1 Samuel 23 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

1 Samuel 23
Pulpit Commentary
Then they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshingfloors.
Verse 1. - They told David, etc. The return of David into his own land was quickly followed by exploits which not only increased his power, but turned the eyes of all the people towards him as their protector. His first success was the deliverance of the city of Keilah from a body of Philistines who were plundering it of the produce of its harvest. This place lay a few miles south of the stronghold of Adullam, and itself occupied a defensible position, being perched on a steep hill overlooking the valley of Elah, not far from the thickets of Hareth (Condor, 'Tent Work,' 2:88). Being thus at no great distance from the Philistine border, a band of men started thence on a foray for the purpose of robbing the threshing floors. As no rain falls in Palestine in the harvest season (1 Samuel 12:17), the corn is threshed out in the open air by a heavy wooden sledge made of two boards, and curved up in front, with pieces of basalt inserted for teeth, drawn over it by horses, or it is trampled out by cattle. Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:259) describes the threshing floor as "a broad flat space on open ground, generally high. Sometimes the floor is on a flat rocky hill top, and occasionally it is in an open valley, down which there is a current of air; but it is always situated where most wind can be found, because at the threshing season high winds never occur, and the grain is safely stored before the autumn storms commence." As the grain after winnowing is made into heaps until it can be carried home, there is always a period when the threshing floors have to be watched to guard them from depredation, and this was the time chosen by the Philistines for a foray in force.
Therefore David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And the LORD said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah.
Verses 2-5. - David enquired of Jehovah. This seems to show that Abiathar was already with David, as the prophet Gad had no ephod, and at this time, and for a considerable period subsequently, the usual way of consulting God was by the Urim and Thummim (see ver. 6). Though the answer was a command to go, yet David's men hesitated; not that they had any doubt of the immediate result, but, regarding Saul as their most dangerous enemy, they were unwilling to embroil themselves also with the Philistines. They argue, We be afraid here in Judah: why then should we close the Philistine territory against us by attacking their armies! Hebrew, "ranks," men disciplined and drawn up in array (see 1 Samuel 17:22). In order to remove these prudential doubts, David again consults God, and being a second time encouraged to undertake the rescue of Keilah, proceeds thither with his men. This attack, being unexpected, was entirely successful. The Philistines were driven back with great slaughter, and David brought away their cattle. The word signifies "small cattle," such as sheep and goats. Besides robbing the threshing floors, the Philistines apparently had been driving off the flocks from the neighbouring pastures. Both Hareth, where David and his men had lain hid in the thickets (1 Samuel 22:5), and Keilah were in the tribe of Judah, in the southern portion of the Shephelah (Joshua 15:44).
And David's men said unto him, Behold, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?
Then David inquired 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.
So David and his men went to Keilah, and fought with the Philistines, and brought away their cattle, and smote them with a great slaughter. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
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.
Verse 6. - When Abiathar... fled to David to Koilah, he came down with an ephod in his hand. Literally, "an ephod came down in his hand, and so, word for word, the Syriac. The object of this verse is to explain how it was that David (in vers. 2 and 4) was able to inquire of Jehovah. The words to Keilah - Hebrew, Kelah-wards - do not mean that it was at Keilah that Abiathar joined David, but that he came in time to go thither with him. In 1 Samuel 22:20 it seems as if Abiathar must have joined David even at an earlier date, for he is represented as fleeing to him immediately after the massacre of the priests at Nob. Now, granting that David's stay at Gath with Achish was very brief, he must have remained at Adullam a considerable time, inasmuch as men joined him there in large numbers (1 Samuel 22:2), which seems to show that his hiding place had become generally known. It was probably this concourse of men to him that was "discovered," i.e. made known, to Saul, and, as being an act of formal revolt, so raised his ire. As being supposed to be in league with David, Saul put the priests to death, and Abiathar fled; but probably the news of this terrible act had already reached David, and, in anxiety about his father and mother, he had gone to find refuge for them in Moab. Thither Gad follows him, bringing prophetic approval of his conduct, but ordering him to return into the territory of his own tribe. If then David was on his way to Moab when Abiathar reached Adullam, he may have remained in hiding there till David's return to the thickets of Hareth. But, possibly, even before Abiathar joined him the news may have arrived of the Philistine foray, and David's mind was set Keilah-wards. But there were those who doubted of the prudence of this proceeding, and Abiathars arrival with the ephod enabled him to consult Jehovah's will. By his presence also David had now the approval of the priesthood.
And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars.
Verses 7, 8. - It was well nigh a hopeless matter to hunt David as long as he remained on the borders of the desert of Judah, but once shut up in a town his capture was inevitable. When Saul, therefore, heard that David was at Keilah, he said, God hath delivered him into my hand. The Syriac, Chaldee, and Vulgate translate in the same way, probably as the nearest equivalent to the Hebrew, while the Septuagint has a different reading - sold. The Hebrew phrase is a very strong one; literally, "God hath ignored him," hath treated him as a stranger, and so let, him fall "into my hand." Possibly Saul s metaphor was taken from the popular language, and no attempt should be made to get rid of unusual expressions, as if they were false readings. By entering into a town that hath gates and bars. Either the people of a walled town would give up David rather than expose themselves to the horrors of a siege (2 Samuel 20:21, 22), or, if they stood by him, its capture would be a mere matter of time. David, it seems, would have run the risk, but happily was prevented.
And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men.
And David knew that Saul secretly practised mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar the priest, Bring hither the ephod.
Verses 9-13. - Saul secretly practised mischief. This phrase is correctly translated "devised evil" in Proverbs 3:29; Proverbs 14:22. There is no idea of secrecy in the Hebrew verb, which literally means "to work in metals," "to forge." Saul's purpose was open enough, and when David heard of it he tells Abiathar to bring the ephod, and then offers earnest prayer to God for counsel and advice. In his prayer his two questions are put inversely to the logical order, but in accordance with their relative importance in David's mind, and no ground exists for altering the text. But when the ephod was brought forward the questions were of course put in their logical sequence. To the first question, "Will Saul come down to besiege Keilah?" the answer was, "He will." To the second, "Will the citizens of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?" the answer also was, "They will. Whereupon he and his followers, now increased to 600 men, withdrew, and went whithersoever they could go. Literally. "they went about whither they went about," i.e. without any fixed plan, as chance or their necessities dictated. As David was once again at large, Saul had no longer any reason for besieging Keilah, especially as its citizens had preferred his side, as that of the more powerful, to gratitude for the safety of their lives and property.

CHAPTER 23:14-29
Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, 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 hath 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.
Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth.
And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.
Verses 14, 15. - Strong holds. Natural fortresses in the woods and mountains are meant, and places difficult of access. The wilderness of Ziph. This lay to the south of Hebron, upon the edge of the great desert of Judah (Joshua 15:55). Saul sought him every day. The pursuit was maintained constantly, with men always spying David's movements, and ready to report to Saul any opportunity of seizing him; but apparently there was no body of men at present perpetually in quest of him. In a wood. Many rightly regard this as a proper name, Horesh, and as the same place as the mountain mentioned in ver. 14; for, as Conder remarks ('Tent Work,' 2:89), "a moment's reflection will convince any traveller that, as the dry, porous formation of the plateau must be unchanged since David's time, no wood of trees can then have flourished over this unwatered and sun-scorched region ."
And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood.
And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.
Verses 16-18. - Jonathan... went to David into the wood. To Horesh, as in ver. 15. This visit suggests two things: the first, that, after the scene in 1 Samuel 22:8, Saul was estranged from his son, and treated him harshly, regarding him as a fellow conspirator with David; the second, that there was a growing conviction, not only in Jonathan's mind, but generally, that Jehovah had transferred the kingdom from Saul to David, and that consequently David's final success was inevitable. He strengthened his (David's) hand in God. Such a visit, and the expression of Jonathan's strong conviction that Jehovah was with David, must necessarily have had a powerful moral effect upon his mind. Under such trying circumstances David must often have been tempted to despair; but the assurance of Jonathan's unbroken love for him, and the knowledge that he and many more regarded him as chosen by God to be Israel's king, would revive his courage and make him content to bear the hardships of his present lot. I shall be next unto thee. Had he not been killed in Mount Gilboa, it seems that, unlike Ishbosheth, Jonathan would have resigned all claim to the crown. But the feeling must often have distressed David, that the kingdom could become his only by dispossessing his true and unselfish friend. Nor would such a regret be altogether removed by Jonathan's ready acquiescence in it as God's will, though, as next to him, and beloved as he deserved, his position as the king's friend would have been a not unenviable one. Still, to be second where by right of inheritance he should have been first would have been a very trying lot, and it was better for Jonathan that he should die a soldier's death, even granting that he would have felt a lively joy in David's success and the glory of his empire. But their love was to be exposed to no vicissitudes, and the two friends parted never to meet again - David remaining at Horesh, while Jonathan returned to his home at Gibeah.
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.
And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.
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?
Verses 19, 20. - The Ziphites. Rather, "some Ziphites," or "people of Ziph," as there is no article. They tell Saul that David was hiding in the fastnesses of the wild region in their neighbourhood, and especially in the hill of Hachilah, a ridge that ran along eastward of Maon. Conder recognises it in the long ridge called El Kolah, running out of the Ziph plateau towards the Dead Sea desert. It lay on the south of Jeshimon, or rather "on the right hand of the desert." Jeshimon is not a proper name, but means any desert (Psalm 107:4; Isaiah 43:19), though it is used specially of the desert of Sinai in Deuteronomy 32:10, and of that of Judah here and in Numbers 21:20; Numbers 23:28. Conder ('Handbook,' p. 213) calls it "the dreary desert which extends between the Dead Sea and the Hebron mountains. It is called Jeshimon, or 'Solitude,' in the Old Testament, and 'wilderness of Judea' in the New (Matthew 3:1). It is a plateau of white chalk, 2000 feet lower than the watershed, and terminated on the east by cliffs which rise vertically from the Dead Sea shore to a height of about 2000 feet. The scenery is barren and wild beyond all description. The chalky ridges are scored by innumerable torrents, and their narrow crests are separated by broad flat valleys. Peaks and knolls of fantastic forms rise suddenly from the swelling downs, and magnificent precipices of ruddy limestone stand up like fortress-walls above the sea. Not a tree nor a spring is visible in the waste, and only the desert partridge and the ibex are found ranging the solitude. It was in this pathless desert that David found refuge from Saul's persecution, and the same has been a place of retreat from the days of Christ to the present time." The Ziphites assure Saul that from their knowledge of this region they shall be able, if he come in force, so to guide him as that David must fall into his hands.
Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of thy soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king's hand.
And Saul said, Blessed be ye of the LORD; for ye have compassion on me.
Verses 21-23. - Ye have compassion on me. There is something pitiable in Saul's answer. He had brooded over his rejection from being king, and the many indications that David was to be his successor, till he had become the prey of abject melancholy. He evidently regarded himself as a wronged and injured man, while David to his diseased imagination was ever conspiring against him and plotting his murder. With much prolixity he encourages them still to keep a close watch upon all David's movements, so as to know his place where his haunt is. Literally, "his place where his foot will be," the place whither he goes for rest and refuge. The reason he gives for this long and close observation of David's doings is that it is told him that he dealeth very subtilly. That is, according to Saul's information, he behaved with the utmost prudence, ever keeping a careful look out against surprise, and using much skill to conceal his movements and to provide for his escape from danger. Finally, they are to return with the certainty - with trustworthy and accurate information, and then Saul will gather his forces and search David out throughout all the thousands of Judah. These are the larger divisions of the territory of the tribe (Numbers 1:16; Numbers 10:4), throughout which Saul will hunt for him till he has got him into his power.
Go, I pray you, prepare yet, and know and see his place where his haunt is, and who hath seen him there: for it is told me that he dealeth very subtilly.
See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me with the certainty, and I will go with you: and it shall come to pass, if he be in the land, that I will search him out throughout all the thousands of Judah.
And 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.
Verse 24. - While the Ziphites were conferring with Saul and gathering information David had moved about six miles to the south of Ziph, and was in the wilderness of Maon. This town is still called Main, and occupies a conical hill, whence Robinson ('Bibl. Res.,' 2:433) counted no less than nine cities belonging to the hill country of Judah. Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:90) calls it a great hump of rock. In the plain on the south of Jeshimon. Literally, "in the 'Arabah to the right of the desert." The 'Arabah was the name of the low-lying desert tract extending along the valley of the Jordan from the lake of Gennesareth to the Dead Sea. Maon lay upon the edge of this depression, in the southern portion of the Jeshimon or Solitude.
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.
Verses 25, 26. - He came down into a rock. Hebrew, sela', a cliff or precipice. In the next verse it is described as a mountain, on one side of which was David and his men, in full view of Saul and his army on the other. But as Saul's forces were much more numerous, they were preparing to separate, and so enclose David, while he made haste. The word expresses anxiety and fear, and may be translated, "And David sought anxiously to go from before the face of Saul." Conder's description of the spot ('Tent Work,' 2:91) sets the whole scene most vividly before us. It is as follows: - "Between the ridge of El Kolah (the ancient hill of Hachilah) and the neighbourhood of Maon there is a great gorge called 'the Valley of Rocks,' a narrow but deep chasm, impassable except by a detour of many miles, so that Saul might have stood within sight of David, yet quite unable to overtake his enemy; and to this "cliff of division" the name Malaky now applies, a word closely approaching the Hebrew Mahlekoth. The neighbourhood is seamed with many torrent beds, but there is no other place near Maon where cliffs such as are to be inferred from the word sela' can be found. It seems to me pretty safe, therefore, to look on this gorge as the scene of the wonderful escape of David, due to a sudden Philistine invasion, which terminated the history of his hair-breadth escapes in the south country." This cliff in ver. 28 is called Sela-Hammahlekoth, "the cliff of divisions," or "of separations," ham representing the Hebrew article. Many other derivations have been suggested, but the above, which alone agrees with the ordinary meaning of the Hebrew verb, is proved to be right by Mr. Conder's researches. They enable us also to correct some small errors. Thus David did not come down into a rock, but "to the cliff," the sela or precipitous gorge described above. Nor did he "descend the rock" (Erdmann) "in order to conceal himself in the low land, or in the caves at its base," but he went to it as being an impassable barrier between him and his pursuers. But "he hasted anxiously to get away" (ver. 26), because Saul would divide his army into two parts, and so David would only have the advantage of the few miles of detour which Saul must make. But for the news of the Philistine invasion his final escape would have been almost hopeless. The ordinary notion that David and his men were concealed from the sight of Saul by an intervening mountain is disproved, not only by no such mountain existing, but also by the clause, "Saul and his men were surrounding David and his men" (ver. 28). They had them in sight, and were forming in two divisions, so as to pass the gorge at the two ends and close upon the flanks of David's small band of followers. Verse 29 belongs to the next chapter.

And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them.
But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land.
Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore they called that place Selahammahlekoth.
And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi.
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