1 Samuel 23: Lessons on God’s Deliverance from David’s Deliverance of Keilah

Introduction: This chapter continues the story of David’s life in the wilderness. He went from being Israel’s greatest hero and King Saul’s son-in-law to being the most wanted man in Israel and the Canaanite territories. Through God’s providence, he had narrowly escaped death many times from both Saul and the Philistines. And he could no longer hide amongst the Jews or the Philistines. Even receiving assistance from the high priest Ahimelech led Saul to slaughter Ahimelech and the other priests in his town (1 Sam. 21:1-9; 22:6-9). God further prohibited David from taking refuge amongst his maternal kinsmen in Moab. In faith, he followed God’s direction to lead a ragtag army of 400 men into a forest called Hereth in Judah (1 Sam. 22:2). Here, God taught David and his men seven lessons about His deliverance by sending them into danger to deliver the people of Keilah from Philistine oppression. These include: (1) service; (2) obedience; (3) dependence; (4) prayer; (5) encouragement; (6) faith; and (7) gratitude.

First, God did not deliver David merely to preserve his life. Instead, He delivered him so that He could use David as His instrument to deliver others. God also promises to deliver you. Yet, like David, He wants to then use you as His instrument to deliver others. Second, David’s faith led him to obey God’s Word. As a result, God blessed Him and his soldiers on the battlefield. From this, God reveals that He delivers you when your faith leads you to obey His Word. Third, by following God’s plan, David was in a place where he could not rely upon his own strength to be delivered. Saul knew this and assumed that he would destroy David. Yet, by being forced to fully trust God, God was able to deliver him from Saul. From this, God reveals that He will deliver you when you fully depend upon Him. Fourth, knowing that he was trapped, David turned to God for guidance. God wants you to do the same. He will deliver you when you seek His guidance in prayer. Fifth, David would be forced to hide from Saul in unfamiliar terrain. To prepare him for his many trials to come, God sent Jonathan to encourage David. From this, God reveals that He both encourages and strengthens you through other believers while you wait patiently for His deliverance. Sixth, the local peoples turned on David and offered to help Saul trap David. David could only cry out in faith for God to deliver him. His psalms record that that is exactly what he did. From this, God reveals that you are to have faith in His deliverance and cry out to Him when all seems hopeless. Finally, God used the Philistines to draw Saul away from his pursuit of David. Many of David’s later psalms recorded his praise for God’s deliverance at this dark point of his life. God will also hear your prayers and deliver you. Like David, God also wants you to give thanks when He delivers you from evil or oppression.

1. Service: God Delivers You So That You Will Deliver Others. 1 Sam. 23:1-4.

  • God sent David into danger to deliver God’s oppressed people. After finding refuge in the forests of Hereth with his 400 men, God tested David’s faith and the faith of his men by calling him into an unprotected place to deliver the people of Keilah from Philistine oppression. “Then they told David, saying, ‘Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are plundering the threshing floors.’ So 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 deliver Keilah.’ But David’s men said to him, ‘Behold, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the ranks of the Philistines?’ Then David inquired of the Lord once more. And the Lord answered him and said, ‘Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.’” (1 Sam. 23:1-4). As King of Israel, it was Saul’s duty to protect the people of Keilah from the Philistines (1 Sam. 9:16). But fighting the Philistines would, in Saul’s eyes, risk his kingdom if he lost. He knew from Samuel of the prophecies that David would replace him. Thus, his attention was focused solely upon David. David’s men had good reason to fear attacking the Philistines. They were not a regular army. They were instead people who fled because of their debts and legal troubles (1 Sam. 22:2). Additional men had joined them to form a small force of 600 men (1 Sam. 23:13). But they most likely lacked the good weapons and training. Fighting to free the Keilahites would also leave them in the open where they would be vulnerable to ambush from both the Philistines and Saul. But David loved God’s people too much to let them suffer. Being Spirit-led, he knew that God did not deliver him for his own comfort. Instead, he knew that God delivered him to be His instrument to deliver others. But he did not foolishly rush off into battle. Instead, he inquired of God twice to confirm His will.

  • Be a David to others in need. Like David, God delivers believers so that He can use them to deliver others. Jesus is the true light of the world (Jo. 8:12). He came to free the oppressed. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners;” (Is. 61:1; Lk. 4:18). His light is now inside every believer through the Holy Spirit. Thus, every believer has to fulfill the role of being Jesus’ light to the rest of the world (Matt. 5:14). Like David, God wants you to be a light to others by showing love to those in society who are weak, old, widowed, orphans, broken hearted, or those who cannot defend themselves: “learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17; Micah 6:8; Matt. 23:23; Ps. 82:3). If you only help family or those who will pay you back, you are no better than non-believers. “And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt. 5:47). Like David, will you sacrifice and step outside of your comfort zone to help others in need?

2. Obedience: God Delivers Those Who Are Obedient to His Word. 1 Sam. 23:5.

  • God blessed David’s obedience with victory. When David and his men stepped out of their shelter in obedience, God blessed them with victory over their more powerful Philistine adversaries. “So David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines; and he led away their livestock and struck them with a great slaughter. Thus David delivered the inhabitants of Keilah.” (1 Sam. 23:5). God showed that He was faithful to keep His promises to deliver the Philistines when David stepped out in faith (1 Sam. 23:4-5). When your faith leads to obedience, God also promises to bless you.

David and his men delivered the people of Keilah from the Philistines1

  • Be obedient to God’s Word, even if you don’t understand the reasons behind it. This was not the first time that David obeyed God’s Word when the reasons may not have seemed clear. He also obeyed the prophet Gad to leave the safety of Moab for the territory of Judah (1 Sam. 22:3-5). Like David, God wants you to show your love to Him through your obedience. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (Jo. 15:10; Matt. 19:17). “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). Will you obey God’s Word, even if you don’t understand it?

  • Have faith that God will also protect you when you do His will. Like David, you never need to fear your enemies when you are doing God’s will. When the Jews walked with Him, He promised to cause their enemies to fear them: “I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” (Ex. 23:27). ‘“This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, will tremble and be in anguish because of you.’” (Dt. 2:25). If you are serving God, do you trust Him to protect you?

3. Dependence: God Delivers You When You Fully Depend Upon Him. 1 Sam. 23:6-8.

  • God delivered David in a place where he could not depend upon himself. Having placed his 600 troops in a walled city in the plains, Saul celebrated because he believed that he could finally kill David and prevent God’s prophecy from coming true. “Now it came about, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand. When it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah, Saul said, ‘God has delivered him into my hand, for he shut himself in by entering a city with double gates and bars.’ So Saul summoned all the people for war, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.” (1 Sam. 23:6-8). Saul thought according to his flesh. Thus, he assumed that David was doomed. Even though he knew of God’s prophecy that David would replace him as king, he deluded himself into believing that God had trapped David in this city for Saul’s benefit (1 Sam. 23:7). Instead of using his people to fight the Canaanites as God commanded him to do, he waged war against God’s anointed David. As one commentator observes: “Saul wouldn't go to Keliah to save the people against the Philistines, but he would go there to try and save himself against David. Saul was totally motivated by self-interest.” (David Guzik on 1 Sam. 23) (italics in original).2 Although David was helpless on his own against Saul, he depended upon God. By placing David in a place where he could only trust in God, God delivered him from Saul.

  • Depend upon God and do not lean on your own understanding. Saul relied upon what seemed right in his heart. Yet, unlike Saul, believers are not to rely upon their own understanding. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). When all seems lost, will you trust in God’s Word?

4. Prayer: God Guides Your Deliverance When You Seek Him in Prayer. 1 Sam. 23:9-15.

  • David turned to God for guidance in the face of Saul’s attacks. After hearing reports of Saul’s imminent attack, David turned to the priest Abiathar to guide his steps: “Now David knew that Saul was plotting evil against him; so he said to Abiathar the priest, ‘Bring the ephod here.’ 10 Then David said, ‘O Lord God of Israel, Your servant has heard for certain that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. 11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? O Lord God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.’ And the Lord said, ‘He will come down.’ 12 Then David said, ‘Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?’ And the Lord said, ‘They will surrender you.’ 13 Then David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the pursuit. 14 David stayed in the wilderness in the strongholds, and remained in the hill country in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand. 15 Now David became aware that Saul had come out to seek his life while David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh.” (1 Sam. 23:9-15). The priest Abiathar used his ephod and the two stones called Urim and Thummim to discern God’s will in response to “yes” or “no” questions (c.f., Nu. 27:21). It would have come as no surprise that Saul was trying to kill David. Yet, it must have surprised David that the people of Keliah would betray him after he liberated them when Saul would not. God then led David into the wilderness of Ziph. This was just south of the Dead Sea in a relatively open and exposed place. There, Saul would relentlessly pursue him. But the more he was forced to depend upon God to survive, the safer he became.

Saul led his forces to try to kill David in the wilderness of Ziph3

  • Seek God in prayer when you are in need of deliverance. If you are under attack, God directs you to diligently petition Him in prayer. “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; set me securely on high away from those who rise up against me.” (Ps. 59(b)). “He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.” (Ps. 18:17). “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.” (Ps. 13:7). When you cry out, He will give you wisdom: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” (Ps. 51:6). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). David later recorded in a psalm that he would turn to God’s Word to guide his path: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). The Holy Spirit will help you to remember the Word and apply it in your life. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26, 16; 15:26; 16:13). Are you reading the Word and praying for the Spirit to guide you?

5. Encouragement: God Uses Believers in the Body to Both Encourage and Strengthen You While You Wait Patiently For His Deliverance. 1 Sam. 23:16-18.

  • Jonathan strengthens David in the wilderness. God no doubt knew that David was stressed while Saul relentlessly pursued him in the wilderness of Ziph. Thus, He sent Jonathan to encourage and strength David while he waited for God’s deliverance. “16 And Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God. 17 Thus he said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father will not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you; and Saul my father knows that also.’ 18 So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord; and David stayed at Horesh while Jonathan went to his house.” (1 Sam. 23:15-18). Jonathan and David had previously formed a covenant (1 Sam. 18:3; 20:16). Thus, this might seem redundant and unnecessary to the casual reader. But Jonathan was not there as a lawyer. He was there to encourage, to bolster David’s faith, and to remind David of God’s plans for him. Saul knew of the prophecy. But, as a man of the flesh, he believed that he could stop it.

Jonathan encouraged David in the face of Saul’s attempts to kill him4

  • Jonathan strengthened David at his expense. One commentator observes that Jonathan encouraged David at his own expense. He also strengthened David’s faith by repeating God’s promises: “Jonathan is the Barnabas of the Old Testament. What great encouragers both these men are. In the Book of Acts, Barnabas starts out as the prominent leader, and Saul (the apostle Paul) is but a man whom Barnabas takes under his wing. As time passes, it becomes clear that God has chosen Paul to assume the dominant role. When this becomes evident, Barnabas joyfully accepts this fact and becomes Paul’s most loyal supporter. The same spirit is seen in Jonathan. He is the king apparent, the descendant of Saul whom all expect to rule in his father’s place in time to come. Because of Saul’s sins, God rejects him as king and designates David as the next king. Jonathan realizes this and, like Barnabas in New Testament times, becomes David’s most loyal friend and supporter. When David is in danger and his spirit seems to wane, Jonathan makes his way to and through the wilderness to seek out his friend to encourage him. This he obviously does . . . Throughout the Bible, the message is consistent: courage comes from God (Isaiah 35:4; 54:4; Jeremiah 30:10; Zechariah 9:9; John 12:15). Courage comes through the Holy Spirit (Micah 3:7-8; Haggai 2:3-5). Courage comes through our Lord (see Matthew 9:2 22; 14:27; John 16:33; Acts 23:11).” (Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh “20. A Friend Indeed (1 Samuel 23:15-29)).5

  • Be a Jonathan to others. God wants you to encourage others the same way Jonathan encouraged David: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18). “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13; 10:25). “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” (Prov. 25:11). “Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land.” (Prov. 25:25). Like Jonathan, are you encouraging others who are in need of help?

6. Faith: Have Faith in God’s Deliverance When All Seems Hopeless. 1 Sam. 23:19-23.

  • The Ziphites betray David. While hiding in the wilderness of Ziph, the Ziphites became aware of David’s presence. In an effort to curry favor with Saul, they betrayed David by revealing his location to Saul. “19 Then Ziphites came up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, ‘Is David not hiding with us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? 20 Now then, O king, come down according to all the desire of your soul to do so; and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.’ 21 Saul said, ‘May you be blessed of the Lord, for you have had compassion on me. 22 Go now, make more sure, and investigate and see his place where his haunt is, and who has seen him there; for I am told that he is very cunning. 23 So look, and learn about all the hiding places where he hides himself and return to me with certainty, and I will go with you; and if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.’” (1 Sam. 23:19-23). David had no natural protection to hide from Saul. The local people had betrayed him. His army also was no match for Saul’s army. All would have seemed hopeless to an observer at the time. But David’s desperation caused him to turn to God. His faith in turn allowed God to deliver him.

The Ziphite elders betrayed David6

  • David cried out to God when he needed God’s deliverance. Like many of David’s psalms, he wrote Psalm 54 as a cry for help after the Ziphites betrayed him. He believed in faith that God would protect him. “For the choir director; on stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites came and said to Saul, ‘Is not David hiding himself among us?’ ‘1Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your power. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen against me and violent men have sought my life; they have not set God before them. Selah. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my soul. He will recompense the evil to my foes; destroy them in Your faithfulness. 6 Willingly I will sacrifice to You; I will give thanks to Your name, O Lord, for it is good. For He has delivered me from all trouble, and my eye has looked with satisfaction upon my enemies.” (Ps. 54:1-7).

  • God will deliver you from your enemies when you depend upon Him. Like David, God delivered the Jews from their enemies with His mighty arm: “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” (Ex. 6:6). “Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten.”’ (Ex. 13:3). “for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Dt. 20:4). As the Jews learned in the wilderness, there was no enemy that God could not defeat. Will you depend upon Him?

  • Cry to God when you are in need of deliverance. Like David, God also wants you to cry out to God when you need deliverance. “A Prayer. I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; I make supplication with my voice to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see; for there is no one who regards me; there is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul. I cried out to You, O Lord; I said, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low; deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me. Bring my soul out of prison, so that I may give thanks to Your name; the righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me.”’ (Ps. 142:1-7). Like David, will you cry out to God in times of need?

7. Gratitude: Give Thanks When God Delivers You from Evil. 1 Sam. 23:24-29.

  • God delivers David by using the Philistines against Saul. Just when it seemed that Saul would capture David, God intervened supernaturally by causing the Philistines to attack Saul in a different part of Israel. “24 Then they arose and went to Ziph before Saul. Now David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the Arabah to the south of Jeshimon. 25 When Saul and his men went to seek him, they told David, and he came down to the rock and stayed in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard it, he pursued David in the wilderness of Maon. 26 Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain; and David was hurrying to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were surrounding David and his men to seize them. 27 But a messenger came to Saul, saying, ‘Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid on the land.’ 28 So Saul returned from pursuing David and went to meet the Philistines; therefore they called that place the Rock of Escape. 29  David went up from there and stayed in the strongholds of Engedi.” (1 Sam. 23:24-29). Only one ridge line separated Saul’s men from David’s men. At the place that David would later call “the Rock of Escape”, Saul was forced to withdraw to confront the Philistines. In His sovereignty, God used the enemy Philistine army to attack Saul’s forces in a different part of Israel. As hard as he tried, Saul was powerless to thwart God’s will.

Saul continued to pursue David to try to kill him7

David’s escape route from Saul’s army8

  • God is sovereign over all creation and every government. These events show that God is sovereign and has control over kings, nations, and even Israel’s enemies. “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.” (Da. 2:21). “He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.” (Job 12:23). “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.” (Is. 40:15). “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” (Is. 40:17). “But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation.” (Jer. 10:10). “The LORD is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land.” (Ps. 10:16). “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan. 4:35). Have you placed your trust in powerful people or in God alone?

  • David’s praise for God’s deliverance. David not only wrote psalms to remember how he cried out for help, he also wrote psalms to celebrate when God delivered him in a seemingly hopeless situation. “A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House. A Psalm of David. I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.” (Ps. 30:1). “A Psalm of Praise, of David. I will extol You, my God, O King, and I will bless Your name forever and ever.” (Ps. 145:1). “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.” (Ps. 145:21). David’s psalms were meant to inspire you to do the same.

  • God allowed Saul to pursue David to mold him. With God being fully in control, some might ask why He did not simply strike Saul down. Yet, God used Saul to mold David’s heart. He had to be humble and depend upon God to be God’s instrument as the king of Israel. If he had become king too quickly or easily like Saul did, pride might have grown in his heart. Like David, you must trust that God has a greater plan for you. This is true even if you are in a wilderness of your own. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28). Do you trust that God is in control, even in your darkest moments?

  • Give thanks for your deliverance as well. Like David, God wants you to give thanks for the many times that He has delivered you from illness, sadness, defeat, fear, or an enemy: “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18). “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Eph. 5:20). Have you thanked God for His grace in delivering you?