every day. But God did not hand over David to Saul.

v15 David was at Horesh in the wild country at Ziph. While he was there, he heard that Saul was coming to kill him. v16 Jonathan, Saul’s son, went to visit David at Horesh. He encouraged David to be strong, as he trusted God. v17 Jonathan said to David, ‘Do not be afraid. My father will not hurt you. My father knows that you will be the next king of *Israel. I will be next in rank to you’. v18 Jonathan and David made a promise together with the *Lord. Then Jonathan went home. David stayed at Horesh.

Many *Israelites trusted Saul. They told him where David went. The *Israelites who liked David warned him about Saul. Saul thought that God was helping him to catch David. But these verses show that God helped David, not Saul.

The town of Keilah had a wall round it. The only way to go in and out of the town was through a gate. The gate was very big and strong. Saul thought that he could trap David inside the town. Saul’s army would surround the town. David would not be able to escape. Saul wanted to catch David so much that he would have destroyed the whole town. Before David acted, he asked God for his decision. David called himself God’s servant. A servant obeys his master. David wanted to obey God. David did not want Saul to kill the people of another town. David did not want to be responsible for the death of more innocent people. David asked God two questions. But God only answered one. So David had to ask the other question again. God’s replies were very short. So David and his men left Keilah. They had saved Keilah from the *Philistines. David hoped that the people of Keilah would protect them. But Saul was the king. The people had to obey him. They did not want Saul to destroy their town.

More men had joined David. He now had 600 men with him. Again, David and his men had to find somewhere else to hide from Saul. They went further to the south. Few people lived in this part of *Judah. They were up in the mountains where few plants grew. It was not easy to live in this wild country. Saul did not go to Keilah. But every day Saul and his men searched for David. God protected David from Saul. David was probably afraid. He did not know how he would ever become the king of *Israel. However, Jonathan found David. Jonathan helped David to trust God more. Jonathan knew that Saul would not be able to hurt David. Jonathan also knew that David would be the next king. Saul knew this too but he could not agree with God’s decision. Jonathan knew that David would trust him as a leader. Verse 18 does not tell us what promise Jonathan and David made. It was a serious promise because they made it with God, not just to each other. This is the last meeting that the Bible records between David and Jonathan.

v19 Some people from Ziph went to visit Saul at Gibeah. They said to Saul, ‘David is hiding in our land. He is on the hill at Hakilah. He is in the safe places at Horesh on that hill. These are south of Jeshimon. v20 Now, King Saul, you may come to our land at any time. It is our duty to hand over David to you’.

v21 Saul replied, ‘The *Lord will bless you because you are helping me. v22 Go back and make sure about David. Go and find where he usually stays. Find the people who have seen him there. I have heard that David is very clever. v23 Find all the places where he hides. Then come back. Tell me everything that you have discovered. Then I will come with you. I will find David if he is still in this area. I will search in the whole land of *Judah for him’.

v24 So the people returned to Ziph ahead of Saul. David and his men were in the desert of Maon. This was a desert area south of Jeshimon. v25 Saul and his men started to search for David. David heard about this. He and his men stayed in the desert of Maon and went to a great rock. Saul heard about this. He and his men went to the desert of Maon to follow David.

v26 Saul and his men were going along one side of the mountain. David and his men were on the other side of the mountain. They were trying to escape from Saul. Saul and his army were getting closer to David and his men. They were nearly close enough to catch David and his men. v27 But a man came and gave this message to Saul, ‘Come quickly. The *Philistines are attacking our land’. v28 So Saul stopped chasing David. Instead, Saul went to fight the *Philistines. People call this place Sela Hammahlekoth. (This means ‘the rock where they separated, or escaped’.) v29 David left that place and lived in the safe places at En Gedi.

The area of Ziph was in David’s home country of *Judah. But many people in Ziph wanted to help Saul, not David. They knew where David was hiding. In verse 21 Saul said, ‘The *Lord will bless you’. This phrase was a normal greeting. It does not mean that Saul really trusted God. David had already escaped from Saul. This time Saul wanted to know the exact place where David and his men had hidden. Saul and his men were not familiar with this part of *Israel. So, Saul sent the local men back to Ziph to search the area first. This time Saul found David. Saul and his men nearly caught David and his men. But God used the *Philistine attack to save David from Saul again. The name of this mountain (‘rock’) reminded people of how God saved David. (This was the same rock as in verse 25.) David and his men had to move to a new place. En Gedi is near the Dead Sea. It was a very hot place but there was a good supply of fresh water.