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1 Samuel Chapter Twenty-three                            


1 Samuel 23

Chapter Contents

David rescues Keilah. (1-6) God warns him to escape from Keilah. (7-13) Jonathan comforts David. (14-18) He is rescued from Saul by an invasion of the Philistines. (19-29)

Commentary on 1 Samuel 23:1-6

(Read 1 Samuel 23:1-6)

When princes persecute God's people, let them expect vexation on all sides. The way for any country to be quiet, is to let God's church be quiet in it: if Saul fight against David, the Philistines fight against his country. David considered himself the protector of the land. Thus did the Saviour Jesus, and left us an example. Those are unlike David, who sullenly decline to do good, if they are not rewarded for services.

Commentary on 1 Samuel 23:7-13

(Read 1 Samuel 23:7-13)

Well might David complain of his enemies, that they rewarded him evil for good, and that for his love they were his adversaries. Christ was used thus basely. David applied to his great Protector for direction. No sooner was the ephod brought him than he made use of it. We have the Scriptures in our hands, let us take advice from them in doubtful cases. Say, Bring hither the Bible. David's address to God is very solemn, also very particular. God allows us to be so in our addresses to him; Lord, direct me in this matter, about which I am now at a loss. God knows not only what will be, but what would be, if it were not hindered; therefore he knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and how to render to every man according to his works.

Commentary on 1 Samuel 23:14-18

(Read 1 Samuel 23:14-18)

David made no attempt against Saul; he kept God's way, waited God's time, and was content to secure himself in woods and wildernesses. Let it make us think the worse of this world, which often gives such bad treatment to its best men: let it make us long for that kingdom where goodness shall for ever be in glory, and holiness in honour. We find Jonathan comforting David. As a pious friend, he directed him to God, the Foundation of his comfort. As a self-denying friend, he takes pleasure in the prospect of David's advancement to the throne. As a constant friend, he renewed his friendship with him. Our covenant with God should be often renewed, and therein our communion with him kept up. If the converse of one friend, at one meeting, gives comfort and strengthens our hearts, what may not be expected from the continual supports and powerful love of the Saviour of sinners, the covenanted Friend of believers!

Commentary on 1 Samuel 23:19-29

(Read 1 Samuel 23:19-29)

In the midst of his wickedness, Saul affected to speak the language of piety. Such expressions, without suitable effects, can only amuse or deceive those who hear, and those who use them. This mountain was an emblem of the Divine Providence coming between David and the destroyer. Let us not be dismayed at the prospect of future difficulties, but stay ourselves upon Him who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. Sooner than his promise shall fail, he will commission Philistines to effect our escape, at the very moment when our case appears most desperate. God requires entire dependence on him, If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established, Isaiah 7:9.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on 1 Samuel


1 Samuel 23

Verse 1

[1] Then they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshingfloors.

The Philistines, … — Probably it was the departure of God and David from Saul, that encouraged the Philistines to make this inroad. When princes begin to persecute God's people and ministers, let them expect nothing but vexation on all sides.

Verse 4

[4] Then David enquired of the LORD yet again. And the LORD answered him and said, Arise, go down to Keilah; for I will deliver the Philistines into thine hand.

Enquired again — Not for his own, but for his soldiers satisfaction.

Verse 6

[6] And it came to pass, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David to Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand.

Ephod — With the Ephod, the high-priest's Ephod, wherein were the Urim and the Thummim, which when Ahimelech and the rest of the priests went to Saul, were probably left in his hand. This gave him the opportunity both of escaping, whilst Doeg the butcher was killing his brethren, and of bringing away the Ephod, which Saul now was justly deprived of.

Verse 11

[11] Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the LORD said, He will come down.

The Lord said — From this place it may appear that God's answer by Urim and Thummim, was not by any change in the colour or situation of the precious stones in the breast-plate of the Ephod, but by a voice or suggestion from God to the high-priest.

He will — He purposeth to come, if thou continuest here. For still as David's question, so God's answer, is upon supposition.

Verse 16

[16] And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.

And strengthened — He comforted and supported him against all his fears, by minding him of God's infallible promises made to him, and his singular providence which hitherto had and still would be with him.

Verse 17

[17] And he said unto him, 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.

Next to thee — Which he gathered either from David's generosity, and friendship to him; or from some promise made to him by David concerning it. So that the whole imports thus much; I do not look to be king myself (as by my birth I might expect,) but that thou shalt be king (God having so appointed) and I but in a secondary place inferior to thee.

Verse 18

[18] And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.

Made a covenant — They then parted, and never came together again, that we find, in this world.

Verse 19

[19] Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon?

Ziphites — Who were of David's own tribe tho' for this their unnatural carriage to him, he calls them strangers, Psalms 54:3.

Verse 25

[25] Saul also and his men went to seek him. And they told David: wherefore he came down into a rock, and abode in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon.

A rock — That is, into a cave which was in the rock; where at first he might think to hide himself, but upon farther consideration he removed from thence upon Saul's approach.

Verse 27

[27] But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land.

A messenger, … — The wisdom of God is never at a loss for ways, and means to preserve his people.

Verse 28

[28] Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore they called that place Selahammahlekoth.

Called, … — That is, The rock of divisions, because there Saul was separated, and in a manner pulled asunder from David, who was now almost within his reach.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on 1 Samuel


23 Chapter 23


Verses 1-29

Verse 2

1 Samuel 23:2

Shall I go?

The leadings of Providence

David lived under the Mosaic dispensation. Now, that dispensation, as it was remarkable for many extraordinary circumstances, was so more especially for the particular revelation which God was pleased to make in it of Himself to mankind upon special occasions. The will of the Lord appears to have been made known in five several ways:

For our guide in temporal things, God has given us our understanding.

1. Let our first rule be, that we are chiefly solicitous to discharge Duty.

2. Beware of mistaking your own inclinations for the suggestions of Provident.

3. It may be laid down as a maxim that Providence never sanctions the neglect of any duty to point out other courses of action. There is a beautiful uniformity in the conduct which God prescribes for us. No duties over clash with each other.

4. We ought to beware of seeking for other directions than those which Providence has been pleased to appoint. Do not expect revelations where God has not promised them.

5. Let me also caution you against a partial use of the means which Providence has afforded us for our direction. You pray, perhaps, very sincerely; but do you also listen to the suggestions of prudence; do you take the advice of wise and faithful friends? (John Venn.)

Verses 4-26

1 Samuel 23:4-26

Arise, go down to Keilah.

The training in the wilderness

The contrast between David at Nob or Gath and at Hareth and Keilah is most marked.

1. It is God’s will he desires to know (1 Samuel 23:4). Truly David at this time waited only upon God, and his expectation was from Jehovah (Psalms 62:1-12). Hunger for Divine guidance is a gracious sign! The Master blessed such (Matthew 5:6). Such a state of heart is preparation surely for larger blessing.

2. Obedience and humble reliance upon God may not lessen difficulties? David’s own people oppose his advance upon Keilah. So he and his enter Keilah. All now is well surely! Yes, all is well, but it looked not so. Strange that in obeying God he found more difficulties! Not so if we understand he is in training for the crown. Is this not so of all those who are unto God a nation of priestly kings? Not a murmur escapes David’s lips. Into Ziph, a small place at the edge of the Southern desert, David enters, concealing himself in the ravines there. The time spent in Ziph was a time of separation and solitariness.

3. Obedience leading to apparently hopeless disaster. To seek the favour of the king the Ziphites send word to him of David. Deceit generally sets its face toward power. It is well to be on the side which looks like winning at any rate. From their point of view their “part” might be justified. What can we say, however, concerning Soul’s reception of these Ziphites? What a whimpering, hypocritical utterance: “Blessed be ye of the Lord, for ye have compassion on me!” How horrid the “forms” of piety when the thing itself is gone! A benediction in the name of God from Saul! Success is with these plotters! They track their prey. Before Saul and his men David flees down the face of the rock into the wilderness. Here truly they are enclosing him in the net they have spread. Strangers had risen up against him, and the oppressor sought for his soul. (Psalms 54:3). Hope began to droop her wings. (1 Samuel 23:27). Times of deepest distress are hours of God’s deliverances. Have we no record indelibly written of God’s delivering mercy?--no place called Sela-hammahlekoth (1 Samuel 23:28), or Rock of Divisions, to which memory leads? Psalms 54:1-7, ascribed to this period, tells of calmness of heart during this exciting time, “Behold, God is mine helper” (verse 4). (H. E. Stone.)

Verse 12

1 Samuel 23:12

They will deliver thee up.

The men of Keilah

When first; introduced to us here, David is represented as being reduced to great straits by the malignant hostility of Saul. But although David’s condition seems so desperate, and Saul’s power so great--when an emergency arises, and the men of Keilah find themselves in sore straits, it is not from Saul, the king after man’s own heart, but from the despised David, that assistance comes. Let us try and picture to ourselves the scene. The country folk are crowding into the little town by hundredth. Their homesteads have been pillaged and burned, and they themselves have only escaped with their lives. The ruthless Philistines have already stripped some of them of everything they possess, and unless unlooked for help arrive there seems no escape from the superior forces of the foe. They have taken refuge for the moment in Keilah, but this temporary shelter affords them no real security. The town is quite unprepared to stand a siege, or even to resist a vigorous assault. On every face you can see sorrow and anxiety only too plainly printed. Suddenly breathless messengers appear approaching the walls of the little city, and it is easy to see that they are the bearers of good tidings. From lip to lip the good news spreads, and all is summed up in a single word, and that word is David. Yes, it is actually true; the conqueror of Goliath of Gath has once again put his life in his hands, and wrought a great deliverance. The Philistines are utterly routed, and Keilah is saved. Imagine if you can the feelings of the eager multitude at that moment, as him good news spreads like wildfire amongst them. See yonder the old men, the fathers of the city, are lifting up their hands to God, and pouring forth praise; mothers are weeping for joy, and strong men have tears in their eyes as they grasp each other’s hands in heartfelt gratulation. And have not some of us known something of a similar feeling in the course of our own inner life? Was there not a time when we woke up to find ourselves in terrible danger, and indeed were driven to despair of helping ourselves, or escaping by our own futile strugglings out of the hand of the destroyer. Robbed and injured, and threatened with still graver evils, we found ourselves reduced to the sorest straits, and nothing that the world spirit could do for us could relieve us from our misery or our peril. Some of you have known something of all this in your own personal experience. And then there came the moment of deliverance, when you were able to say, “I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.” Not by a Miltonic conflict between winged combatants, not by any display of divine omnipotence crushing down all opposition, but none the less by the most sublime deed of heroism that ever was performed, deliverance came. Our wistful gaze turned at last towards the cross of Calvary, and there we saw our battle fought and won by Him whom man despised, whom the world crucified as a felon outside the gate. A new and not less alarming peril arose, and one they had neither foreseen nor even thought of in their first moments of joyous enthusiasm. It is heard with feelings of consternation that the infuriated king is preparing to march upon the ill-fated town, thus exposed to a new and not less terrible alarm. What was to be done? Their manner towards David becomes cold and restrained, and soon, no doubt, the rulers and elders of the town gather together in secret conclave to discuss bow they were to deal with their former benefactor and friend. Meanwhile David also is making the discovery of his new danger. He has received the information from the Urim and Thummim, “Saul will certainly come down.” And the sacred historian lets us into the secret cause of this hostile movement. On hearing of David’s entry into Keilah, Saul had exclaimed, “God hath delivered him into my hand,” etc. There is something very suggestive and instructive in all this. The entrance of Christ into our nature offers Satan his opportunity, and you may depend upon it he will use it. So soon as Jesus Christ is received into our hearts, and when we have admitted His royal claim, or even begun to recognize Him as the anointed Heir of all, the world will begin to marshal its forces against us; and the great object of the prince of the world is to induce us to commit just such an act of perfidy as Saul expected or desired from the men of Keilah. This much is sure, Saul will certainly come down. This spirit of rancorous hatred which animated Saul against David has been reproduced over and over again in the history of the Christian Church. This moved the heathen of old in their persecution of the primitive Christians; and those who confessed Christ in those days, and were true to Him, knew well that in every city bonds and imprisonments, and perhaps even torture and death, awaited them. And when persecution is not thus public and open, it is often none the less cruel. I have known of fathers in affluent circumstances who have threatened to cut their sons off with a shilling if they did not give up their religion, and who have proved as good as their word. Amongst our friends in our home circle, in society, in the workshop, in the regiment, on sea or land, they who are true to their divine Master are exposed to the bitter animosity and relentless persecution of the world. And let us remember that the persecution that takes the form of ribald scorn or refined contempt is less easily tolerated by many natures than more violent measures of persecution. To return to the men of Keilah, whom we left in solemn conclave assembled to consider this new danger, and how it was to be met. I fancy I can see one shrewd and keen-looking old man rising up amongst his neighbours go give his view of the matter--a sort of moral anticipation of the counsel of Caiaphas. “It is a very simple and a very practical question that we are about to decide, my friends, and I will put it thus in a single sentence: Is one man to perish, or the city? That is the question in its naked simplicity. Some will, I dare say, talk very sentimentally of the brave thing David has done, and of the debt of gratitude we owe him. Well, that may be all very fine as a matter of sentiment; but this is a business meeting, and our wisdom will lie in taking a calm, dispassionate, business-like view of the matter. We have, of course, to consider our own interests. We are in a work-a-day sort of world, and we must regard everything from a business point of view. Three courses are open to tin. Either to fight David’s battle, and share David’s fate, sacrificing our lives, or flying with him to the mountains of the wild goats, leaving our city to be spared by the conqueror. Our next course is to give David a word of warning, and tell him at our dilemma. That may seem a right thing to do; but if Saul known that we have done it we shall bring down his indignation on our heads, and the probability is that he will vent his fury on the men of Keilah; so that our case will be just as bad as it would be if David were within our walls. The third course, and to my mind it is the only sensible one, is to make up our mind that when the time comes we will deliver David up to his master, and to intimate this our intention at once to Saul. Whatever may come of this, the responsibility will be with Saul, and not with us; we shall only have acted as our circumstances compelled us to do. Of course we are very sorry for David, and of course we all feel profound regret at having to treat a man so, who has been very useful to us. But then, you know, as I have said, we must consider ourselves. This is our only chance of safety, and we must make the most of it. We may not like doing it, but we all have to do a great many things that we don’t like. And while they are thus deliberating, there is David alone with God and his priest. The ephod is brought out, and the enquiry is made, “Will Saul come down?” and the answer is, “He will come down.” David’s heart sinks within him. “O Lord!” he asks a second time, “will the men of Keilah deliver me up and my men into the hands of Saul?” And from the mystic breastplate the inexorable answer is returned, “They will deliver thee up.” I wonder if that was the moment when David said in his haste, “All men are liars.” At any rate, I do not suppose he ever entertained a lower estimate of humanity than at that moment. These fervent thanks, expressed with so much emotion, were only empty breath after all. What a miserable world it is! Honour and manliness seem vanished from it, and truth has sped her flight. It must have been a sad moment; and which of us would not have felt for him? But stay. Have we no similar feelings for another “Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief;” another, to whom we ourselves owe far more than the men of Keilah ever owed to David? It comes to pass that not a few Christians who have once known something of the great deliverance, and rejoiced in God’s salvation, prove false to their Master in the hour of trial, that they may escape the world’s hostility. They throw open the gates of Mansoul to the world, and so betray their Master into the hands of His foe by betraying His cause. You may be sure that the first care of the world spirit when thus invited to enter and take possession of our nature will be, so to speak, to assassinate his rival, and Christ will desert the desecrated fane, and leave the soul to its new false friends. (W. Aitken, M. A.)

Verse 16

1 Samuel 23:16

And Jonathan went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.

The true in life

Two lessons stand out in this chapter. First, that the most heroic heart may sometimes be overcome with fear. Few men had a more intrepid soul than the conqueror of Goliath; yet now he was driven by fear of Saul into the wood. We are subject to variations of mood. Secondly, that the crimes of a father may alienate the hearts of his children. Jonathan the son of Saul was now succouring the man whom his own sire hated, and sought to destroy. Evil, even in a parent, cannot be loved, nor wrong in a parent obeyed.

I. The deep depression of a true soul. Few men ever had a truer soul than David--clear in its perceptions of truth, strong in its attachments to truth, inflexible in its allegiance to truth. But that soul, in the “wood” here, is under depression. Several things tend to depress the true spirit in this world.

1. Seemingly adverse circumstances. Jacob: “All these things are against, me.”

2. Providential discrepancies. Job, Aspah. “My foot had well nigh slipped.”

3. Non-success in religious service.

4. Consciousness of moral unworthiness.

5. Physical infirmities.

II. The distinguishing power of a true man. What is the distinguishing power which a true man has? To destroy life! Brutes can do this. To weaken faith, and shake confidence? A child can do this. What then? To strengthen a brother’s heart in God! This is what Jonathan did now in “the wood.” But how can a true man strengthen a depressed brother thus?

1. By a truthful exposition of God’s method of governing the fallen in this world. The Gospel unfolds that method; shows that it is to the true corrective, not penal.

2. By a practical expression of genuine sympathy. One breath of it infuses new life to the soul.

3. By a devout intercession with Heaven.

III. The highest function of a true friend. It is one thing to have the power to strengthen, and another thing to use it when and where required. (Homilist.)

Verse 17

1 Samuel 23:17

I shall be next unto thee.

A sermon to boys

This conduct of the king’s son teaches some important lessons.

1. Stand by the weak and defenceless. There is no nobler feature in any boy’s character than a determination to do this.

2. We also learn to be content with a lower place when God has clearly marked out another for a higher. Jonathan saw that God was with David, and he made his own conduct to serve God’s purpose. Be always on the look out to render others service. Fear not the taunts of men or the frowns of the world. Take Christ as your pattern. For yourselves do not forget that unselfishness is the ornament of every true man, the mark of every true gentleman, the essence of pure religion, and the germ of an undying character. (Arthur Vinter.)

──The Biblical Illustrator